Monday, October 31, 2011

I Have Texture Issues

If ever there were a project that requires sunglasses,
I would agree it is the carving of pumpkins.

 "I'll hold your nose for you, Mommy."

 Tyler returned repeatedly to my kitchen drawers in search of more carving tools.  His suggestions included a potato scrubber and a melon baller.

 I held out for as long as I could before I busted out the rubber gloves.

  I post the following picture because Tyler and I are wearing the same facial expression, and because I am apparently washing my hands --
with rubber gloves on.


Drum roll, please.

These are our pumpkins:
'Bob the Potato' and 'Mindy.'
Robb has done the goopy parts for the last twelve years.  
I showed tremendous courage.

Happy Halloween.

Batman, Robin and WonderWoman

Sunday, October 30, 2011

State of Preparedness

The question is not, "Do I have time to prepare?"
but "Do I live in a state of preparedness?"
When God is my only concern,
when God is the center of my interest,
when all my prayers,
my reading,
my studying,
my speaking,
and writing
serve only to know God better
and to make him known better,
then there is no basis for anxiety or stage fright. 
Then I can live
in such a state of preparedness and trust
that speaking from the heart
is also speaking to the heart.

~ H. Nouwen

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Creating Space for Glory

I have a speed-up slow-down relationship with the words of Henri Nouwen.  I want to read quickly to immerse myself in the beauty of his words, but it is so potent that I must slow down if I am to digest it all.

He has handed me a definition of glory, one that is shifting my thinking.

He writes:

We live because we share God's breath, God's life, God's glory.

The question is not so much "How to live for the glory of God?" but, "How to live who we are, how to make true our deepest self?"

Take this as your koan: I am the glory of God.

Make that thought the center of your meditation so that it slowly becomes not only a thought but a living reality.

You are the place where God chose to dwell... and the spiritual life is nothing more or less than to allow that space to exist where God can dwell, to create the space where his glory can manifest itself.

In your meditation, you can ask yourself:
"Where is the glory fo God?  If the glory of God is not where I am, where else can it be?"

Once you start realizing in this very intimate and personal way that you are indeed the glory of God,
then everything is different,
then your life takes a decisive turn.

I could go for a decisive turn, an uncovering of my truest, deepest self.

Here's to creating space for glory.

* * *
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory
in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? 
Is it not you? 
Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

I Thess. 2:19-20

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We Bring the Party.

I planned an adventure day for my fall breakers, since I firmly believe that a vacation from school should include some intentional fun (even if the mom has to be far more intentional than she once was).

It was mostly a smashing success, except for the one or two hiccups that accompanied every single thing I planned.

We started with Starbucks in the morning.  Because who can't go for Starbucks in the morning?  Well, clearly not me.  And I'm raising a couple of baristas.  I'm sure of it.  A collection of iPhone games for one boy, a barrage of educational websites on my laptop for the other, and I have found myself a bit of time to be quiet and read on my own.  It's like a traveling DVD player in the car.  Three cheers for parenting with technology.  Hip-hip.

We had lunch at a pizzeria.  An order of breadsticks, a slice of pizza for each, a root beer for the tall boy, and an orange juice for the short one.  (Who doesn't love pizza and orange juice?  A creative combination, undoubtedly.  Extra points for acidic content.)

Having lunch alone with two small boys is really a romanticized idea that doesn't quite pan out like I ever think it will.  I always picture conversation and memories.  What I get instead is kicking and spills and jumping in the booth and peeking over the side and one boy finding gum under the table and the other boy putting it on his nose. 

We did some wishful shopping at the toy store - the child's equivalent of my visiting a dressing room to try on a coveted item that I know I'm not going to buy.  Sometimes it's just good to tangibly enjoy the display.

Somebody was so busy at the train table that he delayed his bathroom signals, and suddenly there was a big mess on the floor.  The store clerk looked at me with wide eyes and a furrowed brow, but I assured him I would clean it up.  I spared him the trauma, since I'm sincerely accustomed to it.  He offered me rubber gloves, disinfectant spray, and a meek thank you.

This same somebody now had soaked clothes.  Off we went to a nearby clothing store to give him a complete overhaul to make it through the afternoon.  His brother got a new t-shirt out of the deal, and everybody got new underwear.  Score.

The restroom was 400 yards away, so I huddled them in the corner for the wardrobe change into dry clothes.  Yes, I am that mom who encourages subtle disrobing and promises nobody will look.

We strolled to the movie theater to see what was playing that might get six thumbs up from our trio of reviewers.  DolphinTale won out.  "Three tickets for the 3:05, please.  And it would be great if you could seat us near people who don't mind the four-year-old's color commentary throughout.  He likes to verbally replay everything that just happened and then ask a dozen questions about what he missed during his own instant replay.  We're working on that."

