Remember playing Monopoly with the kid who just wouldn't play fair? Stole your money when you went to the bathroom, whined every time he had to pay rent, tried to con his way out of jail...yeah, that kid. I'm now living with that kid, only this one is orange and furry, and when he loses he just FALLS ASLEEP RIGHT ON THE BOARD. Super sore loser. Bad sport. And very, very sleepy.
I’d love to pump you full of happy tales about how I’m feeling GREAT and everything is GREAT, but in light of the fact that it’s total bull, I’ll skip being a fake shiny, happy person. Matt’s funeral was lovely, and will be followed shortly by my Uncle’s funeral, and Grandpa has decided he’s done leaving his house. For…ever. Halloween technically starts tomorrow with class parties, and as we all know, KELLY DOES NOT CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN. She does get a costume, but she DOES NOT HONOR this HOLIDAY FROM HELL. Her screaming started sometime last week and has yet to cease. Her teachers had to call me last week to get proof of life, as this Halloween season is now paired with a phobia that her Mother is going to die. Gosh. Can’t imagine where she got that fear. At any rate, I’m playing a manic game of catch up while fighting the constant need for depression-induced naps, while Kelly is running around with her psyche on fire. And Sara got braces this week. It’s…colorful…here. Things are…uncorked.
So, in light of our current state-of-affairs, and my reticence to post some maudlin tale about walking through canyons and finding the meaning of life (give me a week on that one; I haven’t the energy to drag us through the 5-canyon hike tonight), I’ve decided we could all use some Kelly-stories. Especially Kelly.
Tonight at dinner:
Mommy: Did anything good happen today?
Kelly: Sara and I invented a new game called “College”! I LOVE IT.
Mommy: How do you play college?
Sara (very nonchalantly, because now she has braces, and that’s just COOL): Oh…you know. We go to class and then we do college-things. Things you do at college when you’re not in class.
Mommy: [Insert my mind on a mad-race through 4 amazing years: Is she referring to quarter taco night? Quarter beer night? Dancing at The Chug? Sorority Dances? Fraternity boys? OH GOD. Please not ANY of these things. Spring Break? NO. Definitely NOT that. Studying all night? Please say that. Say you’re studying. Wildly glance over to Greg who has the blank stare of someone who attended a Military Academy. He’s imagining marching? Making beds? WHO GOES TO THESE COLLEGES?! AND WHY DO THEY GO THERE?!]
Mommy (matching nonchalant with even MORE nonchalant, because I’ve had ALL the braces): Huh. Things you do when you’re not in class. Such as?
Kelly: Oh you know, the usual. Talking about Shakespeare and going to Science Dances.
Sara: I LOVE Romeo & Juliet.
Daddy: What does one do at a Science Dance, as opposed to something you do at a? NON-science dance?
Kelly: You drink bug juice named after caterpillar guts.
Kelly: YEEEES. I sat with all of my friends at lunch and played Crazy I-Spy.
Daddy: OK. I’ll bite. How does one play CRAZY I-Spy, as opposed to say, REGULAR I-Spy?
Kelly: It’s JUST like I-Spy, only you can spy things that AREN’T REALLY THERE.
Mommy: Your friends have to look inside YOUR MIND?
Kelly: YES! And they are very good at it. But you have to spy something that would normally be in everyone’s mind. Like…you can spy an orangutan, even if it’s not IN the cafeteria. Everyone has SEEN an orangutan, so it’s IN all of our minds!
Mommy: This seems difficult.
Kelly: Not at all. Olivia totally guessed it.
Sara: But you can’t see things which are RARE. For example, you can see a butterfly, and you can even see a Buckeye Butterfly because they are found in the Midwest, but you can’t see a rare butterfly found only in the Amazon.
Mommy: How do you know where to draw the line?
Kelly: EASY! Monkey, but NOT the Proboscis Monkey. See?
Mommy: Um? What on earth is a Proboscis Monkey?
Kelly: It has a huge nose. You really should read more Ranger Rick Mommy. You’d lose pretty quickly at Crazy I-Spy.
Daddy: YEAH MOMMY. Why aren’t you studying Ranger Rick? In your free time?! Proboscis Monkey! DUH!
LAST WEEK AT THE ORTHODONTIST:
Mommy: Doc, Kelly has been VERY nervous about having her teeth checked by you. We’ve told her it’s just a check, that she’s not ready for braces.
Doc: No Kelly, it’s not time for you to get braces. We’re just checking your Dentist’s Xrays and counting your teeth. It will be quite some time before you’re ready. We’re keeping an eye on your teeth just because your sister is already here, getting her braces.
Kelly: Well, that’s good, because my friend told me I’d have to get an Expander, and I’ve been very worried. So this morning, I played a game to distract myself. It got a little violent. I was a bear-hunter, and was made the Queen of Japan. THEN, I became a Minister. It was awesome, until my congregation ACCUSED me of being Jewish!
Mommy: WHAT?! What. Kelly! What does that mean?
Kelly (hand raised in some odd sign of 8 year old solidarity): ACCUSED ME, I SAY!
Doc: [Stunned silence]
Mommy: Synagogues have Ministers, Kelly.
Kelly: Mommy, I’m Jewish. I think I would know.
Mommy: You’re Presbyterian.
Kelly: That doesn’t make sense. My congregation was Methodist.
Sara: EVERYONE CALM DOWN. Kelly has been trying to convince all of us she’s Jewish for many years, because she figures if she celebrates Hanukkah AND Christmas, she’ll get more gifts. Kelly doesn’t the know the difference between any of these words, she just wants more stuffed animals. She knows her Jewish friends get a holiday all to themselves, and she’s jealous.
Doc: Well. That’s actually pretty smart. Who wouldn’t want more gifts?
Kelly: SEE? The Orthodontist understands me! I’M JEWISH!
Sara: Wait. Wasn’t I baptized Lutheran? What does that make me?
Mommy: Honey, I’m a Baptist, so don’t ask me. Now that our new Orthodontist team thinks we’re totally wacko, let’s move on, shall we?
I hope these stories made you laugh, as they’ve certainly brightened my week. I hope your week has been easy, and full of sunshine. And sincerely, I hope no one died or became home bound. But if they did, take lasagna and a movie. You might find yourself laughing until your sides hurt, on a random Thursday afternoon, in the living room of a 90 year old, wishing you could stop Father Time. We take this break from our normal programming to count the many blessings surrounding us: a beautiful autumn, an understanding school overflowing with a loving community of people, the continued wit and cognitive strength of my waning Grandfather, the communion I’ve been sharing with friends old and new, and the hope that Thanksgiving will bring some wisdom as to why this year was a part of my journey.
In the meantime, Godspeed my fellow travelers. Godspeed.
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I had been trying to call Matt and couldn’t reach him, when this setting sun captured my attention on a hayride. I didn’t know this picture was his text message back to me.
I did it. I Chaired Grandparent’s Day at school. 400 guests, 60 volunteers, countless hours of prep, a full breakfast, program, grade-level activities, and favors. And coffee. So much coffee. I came home after the wild day in a daze, slipped on my favorite, rather ratty, grey cashmere sweater that has become my uniform this past week. As I looked around for the cozy slippers I am perpetually misplacing, I began the slow dance of picking up from what is known at our house as “event week”. Coffee mugs in every room of my house. Glue bottles, pounds of craft paper…sticky notes on every surface. I have no idea what I ate in the last 7 days, but I have some serious heartburn.
I put down my sausage gravy and biscuits long enough to take this picture. Heartburn Clue #1.
