Un-Cloudy

Early this morning, the sunlight swept across the tops of the trees outside my front window in an amazing moment that held promise for a beautiful day ahead. But then I made the mistake of checking the forecast on my weather app. It instantly became clear that I was better off not knowing what the weather would hold for the next very-long-time. Every day, for the foreseeable future, held clouds and rain.

I determined that this discouraging forecast would not dampen my mood. In fact, the best way to face a soggy week is with a smile to (maybe) spread sunshine.

On my way to work, I had to stop at the Post Office to mail an Easter package for my son. The clerk at the counter was smiling pleasantly as he worked and chatting amicably with the customers. When my transaction was complete, he printed out an unnecessarily long receipt, grabbed a pen, and began to show me my tracking number, estimated delivery date, etc.

Then, he circled the QR code at the bottom of the receipt. “Here is a survey you can take to tell us how we did.”

“Are you going to offer me a gift card like they do at Lowe’s?” I asked, smiling mischievously.

He took in a breath as if to respond, but then his face clouded with a brief moment of confusion. He had no idea how to respond to that, and he burst out laughing. “I guess I can’t do that,” he finally responded, through his laughter.

“It was my job to make you laugh today,” I told him as I walked away from the counter, waving my receipt. “I am glad I succeeded!” And as I walked out the door, I could hear him still chuckling to himself.

A string of cloudy days that stretches as far as the eye can see demands a bit of laughter. That’s a challenge I am happy to accept!

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Keep Going

As I have navigated my way through life, there is one very important lesson I have learned. No matter what life throws at you, keep going. Whatever happens, you have the strength to pull yourself through. Life is not always easy. It’s not always happy. But the tough times… they help you to see the good. They help you to grow. They help you to evolve into the best possible version of you.

Keep going. When life throws you a curve ball, and you are suddenly on a path you didn’t expect, keep going. Sometimes, the biggest blessings are found on the detours.

Keep going. When you think you can’t possibly handle any more and you are stressed and frustrated and you think you are going to collapse from the weight of all you have to deal with, keep going. Look around you. Gather some support. Find people who can help you carry your burden. But most importantly, keep going. You will get through this. And you will be stronger for the perseverance.

Keep going. When the plans you have made—for yourself, for your life, for your future—don’t work out, keep going. Often, those plans don’t work out because there is something better in store for you. Keep going, keep striving, keep searching, and you will eventually find it. Or better yet, it will find you.

Keep going. When you are faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges like a solid brick wall in your path, keep going. Find a way to get over, under, around, or through the wall, but keep going.

Keep going. Use all of the support systems that you have in place. Bring in your friends. Bring in your acquaintances. Bring in the tanks, the armies, the teachers, and the pets. Bring in whatever you need to. But…

Through it all—tough times and easy times—you will discover much about yourself and others. You will learn what you want to be and what you don’t want to be. You will learn your limits and form your boundaries. You will learn to overcome weakness. You will learn to distinguish the people who are your friends from those you’d prefer to let fade into the background. You will find strength. You will find  beauty. You will find love.

And through it all, you will learn who you are.

Keep going.

Family Time

Yesterday, I was with my three nearly-grown children, and we stopped at Panera for lunch. At the table next to us was a young family. Mom and Dad were there with two young daughters—one about nine or ten going on sixteen, and a younger daughter of five or six. In the middle of the meal, Dad said good-bye and left to go to work. Mom stayed at the table with the girls while they all finished their lunch. As they sat there, it was hard not to notice that Mom’s cell phone was sitting on the table, loudly and regularly letting her know she had messages and notifications. Each time the phone alerted her, she looked down and responded.

Lately, I have noticed more and more parents interacting with their phones rather than their children. And I have heard from my children that many of their friends are on their own to make food at home, eating on the run, in their bedrooms, or in front of the television. So here’s my question: when are you spending uninterrupted quality time with your children? How do you show them that they are important and worthy of your time and undivided attention?

I have written about this before, but early in my parenting—and even when our family structure shifted, and I became a single parent—I established dinner together as a deeply important part of our day. This is the time when we come together as a family—and we are together for an important purpose: eating our evening meal. But dinnertime has become so much more over the years. Dinnertime is when we connect. We check in on each other. We talk about life, issues, morals, values, and what is happening in our individual lives and in the world. This meal has become a regular and expected time together as a family.