The day turned out almost like I planned.  We bring the party with us, my friends.  Or, perhaps they do.  And I tag along for the adventure.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

About those Checkmarks...

You are faithful readers, following up in so many ways to ask about the success of our new routine, Check Marks the Spot.  Here's the scoop.

The first couple of nights, Tyler wandered down to my room to say, "Where is my checkmark?  You said there would be one."  In the darkness of my room, I traced the one I had drawn on his hand hours before.  "Oh.  There it is.  Silly me. I couldn't see it.  Good night, Mommy."

Tucker likes to wake up a little, and then he closes his eyes and pretends he didn't wake up at all, except for the hand he slowly peeks from underneath his blanket.  He shoves it out to me, and then he says, "Thanks, Mom."

They have each woken up with wayward ink on their faces, a ditto of the checkmark on their hands.

Tyler is still displeased to sleep in his own bed, and he reminds me a few times each night that he really doesn't like that plan.  That's fine; he doesn't have to love it.  He found his way to my bed three times last night.  But he says 'someone else brought him there.  Can you believe someone else would do that, Mommy?'

I have also dimmed some of those nightlights to hopefully engage their biological clocks.  Full brightness at night can help with fear of shadows, but it also breeds nocturnal habits.  They are sleeping better and longer, and thereby so am I. 

The best benefit: they're no longer afraid.  That's the win and what I wanted more than anything.

Tattered Sleeves

Confession: Sometimes I secretly send some of the boys' shirts to retirement when I fold laundry.  The most stained and tattered, albeit the most beloved, just need a clean break.  Those that they'll never realize they outgrew?  Well, it's just better if they never realize the shirt just went MIA.

Last night, my mom was folding a basket of our laundry.  She picked up a blue, long-sleeved tee with Lightning McQueen on the front and flames up the forearms.

"My, this shirt is worn out," she said, noticing the graying white and the nobby holes at the wrists.

"Oh, feel free to retire it," I answered absently, paying bills on my laptop.

She hugged the shirt and her eyes filled with tears.  "Nope, not this one.  It's the first one he would wear."

She reminded me of those early days of this storm, when Tyler's cry for predictability manifested in his strong-willed decision to wear only two outfits, and one was jammies.  He had little room for alternatives, little room for anything to change.

One day Tyler was shopping with Grandma, and he spotted this shirt on the rack.  The blue one with Lightning McQueen on the front and flames up the forearms.

"Grandma, I like that shirt.  Could I please have it?"

It was too big and the sleeves were too long, but he liked it.  She purchased it without argument, and just like that, he had nearly doubled his wardrobe options.  It was a big step for my three-year-old.  It was the beginning of his realm of possibilities.

Now this shirt is tattered, stained, and worn, but nowhere near retirement.  I think that one gets to stay for a long, long time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The New Rule for Rudeness

I am coming to terms with the lost cause that is the complete eradication of rude words in our home. 

(They're not totally inappropriate, just gross and annoying and meaningless.  You know the type: poop, peepee, butt, butthead, etc.  They roll off the tongue a little too easily.)

I'm making myself crazy with the constant badgering to eliminate vocabulary, and it really is fruitless.  I have two boys.  They have an innate love for these words, for what will later be called 'locker room humor.'  I am sorely outnumbered.

So, here's the new rule: be respectful to ladies.  There is primarily one girl in your life.  She doesn't want to hear those words.  If you must say them, then go outside or downstairs or in the bathroom or to the garage.  But do not say them in the car, in my proximity, and most certainly not at my dinner table.

You are going to be gentlemen of respect, and I think we can start with this small request: don't make me listen to your garbage words.  Save it for the locker room.

The policy is effective immediately and retroactive.  I will not change my mind. 

Take heed, young lads.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Gift of Remembering

So much of my everyday brings a memory of Robb.  Errands, routines, songs, commercials, scents, flavors, recipes, restaurants - it's an endless list.  I love when people tell me something they remember about him; sometimes they spark a memory I haven't thought of in a while, and sometimes they tell me a story I had never heard at all. 

It's a beautiful something, that gift of remembering.  So many things I do 'in remembrance of him.'

I have begun to think about how empty my days would feel if I had a checklist of tasks required to honor the memory of him.

Light this candle. 
Look at this picture. 
Follow this recipe. 
Pour this cereal. 
Fill this gas tank. 
Listen to this song.

All of those carry implicit meaning for me, a natural memory.  But they would quickly become meaningless if I considered them a mindless routine to ensure I had honored him.

