Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just Because

This past week we traveled back to Fairhope to attend the funeral of our friend who finished her battle with ovarian cancer.  At 36-years-old.  With two little girls and a husband who adored her. And a church and entire community who feel deeply the loss of this sweet, wonderful soul.

I was talking to a friend last night who didn't know her and as I described Nicole and talked about her, I told him how she just loved with her whole heart....everything and everyone.  She loved with abandon.  Whether you were a new friend, an old friend, or just a friend of hers on Facebook, she made you feel welcome, loved, and accepted for who you are.  You didn't have to be anything special for her.  You only had to be who you are.  And as I've thought about all the things that made her so wonderful and endeared her to so many people, I've realized that in her short life she accomplished what many people work a much longer lifetime to achieve.  And most never do.  

Nicole was 34 when she was diagnosed with a devastating disease with an even more devastating prognosis.    For two years she lived with the knowledge that barring a miracle she wouldn't see her girls grow up.  For two years she fought this horrible monster that left her unable to care for her family, something that before cancer she did so lovingly and so well.  I've thought a lot about this over the past couple of years, but probably not as much as I should have.  I've thought about it when I felt like I was trudging through the ordinary, mundane tediousness of everyday life in a family with small children....loads of never ending laundry, dog hair in the corner of every room, scattered clutter throughout the house, contant meal preparation.  The "yuck" of every day that just seems to go on and on with no end in sight and no hope of completion.  Ever.  And sometimes I would stop to think about Nicole and was hit with the guilt of realization that Nicole would love to have my dirty clothes, dog hair, and what-to-fix-for-dinner-again dilemmas as her "yuck".  And at those times I thanked God for the yuck.  

But the amazing thing about Nicole was that she thanked God for her yuck too.  She managed to see a blessing in it when most people would only see the burden.  That was just the way she was.  Cancer didn't bring that out in her.  It was already there.   As a friend of ours says, when you're squeezed what is going to come out?  For Nicole it was God, gratitude, and grace.  

We moved away from Fairhope four years ago and in the past four years I've only seen Nicole a handful of times.  The last time I saw her was in June after she was already on hospice.  I sent her a message after I left and told her that there was so much more I wanted to say to her and the thing I didn't want to say was goodbye.  I told her that what I wanted to say was that I remember all the times she invited us over for dinner just because....and how I remember that her home was always open. Her door was literally always unlocked and because they lived right next to the little park where I always took my babies, she would remind me often that if we needed a bathroom, or water, or a popsicle, to just come on in...even if she wasn't there.   I told her that I remember the time she called to say she had made a huge pot of chicken soup and she was bringing some over to us just because she thought we might enjoy it.  There was no reason of the kind that I usually only take meals to one was sick, no new baby, no real reason.  It was just because.  I remember the times she would tell me to bring my babies over to her house to play and leave them there if I might have some errands to run alone.  That's like winning the lottery for a tired Mama of littles!  There was no real reason for me to have to do was just a treat.  Just because.  I told her I remember the day before my oldest started kindergarten when she came by to bring me a copy of The Kissing Hand because she thought I might not have one and I just had to read it to him that night.  She guessed correctly and I read that book with him every night for the next two weeks....then read it again with my second...and then my last baby.   

There were so many things Nicole did "just because".  I want to love with that same abandon that she had.   I want to see the good in people and love them for what they are and not expect them to be anything else.  I want to look for ways to show love and grace and compassion and kindness with a smile to the people around me, not because it's expected or because I feel obligated....but just because.

It's the "just because" that really shows love.  In our last written message to each other, Nicole told me that the one thing cancer had taught her was to say exactly how she felt....and she told me she loved me. Funny thing is, she never had to say that.  It's something I always knew.

The other morning after weeping on and off for a couple of days I turned on the radio and realized it was the just the kind of song that Nicole would have turned up full blast, and she would have sung at the top of her lungs, and she would have danced not caring what anyone thought.  And even though we were still in our pj's, and even though our waffles were burning in the toaster, I grabbed my kids' hands and we laughed and sang and danced around the kitchen.  Just because.

