What If Overdrive

Parenthood can be anxiety-inducing. Some parts are scarier than others and I’ll admit that I’m entering into one of those stages right now. The last time I remember being this scared was when we brought our first child home and I worried about her dying of SIDS in her crib while I took a shower or slept myself or did anything other than watch her chest move up and down and up and down.

It’s the lack of control that gets me.

When they were little, I had full control. They weren’t going anywhere without me. They weren’t alone with anyone unless I allowed it. Then they went off to preschool. I knew all their friends. I knew the families of all their friends. I had full knowledge of everything they had going on. I talked to their teachers every day.

Then they headed off to Kindergarten. And they started talking about kids I didn’t know. Eventually, I got to know their friends, but I didn’t really know their friends’ families very well. And they interacted with a lot of kids that I didn’t know at all. As they got older, I didn’t necessarily stay at the birthday parties they went to. I was losing touch.

Still, they didn’t go anywhere that I didn’t know about. I took them places. I picked them up. They had no ability to slip from my grip. Or at least my awareness. I still had a handle on things. For the most part. It still felt safe.

Now Jane is in high school. And she’s bringing a boy home to meet us tomorrow. I find myself in a mild panic. I was much more comfortable over the past year when she had steadfastly held that relationships weren’t worth the drama. I had honestly hoped and foolishly believed that the perspective would hold through high school.

I should have known better.

At first, I was happy for her. Basically. They aren’t “dating”. They are friends who think they might be interested in pursuing a relationship. It seemed mild enough. Then I realized that I didn’t know this boy. At all. Never seen him. Never met him. And the what-ifs started.

What if he’s not a nice person?
What if he hurts her?
What if he has dishonorable intentions with my daughter?
What if this relationship distracts her from her grades?
What if the relationship changes her personality?
And then it struck me: Oh, no. He’s a Sophomore. He’ll be driving by the end of the school year.
What if she turns on us? He could pick her up without us knowing.
I won’t know where she is.
She won’t necessarily be where I think she is.
What if they lie to us?
What if they run off?
What if they have sex and she gets pregnant?
What if he’s a perfectly nice boy but not a great driver?
What if she dies in a car wreck with him at the wheel?

The whole driving thing has already been weirding me out. I’m terrified. It’s just too simple for kids to do something stupid. And then they are gone and there’s no getting them back. I don’t want that to be my kid. I don’t want her behind the wheel. I definitely don’t want her in the car while any other young person is behind the wheel. Even if she did say that the Senior who drove her to our church the other day is a better driver than I am. I don’t care.

So, see? It’s the lack of control that I can’t handle.

Parenthood is about slowly and surely losing control. I started off feeding them with nourishment from my own body. Ever since that first weening, I’ve been letting go a little bit at a time. Sometimes I haven’t noticed. Sometimes I’ve rejoiced (never was a big fan of wiping little bottoms). Sometimes…

Sometimes, I’m like that moment a few months before Jane was born when the reality of impending parenthood overwhelmed me and I kept backing up on the bed, trying to pass through the wall into oblivion to avoid this thing that I couldn’t stop. “No, no! We aren’t ready for this! What were we thinking?! We can’t do this! We don’t know what we are doing!”

Too late now.

We don’t know what we are doing. We don’t have a clue. We’ve never done it before. The stakes are so high during this tumultuous time in a child’s life. Not everyone makes it through, but everyone has to enter. So here we are.

I understand now why parents wait up for their children to come home. I understand now why, even past 40, when I leave my mom’s house for the long drive home, she tells me to call her when I get home. I get it. It doesn’t make me any less scared though.


Home Alone Heart Attack

Being home alone is an interesting experience. When you are used to having a houseful, it’s actually kind of depressing and lonely. People thought I’d enjoy it – find it peaceful. But I haven’t. I enjoyed the week before when the kids were gone to camp and it was just me and the hubby. I took the week off work and got a lot done around the house. He wasn’t there all the time so I still spent a lot of time alone, but I wasn’t lonely.

This past week, however, has been a little depressing. My husband took the kids to see grandparents and I went back to work. I worked long hours too. I mean, why not? What was waiting for me at home? The dog?