I think of those words from Jesus: "Take this in remembrance of me."

I imagine his disciples and closest friends had no trouble at all - their minds were likely flooded with scents and sounds and tastes that brought him to the surface again and again.  They couldn't keep from thinking of him over a meal of bread and wine.

Perhaps we have turned this tradition of Communion into an empty checklist, when all he asked was that we come together, eat, and remember.


"How odd would it seem to have been one of the members of the early church, shepherded by Paul or Peter, and to come forward a thousand years to see people standing in line or sitting quietly in a large building that looked like a schoolroom or movie theater to take Communion.  How different it would seem from the way they did it, sitting around somebody's living room table, grabbing a hunk of bread and holding their own glass of wine, exchanging stories about Christ, perhaps laughing, perhaps crying, consoling each other, telling one another that the Person who had exploded into their hearts was indeed the Son of God, their Bridegroom, come to tell them who they were, come to mend the broken relationship, come to marry them in a spiritual union more beautiful, more intimate than anything they could know on earth."

~ Donald Miller

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I'm sitting by myself at a restaurant.  And it's not even Starbucks.

This does not always bode well for me.  The last time I did this, I ventured out at the early end of happy hour, and I found myself eating breadsticks at the bar near a man, also alone, who was clipping his fingernails in public.

(With such hygiene habits, it was shocking that he was alone. I'm sure you agree.)

But I am alone.  I choose to be. 

Alone is a choice.
Alone is brave.
There's always a companion waiting.

A person,
safe or otherwise;

a bottle,
prescribed or not;

a website,
solicited or un;

a vice,
claimed or unnamed;

an object of affection,
inanimate or personified.

I have all of these.
Alone can actually be hard to find.
The real deal variety, that is.

Alone doesn't mean lonely. 

Besides, today's alone comes with a half-order of salty, soft pretzels. 
And a diet coke with lime.

And I always have my words.

Friday, October 21, 2011

An Artist's Degree

It seems as though nearly everyone in education believes a teacher should pursue graduate work in education. But as I explored and talked with principals, mentors, and professors, I gathered that there are only two routes on that highway: curriculum or administration.

I wanted to go to grad school, I wanted to further my degrees, but I didn't want either of those specialties. While perhaps prestigious and money-making, these paths didn't interest me in the least.  So as Robb and I ebbed and flowed in our conversations about grad school, I held off.  It didn't seem smart to begin a degree I really didn't want. 

(There were a few other factors in place: Robb was nearly finished with his MBA, we couldn't afford simultaneous tuitions for two, and a couple little boys came along to offer an education of their own.  Oh, and Robb didn't love being in school, but he also didn't want his leapfrog wife to jump the gun.  He often teased, "No, our address labels will not read Dr. and Mr.)

Then I read Love Walked In.

On the back cover, I found this bio:

"An award-winning poet with a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing, Marisa de los Santos lives in Wilmington, Delaware with her husband and two children.  Love Walked In is her first novel."

Okay, first of all, when a book says "New York Times Bestseller" on the front and "This is her first novel" on the back, I am instantly intrigued.  This is someone I want to know better.

I remember running my fingers over those words, as if I were reading braille.  I thought, "I could write! I could get a masters and doctorate in creative writing, and I could write forever. I wonder if I could really do that. Do people really do that? Look at that -- Marisa did."

(Sidenote: If I fall in love with your writing, you'll work your way into my head, and that means I'll take the liberty to call you by your first name.  It's a natural progression for me, since we've had many coffee dates together, even if you perhaps don't recall being there.)

I began to think that this path was really quite noble, that it thumbs the nose at a culture that says a degree must pay for itself, that you've got to be sure you can succeed before you make the investment, and that learning is only valuable if it promises a salary.

An artist's degree says to the naysayers, "Well, yes, I could have a more linear path if I choose what you say I should do.  And if my gifts matched that professional path, then I hope I wouldn't hesitate. But my heart loves something else, and I only get one go at this. I choose what I love. A Ph.D. in creating."

So I am taking the plunge. 

January 2012.  Grad School: Here I come.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Check Marks the Spot

We're struggling at night.

Even with a dozen lights on, even with a playlist of soft lullabies on repeat, even with the prize for eight consecutive days of my campaign entitled, "Hooray!  Everyone Will Sleep In Their Own Beds Again!" --  we are struggling.

"Mommy?  Mommeeeeeya?  Mommmmeeeeya?"
"I have to tell you something."
"Tomorrow, I want to have donuts."
"Tomorrow, I want it to be Christmas."
"Tomorrow, I want to go to Disney World."
"Tomorrow, put a dollar in my lunchbox so I can buy a cookie."

