Rediscovered Treasure

This weekend, winter decided to move in. On Saturday, the temperature dropped several degrees, and the snow began to fall just before noon. And Saturday was the day I chose to sort through my Christmas ornaments to decide what I would keep and what I would give away. After all, some of the ornaments in my collection have been kicking around since I was just out of college. And even earlier.

Nowadays, I tend not to burden my tree with an overabundance of ornaments like I did when the kids were younger. Mostly because I like it simple—lights and a few sparkly ornaments to reflect the light back into the room. But there is also the fact that my teenagers are excited about decorating the tree, but not so excited about taking it down after Christmas.

So I sat on the couch and opened the large, green plastic tote, removed the first cardboard box, and began to unwrap small tissue paper balls to rediscover what was inside. Plastic animals dressed in Santa hats with wreaths, hand-painted cinnamon sticks and wooden disks picked up at a long forgotten craft fair, needlepoint plastic canvas squares… these were the items that found themselves in the ever-growing “give away” pile.

As I sorted, I came upon a yellowed box that said, “Mom’s dwarfs” in the handwriting of … I’m not really sure … one of my aunts, maybe? And in pencil, in a similar handwriting, it said, “For Suzanne from Nana.” More recently written were a number of notes in Dad’s handwriting: instructions about being careful, about the fact that there were extra parts wrapped up by themselves, about the things that Dad would typically warn me about as he removed these very fragile items from their carefully crafted tissue paper cocoons.

And now, I pulled one out of the box and placed it in my lap. I unrolled the tissue, getting closer and closer to the treasure it held. The weight of the ornament was less than one might expect, making it easy to fumble or accidentally drop it. But it was cradled securely in my lap. Finally, I was rewarded for my care when I spied the first glint of pointy shoes, a leg, and then a jolly face, its paint cracked and peeling from years of use.

My breath caught in my throat as I could feel Dad’s large hand carefully placing the “dwarf” ornament in my own then small hand. Each year, without fail, before he let go, he would ask, “Got it?” double-checking that this delicate figure was secure and would not fall to the floor where it might meet its demise.

The fact that these old ornaments had seen better days did not make them any less precious. The memories they evoked were worth the extra care needed. Of course, now that I have carefully unwrapped these very fragile ornaments on my own, I believe they are less fragile than all the past fuss would indicate. No matter. I still took great care as I hung them on the branches of my tree.

My one question that will never be answered: why, with elves all around at this time of year, did these ornaments end up being labeled “dwarves” rather than “elves” that might be more fitting for the Christmas season? I suppose I’ll never know. I will be left to devise my own theory.

 

 

Blink

Over the years, we have hit milestones with the regularity of the thump of a flat tire. Thump… thump… thump…. At first, it’s kind of reassuring to know that your child is hitting all the important milestones. But recently, it seems the car is speeding up and the milestones thump by faster and faster—at an alarming rate of speed, really. And this week, my daughter completed—and submitted—her first college application. Breathe.

These monumental occasions always give me pause and compel me to take a quick (or leisurely) inventory of the years that have come and gone. This most recent milestone hints at the small amount of time I have before she is off and testing her wings.

The early years of single parenthood are still vividly etched in my memory. I spent the days looking in the rearview mirror, counting heads in the backseat of the car. As the one parent of three very small children—all under five—I was always afraid that in my sleep-deprived state, I would leave one behind. Maybe one slipped by me somehow, and was still hiding in a store in the mall. Perhaps someone went to use the potty and was in the bathroom finishing up, or worse, didn’t get in the car and was standing in the driveway in a puddle of tears wondering why I left without him/her. In those early years, that fear never fully dissipated.

I blinked and we were in a new house in a new neighborhood with new friends and a new school. Little hands reached for mine with regularity. A hand to hold; a hand to help; a hand to lead the way. Those were days of constant attention and discovery and learning. There were toys and games and books and building and dancing and crafts. LOTS of crafts.

And then I blinked.

And the day came when they were all in school, mornings first and then full days. The school bus rumbled up the hill in the morning and swallowed them up. I would watch as the bus drove off up the road and out of sight before I ran home to switch to “adult” mode and be on my way to work. In the early days, I was home from work for 3:15, always needing to beat the bus to meet the kids so they were supervised and transported to the activity of the day. Always rushing so I wouldn’t be late.

Until I blinked.

The kids were able to ride the bus to their activities. My work hours increased, and an after school sitter took on some of my role. Extra keys were made and cell phones purchased and the kids further shaped their identities as they took their first tentative steps toward independence.

I blinked again, and now they are nearly through high school. They will be out on their own soon, with jobs and lives that take them all in different directions. That doesn’t mean my job is done. A mother’s work is never done, is it?

Just don’t blink.

