Kids Ruin Everything

Kids ruin everything.

They ruin your mind. A wise woman advised me at my first baby shower to write down every cute thing they do because, “You think you will remember, but you won’t. Motherhood zaps your brain cells!”

She was right.

If you are a woman, they ruin your body. First they do it by distending your belly to such a degree that, especially if you have more than one or two, the skin simply gives up and sags. Then, if you breastfeed, they do it all over again to your breasts.

They also ruin your childhood memories or the things you love. You wouldn’t think they could, but they do. They do this either by just being present or by virtue of the increased “enlightenment” of the world in general since you were young.

When Jane was about two or three years old, one of my favorite songs came on the radio. One of those songs that I always sing along with at full volume if I’m in the car. Only there’s something about belting out “Hell is for children!” with my innocent, young sponge in the back seat that just struck me as wrong.

First I stopped singing. Then I turned down the volume. Then I changed the channel.

I knew Pat Benatar was singing about the evils of child abuse, but how could I explain that to my daughter if she asked? And would I want to? She ruined the song. For years, I’ve had to change the channel instead of sing along.

Movies fall victim too. I loved Real Genius when I was a kid. Loved it. I couldn’t wait until my kids were old enough to see it. We finally sat down to watch it one evening and, at first, they loved it too.

But then the woman that desperately wants to sleep with a genius came into the picture. She started trying to seduce Mitch, the young protagonist. Jane turned on one of my favorite childhood movies. Now, whenever the movie comes up, she says, “Oh, you mean that one where the woman wanted to rape a boy?”

When I protest, she reminds me that an adult having sex with a teenager is rape. When I remind her that the woman was not successful in her seduction, she points out that Mitch did have sex with his girlfriend, who was 18. He was not. Rape, says Jane.

The most recent experience wasn’t even with one of my own children. It isn’t enough that my own children sully the things I enjoy in life – no, my friends’ kids have to get in on it too.

I was driving my boys and my oldest son’s best friend when The Police’s classic, “Every Breath You Take” came on. Another song I love to sing with, and so I began.

To my surprise, our young guest began to sing along with me. Well, almost. His version went something like this:

Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take,

I’ll be stalking you

I glared at him and kept singing.

So did he.

Every single day and every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay,

I’ll be stalking you

I tried to laugh it off, but now he had me thinking about the lyrics differently…

Oh, can’t you see you belong to me

How my poor heart aches with every step you take

Every move you make, every vow you break

Every smile you fake, every claim you stake,

I’ll be stalking you

I couldn’t ignore it anymore. That beautiful, beautiful love song from my youth was now creepy. Really creepy. He was right. The song wasn’t about dedication and forlorn love. It was about stalking.

Crap! I loved that song. And a kid ruined it.

They don’t stop when they become adults either. My sister-in-law ruined her mother’s love of watching football. She absorbed all the information about concussion and injury and declared the sport too violent. She harangued her mother for supporting it and cheering on. No, not only should no one play the sport, but no one should watch it either.

With a certain sad resignation, my mother-in-law stopped watching her Broncos. And now they are going to the Super Bowl!

I’m telling you, kids ruin everything.

The Muffin Fairy

There are delicious banana nut muffins that magically appear on a table near the front of my work area nearly every week. They are always the same. About a dozen, sometimes more, moist, fresh, scrumptious muffins in a gallon Ziploc bag. They are never burnt, never under-cooked, never overfilled such that there’s a crusty muffin top to contend with. They are always perfect.

Nobody knows who brings them. I’ve never known and when I’ve asked around, the people I ask don’t know either. It’s a mystery. I know it’s not my boss because he wasn’t at work the most recent day they appeared. And I know it’s not me. I think I can reasonably assume it’s not any of the people I’ve asked… unless they are lying to me.

Whoever it is should really consider quitting their job as an engineer and opening a bakery instead. Or maybe their spouse makes them? Maybe the spouse already owns a bakery. Maybe we are getting gourmet muffins. And they must make a lot of them if the family actually lets them leave the house and come to work. Or are they made especially for us?

One of my co-workers stopped by my office. He was eating a muffin. I asked if he knew who brought them. He shrugged.

“The Muffin Fairy,” he said.

The Muffin Fairy. That explains it. I’ve never seen a fairy. And I’ve never seen the deliverer of the muffins. I’m pretty sure that none of my co-workers have seen a fairy. And I’m fairly certain none of them have seen the muffins get placed on the table. Fairies don’t like to be seen.

I think I’ll quit asking around. Fairies can be persnickety beings. I’d hate for this one to decide we were no longer worthy of these muffins.

Mom’s Special Day

I called my mom on her birthday. I was really good this year – I called her by 8:30 in the morning. Maybe she decided to sleep in though because she didn’t answer her phone.