Nicole Teague
June 26, 1978 - September 9, 2014

Friday, August 29, 2014

Let's Talk

I feel like I need to do a follow up to my blog post that spread around like wildfire the other day.  It nearly got more hits than my entire blog has for the past eight years.  Between the link to Rod’s post and this website, there were a lot of comments and a lot of judgment about the fact that my 7-year-old even has an iPod. 

For the record, not that it matters really, but my husband and I did not purchase any of the devices they have. One has an old iPhone (with no phone) and a kindle and the others have very old iPods. They were gifts.  Could we have said no?  Absolutely!  Do I wish we had?  Not really.  The fact that they have the devices was not the point of my article nor is it the issue here.  Having the iPod for entertainment - to play games, to listen to music, to use the walkie-talkie app they love, to take pictures of their dogs and make movies of their Lego creations - none of that is the problem.  We try to regulate and balance the amount of time they spend with these things but give me a break….we just returned from a nine hour road trip to and from Florida and I would have gouged my eyes out had they not been able to Cut the Rope and Craft Mines in the back of that minivan.  Maybe some other kids entertain themselves with quiet rounds of I Spy and reading classic novels for hours on end.  Mine don’t.   On that same trip they also ate Lunchables and had some blue box macaroni and cheese.  Send me to mommy jail. 

I did experience a parent fail moment and that was why I posted the article.  To maybe save another parent from the same sad, tearful conversation I had to have with my little boy.  For another point on the record, we don’t even have cable TV.  We have a subscription to Amazon Prime and we did have Netflix until we realized it was redundant with the Prime account that I can’t and won’t cancel because I like having paper towels and coconut oil delivered to my door in two days.   But guess where my son heard the word that led him to the search on YouTube?  Cable television in our condo from the vacation we just returned from.   Not even cable with HBO or any other channel like that - just regular run of the mill cable TV.

I could (and perhaps should) have disconnected it in the rooms where my children were hanging out but honestly it didn’t cross my mind.  Mainly because my oldest son only wanted to watch Duck Dynasty and they were all excited about watching Full House and America's Funniest Videos and Jessie or whatever non-stop.  As far as I saw, that’s all they watched when we were all even there. Was he channel surfing and heard it?  Or was it on a show he was watching?  I don’t know.  Doesn’t matter.  He heard it, he searched for it, and the rest is blogger history.  It's all over regular TV you know.  Porn that is.  Let's call it what it is.  I was watching Miss America with my daughter last year and the network showed a preview for something that sure enough looked like porn to me.  

No, my fail wasn’t in allowing him to have a piece of technology, even though some may disagree.  My fail was in knowing there was a small crack in the boat and filling it in with Elmer’s glue.  I knew there was the capability on that iPod to get on the internet through what we believed was a strong filter.  For the last point on the record, my husband is an IT professional and this was the strongest filter we knew of.  We had tested it and it had not failed.  Until it failed. 

My main point of the article and my mistake was in abandoning my responsibility as a parent and entrusting it to someone (something) else.  And in saying we need to "soldier up" as parents, I mean that fighting this war starts in our own homes.  Porn is an ugly word.  In all honesty my stomach turned just seeing that word in the same sentence with the reference to my precious little boy.  It’s so ugly that I was shaking as I hit publish and put that article out there.  And it’s so ugly that no one wants to talk about it.  

But it’s the elephant in the room.

It’s the elephant in our living rooms.  It’s the elephant in our schools.  And it’s the elephant in the pew next to you at church.  Parents, we need to be talking about it.  And if you’re in the ministry, particularly children’s and student ministry, and you’re not talking about it, you’re really contributing to the problem.  We need each other!  Like my friends and I discussed, because we are neighbors and our children spend so much time at one another’s homes, we need to be in solidarity.  We need to know what our kids' friends are allowed to have and see at their homes. We need to know how much unfettered access they have to the internet at school and church.  Yes church!  Because even if your kids don’t have access to any devices at your home, even if you don’t get a single television or movie channel in your home, even if they have no access to the internet whatsoever - if they go to school, or to someone else’s house, (or a condo at the beach!), chances are great that they will have access.    We simply can’t escape it because it’s there and it’s all around us.   All we can do is the best we can do.  We need to talk about it.  And then we need to do.  

