Thanks to the Dads

To all the dads I know: may your day be wonderful and full of the good stuff: laughter, and words that touch the heart, hugs, and the moments that become snapshots in memory. The years fly by, but the good stuff somehow lasts, photos of the mind that take us back, connecting through time and distance.

I have those mental snapshots of my grandfathers, my dad, father-in-law, my husband, brothers, uncles, son-in-law. Watching these men over the years as they fathered…some in more traditional ways, others more hands on and involved…I’ve seen a breadth of styles and relationships. Above all, I appreciate their commitment and integrity.  Just like me as a young mom, I’m quite sure they were making it up on the fly, figuring out how to be a dad in the midst of all the other demands life was throwing. Does anyone have the luxury of learning to parent at leisure?

There are a lot of words of wisdom that fly around on these days, and anyone can learn from the example of others. But words fall away in the face of actions. It is the actions of these men that I reflect on today. Watching them interact, sometimes at the high points of life, others in the valleys, I see men who were able to connect with their kids, be there when it counted, when the going was rough. I see men who have been quiet heroes to their families, not perfect, but trying. I see men who stayed, fathers who lived up to the name.

I see dads, and I see kids…young ones, adults, and everything in between…who have relationships. And they’re good ones. Thank you to these men, the men of my family.

But more broadly, thanks to the men everywhere who are fathers, and who make a difference, not just in the lives of their children, but in the lives of all of us. Fathers doing a good job make all of us stronger, and better, and healthier.

Enjoy your day, and celebrate the good stuff. And feel proud: you’re doing your job, you’re making a difference. And we love you for it.

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PB and Riley

 

 

Surprise!

Surprises happen.

We’ve been working, recruiting, doing taxes, traveling, more working…well, it’s a common plight…life requires income, and income, I find, requires work. At least in my experience.

Anyway, I’m home for a few weeks, looking forward to getting re-acquainted with my kitchen and my bed. One of the perks of traveling for work is that I’m always happy to come home…kind of the reverse of needing a vacation. I’m just happy to be in my own space since work usually takes me elsewhere.

First things first. I couldn’t concentrate on other tasks until I reclaimed my space. After a couple of months of one and two day turn-arounds, the house was a bit needy. I try to leave things tidy, but after awhile, you just have to stop and do some upkeep. So things got a wipe down, and where appropriate, a scrub down. Those dust bunnies don’t take a holiday just because no one’s home.

Then it was on to the calls. I have a few repairs to line up, and in this climate, anything that is exterior has a short summer window of opportunity. So I’ve put myself on a list for some summer painting, and some deck maintenance. A little hedge trimming is in the works too, probably sometime next month when we have some warmer weather. And most painful of all, I’m replacing one of the huge picture windows that are framed into the front walls of the house.

Cracks in the glass

Cracks in the glass

Well, I’m not doing it, I’m merely financing it. The window guys are doing it. And let me tell you, the whole thing is just a bit frightening.

We came home to find that this window, a double-paned giant, had developed a crack on the inside pane. I’m pretty sure the dust bunnies aren’t playing baseball inside the house when we’re gone, so I assume this was due to temperature change, age, or some force of the universe that’s both invisible and unidentified. There’s no sign of any impact, and no damage to the external pane. So I guess it’s just one of those things. Anyway, no help for it, it has to be replaced. With a three to four week wait time for the glass to arrive, I’m just hoping it holds and I don’t wake up to shards all over the floor before the replacement is installed.

But that’s really not the painful part. At least so far, the glass is holding, even if the cracks are scary. No, the really ugly part is the cost. Twelve hundred and fifty dollars this will cost me. $1250.00! Good thing I’m working!

And then! Then, when we got home, there was a little love note on my door. My friendly home heating buddies had stopped by and left a bill. Eight hundred and thirty-two dollars for fuel oil the last two months, and we’ve barely been here! Oh, we left the furnace on, with one zone of the house heated to keep the pipes from freezing. But still! Do you think someone has noticed that we’re gone a lot and helped themselves to our fuel oil? I mean, really, this is ridiculous!

Fuel oil robbery?

Fuel oil robbery?