Gratitude in the small things

It has not been a typical week here in New England. The week started with a wind storm, a power outage, and a day off from school. While we got our power back fairly quickly, others in town did not. Add to that Halloween, trick-or-treating that was postponed by a day because of the storm, and an approaching full moon, and I have to say a peculiar vibe has been simmering all week.

Last night, as I slipped into my daughter’s room to say good night, the heat kicked in for the first time this season. Well truth… I finally turned on the heat last night. It’s been so warm we haven’t really needed it. But last night, as I hugged her good night, the heater began its telltale tick-ticking as the water carried heat through the pipes. “Mmm,” she settled deeper under the covers. “I like that sound!”

Today, I’m thankful for the little things—the “normal” things—we so often take for granted: electricity, heat, and a comfortable bed.

Encouragement

On a recent college visit, I was escorting my daughter across campus to the dining hall where she would meet up with the student who would be her “day host” for a class visit. As we walked, we passed by a post on which was taped a hand-written sign that said, “It gets better. I promise.”

I was struck by this sign because the truth is that life is a series of peaks and valleys and everything in between. When things are bad, they generally get better. We fight; we work; we pray; we cry; time goes by; and things get better. But a college student with less life experience may not realize this to be the case, especially when students are often told, “College is the best four years of your life.”

Newsflash: College is NOT the best four years of your life.

In fact, on that same college visit, I met with a professor, who was my professor when I was in college—about a gazillion or so years ago. Now, I haven’t seen this woman in a very long time. She looked at me and she said, “You look just like you did when you were twenty. But might I say, you look happier.” Her words prompted me to conduct an instant internal inventory that revealed that yes, I am happier than I was in college.

I tried to express my thoughts, “College… well, high school and college, really… they were tough times. Lots of social pressure and trying to figure out my identity and what I wanted from life.” And then we got to talking about kids today, the pressures they face, and the complications of social media in all its superficial glory. Truly, it was tough enough to grow up back in the seventies and eighties without the pressures brought on by social media. Is it any wonder so many young people nowadays suffer from anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental illnesses?

On my way back to the parking lot, I stopped and took a picture of the sign I had seen earlier. This sign is a message to all of us that whatever we’re going through… this too, shall pass.

And perhaps there will be one person who walks by this sign, and these words of encouragement might just make a world of difference. Whatever it is, it will get better. I promise.

Me Too

As the #metoo posts began to populate my Facebook timeline last weekend, I grew deeply disturbed at how widespread the problems of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, gender discrimination, etc. have been. How has our society continued to perpetuate the objectification of women without question? Yet, despite the fact that every one of my woman friends was posting #metoo, I couldn’t bring myself to post on my status, and it took me some time to figure out why not.

Even many years later, in each case without exception, I can still tell you exactly why I was at fault—for one reason or other—for the times I was a victim of abuse or harassment. If I had done something differently, if I had been more careful… these situations would not have happened. It seems that when the lines of appropriate and inappropriate are blurred from the time a girl is young, that girl accepts blurred lines as the manner in which the world is set up.

When I was 17, I was walking through the town square in a country far away. It was early afternoon—siesta time—and the square was nearly deserted. I should have been back to my host home earlier, and I was trying to get back as quickly as I could. I was walking quickly on a path that ran diagonally through the center of the square. As I passed an older man, he grabbed my thigh as if he had a right to touch me however he wanted. My heart and pace quickened, and I did not look back. I was young, alone, and scared, walking the fence between two cultures, unable to speak the local language. I should not have been out during siesta when the streets were quiet and everyone else was settling in at home. I had been out with a friend and time slipped away from us. It was a risky move, and the unwanted advance—it clearly could have been prevented if I had been returned earlier.

In my early 20s, one of my student charges was popping popcorn and tripped a breaker in the dorm where I served as hall parent. It was after evening study hall, and I had to request help from a campus security guard to fix it. I followed him to the breaker box—in a dark room—where he lit our path with a flashlight. Until he had other ideas and switched off the flashlight. It was my fault for following him into a dark room and trusting him to light the way.

Again in my 20s, I was told that an entire office of male workers would discuss my backside as they watched me in the parking lot from a nearby window. First of all, do men not have anything better to do? Second, what did one man expect when he came to me to tell me that—with a creepy smile on his face? And third, why were there no self-checking men in the group who were willing to step forward and stop the others from objectifying a young woman? Was I not supposed to venture into the parking lot where they could see me?

I have faced unwanted advances, harassment, and discrimination from peers, coworkers, teachers, doctors, bosses, and strangers on the street, and thanks to #metoo, I know I am not alone. It is a process that begins when girls are young and continues through adulthood. We become so accustomed to this behavior from the other half of the population that we begin to accept it without question, often blaming ourselves for not being strong enough, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong place, or for trusting when we shouldn’t.