I found an empty wine glass on my bathtub’s edge, and I sat down and let the tears fall. Filling my robe pockets with Kleenex, I headed into the attic, where I found another empty wine glass on my desk. I couldn’t find the energy to contact even one more person, as I sat down to stare at an inbox full of messages. My phone? Fully blown up. Texts and emails all saying, “WHAT THE?” Congratulations on a great event, and “WHAT THE?!!!!”
What just happened? HOW did it happen? My mind refused to slow down and fully embrace the reality that after months and months of caring for my dear friend Matt, he passed away very suddenly this week. He finished in-patient physical therapy. His clotting levels were all in-check. His meds were refilled. His house was prepared and meal delivery arranged, and after 4 months away from his own home, HE GOT THERE. Thousands of miles journeyed to have life-saving surgeries, months of recovery full of setbacks and challenges, and he went home in better health than he’d seen in years. He was home less than 2 days when a massive stroke took him away from us. And I was left to host the event he helped me plan.
Matt was not overly-excited about my themed utensil holders on his buffet line, but had he seen them in their full glory, I think he would have agreed…FABULOUS.
It was a huge blessing Goomommy flew to town a day early, because she was at my side when the call came. She was there to rush the girls out of the room as I lost my marbles with Matt’s sweet, sweet sister, “SAY SOMETHING ELSE! Say ANYTHING else!” She was there when the note cards had to be folded, when the pennant banner had to be finished, and when the floral arrangements had to be made. I couldn’t begin to count the friends who flew into school to help me finish the prep. Alyssa and her Mom hung 1000 feet of pennant banner (when you make that much, you measure it). Greg gave his full logistics-talent towards getting 450 packs of note cards wrapped in ribbon. QUICKLY. Jane kept my head together the moment I simply couldn’t. Dan made the coffee when the coffee delivery guy screwed up my order. Laura stood at the ready with my list to check off every last detail, making me appear as if I had it all under control. Sumi should have been packing for her trip, but came in to make favors instead. Tammy did the same. Kathy did everything but give me oxygen. Wait. Kathy may have actually had to give me oxygen at some point in the last week. Kellie dropped everything and brought me a blueberry-peach pie (sorry, I’d offer you a slice but I ate it all). Kristin just kept doing and doing and asking to do more. Courtney made so many things I didn’t have the concentration to finish. And of course Holly, Rob, and Taylor just did what they do best: everything. They DO EVERYTHING. I’ve forgotten names. Heck, I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve said in the past week.
Decorative Vases x16, all with welcome signs in different languages. My Zhuzh-Pots rise again!
Amie (who had to take that very difficult first call from me), Jessica, Cindy, Michelle, Marie, LaTonya, Christina, Mayuko, Leigh, Julie, Zoey, Melissa, even the Middle School Division sent me helpers. Carrie. Especially Carrie who has stuck with Matt through thick and thin these past several months, showing up to keep us company, staying late on the back porch laughing with Matt, dropping everything to meet us for lunch. Carrie is a friend’s friend, always has been. Every time I turned around, someone had my back. Someone was there to catch me. Matt was there to catch me. I won’t bore you with the hundred little ways he surrounded me, but I promise you, he was there. He was so.very.there.
My friends saving my event while I cried on the phone with half of my hometown. You can cry and tie ribbon at the same time, this much I’ve learned.
When the last glass was washed, and the last mess was put away, I sat down and reflected what it meant to share so much time with Matt these last several months. Because trust me, it was hard to get past God putting us through such hard times, just to take him home. The hint at wisdom started with Kelly:
Kelly: You say Matt is with God, but how do I even know God is real?
Me: Well, God’s existence is like Matt. He was JUST here. You could reach out and touch him at the dinner table just last week. He was standing to greet you after school not more than 10 days ago. You gave him a gigantic hug. He was there. And now he’s not. Matt isn’t any less real just because we can’t see him. God isn’t any less real than Matt. He’s just somewhere out of our sight.
Kelly: OH! So that’s how it works. Matt will see his buffet even his he’s not there Mommy. This whole God-thing makes more sense to me now.
Sara: Seriously Mommy? She believes in Stuffed Animal Land, but she’s struggling with GOD?
Me: Zip It Duck.
Sara: Good call.
The first time I introduced Matt to the girls, you could have registered the shock on their faces. He came walking out of a bar, legs covered in tattoos, walking slowly with a cane, arm contracted, his clothes packed in a ripped shopping bag, smoking a cigarette. I laughed out loud. That’s Matt. He’s a stubborn old Vet who proudly lives alone, no matter how hard it had become for him. He had help (his cousin will be SAINTED when he gets to heaven…SAINT-ED, along with his sister), but DUDE…Matt’s stroke a few years ago and his failing health had taken its toll. He’d tried time and time again to quit smoking, but the stress of losing his parents and losing his health had worn him out. If he apologized once, he apologized 100x times for mistakenly allowing the girls to see him smoke. He didn’t want to be a bad influence. I laughed out loud, “Matt, you’re a barely-walking anti-smoking campaign. After seeing what you’ve been through, they won’t EVER smoke!” We were known for teasing each other without mercy.
Goomommy bravely beginning the pennant banner which I created (with A LOT of help) because I didn’t want to throw away scrap paper. 1000 feet of scrap paper. Good heavens.
He jumped in the car and immediately asked them if they were “Knuckleheads”. They liked Matt immediately. Kids are smart. They can separate quickly the adults who CAN talk kid-ese, and those who can’t. Matt was fluent. Plus, he bought them loads of milkshakes. If we were picking up Matt, it was a guarantee he had chocolate in his pockets for his little Knuckleheads. His speech was slower, so he listened longer. His advice came after serious thought, and was carefully worded. And if he wanted to coach them through a problem in their day, he never repeated himself. They were skeptical a guy who couldn’t lift 5 lbs could teach them to bowl, but by the end of 2 games, they were rolling strikes. As we left, Matt was missing. Sara headed outside and said, “Matt! We know you’re out here smoking! Finish up so we can go home. WE KNOW YOU SMOKE KNUCKLEHEAD!”
After some rough months (Gulf War Syndrome SUCKS, my friends), Matt’s health improved. He began showing up in ironed khakis and polos, just as he had worn in high school. His hair was washed and combed. We hosted a dinner party. His PT-athletic wear returned to the preppy-style he preferred, and he no longer needed an oxygen tank to climb stairs. He was finally able to get out and about, and I began checking him out of PT for longer stretches. He had the energy to cheer Sara through a Cross Country practice (“She’s a natural! She’s a born runner!”) I thought he was crazy, but he was so bored, he begged to come to Event Planning meetings. In what turned out to be his final days, a stubborn, unmarried, childless Vet joined the PTA. I thought he might be losing his mind, but as luck would have it, he loved it. He spent decades working in the Food & Beverage industry, and Matt KNEW how to host an event. Getting 400 Senior Citizens through a buffet they’d enjoy in a short span of time was nothing for him. He took my plans, threw them out the window, and rewrote my playbook. In the last 2 months, and for the first time in almost 30 years, Matt stopped smoking. He was still using e-cigarettes, but he no longer craved actual cigarettes. [This had nothing to do with the PTA, and everything to do with a thyroid setback which caused him to forget for a brief time he smoked at all. Some setbacks come with gifts.]
