Yep. I Cried.

That’s me on the left

The year was 1992.  I had my Umbro checked shorts, two pairs of Keds, a Saved By the Bell inspired sleeping bag, and a pillowcase my mom had sewn for me.  No worries that I didn’t really know the super-shy partner I had been assigned, thanks to a pair of inseparable besties in my GA group.  I didn’t care.  I was heading to CAMP!

It was just as glorious as all the big girls said it would be.  The songs, the mountains, the pool, taps at night, counselors that doted on us, Poptarts for breakfast…..all of it.  Unlike many girls my age, including my assigned bunk-mate, I don’t think I spent one second being homesick.  It was way too fun for that.

Summer after summer I found myself back there.  I got called Haley Mills for my Parent Trap haircut.  I learned songs that I still sing to my kids when they are dragging on a hike.  I met Jesus there.  I got my first job there.  Actually, working at camp is the only job that I’ve ever had except teaching.  I learned hard life lessons there.  I became brave there.  Eventually, during our years on full time staff, we started our family there.

So all of that to say I had some unexpected mom emotions well up in me this week as I helped Chica prepare for her first week away at overnight camp.  Something like fear mixed with sadness mixed with worry mixed with get-yourself-together-she’ll-be-fine.  I can distinctly remember my reaction to moms who stuck around just a little too long when they dropped their kids off at camp:  “When my kid gets big enough to go to camp, I will not be doing that mess.  I will drop her off and go.  Not try to make her bed for her, not cry, NOT baby her.  Moms like that just make it worse.”

Except that day came today, and it didn’t go like that exactly.  I did not make her bed, and I did not cry in front of her.  Actually, I didn’t even hug her goodbye for some reason.  But as she stood up on the steps and introduced herself to everyone, I bit my lip willing the tears not to come.  I saved them, but only until I was back in the car.  

I stared here at the cursor for a few minutes trying to think of exactly where the tears came from.  The tears came from so many places.  Thoughts of my mom getting me ready for camp and wondering if she felt all the same things.  Realization that a week will go by where I won’t remind her to brush her hair, and she’ll be just fine.  Hope that she’ll find a friend who gets her and will make the week that much more fun.  Knowing that having experiences apart from us, from me, is what growing up is made of.  Jay joked when I got home that “even stone-cold Tracy” cried.  Yep.  And I’m owning it this time.  

Have a glorious week, Chica!

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These Days…

Bubba sings all the wrong words to Toby Mac from the back seat of the van.
We eat a $5 dinner on Wednesday nights with friends.
Chica asks questions about Star Wars I can’t understand, much less answer.
My trail shoes are collecting dust in the back of the closet, wishing for spring.
Little people pant legs are getting farther and farther from the floor.
My everydayallday mantra is, “Choose joy.”
I crawl in the bed before the little people are asleep.
I have almost perfected the buzz cut.  I only missed two spots this week.
I spend the free time that I don’t really have making my STREAM lab wishlist.
I marvel at my students who make our crazy ideas work.
Jay does about ten times more housework than I do.
I can’t wait for my master’s to be done, but I’m already scoping out what’s next.
Bubba’s first words to us in the morning are often, “Did you read the Bible yet?”
We eat more pizza than I’d ever care to admit.
My pants don’t fit.
Jay takes Bubba to school some days.  This is glorious.
Bubba begs for “homework” to do in the evenings.
Chica has started to pick outfits out for herself that almost match.
Jay loves his new job.
We visit the library every week.
I don’t make enough time to see friends.
Bubba can buckle himself.
I check my email too often.
Chica’s favorite toys are Keva planks.
We move slowly through the book of Genesis.
Bubba asks me to grow my hair long.
We still serve popcorn as our Sunday night dinner.
When there’s a choice to make, Bubba asks Chica what she wants first.
Bubba and I want sauce on everything.  Chica never wants it.
Bubba gives hugs freely.  I just got one.
I wish for more time to write.

