Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Fourth Anniversary of our Family Day

Did you know that four years ago I brought home my first baby? 
I can't believe it either.  He was 10 months old, quiet, and so melancholy.  Pretty much the opposite of what he is today - so close to being FIVE. 
We celebrated Miles' family day with all of his favorite things.  The boys had no school and the weather was warm-ish, so it seemed like we got the perfect day to celebrate the anniversary of us becoming US.
First up...the park.
Second...a movie and the arcade.
We are so screwed when they figure out that you can put money in these things and something actually happens.

Third...a special gift to commemorate the day.
This boy loves Mini Coopers for some reason.

And fourth...his favorite food in the whole wide world...Hamburgers at an "American Diner".  There were even free refills on soda! (Although regretfully, none of us took advantage of it due to soda overdose at the movie theater.)

And last but not least...swimming!  Sorry. No in-demand photos of us all in swimsuits.  That's what happens when you only bust those babies out once every two years. (On a side note: I don't remember what tan lines look like, and sometimes that makes me sad.)

Somehow his favorite things have turned into my favorite things to do with him.  It's funny how that happens when you have little people in your life.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The trouble with raising superheroes.

I have three boys.
No girls.
I have grown to love this.
There were times in my life when I imagined dressing a little girl up in dresses and cute leather sandals, but there came a point when I pictured my life and it matched up so well with mothers who had three sons.
I'm not a tomboy, and I love being a girl, and the normal things that girls love, but let's just say I know how to play with little boys.

I had three brothers.  All boy cousins.  And mostly nephews.
This seems tidy.  Easy.
There is a lot of mud, and rocks, and urine to clean up, but overall it is pretty easy. It's what I know.

At least it has been easy.

I'm starting to realize that at some point my boys need to learn how to treat girls.  I would love to say that they should just treat them the same, and that everyone is completely equal.  Perhaps the problem is that my sons just don't know how to treat them the same.
This all came to my attention as my two sons were, in my husband's words, "terrorizing" a little girl on the playground Sunday. To my utter shock, it occurred to me that someone has to teach them how to be "gentlemanly".  Unfortunately, that someone is going to have to be me and my husband - why didn't someone warn me that this was a "thing"?  I listened in horror as my husband recanted how my sons decided that this little girl was Snow White (without her permission or knowledge of course) and then proceeded to chase her around.  Do you think they were fighting over who could be Prince Charming?  Of course not.  They were arguing over who got to be the Huntsman...or as they call it "The Wise Man".

Here's a tip: Girls don't want to be chased on the playground by "The Wise Man".

I know that most of you would say that they see how to treat women by how their Dad treats their Mom.  Maybe that's it.  Dustin does spend a lot of time chasing me around our flat while I scream and giggle. Maybe he should be doing less of that, and more breakfasts in bed and painting my toenails.

That seems weird.  Please don't say that's the answer.

And I don't just want my boys to be superheroes, although that's all they can think about right now.  I want them to be feminists and purveyors of equality.  I want them to be empathetic and kind. 

How do you teach boys how to relate to girls?

Seriously...I want to know.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oliver is 8 MONTHS

This guy is getting older... and without my permission.
Can you believe it was eight months ago that THIS happened?
He's still fierce.  But he's also joyful, and stoic when I need him to be. 
My mom says he has an "old soul".

Greatest Accomplishments to Date:
Balancing on two hands and one knee - like yoga, but more wobbly - actually a lot like the yoga I do myself.
Eating solid foods like a champ -just like his mama.
Catching a single bug with his bare hands, and then proceeding to eat it. (Think karate kid without chopsticks.)

Greatest Disappointments to Date:
Not being able to stay up 24/7 with an endless supply of food being set before him.

Short term goals - sleeping through the night and crawling.
Long term goals - bringing an end to sectarian violence with his stunning good looks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Love, Humility, and Laughter With a Whole Lot of Jesus.

If you want me to go to your church then you'll smile at me when I walk in the door.  And you'll continue to smile as my three rambunctious boys follow behind, jumping, pushing, and unsure of how to release their pent in energy.
You'll remember my name, or you'll at least try really hard, even if you might be wrong.
You'll tell me my children were incredibly well-behaved, even if they weren't.
If you want me to go to your church, you don't have to do these things.  But if you do them, I will have a hard time staying away.

This was proven to be true over the course of the last year as our family settled into the routine of a new church family.
The first time we walked in, they acted as though my children were the most exciting and wonderful blessings on the face of the earth.    Which, in all honesty, is not a reaction I'm used to.
The second time we walked in, they remembered our names.
The third time they came and grabbed our children's hands for Sunday School because they knew that Miles has a tendency to get "lost" on the way there.  They encouraged Liam to participate, because they knew he's shy.