Going to bed the first night, pulling the door closed behind me for no reason beyond habit and a theoretical fire block if the house caught on fire, I actually felt just a little bit scared. I got over it and slept so soundly that I had aches the next morning from not moving.

I went to work each morning and had a couple of meetings at church in the evenings. I saw people. I spoke to people. But then I’d come home and feel like doing nothing. Sometimes it felt like I was just waiting until an appropriate time to go to bed. Most evenings consisted of having a glass of wine with dinner while watching an episode of Firefly. I was enjoying myself, but people were missing and I was feeling it. There was simply no action. No energy. No life. No spark.

The last night, I had worked eleven hours, gotten off work about 8pm, and picked up some McDonald’s for dinner. That was another thing – it was hard to work up any interest in cooking for myself. I had a lot of salads and sandwiches and by Thursday night, I was tired of salads and sandwiches. McDonald’s was on the way home.

I sat down with my McDonald’s and my glass of wine (that makes the meal classy, right? It was even sparkling wine). Sat down on the couch and started up another episode of Firefly. About halfway through the episode, I started getting the loading screen every few minutes. At one point I decided to pause it, let it buffer, and try to get something done so I’d be ready for bed when the show was over.

Ah, yes, I thought to myself. I need to unload the dishwasher and get the dirty dishes in there. Can’t have the counter cluttered when the kids get home. That would undermine all my efforts to get them to stay on top of the dishes.

So I headed into the kitchen, grabbed the silverware out of the already-open dishwasher, and turned around to the silverware drawer. In one quick and practiced motion, I opened the drawer and prepared to drop the forks and spoons in their proper places, already turning my attention back to the next item in the dishwasher.

But something wasn’t right. Something didn’t compute. The drawer was not as I had left it. And since there was no one there but me and the dog, and the dog has not yet mastered the ability to pull open drawers, this took me by surprise. And then my mind interpreted more clearly what the not-quite-right situation was with the silverware drawer. And I shrieked and moved quickly back to the living room. Where the dog slowly raised her head to inquire if she should be concerned about whatever had just happened.

I’m actually proud to say it wasn’t quite a shriek. More of an exclamation of surprise, tinged with maybe just a hint of panic. My voice stayed in its usual octave. The noise was brief. If it had been anything more, the dog would have come running to take down whatever had scared her mama. I’m not sure this would have been a good thing.

I grabbed my phone off the couch, as all good first world people of the social media age would do, and creeped back into the kitchen. Where I got a better look at the snake hanging out on my tablespoons.



A couple of quick shots and I was back in the living room, sending it first to my husband, then posting it on Facebook, then sending it to my daughter, who is the usual putter-away of dishes. She promptly submitted her resignation. My husband said he wished he had been there to witness my reaction.

Which just highlighted my on-my-ownness even more. In normal times, Jane would have been putting away the dishes. She would have shrieked much more satisfactorily than I would have. She would have run into wherever we were and breathlessly told us there was a snake in the kitchen. The boys would have yelled “cool!” and dropped their electronic devices to go check it out. The dog would have hurried to see the cause of all the excitement. There would have been a crowd in the kitchen. I would have laughed at Jane, secretly relieved that it hadn’t been me, and I would have suggested that my husband relocate the snake to the outdoors.

But there was no husband. No Jane. No eager boys. Not even a curious dog. Just a lazy, I-slept-all-day-in-my-crate-and-now-I’ll-lay-here-on-the-couch-while-you-have-a-silent-heart-attack-and-die dog. And a snake. In my silverware drawer.

I think I’m a tougher woman than most. I’ve done a lot of things that many women wouldn’t do. I’ve ridden a kayak down a fourteen foot waterfall by myself. I’ve gone on rigorous backpacking trips. I played roller hockey, even acquired stitches on my face and a chipped tooth. I experienced natural childbirth – three times! And one of them a home birth. I participated in a rock climbing competition just 10 days after my third child was born. I’ve done stuff. I’m tough.

In certain situations.