His menu was a tremendous success. Despite my puffy eyes and fragile state-of-mind, the event went very smoothly. You would not have known I was working with a 100-lb weight on my chest. But when I returned home with nothing on my schedule: it hit me quite hard: Matt is gone. I worked tirelessly to nurse him back to health, and it didn’t work out like I planned. Matt moved to heaven, leaving me with a bottle of whiskey, and a dinner party without a guest of honor.
Oatmeal Bar, Yogurt Bar, Fruit, Danishes, Sausage Gravy & Biscuits. BAM! In budget! Great for people with limited diets (and possibly limited teeth). Options for diabetics and affordable proteins. Easily and quickly feeds 400 if set up correctly. Tier your pastries because you know everyone will want to grab a pastry. Holds up great on a buffet line. Matt knows his customers.
But then the girls started talking, and remembering, and crying, and hugging…and I realized: God didn’t send me to help Matt. God sent Matt to help me:
My daughters learned God is REAL. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. No…don’t. I was being ironic.
You can’t judge people based on how they look.
Friends might come from unlikely places. Get to know people. They might surprise you.
Just because you’re too sick to pack a suitcase, it doesn’t mean you don’t have value to add to this world.
It is important to take care of people, even if it’s hard.
It’s OK to risk caring for really sick people, even if you might cry in the end.
Hanging out with someone who “knew you when” might feel amazing. Not all of us have deep roots to our childhood, but some of us have friends who were like family when we needed it most. You’re never too old to run about town with the windows down, blasting The Cure with an old pal from High School.
I can’t decide if we were never this young, or how the hell did we get so old?
Smokers trying to kick the habit like candy. Kids like candy. I am ready for a break from taking these Knuckleheads on record-breaking candy runs to the drugstore.
Sundays at nursing homes are lonely, and you should bring cake.
Stubborn-Old-Vets might be amazing singers, and might know an unbelievable number of Broadway musicals. Kids who have recently discovered the awesomeness of Broadway Musicals might find this trait quite appealing in a dude who walks with a mysterious cane.
God doesn’t care if you have vices. He loved Matt, and Matt loved him.
People go to heaven on God’s timing, not on ours. We’re not in control here. Better to just get your head around it and realize grieving is part of the human experience.
The girls and I climbed an apple tree and stared up into the sky for over an hour. They said they could see all the way to heaven from this spot. Agreed. Me too.
In the end, I don’t question God’s timing. Matt may have regained independence and better health, but he was never going to drive again. He was never going to be healthy enough to work full-time. His cane and partially contracted side were forever friends. He had plans for his future, but they would include mountain-sized challenges. I can feel Matt’s joy in heaven, where I’m sure he’s playing football, singing in a band, and watching movies with his parents.
It keeps going and going and going…
I’m in pain, and I’m sad. I’m left with this space I carved out for an old friend, and it’s going to take time to stop looking out over the week, and pushing away the grief that my “Matt-Days” are over. But he left me with much to treasure; much more than memories, much more than time well-spent. Matt gifted us these final lessons, and we cannot unlearn what we know. We are forever changed, and blessed for having brought him into our lives.
The girls just gained a Guardian Angel who probably convinced St. Peter to let him bring his Gulf War Veteran hat into heaven. He doesn’t curse, and he never gossips, but he probably needs a haircut, he HATES doing his own laundry, and if there’s a smoking section in heaven, he’s probably there. Don’t judge. I’m certain my daughters won’t. Matt taught them to look past the trials of being human and see the beauty buried within each of us. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.
Thank you Matt. You saved me during a very difficult time decades ago, and it felt amazing to return the favor. I’ll save up these stories and we’ll catch up when I get there. YOU HAD BETTER GET ME IN. Seriously. Now I know a guy. If I’m super old and you no longer recognize me, I’ll be carrying a bag of candy bars from Walgreens, and your favorite lunch, a Cobb Salad. HOW is that your favorite lunch? That’s just weird. HEY! My new favorite combo: waffle fries and chili…oh…man. You totally would have understood that combo. Wait! Heartburn Clue #2. [Insert Matt’s snarky way of lifting half a smile and giving me a half a laugh at my goofy jokes.] Love you Sweetheart (his last words to me). Godspeed, Old Friend. Godspeed.
I’ll admit I made a huge mistake when the girls were born by allowing myself to see them as equal partners in our family dynamic. Postpartum Depression plays with your logic, this much I learned the hard way. I assumed our kids would immediately recognize they won the lottery of parents, and we would be a cohesive little team of shiny-happy-people. Dreamy family life? CHECK. BAM.
I’m laughing out loud just writing it.
So you can imagine my shock and awe in the years that followed. Creatures born without the ability to lift their own heads do not come programmed with team building features. Duh. It’s called SCIENCE. Even now, after years of being schooled by these trail-mix spewing mini-mammals, I find myself slipping into my old assumptions. Last night as I picked up my 1000th random, dirty sock, found in the most unlikely of places, I said to Greg, “Kids are the world’s WORST roommates”. Oh, how we laughed.
10 Facts Proving Kids are NOT Roommates:
(1) If the girls’ bathroom rug becomes crumpled, they will walk on it half-rolled up and wet indefinitely. I’m fairly certain if I don’t straighten out that rug, they’d leave it like that until college. In fact, I’ll bet they’d take it to college, and put it down on the floor, crumpled and dirty. If anyone asks, they will reply, “That’s how we do it in our house.”
(2) If there is an event in their life which necessitates a change of clothes while out of the house, on the way home from said event, they will dump out any extra items from their bags all over the car. School Picture day followed by Cross Country Practice? All formal clothes can be found buried under the seats a week later. If rain is in the forecast or a change in temperature, all layers will be discarded into the hatch with no intent of retrieval. And in case of a sock emergency, kids carry pairs of mismatched socks in hidden backpack compartments for YEARS at a time. Cleanliness of emergency sock-stashes is optional.
(3) There are 2 kinds of kids: those who refuse to wear a coat at any time, including blizzard weather, and those who must carry 2 coats with them at all times, including mid-August when the average temperature is 100 degrees. I have one of each because God knows better than to let me idle. Reasoning with this non-human trait is a waste of time. They are HOT! They are COLD! They are kids, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that kids are ALWAYS UNCOMFORTABLE. In all fairness, if I were perpetually covered in bike accident bruises and mosquito bites, AND my teeth were falling out, I might be uncomfortable too.
(4) If you tell your child your only requirement is she go to school in clean clothes with hair and teeth brushed, that child will wait until you’re having a horrible morning with a sibling (and therefore completely distracted), and will saunter out of your minivan wearing filthy sweatpants pulled out of the laundry with a rat’s nest for hair. And you just KNOW she didn’t brush her teeth. She’ll look back at you and smile. Stinky Child: 1, Momma: 0. Why does the scoring work like this?! SHE’S THE ONE WHO SMELLS LIKE GARBAGE?!
(5) I can sum up kid-roommates with 5 words: Wet towels on the floor.
(6) If you buy the entire family BPA-Free water bottles of their own choosing, kids will drink ONLY out of the parents’ water bottles. They won’t refill them. They won’t have an explanation as to why they don’t use their own, no matter how many times you locate their water bottle whereabouts, wash them, and refill them.
(7) Kids take all the money. ALL.THE.MONEY. Where there used to be money, there are now receipts. I have purses overflowing with grocery receipts, and no matter how many times I clean out and log them into the budget spreadsheet, there are millions more crowding up my purse. If adult roommates took my money and left me with nothing but receipts for clothes I can’t wear and food I don’t eat, I’d kick them out. And when they left, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to hide my water bottle under lock and key.