I was sitting at my desk at work and as I listened to her voicemail recording, I quickly tried to decide whether to leave a message and, if so, what to say. In my heart of hearts I knew what I had to do.

Quietly, I sang “Happy Birthday to you…” I almost lapsed into childhood with “you live in a zoo…” but even though I was singing very softly so as not to be overheard by any co-workers, I went the safe route. “… Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Mommmmmeeee, Happy Birthday to you!”

I then explained that I sang it softly because I was at work but that I hoped she had a good birthday and I hoped she’d give me a call back. I had just settled into reading my email when a co-worker poked her head into my office.

“Were you just singing happy birthday?” she asked, sounding puzzled.

I turned a little pink. So much for singing softly.

The day zoomed by with work and church and dinner and basketball practice and laundry and first grade homework and book reading. About 9:15, my husband said something about talking to his dad.

“I better try to call mom again,” I said.

Again, she didn’t answer her phone.

“I just want you to know that it’s not my fault I didn’t talk to you on your birthday,” I said to her voicemail. “I’ve tried twice now.”

After awhile, I began to worry. Not a lot – surely her boyfriend or mother or sister or other sister or someone would have called me if something was wrong. But still, maybe better safe than sorry.

So I sent my brother a text.

“Have you talked to mom today?” I asked.

“No, should I?” he responded.

“Really, Aaron?”

“I don’t talk to her everyday,” he said, adding “What’s going on?” before I could reply.

“Neither do I but I try to make it a habit to call her on her birthday.”

“Shit”

He later tried to tell me that he’d been playing referee with his kids all day after schools were cancelled.

“Excuses excuses,” I said.

“Hey, you haven’t talked to her either”

Ahhhh, dear brother… but I tried. At least I tried. And remembered. TWICE! I ought to get bonus points for that!

Of course, while I was blogging about this, he probably called and she probably answered. Or maybe he sent her a text and when I send mine in a few minutes, it’ll look like he came first. Not that I’m competitive with my brother, mind you. I just want credit where credit is due.

Well, and to talk to my mommy. I kinda like the lady.

Toe Ring Pondering

I’ve never quite “gotten” toe rings. I’ve owned a few. Probably still have them somewhere. I tried to wear them but it always felt unnatural. Maybe it’s because I have short, stubby toes. I don’t know.

At any rate, I always thought I understood the point. Like most jewelry, it was to look good. You wore them while barefoot or while wearing sandals. People couldn’t possibly wear them because they liked the way they felt, right? They didn’t wear some family heirloom toe ring everyday, right?

Now I’m not so sure. Now I’m wondering if some people wear them 24-7. And if they do, why?

It all started when I went to weigh in for a contest at work. The goal is to not gain weight over the holidays and I knew there was no point in me weighing in. My name would not be put in the drawing for the prize. But I went anyway.

Another lady came in right behind me. We took off our coats. And our sweaters. And our jewelry. And our badges. And anything else we could take off and still be decent. We were both wearing tall boots. We took those off too. And our socks – the scales required us to be barefoot.

I weighed first, cleaned the scales, and then began to redress. I glanced over at her feet. A lot of us don’t expect our feet to be seen much in the winter. This lady, however, had fabulously painted red toenails. And… to my surprise… a toe ring on the middle toe of her left foot. I looked again, thinking surely it was my imagination. But, nope. There it was.

Why is she wearing a toe ring inside her boot? I wondered. Do other people do this? Is this a thing? What’s the point?

I soon forgot about it when I got back to my desk. I didn’t think about it again until I got in the shower this morning. I looked down at my feet as the water washed over me and I thought of the woman’s toe ring.

Does she sleep with it on? Does she shower with it on? Is it like a wedding ring that never comes off? And why? How did she ever get used to wearing it?

Any ideas? (Besides that I’m neurotic and ponder totally useless things?)

Sometimes…

Sometimes, when I’m walking back out to my car in a crowded parking lot and I can’t quite remember where I left it, I click the unlock button on my FOB so my car will beep at me.

Sometimes, I’m way off on where I think the car is, so I hear the beep from a distance and navigate slowly toward it, clicking the button and listening for the responding beeps.

Sometimes, when I do this, I imagine that my car is nearly sentient – my patient, friendly, personal robot calling back to me. When I finally find my way to the right aisle and the click of the button elicits the beeps and the car flashes its headlights at me, I smile at my success. And I imagine that my robot is smiling too. As happy as I am to be reunited. My own personal R2-D2.

Sometimes, life is simple and pleasing and whimsical and fun. Sometimes.

Looking Back on Christmas Day

Christmas has officially concluded for our household. Yesterday was the last hurrah with a wonderful but too-brief stay with my dad’s family and a stop by the hotel room holding my sister-in-law and her significant other, delayed in their plans by a winter storm.