And my favorite: the half-awake, dazed, blank stare that has forgotten what he wanted but wants me to stand there until he remembers.

In every dialogue, they just need to say, again,
"Mommy, I'm afraid."
"Mommy, can you hold my hand, for just a few minutes?"
"Mommy, can't I just sleep with you?"

I make several trips down the hall every night.  It's roughly 37 steps from my bed to theirs.  The sleeplessness is reminiscent of the newborn stage.  Without the partner to commiserate with.

We're trying something new tonight.

After they have fallen asleep,
when I sneak in to tuck blankets and plant kisses on sleepy noggins,
I'll take a marker with me.
Washable Crayola. 
And I'll draw a checkmark on the back of each hand.

Checkmark means: Mommy checked on me.

It means, "Hey, buddy?  If you're awake and I'm asleep, I'm still here.  You are smart, safe, and brave.  And even if you can't see me right now, I was here while you were sleeping.  Look at your hand, and trace your checkmark until you fall back to sleep.  We'll wash it off in the morning, when sunshine brings security again."

They've asked for a blue marker.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Like Dry Bones, he says.

We were listening to Michael Gungor in the car.  (I'm a fan.)

The song held these lyrics:

My soul cries out, my soul cries out for you.  
These bones cry out, these dry bones cry for you.

A word hardly passes Tyler's ears that he hears it and wants to know what it means.

"Mommy, what does that mean - my soul cries out?"

"It means that sometimes we are so sad that our hearts cry out inside us for God to help us."

"What does that mean - dry bones?  Why do they say that?"

Well, this is a tricky, abstract something to explain to my four-year-old.  But I did my best.

"Well, when someone dies, their bones dry up because their skin is gone and there is no food to keep them strong.  So, when a person is so sad, like in this song, then they might say their bones are dry, and their soul is crying out."

I know.  Not a stellar definition.  But we were on our way to the grocery store.  I didn't have Ezekiel or Jeremiah or Lamentations at my fingertips.  It seemed to suffice, and he tucked these definitions away.

One thing I love about Tyler is his ability to store and apply vocabulary.  These new phrases emerged, in classic Tyler fashion.

"Mommy, I am so angry with Tucker that my soul is crying out like dry bones."

"Mommy, please don't leave me alone at bedtime.  I really don't want my soul to cry out."

Way to use and apply, kiddo.  I believe you now own those words, of all phrases to choose.

Silly boy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Almost Said It.

I met Braxton last night, a long-awaited newborn who is 15 days old.  He was wide awake and snuggly.  I pulled out all my best newborn tricks when he started to cry, and I assured his mom that as long as she felt comfortable, I wasn't really at all afraid of fussing baby boys.  I'm highly familiar.

And then I remembered that sometimes the only thing the baby boy wants is his momma, not any fancy tricks from some lady who thinks she knows the drill.  I waved the white flag, handed all ten pounds of him back to his mom, and he quieted as soon as he heard the voice he had been listening to for nine months.

I remembered those earliest of days when Robb and I were new parents, when we felt like we were staying up all night at the best slumber party ever.  I listened to Braxton's parents talk about his midnight routines, about tears pouring down her face from utter exhaustion at 2 AM. 

And I almost said, "Enjoy it.  Enjoy this sacred season.  Enjoy every minute."

But then I remembered the truth: the season is sacred and fleeting, but it's not every-moment-enjoyable. 

Sometimes she'll be just so utterly exhausted that she can't see straight or think clearly. 
She'll have spit-up spots on her shirts for the next eight months. 
She's going to get peed on and pooped on. 
She'll add 'go to the bathroom' to her list of things to do today, just so she can feel a measure of productivity.
She'll cry a lot, she won't know why, and Braxton's dad will have to learn to take the unspoken cues from a walking rollercoaster of hormones.

She will wear her heart outside her body, from this day forward. 
She will learn the difference between his hungry cry, his angry cry, and his scared cry. 
She will hear him learn his voice and her name. 
She will have some really great moments.

But they might be scattered between some long stretches of really, really hard.

So I didn't say it.  I didn't say, "Enjoy every minute,"  because I only felt maternal guilt when people told me to enjoy a minute that I was wishing to skip past.

I said, "I bet you're so tired.  You'll find your stride.  But it's going to be great.  And you'll get some sleep again someday. It's okay if you don't love being awake at 2 AM.  It doesn't mean you don't love him.  And congratulations, new mom.  You look like a total pro."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls

I fixed cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning for the first time since before Christmas.  In fact, only a few weeks ago did I throw away the remaining Pillsbury tubes that lingered from 2010.