Eyes Wide Open

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote this:

P.S. I’m taking a Facebook break, friends.  Mostly it’s about regaining some of the enormous amount of time I waste there.  I’m thinking, though, that less time wasted means more sleep.  And more sleep might mean eyes wider open to watch out for those opportunities for joy.  I’ll try to let you know how it goes.

I mostly stuck to it.  It helped that I made Jay change my password because I have the self control of a four year old when it comes to plans like this.  I admit I did end up checking a few favorite pages regularly like HONY and Ginger Runner and Momastery, but there’s only so much time to be wasted when you don’t log in.

This week, though, I had to break my fast and get Jay to rack his brain for the password he chose so many months ago.  I needed to contact a few people that I don’t have in my address book for a school project.  And while it was initially fun to scroll through new baby pictures on pages of far off friends and see signs of new relationships on others, I found myself right back where I didn’t want to be a year ago.  Jay, time for another password.

Perhaps my only tiny hesitation is that not signing on to Facebook for a year makes you miss notes like this:

Dear Tracy, I know school has started and you are very very busy, but it has come time to gently remind you that were another post to appear on your blog, your fans would very likely enjoy it.

This September note from a sweet college friend made me smile.  With the help of her gentle reminder, here I am again.  Better late than never?

So back to the sleep and eyes wide open and joy.  I can’t say that it happened just like that.  I’m sure this comes to no surprise to anyone who really knows me, but I quickly filled my extra time with everything but sleep.  This semester I completed over half of my master’s degree and ran a marathon.  Sleep was squeezed somewhere in between, and it was rarely enough.

But as for eyes wide open and joy…I think it’s a yes.

I don’t have Facebook photos to prove it.
I don’t have blog posts to prove it.
I don’t have a journal of 1,000 (or even 47) gifts to prove it.

Joyful still:
For new Life Group friends that encourage us through their struggles and ours
For legs that were strong enough to run 17 miles and then walk 9 more
For neighbors that show relentless love
For friends that let you cry in their kitchens
For new friends, if only for a short season
For God-planned reunions with old friends
For a new job for Jay after many months of waiting
For slow mornings with all four of us piled in the bed
For five minute emails from a friend half way around the world
For the Word that is taking root in our lives in such real ways
For five dollar family dinners on Wednesday nights
For a husband that willingly washes the dishes and puts the kids to bed
For the precious personalities of my two year old friends at church
For heartbreak and forgiveness and reconciliation
For eyes wide enough open to see growth in my children as a result of prayer
For Friday afternoon silent dance party bus dismissal
For the giving-est group of parents a teacher could ever want
For handmade gifts by Chica
For Bubba’s thumbs up and winks

Oh, and one more…
For friends that remind me it’s time to write again

May your 2016 be filled with joy and eyes wide enough open to spot it, friends.

Halfway is Okay

Every once in a while I have all of my stuff together.  The other 51 weeks in the year, I feel like I’m barely making it.

I figured out a long time ago that one obvious solution to this coming-apart-at-the-seams feeling is to just pick one or two areas of my life to do really well at any given time and just let the rest sort of coast.  Sometimes this means I’m kicking butt at schoolwork while my house is a disaster.  Other times I’m taking great care of my body with lots of running and cooking while the ungraded papers start to pile up.  And when the undone feeling in that neglected area gets too great, I spend a day or two catching up and readjust my focus for the next week or so.  I’ve come to be fine with this rhythm.  At peace with it, actually.

I can’t say that the work is finished or that somehow I can fully describe to you what has happened, but this has been a school year of Jesus readjusting my priorities in an even bigger way.  And as lame as this might sound, I have to admit that it started with the long delayed obedience of quitting the Facebooks.  It took me a while to connect those two dots…my prayer for readjusted priorities and Jesus’ call to give up this huge time suck on my life.  But…uh…hello!?!  Makes sense, doesn’t it?  Give up this thing that brings no glory to anyone but myself and gain time to bring glory to Jesus.