(8) I lived with Amie for the better part of a decade and I never looked under her bed. Not once. Well…once. Her nephew heard we were taking him to the State Fair, freaked out, and hid under her bed. See? THE ONLY TIME I HAD TO GET UNDER AMIE’S BED WAS TO RETRIEVE A 4 YEAR OLD! If you have kids for roommates, “Under Bed Checking” is a real thing. “Things kids put underneath beds”; I can’t even. Fine. You asked. HUMAN HAIR. Maybe theirs? Hopefully not mine? Why do kids cut their own hair and then hide it? It’s a mystery ranking right above Stonehenge.
Me & Amie, 1995. We-were-AB-FAB.
(9) Speaking of of living with adult roommates, Amie never puked on me, pooped on me, screamed in my face when I handed her cough syrup, or informed my significant other of my bathroom habits. Children will gladly tell anyone within earshot about that time you didn’t make it to the bathroom while stuck in a traffic jam. Can you imagine my 30 year old Roomie showing up at my office and loudly announcing, “Lori poops in her minivan!!!”? A kid will totally do that. A kid would give up their allowance to be allowed to do that. That ain’t right, you’all.
(10) Amie never walked in from a long day at work and yelled “SNACK!!!” at the top of her lungs while carrying a snack I bought for her, followed by the words, “I HATE THIS SNACK YOU PACKED!!! YOU NEVER PACK ME THE GOOD SNACKS!” Because who does that?! In reality, upon returning home from a long day, Amie often asked, “Popcorn and box wine for dinner?” Why yes! That sounds lovely Amie. Shall I pour while you pop? Remember that time we screwed up the spout on the wine and had to drink the entire box in one night? It was leaking and we didn’t own a pitcher! Oh Amie. Good times, good times.
Yesterday was a tough parenting day. Perhaps you guessed. Their dentist whispered the words “Orthodontic Consultation”, and I don’t know what they HEARD, but it must have been, “You obviously got these kids on sale at the Stork Store. They are defective and will require years of painful interventions at the Teeth Torture Doctor.” I was caught off guard considering their dentist and her entire team are like beautiful angels of sweetness. Kids wear sunglasses to break the glare of the lights while watching movies of their choosing at the dentist. It’s more like a dental spa. I make appointments so I can relax and watch Rehab Addict. I’ve considered taking up a gummy bear habit, just so I can hang out there.
After hours of melodrama-madness, they finally calmed down and apologized for their less than stellar manners at the dental office. After answering their billionth tooth-related question, we curled up with some books, and talked in depth about the allusions to larger themes in “Brown Girl Dreaming”. We talked through the complex beginning of Sara’s newest assignment of “Tuck Everlasting”. Kelly happily spent her homework time drawing the differences in wavelengths from the sun hitting the earth’s atmosphere which create a blood moon, raising my hopes that a work ethic is buried somewhere within her.
The tough day ended well. I was able to reflect and consider my faulty assumptions about sharing a home and life with children, this time over a glass of wine poured from a bottle, my box days behind me. When you sign on your first mortgage, the adultier adults take your box of wine, hand you a bottle and 2 kids, and wish you well. You walk outside and discover your Infiniti sports car (which you really couldn’t afford) has been replaced with a beat up minivan. You open your purse to grab your keys and find you have no money, but you do have a receipt for a new corkscrew and an unreal amount of healthy granola bars. But I digress.
While reflecting, I realized kids aren’t born knowing how to dress for the weather, clean a house, keep the inside of car empty enough that we can sit on the seats, BEHAVE IN PUBLIC, brush their hair, or politely request their preferences. They have an odd understanding of ownership in which no one can touch their stuff, but they feel they have full license to take other family member’s stuff. This misunderstanding alone can take decades to iron out. I know adults who can’t properly put away laundry, and yet I expect my kids to do it well? I suppose if I were perpetually uncomfortable with no ability to drive myself home, I’d over-pack. I’d throw stuff about a car in case I needed it later. I think I’d still brush my hair and wear clean clothes, but I guess I should cherish the days before the “caring about what everyone thinks” sets in.
It’s hard being a kid. It’s hard being a parent. Between the 4 of us and 4 cats, it seems a lot of things are getting broken lately. I want to be patient about the 2nd broken sugar bowl, the chips in the walls, and the smells…so, so many smells. But some days are just hard. It’s hard not to imagine living in a spotless apartment with Amie was easier. It wasn’t. Amie and I both agree we’ve forgotten paychecks smaller than the bills, the fear of being single forever looming over us, my hatred of doing dishes, and our mismatched morning schedules. Between the giggles, cheap wine, popcorn, and all-night MTV Real World Marathons, we are blissfully happy in our memories.
I got up today and tried to actively, gratefully…chose our current reality. I choose this family…us. All 8 of us, mess and stink included. Kelly awoke still certain I’d forget to pick her up from school, despite never being forgotten. Sara had to be pulled out of bed by her feet. The usual. Rufus spends his mornings on ledges higher than his IQ, so we start each day with Daddy yelling at a suicidal kitten. I had to turn the minivan around for forgotten things.
As the 3 of them darted off to their days, they took one, last, LONG look at me. Deep into my eyes they always look. “I love you.” They never forget to say it, and oh, how they do. Their every happiness relies on me being right here when their days end. For 3 humans and 4 cats, LIFE simply does not happen without me.
A couple of them may be the world’s worst roommates, but they are intriguing life-mates. I do believe I’m better off with them here. I’m messier, less patient sometimes, and not at all who or where I was when we started. But I’m better. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.
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It has been a month since I wrote about the season of grief beginning. Amazing how the days get swallowed whole, and how easily one gets lost in the rhythm of school, homework, athletics, hurried dinners, and forgotten band instruments. I’ve been grateful for the busy, and for the distraction it brings. I’ve been so impressed at how well my friends are grieving. The good days and bad. The days they remember and laugh, and the days they remember and cry. The days they don’t call and the days they never miss a call. The last minute lunches and the late night texts. There is so much beauty and grace in how they are handling their seasons. I feel honored to call them friends.
Our September days have been a deluge of sun this year, even with autumn upon us. I can’t get over how each and every day begins and ends with sunshine pouring over everything, like God just can’t wait to give us every little last drop of blessings. If he’s hoping it will help…well? It is.
Even so, I’ve had my moments. On one particularly beautiful Sunday evening, I felt some despair. Grandpa no longer wants my dinners. His appetite is shrinking, and he’d rather I’d just visit with him, as opposed to deliver food he barely touches. He’s still so lively, so chatty. But…tired. So, so tired.
I delivered a dear friend to Physical Rehab after I could not nurse him back to health. 6 weeks later…still there. Bless his patient heart (both literally and figuratively). We break him out for lunches and errands, but the work of Physical Rehab is a daily grind beyond most of our comprehension. And on that Sunday evening of sad, I returned home after making the drive to deliver goodies, laundry…who knows. Shampoo? Clean socks? The days are certainly running together for us both. He’s grateful for even the tiniest gesture. God Bless our Vets, and the health they’ve sacrificed so that we may live in safety.
I returned home to the girls happily playing outside, and Greg was gladly organizing this and that in his garage. Sun was creeping into every corner of this house, and in my sadness, I heard Kara Tippetts (Author of “The Hardest Peace) say, “Press into the hard corners of your day. Jesus will meet you there.”