(My refrigerator is a veritable scavenger hunt.)

Our family once enjoyed cinnamon rolls on a weekly basis, every Sunday morning.  I put them in the oven, and Robb frosted them after they finished baking; I did the before and he did the after.  The eight rolls divided evenly among the four of us: three for Robb, two for me, and 1.5 for each of the boys.

I could hear him in my head, nearly feel his presence at the kitchen counter.  He was a master at frosting cinnamon rolls - he turned it into a careful science of temperature, consistency, and balance on top of the roll.  He believed strongly in his technique.

It's been a while since I've done something for the first time, encountered that bitter taste of fresh remembering.

I frosted them like a novice, and I served them up on three paper plates.

There were three cinnamon rolls left in the pan.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lily of the Valley

She is a small flower,
about the size of my pinkie.
She seems delicate and fragile
upon first glance,
but she's much heartier than one might think.
She has a gentle presence,
with intricate scalloped edges
on her face turned to the ground.
she has a strong, refreshing fragrance
that fills a room.

I believe I have found a new favorite flower.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Word to Single Moms

All single moms are not the same, and yet somehow they are. 

There are women whose husbands have died.
There are women whose husbands have left.
There are women who don't know the father.
There are women who asked him to leave.
There are women who are safer on their own with their children.
There are women who never married, who chose from the start to do it alone.
There are women who are married, he is present, and yet she parents all alone.

There are stigmas with each category.  Some women are favored as heroines, courageous and valiant; others are stigmatized with a scarlet letter.  Some receive an outpouring of grace and resources; others are left to fend for themselves and do their best.

But here's the deal: single moms are moms.  And that's hard, selfless, valiant, courageous, constant work. 

I have been deeply supported from the moment I took on the unwanted title.  Truthfully, this deluge of presence continues to carry me through; it has (you have) been my saving grace, my safety net, and my beacon on many nights.

I ache and wonder for women who wear a different mantle, those who travel a path that does not warrant help, support, empathy, or grace.  How much harder their road must be.

Single moms are single moms.  Different and yet the same.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Every Good Marriage

What most people don't know is that Robb and I had just worked our way through a marital valley, a long line in the desert.  We had fought hard for us, even though sometimes that looked like we were fighting against each other.  We had trudged through the hardest conversations, and we were on the other side.

And it was good and healthy and lush and beautiful again, for the last two months of his life (that we didn't know were the last two months of his life). 

Had we not fought hard, he could have died in the midst of the season.  He could be gone with conversations undone, decisions unfinished, knots untied.

But by the grace of God, we were on the gracious side of the valley, the upward climb in the sunshine. 

How much harder this path would be, if we had not found each other again, just in time.

"Our love has been anything but perfect and anything but static.  Inevitably there have been times when one of us has outrun the other and has had to wait patiently for the other to catch up.  There have been times when we have misunderstood each other, demanded too much of each other, been insensitive to the other's needs.  I do not believe there is any marriage where this does not happen.  The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys.  I suspect that in every good marriage there are times when love seems to be over.  Sometimes, these desert lines are simply the only way to the next oasis, which is far more lush and beautiful after the desert crossing than it could possibly have been without it."

~ Madeleine L'Engle, Two-Part Invention

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All My Favorite People

Today, I introduce to you my very first guest post.  A storyteller, wordsmith, and not-your-average pastor, Phil Vaughan has made a recent entrance into the blogosphere.  I dig his writing.  

Thank you for making me think, Phil.

(In addition to his blog, you can find Phil on Facebook and Twitter.  Look him up.  Seriously.)

The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay; the same sun which makes the living tree grow, dries up the dead tree, and prepares it for burning. Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things.
J.C. Ryle

I was looking at my bookshelf the other day and came across several books that mean a great deal to me—books that have been very influential in my spiritual growth and my relationship with God. Just by looking at these books I can remember very specific seasons of life during which the author’s ideas shaped me. I can also recall some significant shifts in thinking that were created by the core concepts in those books—cataclysmic points in time, after which I was never the same. Sounds a bit dramatic, I know. But some ideas are like that. Once they grab hold of you they refuse to let go.
When I look at the small number of authors that have had that kind of influence on me I notice they have one thing in common: they all are a bit morose. They are broken people, who have been through some extremely difficult periods in their lives. They have been shaped by tragedy and loss.
This came to mind the other night when Donna and I were at a live performance by Over The Rhine—one of my favorite musical artists. I’ve followed Over The Rhine for almost twenty years. I first saw them live about 12 years ago in a small bar in Indiana. Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist make up the soul and identity of Over The Rhine. They have been writing and performing songs since 1989. Their best songs are pensive, with thoughtful lyrics that have an optimistic sadness. I loved the entire performance—live music is one of my favorite forms of art. I think it’s because of the uniqueness of each specific moment, knowing that it will never be recreated exactly in the same way again. As we listened to their lyrics and instruments the other night we heard soulful harmonica, percussion sounds placed with precision, the deep bass of a piano’s low register, and voices that told the story of hope born from loss.
The last song of the evening was titled “All My Favorite People.” Sometimes a lyric or a piece of prose captures an idea that resonates from deep within you. And occasionally the words express that idea beautifully, more completely than you’ve been able to. Such was the case with these lyrics: 