It’s still a work in progress, but I just feel myself finally pouring less of myself into the bring-glory-to-me things and more into the bring-glory-to-Him things.

So somehow this is all connected to what I thought I was going to write about when I sat down here…my dining room floor.

It’s disgusting really.

Tonight after dinner I noticed just how bad it was.  But I decided not to clean it.

I decided to load the dishwasher and put the leftovers away but leave the floor.  My family was outside in the front yard ready to go for a walk. The bits of paper and the crumbs and the who knows what else can wait.  As I shut the front door I chimed to Jay for the third or fourth time this weekend, “Halfway is okay*!”  And we walked, and it was fun.  We waved at new neighbors and watched helicopter seeds twirl and practiced looking both ways at stop signs.  There was Bubba poking Jay in the butt and Jay pooting in Bubba’s poor face and lots and lots of laughs.  The dining room floor is still waiting, and no one cares.

So just in case you need permission tonight, friends, halfway really is okay.

Clean half of the dishes.
Grade half of the papers.
Eat half of your meals healthy this week.
Or go for a half mile walk instead of none.
Put away half of the laundry.

And use the rest of the time to snuggle a few more minutes or shoot a few more hoops on the driveway or read another book at bedtime.  You’ll be glad you did.

Less glory for me; more glory for Him.

*P.S. While I wholeheartedly believe that, “Halfway is okay,” applies to any and all housework situations, there are plenty of occasions where this mantra does not apply.  Say, for example, keeping matches away from little people, baking chicken, or covering private parts.  Use responsibly.

Bathing Suits, Ice Cubes, and the Kingdom

As a parent of two kids, having only one kid around reminds me of bathing suits.

I remember from my swim team days that the really good, big kids would wear two bathing suits sometimes to practice.  The idea was that two suits = more drag = more work = stronger muscles.  Then when the meet would come and they’d wear only one suit, swimming would be noticeably easier.

Hear me:  I’m not at all suggesting that my two kids are a drag.  I promise.

I’m just saying that they are constantly working out my parenting muscles, and when I get the unexpected blessing of hanging out with just one of them, I sometimes feel that easy-breezy feeling of swimming with just one suit.

Tonight would be no exception.

Chica is spending the night with Nana so that she can get to her early morning violin lesson on time.  While Jay drove her over, Bubba and I were left to finish cleaning up dinner and do bedtime.  Chica’s usually our resident table clearer, so without her here, I tagged Bubba for the job.  This was after, of course, surveying that what was left on the table was (mostly) three-year-old friendly.

His first instructions were to put his cup in the sink and his straw in the trashcan.  Easy enough, right?

Next thing I know all of the water from his cup is dripping down the cabinet and into a puddle in front of the sink.  Not easy enough, apparently.

This is what I wanted to say:  “Bubbaaaaaaaa!!!!!  Ugggghhhhhh!!!!  How hard could it be???  Seriously?  Get out of here and sit on the sofa.  For a long time.  Now!”  And again for effect, “Ughhhhh!!!”

Maybe it was the one kid/bathing suit thing.  Maybe it was his sweet little stunned look.  Maybe it was me finally learning to listen to Jesus in the moments that count.  Whatever the reason, I took a nice long pause, and instead managed a calm, “Why did that happen?”

“I was trying to pour the water into the sink through my straw.”

“That was a bad choice, Bub.  What will you do next time?”

He points, “Straw-trashcan.  Cup-sink.”

“You’re right.  Like I asked you to.”  Still with a calm that I so rarely manage, “Well, what do you think we should do now?”

“I don’t know.”

While it occurred to me that his answer might have been in an attempt to avoid what was coming next, it is also entirely possible that he just didn’t know what to do.  Chica usually fetches the spill cleaner-uppers (aka leftover cloth diapers), so with her gone, I figured this was a good time for him to learn.