What if in my weakness while lying prostrate on my bed, I decided to take her literally? What if on this beautiful evening, I simply…pressed myself into the corners of my home? It’s not that I’ve grown tired of prayer, but…OK, crud-muffins on that lie. I’ve grown tired of the sound of my own prayers. Help us Jesus. Hear us Jesus. Strengthen us Jesus. Praise be, because he’s granted all the requests! But Lordy, he’s got to be tired of me by now.
Rather than listen to my tired voice whisper yet again, “Dear Lord, Please bring comfort to…”, I picked up my camera. I walked around my house and I pressed my lens into my corners. I could most certainly feel the hard corners of my day, but this time, I decided to look for them.
I lingered in the girls’ Calico Critter Village, wondering about the story lines they abandoned to run outside and play. I smiled at my treasured little collection of autographed books. I can’t help but rub my hands over the corners of my Anastasia Krupnik whenever I walk by the bookshelf. I took a moment to be grateful for leftovers, easy to heat, easy to eat. I laughed out loud at all the bits and pieces my family leaves lying about, artifacts of their existence, proving they are here, and they are so very mine.
Even in her absence, Kara is right. I was comforted. Jesus met me in those corners, showing me peace. The peace of this home I’ve created, where friends come to find rest. There is a softness in these corners which suggests the hard hasn’t changed everything. And an unbelievable number of gently waning sunbeams, making our world feel but just a breath away from heaven’s door. I guess there are days when God allows me to see his voice instead of hearing it, and for this, I am abundantly grateful.
Thank you again to Kara, for everything. Wisdom Comes Suddenly.
Tomorrow, on September 8th, Rachel Stafford’s newest book, Hands Free Life, hits the book shelves. I know many of you have been waiting for a follow up to her first New York Times Bestseller,Hands Free Mama. A few of you have written to ask about my review, because after all, I mentioned a month ago that I’d read it cover to cover.
My words could not be written, because I was living out Rachel’s words with action. I know Rachel is smiling as she reads this, because that is the whole point.
Many years ago, Rachel and I started a conversation: She knew our generation of Mamas (and Daddies) wanted to be more present in their family life, but didn’t know how to grab it. The answer was right in front of all of us, but it takes a gifted writer to share painful truths in a way that opens the hearts of millions of people. Rachel is a teacher, so I knew she had the skills to show us. AND, she’s not afraid of hard work. PLUS, if you share french fries with her at lunch in the 8th grade, she won’t Bogart the entire basket. She’s a gal’s gal…this much I know.
Hands Free Mama was an invitation to acknowledge we had lost our ability to be present. This step is critical. It was a cold February morning in 2008 when I realized I was missing the boat on this ride we call “family”. Nothing bold or life-changing happened that day; I was simply walking through my living room, and I felt God whisper to me, “Wake up. You are not allowing yourself to be a part of your own story. You are trying in all the wrong ways. You efforts are not creating the family life you want for your home, and they are emptying your emotional bank account in the process.” When Rachel called me years later to say she suspected we weren’t alone in our desperate (and failing) attempts to be everything to everyone, I knew from experience she was right. In the months that followed, she wrote Hands Free Mama, A Guide To Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters! America responded to this book with a large, collective hug.
Rachel is now leading us on the next part of this journey, forming the habits that will create a well-lived life, presented in a parable-like format. She calls them the 9 habits, and they are, but Rachel doesn’t just volley about with big ideas. Remember, she’s a teacher. She presents them as chewable bites, told as stories, with follow up “habit-builders” to show us how to look for the signs our lives are changing.
If you see yourself in the following list of habits, I want you to seriously consider opening your heart to this book. The greatest gift I’ve given myself is the permission to let go of my preconceived notions of how “I WANT IT TO BE”, and allowing myself to ride the tide of loving “HOW IT IS”. I’m the Mama. I’m the Leader of this (often) bedraggled band of people. They follow my mood, my health, my attention, and my ability to keep us on an even keel. It’s of utmost importance I go into each and every day with a full understanding of how my actions affect the lives of my family (and no, she’s not going to tell you to make your bed. A perfect home and life have no place in Rachel’s writing; let go of the notion she’ll teach you how to reach spotless Nirvana.) So here are Rachel’s habits I leave for you to ponder:
(1) Fill the Spaces: Songs of Life, Connective Silence, Sound of Hope
Habit-Builder: Take off the Ticking Clock
(2) Surrender Control: Be Free of Past Mistakes, Broaden Future Opportunities, Fulfill your Life’s Purpose
Habit Builder: Opening Clenched Fists
(3) Build A Foundation: Listening, Lifelines, Faith
Habit Builder: Build “The Best Ten Minutes”
(4) Take The Pressure Off: So that Others May Too, Live Life Fully, Embrace Good Enough For Today
Habit Builder: Making Today Matter
(5) See What Is Good: Nurture Inner Gifts, Gain Perspective, Become a Noticer
Habit Builder: Glimmers of Goodness
(6) Give What Matters: Play Again, Gift of a Moment, Ease the Pain
(8) Leave a Legacy: Grasp Simple Joys, Inspire a Future Generation, Self-Kindness
Habit Builder: The Presence Pledge
(9) Change Someone’s Story: Responding with Empathy, Opening Your Arms, Take the First Step
Habit Builder: The Six-Second Challenge
Rachel & I have cleaned up nicely since the 8th Grade.
A mutual friend of ours stopped by my garage sale last Saturday to say hello. That morning, my house contained 4 cats and 6 kids. The mess of preparing for the sale and then turning my house into a play room was indescribable. There were 20 people on my lawn, and 5 friends who had joined me in the sale. I had been up since 5:30 am, and it was reaching the 90 degree mark outside. Anything past 82-ish, and my hair starts to look as if it’s been set on fire. And there, on the edge of my driveway, was Eleanor-whom-I-love-so-dearly. Eleanor who DOES Bogart fries, but who DID NOT laugh at my 8th grade gym class choreographed dance to Prince’s “1995”. Rachel didn’t laugh either, but both of them SHOULD HAVE.
I quickly pulled her inside to show her the new house. I’ve seen Eleanor twice in 20 years, but did I care that my life is far-from-picture-perfect? Nope. I showed her every inch of my “real”. Eleanor doesn’t care if my house is spotless or if my hair flies right off my head. My friends attended to the buyers while Eleanor and I caught up…my sweet, sweet friends. Amie, who let go of the idea she had to clean her entire basement in order to be in the sale, and chose to come as she was. Shayla, who dropped her to-do list in order to help me carry tables on a Friday afternoon, and let me see her “piles of junk” (which were treasures to all who came to shop). Kellie, who despite grieving the recent passing of her Mother, thought it might cheer her to purge some things she’d been meaning to sell. Jay and Greg, who kept us all in stitches through the hot morning, and cheerfully carried items for total strangers. And precious Jenny, with her interior design skill, who could convince anyone how to match their interior to the crazy items we had on our sale tables. Jenny is so far beyond judging, it isn’t even visible in her rear view mirror. No surprise she and Rachel were High School Tennis Doubles partners.
I looked around at the joy and the mess and the so-much-of-the-living, and I said to Eleanor, “I wish Rachel were here to see this.” Her perpetual smile agreed (it was hard to hear her actual words over the gleeful sounds of 6 kids playing). Yes. We wish Rachel could see our Hands Free Saturday in all its sweaty glory. We wish she lived closer to share a glass of wine so we could clink to her success. To the realization of dreams which formed within her long, long ago. Watching her fulfill her promise is a feeling like none other. Let her show you how to fulfill yours.