Now, I have two children in college, and they are home for the Christmas/winter break. Still, each night when I get home from work, we sit down together to consume our evening meal. We laugh, we talk, we eat. And now that they are older, we hash out political issues and share our views, we discuss environmental dilemmas, and we weave together the fundamental pieces of our day into an intricate tapestry that solidifies our family connection.

The unwritten rule, and one that is mostly followed, is that there are no devices at the table. This is family time, and devices are a distraction. Constantly looking at a device and responding to notifications demonstrates that we are not giving others our undivided attention. And it pulls us apart rather than bringing us closer.

And so… about childhood—this is time you will not get back. Establish a daily time to put away your devices and sit down with your children. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them. They are amazing little people who will grow up to become wonderful adults. And those adults will need to know how to connect—deeply and meaningfully—with others. Scheduling some daily time to connect with family can make all the difference.

Believing in Magic

Navigating the many aspects of childhood can be an interesting journey. There are a million situations in which kids walk a line between the reality of the world and some magical thoughts of their own making (or the making of society), simply because their imaginations allow them to believe in magic. Santa. The Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy. This list is lengthy.

Recently, when I was sorting through some (very) old papers, I came across a reminder of my previous parenting life, back when all three of my children still had one foot firmly planted in the magical, and it was my job—as a parent—to make sure the magic remained for as long as possible. But as a single parent, things didn’t always go smoothly.

After all, perpetuating magic is a difficult job. Everything we say… everything we do… it’s all being registered by the little ones around us, even when we don’t know they are listening. Magic takes careful planning, much thought, attention to detail, and a lot of work. It is no wonder, then, that sometimes we slip up.

The note I recently uncovered reminded me that the Tooth Fairy forgot to come. It was one of those moments when I was—no doubt—jolted awake in the early morning hours when I realized that I had forgotten my role in the magic just a bit too late. Despite my best intentions, I had failed. Instead, I had to make up a story about why the Tooth Fairy didn’t come, and some blending of various reasons came out. Unlike Santa, the Tooth Fairy can’t always get to every house…. Teeth are heavy, and if she collects too many teeth one night, she has difficulty flying….

Really, I don’t remember the story I made up, but it seemed to be enough as the child in question believed me. And somehow, over the years, I was able to instill just enough lasting magic—despite occasional slip-ups—that a bit lingers in my now grown children. Because if you think about it, shouldn’t everyone hold onto a little bit of magic in their lives?

Patience in the Un-find-able

If I had a dollar for every minute I’ve spent searching for the un-find-able, I would be a rich woman. This weekend, it was a pair of shorts that we swore were in the house as both my son and I had “seen” them on Saturday. After a frantic search of the house, he returned to camp without them, and found that he had left them in his cabin when he left camp on Friday.

Over the years, there have been so many things. The “favorite” bean-bag dog that was pushed to the bottom of the sleeping bag in the night and ended up being rolled up inside it for months. The team jacket that we accidentally left (or did we?) in the locker room after the final competition of the year one June many years ago. I called the coach before she left the venue. On Monday, I called the school where the competition had been held. I emailed the coordinator of the event. We searched the closet, the car, and eventually, realized we’d have to buy a new one before the next competition season began. At the end of August, as we headed back to the studio, one of the other girls discovered my daughter’s jacket, along with her own, on the floor of her closet.

How many times have I heard: “Hey Mom, you know that form we were looking for…? It was in my locker.” How much time and energy have I spent searching, and in the end, the thing I am looking for turns up in its own time? Many such searches have confirmed that I can’t find the unfindable. That I shouldn’t worry about things that are out of my control. The things I am searching for will appear in their own time. Sometimes, lost items appear only to eyes that aren’t frantic from looking. And in this process, I have learned that (aside from endlessly searching) all I can do is be patient and wait.

This lesson is one that we learn over and over. The lesson reappears in small ways so we might recognize when it comes into our lives in big ways. We search for our career path, the fantastic opportunity, the house, the family, our way in life…. These things will all come in time and in their own way. When we are ready. When the world is ready. When God is ready. It’s important to recognize that the unfindable may be hidden from our view because there are situations that we cannot control—that we should not control.

When something is lost—or we are lost—remember to take a deep breath and let go. The simple act of letting go makes just enough space in our lives that whatever is lost might just find us.

