There’s a First Time in Everything

There is nothing quite like watching your children experience things for the first time… or the first time they remember… or the umpteenth time with the enthusiasm of a first-timer. There is magic in childhood and, if we let it, it rubs off on us. How many times have we been through the same holiday traditions; the same transitions between seasons; the same tasks of everyday life? Too often we let their repetition entrance us into a certain apathy, where we go through the motions because… well… it’s what we do this time of year, and we check them off our to-do lists without ever having really done them in spirit.

But children change all that. They make us see the enchantment in things we’ve done a thousand times. They inspire us to dream up new ways to make old traditions special again. They remind us with wide eyes and huge grins that lighted faces carved out of pumpkins really are amazing.

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That the very first maple leaf to turn red is a treasure worth saving.

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That cupcakes make everything better…

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And a roller coaster conquered is worth every ounce of fear felt along the way.

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That sometimes, the sixteenth trip down the slide really is the BEST one of all.

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That friends and family are always what make any event special.

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And that, no matter how much water life seems to dump on you, sometimes you just need to go with the flow, kick of your shoes, get a little wet!

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You’re Missing the Point

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For all my efforts at trying to see the beauty in the small stuff and not let life’s little joys go unnoticed, sometimes I really miss the boat. My four and a half year old has finally learned that, when he wakes up, he does not need to immediately wake up Mama and Daddy simply to inform us that he’s awake. However, sometimes this means that he’s up incredibly early and we don’t know it and thus cannot tell him to go back to bed. The other day he apparently arose early enough to witness the sunrise. When his daddy got up, he exuberantly declared, “Daddy, you missed it!!! The whole sky was orange. It was SO beautiful!” When hubs told me later about his sweet enthusiasm for beauty, my first thought, riddled with anxiety about the day ahead, was, “Greaaaat… That means he was up before sunrise. *Sigh*” Jonathan just looked at me and said, “You’re missing the point. Our 4-year-old was excited to see the sunrise all on his own.” I felt like I had been slapped awake. Pessimism and anxiety can be entrancing. We have done such a lovely job instilling an appreciation of beauty and nature in our children that the sunrise excites them. His wonder and enthusiasm have not been squelched. Just another example of how my children are often better teachers to me than I am to them – even if their lessons sometimes require a daddy translator. It is comforting to know that even if I miss the boat from time to time, my family is there to throw me a line and get me back on board.

Happily Ever After – Learning to Love the One You’ve Found

This is a blog about finding making your own happiness and learning to appreciate all the little things while they’re happening instead of waiting till they’re gone to fully grasp their worth. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought that I would share something I’ve been pondering lately. Brace yourself, you may not like it. When it comes to relationships, or anything really, there is no such thing “Happily Ever After”. I know this is not a new idea. Most of us outgrow our concept of ‘happily ever after’ very shortly after we think we’ve found it. We believe that we’re mature and self-aware and recognize that relationships take work. But deep down, after so much inundation through fairy-tales and films, self-help books and motivational seminars, billboards and commercials and ads, oh my, we cling to these ideals that breed doubt and plant seeds of resentment. They consistently whisper in our ears, “if this takes so much work, it must not be right.” Or perhaps they cause us to whisper in the ears of our friends who are struggling, in a genuine attempt to encourage or help them, “you just haven’t found the right person yet,” implying that once they do find the love of their life they’ll find happiness… forever after. These latent ideas, stuck deep in our subconscious, lead us to believe that struggle is bad – having to “work at it” is a sign of a problem, rather than a part of the solution. They insinuate that happiness is easy and, by definition, cannot co-exist with pain or struggle. This is poison. And, if it takes root in your thought life, it will lead to bitterness, which, if left to grow unchecked, will turn your relationship doubts into self-fulfilling prophesies. I am convinced that the divorce epidemic in our culture is as least partly due to the fact that people don’t expect happiness to be hard sometimes. Trust me, it is. But just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s gone. It usually means is growing.

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Too often we expect to find… hope to find… believe we have found (or begin to doubt whether we’ve really found) the “love of our life”, and we hope this discovery leads to remarkable, life-changing feelings of happiness that never take a sabbatical for growth and development. But, more and more, I am discovering that, in all different kinds of relationships, be they significant-others, spouses, or BFFs, it’s not about finding the love of your life. It’s about learning to love the one you’ve found. It’s always easy in the beginning. When everything is new and exciting and every time you turn around you learn something new about this person you’ve come to admire. But what about when everything is old news, surprises are hard to come by, and you know this person so well you can finish their sentences. Or life grows ever-increasingly intense with the addition of kids, a promotion (or job loss) requiring travel or ungodly hours, or the loss of someone close to you? What does love look like then? At this stage of the game, love doesn’t always come easily to you. Sometimes you have to give it for a while before you get it back. You have to study, not what is the most natural way for you to show love, but what is the most natural way for the person you are trying to give it to to receive it. What speaks most strongly to them? As our circumstances change and our lives and beliefs and inner-selves change, we have to re-learn how to love the person we easily loved in the beginning. Yes, we have to be mindful of our own needs and communicate them effectively, but we cannot allow them to be the primary focus of our attention. Self-focus breeds discontent. Other-focus breeds fulfillment. And loving someone who is constantly growing and changing, as healthy people should, requires that the love itself also grow and change to adapt to the person it’s bestowed upon. This is tricky business. And doesn’t always feel happy. But it always builds it.