Keep the conversation going, friends. 

Note:  I received many, many emails from friends and strangers in response to this article who had similar experiences.  There are some great resources out there:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Soldier Up, Mom

A few weeks ago an article went viral on my Facebook feed entitled “The Day My 10-Year-Old Discovered Hardcore Porn on his iPhone.”  As one Mom after another shared and commented about how frightening and horrible it was and wondered what do we do to prevent it, I commented on several of those shares (perhaps a little smugly and proudly) that WE had installed an excellent filtering program on all of our devices that even filters YouTube.  I most likely left the impression that WE have no worries in this house, that our kids can watch their iPods and kindles, even those annoying Minecraft how to videos on YouTube, and WE don’t have to worry about them seeing filth. 

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I could have entitled this blog post “The Day My 7-Year-Old Discovered Porn on His iPod” but it might look like I’m trying to one-up that other Mom.  Which I’m not.  Because, trust me, this is one Mom competition I’d rather lose. 

So YES we have this supposedly great and awesome filter on all of our devices and we pay about $70 a year for it.   Look, I’ve been on my computer trying to shop for a swimsuit at Lands End and the filter blocked me.  Annoying, yes.  But assuring.  I remember thinking wow….if I can’t even get on here and see the tummy-sucking-miracle-fat-hiding-mawmaw-swimsuits, my boys will NEVER be able to discover Victoria or her Secret.   And I’ve been on YouTube trying to see how to quickly defrost CHICKEN breasts, and it blocked several videos AND ads that probably had nothing to do with fowl or a thawing method.  Again I remember thinking, good.  This is really good.  Nothing to worry about.

Then last night happened.

My youngest son was visibly shaken as he was getting ready for bed.  I knew something was wrong when I saw he was wearing his flannel pajamas with the mountain bears printed all over them on one of the hottest August nights this month.   He seemed almost disoriented and I asked him if was sick as he was trying to quickly crawl into bed and pull the covers over his head.   He then reached over to the bedside table, grabbed his little iPod, and tossed it to me saying he doesn’t deserve it anymore because he is bad.  “I’m bad, so bad….I saw bad things.”  My heart started racing and I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  Because I knew where this was going.  Very calmly and quietly I assured him he was not bad and there was nothing in the world he could ever tell me that would make me think he was bad.  “What did you see, sweetheart?” I asked.  After about ten minutes of me coaxing it out of him, with a wobbly still-tiny-smidge-of-baby-left voice he told me he was searching for a word he had heard and he spelled it for me.  T-t-i-s.  (I quickly unscrambled and knew what he meant).  He went on to tell me he searched for this on YouTube (the app is not even on his iPod….he must go through the “filter” app to access it!).   He told me he saw pictures and videos.

My stomach turned.  I ran through all the “How To” files I’d stored away in my mind.  You know those files….situations you’ve thought about as a Mom and how you’d handle…you file them away for another day.  Usually one you hope will never come.   Turns out I didn’t have a file for this.  Because I honestly thought we had done everything on the front end to keep it from happening. 

I ran my fingers through his hair and pulled him close and started talking to him from my broken heart.  I asked him if he knew what that word meant before he searched for it.  He said no.  I told him it is a very crude and ugly word for something that is not crude and ugly.  I told him what the proper word is and I asked him if he knew why God made them like that on women?  He said no.  I told him it was the miraculous and wonderful way that God made women able to feed their babies.  I told him how every woman who has those is made to feed a baby, and those women in those pictures and videos are either already someone’s Mommy or they will be one day.  And what God meant for a beautiful purpose is twisted and made into something very wrong and ugly by those pictures and videos. 

We continued to talk and then we prayed together and I left him to sleep as I walked back to my room for a sleepless night.  I cried for the ugly, messed up, twisted, and sick world out there that I can’t protect my children from.  I cried for what he had seen that I couldn’t un-see for him.  I cried because I had abdicated MY parenting duties to some stupid computer software that I thought would protect my children.  I cried because I can never get back that bit of innocence he lost way, way too early.  I cried as I went onto YouTube, put in that same search and saw just the thumbnails of what he had to have seen.  I just can’t bring myself to actually click on the videos.  I cried because, when I went in to check on him later, he was curled up with Big Bear in one arm and his little blue and white checked blanket in the other.  He’s still a baby. 

