Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ice Cubes

How fitting that our Midwest has just undergone the Arctic Blast of the decade and this post is all about ice cubes.  Ok, well for anyone who reads regularly, we all know my style - it's never THAT simple.

We recently entertained friends of ours, that my husband has maintained relationship with since grade school, that's right:  2nd grade they met, and 30 years later, we got together to celebrate not only Christmas, not only the New Year, but our growing families and the miracle that is this relationship surviving three decades.

Comparing grey hair, family size, turbulent teens, births, deaths and their own reckless past was so great for us all.  There were also contrasts as well, we should expect, different people, different strokes. Respecting their families rules as well as ours, differences emerged, and I caught a few strange looks and glances from the mother counterpart in my kitchen.

I couldn't quite put my finger on the exact reasons for her disturbance, her shocked face, her exaggerated expressions.......until we served the kids their drinks.  All her children (ages 3-12) requested pop to which we supplied happily, along with ice in cups, as the pop wasn't chilled.

We don't drink pop.  Like ever.  The adults in our house will occasionally, meaning once or twice a year.  And the kids aren't permitted, with the exception of our two oldest, ages 11 and 13, upon a class party or sleepover where pop is the only thing available (or a special occasion).  In our effort to limited sugar consumption and the 'full feeling' pop gives us all, I'd rather have them eat something than drink their meals.  

We do have pop on hand simply for entertaining purposes as we know and appreciate other's preferences.  When we host, we supply what you prefer.

Having said all that, this isn't a post on pop, or whether or not you should drink it.  Sometimes I drink it, to each his own, on this topic.

Now, on with the evening...

After supplying our young guests with ice in their cups, I offered pop to my two oldest (peer value and special occasion status) Sprite (at least no caffeine) to which they accepted.  However the rest of my kids rarely even enjoy the taste as they claim they don't like the bubbles on their tongue.  (Which is wonderful to me, as I don't even offer it to them, they aren't allowed.)  So I stated to the youngest three, milk or water, it's your choice.  The kids choose water and I supplied cups with ice to all my five.

My youngest Babe gasped and looked up at me with wide eyes, to check if I had made a mistake.  I told him then and there, "Oh, yes, ICE, you lucky, lucky duck."

So, let's cover a bit of background information:  I am not opposed to ice as a general rule.  If we are at a restaurant, everyone has ice in their water.  No biggie.  If we are at someone's house, and they are given ice in their water, again, No Biggie.  I am no ice Nazi.

But what I will say is that we have perfected over the years the intricacies of meal time.  With five kids, it's necessary to have a strategy, so all seven people may sit, enjoy each other and a meal, all at the same time.  (Something so rare and so valuable in our day and times, so guess what, I'll fight for it).  What hinders these little people from eating what's on their plate?  (Enter pop discussion and the 'full feeling').  In addition to the many details that assist in the good fight, is limiting distractions.

If the TV is on, forget it, no one will eat their dinner.  Think of the many, many distractions we have in our lives, the ipod, the ipad, the tablet, the kindle reader, the PHONE!  (Side note, if you call me on the house phone or cell phone, at dinner time, it will ring and ring. It's a distraction from our meal-time family bonding.  Sorry, you can wait.)

One such distraction is ice.  For little kids, ice is like bringing toys to the dinner table (well, at least for my kids it is).  Chomping ice instead of food and freezing a tiny tongue is the enemy of dinner time.  Scooting ice to and fro tabletop, or playing catch with this little melting play thing, or simply working vigorously to fit that huge ice cube into your petite little mouth, or slamming the cup against your mouth while simultaneously darting your tongue to reach that last bit of ice stuck to the bottom of your cup......well, do I have to say it?

All bonding is gone at this point.  No conversation, no eating a meal, or making progress in this en-devour.

So, here it is, yep, I am going to say it.  Ice at meal time is a treat.  Never thought I'd be a mother that would claim that.  But here I am, believing that ice is a true hindrance to family meal time bonding (at least at this stage in our family's life).  (Now if I, for some miracle, witness a self-control of any of my children in regards to ice, I do reserve the right to re-cant, and completely deny I wrote, claimed and posted this post in it's entirety.)