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And what is the return on all this investment? Why put forth the effort to continually re-learn how to love? Why not just move on when love gets hard or the relationship requires too much work? It will be easy again at the beginning of the next one. I think the answer to that question lies in the immeasurable value of having someone who bears witness to the entirety of the artwork that is your life and having the privilege of being that witness for someone else. Loyalty and commitment afford the unique benefit of having someone who understands YOU not just through the lens of your current life circumstance, but with a broader understanding of who you have been in your weakest moments and how those moments have produced times of shining strength. They see all the layers upon layers of your glorious painting that many who just entered the picture can only see the surface of. They appreciate the light because it’s balanced by the shadow – that they walked through with you. Darkness is where light is born and it’s contrast makes it so much more radiant. I don’t know about you, but for this reward, I am willing to put in the work.

Always Playing By The Rules?

Today I set a very bad example for my son… or a very good one… I can’t decide. Rules that, if broken, harm no one and bring great enjoyment to the breaker, seem to me to beg to be challenged. At least every now and then. But at what age is a child capable of understanding when and where this is appropriate. I mean, if Mommy breaks the rules sometimes… You get the idea. Let’s say (hypothetically) that a very pregnant mama desperately wanted to go swimming today – to be able to, for the first time in months, not feel like a two hundred pound lunk and do something completely different and fun. And let’s say that the only club with a pool that I, I mean she, had access to was closed today but this was not discovered till after getting completely dressed and ready for the pool with (her) two-year old and driving up to locked, dark doors. What would you do in this situation? Why, walk into a nice local hotel, of course, with a kid in one arm and a phone in the other, act like you belong there, and harriedly ask the janitor to please get the door to the pool for you. I mean, what harm could there be in taking advantage of an already heated and treated pool being used by no one. In reality we were doing them a favor because at least all the effort and money they spent on keeping up the pool was not completely wasted on disuse. Did my little man understand the concept of crashing a hotel pool uninvited? Probably not. Will he look back and remember and understand? Maybe. Do I regret it? Definitely not! We had a grand-tastic time and memories like these are priceless and could never be traded for a lifetime of always playing by the rules.

A Willing Recipient of Kindness

I am an extrovert.  Anyone who knows me would never dispute this fact. My husband is an introvert. He recharges his emotional and psychological batteries with time to himself whereas I need the ears and voices of those who will listen and contribute while I process things I don’t even know I’m thinking till they’re outside my head. Most of the time we are able to find the delicate balance between our two personalities and manage to support one another according to the other’s needs even if they don’t always coincide with our own. Sometimes, however, I have to step outside of the realm of familiar faces and voices before the monotony of daily, normal interaction threatens to drive me deep into myself and I begin to shut down without even know what’s really wrong. This unhealthy threat seems to be ever-present on the edge of my emotions while I am pregnant and hopped up on hormones, tempting me to draw into myself rather than interact and release whatever is pent-up.

Today was one of those days. But rather than give in and lay on my bed, lost in a book all day pretending I wasn’t down, I got up, got out, and got better. I told Jonathan I just needed to get out of the house and I got in the car with no specific agenda or real goal other than to shake myself free of the fog I was settling into. And I realized something very crucial as I headed home a couple of hours later. I love people. Sometimes I let cynicism or impatience get the better of me and I jump too quickly to see flaws and negativity. But, in general, I am inspired even by simple interactions, unexpected displays of kindness, and windows of vulnerability that give me glimpses into someone else’s soul. I realized that, when I am sinking, I don’t always need a long drawn out conversation over coffee with a girlfriend where I try to analyze all the ins and outs of why I may be feeling the way I am. Sometimes I just need to witness humanity in its simple beauty and walk away changed by it. The smiles of the lady in the bakery who, despite the exhaustion written all over her face, has nothing by kind and helpful things to say and who wishes me luck with the baby as I buy my bread and head out the door. The ladies in the thrift store who don’t know that I’m listening from the dressing room while they recount to each other with a mixture of pride, anxiety, and deep affection stories about their teenagers on valentine’s day. Or the man at Lowe’s who, although he was about to leave early before I arrived needing help, seemed to be a bottomless pit of helpful tips and happy energy and a willingness to be of any kind of assistance – crossing the store multiple times to get something I forgot so that I wouldn’t need to leave the register and then loading my car for me in the rain – both of us laughing the whole time despite the relative unpleasantness of our days prior to this interaction. I came home smiling and cooked spaghetti for supper at my son’s request, the entire evening transformed from what the morning projected it to be. Today served as a reminder to keep my eyes open and allow myself to see, all around, the beauty that lives in people and is eagerly waiting to come out and be bestowed on willing recipients. Let me always be willing!