It’s been a good Christmas. One of the best in recent memory, I believe. And it all started Christmas Eve. I’m not talking about my emotional experience in church that night, although that might have set the stage. No, I’m talking about the 4 or 5 hours that followed.

We stopped by a friend’s house who had set up a light display set to music being broadcast on a particular radio frequency. The kids were frustrated because we hadn’t eaten dinner before the worship service and they were fairly sure they were starving. But then they saw the pulsing lights and were mesmerized. We sat through several songs before heading home.

Once home and fed and the youngest in bed, the magic started. As I mentioned in my Christmas Eve post, the older two had some magnificent decorating plans. It was now mostly a surprise for Hal, but I consented to staying holed up in my bedroom while they worked. We had plenty of surprises of our own so that was fine with us.

I sat on the bed cutting yarn and tinsel strands to construct the contents of the box I would assemble above the boys’ door, with a string tied to the doorknob. My hope was that when they eagerly and enthusiastically opened the door in the morning, the string would pull the flap down and all the stuff would fall down in front of them, revealing the first clue to their scavenger hunt. (It didn’t work, by the way. Hal inexplicably opened the door slowly and then stood there saying “What the heck?” as he examined the string tied to his doorknob. I rushed from my room to yank on the string. Not quite the same effect.)

My husband sat at the edge of the bed and worked on assembling three puzzles on a card table for part of the hunt. Our intent was to intermix the pieces from all three puzzles, turn it over, write the 6-line poem that represented the second clue on it, then separate the pieces back out to their respective puzzles. That didn’t work either. The pieces were all shaped the same but they were off just enough that we couldn’t mix them. So we went with plan B, which was to write the poem lines across all three puzzles but then mix the puzzle pieces in the three boxes. The puzzles, which were wildly age-inappropriate (way too young) would then go in the stockings.

As we sat and worked in relative silence, we listened to the activity outside our door. Jane and Daryl were working together as they never had before. They spoke in hushed tones but we could still hear them. The were excited and eager to impress Hal with all the lights and paper chains and huge paper snowflakes they had made. They listened to each other’s ideas and encouraged and supported each other. I was mesmerized.

Every once in awhile, they’d come to the door and ask where to find more staples, whether it was OK to attach lightweight items to the ceiling fan, whether all the Christmas lights could be left on over night. My husband and I were both tickled that they had gotten into the spirit of doing stuff for others on Christmas.

At one point, they tried to be considerate of my needs and informed me that they’d be in Jane’s room for awhile if I wanted to come out and do my thing. I laughed and informed them that 1) I had plenty to keep me busy in my room for now and 2) I wasn’t doing any part of my thing until they were in bed.

Eventually, they declared themselves done and we came out for a tour. I had suggested the tour when the realization that I would see the decorations before morning had disappointed them. They wanted to see our faces.

They had done an impressive job. Lights lined the walls of the hallway and living room, including some lit snowflakes over the boys’ door (which would make my plans more challenging). A very long white paper chain nearly encircled the living room and large snowflakes hung everywhere. And these weren’t your average fold-the-paper-then-cut-out-notches snowflakes. No, these were state-of-the-art 3D snowflakes that Daryl had learned to make at Sunday School a few days earlier. A large 3D snowflake hung from each of the three fan blades, which turned very slowly in the center of the room.

I was impressed by their results but even more impressed by the cooperation and love and kindness that had gotten them there. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

Of course, there was still work of my own to do. It took another 2 hours for me to setup the scavenger hunt and prepare their stockings (including the “auxiliary bags” for the overflow items that wouldn’t fit – sitting on the floor with a strand of yarn attaching them to their stockings) .

We assembled the box as quietly as possible over their door. I traipsed around outside hiding the final clues that would keep them out of the house long enough for my husband to move the new PS4 from our bedroom to the living room, to be setup and ready to go when the hunt brought them back into the house. I somehow managed to work directly under Jane’s window without alerting the dog to my presence although she caught my flashlight later and announced the outside “intruder” to the entire house.

Back inside, I taped “Rudolph Chow” on the dog food can so when the part of the hunt that included Santa’s Grocery List came up, they could find “reindeer food”. I taped clues under the carton of milk, behind all the mirrors in the house, on the power bar that holds all their electronics chargers, under some cookie tins. I had already searched through books for the words needed for one clue and carefully hid the clue behind a cabinet door in the bathroom. The clue gave them the book title plus three numbers: page, paragraph on page, and word in the paragraph.

I finally made it to bed about 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep well – I don’t anyway but on nights when I am anticipating something, it’s even worse. I was awake before any of the kids, just waiting for them to join me.

Throughout Christmas Day, my kids told me this was the best Christmas ever. We did have our bumps, but overall, it was magical. They love opening their stockings and they enjoy our scavenger hunt. But the two older ones specifically mentioned how much they liked the new tradition.

