Slow Down. Be Still.

There are less than two weeks until I go back to school and three weeks until the students start.  My heart rate raises a few beats just thinking it….and a few more putting it into writing.

I feel so tempted to count my summer as over.  My planning, worrying, people-impressing self says I need to be getting ready for the school year now.  I should be organizing my classroom, scouring Pinterest for back to school ideas, and figuring out what happened to Pluto so I can be ready to teach about the planets.

The truth is that I have tried already.  Yesterday I took Chica to play with her friends at her old school, and I enlisted a few of my friends to help me get started on the disaster area that is my new room.  Bubba had to come with us, and he made it completely clear that he wasn’t satisfied unless I was holding him.  We made some major progress, but there is an embarrassingly huge amount of stuff still left to be done.

But at the same time that my heart rate rises, I seem to be hearing a small voice telling me to be still.

Slow down.  School hasn’t started, and the summer is not over.  No need to mourn it now.  EnJOY the time with your sweet family that you have left before the busyness of school takes over.

I’ve been blessed with some slow moments this week already.

Yesterday I took Chica and Bubba to the park while Jay did the grocery shopping.  After swinging, sliding, and pretending, we were headed home for what was sounding like a potty emergency.  It turned out to be a false alarm (I’ll spare you the explanation I was given), so we wandered back into the park a second time.  Chica had The Colors of the Wind tune stuck in her head, and she just stood under a tree singing, making up words for what she couldn’t remember.  We discovered these really funky seed pods and enjoyed popping them open together, one after another.  Nowhere to go, nothing we had to do.  Just plopped down in the middle of a field being together.  Slow.  Still even.

Today we had a repeat of the hike we took at the beginning of the summer.  The whole time she kept asking me, “Member this?” when she’d see something that triggered a memory from our first trip.  On the way back, she got distracted by a sandy patch of ground, of all things.  She must have sat there for nearly ten minutes just drawing designs in the sand with her fingers.  If you had seen her you might have thought either A) She must be a nature deprived child to be that enthralled with dirt or B) You’re definitely going to have to cut those nails tonight!  One part of me wanted to hurry her up.  We had planned a library trip and swim after what was supposed to be a quick hike.  That small voice, however, reminded me it was okay to just be still, so I let her be.

I’ve had my fair share of still and slow moments with Bubba lately too.  I’ve finally decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  If I can’t get him to nap in his own bed, but he will sleep in my arms in the recliner, then…well…why not?  Both Sunday and today I took those opportunities to nap, something I rarely do.  Today instead of thinking of all the things I could’ve or should’ve been doing, I tried to think about how much I will miss snuggling his hot-potato self when he’s fourteen (or even four maybe).

I’m hoping these next two weeks will be slow, filled with many more still moments.  Even more, I’m hoping I can carry a little of the stillness into the school year.

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Five Minute Friday: Beyond These Phases

Bubba @ 8 ½ months

We are currently suffering through the I Won’t Take a Nap Unless Someone Warm Is Holding Me phase.  This important stage of development is accompanied by the I Refuse To Eat Anything Unless I’m Feeding Myself phase and the Three Quarters of What I Try To Feed Myself Ends Up Smashed In My Lap phase.

Chica @ 4 years

She is smack in the middle of the I Don’t Really Need a Nap, But I’ll Lose It At Dinner If I Don’t Rest phase.  This is also the time of the I’ll Roll My Eyes At You Just To See If You Notice phase and the Fourteen Questions Per Minute phase.

At nap time and dinner time I am so ready to move beyond these phases.  I wonder how we got here and if they will ever end.

But then when they are both sleeping (because everything is just a little bit better then, right?), I remember that moving beyond these phases will certainly mean leaving behind other good ones.

Like the Let Me Give You a Big Sloppy Kiss All Over Your Face phase.   And the I’m Not Afraid To Strike Up a Friendly Conversation With A Total Stranger phase.

God, keep teaching me to find JOY in each of these phases of our little family, good and bad.  When we move beyond these and on to the next ones, may you pour on the joy again.

Oh, I almost missed one.  Who could forget the I Love To Make Farty Noises On Your Flabby Arm Skin phase?   I’m not sure if I’m ready to move beyond this one or not.  I think it’s funny at 8 months.  I’m sure he’ll think it’s funny at 8 years when I’m ready to be over it.

Linking up with Lisa Jo for Five Minute Friday…even though my five minutes somehow turned into five times ten.  I tried.

Five Minute Friday

Learning Joy (Plus the Splinter and the Weasel)

If only.