So, after that battering…I mean, I know utilities and repairs are expensive, but this was a harsh opening of the door…after that, I needed some time to enjoy being home and get cozy. If I’m bleeding out from financing this gem of a place, I better get some return.

So, I’ve tidied, and I’ve nestled in. I went shopping in my basement and replaced the winter decor with spring (ever hopeful) that the new season will arrive on time. In honor of springing ahead, I’m prepping for Easter, longer days and brighter colors.

Now if I can just figure out where my fuel oil is going!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I wrote these thoughts a couple of weeks ago, but now, I can’t post this without adding that these are trivial issues today. My father-in-law is in the ICU, has been for the past few days. He had a cold last week that sent him to the emergency room on Tuesday, and to ICU level on Wednesday. What’s a broken window and a fuel oil bill? They’re irritants and expenses, but they are not the stuff of life. Life is the stuff of life. Funny how easy it is to forget that, at least on a very small and personal level…I’m not talking about recognizing that the world has many ills and tragedies that unfold hourly…but about the unwelcome reminder that life is fragile, when one of the 7+ billion humans on the planet that I know by name and love by heart is seriously ill.

Love is

Love is many things and comes in many forms. On this day, Valentine’s, there’s no escaping the commercial message. While I don’t get excited about the day myself, (my personal take) there are so many ways to express love, and thankfully, none revolve around a date on the calendar. These are a few of the joys I celebrate.

Love is:

~ 32 years of marriage: ups, downs, roller-coasters, tears, smiles, joys, kindness. All that, and we still laugh together. We still connect.

~ Love and support for family, and from family: the ties that bind.

~ Watching our son and daughter thrive.

~ Discovering childhood again through the littles, Riley and Jack.

Snow bunnies

Snow bunnies

~ Watching our daughter play with her babies, build her family.

~ Seeing the relationships of generations ahead of me…enduring, stabilizing, nurturing.

~ Friendships that have stood the test of time.

~ Faith that grounds and secures. I’m not secure in myself, I’m secure in my relationship. Thank God, and grace.

In honor of the day, here are a few new favorite words:

I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you and I choose both. ~ (Pinterest)

I believe in love at first sight…because I am a mom. ~ (Pinterest)

The problem with love these days is that society has taught the human race to stare at people with their eyes rather than their souls. ~ Christopher Poindexter

True love isn’t Romeo and Juliet. It’s Grandma and Grandpa, who grew old together.  ~ (Pinterest)

Eventually, soulmates meet, for they have the same hiding place. ~ Robert Brault

Imagine – how would you change?

I was catching up on blog posts this afternoon and came across this video of a TED talk given by one of the passengers from the flight that landed in the Hudson River in New York a couple of years ago. Maybe it resonated with me a little more after my bumpy flight last week! Or maybe it was just a timely reminder of what’s really important in life.

You may have different priorities that speak to you. Regardless of what you list as your life’s focus, this is a good reminder to be intentional. Evaluate how you spend your time. Adjust if necessary.

Hope you enjoy!

Heart home

We’re traveling again, on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday. This year we’ll be with family, seeing different ones over the course of the week. Some years we’ve been with friends, and had to add the family touch via phone. We do the best we can, but making the family connection in person is not always possible. When that happens, friends round out the circle, fill in the space at the table, make the holiday bright.

Here’s what I’ve learned about celebrating and connecting in spirit, since we moved far from family, 27 years ago:

  • When you connect on a regular basis, holidays are icing on the cake. Holidays don’t have to function as points of glue. The day-to-day relationship is the glue.
  • Connecting can be as simple as a phone call or Skyping or a card or an email. Or in today’s world, a Facebook post.
  • Distance can work for you. It can smooth the rough spots and make you appreciate the good stuff.
  • You’ll only maintain the relationships you nurture. That’s especially true when you have to relate across the miles.
  • A carefully planned “surprise” visit, or some gesture that shows you’re thinking outside the box…becomes a highlight. There’s nothing more fun than orchestrating a trip like this. And the faces when you pull it off…priceless!
  • Spending holidays with friends has enlarged our circle and our traditions. Some of my favorite memories are of Thanksgivings with friends. We’ve learned new foods, new games, and built relationships that have lasted over the years, solidified by adopting others as “family.”
  • Find the right balance between pulling out all the stops for a special gathering, and keeping it real and sane. I’ve learned to pick and choose…we don’t try to do everything, we just try to do a few things well.
  • Mark the moment. I’ve learned to stop in the middle of the hustle-bustle and just look around and absorb.
  • Limit the drama. Family gatherings should not be a time of crisis or scenes. Create memories that are good so you’ll want to get together again.
  • Bring something new to the party…a new food, a new game, something different.
  • Decide what traditions are keepers. What are you always going to do, no matter who sits at the table?

