Tuesday, April 30, 2019

An Open Letter to My Graduate

My Dear Senior,

You are getting ready to graduate and leave high school behind.  Life as you know it is about to change.  For 13 years, you have been getting up in the morning (okay, I have been forcing you to get up in the morning) and heading off to school with your backpack and lunch (except on the days when you forgot your lunch, and I drove it up to school for you).  Then you’d come home, grab a snack, FaceTime your friends who were with you at school all day, and at some point start on your homework. 

And now we are picking out bedding and a mini-fridge for the new place you’ll come home to every day after class.  No one will be there to ask you if you have homework.  And (you’ll love this part) no one will be there to remind you that even though you hate science, it is something you need in your life, and you need to apply yourself.  You’ll have a newfound freedom that you never had at home, but you’ll also have the responsibility that comes with living without your family. (Like when you can’t find something, I will not be there to magically know where it is… you are definitely going to miss that.)

You ask why I cry when we talk about graduation.  You ask if it’s because I’m sad you are going off to college.  There is definitely a part of me that is sad you will not be living under my roof anymore, that there will be an empty seat at family dinners, and that your room will stay perpetually clean because you won’t be here to mess it up.  There’s a part in every Mother’s heart that does not want to let go.

And some of the tears are sadness because as you graduate, I – in a way – graduate too.  You are saying goodbye to your high school, and I am as well.  Think about it -- everything you’ve been involved in, I have been involved in as well, and I have gotten to spend time with my parent friends as we volunteered countless hours, went to football games and pep rallies, and cheered our kids on together.  So, just as you are sad to leave your friends, I get sad too, to leave the community I have come to love over the past 4 years.

But mainly the tears are gratitude.  I’m grateful for the time we’ve had with you.  I’m grateful you have grown up into a responsible human being who will, for the most part, make good decisions when you go off to college.  You have found your passion, and you figured out what you want to be when you grow up, and I got to watch all that happen right before my eyes.

I remember when we sold our last house after being there 12 years.  I was excited to move into our new “dream” house.  But the day I had to close the door on the old house for the last time – wow, that was a hard day.  Not because I wanted to stay but because we’d lived so many moments inside those four walls. So many cherished memories.  And it was hard to say goodbye. I knew a piece of my heart would always be there.  And it’s the same with you graduating.  We are so proud of you and realize – truly – the best years of your life are still to come.  But I have so many cherished memories with you, especially during these past 4 years, and, even though great things are waiting for you, it’s hard to close the door on those moments for the last time.

So for now, let me cry. I know it’s embarrassing, but I think you get it.  Everything you know is about to change, and, at some level, that’s a little scary, right?  For me too.  I don’t know how life will be without you here every day, but we’ll figure it out together. 

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Be adventurous. Try new things and make great life-long friends.  Work hard and ask hard questions.  Occasionally eat some vegetables, and please get enough sleep. 

I will be cheering you on, ever grateful for who you are and who you will become.

Mom, your biggest fan
(and yes, I am crying)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Let's Do A 180... (Months, that is!)

My dearest Chell-Bell,

When you were young, I used to write to you on the 4th of every month to document the progress you'd made that month - new words, new foods, new "firsts".  As you've grown, those monthly posts have become few and far between, even though you've continued to experience new things and have new "firsts".  Today is a good day to revive that tradition, because today marks 180 months of YOU.  It's stunning to think you have been growing up under my nose for 15 years, and yet that number still takes me by surprise.

I look forward to seeing you live your life as a 15 year old.  You're tough, and you've got some battle scars to show how you got there.  You're silly, and not everyone may get your puns, but those who do appreciate your gift. You're wholesome.  That's not a popular word these days, but staying in the lane of what's right will save you from a lot and serve you well.  It also means you hang out with friends who have an appreciation for what is good, and those who have similar values. You're confident in who you are, which is a gift in itself.

Challenge yourself this year to ensure that no one is invisible. Even people doing the least notable thing around you -- make them feel valued.  Make them feel appreciated.  Consider every encounter - whether a smile in passing or sitting next to someone in class - a divine occurrence, and make it count.