“Come with me.  I’ll show you where the good towels are.”

So I proceeded to show him how to open up the towel wide, lay it on the spill, and wipe back and forth.  He was rather bothered by the bunching up at first, but he quickly got over it…and then into it actually!  Realizing it was going to take a while, I went back to loading the dishwasher.  Despite my calmness, I also decided that one spill was plenty for this night, so I finished clearing the table myself.

At one point I grabbed somebody’s cup that held a few leftover ice cubes.  Not thinking, I slung them into the sink and onto a metal baking sheet….right above where Bubba was working.

“Whoa!  That was loud, Mommy.”

“You’re right, Bub.  Sorry.”

“You made a bad choice, Mommy.”

“Well….I’m not sure it was a bad choice.  I was just dumping the cup out, and it hit the pan.”

And then, with exactly the same tone I had used on him minutes earlier…

“Where should you put the ice next time, Mommy?”

Yes, I did eventually answer him, but only after laughing out loud.  Touché, Bubba.  Touché.

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My prayer these days is to live in the Kingdom.  By some strange path, bathing suits and a spilled cup of water and my funny little Bubba have all lead me back there, back here, to contemplating the Kingdom some more.

I hold lots of jobs as Mom.  Dishwasher loader.  Backpack emptier.  Bath giver.  Booboo patcher.  Smoothie maker.

I’m starting to think I should maybe add Kingdom tour guide to my résumé.  Even though I admittedly don’t fully get it myself, I am introducing them to a kingdom….whether it be my own or the Kingdom.

What will they see?

Blessed are the merciful…
Or blessed are the ones that don’t make a mess?

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles…
Or give a little extra only when you don’t have homework and aren’t too tired?

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…
Or seek first the approval and admiration of others?

 

Jesus, give me the strength to introduce my two little people to your kingdom, one spilled glass at a time.

Two Months of Stories

_MG_3447This sweet guy turned three in November.

I don’t believe in birthday parties with friends and favors anymore.  I tried once, but I seemed to botch everything from the budget to the (lack of) pavilion to the sunburn.  So now Nana reminds me each March and November that there’s a birthday coming up in a week or so, and it’s about time to plan something.  And something always seems to turn out to be dinner and cakes at her house with just us.  I’m so thankful.

Bubba’s only request this time was a piñata.  This request, no doubt, was a direct result of la fiesta fantastica de su amigo Weston a few weeks earlier.  Can I just tell you that Party City has a most impressive assortment of piñatas?  Holy cow…..or pirate or bird or Elmo or….you get the picture.  After wandering the aisles trying to talk myself into spending twenty bucks to buy a cardboard Jake for my kid to decapitate, I finally found the perfect choice….

_MG_3422Not only was it a lot easier for me to stomach the decapitation of this creature, but his remains could serve as a perfect prop the following Monday.  Happy Birthday, Bub!  And Happy Dinovember to me!  : )

P.S. Pro-Parent Tip #1113  No need to buy piñata stuffing candies if you are lucky enough to have a November baby.  Just use the Halloween leftovers.  They’ll never know.

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We had a pre-Thanksgiving weekend getaway with my family at a cabin near Crabtree Falls.  No internet, lots of junk food, and game after game of Blockers at the kitchen table all made for a restful mini vacation.

_MG_3571 My favorite memory from our trip, however, has to be the spontaneous hike that I took with Chica and Grandpa after checking out the frozen creek.  On a whim we decided to explore the hillside that rose behind our cabin.  After a while of up, up, and more up, we could see what appeared to be the top of the hill.  Despite Grandpa’s better judgement, Chica and I just had to see what was on the other side.  When we finally reached it, we discovered a road!  This lead us to a new way back to the house and an exciting adventure story to tell when we returned.