If only it didn’t take two hours to get Bubba to sleep, then this would have been a very different post.

You see, today I’ve been on a mission searching for joy.  I found it, and I’ve been crafting eloquent ways to write about it all day.  I was going to tell you about my kids laughing at each other, empty grocery bags, and sweeping my steps.  I was going to tell you about getting peed on, going for a jog, and getting splinters out with weasels*.  Most importantly, I was going to try to describe the mysterious relationship between joy and obedience.

But then Bubba wouldn’t fall asleep.  I swear sometimes that the boy is allergic to his bed. He’ll be completely passed out, limp in your arms, but the second his skin hits his sheets, he’s wide awake and heartbroken.

If only I had made him cry it out from the beginning. 

If only he was asleep right now, I could be writing. 

I can’t wait until he can put himself to bed like Chica.  I will get so much more sleep.  

So here we are again, right back to where I started yesterday.  Always thinking about what’s next and despising the moment in which I’m stuck.

Except this time I tried to battle those thoughts with the truth I’ve been finding.

I read today that we are called to view trouble as an opportunity for great joy.  Now I know not being able to get the baby to sleep is mild in the grand scheme of troubles.  But tonight it was robbing me of my joy, so I think this is the perfect place to start to try applying these instructions.  Start small, right?

But get this…the whole reason we are supposed to rejoice in our struggles is because we know that they build endurance in us.  So does this mean I should be happy I can endure two hours of bedtime because next month it will be three?  Yikes, I hope not.  I think it’s more like I should take joy in this moment because it’s going to make me better prepared for the next time that being a mom seems inconvenient or exhausting or impossible.

I’m not sure that tonight I actually took the opportunity to be joyful or even know how to do that exactly, but at least I was pondering the possibility in the moment.  Starting small.

How about you…do you have a concrete example of a time when you truly experienced joy in the midst of a trouble?  How did you train your “if only” brain to take the opportunity for joy instead of just wallowing?

*So, I’m guessing you didn’t particularly want to read about the grocery bags and me sweeping the floor, but maybe you’re just a tiny bit curious about the splinter and the weasel.  This makes me laugh every time I tell it, so read on if you need a little extra dose of joy today….

Yesterday we took Chica to the doctor for the physical she needs to start school.  The doc addressed all of the questions to me, much to the annoyance of Chica.  She tried and tried to interject extra bits of useful information without any luck of gaining his listening ear. Finally she found her opening in the conversation, and this is what she said…

“On vacation I got one splinter in this foot and two splinters in the other foot.  My mommy tried to get it out with a weasel, but it didn’t work.  When we got home she used a tweaser, and then it did work.”

Now I know she meant needle, but no telling what the doctor thought she meant.

I love that kid.

Back Off With Your If Onlys

The dishwasher is whirring.  Bubba is (hopefully) down for the count after two marathon feedings in a row.  My brain tells my feet, “Head to the dining room to start unpacking all of those grocery bags from vacation.”

My feet apparently decide to ignore my brain because they have found their way onto the couch in the basement.  Brain is not surprised.  This is what happens every night at this hour, followed by the nightly declaration of, “If I can only make it through….”

Tonight Brain thinks, “If I can only make it through tomorrow, then my house will be clean.  Then all will be right in the world, and I can really enjoy my summer.”

Now first off, this is ridiculous.  Sure, I have talked Jay into sequestering both kids in Nana’s house for the day.  This means I can clean in peace without any cling-ons to slow me down.  I will have a super productive hour after they leave.  Then I will reward myself with a few minutes of vegging, which will accidentally turn into 45 minutes.  Then I’ll clean for ten more minutes until I’m distracted by an old magazine, or my neglected running shoes, or a stray chin hair that just appeared.  And it will all of a sudden be lunch time, which of course should be followed by a nap, and then whadayaknow?  The cling-ons and a very tired Jay are back.  Clean house?  Yeah…not going to happen.

But secondly, more importantly, I’ve caught on to this pattern that my worn out brain has established.  You see every single day I think that if I can only make it to (fill in the blank), then life will be better.

If only I can make it to Spring Break, then I can relax.

I can’t wait until I get this huge stack of papers graded.  Then there will be no stress.

When this fifth grade play is finally finished, life will be good.

School is out in three more days.  I can already taste the freedom!

When Jay gets back from his trip, then summer can really start.

Once the power comes back on, we are going to have so much fun.

One more week until vacation.  No stress there!

So here’s the deal…I did make it to and through all those moments, but I don’t remember soaking in any of that relief my brain thought it would feel.  Instead I skipped right over the “phew” feeling and on to the next “if only”.