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners

The authors that shape me, and the singer/songwriters that craft music that moves me—they all live with an acute awareness of their own frailty. They have been through long, dark nights. They are familiar with the language of lament. They have encountered the sun and fire that Ryle makes reference to. And yet they have emerged on the other side of difficulty with a mature and lasting hope, and they dare to tell their story.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More Than A Dress

I remember the day I stopped caring about my wedding dress.

I bought it a year before we were married (and no, I do not encourage long engagements), and I loved it as much as a person can love an inanimate thing.  Perhaps more than a person should.

The bridal boutique held it in storage for me, and I visited the dress every few weeks.  In fact, the store eventually told me I needed to stop putting it on or it would need to be cleaned before its actual debut at the wedding.  I was a little over the top in my affections.

I remember thinking, "I can't wait until it's mine, in my hands, in my house.  I'll wear it whenever I want to, because it will be mine, all mine."  Somehow I pictured myself, the married bride, traipsing around the house and playing dress-up in this giant ball gown.  Even now, that sentence seems ridiculous to say.

Probably about 7 minutes after we were back from our honeymoon, I realized - with shocking surprise - that I really didn't care about that beloved wedding dress anymore.  Not really at all.

We were married, the day had been perfect, and we had the 'rest of our lives' to look forward to.  I suddenly realized that there was so much more to be happy about than a silly dress.  The story was about so much more than a damn dress.

I feel this way now about my wedding rings.  I loved them, I still love them, and now I don't need to wear them.   There is so much more to our story than the rings.

I love him, I miss him, I love him, I miss him.  I can't possibly say those words enough to convey the depth of their anchor in my heart.

If I can't have him, if I can't wear the rings on the fourth finger of my left hand, then what can I do with this next chapter? 

If I must let go of that dream, that plan, that life, then what may I embrace?

If I must realize that my life as I knew it is over,
that Robb is better than okay where he is,
that he may or may not know what I'm doing
on a daily basis,
that my decisions are of zero consequence to him now,
that the first chapter has been written,
that it's time for Act II,

then I think it's time to start living again. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Define Sacrifice.

I was a senior; my brother was a freshman.  We shared a wide circle of friends during that year that we attended the same high school, and we ate lunch together in one big horde of teenage camaraderie.

There were nine of us at a table made for eight, and on one fateful day the principal decided to make an example of us. 

He stormed to the table, performed a quick head count, and said, "Too many people at this table.  Rob, you're a freshman.  You don't belong here anyway.  Choose somewhere else to sit."

Rob presented an honest rebuttal.  "She's my sister.  I'm having lunch with my sister."

"Except she's a senior and you're a freshman, and I doubt she really wants you around.  Come on, young man, pick up the tray and choose another table."

In reluctant and resentful submission, Rob picked up his tray and moved to an empty table nearby.  I picked up my tray and joined him.  We sat together, the two of us at a table for eight.

That story has gone down in family history as one of the most defining moments of our friendship, as he realized in that scene the true measure of his worth to me.

But I have to say, it didn't feel like a major decision to me.  I didn't actually see an option.  (I can sit her in a social cloud while my brother sits alone?  Well, that's not really an option.  The decision is made.)

My mom and I remembered this story together last evening.  I said, "It just didn't feel like a decision to me, and it didn't even feel like a sacrifice.  It's just what I needed to do."

She touched my arm with one finger, and her face lit up with the moment of recognition she had been waiting for.

"And now you know exactly how I have felt for the last ten months, Tricia.  It hasn't felt like a decision to do this journey with you.  It didn't even feel like a sacrifice.  It's just what I needed to do.  You get it now.  For the first time, I think you get it."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Married Swings

Tuck and I like to swing together at the park.  When the swings synchronized, back and forth, back and forth, he said, "Look, Mommy.  Our swings are married."

When we lost our matching rhythm and began to simply pass each other in the back and forth, he said, "Sometimes swings don't like to stay married."

An interesting word picture, my boy. 