Oh how it will make my mommy heart happy if at least one of my kids grows up to love hiking as much as I do.  This day was a start maybe.

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I think violin teachers have super powers.  My kid, who has only been playing for a matter of weeks, stood up there and played her special part of Jingle Bells, and no one ran away screaming.  It was all pretty magical if you ask me.

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My very literal kid insisted on wearing both red and green for the evening performance because these were Mr. Claytor’s directions.  “He said Christmas colors, and Christmas colors are red and green, Mom!”  Got it, Chica.  Got it.

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Jay went out of town at the beginning of December for his geek work conference.  Whenever I leave town, one of the kids gets sick.  When he leaves, I’m always the one that ends up under the weather. This trip was no exception.  I hurt my back, and after one teary Skype call with my parents, Grandpa was on the way to help me make it through until Jay’s return.

He helped make lunches, took Bubba to school, folded laundry, wrapped presents, and returned library books for me.  But perhaps the most miraculous of all was that I somehow convinced him to agree to put up my Christmas tree.  Wow.

So for weeks it sat in our living room, ornament-less but twinkling proudly with each branch curved just-so in the way that only Grandpas know how to do.  Every few days Chica would remind me that we needed to decorate it, and each time I gave her some lame excuse as to why it wasn’t a good time.  Finally I told her on the Saturday night before Christmas that it wouldn’t happen until the den was clean, and I sarcastically added that she was more than welcome to help me work on it Sunday morning.

Whadaya know?  That kid was up before the sun with her sweet little voice at my bedside, “Mommy, I’m ready to help you clean the den.”  Heart be still….and feet on the floor!  Chop, chop!

So we did it.  She made trip after trip after trip to the sink and Bubba’s room and Mommy’s closet as we put away all the junk that had accumulated at the front door dropping spot for weeks.

Then we were done.  And there was this…

_MG_3779 _MG_3782 _MG_3783 _MG_3788

Mostly Chica did all the work.  I fulfilled my obligation of getting the breakable ornaments sufficiently out of reach, but I let her do everything else.  Bubba lost interest pretty quickly, so the other three of us ended up snuggling on the couch while we encouraged her.

No worries that 3/4 of the ornaments are on the bottom 1/3 of the tree.  No worries that the tacky beaded garland crisscrosses in odd patterns.  No worries that more and more of the ornaments are made from recycled “treasures” like old CDs and toilet paper rolls.  It is just perfect if you ask me.

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And finally…

photo (7)

Would it be crazy to say that this particular moment might be my most favorite memory of all Christmas break?

The week before, our life group discussed joy.  I must admit that that night I was so mired down and worn out by work funk and the never-ending back pain that I just couldn’t conjure up a memory that I could definitely name joy.  Happiness?  Sure.  Joy?  Not sure.

But this moment?  It was as if Bubba’s pink sleepy cheeks were screaming out to me, “JOY lady!  Right here! Look around you!  Wake up!”

Joy in…
This kid who never tires of snuggles.
That daddy who snuggles back so I could keep doing whatever it was that I was doing.
The other kid reading to herself in the other room.
A husband who folds laundry.
And that same husband who remembers to buy batteries well in advance of Christmas.
A tree strewn with presents that reminded us how to play together again.

But mostly joy in remembering in my core, in that moment, that not one of those things is something that I deserve, something I’ve earned.  Each is a gift from a Creator that loves me in a way that is oh so much deeper and truer than snuggles and folded laundry and batteries.  But He uses those things, the take-your-breath-away pink cheeks, to give us just a little taste.  To remind us.  To wake us up.

May your New Year be filled with moments that whisper or shout or just straight-up declare to you, “JOY!”  And may we together learn how to look and listen.

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P.S. I’m taking a Facebook break, friends.  Mostly it’s about regaining some of the enormous amount of time I waste there.  I’m thinking, though, that less time wasted means more sleep.  And more sleep might mean eyes wider open to watch out for those opportunities for joy.  I’ll try to let you know how it goes.