Critters in my house, especially of the slithering variety, are not in that subset of situations. So I stood in the living room, trying to imagine myself coaxing the snake onto a long stick and taking it out the front door. The image turned into the snake deftly and swiftly traveling up the stick and leaping onto my face. I calmly revised the image back to the snake wrapped around the stick. Then the dog entered the image and attacked the snake on the stick. The snake fought back. A war ensued. I forced the mental image back to a stick with a snake traveling out the front door. But the dog was a real concern. Lock her up in a bedroom? Just how long should the stick be? Open the front door first? How many bugs will come in the house before I get the snake on the stick and out the door? Do I really care about mosquitoes when there’s a snake in my silverware drawer?

I decided to go check on the snake again.

And it was gone.

I was actually relieved. I didn’t have to worry about being brave enough to move the snake. I would have done it. Of course, I would have. I’m tough. I do what needs to be done. I totally would have taken care of the snake. But now it’s back in the walls, hopefully eating mice and bugs and being useful to us. I’m good.

And then the Facebook friends started talking about it maybe being a copperhead. And I started imagining it stalking me once I went to bed for the night. My skin crawled. I told my tough (remember how tough you are?!) self that I was being silly. Cooler heads prevailed on Facebook and I employed my Google-fu to confirm that the snake was not a copperhead.

I finished watching Firefly. I finished putting the dishes away – including the silverware and the stuff that goes in the drawer below the silverware. I went to bed.

I swear this stuff only happens when my husband isn’t home.


When It Rains…

It’s been raining here a lot. I mean, a crazy lot. More than it has rained in a very, very long time. Area lakes are at or near their capacity for the first time in years. People who have not seen water under their docks for over three years are thinking about dragging the boat out and discovering whether it still runs.

The weather has been crazy. In the eighties one day and then overcast and chilly the next. Lots of storms. Thunder is becoming the norm. My rainboots now seem like the wisest purchase ever made. I’m getting used to sleeping to the roll of thunder.

Hal, who is terrified of thunderstorms, has had a lot of practice getting over that fear. Once upon a time, even the faintest boom in a town far away would set him to crying or send him running into our room. Now he has graduated to spending the night with his tiny fingers crammed into his ears to block the sound.

One recent night, around midnight I’m guessing, I was deep asleep. My husband was in bed but reading on his Kindle. Suddenly, a bomb went off. At least, that’s what it sounded like. A massive explosion followed by the long continuous rumble of a building collapsing. It had to have been the loudest, closest, longest-lasting clap of thunder I’ve ever experienced.

I jumped and my eyes shot open. I looked up at my husband and said, “Well, that ought to be enough for Hal.” I waited for the wail or the sound of a bedroom door opening. I just knew that fingers in the ears weren’t going to cut it this time. I waited, wide awake myself, but no child cried out and no door opened. I gradually returned to sleep.

The next morning, I learned two things. First, Hal had slept through the impossible-to-sleep-through thunder clap. Second, Jane had not. Not only had she not slept through it, it had pulled her out of bed.

“It scared me,” she said. “It scared me real bad. I’m telling you, I was out of bed with my comforter wrapped around me and my hand on my doorknob. I was this close to going to your room and crawling into bed with you. And then I told myself, ‘Jane, you are 14 years old. You shouldn’t have to go to your parents’ room because of a thunderstorm.’ And it was hard but I managed to put myself back in bed.”

I died laughing. “Oh, man, honey,” I said. “That would have cracked me up. I was expecting Hal to walk in. If I had heard your door open, I would have assumed it was him. That would have been such a surprise to hear my door slide open and see you instead!”

It was a sweet moment. To know that she still needed us, or more precisely, still wanted to need us. But that she was also beginning to make that healthy separation, beginning to recognize that she can handle life without us. In small doses. Starting with weathering the weather without parental reassurance.

TBT: Memories of Great-Grandma

This week’s “Throwback Thursday” post was inspired by a conversation I had with Marissa Bergen, Rock and Roll Super Mom, who writes some fun and clever poetry on her blog, Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth. The conversation was on her spooky poem, The Picture. I encourage you to go check it out.  This recollection of mine seems appropriate to run the day before Halloween.

