Bathroom Wisdom

It’s crazy how places will trigger memories. For me, it’s the rim of the bathtub in the girls’ bathroom. For some reason that’s where the substantive stuff of my life seems to happen. It’s where Jane and I sit in the steam when she’s sick. It’s where Reese and I sat and sang and rocked in between bouts of throwing up one night. And it’s where I sat – frozen, for three hours this very night a few years ago when the text came. At the time I thought it was because it was the closest place to sit down, but now I wonder if that narrow ledge was where I sat because it was the place where my important things happen — my safe haven of sorts. 

January 17th is indelibly etched in my mind as the day I realized that I don’t actually live in the bubble that I thought I had carefully constructed for myself over the years since my mother’s death. Find the stable guy, have the stable kids, live in the stable neighborhood, go to the stable church, make the stable friendships — live the stable life. Except that if you can get a text at 11pm telling you that your sister friend’s husband was involved in a horrible wreck and did not survive, there is not one single thing stable about that life at all. There is just the realization that there are no walls capable of keeping the bad out — that it finds a way in no matter how safe you think you are. Not because it’s scary, but because it’s necessary — without the bad, there can be no good. And while it was a terrifying realization, it shook me out of the lies I was telling myself – that if I did the right things that life would be smooth. Clear skies. Smooth sailing. 

What a silly girl I was. 

What happened on the 17th changed my sister’s life in ways I cannot begin to imagine. It also changed me. I like to think for the better. Beauty from ashes, isn’t that the saying? I learned how to be a better friend to her. I learned that you can take nothing for granted, ever. I learned how deeply interconnected women can be as friends and that when one hurts, the herd comes running to surround her. I learned that communities will rally in ways that you could never predict. I learned that my sister is strong. And weak. And vulnerable. And beautiful. I learned to be inspired by her resilience and by her raw emotion and gut-wrenching honesty. I was reminded that life is precious. I was reminded that we can do hard things. And I learned that the bubble is a lie. 

I think as Christians we can insulate ourselves like that sometimes. We can forget that even though you do all the things — God’s plan was never about your bubble. It was never about your insulation. It was about your growth. Your understanding. Your hurt and fear and pain and grief and your willingness to rage and then be still. To find the good after the storm. To find the strength that comes from letting go. 

Tonight, as I put away towels and walk by that ledge I am reminded of that night. That pain. That disbelief. That grief. Of my sister and the burdens she carries every day. Of the deep gratitude I feel for being allowed a friendship with her. Of that growth in understanding. And I am grateful for the lessons, and for the unassailable fact that NOTHING IS WASTED. Ever. 

Beauty from ashes — on the edge of a bathtub.

Elementary, My Dear Watson

Ok. Let’s talk about these holiday parties. And I should preface this by telling you that I am well aware of my “old mom” status and am, in actuality, quite proud of it.

I hate them.

No. That’s not right. Hate is a very strong word. I don’t hate them. I dislike them. Strongly. And here’s what: I think deep down, WE ALL DO. Let that steep a minute. I mean seriously — does anyone derive extreme amounts of joy from watching a first grader smear green icing all over an ice cream cone? I don’t. Not anywhere remotely close to making my bucket list. Don’t even get me started on the 5th grader who made me promise I would look cute and make an appearance – and who then promptly ignored me the whole time. I cannot believe I put on a bra for that mess.

Now don’t get me wrong, parties have a place. I think. But the fervor with which we prepare is a bus that I have no desire to jump on anymore. None. Even if they were passing out free jello shots.

But God bless the mothers on the bus. I was one once. So were you. We had young kids. We did the Pinterest. We made the crafts. We sang the songs and did all the things and it mattered to us to make sure our kids had the most magical and wonderful time ever. We had energy and time to spare. We thought everyone did life the same way. And then we learned.

I met a mom who wanted no part of me when we first moved to the neighborhood. None whatsoever, although I would put us firmly in the relatively friendly category now. She had three kids, two of them much older than Reese and you could tell that she had done her time in the class party trenches, earned her stripes, and was well and completely OVER IT. At the time I thought she was insane and grumpy. Now, eight years later I realize that she was less grumpy and more busy. I also realize that I am now her, which means I probably owe all the young cute moms an apology. It’s not them. It’s me. I have been there, done that, frosted the ice cream cone and have graduated. Elvis has left the building. I am more than happy for them to take over. But while they do, I feel compelled to sprinkle a little wisdom of experience into the mix. Let me know if you feel me fellow OGs…

• Clean crafts. No glue. No paint. No glitter. Ever. Ever ever ever ever ever. And bring your own garbage bag. We all known the tiny can can’t handle twenty four plates and assorted craft detritus. Nothing says Merry Christmas to the janitorial staff like a trashed classroom.

• Let them make an ornament. It’s all spelling tests and math facts now. Throw me a bone. Shaped like a snowman. These little years pass so fast, I need the mementos – but I don’t have the energy to make them myself.