Back to our evening.  My mother counter part caught my comment to my five year old.... remember, 'lucky duck'?  She knew it was a treat.  The look she gave me was priceless.  She didn't comment, said nothing, nor asked about it.  (I would have been happy to explain, however I have the feeling I would have had to sum up quickly this 10 minute explanation, as she was only gonna give me 30 seconds.)

So now I've had time to reflect and see the whole event, the evening in it's totality and hind sight is 20/20.   Remember different strokes for different folks?  That's what we have here.  My mother counterpart commented many times the manners and polite children we have gained.  To which her husband, my HH's best friend, answered her quickly and decisively.

"Remember how hard my dad rode me?  Remember his temper?  It was rough.  He was so hard on me and my brothers.  And I just believe kids are kids for such a short amount of time, let them be kids, do what they want, let them come or go, less rules and less responsibilities.  They will grow up fast enough."

So, we let it lie.  That evening was not about debate and I agree to a certain extent.  Let kids be kids, adulthood is right around the corner. But what that means in my mind verses his mind, quite the disparity.  As his kids never asked for anything, but helped themselves to pounding on our piano, running up and down the stairs, carrying deserts all throughout the house, wasting whole cheeseburgers in favor of their Sprite can and many more instances that simply showed a lack of manners.

Perhaps my theory on ice cubes at meal time isn't really about distraction (though certainly the argument has been made on that).  Perhaps it is a difference of an overall philosophy, how we choose to raise our kids.

Ice cubes in the cup:  it's about making something that is really an ordinary thing, and making it extraordinary.  How many instances and opportunities do we have as parents to demonstrate to our kids, what is ordinary and what is extraordinary.  As parents we teach them what is the difference.  Do we gasp when we want them to see something as special?  Of course we do.  And why do we do this.

We are forming them.  One day my kids will not see ice as a privilege, but an expectation.  I know this.  It's fine.  But for now, to keep some things as special and can be used as a treat, is a very valuable tool for any mother working to find motivation for an expected behavior.   Of course we've used candy for treats in potty training, or a milk shake for raising that B grade to an A.

Again, we set up our own kids' expectations by what we decide is ordinary = not worth our attention and by what we decide is extraordinary = worth our attention/admiration/excitement/awe etc.

Am I raising my kids to have low expectations?  Not at all, though I can see an objective reader make that assumption.  What I have witnessed in raising these five little souls, is that they marvel and are inspired constantly.  Does that make sense?

If everything parents explained to the kids were on the same level, the same plane (either all ordinary or all extraordinary) what can you expect the results to be?

Let's play pretend.  Picture parents constantly in awe, gasping and explaining every single thing as extraordinary, the top of the hill! The summit!  The thrill of a lifetime and so on.  Can you imagine the kid seeing reality for what it is, once an adult and feeling betrayed?  Some things are ordinary, washing dishes, or working fast food and so on.  (I know we can find the extraordinary in the ordinary, as I am well versed by St. Therese, her little way, however see if you can follow my logic.)  Some things in life are tough, sad, lonely, mundane or play boring.  It's life for us to seek out God's will in those moments, which could really be a life lesson:  being able to see the grand and extraordinary when He decides to bless us with it!

Again, play pretend.  Our recent visitors have painted the picture for us - these were parents who explained everything as ordinary....therefore, not only are 'treats' like pop or ice seen as expectation, they rarely smiled, or were happy or excited about anything while visiting.  (I mentioned their level of manners, though at this point am assuming it's more about lax family rules.  But perhaps some correlation could be measured by level of discipline and level of appreciation?.... A post for another day!)

So much of this life, I believe I want to communicate to my kids, is a high level of gratitude.  I hope and pray that when they sit outside and by chance, a butterfly should land on their hand, they, even as an adult, would take the moment and be in awe and inspired by God's creation of this tiny insect.