Navigation

Apparently, underneath my smoldering reluctance to use GPS is an amazing truth—not only in who I am, but in the way I have chosen to approach navigation and directions. My reluctance to use GPS and my fascination with maps—even the unwieldy ones that unfold and unfold and unfold into something that is far more than a driving distraction—has been working parts of my brain that are dying off in those who rely on a computerized voice to tell them where to go.

This realization came when I was listening to a story on GPS technology on NPR’s OnPoint. While the program focused on digital mapping technology, the guests also touched on our increasing reliance (in fact, dependence) on this technology. When we need to navigate unfamiliar territory, we simply turn to our phones, as we do for many things these days. Regardless of the convoluted directions we seem to be following, we trust our digital navigation systems to get us where we want to go.

However, humans have a built in ability to navigate the world—to figure out how to get from one place to another using things such as celestial bodies, earthly forces, our own knowledge of our surroundings, the maps that have been created of those surroundings, landmarks, and our own instincts. These things together give us a broad picture of what is around us and where we are heading.

The technology we have now, while convenient, allows us to navigate in a passive manner. Essentially, we have a tool that leads us, and we don’t have to pay attention to anything but the tinny, computerized voice emanating from the small box we hold in our hands. “Turn left in 100 feet,” it tells us, and we do. If we look at the unwieldy map, we might see that straight through the next four intersections we would come to an incredibly cool pink lake that would be awesome to see before we turn left on a different path that will still lead to our destination.

In this same NPR story, one of the guests referenced a study done in London on GPS navigation versus the use of maps and navigational techniques to find our way. The navigational part of the brain was fully lit up in those who were using a map to navigate the streets of London, but it was completely dark in those relying on GPS navigation. Completely dark. As in not being used. Where brains are concerned, that is not good news.

So the next time my children say, “Mom, just turn on your GPS,” I will just say, “No thank you.” There is a time and a place for GPS. If I am lost in a strange place and need to get somewhere by a certain time, I might turn on my GPS.

But getting lost is actually an adventure that can lead to amazing places. Unfolding a map and using my brain is the more active way to get where I am going. And maybe in the wandering, I will do some sightseeing, discover a new path, and make some new friends along the way.

Tough Lessons from the Road

A few months back—probably in the fall when the weather was good and the roads were clear—there was a discussion among some of my Facebook friends about motorcycles and pushing the limits of speed. These people were jovially comparing their top speeds, as if hitting 120 was a great accomplishment.

Recently, my 16 year old has been talking about getting a motorcycle, and I am not thrilled at the prospect. While I hope he will ride responsibly if he ever does get one, there is always that temptation to just test how it might feel to go a bit faster than one should. Meanwhile, I have always lived with the paranoid and constant fear that when a motorcyclist speeds past me on the highway, I will encounter the rider up ahead, splayed out in the road after a momentary misstep.

The other day, we were on our way back from a college visit, because really, shouldn’t we just continue to look at colleges since I am now four years into the process: one kid, then the next, and now the youngest? We had just merged from one highway to the next, and I was finding my place among the several lanes. A motorcycle with a young rider suddenly flew past us at an alarming speed, weaving in and out of the cars as he flew. He was living out the rush of a lifetime. A state trooper pursued him, sirens blaring, but he continued his reckless journey unabated.

As we crested the top of the hill, we had an almost two-mile view into a slight valley and up another hill. The motorcycle was a small dot moving along the road up ahead—easy to spot as it traveled faster than the cars around it. The trooper had backed off, knowing that continued pursuit would increase the possibility of the danger.

We traveled another couple miles and… Chaos. We spotted the motorcycle in a crumpled heap. W let out a fearful, “Oh!” and I gasped, the tears springing almost immediately. This was just too much. This sight—the scene of bike, the rider, and the chaos that comes before  emergency personnel arrive—is one of those scenes that I will never unsee. It is one that will quietly creep alongside me and rear its ugly head each and every time a motorcycle recklessly passes me. My once paranoid fear is now realized, confirmed, and etched in my brain forever.

And while I would not wish this sight on anyone, this lesson is one that only the road can teach—either by example or by experience. This lesson is best learned by example. I believe the message came screaming through to my son without my need to speak a word. This young rider had gathered enough speed to send himself headlong into whatever it is that comes next.

Each and every day, we walk the thin line between this world and the next. Depending on our choices, some days, that line seems much thinner and more vague than others—both as fine as the silk of a caterpillar hanging from a tree, and clearly visible to the naked eye. Without warning, we can slip from one side to the other.

One of the toughest lessons to learn is that each and every day is one of those days.