Zigs and Zags #atozchallenge

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Recently, I departed my parents’ home to drive to a college visit with my daughter. The road was circuitous, winding through small towns, farmland, and valleys on its way to our destination. This trip was one that I had taken many times throughout my youth and college career, though I had not traveled the road in decades.

As we zigged and zagged along, J dozed in the seat next to me. While I was confident in our journey, the landmarks had changed over the years of my absence, and buildings existed in new forms along the route. I was hit with an occasional twinge of uncertainty.

It suddenly struck me just how deeply my children trust me. When my daughter gets in the car with me, she assumes that I know where I am going. Despite the zigs and zags of our path, she is right there, believing in my ability to get us from point A to point B safely.

Fostering and maintaining such a deep and abiding trust is a huge responsibility. I hope I never lose the trust of my children as we travel life’s zigs and zags together.

Yesteryear #atozchallenge

This evening, I was looking through a closet to see if we had some black drawing paper. I didn’t think we actually had any, but since we have a number of art supplies acquired through a factory clearance sale, and I wasn’t exactly sure of our “inventory.”

As I looked, I came across a tattered pad of newsprint. It was an 18×24 pad, and I could picture my children much younger, lying on the floor drawing sprawling pictures. Nostalgic, I pulled out the pad, and flipped it open.

On the first page, there was a child’s drawing of an airport. Planes sat on runways. There was a plane on a flatbed trailer, and some maintenance vehicles. “What nerd drew that?” W asked, looking over my shoulder. He stepped in closer.

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I turned to the next drawing. Wind turbines, solar panels, and water wheels dotted the landscape of the large white page. I smiled at W. “There’s your answer.” Only W was constantly producing drawings that had to do with alternate energy sources, vehicles, geography, etc. And as we looked through the drawings, this pad held it all.

By the time we had flipped the last page, we were laughing at the spelling he had used in labeling various elements of the drawings, the complicated yet simplistic concepts, the lists of supplies necessary to build some of the things he had drawn, and the calculations—always in extraordinarily large numbers—he had completed.

At the same point, we realized we had stumbled upon something that C would later label “a keeper.” This pad of newsprint was truly a gift from yesteryear.

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eXpectations #atozchallenge

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Sometimes—more frequently than not, nowadays—my children say things that are completely unexpected, and I have a very difficult time maintaining my composure. Sometimes, I just can’t.

We were driving to my parents’ house recently. The drive had been a slow one, and it was getting on toward dinnertime. I asked J to call Grandma from her cell phone to let her know where we were. At that point, we were about 20 minutes away, and had just gotten close enough to civilization to have cell service.

She dialed, held the phone to her ear, and waited. The first thing I didn’t expect was her decision to masquerade as her younger brother, feigning a deeper voice. (Interestingly, despite the deep voice that made her seem more like her brother, she chatted with Grandma as herself.)

When she and Grandma finished their conversation and got ready to hang up, J said, as her parting words, “Stay pretty, Grandma!”

I burst out laughing. And I couldn’t stop. I had tears streaming down my face by the time I was able to pull myself together. And I was driving. Luckily, we arrived at our destination safely.

Driving or not, always expect the unexpected.

Veggies and Weeds #atozchallenge

Life Lessons from the Garden:

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I have spent the past several years as a gardener in my town’s Community Garden. At this time of year, I am typically planning my vegetable garden. I am acquiring seeds and making sure I have the proper fencing. I am hauling out tomato cages, and sorting through tools and row markers, loading up a bucket of supplies, and planning the layout of the garden I will grow. Not to mention fretting over how I am possibly going to fit everything into my small 10 x 20 garden plot (which is actually two plots in our community garden).

I have taken many lessons from the gardening experiences I have had throughout my life. I only hope that my children have learned one or two of these lessons as we have gardened together.

Planning: If you want to get the most out of your garden, you have to plan ahead. Vegetables are not planted haphazardly. Some require rows, some hills, and some—like tomatoes—are more individual in nature.

Patience: Once you plant the seeds, it will be a week or two before you even see the tiniest shoot of green emerge from the ground. And those shoots are just the beginning. It will be much longer before you can truly enjoy the fruits of your labor.

“Personal space” varies: Just like people, plants have different space requirements. Some plants only need to be separated from their friends by a couple of inches to grow to their potential, but others need their own little patch of space to grow up and spread out and produce the best vegetables.

Focus on the good: Nurture the plants you want in your garden. Remove the weeds, insects, and rodents that are not healthy or wanted and may even be harmful. These things can grow out of control, take over and ultimately, choke out the good stuff.

Persistence: As with any relationship, a gardener must constantly work at gardening. One day, you may spend hours in the garden weeding, and two days later, the weeds will have taken hold, once again, as the prominent greenery. Constant care and attention are required.