Listen up, Brain.  I’m tired of this rhythm.  You’ve fooled me one too many times.  I realize that we’ve got just two ways we can think about your crazy cycle:

1)  That peace that you describe will never come.  There’s always something else to do, some other deadline, or some nagging mess to clean up.  The only things that will change are the severity and the urgency of your stress.

2)  Find some way to experience joy now, right now.

Brain, I’m choosing #2.  I’m on a mission to find joy, so back off with your if onlys.

Check back tomorrow.  I hope to let you know how the search is going….and how many grocery bags I actually get unpacked.

Why I’m Thankful I Got a D

Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you are supposed to write a letter to someone?  Maybe it’s a get well card for someone battling a nasty illness, a hello message for a friend I haven’t seen in ages, or a thank you card for a helpful neighbor.  I get those feelings quite often, but 99% of the time I just ignore them.  Maybe I can’t find the right kind of stationery, or if I could, I know I couldn’t find an address and a stamp.  I make really good excuses, and those really good notes go unwritten.

About a week ago I again had that feeling after reading the editor’s note in Real Simple magazine.  It was about thanking someone for a conversation that changed your life.  I immediately had a person in mind, but I began rationalizing that I would never find a way to contact her.  Well, a few Google searches later I had an e-mail address.  And I went for it…

Hello Mrs. Vaughan,

(I did some searching on Google and came up with this e-mail address. If you are not, in fact, the Mrs. Vaughan that used to teach at the Math & Science high school, please disregard this crazy note!)

This week the letter from the editor in a magazine that I read was about conversations that change your life. The author suggested that you write a letter to someone that influenced you through a conversation. So, here I am….almost 15 years later!

I have no idea if you’ll remember this, but you assigned us a paper to write about a Civil War novel. I hated history, hated the Civil War, and hated that I had to write a paper about something that I hated. : ) I didn’t actually finish the book, wrote the paper anyway, and promptly received a well deserved D.

I remember having to come to your room after school or during a free period to talk to you about it. I don’t actually recall the content of that conversation, but I clearly remember the outcome. You gave me a chance to rewrite it, and I decided to take you up on your offer. I stayed home from school to finish the dreaded book and write a much better second draft. When I received that paper back graded, I got an A. Not an A averaged with the D. Just an A.

Through that conversation, your encouragement, and your willingness to give me a second chance, I began to believe that I could actually write. Writing has actually grown to be something that I love to do….and I can pinpoint this assignment as the turning point for me. So…many years later, thank you.

I am teacher now too! This year I’ll be teaching math and science to 4th grade gifted students, but I’ve also taught 5th grade gifted students and fourth grade inclusion. This is the first summer I’ve had my kids home with me, and I started a blog to chronicle our summer adventures and misadventures. I guess this blog and the positive feedback I’m getting from friends on my writing is what made me think of you. If you’d like to check it out, the address is https://chicaandbubba.wordpress.com.

I hope that you are doing well. Thanks again for a life changing conversation all those years ago.  Tracy

I fired the e-mail off sometime after midnight and promptly forgot about it.  I never actually expected to hear anything back because the website where I found her address was several years old.  Well guess what!?  She wrote me back!

She is retired now and enjoying spending time with her grandchildren.  She said that she connected to many of the things I write about here because of her time with her grandkids.  My favorite thing she wrote was, “Your message did remind me of the power people, and teachers in particular, have to help or hurt.”  So. True.  I’m hoping I’m helping more than hurting with the kids I teach.  Maybe one day I’ll get a crazy random e-mail from one of them reminding me of something I can barely remember.

So how about you?  Do you have anybody you need to thank for a life changing conversation?  Even if that person may never read your letter, I think there’s value in reminding ourselves of the power that our words really have.

Guest Post: Jay Talks Vacation

Thanks, Jay, for sharing the real story about why we are here….

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This year for vacation, we are spending a week in Charlotte, NC.  Yeah…I get that look from a lot of people when I tell them our vacation plans.  We are staying in a very nice little house on Lake Wylie, just outside of Charlotte.  Now for the good part.  We picked Charlotte because it is the home of the 2012 PDGA Disc Golf World Championships.  Really.

Eight months ago, my brother took me out to play a round of disc golf.  I was really no good.  Now, eight months later, I’m marginally better.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, disc golf is a sport played much like golf.  Instead of using clubs and a ball, you use a variety of small, flat, heavy Frisbees (or discs, thanks to Wham-O).  You throw these discs at metal baskets adorned with chains.   Aside from these differences, the two golfs have very similar rules.