“I did not know how to reach him, how to catch up with him…the land of tears is so mysterious.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
It’s not like I thought I’d be cool forever. I did, however, imagine I’d be cool in the girls’ eyes for a long, long, long time. LONG. Longer than say…today.
And it’s not as if they haven’t been sniffing me out for at least a year. Smart cookies these two; they know when I’m making it up as I go.
It began in earnest over the summer, the immediate veto of anything suggested by Mommy. I was initially irritated. I had my ugly moments when I verged on mad. See how I made that up? I didn’t “verge” on anything. I rammed straight past miffed and t-boned right into mad.
The girls are too polite to mock me, but time after time, I definitely chose the wrong board game, the wrong clothes, the wrong movie, and forget my suggestion to speak in pig Latin all summer. Kidding. I always choose the right ovie-may.
The time has come…the day all Mothers-of-Daughters fear: I’ve gone from Momma to Mommy to Muuuu-OOOMMMM. I still get countless hugs, and sleep isn’t even considered without my final goodnight kiss, but, and this is a GIGANTIC BUT: my opinion is no longer desired for the hundreds of tiny decisions they make as humans each and every day.
I’m finding my learning curve to be steep. I know how to dislike something so that my children will choose it, but as of late, I’ve been off my game. Or perhaps, more accurately stated, this game has changed. Reverse Psychology isn’t the go-to move at this age.
This evening at the library, to use my favorite of baseball phrases, I hit a real can of corn. Kelly was choosing a book to for her “fantasy genre” assignment:
Mommy: Oh good! Look! They have The Little Prince!
Kelly: What’s THAT?
Mommy: [Insert me reading the jacket with great intrigue and excitement.]
Kelly: UM….NO. No thank you.
Mommy: Kelly. It’s Le Petit Prince. It’s arguably one of the most famous fantasy books ever written. It’s a classic. I’ve read it both in English and in French. I mean…it’s…Saint-Exupéry. It’s unmatched.
Kelly: Have you seen the Rainbow Fairy Series around here? I’ll just read one of those.
Mommy: The Daisy Meadow books, of which we own at least 20? Fairies vs. a little boy who lives alone on his own planet, and travels across the space-time continuum, and comes to an understanding about humanity as a whole. A book full of timeless quotes and wonder. Not to mention, there is a FOX. Kelly…a fox. And you want to read a book about a purple fairy who is chased by the same goblins through like…120 books?
Sara: They are right over here Kelly.
I slid the book silently back onto the bookshelf, making a mental note to read it with the girls over winter break. Because EVEN IF we’re entering the “Momma’s suggestions not welcome” phase, just remember this my little prince(sses): Momma knows. Momma always knows.
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Ana Paula is my friend, which is one of the most true statements to ever pass from my lips. Ana Paula has always known exactly when I need her. She has a 6th sense for my need.
This summer taught me a valuable lesson: if you can’t care for the suffering, care for their caregivers. Fill them up. Back them up. Do the day-to-day stuff they can no longer do. That’s actually REALLY easy. Text them when you’re at the store and ask what they need. Pick up the dry cleaning. Offer to get their things for the class party so they only have to show up and enjoy time with their child. Don’t wait for them to ask…just notice when you’re in their path, and carry a load. There were times I did nothing more than keep the caretakers company during the long hours, and there were times when my friends kept me company during the long hours. It was more than enough (thank you Carrie…I love you).
If you’ve ever said no to Brazilian food, you should check yourself. Wait, sorry, you can’t. You are dead. You had the chance to live via this amazing cuisine, but you said no, and now, to quote a Hoosier Heartland saying, “You gone done and died”. Ana Paula even called her oh-my-goodness gorgeous Momma, Margarete, into the game. I had not one, but TWO Brazilian Mommas bringing me comfort food. I’m GOING TO LIVE FOREVER!
I let this fabulous dinner (and the flowers and margaritas which accompanied the food!) fill me up, and feed my soul. I felt loved and renewed. After spending the morning at Rehab with my friend (who now has pneumonia…BOO!), having a night off from cooking was the hug I needed. I went into the weekend ready to be present for those around me.
Ana Paula and her Momma brought dinner. I learned caretakers need care, creating a circle of love which fuels us all. Why else are we here, if not to reach out and love one another? Suffering isn’t the point, you guys. LOVE is the point. (And also, when Jesus returns, we should serve him Ana Paula’s cooking. It would be the smart thing to do.)
I know, I know, you read “super easy” and jumped in, hoping I’d tell you a horror story about that time I decided to wallpaper my pantry. Surely there were locusts, unearthed ghosts, and a coup staged by the spices…but what if I told you…none of that happened? Would you believe me?
I think the girls went back to school today. Either that, or I just got sick of them, drove them to school, and wished them luck. Be damned start day! Take them back or I’ll lock them in the basement with a bag of Cheetos and put in ear plugs until the school bell rings!
Kidding. I NEVER do drop-off on the first day. There is crying, grabbing onto legs, Kleenex are thrown about like confetti with so-much-of-the-wailing; and that’s just me. You should see what the girls do. They are embarrassing. After my 3-reasons-for-living pulled out of the garage, I looked about and saw the destruction left from a fantastic summer. It was GRODY to the MAX. Remember that scummy kid on your bus who hounded you the entirety of 1982 with grosser than gross stories? OK, it wasn’t that gross. But it wasn’t good!
I decided to start with the pantry, which was overgrown with slumber party snacks and Greg’s perpetual trips to Costco (if he doesn’t eat at least one Chicken Bake per week, he dies). SOOOOO, if you’re GONNA unload the pantry…you may as well WALLPAPER IT. Everyone knows this.
I bought these two rolls of peel and stick laminate last year on the clearance table at Lowe’s, before I even had shelving in the pantry. I’ve always wanted a wallpapered pantry. 2 people asked me today why anyone would wallpaper a pantry? WHAT?! Do you HATE Pinterest, Houzz, Better Homes & Gardens, HGTV Magazine, Southern Living, and AIR?! Why WOULDN’T you wallpaper a pantry? Do you not flip through magazines and imagine what KIND of women have wallpapered pantries? These women HAVE IT ALL TOGETHER. They are effortless entertainers. They blink, and hors d’oeuvres appear. They never get drunk at their own parties and spill champagne on the guest of honor. Wait. Hold it. I got a little too specific there.
Fine. I did it because Greg took one look at those rolls and told me it wouldn’t work. Um? ‘Scuse me? Daughter of a wallpaper hanger times like 30 years? Wait. Hold it. Do you think he said that just so I’d finish the job? Well-played Cap’n Greg. Well-played.
This was so easy. Measure. Be exact. Using an Exacto-Knife (Box Cutter…whatever these knifey-things are called that Greg keeps hiding from me, certain I’ll cut off a limb), I trimmed each piece to fit. Quilting tools and a self-healing mat made this job really fast, and really accurate.
I unpeeled a bit from one side, and slowly worked my way across the wall, smoothing as I went. This is where “can be unpeeled” is CRITICAL. I was able to peel it off and rework any areas which didn’t immediately lie flat. You gotta love adhesive inventors. They have taken us into the new century in high style. Bravo Glue-Dudes.
Cutting in and around wood-based brackets is easier than metal. If I had to cut around metal brackets, I probably would have called Oh-Daddio. Using my knife, I made sure I was flush against the wood and cut.
Go slow and easy Cowboys. The slants at the bottom required a little cutting in, but with wallpaper, if you make nice, tiny cuts, it well come back together and lie perfectly flush. You’ll never see where the paper was sliced.
