The Juggling Act

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Looking at this oddly chaotic drawing whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed somehow makes me feel better. I found it years ago, and, sadly, I can’t seem to find it again to properly credit the artist. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this one tells quite a story about everyday life as an adult – a perpetual balancing act of everything that’s important. So many balls in the air, and the consequences of letting any of them fall can be great. Yet, somehow, we manage to do it – and not just survive, but often thrive. We grow, we grow people, we help them grow.

My oldest son told me the other day that he didn’t want to grow up (but he still wanted to have birthdays, mind you!) When I asked him why, he said ’cause grown ups didn’t get to have any fun anymore. I, of course, told him that wasn’t true and reminded him of all the fun things we have done together. But it’s not just pictures that speak louder than words. Actions do too. And somehow, my actions are portraying life as boring, busy, and work filled. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.

His declaration got me thinking. I admire people whose enjoyment of life is evident. Who wear joy on their sleeves like a beautiful accessory and brighten every room they walk into. I’m not talking about the fun or thrill seeking type, who shirk responsibility and look down their noses at anyone who chooses to tie themselves down with it. Don’t get me started on those people. I mean the people who manage to do the daily juggling act, and make it look fun. Because it is fun after all. Not each individual piece of it, but as whole picture, it is. And when I see something I admire about someone else, but don’t see it in myself, I have some work to do. I need to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Occasionally letting the little balls fall so that I can keep the big ones up. And showing my son that this juggling act of life, even as a grown up, can be a lot of fun. Who’s with me?

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For Now…

In the future, my boys might roll their eyes in embarrassment if I try to kiss them goodbye. For now, Owen clings to me, begging me not to leave and Aiden hugs my neck and whispers in my ear, “When you come back, I want to hold you. And you’re the best Mama in the world.” I will not let the rush of life in the morning rob me of these treasures.

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In the future, I may be able to say goodnight from across the room – may even be lucky enough to get a hug or a kiss, before my boys retire to their rooms to do whatever teenage boys do before finally going to sleep. For now, I will not begrudge the long, loud bubble baths, the need to clip 40 nails that are not my own while making a game of counting the clips, the endless re-readings of the same favorite stories, the stalling for water or covers or deep meaningful questions at the door because they just don’t want me to leave, or the sweet nothings they call out before I go, “I love you! I’ll miss you while I sleep! When I wake up, I wanna hold you! I love you more!”

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In the future, when everyone has their own schedules and responsibilities and friends, I may have a quiet dinner alone. For now, I will happily cook as many meals as possible for us to eat as a family even if it means the cycle of dishes is unending, the process of getting every bite into my two-year-old’s mouth is a battle of wits and wills, the milk is always spilled, my food is always cold and up for grabs, the floor is always sticky, and chaos envelops us. I will long for the chaos later, so I will not wish it away today.

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In the future, my boys may fall down and get right back up because they’re too big to cry over scraped needs or hurt feelings. For now, I will gladly provide the kiss that makes it all better, the snuggle that makes the hurt go away, the reassurance that time heals all wounds. Because when the wounds are far more complicated, I want them to know that I am a safe place to come for comfort.

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In the future, going out with my husband alone, rather than taking an act of congress and a financial benefactor to accomplish, might be as easy as walking out the door. For now, I will cherish the few-and-far-between dates because their scarcity makes them more special and the thought and planning that went into making them happen will be missed when replaced with the casual, “You wanna go out somewhere tonight?”

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In the future, I may have all the time I want or need to write that article that will finally get me noticed or publish that book that’s on my bucket list. For now, the lives I am helping to build that demand so much of my time, are molding me into a person with a perspective worth noticing. I will not resent the delay because, “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” – John Lennon

Allowing Our Children To Cry

A few months back, I had a conversation with my 5-year-old son that was so tender, sensitive and mature that it made me both extremely proud of the person he is becoming and rather humbled by the fresh awareness it gave me of the awesome responsibility of raising a healthy, balanced human being.