Holidays don’t wait for life to be perfect. I’ve never quite achieved the Martha Stewart magazine spread for my living room or my dining room, although I’ve tried. Who doesn’t have the ideal scene in their head, just waiting to be unveiled in real life and captured in family photos as proof that it can be done?

But I’ve had better than a magazine spread. I’ve had the real thing, in all its chaos and glory, deliciousness and kitchen failures, to tell me, and those gathered with me: this is the good stuff.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.”   ~ C.S. Lewis

Do you bemember?

We recently spent a weekend in Seattle with Stephanie and Matt and their little ones. I’m enchanted watching Riley and Jack, listening to three-year-old Riley chatter away, and baby Jack’s belly laugh and funny growl when he’s trying out his voice. They’re absolutely delicious. I feel myself being pulled in, helpless to resist the charm of childhood.

Jack's 1st haircut

Jack’s 1st haircut

Riley is living up to her heritage, a talker who’ll be able to hold her own. She’s not afraid of words. She speaks clearly, only missing now and then with pronunciation. One of her “Riley-isms” is “bemember.” No one is correcting the mistake…it won’t be long till she figures out for herself that it’s “remember.” But meantime, it’s precious to hear her asking, “do you bemember?” And yes, yes we do.

Sunday she was reaching into the pantry for cookies. There was a spill, the cookies landed on the floor, and suddenly we heard a little voice saying, “Not good, Mommy. Not good!” She was a little bit reporter, a little dismayed. The tone was perfect. The adults couldn’t keep from laughing at the grown up response.

She’s all about pretend. She mixes the characters from Disney movies, princess books, toys, and imagination without discrimination. Sometimes she’s featured as the lead of the drama, clomping about the house in her costume “glass” slippers and sporting Minnie Mouse ears, a veil, and one of her princess dresses. Or she may top off the dress with a pirate hat, or a Doc McStuffins stethoscope. Pink figures largely in her wardrobe. Never mind, it’s all good. Storytelling is just an ability to weave a thread though characters and events, which she does effortlessly. The story may not resemble anything we know. But she’s learned to preface her beginning with “Pretend…..”

Riley the Storyteller

Riley the Storyteller

Baby Jack has mastered crawling, and he’s reached the curious stage. As in, he’s checking out everything he can grasp. Objects mysteriously disappear in front of him. He works hard at it, but so far parents are faster. So far. And Riley is learning to protect her stuff from his little hands. She’s seen the future, and it has a large imprint of Jack. Jack is all boy, and he’s going to be a climber. He’s a snuggler, still curls up and hugs your shoulder when he’s sleepy. He’s almost eleven months, rounding the corner to the homestretch of his first year. He’s starting to stand, and pull up to furniture. Walking will be a quick step for him, and then the baby days will be behind, toddler months ahead.

I find myself missing them, smiling when I see their photos stream across my screen. I miss their funny expressions, the imprint of childhood that captures my attention and keeps bringing me back to a view of the world through their eyes, at their level.

The days pass as quickly this go-round as they did with my kids. I’m shocked when I look at the calendar and realize Jack will be a year old in December. Riley will be four in April. I have a lot of the same feelings, 25 years later, as I had when I was the mom.

But now, as Gram, I’m a little wiser. I know the time flies, and the kids grow. I know that it’s more important to enjoy the moment rather than mourn how quickly it’s flying by. I know you can’t have too many photos, but you can have too many toys. I know spending time with them is more important than spending money on them. I know that kids need boundaries as much as they need love, and they gain security from consistency.