Marissa’s poem was about a (I assume) young child fearful of a painting on her grandmother’s wall and what happened when she decided to take matters in her own hands.  I don’t recall ever spending the night at my grandmother’s house.  Hers was walking distance from ours so I suppose a sleepover never made sense.  I do, however, remember spending the night at my great grandmother’s house.

The memory that I related to Marissa was of spending the night with my younger brother.  It was a very small farm house with one bathroom, a tiny kitchen, three bedrooms, two connected living rooms, and a basement.  Despite the house’s diminutive stature, the hallway going to the last bedroom was at least a mile long.  And not lit.  And I think there were cobwebs in the corners.  And rats watching us with beady little red, evil eyes.  And a witch cackling somewhere just out of sight.

Ok, so maybe the last few points are exaggerations.  Exaggerations on reality, not on how we felt.  I can remember the intense fear of being led down that (actually very short) hallway.  I hated it when my brother stayed with me because if it was just me, I got to sleep in grandma’s bed with her.  Until I got older and she claimed that I kicked her too much in my sleep.  Even then, I got to sleep in the second bedroom.  I never got banished to the end bedroom on my own.

There’s a reason for that.  I think Great Grandma knew that a child alone had no hope of survival in that bedroom.  We never wanted her to close the door.  We never wanted her to leave.  But she always did.

My brother and I would lie flat on our backs, huddled as close to each other in the dead center of the bed as possible.  We’d hold the blanket up tight under our chins.  Our fingers would begin to ache from clinching the sheets so tightly.  And we’d stare intently at the picture on the wall.

I don’t remember what the picture was.  I just remember truly thinking the person in the picture was watching us.  We’d whisper furtively to each other, wanting the reassurance of each other’s voice but fearful that the sound would draw out the demons watching us from that picture.

We were never as united as we were fighting for our lives in that dark room at the end of that long hallway.  “I want to roll over,” one of us would say.

“Ok,” the other would respond.  “I’ll keep watch.  You go ahead and turn over.”

We’d keep watch until we eventually dropped from fatigue.  The paralyzing fear I felt then is still palpable now.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like great grandma was a scary woman.  Well, barring the fact that she only had two fingers on her right hand and she was quite adept at pinching that fleshy underside of your arm with them if you were doing something wrong.  And she had false teeth that she liked to pop out of her mouth at us in a ghoulish expression that would cause us to shriek in mostly-fun fear.

Oh, and then there was the fact that she actually had those three fingers missing from her right hand in a jar in her basement.  I’m not making that up.  The fingers, and a chunk of the hand, were severed when she was two years old and was pretending to play the organ on a piece of sharp farm equipment.  She slipped and sliced her hand.

A very talented German doctor stitched up her hand.  And stored her fingers in a jar of formaldehyde that he kept on a shelf in his office.  And when she got a job working for him as a teenager, he handed the fingers back to their rightful owner.  Nothing spooky about that, right?

No, the truly terrifying thing about Great Grandma’s house was the time I realized just how old she really was.  When it dawned on me that none of my friends went to visit their great grandmas… because they didn’t have living great grandmas.  Or if they did, they were waiting out the end in nursing homes.

My great grandma lived by herself on a large farm out in the middle of nowhere.  When all of this came crashing down on me one day, I called my mom in a panic.  Had to stand at the rotary phone at the end of the kitchen.  And whisper – just in case Great Grandma was listening.

“But mom!” I pleaded.  “What if she… dies?!”

“Well,” she replied calmly and practically, “you’ll call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

“But what if I can’t reach you?!”

“Then you’ll call grandma.  One of us will come get you.”

“But what am I supposed to do until you get here?!”

“What do you mean?  Just wait for us.”

“But what about her?!”

“What do you mean, ‘what about her’?”

“I’d be in a house with a… dead body…”

“Well, it’s not like she’s going to jump up and grab you.  She’d be dead.”

Obviously, my mother had never taken the long walk to that end bedroom or she wouldn’t be so sanguine.  I resolved to sit out on the porch and wait for them there if, indeed, my great grandmother were to expire during one of my visits.  She didn’t, of course.  Like most childhood fears, that one was unfounded.