Cheers to 180! (Hey, if you were a dog, you'd only be 2!).
I love you!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why I will not make my kids' lives happy any more

After surviving life as a middle school Mom for three years, I'm happy to say that being a Mom to a high school Freshman has been way better.  Like Off-The-Charts and I-Don't-Drink-Nearly-As-Much better.

As this Freshman year comes to a close, we attended one of the oh-so-many end of year banquets (why didn't anyone warn me about all the banquets??) to celebrate a fantastic year of Drill Team.  Being in the Drill Team has been one of the best things ChellBell has done this year.  Her Directors are amazing, funny, supportive, talented, consistent, and disciplined.  And they are aiming to produce 60 girls who are the same.

Chell has been very happy in Drill Team -- happier than I've ever seen before.  It is incredibly satisfying to see your child that happy.  I have spent 14 years aiming to make my child happy.  That's been my goal.  "Let's go here -- she'll love it!" (AKA "It will make her happy").  "Let's buy this -- she'll be so surprised!" (AKA "It will make her happy").  "Let's ask her what SHE wants!" (AKA "Let's make her happy!")

Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Happy Child = Happy Mom, right?

We started watching the slideshow (that's what you do at Banquets), and I saw this quick photo go by of my daughter in her uniform.  Her head was held high.  Her shoulders were back.  A slight smile on her face.

And I realized

What I hadn't realized in my 14 years of being her Mother.

It's not her Happiness that matters.

She wasn't wearing a look of Happiness in that uniform.

She was Proud.

She was Proud to wear the uniform.  She was Proud to be a Silver Wing.  She was Proud that her hard work paid off.  She was Proud to represent her school by doing what she loves -- dancing.  She was Proud to be part of such a wonderful group of talented girls.

She was Proud of herself.

Later, the team gave out awards (they do that at Banquets too).  Her team gave her the "Best Leaps" Award -- called out of 60 girls as the dancer with the best leaps...  And I saw that look again.  She was so Proud of herself.

I realized in a moment that my goal has been all wrong.  My goal need not be her happiness -- it should be letting her discover opportunities to be Proud of herself.

Instead of rescuing her from potential failure or giving her the answer, I need to be constantly challenging her to do what makes her Proud.  When her response or attitude is a little off, instead of trying to make her happy or telling her what she needs to do (essentially so she'll be happy), I need to challenge her -- "What can you do in this situation to be Proud of your response?" or "When you think back on this, will you be Proud of yourself?"  As the clock nears midnight, and she still hasn't finished that project for school tomorrow, I can encourage her to "Push yourself to do the job that will make you Proud when you turn this in." And when her friends start making less-than-ideal choices about what they do, say, or who they date, my goal is that she will ask herself, "Will I be Proud of the choices I'm making?"

Because when she does things she's Proud of... she's happy.

I guess she wasn't the only one to learn things this year...

Friday, December 26, 2014

On the First Day of Christmas

It's been an amazing day of celebrating with family, opening gifts, eating and then eating some more. It's actually been a pretty amazing month of Christmas-ing for us with shows and shopping and traditions and parties. 

I always get a little sad when December 25th comes to a close. I hate to see it all end. On December 26th, the Christmas songs stop playing. One by one, the homes on our street take down their lights.  Dried-out Christmas trees make their way to the sidewalk for bulk pick-up. We build up so much anticipation for one day. One day to share the celebration of Santa with the celebration of the birth of Christ. 

The reality, though, is that while Santa gets one night, the birth of Christ was just the beginning of the Christmas story. On Christmas Day, Jesus was born. But it took a while for the world to know. We tend to celebrate the birth, the angels, the shepherds and the arrival of the wisemen together, like it all happened on one day. I mean, all of those figures came in my Nativity scene box together, as if they all experienced God coming to be with us at the same time. The truth, though, is that it took a while. Word had to spread. It is believed to have taken the wisemen almost two years to find Jesus!