Things don’t always turn out the way you planned: There are so many variables that factor into a successful garden. Depending on the weather, the forces of nature, the local fauna, you may not reap what you think you have sown. One season might produce smaller than normal tomatoes. One season might produce a bumper crop of squash bugs—which means no squash/pumpkins/watermelon. But each season brings surprises. There maybe disappointments, but there will likely be pleasant surprises, as well.

Self-sufficiency: Growing a garden demands a great deal of attention, but it also demonstrates the amazing human potential to feed oneself using the resources of nature. And if your crop is big enough, you can preserve some of your harvest (by freezing or canning) for the coming winter.

Satisfaction: After a busy year of planting, watering, nurturing, weeding, and chasing vermin out of the garden, you can relish the satisfaction of having grown your own food. And there is nothing better than garden fresh veggies picked within the hour. Yes, vegetables taste just a bit better when you have grown them yourself.

This year, I will take a hiatus from my garden for a number of reasons. I will miss the daily reminders of these simple life lessons. But perhaps next year, I will choose to garden once again.

Ultimate Optimism #atozchallenge

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As I make my way through life, I have been collecting nuggets that I carry with me like badges. These are things I seldom whip out and flash around; instead, they are personal, trophies won through the experiences I have gone through—the struggles, the pain, the joys, and the triumphs.

One of the most useful nuggets I have acquired is ultimate optimism. Really more of an outlook on life—an approach to life, if you will—than a trophy or badge, I have had optimism since I was just a tyke. Maybe eight or ten. In fact, the only way I would have made it through some of my trials and tribulations is to hold onto the firm belief that things are going to get better.

When I am working with students or counseling my children, I will often refer to current challenges as “a bump in the road.” In the grand scheme of things, one day, as you look back on a situation from a different perspective, you will find that the trials, they really were just passing moments in time.

And at that point, when you look back on all you have been through, you will realize how strong you have become. And hopefully, you will realize that you, too, have the tool of ultimate optimism that you can draw on.

Because the truth is, things are going to get better.

Turning the Tables #atozchallenge

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Spring has brought warm weather here in New England, and we are beginning to open windows and leave our doors ajar to let the breezes bring fresh air into the house. In our kitchen, we have a deep windowsill, and during the winter, when the windows aren’t open, things tend to collect there. Often, these items are placed there, then forgotten.

The other night, as we sat down to dinner at the table, it was warm in the kitchen despite the open front door. I surveyed the windowsill, which was cluttered with things that had not been put in their proper places.

“W, you’re going to have to clean off the windowsill so we can start opening that window,” I said, knowing that most of the time, the stuff that lands there belongs to him.

He turned and looked at the sill, most likely mentally calculating the amount of work required to complete the task. “That’s not all mine,” he determined. “J puts it there when she cleans off the table for dinner.”

“Well,” I thought for a minute. “What about those lifesavers?” I had watched him take a couple each morning on his way out the door to the bus. “What are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

“Those?” he asked, pointing to the opened bag and the white candies scattered over the pile of magazines and mail. He looked me straight in the eye. “Those aren’t mine.”

I tipped my head in question. “Yes they are. You have been eating them.”

“Yeah, but they’re not mine. They’re C’s.”

With the mention of his name, C snapped to attention. “Those lifesavers are not mine!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes they are,” W confirmed. “They’re the ones you took to Dad’s house.”

“Oh,” he suddenly appeared sheepish. “Is that where they went?” He looked more carefully at the windowsill.

“Those are the lifesavers you took to your father’s?” I asked.

“Yeah,” the two boys confirmed, simultaneously.

“I guess they’re mine then,” C shrugged.

“If those are the ones you took to your father’s, they’re mine,” I stated, deciding to claim them since the boys were still arguing over them. After all, I paid for them. Then again, by that standard, there wasn’t much in the house that didn’t belong to me.

“Okay, they’re yours then,” W said decisively. He paused for half a second, then turned to look at me, his eyes penetrating and his face comically stern. He took on my tone and inflection. “So Mom… what are the lifesavers doing on the windowsill?”

Wait… what?

Self-care, Sleep, and Single Parenting #atozchallenge

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When one of my coworkers left work on Friday, she said, “Have a good weekend. Be sure to do something for yourself this weekend.”

Yeah right, I thought, mentally running through the lengthy list of things that would consume my time in the two days before I returned to work.

“It’s important to take care of yourself,” she continued. “If you don’t, you won’t have anything left to give others.”

I know she is right. But for single parents, self-care is a luxury that is too often pushed to the back burner. For me, self-reflection takes place in the car on the way to and from work, and sleep…? Well, there is never enough of that.

But her comment did give me pause. Maybe—just maybe—I can figure out how to shake up my priorities so I move “self-care” a step or two up from the bottom of the list.