Every Sunday Alice, a woman in her early 60's gets up in front of the congregation with a young guy who is brandishing a guitar.They invite the children up with them, and the two of them sing out loud and dance with the children like crazy people that don't realize there is an entire crowd of adults in church-clothes watching them.  It is the single most heart-warming and brilliant thing I've ever experienced while sitting in a pew.

I've never gone to a non-Mennonite church until now.  I've always justified that by saying "Mennonite is what I know. I'm comfortable with the Mennonites."  I guess the truth is that I'm more comfortable with love and humility and laughter, no matter what group of people are dishing it out.  And Jesus helps too.  I'd like him to be there if possible.

If you want us to come to your church - if you want us to come back over and over again...

 you will bring in LOVE and HUMILITY. And most of all, you will bring in LAUGHTER.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Story Behind the Title

I am an artist. I've spent way too much money, and have accrued too much debt trying to justify that title through education, artistic experiences, and other foolish things that make a person feel like they can justify a title they've given themselves.

I'm also an art teacher by trade - or at least I was at one time.  I love teaching and how it allows you to dabble in every single art medium, even though you may be especially experienced in one particular category - in my case, photography.

I loved going around and working with students individually, exposing them to emerging artists, and watching them grow into artists themselves. But there was one question I always dreaded...
"How do you paint the sky?"

What sky? On what day? In what weather?  It didn't matter.  It was always way more difficult than it looked, and it was outside of this art teacher's ability to explain it prophetically.  My unhelpful advice usually involved me sitting down with a brush and a paper, attempting to create some sort of sky they had in mind and saying things like, "I don't know, you just put some paint on your brush and stab at your canvas."  Don't even get me started on watercolors.

This isn't a "Mommy Blog", or at least it isn't intended to be.  It's more an experiment in living whole-heartedly.  Of showing up.  Of creating experiences.  And of sharing this experiment with my kids someday so that they can see evidence that I tried.  That I loved them.  That I gave it my all, even though sometimes my all seems like very little. Maybe it's kind of a Mommy blog, but you'll never hear me admit it.

 Painting the sky is damn hard.  Living a life wholeheartedly is harder.  It turns out I'm not incredibly good at either.
This blog is about hard things. And happy things.  It's about me showing up, and trying to paint that sky with a little honesty, a little love, and maybe even a little humor.

It's about laughing at myself and not taking things too seriously.  It's about taking some things seriously.  It's about the basic and the abundant.

In case you haven't figured it out, I have no idea what it's about.
I'm just going to put some paint on a brush and stab at the paper.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Facebook purge.

Last month I quit Facebook and didn't tell anyone.
I think I had read one-too-many judgmental posts by mothers about other mothers.
People were hacking other people's accounts.
It's hard to read about five week old babies sleeping through the night when my 8-month-old hasn't shown any signs of making it more than five hours.

There were a million reasons Facebook wasn't making me feel good.  So I quit it.

I didn't tell anyone because I was sure I would go back in a day's time.  I had just spent the week before trying to convince the last person on the planet (my friend Heidi) to get a Facebook account. Checking Facebook was what I did every time I had a free moment, or even at times when I didn't have a free moment, but went to the site out of habit. It was such a huge part of my life that I was sure I would shrivel up and die without it.
It took a total of three minutes. From the time I asked myself, "Is all of this worth it?" to the time I deactivated my account and closed my computer.
I put absolutely no thought into why I was doing it until later. 
I became conscious that my blog would be read far less. But I was okay with that. I knew that some people would become less accessible.  But I have ways of finding emails, and I thought it might force me to write to them more.  I didn't want to miss out on photos people were posting, but I found that the people I craved photos from most, weren't posting very much.
What about everything else I would be missing?

I didn't miss it.  For the first week I felt this entire release.
The second week felt even better.
I couldn't believe how good it felt to be off the Facebook grid. I was never once even tempted to log back on - not once.
Until yesterday, when I accidentally logged on while trying to access my Pintrest. At the 1 month mark I had the first ebb of doubt spring into my mind. There were definite things I missed.
I missed tagging someone in a status update that I'd knew they'd appreciate, and then having our mutual friends find the ironic humor in it.
I missed photographs and updates from our friends in Peoria.
I missed baby pictures and pregnancy pictures.
I missed knowing when our dear friends were on vacation, and how big their kids were getting.
I especially missed seeing what was going on with the volunteers we work with from all over the world.