It happened back when we were still in the throes of what I can only hope will be our most difficult move. We were stuck in Jackson trying to sell the house and pack up for the move. Daddy had been gone in Austin for nearly 3 months and, although Aiden was old enough to understand somewhat, he still hadn’t developed the right boxes with which to categorize his emotions. I know he felt abandoned, confused, angry, sad – all mixed in with his normal everyday happy. The world around him, as he’d always known it, was changing. Everything familiar that he loved was being crammed into boxes and stacked against walls. His preschool year was over and he was transferred, temporarily to a new day care until the house sold. His Mama, who was his lifeline, was stressed out of her mind and barely holding it together. And our daily face time conversations with Daddy, although important for maintaining connection, only seemed to dredge up these emotions and bring them to the surface. Sometimes he was so excited to tell Daddy something about his day, only to see his face and clam up and withdraw.

It was after one such conversation that Aiden disappeared into his room. Being somewhat introverted, he often does this to take some time to himself. But when I checked on him a little while later, he was crying. I went to him and quietly scooped him into my arms. He weightily sank into the embrace and shook as he cried. It took everything in me not to try, again, to “fix” it and tell him all the reasons it was really okay and he didn’t need to be sad and… blah… blah… blah. But I held my tongue and held my son and let him cry. Then, without someone talking over his emotions, or trying to explain them away, he filled the silence himself –

Aiden: “Hey, Mama, sometimes when I’m sad, I just go to my room and close the door really quiet so no one will hear and climb in my bed with a toy. And I just cry while I hold the toy.”
Me: “Does that help you feel better?”
Aiden: “No.”
Me: “Does it help you feel better to hold me instead of a toy?”
Aiden (nodding meekly): “A little. But sometimes I still feel sad.”
Me: “That’s okay, buddy. It’s okay to feel sad and to cry. And it’s okay to need help working through it. You just have to ask me and I will hold you while you cry. And if you don’t want to talk about it, just tell me and I will hold you quietly.”
Aiden: “Okay…   Hey, Mama…   I love you.”
Me: “I love you too sweet man!”

Sometimes kids just need to cry and know that it is okay – that they are still loved and accepted.

One of the most achingly poignant parts of this conversation was the revelation that he tries to hide when he’s sad, closing the door really quietly so no one will hear him. But, craving embrace, he holds a toy, which he readily admitted doesn’t help. How often do we, as parents, label every emotion that our kids can’t control as “bad”? Every episode of crying as a “fit”? Every poor expression of frustration as a “tantrum”? And our response to these immature expressions of emotion is, too often, to send them to their rooms to deal with it… alone. There is better way. We need to teach them that what they’re feeling is okay, that we understand it even if we don’t like its expression, and that there are healthier ways to express even the worst emotions. That it is okay to take time to yourself if you want it, but it is also okay to ask to be held and even to ask that we not talk about it if crying quietly in the safety of love is all you need in that moment. In this way, we will avoid teaching our children to bottle up emotions, seal them tightly with a cork, and wait for the pressure to get so great that it one day explodes. I have experienced the explosion, and I’d rather not lead my children down that road.

I am so thankful for a son who teaches me how to be a good mother while I teach him how to be a good man. I will always cherish this conversation.

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Photo taken by Aiden’s Aunt Gigi, aka Jenniffer Allgaier

An Early Lesson In Loss

I find myself struck, once again, by the profundity with which small children can handle the serious things of life. The most recent example of this in our home was both heart breaking and faith restoring in the same moment.

Little people can form big attachments. Whether it is the lovey they’ve slept with since they were too small to remember, or the footy pj’s they’ve only been wearing since the weather turned chilly, they throw their whole being, without reserve, into loving someone or something because they have no reason to not trust. They are open and vulnerable. Incredibly strong but weak enough to need protection. Their naiveté is both an asset and a liability that can lead to hurt. And each time the end result is hurt, they inch a little closer to adulthood. These early lessons that teach them that love and loss sometimes go hand in hand are key building blocks that determine whether their adulthood will be clouded with cynicism or embraced by hope. What a powerful witness we bear to these extraordinary little lives! What a grave responsibility to guide them well.