In a couple of places along the edges, I had to trim off excess. Get a piece started, grab it, and then lead it with the knife.
I suppose all those Saturdays helping my Dad on jobs, he imagined I wasn’t paying close attention. But carry enough pasted wallpaper around, and you pick up a few things. Plus, this project was just easy-peasy. The whole thing took about 2.5 hours.
I estimate my pantry doors are opened by me and my family approximately 1 mabajillion times per day. I shall go one step further and calculate the doors are shut after said openings a total of “never times” per day. So if they are perpetually going to be in the open position (aka “kids live here”), at least I can look at this beautiful design. Ah. I love it. The whole project cost me $12, and at that price, Greg can keep his addiction to Chicken Bakes and 20 lb bags of granola.
Do tell me: what are your new goals around the house this fall? I’d love to hear from you!
Before her final walk home, Kara Tippetts challenged me to spend my health well (and more importantly to show up) in her book The Hardest Peace. I took the call seriously, and Jesus put me right in the firing line this summer. To further live out Kara’s message, I was going to show my little corner of the world BIG LOVE. Despite watching my friends and family face Stage IV Cancer, End Stage Cardiac and Kidney Disease, and Life-Saving Surgery…I was going to insist our story is a good one.
I made enough cobbler to feed an army.
And I was certain I’d feel full of big love forever.
HOWEVER…I was mistaken. I had apparently added a dose of bravado to my ham and beans. My best friend’s Momma took her final walk home this week, and I was not filled with warm light. I did not sense a high-five from Jesus for my chowder-making skills.
I got a new label-maker, and I want to honestly label some things.
Instead, I felt deep, deep sorrow. The ugly kind. The kind where you wake up and forget for that first second that the world has changed, and then it hits you. BAM! Mrs. H. is gone. Her cancer is gone…but she is gone too. To heaven! And yet still…gone. My heart broke right in two for my friend. She was orphaned this week, and there is no buffering against a grief of that magnitude.
Before I could crawl back into bed and have a good cry, I received a call from my friend who survived the risky surgery. He was being discharged earlier than anticipated, and we planned for him to spend a few days in my nursing care before going home. Sure! I can nurse Matt back to health and attend a funeral while planning Sara’s birthday party.
As a matter of fact, my “perfect little plan” showed I had plenty of time to care for Matt, take him home while dropping off food to my Grandfather (who is now so weak his tongue is freezing up in the evenings? Don’t ask me…), and I can swing back to town in time to get the girls’ classroom assignments and make it to calling hours. My Pastor challenged our congregation to radically love thy neighbor this summer. I’ll show you RADICAL! I will ACE radical love.
Radical Love = Radical Amounts of Ham & Beans?
THIS was officially too many Ham & Beans.
But I failed to check the balance in my emotional bank account, nor did I take the time to notice that while caring for my Godson the prior week, he gifted me a head cold. “A grinding halt” was in the works, and while Greg saw it coming, I was too busy cooking every recipe on earth to look up at the train headed right for me. Big Love was about to turn to Big Suck. The Big Suck Train. All Aboard! Suckville ahead! Your ticket to Big Suck Mountain has been punched.
Tonight, with a glass of wine at my side, I can clearly see my tally of the last 9 days:
(1) My recent trip to care from my Godson meant I came face-to-face with his Autism Diagnosis. It was easier to pretend his challenges were smaller while he lived far away. My Mark has Autism. The real kind. I allowed myself to grieve my original “teach Jesus” plans, which caused my heart to see the gorgeous gifts God gave him. Still, I would trade my life’s fortune if it would make his path easier. I allowed my eyeballs to sweat just a little on the flight home.
My Mark flirted with me and ate my cooking. Oh, that precious boy. He’s got my number.
(2) After 72 hours of caring for my friend, I realized he was in no shape to return home. I am a nurse, and I am trained to act. I therefore returned him to the care of professionals for physical rehab, feeling as if I’d robbed the independence of an American Soldier who has endured quite enough for one lifetime. I cried all the way home.
(3) After a glorious summer with my beautiful niece, the time came to say goodbye. Her parents have this “THING” about her getting an “EDUCATION”, and going to her “FIRST DAY OF 5th GRADE”. Losers. I cried all the way home.
(4) I gave both of my daughters my cold, meaning Sara started her 10th birthday in a steam shower having a croup attack. Sick kids on their birthdays. Need I say more? We both cried in our home.
This cat is loyal in a crisis. Mischievous. Rabble-rouser. But so very loyal.
(5) I attended the funeral of a woman whose smile could light up a coliseum. I hugged her daughters whom I love to the ends of the earth, knowing I am utterly helpless to ease their suffering. I cried all the way home.
I came home from the funeral and picked up The Hardest Peace, and then kicked myself at how quickly I forgot its main message: we are to embrace our seasons of brokenness. There is a time for all things, including broken hearts and grieving. There is a time for the grinding halt, and the big suck.
Kara Tippetts was certain God’s story for us is good, and we know really good stories have plot twists, celebrations, friendships, family, love, laughter, tears, and loss. This story is so amazing, it has chapters I can only feel my way through! But if I want epic, I think I’m going to have to dare to live out a story that will change me. Some of that change might look a lot like suck.
I am daring to believe this grief has a purpose. I am going on faith here, because everything inside of me hurts, but I am going to timidly postulate there is beauty inside this suffering. Not now. Now I feel like someone hit the brakes, and I’m standing still in a blinding storm. But maybe later, we’ll see why this chapter unfolded as it did. Should I catch a glimpse of this possible beauty, I’ll take a picture of it and share it with you.
In the meantime, while I not-so-quietly wrestle with my sadness, I send you wishes for Godspeed. For all of us, Godspeed my friends.
Do you like Treasure Hunts? The girls sure do! Tagging onto the girls recent addiction to the movie “National Treasure”, Greg cooked up a Birthday Treasure Hunt, leading them to a present they’d had on their wish list for months.
I went into Treasure Hunt Day with very little info, other than its timing. On a random Friday, we woke to this note on the TV. Followed by this video:
Kelly heard the words, “Favorite rings you can never wear”, and immediately knew…the pull-up rings in the work out room:
Which proved to be more problematic than they anticipated:
Eventually, they were able to pull the green tape down, and discovered at every stop, there would be a few puzzle pieces, and a clue! The weight room clue was a word search with the instructions, “Use the unused letters”.
The unused letters spelled out a website (and while I was impressed at Kelly’s Asian-inspired attempt to use the letters in the columns as opposed to the rows, it worked better using the boring American method). On the website was a single, very up close picture of something in the house: a canister in the guest bathroom. WHERE THEY FOUND? A clue written in braille. Who doesn’t like a clue written in a secret language of dots? At first glance, I thought, “Huh. Dots.” And that’s why children would be needed on this adventure, because the girls immediately knew those dots were braille.
By now, we were starting to accumulate some STUFF. The girls began to warm up to the process of problem-solving, and didn’t need my help searching for a braille decoder on their computers. After a few frustrating moments, I gently suggested they were attempting to decode the message UPSIDE DOWN. A quick flip of the paper, and the words “Local Duck” appeared. Well, “appeared” is rather politically incorrect, as it was in braille. Sorry ’bout that.
Local Duck was a gimme. I have one stuffed animal from my childhood that everyone in my life knows I’d grab in a fire. Why is he named Local Duck? Because he’s always nearby. Kidding…it was my cousin’s code name during our 5 year game of “Cousin War” on our family’s farm. I thought it was the coolest thing any 8 year old had ever written on a slip of paper and hidden inside her tennis shoes. Kind of gross, now that I think about it.