"Tuck, did you know I was married once?"

"Yes.  To Daddy."

"I liked being married to him."  Even when our swings weren't perfectly aligned.


"Because he was a lot of fun."

"Yeah, but he died, Mommy."

"I miss him, Tuck."

And just like that, our swings began to match again.  I said, "Oh, Tucker!  Look!"

He gasped and looked over his shoulder to see what had caught my eye.  "What, Mommy?"

"Look at our swings - they're matching again."

"Oh, they're married. I thought you saw Daddy.  I thought Daddy was here."

"Sorry, buddy.  He's not here."

"I miss him, Mommy.  He died so fast."

"Yes, he did."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Flu Shots

"Have you gotten your flu shot?"

"Flu Shot Clinic this weekend."

"The shot will cost less than the illness."

There seem to be signs everywhere, reminding everyone to take care of themselves and take the preventive steps to keep that blasted influenza at bay.

Every fall, Robb got a flu shot.  Actually, every fall he said, "I'll get mine when you get yours."  So I got mine; he got his.

A couple of weeks ago, when I first saw one of the ads for the flu shots, my instincts jumped to remind Robb to get his.  He won't need one this year.

Those posters remind me of how this whole thing started.  They remind me that we did everything we could do.  They remind me that some curveballs come out of left field, and there's just nothing you can do to brace yourself or avoid them.

I don't know if I'll get one this year.  I honestly don't know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Ball Gown and a Cemetery in Autumn

O Aspen leaves, how I love you. 
Your splashy yellows and sparkling golds are the ball gown of a Colorado autumn.

(You have grown on me, as I can't say you compare to the glorious colors in the east during these weeks of the year.  But I liken this comparison to apples and oranges, and I shall agree to love you differently.  Because you really are quite beautiful.)

The last two Saturdays, we have driven into the mountains to see the fall canvas of colors.  I'm telling you, this is an autumn favorite of mine.

(Plus, I never, ever tire of a road trip that involves a recipe of: 1) a great playlist, 2) someone else as the primary driver, 3) stellar company, 4) a good book and a sweet mocha in my hands, 5) sweet and salty snacks, 6) a DVD player and headphones for my children.  I realize that's a tall order.  But strike the right concoction, and I'm in for the long haul.

And I have the bladder of a teacher (trained to go only twice a day), and this makes me a delightful companion.  I hardly ever need to stop.  :)

The second Saturday, we took a wrong turn that landed us in the most glorious accidental destination: a 150-year-old cemetery.

I love cemeteries.  It's a different facet of people-watching.  Each tombstone offers a story: dates, names, seasons, titles, epitaphs.  And the clusters of them together paint pictures of families.  I could explore forever, connecting their dots, imagining who they were.

I read about a woman listed only as 'mother,' and she was 18 when she died.

I read about a 'world's woodmen,' his tombstone depicted in a marble tree trunk.  He was 26.

I found stones with only initials.  I wondered why there was so little to record.

I sat among the stones of a family who lost three children in the winters of 1868, 1873, and 1875.

Underneath one man's name, I read the word 'killed.'  His family chose for there to be no mistake, ever.

I read about a baby who lived for six days, and they didn't offer his name.  But I bet he had one.  Somebody called him by something, someday.

I have never left a cemetery because I was ready.  I left because it was time to go.

The space is sacred to those who know these people.  I tread carefully.  Perhaps this is morbid to some, this comfort I have.  I have been fascinated my entire life, and now I am keenly aware that this journey isn't forever.

Someone - anyone - loved each of these people.  And that's a story I want to hear.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Did You Two Become Friends?

My brother and I are each other's biggest fan.  Unless you're new here, you've undoubtedly read my praises and affirmations of all things Rob in dozens of posts.  I dig him. 

He and I often hear that question: "How did you two become such good friends?"

Our parents hear a variation of the same: "How did you teach them to do that?"

Per reader request, I write today to answer that question.

My brother and I faithfully say that our friendship is in large part due to the environment our parents created at home; our parents faithfully say that our friendship had little to do with them and much to do with our decisions as siblings.

I propose it is a recipe of both.

Our parents laid some foundational groundwork:

1. No name calling.  It's okay to be angry, but it's not okay to be mean.

2. No physical violence. Say what you need to say, but do not hit, scratch, punch, or pull hair.  Ever.  (There was one serious battle over the TV remote control when we were 9 and 11, and my parents  followed through: no dice.  Don't try that again.)

3. Our home was a fun place to be.  Our family had fun together, we laughed a lot, and that made my brother and me want to come home.  And we were always, always welcome to bring our friends, any amount of them, at any hour of the day or night.  As a teenager, I loved this social perk.  As a mom, I get the added benefits: they always knew where we were and who we were with.