Not being in a church that emphasizes the Liturgical calendar, it was a complete surprise to me that the 12 Days of Christmas is a real thing, and it starts Christmas Day. It's not a celebration of buying random, expensive leaping lords, geese a-laying, and golden rings for your true love... It's an opportunity for Christians to take 12 days to focus on the rest of the story after the birth of Christ - the angels sharing the good news, the shepherds arriving and then running to tell the world, and then the wisemen following the star to Jesus. It's the story of the world finding out. Hearing the good news. Realizing that Hope had come. That things would be different. That God had, just like he promised, decided to come down in flesh and be with us, be one of us. 

My family is going to try something new this year by celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas. Our house will be the one with the lights on and the trees up until we reach "Epiphany", the 12th Day.  With the hustle and frantic busy-ness of Christmas coming to an end, I'm looking forward to having a chance to breathe and focus on God being with us, and then finding ways between now and January 6 to show how that has made a difference.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teaching my family the Facts of Life

ChellBell and I took some time last week to volunteer at a local retirement center as part of our service for National Charity League.  They asked us to spend time in Memory Care and ironically asked us to play trivia games with the residents.  The trivia was not going very well until we moved to the section of the game where the residents had to complete phrases.

"A stitch in time saves..."  NINE!  They all knew how to finish that phrase -- even the residents who had been completely silent up to that point shouted out the answer.
"Cleanliness is next to..." GODLINESS!
"Absence makes the heart grow..." FONDER!
"Glass half empty or glass half..." FULL!

I have always been a bit stumped by that last one -- I guess I'm a "glass half full" girl (especially if there is champagne in that glass) and don't understand why anyone would focus on part of the glass being empty, when clearly there is something in there.

Lucky me married a man who has the tendency to be glass-half-empty, which for several years brought an interesting balance to our home.  Then we had our first child, and while she got my hair and skin coloring, she got my husband's outlook on the world.  That means that I am now essentially a hopeless optimist living with 2 very pessimistic people.  It's like 1 + -2, and I am outnumbered.  I am convinced that whatever comes, rain or shine, we will all be fine and happy.  They worry about what could be and fret over what is not.

And it Drives.Me.Crazy.

So the other night, I took advantage of our rare family dinner time to address what I consider to be the Facts of Life and try to talk some pos-i-tiv-i-ty into the way they see their glasses.

Fact of Life Number 1: Life happens regardless of whether you enjoy the journey or not.  Work and school and homework and broccoli are going to be a part of your life.  You can choose to like it or choose to hate it, but it will still be there.  It makes things better for everyone when you decide to like it.

Fact of Life Number 2: Your outlook on life is completely your choice.  You are the only person who can change how you view the world.  You may think that if so-and-so was nicer, or if your boss was a better leader, if there were fewer bills to pay, if Algebra wasn't so hard, or if Texas summers would stop being so hot, you would be a happier person.  But true lasting happiness is not based on other people doing things or things changing around you.  It comes from inside, despite the circumstances around you.

Fact of Life Number 3: Whether you are a positive or negative person, life is hard.  Even being a positive person, I have walked through some hard things.  That's all relative, of course.  There are children in Cambodia being sold, people in the Congo drinking filthy water, and people in downtown Dallas who have nowhere to sleep tonight.  But relative to the life I live, there have been things in my life that have been hard to experience, and they've made me sad.  No one is expected to act like everything is a meadow full of flowers, because the truth is that life has hard parts.  Sometimes they are parts that pass quickly and somewhat painlessly, and sometimes they last a long time.  But just because life is hard doesn't mean that life is bad.

Fact of Life Number 4: There is always something to be grateful for, so don't overlook the opportunity to identify and appreciate those things.  You may have a really awful boss, but aren't you glad you get to go to work every day?  You may not like what I put on your plate for dinner, but aren't you glad you aren't going hungry tonight?  Your feet ache because you've danced all week, but aren't you glad you have gotten to do what you love so much that you're sore from it? Stop and focus on the good things.  You will always be able to find something.  

Fact of Life Number 5: God wants us to be happy.  A lot of people think that if God wants us to be happy, He shouldn't allow anything bad to happen, and question Him when things don't go the way we think they should.  But God wants us to find authentic joy inside us that anchors us and gets us through the hard parts of life as well as the easy parts.  If everything went our way, our happiness and joy would be shallow -- like a tree that has never experienced a storm.  Every morning when we get out of bed, instead of dreading the day ahead, we should think, "I have been given another day - how can I make the most of it?" 