I had many wonderful experiences at Great Grandma’s house.  And I count the spooky, terrifying ones among them.  Happy Halloween, everyone.

Sleeping Alone

Daryl spent the night at a friend’s house last night. He’s done this before but it’s been awhile. Hal doesn’t like it. Not one bit. He’s very accustomed to having his brother in the room with him. He said he was scared when we put him to bed and we told him he’d be fine.

Sometime after my husband left to pick up Jane from her outing with a friend, I thought I heard Hal’s door open. I gazed down the hall but saw nothing. I turned back to the computer. Time passed. Then my chair moved ever so slightly. Hal was hiding behind my chair.

“I’m scared Mommy. I don’t like Bubba being gone.”

I had him lay on the guest bed nearby until I finished the night’s blog post. Then I carried him back to his room.

“You know,” I said, as I tucked him back in, “when Bubba was about your age…” I was about to tell him that his Bubba had slept in a room by himself, but then it dawned on me that five years ago, I was about to give birth to Hal. We had already moved Jane into Daryl’s room so we could turn her room into Hal’s nursery. But, wait! That means…

“You know what, Hal?”


“Did you know you slept in a room by yourself when you were a little baby?”


“Yep. You slept in a room by yourself until you were about 2 or 3 years old. Sissy’s room used to be yours.”

He got a big smile on his face. “I did?”

“Yep. So, see? You’ve done it before. You are just scared now because you aren’t used to it. But it’ll be ok. I wouldn’t put a baby in a room by himself if it wasn’t safe, would I? And I wouldn’t do it to you now. You’ll be fine. I promise. Just remember when you get scared that you’ve done it before, even if you don’t remember. Ok?”

He snuggled into his blanket like he was willing to give it a shot, but then, speaking very slowly as if working it out in his head, he said, “Well, Mommy, maybe when I was two I was really brave and now that I’m four, I’m not very brave at all.”

“Oh, sweetheart. You are just as brave now as you were then. You just didn’t know anything different then. I bet if we grew another bedroom on this house and moved you into your own room, you’d stop being scared in no time. You just aren’t used to it, that’s all.”

With that, I gave him a hug and left him to face the monstrous silence of an empty room. Alone.


I have a complicated relationship with thunderstorms. They used to be so much more simple than they are now. As far back as I can remember, I have adored them. I even bought a tape of nothing but the noises of a storm and I’d lay in my bed and listen to them and doze off in a peaceful bliss. My heart actually leaps with joy when I hear that first rumble of thunder.

But now I have this wonderful blessed young man in my life. He is brave and energetic and funny and cute as a button. And he is terrified of thunderstorms. Utterly and without question. The look of panic on his face as he presses his hands against his little ears is enough to break my heart. Beyond his fear is the problem that if the storm occurs at night (and I swear 90% of all storms seem to pass through here sometime between midnight and 6 am), I won’t get any sleep.

But deep down inside, I still love the sound of thunder and rain pounding on the roof. So when it rained recently, my reaction was much as it usually is now. First, my heart gave a little leap of excitement and anticipation and then even more quickly plummeted to my stomach as I tuned my ear to the bedroom across the hall.

I heard some whimpering and thought I’d go in there instead of waiting for him to hurry into my room. But to my surprise, he was not in his bed. I finally found him in the top bunk with his brother, hands pressed tightly against his ears.

“It’s ok, Hal. Come here.”

He tried to resist until he realized I wasn’t going to pull his hands away. Then he tumbled rapidly off the side of the bed and wrapped his legs tightly around my waist. I began to lay (because there was no hope of separating us) down on the bed.

He cried out, “No! I don’t want to lay in my bed!”

“It’s ok. I’m staying here with you.” He relaxed. A tiny bit.

And so we lay there, wrapped exactly how we were when I was standing. He had an arm and a leg under my body and I began to worry they would go numb under my weight. As I shifted myself free, he began to fret again.

“I’m not going anywhere. It’s ok.”

I lay there listening to the thunder as the storm moved away. I tried to stay in touch with the joy I feel hearing it and tie it with the joy I felt holding my special little boy. When I had gone several minutes without hearing any thunder, I extracted myself from his limbs.