4. While friends were welcome always, there was one exception: Our family vacations were exclusive to our family.  We had a getaway once a year, and the destination and duration varied on the family finances that year.  But there was always a vacation, and it belonged to only us.  My brother and I were never allowed to bring a friend along; we were encouraged to find friendship in each other.  As a result, all our favorite memories are mutual - we share them with each other, not with a friend or neighbor passing through for this life stage. 

So, those were the foundational pieces.  Please don't be deceived: there were a good many years when we did not enjoy each other at all, and if our choices were only each other, then we would choose to play alone.  Our affinity didn't come as a birthright.  We chose it later on.

When we were 14 and 12, we watched my uncle die a long, slow death at a very young age.  We watched our dad lose his younger brother.  And we caught our first glimpse of the fragility of life and the gift of a sibling.

And we both remember the day we said to one another, "So, hey, how about this: what if we decide to like each other?"  We didn't know any other siblings who got along, who truly preferred each other, and we wondered what it might be like to give it a go. 

"Friends?"  "Best friends.  It starts today." 

We established our own code of conduct that has held one basic theme: we'll never let the other feel lonely.

And we've never looked back. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Wedding Rings

I took off my wedding ring.

I felt like the time had come.  It felt like something that no longer encouraged me; it felt like a memory. It felt like the last thread of something I was holding on to, carrying it just for the sake of carrying it. 

It felt like a lie.  It felt like pretending, like I was playing a role.

I took it off, polished it, and put it away.

Then I got it back out. 

Then I put it away.

And I got it back out again.

I haven't been without it for 12 years.  There is an indentation on the ring finger of my left hand.  Common health lore says the cells of the human body are completely regenerated every seven years.  If this is so, then this ring has been on my finger longer than the finger has been on my hand.  The flesh has given way in the last many years, sure this fixture was here to stay.  I wonder how long the line will remain, like a reserved seat.

It's a trio of gifts tied into one:
the day he asked me to marry him,
the day we said 'I do,'
the decade's anniversary of thousands of every days.

And it's just so beautiful, especially after the gentle polishing.

It's one of the most beautiful gifts Robb ever gave me.  It is the token of our vows, the memory of our marriage.  But on a new finger, it no longer means I am married.

I decided to put it back on: on my right hand, this time.  It looks lovely there.

Perhaps I'll put a different ring on my left hand.  Maybe I'll buy myself a new one.  For now, it feels best to let it breathe for a while.  It's another absence to accept.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time

I am not a re-reader of books.  I am not a re-watcher of movies.  Once I know how it twists, turns, and lands, I don't often feel compelled to revisit.  I think there are so many good books and movies out there - I should see them all once before I begin a repeat tour.

But I am rereading A Wrinkle In Time.

Because (by now you must know) I love all things Madeleine.  But really because sometimes God places books in my hands, in one way or another.  I believe this is one of those.

I contend that this is one of the most brilliant books ever written, and the Newbery folks were inclined to agree. 

In this reread, I am nearly undone by the parallels.  Meg and Charles Wallace have lost their father so suddenly.  They don't know where he is or how to get to him, but they know they must.  And they have to fight 'the powers of darkness' to get there.  Their journey is long and scary, and although adults have equipped them with wisdom and tools, the adults can't do the living for them. 

And so they fight: for truth and goodness, for each other, and for their dad. 

The boys don't like that I'm reading this book.  It's an older print, the pages are yellowed, and the cover is frightening.  Tucker calls it 'the bad guy bible.' 

(He believes every book I read is some form of the bible.)

I was reading as they swam, and Tucker got out of the pool to sit by me.  "Can you read that out loud?"

"Why, buddy?"

"Because I want to know what his voice sounds like."  He pointed to the red-eyed moon face on the front cover.  How endearing that he believes that my read-aloud would be a perfect inflection of the characters' voices.

"Well, it's kind of a scary book, Tuck.  But I'll will read it to you someday, I promise.  Maybe when you're ten."

"How about when I'm seven?"

"No, I think ten will be better."  Or maybe twelve.

"It's too scary for me?"

"A little too scary for a boy who is in kindergarten."  But really, kiddo, that sentence is true of so much of this greater story we are living.

My answer sufficed, and he splashed into the water again.

The thing is, there's so much in this book that is true for him, so much that could equip and empower him.  Or, the tangible depiction of the 'powers of darkness' could make him feel even more like his life is spinning out of control.  I can't risk that.

So we'll evaluate again in a few years.  And for now, I'll read silently.  And find myself undone.