I hope I gave my kids these gifts, in some measure. But I know I’m better prepared to share all this with Riley and Jack because I’ve done it before. I practiced first on my two. And now, with the benefit of repetition, and standing in line behind the parents, I’m privileged to nurture again, and to witness, and to mark their moments.

Sunsets, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not just because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting.”  ~ Richard Paul Evans

She’s thirty

Stephanie & Jack

Stephanie & Jack

Friday, November 1st, and we’re heading to Seattle for a long weekend. We’re going down to celebrate, and mark the moment, and wonder where the time has gone. Stephanie turns thirty – 30! – tomorrow. I’ve joked that I’m not sure who is more traumatized between us. I think it’s me. She’s actually excited to be leaving the 20s behind, and feel that she’s fully a member of the adult world.

I’m excited for her. She’s a wife, and a mom, and a teacher, a home-owner, a tax payer. She sees this milestone as a cap to a decade of growth and achievement. A Type-A first-born, she powers through to her goals.

I’m nostalgic. I vaguely remember my mom turning thirty. I clearly remember myself turning thirty. I’m utterly astonished that my daughter could be hitting this marker. Decade birthdays cause reflection, my daughter’s no less than my own. I look at her and have flashbacks to earlier years. Photos and videos tell her story, interwoven with lives of family, friends, and now, her husband and little ones.

I’m proud. She’s funny and smart and pretty, and she’s kind. She follows her faith. She’s organized and creative. She remembers birthdays, calls her grandparents. She’s a better mom than I think I was…firmer, and more disciplined. She’s a strong woman.

I’m humbled. Motherhood will do that. From birth to now, I’ve watched her grow, with awe. She is unique, as all individuals are; yet watching her develop has taught me that from mother to child, the generations repeat the rhythms of life. I hear her talk about Riley and Jack, about her life and her epiphanies, and I identify. Yes, I remember feeling that. I learned that lesson too. I’ve experienced the same emotions as she does. I’m just a few years further along the path. And with the vision of my 53 year-old eyes, I see that my mom, and my grandmothers before, did the same things, said the same things. We are linked by blood, but maybe more importantly, by common experience. With all the changes in the world, we are much the same at heart. Technology and fashions change. Love doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes of motherhood says that once you have a child, your heart is forever walking around outside your body. That’s more true today than the day she was born. The love for the newborn grows and matures, just like the person. And now, thirty years rich with experience and memory, that love is a deep current that flows between us, mother and daughter. Not often spoken, but always there.

One of my favorite things about now is the ability to talk. We talk daily. Sometimes multiple times a day, usually short exchanges that keep us connected and rooted in the other’s life. The minute-to-minute events of childhood or traffic or a new haircut are the stuff of our conversations. Mostly. Sometimes we wander into deeper stuff, baring our hearts for a few minutes. But largely, through the magic of technology, we have a running dialog of the day-to-day.

Tomorrow we’ll treat her, and ourselves. We’ll open gifts and have dinner out, topped off with cheesecake. We’ll do photos and drink a toast to the day. Rob has a sentimental gift for her. I went with the more practical approach. I’m giving her a new camera for the coming decade. I expect lots of sweet shots to add to my digital collection.

Happy birthday to my daughter, my first born, my one and only Stephanie. You have been a joy and a delight! May you have many more to come, and may you be rich with love, opportunities to serve, and satisfaction from life well done. My deepest wish for you is that you experience the reward of relationships. Nothing is better than a life well lived, and full of love. But you already know that. You’re thirty now!

Digging deep

The Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia

The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

We’re spending the week with our son.

We don’t get to do that often enough these days. Right after high school he joined the army and we moved to Alaska. And for the next five years we saw him in bits and pieces, he a cog in the great wheel of the army’s posting and leave schedule, and us connecting when we could match our opportunity to his availability. It was tricky, during those years, but we managed.

We’ve kept up, and kept in contact. I saw him in March, we spent a few days with him back in May, and will see him again at Thanksgiving. We’re making up, a little bit, for lost time. Getting to know him again, and learning about this kid who turned 26 in June. Twenty-six! How did that happen?