Yesterday I missed Facebook.

And today I sit here with my finger on the login "trigger" trying to decide if I'm ready.  If I'm brave enough or patient enough to enter back into that world. It may be today. It may not.  I'm still unsure.

I am sure that with my return will come a new sense of how to use this social media in a way that will make me feel good or, at the very least, not bad. I'm now ready to use it carefully, and with a sense of how it will make others feel.

I honestly didn't think I'd be gone for so long.
But it was just so refreshing.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Four Years Ago

Dear Miles.

Four years ago today...
I stepped onto a plane with you strapped to me. Your gaze trusting.
I felt so lucky.
A quiet plane ride.
You were a content baby.
Quiet, and sleepy.
Just ten months old.
The ending to a beautiful story.
The beginning of an amazing one.
A story of tears, and laughter.
A story of heartache and love.
The story of us.

Happy Family Day little boy.

You taught me not to take myself too seriously.
Challenged everything I ever believed to be true. 
Feeling my heart swell to sizes I never dreamed possible.
You turned us into Us.
You were my first.
My guide through unchartered lands.

Forever and ever.
And then evermore.
I will love you.

You Mom.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Things You Think When Your Friends Are Far...

I wouldn't say I have trouble making friends in real life. It is usually pretty easy for me to round up a slew of people to hang out with and share secrets.

Those sentences were easy enough for me to type, but if I think about the truth in those statements, and my history it isn't as easy as I so casually recall.  The thing is, I'm not a "mover". I went to the same school my entire childhood.  I went to the same college for 4.5 years, I got married and lived in the same area for the following 8.5 years, and then I moved here.  I have lasting friendships from each of those locations - people that I will forever be connected with and will stay in touch with.  Because although I am not much of a "mover", I am a great "keep in touch-er".

When I think about those friendships, they almost all began with me lying on a couch somewhere and sobbing into my hands that I "didn't have any real friends".  I want instant friends - girls that will ask me to go out for coffee; people who allow me to laugh at myself, but are empathetic when I'm going through a spell of humiliation or self-pity.  I don't need shopping partners or pedicure buddies, but I do need dinner dates and family get-togethers where our children play in one room while our husbands talk husbandy-things in another, and we whisper and laugh over glasses of wine.

These are things I associate with my friends from every area of my life.  I have no doubt that I could walk into their houses tomorrow and everything would be exactly as I've described it.

This is all so fresh in my mind because of two things...
  1. I may soon have to move to a place where I have no friends just waiting to greet me with open arms and a glass of shiraz.
  2. One of my dearest friends from college, Heidi, just came to visit me.
I'm going to talk about #2, because #1 is depressing and can be for another post on another day, when I'm especially ready to feel sorry for myself.

Of course I was excited for Heidi to get here, but when I saw her face a flood of emotions bubbled over my soul. I hadn't thought about it until then, but she was my first friend to come all of the way over here - the first friend I had seen in real life since September of 2011.  My heart swelled, then got sad, and then swelled again.

While she was here we laughed at perfect things.  There was no language to decipher, or unknown pasts to tiptoe around. My heart felt like it was going to explode.  I wanted to show her everything, so that someday when I'm homesick for Northern Ireland I'll have someone that can commiserate how I left this amazingly beautiful place to return to my homeland. We read "People" magazine. We drank Guinness. We planned out my whole life.  Before she ever left, I made the proclamation to my husband that I couldn't be another day past June without being in a town with at least some of my friends close by. Dustin started by telling me that there weren't any jobs for him is these towns, but soon took my passion on board and got creative with his job-search. By the time she left I was sure I was going to raise my kids right next to her in Indianapolis.

The power of seeing someone's face. I miss her.  I miss all of my friends.
The excitement of soon seeing the friends from each chapter of my life is absolutely more than I can bare.  But the sadness in realizing there is a chance I may not be next door to them is weighing me down as well

Well look at that.  I talked about #1 after all. Oops.

Thank you Heidi for a wonderful visit. For lots of laughter. For saying nice things about my kids. For being my friend.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ten Things I Know to Be True...

Ten Things I Know to Be True On Tuesday...

Things I Will Never Get Tired Of Edition.
  1. Baby laughter.
  2. The Sea.
  3. Sticky Toffee Pudding
  4. Fancy cheese, wine, and HULU date-night with Dustin.
  5. Listening to intricate games of pretend being played in the other room.
  6. Making my kids laugh with funny voices... because they say I'm the funniest.
  7. Tea with milk, no sugar.
  8. New Girl.
  9. Baby lambs.
  10. The sunrise over Fairhead.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Story of Lent Failure.