“It’s ok now. The storm has moved on. You can go back to sleep now, sweetheart.”

I sincerely hope he gets over this paralyzing fear, both for his sake and for mine. But in the meantime, I’ll do my best to enjoy the midnight cuddles from a child that still needs me.

Being An Artist

We are at an inter-generational art conference this week. Last year was our first year here and we had a blast. The conference strives to enforce the notion that we are all children of a creating God and each of us has incredible creative potential inside, waiting for us to recognize it and grow with it.

The conference opens with a worship service Sunday evening. Tonight, the worship leader asked us to close our eyes and think of a creative person we know. Hold an image of that person in our minds. She then described possible images we were holding: a woman in a paint splattered apron in front of an easel, a shaggy-haired man bending over his guitar, a writer scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop.

The first image that came to my mind was one of myself, sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog. I immediately began to analyze whether this counts. I’m not a novelist, creating a story out of my imagination. I’m more of a journalist blessed with amusing children. At best, I’m a storyteller. So my mind searched out further and I gazed at my husband in his clay-stained apron leaning over his pottery wheel. There’s a good image. I’ll hold on to that one.

When she told us to open our eyes, she asked, “Did any of you imagine yourself?”

Silence filled the room as one small hand was raised in the chair next to mine. In a room of over 50 people, mostly adults, Daryl was the only person to think of himself. The speaker’s eyes lit up. “Daryl did. Daryl knows that he is a creative person. He is an artist. Children know these things. They are born with the ability to play. And creating art is about playing. Being able to try something different and not worrying about failing.”

I thought about how I had pushed my image of myself out of the way as inadequate or not quite fitting the profile. It was still haunting me when the other worship leader asked us to stand and set some intentions for the week. We confirmed that we would help create a loving, safe, and supportive environment. We confirmed that we would strive to grow and try something new.

And then she asked us to commit to silencing that inner critic, the one that told us we weren’t good enough. Not creative enough. What we created wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t worthy. Convicted, I choked up as I tried to say “I will”. And even as I forced the words out and wondered how surreptitiously I could wipe the welling tears from my eyes, I wondered if I really could. Then, as the chorus of “I will” completed, I heard a husky male voice add “with God’s help.”

Of course. She wouldn’t have mentioned the problem if I were the only one with it. Nearly everyone in that room has an inner critic. Perhaps not all as vocal or harsh as mine, but they all have one. Even Daryl. So as she invited us to come to the front and draw something on the cloth that would serve as our communion tablecloth at the end of the week, I resolved to not be scared of that simple invitation.

I stood back as Hal and, well, most of the people, traced their hands and colored them in. I din’t want to trace my hand. That had been her suggestion, a jumping off point. A place to stay for the very young or the scared or the rushed. I wanted to go further. I saw someone draw a beautiful tree with gorgeous leaves and thought, “Oh! I want to do that!” But to do that would be to copy. Just wait. Think. Wait.

Finally, I reached over Hal and drew a simple shape. I divided it up with lines and used the colors available to fill in each section. I was pleased with my creation. It was simple but colorful. And unique. And mine.


I showed Jane and she responded, “You drew that? Really?!” Hah! I told my inner critic. Who needs you? I’ve got a daughter! And then I realized that she wasn’t surprised because she thought I wasn’t an artist, although that was probably, realistically part of it. She was surprised because she’s not used to seeing me create anything and doesn’t see the things I do create as art.

I headed off to my beginning jewelry making class feeling hopeful. That hope carried me through the panic that rose as the teacher told us to begin sketching out designs for our pendant. I stared at my stone. I turned it over and over. I backed off and thought of what was important to me and how it might look with the stone. An idea began to form.

“Can we use wire to make a shape in front of the stone?” I asked. It took her a minute to understand what I meant but then confirmed that I could. But what to do with the back? When an answer didn’t come, I let my mind wander. In a rare moment of peace for me, I allowed the emptiness to be comforting. I just waited and tossed images and words around in my mind. There’s a tree in front of that stone and I like how it looks. What if the backing was a leaf? I drew it out on the paper and saw that it was good. And so was I. Not perfect. Not the best. But good enough.