It's a choice we as parents get to make.  Sure kids have their own personalities and maturity will assist in these types of things.  But when their minds are open to hopeful possibilities, the sky is the limit for them.  Giving kids an appreciation for privileges grows gratitude.  And that virtue, that ability to be humble and grateful will follow them in every Christmas gift given and received, every viewpoint on High School research papers, every job interview, every blessing of a new baby and so one and so forth.

The ability to know and respect ourselves, and others, our place in the world, our meekness and eternal value at the same time, keeping manners and discipline in tact....well, what more could I ask for them?  It's pieces of the gospel message in order to reach others.  Jesus never said it would be by extraordinary means - He was born in a stable!  It's by the way we love.  It's by accepting and loving ourselves, then we'll be free to love and accept others.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Peaceful Silence

Wow - how time flies.  September 27th was my last post.  I have been enjoying a kind of interior silence which allows 'keeping all these things in my heart.'

So, what has prompted this post now, so close to Christmas, in the middle of the hustle and bustle that is this joyous season?  I have received a few responses from you, my readers, via email and posts, (and in person for those who know me!) wondering if I will ever return to this little corner I have often called my sanity.

Well, the answer required a bit of reflection, (of course!) as this whole blog is a series of self reflections.  For so long, taking time to reflect on the daily occurrences or formative lessons for our family was always viewed by me as not only a sanity saver, but a real joy.  I absolutely regard myself as a person who appreciates the written word - where I can describe something, an event, a feeling by simply typing, and have that experience again and again, even when my memory fails me.

I had hoped reflections on our family would help to not only inspire others, but myself.  And it has for many years.  I began this blog in 2008, well, actually further back than that, if you count the many notebooks I filled since high school.  Nevertheless, I have taken a break from some commitments in order to re-prioritize.  I put my time, energy and focus on some new projects as of the last few months - and I have already seen my little project grow and it's so exciting.  Daunting, yes - but exciting. 

I have yet to figure how to incorporate this corner of the blogosphere into my new projects - and honestly it may not have a place.  But what I will say, is that I have learned so many great lessons recently, that I wish I had the time to delve into deeper here. 

So in honor of all those Small Successes that I used to list.... I will make a new list for me, perhaps just this once, called:  Lessons Learned, A brief snapshot of recent notable realizations that have moved my heart and will.

1.  I have found wisdom through listening more and speaking less.

2. Generosity is never wasted.  It always comes back, one way or another.

3.  People who are takers, will always be just that - it's a lifestyle for them.  But, I get to decide what I give.

4.  Hearing 'I am proud of you' just never gets old, even if I do.

5.  Saying 'I'm sorry', 'I was wrong' or 'I'll work on that' can be priceless in a marriage.

6.  Going hand in hand with #5:  Saying 'I forgive you', 'I'm sorry too' or 'We'll get through this' is a necessity. 

7.  Saying a difficult truth can be softened in a thousand different ways.

8.  Being a person of peace is the most valuable gift I can give.

Having said #8 - a wonderful light from the Holy Spirit as of late and considering the closeness of Christmas and the Prince of Peace being born among us, I will close here.  Will I return posting in the near future - I don't know.  The Holy Spirit is a work, and where it blows I follow.

Merry Christmas to all.  May God bless His peace-makers.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Friend Request

With all of my children having vacated my home for 8 hours of the day, a new chapter has opened up to me.  While at first I was apprehensive, I have seen something truly new and challenging happening.  Making real and close friendships while having to give so much time and attention to my children, used to be so tough, the work involved, well, it was too much and the result:  as it tends to happen to many Moms, is the lack of true friendships. 

Sure we have friends, but when examining closely, I found those friends were more like acquaintances, or superficial relationships without the real meat of understanding each other, giving support, encouragement and motivation.

So in the past month, a friendship of mine, which used to be more work related has evolved into a closeness that I haven’t had, probably since college.  And just today, I realized that she was there for me, in the few first days that school started and my home was so empty.  She called me, we sat at Starbucks, cried together and then turned mornings into bike rides or walks together to chat.  Now since then, we’ve both gotten busy with the ordinary, however, she was sensitive enough to me and my empty home, she made a point to keep me busy and supported in those first few days.