I’m mad now.  And I really hope my anger continues to burn because I need it to fuel my diligence.   I need my guard to be up and to stay up.  This is no longer a battle friends, it’s an all-out war.  It’s a war we’re fighting for the minds and futures of our children.  I know there are those who would say I’m being overly dramatic, that I can’t put my children in a bubble, blah blah blah.  I don’t care.  I will do whatever it takes to protect my children until their minds, bodies and emotions are better prepared to grasp, filter, and sort through the warped and ugly parts of our world that are pulling on them.  I will continue to pull back and hold on for dear life.   Don’t do as I did, friends.  Don’t trust some computer geek working for a software company to care a flip for or protect your kids.  Do as I am doing now.  Uninstall any and all browsers or video apps on your kids’ personal devices and set the restrictions where they can’t install apps anymore without asking you first.   Have one central computer in a public area of your home that they may use, with permission, and still with filter software installed.  But remember that’s not the first line of defense in this war.

You are.   

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Things I'm Loving This Summer

I was starting to get sad that summer is coming to an end with school starting and all.  I was saying that I never remember as a kid going back to school in August.   It was always after Labor Day when we went back to school.  Summer break is supposed to be three full month of sleeping late, beach going, pool baths, and popsicle stained faces.  June, July, and August...that's summer!  So as I was so sad that we're supposed to be back in school mode and strict(er) schedules in another week or so (because even though we homeschool, we follow the local school calendar), we decided to book our beach vacation in August.  So it really made no sense to start school and then go on vacation.  And it makes no sense to come back from vacation and start school immediately.  What DOES make sense is to go on vacation, come back and recuperate, and then start school after Labor Day.  Just like the good old days.  Kicking it old school this year, y'all.

So in celebration of my continuing summer break, I wanted to share some of my favorite things right now.  Because all both of you might be amused and vaguely interested.   

EOS Lip Balm

Oh My Gosh!  I was in Dallas a few weeks ago and saw this multi pack of these little round lip balms while I was out shopping.  It came with a bonus water bottle which I really needed, and because we are lip balm addicts in this house (and lip balm snobs), I'm always searching for the perfect lip balm.  I can call off the dogs now because the search is over.  This is THE best.  Ever.  The flavors are amazing and it leaves your lips feeling great.  And it lasts a long time.  These are little round containers of yummy goodness, y'all.   Just don't carry it around in your pocket.  Looks weird.    And you're probably thinking I'm weird for being this hyped up over lip balm.  You might even think I'm selling the stuff or getting some commission or kickback.  But, alas, I'm not.  I'm just a fan.  With moisturized lips.  

A Work in Progress:  An Unfinished Woman's Guide to Grace (by Kristin Armstrong)

I read this book a few years ago and it was one of those books that you find at just the right time, with just the right message.  I have re-read it at least four times since then, and am now facilitating an online book club, reading through it and discussing it with friends from all over.  It's a wonderful, easy read that doesn't require a lot of time but inspires a lot of thought and soul searching.  And yes, it's Kristin Armstrong who was married to Lance.  And yes, she and I would be best friends if we just lived closer, I just know it.  I can't recommend this book enough.  I give it as gifts, and it's never further away than my nightstand when I need to be reminded what I'm really striving and reaching for every day, and it all comes down to letting every area of my life be marked and defined by grace.  And I'm not getting any commission from this either, but probably should, as many copies of these book that have been bought by me or because of my recommendation!

Rowing Machine

So yeah, it's quite a jump from lip balm to a book to a rowing machine.  But I LOVE this thing!  First of all, it comes apart into two pieces that can easily be stored out of sight, but easily put together when it's time to exercise...thereby reducing the urge to hang clothes on it like we did with the elliptical machine we used to have.  But I also love the fact that you can get a killer workout in jut 30 minutes, working your core, your arms, and your legs all at the same time.  I'm all about multi-tasking in the shortest amount of time possible.  It's also a great workout for runners, and it makes me feel less guilty when I don't make it outside in the thousand percent deep south humidity for a run.  But the best thing about it is that it's something the whole family can use.  In fact, the monitor has several "games" on it where you play by rowing faster or slower, which moves your little fish up or down in order to avoid being eaten.  So when my kids want to play video games, sometimes this is their only option.  Winning!   And again, not getting paid for this review.  Just wanted to share the fitness love.  