Albert the Mowse, Hurry, & Anger

The offers:
Sweet Frog with Daddy.
Rides at the mall with brother.
Rivermont Pizza with the whole fam.

The choice:
Late night writing and reading with Mom.

I love that kid.

Chica had a good week at school.  After the fourth positive note home in her agenda, I told her we would celebrate with a treat of her choice if she brought home a fifth.  Her snaggle-tooth grin coming off the bus Friday afternoon told me she had made it.  On the way home we brainstormed ideas.

“Maybe…..maybe…..” she hesitated, never quite hearing the offer that was, to her, worth five long days of self-control and focus.  I thought for sure I had her at Rivermont Pizza.  Or at least I hoped I had her at Rivermont Pizza.  (I’m thinking I’m picking that as my reward next weekend if I can keep my own self together for five good days in a row.)

So tonight on the way home from Nana’s neighborhood picnic I reminded her that she hadn’t yet chosen a reward.  “Time’s up…you need to pick.”

“Ok.  I want to stay up as late as I want.  Can I write another story?”

Be still my little teacher heart.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Bubba to fall asleep, we finally got busy.  She didn’t have a story idea ready to go like the last one, so I helped her find a little inspiration here.  It took possibly 37 spins, but she finally decided to go with a mouse named Albert that liked to dig holes.  She also decided this second novel of hers would be typed on Mommy’s computer.  We would then print it and illustrate each page.  Whoa.  Big time.  Let’s do it.  Except…

FYI:  A first grader typing anything is slow.  Painfully slow.

“E.  I need an e.  Where’s the e?  Eeeeeeee?  Oh. Here it is!  E.  Got it.  Ok, now…”

Times 90 for the first page.  Yes, I did check.  Bless her.

I almost said it.  90 times, even.  You know, those two words that rhyme with “blurry cup” and flow off my lips like they are her middle and last name.  But there was absolutely nowhere to hurry to.  She didn’t have to go to bed yet.  I didn’t have to do school work.  Jay had given me from 7am to 5pm of uninterrupted time to work, and finished or not, that’s enough.  I wasn’t going to do house work either.  I’m saving that for tomorrow.

Instead I just let it go slowly.  We tried about five different spellings of said before landing on the right one.  We learned about how backspace goes one way and delete goes the other.  We right-clicked the squiggly red line to find better ways to spell mowse and backyorad.  Once Chica moved from typing to dictating, we discussed quotation marks and synonyms for said.  Daddy even came up to hear our story and made us talk about verb tenses.  After she had had enough of her mowse story for the night, we moved to reading a little Junie B.  While we read our two chapters, instead of our nightly normal of one, we discussed the finer details of good sportsmanship and why Junie B.’s antics made Chica want to hide her eyes.

Slowly we wrote.  Slowly we read.  Slowly we talked.  Until exactly 10:47 when she rubbed her tired eyes and agreed it was time.  What a great choice of a reward, Chica.  Better than pizza, even.  Thank you.

I just keep coming back to something I heard recently in a sermon about pressure:

There is always anger in hurry.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this is so true.

Hurry up, Chica!  Read:  I’m mad that we aren’t out of the house yet.  I still have seven more things I need to do, so find your shoes on your own already!

Hurry up, Bubba!  Read:  I’m angry that you’re taking so freaking long to get out of the car.  I should have gotten up five minutes earlier, but I’m going to blame our tardiness on you.

Hurry up, kid in my class that is always the last one to finish!  Read:  I’m angry that I planned more for this day than we can actually accomplish.  I’m really angry that I’m expected to teach you more in this year that anyone can actually accomplish.

So tomorrow I plan to not hurry the finish of the story of Albert the mouse.  I have no need to be angry.

And this week?  As contradictory as it seems, I’m going to try to fight the inevitable pressure by slowing down.  No need to be angry.