A conversation just today with this friend took a new turn, sharing personal family histories, frustrations and complications that wouldn’t have happened between acquaintances nor superficial individuals.  And out of the blue, she asked a dreaded question, that has me back into prayer mode to discern what God might be asking me to do.

I had mentioned in casual conversations the difficulties I still encounter with my family, why I don’t necessarily look forward to reunions and even went so far to tell her, that there was a long period of time of no communication, a kind of family break, not really considering that she’d want details on the ‘why’. 

Of course a true friend would ask why.  She’d be curious and want to know me better, and the reasons for the decisions I make for my family.  I just didn’t anticipate it, wasn’t ready for it.  I was able to dodge it easily with a ‘Gotta week for explanation?’

To my surprise, she laughed with a loud, “Yes!”

Why do I hesitate in telling her. 

There was a long period of time, where I needed to break away from my parents and siblings in order to formulate the kind of woman and mother I aspired to be.  And living in dysfunction, makes that goal of formulation impossible.  I needed to breakaway and seek a new way of life, a new way to see my vocation and ultimately change the cycle of the past.  I had to breakaway to create new.

In the past two years, I have reconnected on a minimal level with my parents, searching out a new kind of relationship with them, based on an acceptance of who they are and a letting go of who I think they should have been or should be now.  They weren't capable of being what I needed back then and probably still aren’t capable of being what I need now.

Not only that, but I have grown a bit spiritually and have chosen to be a person who forgives.  I don’t just want to say the words and think that’s enough, because to heal interiorly, it takes a true kind of forgiveness for the decades of pain and hurt that accompany such evil in a childhood.  It’s a kind of healing that takes place every single day.  How do we REALLY know we’ve forgiven as God expects us to do?  I have a feeling I am getting there as in my spontaneous prayer, I find myself praying for my parents, that God will forgive them too.  And that’s the real moment of healing that happens in the heart of the injured victim.  If I can pray for them, if I can beg God to have mercy on them, it softens my heart towards them too.  It’s how the cycle of evil is overcome. 

This injustice from my youth is a kind that our society doesn’t easily forgive.  It’s socially acceptable to completely cut the strings after this kind of childhood.  No one would judge me.  However, I am reminded often, I am sure by the Holy Spirit, that the measure that I forgive, will be measured in turn against me.  I am not perfect.  I have hurt others, I have sinned.  If I can forgive the worst I can imagine, then perhaps I will be worthy of the forgiveness of others.

So why do I worry what my new close friend will say or feel when I answer her question of ‘why’ the family break?  No, I do think she’ll understand the need for break.  What I guess I really wonder is if she will understand the call I feel to forgive.  It will give her a new deeper dimension of who I am, and it’s counter cultural to forgive evil acts.  Not only this, but it will take this friendship in a new direction, one I am a little nervous to develop.

See, in this world of Facebook friends, followers, emails, texts and tweets and so many outlets for brief, digital, superficial encounters with others, these kind of real honest relationships are getting lost.  True friendships, those that can see your cluttered home, you see their dirty dishes in the sink, lack of eyeliner and concealer, and still not be distracted by all that superficial-ness, and only see the strong yet vulnerable woman before her/or you – well, that’s something that is very rare and very special.

This could be an opportunity to share a slice of what makes me, who I am. And not apologize for it. But to put it out there with the suggestion that we are all works in progress.  Oh what the support of a good friend can do!  But a good friend can only be that true friend, knowing the crosses we carry, hey, even Jesus had Simon to help with the cross.   And that’s being vulnerable to let them in.  How personal and intimate can conversations really get when 600 or more others are reading the Facebook conversations.

Oh to be vulnerable in this day and age!  We are so guarded, yet eager to put an image or perception out there in the digital world of who we are, mostly fabricated, to the point that no one truly knows our heart, our wounds or scars or how we cope with the issues of the past.  It takes time and work to develop those real and lasting relationships, and in our fast paced world, it’s simply easier to send out our profile updates to the masses and be fooled into thinking the numbers on a computer screen actually mean something.