This is the first time in my LIFE that I've gotten on board with Lent.  In my experience, Easter has always been about getting up before sunrise, the new Easter dresses, the daffodils, the Easter eggs, and the story of resurrection.  I love all of it. But by growing up Mennonite, I somehow missed the entire idea of giving up something for forty days....or throwing ash on my forehead. It often took me a few weeks to figure out why the cafeteria at school started serving the square fish sandwiches every Friday. (I'm still trying to figure out what fish I need to catch for that elusive perfect square of flaky goodness.)
So I present to you: LENT 2013.

February 11th: Everyone goes around the table at lunch and asks what each person is giving up for lent.  The circle finally gets to me and I stumble around, unable to answer how I could have be raised in a Christian home, but have never observed Lent.  It isn't even on my radar that it begins in two days.  All night long and the next day I think about what this meant.

February 13th (Ash Wednesday): I devise a plan.  It'll be my first ever sacrificial Lent event and I can't wait to follow through with it.  My plan is so clever. Instead of giving something up I have decided to dedicate 40 minutes every day, rain or shine, to walking and praying. I suddenly feel like a genius...a spiritual genius.

February 20th: I continue to be so proud of myself.  I haven't missed a day, but I also haven't felt as though this has been any sort of sacrifice.  I'm getting to talk to God about things I haven't had "time" to bring up before, and it feels splendid.  And the weather can't be beat.  Never have I felt so lucky to have someone to talk to - someone that has an obligation to listen...and to take it to heart.

February 29th: The weather has turned.  What was once so easy has become hard.  I begin to feel the true sacrifice of time this experiment is becoming.  There are days when I feel like I can't possibly find time in that day to walk, or the weather looks like tiny spit-bullets that could pound on the top of my head and possibly impale me. Those are the days I was most proud of. I would spend the first 20 minutes with my head to the ground, walking against the wind and into the sleet.  This is when I am hashing it out with God and there is no one there to interrupt.  The last twenty minutes are much more relaxed and joyful.  I can look up from the concrete because the rain is to my back. I finally notice the sea and the land, and I give thanks. Instead of beating against me, the wind gently nudges me from behind every day as I tackle that last difficult hill.  I often spend this time contemplating the metaphors.   I can't wait to blog about it all of this, and the inevitable success of my Lent season.  I am so proud of the work I am doing, the sacrifice I am making.

March 7th: It's harder to think of things to pray for or about, so my prayers have turned mostly to our future, and to thanking God for what I currently have.  The conversations continue, but they are laced with more questions.  I begin looking up world affairs so that I have something to talk about with God when I run out of things that directly affect me and the ones I love. Although it is enlightening, it also points out how selfish I am.

March 17th: I struggle daily with myself. I have to give myself what can only be describe as a "pep talk" every day.  Because of my job and my kids, scheduling becomes a bit a downer.  There are so many places I'm being pulled, and I need sleep.  So little sleep is in my life. It's getting to be a burden, but I can feel how this is an important part of the Lent season - the burden and struggle.  It seems so small.  I make a mental note that I will write about this in my blog.

March 22nd: A snowstorm hits. It's bad.  I couldn't possibly have gone out in it.  Jesus wouldn't have wanted me to.  Nobody would survive such conditions. After dark I find out that one of the volunteers walked home in it and I instantly feel a little guilty that I couldn't sacrifice comfort for just a short amount of time. Just a little though.  They were crazy.

March 23rd-24th: Still snowing.  Still not going out.  Guilt is starting to haunt me.  Jesus died on a cross for me and I can't even get my ass out the door for a 40 minute walk.  My blankets and coffee are so cozy.  I. Love. Them. (but not more than Jesus.)

March 25th-28th: Now the weather is fine, but I still couldn't do it.  I think endlessly about what I'm going to write about on my blog now that I'm the ultimate Lent loser.  So close to Easter, and I just can't bring myself to pull on my trainers and winter coat for 40 minutes.  I AM A FAILURE.

March 29th: I go for a walk and decide I can easily make up the time by just going on seven walks over the course of the next three days.

March 30th: I realize that's crazy.  It suddenly occurs to me that I remember Jesus having unconditional love and forgiveness.  I tell God that I've learned a valuable lesson here.

March 31st (Easter): Still trying to figure out what the valuable lesson is, I decide it is based on forgiveness and gentleness.  I will be more gentle with myself.  I will continue to try really hard, and to do my best, but I will also love myself and others when we fall short.

Just like Jesus would want me to.