Jamberry Nail Wraps
So ok....a few months ago I noticed one of my good friends from law school was posting constantly about these things on her Facebook page.  Quite honestly I thought she had lost her mind.  All these crazy, patterned nail wraps...polka dots, paisley, floral, stripes....I thought, what in the world?  Who would wear something like that and why does she keep posting all this stuff?   I don't even paint my short, stubby nails and haven't in years.  Ain't nobody got time for that when you're chasing three kids around all day!  So I sure wasn't interested for me.  But I do have a fancy painted nails loving nine-year-old daughter who ruined one of my best towels a while back with bright pink nail polish.  UGH!!!  Made me s'mad!  

So I started taking notice of these wraps and thought it would make a great birthday present for the towel destroyer.  But since I couldn't decide on one pattern, I was going to buy several of them.  But then it occurred to me that maybe I could host a party for my friend and get some for free, or at least at a discount.  So I called her and she asked me if we had even tried them yet....I said no....and she offered to send me a sample.  Well, we got these cute little sample wraps in the mail, put them on a few of our fingers and I watched my daughter dance around the house saying this was the best thing EVER.   I even put the teal polka dots on my fingers and I have to admit, it was SO cute! matched my favorite Tiffany cup which was just a bonus happy.   And in the span of about an hour I had gone from just ordering, to hosting a party, to selling them myself.  Because I thought wow, if there are more people like me whose daughter has ruined their good towels, they're going to think these are the greatest things ever too!

And yes, I actually DO make a commission off of these.  But I also love them and think you would too.  And I don't know what has surprised me more....the fact that I'm selling nail wraps, or the fact that I'm wearing polka dots on my fingers....and loving it!

Go here to learn more about Jamberry... and save your towels!!!

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Camp Misery

So you know we just moved about two months ago and one of our first Sundays at our new church our daughter was invited to go to G.A. camp with them for a week.  I wasn't sure she would want to go.  She's never been away for that long and she didn't know anyone so I was sure she would say no when I asked.  But instead she jumped right on it.  When I went online to sign her up, I started thinking how incredibly awesome sad and lonely it would be at home if the boys were gone that week too.  I tried to register everyone but apparently the "G" in G.A.'s stands for girls.  They seem to be pretty serious about it too.

Anyway.  She's registered, money paid, spot reserved, no refunds, leaving tomorrow, no turning back at this point.  We were looking at the list of things to bring last night and we had this conversation:

Her:  What if I don't like it?

Me:  You will!

Her:  But what if I don't?

Me:  No chance.  You will!

Her: (Clearly not pleased with my response) BUT WHAT IF I DON'T?  Then what?

Me:  Well.  You'll'll....well....I guess you'll start counting the days until you leave.

Her:  What if I want to leave right after I get there?

Me:  Well that would be bad because you'll have five days at that point to be miserable.  Try to wait and be miserable closer to the end of the week, like maybe sometime Thursday afternoon.  Then you'll have less than 24 hours.  Friday morning misery would be even better.

Her:  [blank stare]

I really don't know why they even try to talk to me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Coffee Crisis

I've had the same coffee maker for 12 years now.  I splurged when I bought it way back when, and it has served me well all these years.  I had a system, a good system that brought me much peace....where I would prepare my coffee the night before and set the timer to come on.  Sometimes I would actually get excited at that point about going to sleep because I knew what would be waiting for me the next morning.  I went to bed seriously looking forward to waking up to my coffee brewing.  A lot like Christmas every day.   I clearly need some more excitement in my life but that's not what this is about.  It's about coffee.  And my current crisis.