Based on a picture moving around Facebook, we limited their presents to 4 each (the PS4 was a gift to the whole family). The four gifts followed a pattern:

Something they want, something they need

Something to wear, something to read

Daryl hadn’t wanted this approach. “Only four presents?!” he had asked. But by the end of the day, he was sold. He wasn’t sure why but he had really liked it. We figured it out together.

Since we were only buying them four presents, we had to stop and think about what to give them. We had to come up with precisely the right gifts. As Daryl put it, “Instead of just getting us a bunch of toys, you got us just a few of exactly what we wanted.”

He didn’t even know how much he had wanted (needed!) new bedding, but the NBA-themed sheets and comforter excited him tremendously. Hal walked around all day in the new church clothes we bought him – tie and loafers included! Jane couldn’t believe she got both a new pair of Tom’s (need!) and her long-desired Uggs (wear).

To top the day off, we invited some friends over for lunch and afternoon game playing while they waited for their husband/dad to get off work that evening to have their family Christmas.

All in all, it was a wildly successful and happy day. I hope we have many more like it.

Silent Night

It’s been a good week. Time has moved relatively slowly, not rushed – despite the fact that we didn’t really start working toward Christmas until Sunday. We did a bunch of shopping and planned our Christmas surprises and in general enjoyed ourselves. We actually had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, just the five of us plus Jane’s boyfriend. It was a relaxing day. To top it all off, two packages that we thought weren’t going to arrive until after Christmas arrived just in time. Life was going well. This might have contributed to what happened that night.

I have always enjoyed the Christmas Eve worship service. Most services I have attended over the years have involved Lessons and Carols. The service alternates between Scripture reading and Christmas hymns. The last song is almost always Silent Night, sung by candlelight after the light of the Christ candle in the Advent wreath is used to light everyone’s handheld candles.

In my experience, people then file silently out of the sanctuary. It is a very solemn and spiritual moment. This year, however, my church added Joy To The World to the end of the service. And I was one of four people playing bells for it.

This meant that I walked up to the front of the sanctuary, behind the altar, just in front of the chancel area, before the candles were lit for Silent Night. We needed to be ready for Joy To The World, so we would sing Silent Night up front instead of in our pews.

I was looking down at my music and in general getting ready when the pastor approached with the flame. I lit my candle from his and turned to Jane who lit hers from mine. We each turned behind us to the choir so someone could light theirs from ours. And then we turned around.

I was stunned. All but the back few rows already had their candles lit. It was glorious and beautiful. It took my breath away. And then we started singing Silent Night – that beautifully haunting song. I had the benefit of a dozen gifted singers right behind me and the lights of candles lighting up the faces of my church family in front of me.

My throat constricted. I had to force the song through. I sternly told myself not to cry. Not because there’d be anything wrong with that but because it would prevent me from joining my voice with the choir. I regained my composure.

And then I saw my middle child standing there by himself – his father was in the choir. His mother and sister preparing to play bells. His little brother asleep in the pew. I thought of the darling boy who couldn’t wait to light his candle who was now sleeping through the song. I looked at the smile on my standing son’s face – the son who had lit his candle without adult supervision and hadn’t burned anything down. His smile was beaming. I think he had forgotten to sing.

I saw the man on hospice care sitting in his wheelchair in the center aisle. It had to have taken so much energy for he and his wife to have been there. I hadn’t seen either one of them in months.

Then I saw my friend and her aging mother. Her mother but not her father, who had passed away earlier this year. Her mother was still grieving and was starting to get confused and requiring more focused care. My friend was trying to help her mother with the candle. It was not unlike helping a child. But both of their faces were lit up with the light of Christ. They were beautiful. In all their love and struggle and grief. they were beautiful. It was Christmas Eve. And everyone was beautiful.

My throat constricted again and I pushed through a little less successfully. I was sure I had never seen anything more powerful or heard anything more powerful or been part of anything more powerful. A single tear traced a path down my cheek and I let it travel without wiping it away.

My church family means so much to me. My biological family lives at least four hours away – all of them. So when I need help and support, it’s my church friends who provide it. And it’s them who receive my support. But this went beyond that. Beyond love of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am, in my heart, a skeptic. I analyze, I doubt, I require proof. I do not accept a literal reading of all parts of the Bible. I have a modern look at it. There are many things that members of my congregation believe that I do not. I can understand where atheists are coming from. I can.

But in that moment, with the beautiful music swelling around me and the soft glow lighting people’s faces and the tear on my cheek, I saw the hope. I felt the hope. I shared the hope. I’m still the same person with all the same beliefs and doubts. That will likely never change – it’s how God made me. But that moment was sacred for me. I can only assume I felt my “heart strangely warmed” the same as John Wesley felt so many years before me.

I am at peace. Merry Christmas everyone.