I digress. Local Duck was hiding A KEY. Intriguing.
“You’re gaining momentum, but many locks are ahead. Hold this one key tightly, but head to the place nearby that has more keys than any other in the house.”
Uh-Oh. This one took A WHILE. They assumed Daddy meant “key code” or “passes held on a key ring”. I had to keep repeating “KEY! KEY!” I can’t remember who actually figured out it was “piano keys”, but one of them finally pieced together “most keys in the house”. This is when things got WILD:
Greg had been heading out in the evenings, hiding things all over town. Risky? You bet. What fun is a treasure hunt if you don’t have to play in traffic? Nicolas Cage went to the North Pole! By the way, thank you Greg, for not sending us to the North Pole.
At this point, I was in a 90 degree park, by a river which recently flooded, trying to balance a phone, a camera, 3 water bottles, and Sara’s bag of “treasure hunting supplies” (a flashlight, a compass, bandaids, the found key, a journal, a pen…it’s Sara so let’s add on some geodes, a few random rocks, and possibly a cat). Kelly packed snacks. Kelly is like a walking vending machine, and as she weighs about as much as a cat, I never discourage her crumb-spewing behavior.
The Clue: “Head to the starting spot of your camel-back excursions, and maybe check the pit-stop before you head out.”
Sara got it. The girls hike with water-holding back packs along a trail which has a Port-O-Potty at the start of the trail.
Greg hid a clue inside a PUBLIC BATHROOM? OH DUDE. YUCK. Better yet, on a trail I’ve never hiked, in a park I’ve never been to. Greg has a huge sense of humor. I knew this when I married him, so no more complaining from me.
Let it not be said I shy away from adventure, because taped to the outside (small acts of kindness of Greg’s part) of a portable bathroom, we found the above clue.
Again, I was clueless (figuratively, because my pockets were stuffed with clues), but the girls quickly ran off into the woods. Little did I know a mile-hike into nowhere lie ahead.
For those of you who imagine Indiana to be nothing but fields, it should be noted that Indiana was originally a very dense forest. Our woods border on impassable. It’s the rich, forested soil that made it so great for farming, and it’s lovely to enter the dark woods which remain.
I sent Greg a few update videos throughout the day, and I made this one on the long hike to “the caterpillar”:
We made it to a bridge, which Greg calls the caterpillar. Looking down at this long structure twisting and turning into nowhere, I decided we may very well die on this treasure hunt. I tried to stay upbeat, but secretly, I wish I was armed with more than a camera and a sweat-covered bra.
At the end of this bridge, was literally…nowhere. We had reached the end of the sidewalk, so to speak. We were staring into an abyss of flood-damaged undergrowth and fallen trees. Wait…and one, moldy picnic table.
But leave it to children to see the treasures we boring adults miss:
Bike-locked to a footer of the bridge was a trash bag. Kelly wasn’t keen on diving into the brush to grab it, but Sara had no fear. I unfortunately stopped filming just as Sara screamed, “KEY!”
The lock box contained the next clue (along with those crazy puzzle pieces): “You’ve Done a good job and earned a Quick treat. If Daddy was here, where would he want to go? (Just FYI, you’d have to be Daddy’s knee to see the next clue.)
Notice the “D” and “Q” are capitalized? As if we needed help to guess Dairy Queen. Daddy practically has his own booth there. BOOTH! Knee! And we get ice cream! Just as we jumped for joy, we realized if you hike into a sweaty woods at high noon, you must then hike back out.
When we made it back to the car, this is how we felt.
But once we got ice cream, we were less skeptical about Daddy’s plans.
As if the day weren’t “Treasure Hunt-y” enough, we arrived at DQ shortly after a large group of campers had taken their seats. Every booth was filled with 7 year old boys, yelling, squirming, and most certainly crawling under the booths.
The girls looked at me in a state of panic and I yelled “HIT THE DECK!!” I quickly explained to the camp counselors we’d need to crawl under every booth because we were looking for a clue. I should have taken a picture of their faces. What? You’ve never been approached by a frizzy-haired, sweat-covered Mother, wearing a large camera and cargo shorts filled with papers, who requests her daughters crawl under your lunch tables? I’ll show you how to rock SUMMER FUN!
“The final piece of the puzzle can only be found on top of the highest height you can climb. The guard will have the final details. And don’t forget to clip in.”
Highest height. Rock climbing. Of course Daddy would include rock climbing. A storm was threatening overhead, so we rushed as quickly as we could to our favorite weekend hang out. And by “our favorite”, I mean Daddy and the girls. Most of the 5 year Cousin War took place in the rickety hayloft of a very old barn, and we’ve all lost count as to how many times we fell out of the damned thing. I don’t particularly enjoy heights. However, I am a highly qualified cheerleader:
It took a couple of attempts and a lot of hand chalk, but Sara reached the last clue. The staff at Hoosier Heights were so very kind to help Greg with his plans, and just wonderful to us as the girls scaled the wall to the final clue.
“Your map is complete, and the end is getting close. X marks the spot.”
The completed puzzle was a map of our house and lawn, which was finished just as a thunderstorm began. Again, death was upon us. We felt like the National Treasure cast, drowning underneath Mount Rushmore! We grabbed boots and umbrellas and headed out into the storm, armed with shovels.
Why shovels? I’ve been the recipient of a Greg Treasure Hunt in the past, and his hunts always end with things buried underground. On our first anniversary, I found myself at the end of an 8-hour journey, in my pajamas, digging up a lock box in a Florida forest. I’m certain anyone who saw me assumed I was hiding a body. Luckily for me, in Florida, no one asks questions.
Buried in the backyard was a tackle box, containing a UV flashlight. The girls love playing with disappearing ink (I pray the owners of our old house never invest in a UV flashlight and walk around the house…ugh…), so they knew a hidden message was somewhere. But where? You can’t fool bonafide treasure hunters like Sara & Kelly! They guessed it was on the puzzle as soon as we tossed the mud-covered box onto the porch.
“Check the armoire in the playroom”. I was exhausted and in desperate need of a cold beer, but the girls has plenty of energy left. Who wouldn’t have energy knowing the treasure lie just ahead of you?
So there you have it. The discontinued Calico Critter Deluxe Village House, long sought after by these ardent collectors, sold to Daddy by a sweet Mother whose daughter has outgrown her set. She included the furniture and the animals, none of which the girls have in their collection. They were ecstatic. We didn’t hear from them for the rest of the weekend, as they disappeared into “Cloverleaf Corners”, the name of their Calico Critter play area.
Sweet, sweet Daddy, who LOVES a good puzzle. A good work out. And a good challenge.
But is still soft enough to sing kittens to sleep on his lunchtime.
And who thinks kids should have their own camelbacks for the journey which lies ahead.
We love you. No 3 ladies have ever had more fun stealing The Declaration of Independence and beating the bad guys. And a huge thank you for not including actual bad guys. There was a point in the day in which Kelly assumed we would be chased by Sean Bean and Ed Harris. Her meltdown was beyond all-time. Speaking of famous Nicolas Cage lines, Kelly does indeed follow his credo from “The Croods”: NEVER NOT BE AFRAID!
Happy 8th and 10th Birthday girls! If you could just stay at these ages, that would be super. It’s a financial thing, you see; we own WAY, WAY too many Calico Critters for you to age out of them, please and thank you. Daddy and I love you!