It’s often funny, hearing his take on life, catching his humor, his jokes, learning about his likes and dislikes…weaving the fabric with first hand knowledge and time spent face to face.

It’s sometimes hard. He’s not always easy, often stubborn and opinionated. He’s a mix of the two of us, and at the same time, so different from either of us. Life and loss have left a mark. The army experience, both good and bad, and a young marriage that added to the statistics of military marriages, shaped him. He’s finding his way, and so are we.

We laugh and enjoy. It’s easy to be with him.

We tread warily. Rekindled relationships can be fragile. This one needs to strengthen a bit, solidify again.

I find my heart is fragile too, anxious that the week be good, something we’ll all remember with smiles, and a desire to repeat.

Re-connection requires effort. Life gives us people and relationships, but it’s up to us to nurture and make them thrive. So I dig deep, tell my mother’s heart that all will be well.

We’re in Victoria, British Columbia. It’s beautiful and warm, the September sunshine pretending to be a gift of summer. We’ve picked an Irish and a Scottish pub for dinner the nights they have live music, and we’re walking the town and driving the coast. Laid back, charming, and just touristy enough to keep the focus on fun.

How does it happen that you feel you have to get acquainted with the boy you birthed? I know his top layers, but the deeper stuff…well, that’s been forming in the past few years, and I’ve not been with him enough to know his depths.

So I dig deep, mostly within myself…he will have to do his own digging, his own opening, when he’s ready. It is not for me to make demands. He’s his own person now, and I respect that separateness. I just keep it light, make sure he knows he has a home in my heart, so when he wants to land there for a while, he can.

It’s delicate, being a parent to young adults. You play the game of giving them space and respect, but your heart really wants to just make everything right for them. Can’t do it, they have to. I dig deep to get it just right, to hold back, to open up. Exhausting. Fulfilling. It’s hard work. It’s heart work.

 

Paying forward

I paid a bill tonight. Oh, not online as I usually do. And it wasn’t a Visa bill or a car payment. It was a life bill. The kind that presents itself unexpectedly.

I’ve owed this payment for a while now.

A young friend, a woman I know from the small church fellowship I attend, had dinner with me this evening. Rob is out of town…I’m spending the week working and home alone. She and I had talked a few weeks ago, said we should get together sometime. When I got back to Ketchikan on Monday, I called and suggested dinner this week.

So tonight, she came over, and we sat and talked. We talked about life, and marriage, and choices, and inspiration. We share a love of quotes, and discussed writers who motivate, favorite books and websites.

She had a need, and maybe I did too. She had a need to hear what I could say, and I had a need to pay a bill. To pay forward the generosity and sharing of so many women in my life who have sat with me and listened and rained wisdom on my circumstances. These conversations helped shape my thoughts, gave me hope, held me up.

And I believe, in a small way, that I paid a little of that debt tonight.

My young friend is strong and big-hearted. She’s motivated. She knows what she wants. She just needs encouragement to do what she already knows to do. She needed to talk and be heard by someone who could listen; really listen.

I told her a bit of my story, some of the ups and downs of my life. I told her what had worked for me: strategies to get over the rough times, the times when you question and second guess and wonder if you’re doing the right thing or if you’re just too weak to do it differently. And I began and ended by saying clearly: I have not figured it all out. I don’t have all the answers.

But this I know: I am a better woman today for the struggles I’ve experienced. And now, memories of the hardest times are as sweet as memories of the best times. Because without the one, there could not be the other. The struggle created the better me, and the better me, the Sheila that so needs grace in life and drinks it in like water in the desert…that Sheila knows the value of the struggle in a way that the younger and untried version of myself could not have understood.

So, I paid forward. To those women out there reading this who have sat beside me and been a bridge to now…thank you, thank you, thank you. I don’t know where your legacy may end. But I believe we created another link in the chain. And one day, maybe years from now, my friend of tonight will be the one realizing that she is paying forward, sharing with a next generation the wisdom of women who came before.

It is a priceless heritage. I’m proud to be a part, and to have paid a small portion of the bill I owe.