What I find disturbing is not only that we allow this harassment—this clear display of man’s power over woman—to perpetuate, but we make women feel responsible for the abuse. You shouldn’t have dressed that way. How many of us have heard those words? You shouldn’t have walked that way or You shouldn’t have been in that place.

No, I am not to blame in these situations. Men are to blame. Men who feel it is their right to objectify women and treat them as pieces and parts rather than as whole, intelligent, amazing, complicated, and competent human beings. And the silent men are to blame. Men who sit by listening to other men talk about women this way and watching other men treat women this way. Because if you sit idly by and say nothing, you are part of the problem.

It is time that women gather together, draw on our collective power, and release it out into the society as a loud and resounding NO! It is time that men stand up to other men and stop tolerating the “locker room talk” simply because it was once an accepted part of male culture. These people you are discussing…? These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. What if it was your mother or your daughter that was being discussed? These people—these women—they should be your people.

We have tolerated this behavior for far too long. It’s time we create a different world, a better world, for our daughters and their daughters, and all the daughters to come. It’s time expect better and end the cycle of #metoo.

{Image credit: Unsplash.com/Mihai Surdu}

Mac and Cheese

All of my children have learned (or are currently learning) to drive a manual transmission. And they have all done an excellent job; it’s an important skill, and one that is becoming less common.

So the other day, my daughter came to me and said, “How long—on average—do you think it takes to learn to drive a stick shift?” By the way she asked, I figured she had the answer.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “How long?”

“Well, I was taking this online quiz about the average time it takes to learn certain skills, and that was one of the questions. I said 10 hours, but the answer is 67.”

“67 hours?” I questioned. That seems like a bit too much. WAY too much, actually. She nodded. I shook my head, “I don’t think it takes that long. Where was this quiz you were taking?”

“It was a BuzzFeed quiz.”

I burst out laughing. “And you believe everything you learn on BuzzFeed?”

“Mom!” she said, sarcasm oozing. “BuzzFeed has the best quizzes. I took one that determined how many kids I should have based on my macaroni and cheese preference!

Well, I guess a penchant for macaroni and cheese couldn’t hurt when it comes to raising kids….

Positivity Post: Lessons from the Bug

Last week, I was driving to my son’s college to drop him off for the start of the school year. The car was stuffed to bursting with all of the necessities of college dorm life, so much so that my son was in the car in front of me. We were traveling up the highway at a good clip when a peculiar bug appeared from somewhere in the back of the car, flew directly between my face and the windshield, and settled on the window of the driver side door. I batted at it, and as I started to roll down the window, it flew to the windshield.

The bug was long and thin and black and pointy like it would sting with a vengeance. My daughter was in the seat next to me, pressing up against the door and watching as I frantically batted at the bug. I was not sure whether I was trying to kill it or brush it out the window—whatever was necessary to remove it from the car—all the while continuing to drive at highway speeds. My window was open, and each time I tried to flick it out, it would fly in the other direction.

“Mom, I think you should pull over,” my passenger commanded. “You’re going to crash the car if you don’t.” She had a point. I turned on my directional signal, glanced in my completely blocked rear view mirror, and pulled to the side of the road, my tires buzzing across the rumble strip.

At this point, the bug was on the windshield, and as I tried to move it toward my open window, it flew to the other side of the car and landed on my daughter’s window. She shifted to the other side of her seat as she slowly and carefully rolled down her window and was able to coax the bug out of the car. She quickly put up the window before it found its way back in, and we carefully pulled onto the highway, navigating the blind spots (i.e. anything behind me or to my right) provided by the cargo.

A few miles ahead, we merged with another highway, and as we did, I looked to my right, attempting unsuccessfully to check the right lane around my loaded car. As I did so, I was surprised to see the bug clinging to the outside of the passenger window.

“That bug must be mad at you,” I said to my daughter. “It’s clinging to your window.”

But it wasn’t long before its thread-like legs couldn’t hold on through the winds of highway speed travel, and it was gone. But this got me thinking…. The bug was clinging to what it thought was safe, what it knew. Letting go was a much bigger risk because the bug didn’t know what would happen to it when it let go. Yet, letting go would provide it with the very freedom it was seeking.

How many things do we hold on to because we can’t see the unknown? How often do we cling to what is safe and familiar when we might be better off if we take a risk, let go, and tumble through the unknown, growing wings and strength as we go?

Perhaps next time I find myself in a situation where I’m clinging to what is safe, I’ll remember the lesson of the bug. Rather than using all of my strength to hold on, maybe I’ll take a risk—let go and enjoy the ride. Taking a risk may be scary, but gaining newfound freedom might just be priceless!