We have been given a lot --  life, breath, family, love, food, shelter, and occasionally a glass half full of champagne. Love these things, focus on these things, and be grateful every day for these things.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Beauty of 156 (and that is not dog years)

Dearest Cella,

When you were younger, and I was an active blogger with much more time on my hands, I would write a post to you on the 4th of every month to celebrate one more month of the world having Cella in it.  Today makes 156 months of having you in our family and also, if you do the math, makes you a teenager. 

Your name “Cella” comes from two words that mean Beautiful – Bella and Calla – and then we threw that "ch" sound in there to throw people off from the fact that we are actually German and make them think we are a fancy Italian family.  Before you were even born, I told your Dad, “I want to make her life Beautiful!” And with that, we knew you would be called Cella.

I took it as my mission to bring beauty to your life – the dresses you wore, the room where you slept, the pictures we took, and the memories we made.  I’ve wanted so much to surround you with all things Beautiful.   So it surprises me to realize that it's actually YOU who has brought Beautiful to my life over and over again during the past thirteen years.  Your name has ended up portraying exactly who you are and how you have impacted our lives so much more than any world I could create for you. 

There is such beauty when you dance and when you sing.  There is beauty in your passion.  There is beauty in your vulnerability and also in your secret strength that continues to surprise me. There is beauty in your determination to be different and silly and march to beat of your own, unique drum.  There is beauty in the way you give love and receive love.

Okay, so there is also a lot of drama, and I find very little beauty in that J, but I stirred up my share of drama during middle school, and thankfully there is an expiration date on drama for most people. And there can actually be beauty in the maturing process.

You are a Beautiful girl, and you make me incredibly proud to be your Mom.  Thank you for making my world Beautiful and for letting me be engaged and present in your life.

I truly love you to the depths of my ability to love.

xoxo Mom

Sunday, May 18, 2014

18 years later...

On this day in history: 
1804 - Napolean Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France
1860 - The Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for President
1927 - The Ritz Hotel opened in Boston
1986 - "Singin' in the Rain" closed at Gershwin Theater NYC after 367 performances
1996 - Chris and I stood before our friends and family and were proclaimed husband and wife.

We both had to do a double-take when we realized that today marks18 years of us being married.  That's a really, really long time.  We've been together longer than it took us to graduate high school.  Longer than we waited to drive. Longer than Judge Judy has been on TV.

I love those couples where it just "works" - those #stillmadlyinlove #moreinloveafteralltheseyears couples, where marriage is effortless and the time flies because they are having so much fun. I am in awe of those couples.  I think we use to be one of those couples, but somewhere along the way marriage got hard.  There have been moments in the past 18 years where we did not like each other and moments where we didn't like ourselves.  There have been disagreements.  There have been nights where we went to bed mad and really just needed a good night of sleep before we could speak to each other.  There have been fights about money and mornings where we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. There have been misunderstandings and there have been mistakes.

It has not been 18 fabulous years of constant bliss or 18 years where I've loved every moment. It's been 18 years of learning to communicate and work together as a unit, raising kids who aren't always easy to raise, and committing to love another person who isn't always easy to love. 

So I don't celebrate our anniversary today because of the fairytale it has been.  I celebrate today because even though it hasn't been easy, we're still together, still committed, and still determined to love each other and figure out what that looks like in this ever-changing world and in our ever-changing lives.  I celebrate because we're still here, when it would have been easier at times to walk away.  I celebrate because it's actually been the storms and the strong winds that have made us grab a hold of this life together and grow our roots stronger.  It has been the hard moments that have made us consciously look at each other and say, "I still choose to love you, and I'm not going anywhere." 

Happy Anniversary, Chris.  18 on the 18th.  Thanks for navigating this life with me -- sometimes knowing where we are going and sometimes just being lost with me.  I'm glad you're here by my side -- I wouldn't want it any other way.