This week, the best players in the world are here in Charlotte playing disc golf. I’m not talking about a bunch of stoners hanging out and throwing a Frisbee.  These guys are really good.  I’ve watched Ken Climo, Dave Feldberg, Will Schusterick, Valerie Jenkins, and Paige Pierce.  What?  You don’t know these names?  These people make up the Dream Team of disc golf today.  I’m talking Jordan, Byrd, Johnson, Barkley, and Ewing here.

I came to the largest disc golf tournament in the world to watch these professionals and learn how to play better.  It is truly amazing to see what these people can do.  An added bonus to learning from the pros was meeting the pros.  For the most part these people are like you and me (except they are really good at disc golf).  They have jobs, and disc golf is a well paying hobby.  This makes them more accessible than most professional athletes.  Sure there are divas in the bunch, but most of them are really cool and easy to talk to.  Being able to talk and joke with the top players has made this experience even better.  My best piece of advice this week was, “You can’t start off throwing like these guys.  You have to learn to be smooth first.”  These pros are great at what they do, but at the same time, it’s good to see that they are real people and can slam their disc into a tree just as well, if not better, than I can.

This has been a great, if unusual, vacation.  I won’t be playing in the World Championships any time soon, but it’s a great place to get the inspiration to become a better player.

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What Jay didn’t tell you is that he is already busy grooming Bubba for the 2030 World Championships.  Check out the mini disc he got this week.  

Somewhere To Be Peaceful

“Are you going somewhere to be peaceful?”

These were Chica’s words as she hugged me goodbye for the third time yesterday.  “Well, yes, I am,” but I hadn’t really thought of it that way.  Turns out she knows what she’s talking about.

Yesterday was time for the biennial Tracy and Taylor’s Excellent Adventures.  Installment one of this sibling fun was Memorial Day two years ago when we climbed Mt. Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak.  That adventure included getting lost in the predawn hours, spotting a just-born wild foal and its mother, and two bear sightings, all before lunch time.  I was pretty sure that this year’s trip wouldn’t leave us with such good storytelling material, but I couldn’t wait, nonetheless.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, we headed to the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.  We started our morning off with a raft ride through Class II, III, and IV rapids in their manmade river.  This was one of those times where I tried to force myself to see the bigger picture.  “Open your eyes, soak it all in,” I told myself.  Instead I spent most of the time focused on the paddle in front of me and my feet tucked firmly under the seat.  I really didn’t want to have an “out of boat experience.”

Since we were already soaked, we decided to try out the stand-up paddle boarding next.  Taylor and I were both surprised at just how difficult it was.  If you want to get anywhere fast, paddle boarding is not the sport for you.  If you try to paddle quickly, you’re going to either tip over or veer too far left or right. So unlike rafting, we took in the big picture, stopped twice for a swim, made jokes about feeling like we were floating the Amazon, and just enjoyed each other’s company.  Yes, Chica, we were able to be peaceful here.

After lunch we attempted their 40 foot climbing wall.  Feeling quite confident and cocky, I stepped right up to tackle climb number two, a climb the guide described as medium difficulty.  I was struck right away with just how small the handholds were.  Since we were using an auto belay, there was no stopping to take a break like you can do if a person is belaying you.  If you let go, you’re coming down, pride and all.

Right there on the wall I thought of Chica.  I get frustrated when she chooses a puzzle, game, or book too easy for her abilities.  I always try to push her to the next challenge.  This medium wall was definitely the next challenge for me, and I was crumbling under those feelings of “it’s too hard.”  I’ll try to have a little more grace next time when she wants to sit comfortably with what she knows she can do.

Our final two adventures were the Mega Zip and Mega Jump.  Possibly the most exciting part of this was watching the rafting from up above while we waited in line.  We saw at least four rafts tip over, giving everyone on board a chance to practice what they had learned about the out of boat experience.  “Lay back, point your feet downstream, and absolutely do not try to stand up.”  Watching it happen so many times in a row actually made a tiny part of me wish it had happened to us.  Spilling out of a raft in a Class IV rapid might possibly be more exciting than a bear sighting??

Though physically tiring, this day was oh-so-peaceful.  I had one mouth to be responsible for instead of three.  The questions I got were easy ones like, “Where are you from?” and, “Have you done this before?”  There was no one to fight over naptime.  Being a mom is awesome, but sometimes you need some time away to remember just how awesome it is.  Spending that time away with great company makes it even better.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Want to hear the joke about pizza that our raft guide told us?

Ahhhh….nevermind….it’s too cheesy.