Just the facts, ma’am: audible answers to unspoken questions

My husband and I have very different communication styles. I’ve posted about this before. It is an ongoing thorny issue. He tends to approach conversation like a quiz: here’s the question; provide the corresponding answer and you get a star on your chart. I tend to wander a bit in my conversation. Often, when I answer a question he poses, I’m really answering the next question that I assume will follow the one he just asked. Because often, I know where the conversation is going. (Example: He asks about something we’ve planned for later this week. But my answer is about how those plans have shifted to next week, because I know that change impacts the information he’s seeking.) But he’s not ready for the second answer…he’s looking for the answer to his first question. And sometimes I get it wrong…sometimes I don’t know where he’s going, and answering a second, unasked question takes us in a completely different direction. Not that he’s in charge of all conversation in the house. But obviously, the person who poses a question has the right to an answer before the other person takes off on a tangent.

Are you confused yet?

Is this a Mars/Venus phenomena? Is this a personality type difference? He works in clinical healthcare, and spends his work hours seeking information. He’s programmed by career to look for the straightforward response…yes; no; something definite. I’m programmed, apparently, to a more round-about style of conversing. I’m not intentionally with-holding answers…just arriving at them in a very different fashion.

A few months ago we began writing out questions and answers when we were dealing with some personal issues. That helped, and seemed to be a way for us to break this conversation cycle that we so often repeat. But with the busy summer and hectic schedules, we let that technique slide. Last night we got into another one of those verbal spirals…it wasn’t so much the information that was the issue; it was the way we shared our thoughts. He feels dis-respected when I leap ahead of him in conversation. I feel edited by his need to have “just the facts.” Does he have a finite number of words he can hear from me? I have sometimes accused him of having a private script in mind, and I often go “off-script” because I’m not inside his head, reading my next assigned line. That’s unfair to him…I know he isn’t deliberately setting me up. But sometimes it feels that way.

That’s part of the issue…when we go down this path, the words quickly become unimportant. It is the feelings that rise to the surface and take control.

After long years of wrestling with this, we at least know to stop the escalation. Usually we give some quiet and space to each other. This morning, I’m going back to the writing tool. When I answer a question in writing, it forces me to slow down, to be deliberate in my response. My thought processes move quickly, sometimes too quickly to respond in the best way. At the risk of sounding sexist, based on personal observation, I think this character trait is more common to women than to men. But probably it is also a trait of personality style. Regardless, it causes friction in my relationship. And here’s the really thorny issue…on good days, I can hear the criticism that I am racing ahead with my answers. That I need to slow down and be fully present in the conversation as it happens instead of moving to where I perceive we are heading.

On a bad day, I feel personally affronted. Why can’t he just accept me for who I am? Why do I need to be edited, changed, filtered…(insert your own word here)?

But then I have to ask myself, honestly…how does this help? What is the point of the exchange? Do I have such a need for self-expression that I can’t alter my style to be more effective? Is this style so ingrained in me that I can’t change the way I speak?

Filtering through the lens of “how does this help?” always helps. Always makes me step back and see the bigger picture. The picture I want to see is one of effective communication. I want to be mature. I choose to change, even if the change is a struggle and one I’ve attempted, off and on, for many years. The reality that change is difficult and slow in coming doesn’t alter the reality that it is needed.

I wish I had a magic wand to wave when we get into these cycles. You would think by now we would be experts at talking to each other. We’ve practiced for nearly 32 years. But no, what we’re experts at is pushing each other’s buttons.

And so, back to the writing tool. I don’t expect to use this for every question/answer exchange we have…not possible! But it is a visible and physical reminder to me to slow my words, and so I’ll try to write, as I can, to work on this behavior again. As the wise say, you cannot change someone else, you can only change yourself. And with that acknowledgement comes acceptance. This is not about either of us being perfect or being right. It is about me becoming a better version of myself…more deliberate, intentional, and focused in my responses.

So here’s my call to action: am I alone in this? Does this happen to anyone else out there? Is my instinct that this is a bigger issue for women correct? And last, if you have any wisdom to share on this subject, please do!

I saw this on Pinterest recently…aahh, someone gets me!

My mind at work...

My mind at work…