My eldest son, Aiden, got his little black cat, Charlie, when he had just turned one. He is four and a half now and doesn’t remember a time when Charlie was not a special part of his life. They grew up together, really, and Charlie would let Aiden drag him around like a rag doll in a way that he wouldn’t tolerate from anyone else. When Aiden was diagnosed with allergies and asthma, Charlie went to live outside (or in the garage on particularly cold nights). But if Aiden was outside, you can be sure that Charlie was not too far away. They were buddies.

When the family went to dinner two days before Christmas, that all changed in the blink of an eye. Charlie had been hiding on top of the open garage door and became entangled on the outside when the door came down. We were called by our neighbor who was working with Animal Control to take care of the situation before we came home to discover it. I cried through most of the dinner but I did my best to hide it until we could decide how and when to tell Aiden. The timing couldn’t be worse, but we decided to trust him with the truth and let the happiness of Christmas follow this sad news rather than the other way around. After putting Owen to bed, we sat down with Aiden and told him that his little friend wasn’t going to be with us any more. That he had died.

He did not lose control or freak out. He was clearly shaken, but he stayed calm and asked lots of questions. “But, where did he go?” The animal control people took his body, but no one knows exactly what happens to the life inside the body when it stops living. “Will he ever come back?” No, baby, he won’t come back. But the time he spent with you will always be part of your life. “What if we got another black cat and named him Charlie?” Another cat would be a new relationship, a new adventure, but it would not be Charlie again even if we gave him the same name. “What did the animal people do with his body?” They will bury it in the ground and, even though his life ended, it will help other things grow. “Do we have a picture of him?” We found a picture and he slept with it and carried it around for days. The next morning he tried to explain the whole thing to his one year old little brother while shoving the picture in his face. “Charlie DIED, Owen! He’s gone, gone. He can’t come back.” Owen ran around squealing, as always, with no idea what his brother was talking about. Aiden desperately wanted him to take the news as seriously as he, himself, felt it. He came back to me and said, “Mama, Owen won’t listen. He doesn’t care.” He didn’t love Charlie the same way you did, baby. You had a special relationship with him, so it’s OK that you care more. And Owen is a too little to really understand.

Now, we can talk about Charlie together without it being sad. We remember the good stuff – like how he was the only cat I’d ever known that would go for walks with his family; or how he liked to stalk and eat cicadas in the summer, no matter how hard Aiden tried to rescue them. Aiden always smiles when we talk about him. He is a brave boy with enough love to withstand even this early lesson in loss. I am so proud of him. I may not be able to shield him from the hurt, but I can help guide him as he weathers it. And he can help me learn to weather it better.

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Disconnected Thoughts On Connection

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If you do not know yourself first, no matter what partner you choose, you will end up living their life along side of them instead of your own life with them.

Don’t fool yourself into living someone else’s life. You’ve only got one. Make it your own.

You can’t mix and match qualities to create the perfect partner. You can, however, mix and match them to create the perfect you – or as close to it as you can muster. That’s the goal.

Rather than searching for the perfect person to make you happy, create yourself to be the person you’d want to be with. Then you may find that this is where happiness comes from, not from outside yourself.

It is fruitless to build yourself up into the person you want to be only to keep it to yourself. Lives are made for sharing. Open yourself up so that others can view the artwork that is you.

Vulnerability is both the hardest and most fulfilling quality you can cultivate. It is the birthplace of connection.

When you do find someone worth sacrificing for, it won’t feel like as much of a sacrifice. (Most of the time.)

If you sacrifice an important part of yourself for someone else, that sacrifice should be made with full awareness and intentionality and should be understood to be temporary. Integral parts of yourself should not be lost, but rather set aside for a time if the needs of another come first.

Falling in love happens too you, staying in love you make happen.

There IS such a thing as love at first sight, although, most of the time, the person in your sights is very, very tiny.