God on earth spent time with people and opened their hearts and what happened?  It converted the whole world.  What could happen if we spent a little time and talked heart to heart with our friends? 

Well, I am about to find out.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Expanding My World

So many times, I am reminded that a big piece of this life is about trust.

But our human nature, our fallen, human nature tends to question, doubt and take charge...with ourselves, with others, and with God.  Interestingly, my last post was, in a nut shell, waiting to hear God's plan with these many hours of the day.  I didn't want to rush into something or commit to anything until I knew, how it would impact the family.  This is a hyper sensitive issue when considering the 3-7pm hours are filled to the max with 5 kids homework, projects, demands, needs, husband's work download, negotiating disputes, sporting events, as well as guiding the teenage awkward years.

The hours in the day while kids are in school is complete silence.  In the beginning, the lack of sound in this house was deafening.  It was clear something wasn't right.  It took a good two weeks to adjust to silence.  And now, I actually enjoy it.  But these hours of silence are a drastic 180 degree shift into opposite land upon arrival home of the crew.

And a few days back I took some time to really pray and reflect on this stark contrast....the empty home, and then when the bell tolls:  the transformation of our home into loud noise and quickened pace.  Not only this, but what my role, as God would have it, should be.

As women, we are meant to bend to the needs of others.  I do believe we find our fulfillment in the service of those around us.  We find our true happiness there.  In these many hours of the day, how do I not only serve others, (with no one home) but prepare myself for the coming chaos that is afterschool!

Again, this post points to TRUST.  That all too familiar resolution that I find again and again searching to convince myself of and retain.  Trusting in God's plan seems to me like a last resort.  Like, hey I've done all I can, now, I will trust.  As if there was any other option.

This new chapter, I find myself in, really has me learning the lesson of trust in a new way.  I actually made the decision first, to let God work and show me.  It's tough for an independent gal like myself to wait.  I like to be proactive, make things happen, see it through, and this often leads me into the trap of leaving God out, trusting when I run out of ideas, when there is no other choice.  When I am out of options, that's when I let God work.

But I do believe something new occurred this time around.  I simply waited.  And asked God to show me.  Patience isn't my best quality.  It's tough to wait.  And when I finally submitted to the quiet of my home, to making my own daily schedule, finding my own interests again, reading books, going for walks, riding my bike, making special meals...that's when God decided to show me the way.  And it's a fantastic way!  So glad I waited.

God has pointed a direction for me, and I can see He took into account gifts He had given me that I haven't truly seen clearly in myself nor developed over these past 13 years.  He knows me so well, so personally, that His direction not only develops these gifts, it matures me, it strengthens me, it also has me at the service of others.  It forces conversation with Him, it inspires not only me but others, it's looking beyond myself into a bigger, wider picture of my place in this world.  What a perfect design!  I wouldn't have picked this path for myself, I didn't see this coming.  Do I ever.

Each day is like a new adventure.  And I love that.  Time that passes and what I do with it, is my choice and my gift to give, along with any other talent God decided to give me.

In my reflection, I take note the many Moms who work outside the home every day.  I can't imagine how you do it, but I am sure, just like every Mom, there is an equal amount of rewards and sacrifices that come with the decisions we make....working or staying at home.  I know the sacrifices made of staying at home with the kids, I have lived that life.  I saw many of the rewards as well, grateful for those moments I will treasure, like a first word, learning to walk, telling their first joke and so on.  A reward I didn't anticipate, is the one I am receiving right now, with these many hours of the day to myself.  God is allowing and directing me to focus on things I never could before, things I enjoy, creative outlets and expanding my world.

What, exactly, am I doing with my time?  Well, it's a post for another day or well, maybe never.  It's not important and new projects are just that, new projects.   Time will pass, projects and endeavors will come and go, but now, I look for what lasts....It's the 'why' not the 'what'.  It's all for God and I give Him the glory for each and gift he has had in store.