See, about two months ago I noticed that there was a puddle of water around my coffee pot in the mornings.  Now, for someone like myself, this was a minor inconvenience that in no way changed my system.  I just put a dish towel down that I squeezed out the next morning.   But others in this house, who are more of the detail persuasion and with more meticulous leanings, just couldn't deal.  Could.  Not.  Deal.  So imagine my horror when I went to prepare my coffee one night only to find what looked like an autopsy being performed on my Cuisinart.  Its innards were scattered all over the kitchen.  No worries, I was told....looked like a part could be ordered.  But in the meantime, I was promised I'd have freshly ground and pressed coffee the next morning.  

Andy bought a hand grinder and coffee aerator a few weeks ago and was taking great pride each morning in preparing the perfect cup of coffee.   Which I thought was really super awesome!  So long as I still had my own whole pot which is my perfect cup.    His one perfect cup at a time was great as long as it was IN ADDITION TO.  Not in lieu of.  But after the dismemberment, I was seriously at his mercy.  For a few mornings it was fine.  Really it was.  He brought me my coffee in bed even.  And would bring me a second or third cup if I asked.  But then one morning he had to do something so much less important, like go to work or something, and I had to prepare my own coffee.  Y'all.  I had to HAND GRIND the beans.  And it takes like 4, 5, maybe 20 minutes.  Then you have to slowly and carefully PRESS IT OUT.  I normally don't have the energy to fluff my pillow enough to sit up and sip it, much less work up a sweat to get my brew.  And to make matters doesn't even make a full cup.  

I do realize this is a superficial, self-centered, first world problem but things are getting desperate.  I am also fearing where this is going because (a) my coffee pot is still in the morgue and (b) I think I heard him say something about roasting his own beans.  

ROASTING beans!  I just don't.... I think I don't even know what to say about that.

Update:  This morning I had barely opened my eyes when I remembered that my coffee maker had still not risen from the dead.  I managed to get hold of my phone and asked Siri to tell Andy to go make me some coffee.  So she sent him a text.  He was still asleep next to me.  I kept hitting send until he got up and returned with a perfect cup of coffee.

At this very moment he is trying to breathe life into my Cuisinart.

Update update:  Mr. Coffee just corrected me.  It's an Aeropress.  Not an aerator.  Not that the difference means anything to me but it's important to be correct and all.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Me again

I started this blog in 2006 when I left my job at a law firm to stay home with two babies.  My first post was entitled "What they don't teach you in law school."  You can find it here.  I can't believe anyone ever read this blog again after that post.  But for some reason they did.  So I kept blogging, because it made me happy.  But then I stopped.  It's not that I ran out of stuff to say, I just think I started saying it on Facebook instead.  Facebook completed me.  Which is quite sad, really.

In the eight years since that first blog post I had another baby, went back to work, came back home, moved three times across the entire southeast, and learned a few more things they didn't teach me in law school. Like cooking, homeschooling, and photography.  So now I'm back, imparting my wisdom and knowledge to both of the readers I have left.

When I first started blogging, I had two babies.  Then the third.  I was drowning in all things baby, toddler, and preschool.  A friend who has three littles, the same age difference as mine, asked me not long ago how I survived.  I started to answer but the words caught in my throat and my eyes glazed over as I vaguely recall scenes like hiding in the bathroom with the door locked while I sat in the cold, hard bathtub to nurse the baby while the other two banged on the door and stuck their little fingers and hands as far under the door as they could reach.  Like a Lifetime movie trailer.  Hiding from terrorists....but instead of a knife I had a newborn.   Then there was the time Andy came home to find me curled up in the corner of the kitchen, rocking back and forth, chanting over and over I'm bigger and smarter...I'm bigger and smarter....I'm bigger....and smarter.  I'm fairly certain that's the day he hid the scissors and removed all my shoelaces

Kidding!  Mostly.   But I did survive.  And for some crazy reason I actually thought once I got everyone potty trained and sleeping in their own beds through the night it would be smoooooooth sailing.  Ha.   Here's what you don't realize as you move from one stage to the next....

it's all the same kind of different.

And each stage is wonderful, heartbreaking, frustrating, amusing, and hysterical all at the same time.

It's a crazy world.  Someone ought to sell tickets.

Sure, I'd buy one.  

(Raising Arizona)