• No more organic juice boxes. I mean FOR THE LOVE. It’s a logistical nightmare because they can’t open them on their own. You’re organic and better at parenting than I am. I get it. I’m not advocating giving them a Jack and Coke, but would anyone expire with a Capri Sun? I think not.

• Cookies. Give them a dang cookie. Come on!!! Nobody wants grapes made to look like a Grinch. You ever see a 6 year old make polite conversation over a plate of grapes? It’s painful. Break open the cookies and everyone’s smiling. Including me.

• Let them move. Dance games. Charades. Pictionary. Hula hoops. Something. Anything. If I had to brush my hair for this I need to be able to laugh at something. Preferably my child.

I cannot go into the line around the building that looked like it was for a Beyoncé concert but was in actuality just the line of parents waiting to get through the check-in process. I’ll save that trauma for another post. I’ll just say that I think it goes without saying that one must approach party day with a hugely intact sense of humor. And a heaping bucketful of patience. And a crew of equally old parents who can commiserate with you while your children ignore you.

THIS is the stuff the last day of school is about — parties and the Prozac required to get through them. And it’s all good. It’s all part of the process, and is all to be treasured because it all goes by too fast. So no matter where you fall on the scale of beaming Pinterest hero to grumpy old yoga pants mom today, I am sincerely wishing you the happiest of winter breaks. We have all earned it. No alarm clocks. No schedules. No homework. No spelling tests. Just lots of naps. Lots of laughs. And lots of love.

Sex Ed for Parents

** Gentlemen: this post is not for you. It is inappropriate in so many ways. Consider yourself warned. 

Here are some words for you from my Wonderfully Made parent meeting tonight…. “Don’t give away your power by being silent.” Good ones, right? Here are a few more…. dental dam, transgender, and oral sex — all of which were found in the workbook glossary. Jesus be a fence and a wall and a nuclear bunker. I am not ready for this. It’s on its way, but I am not ready. 

Our church is offering a class for all 5th and 6th grade students on sexuality and what it means with respect to our relationship with God. It’s going to be a great class. Think anatomy and physiology and humor and inclusion and answers and puberty and understanding and a safe environment to ask ALL the questions. It’s phenomenal and I’m so glad that it’s available to these kids so they know what’s happening to them and how to handle it as they embark on their adolescent years. Rah rah sis boom bah and a bucket of birth control. BUT I AM STILL NOT READY FOR MY CHILD TO BE OLD ENOUGH to need to be equipped with this information. She needs it – do you have any idea the flow of bad information that is sure to start coming her way as she heads into middle school? I think not. Honestly if I could convert to Catholicism and send her to a nunnery right now I would, and don’t think I wasn’t Google-ing it in the meeting, I was. Turns out it’s a pretty complicated process that I cannot complete by the end of the week. More’s the pity. 

But, after I stopped grimacing and twitching as I skimmed the book I settled into the idea that this is the world we live in now and information and misinformation are free and everywhere. She needs to know. But the bigger question plaguing me tonight was this — where was all this enlightened teaching when I was growing up? I mean. I feel like we got the short end of the stick in this arena Ladies. All the puns intended. Don’t you? 

I didn’t get this information and I’ll bet a dental dam you didn’t either. The extent of my sex ed was getting pulled into the auditorium with the other girls at the end of 4th grade by the gym teacher, being made to watch a movie called “The Miracle of Life” or some such crap which traumatized me for life regarding childbirth, and walking out an hour later dazed, emotionally scarred, and holding a box of Always maxi pads with wings. I can only imagine what they told the boys. Miracle of life my ass. 

The extent of my discussions with my parents hinged on “don’t do it” and so I launched myself on the unsuspecting college populace knowing less that nothing about sex and my body. And I mean less than nothing. And to be honest, I was just fine with that. Boys were loud and hairy and smelled vaguely of Axe and beer, which to my 18 year old self was not an overly enticing combination, and I had classes to take anyway so I didn’t have time for that mess. I’ve got two lovely daughters and a moderately happy husband now so clearly I figured it out, but I wonder how things would have turned out differently had this been a topic that was openly addressed in the early 90’s. I’m not sure what I would have done with said knowledge, but I think it would have been nice to know? Maybe? Just the basics every girl should know — like two people with braces should not make out. Also sex by the dim glow of a black light poster — not what God intended for you. Oh, and if you don’t know the full name his mother calls him when he’s in trouble, it’s a no go. Also, backseats: not a good idea. And if dinner involves a drive-thru restaurant, also not happening. Likewise the idea that potentially creating a life that is half this person who thinks beef jerky is a legitimate food group is a poor one. Just the basics, like I said. 

I feel like a lot of unnecessary pitfalls could be avoided if lists like this were the next step in the Wonderfully Made curriculum. Maybe I’ll make a suggestion at the next parent meeting, but this time we had the onerous task of writing a note to our kid for them to read at the start of the course so they know that we know what they’re about to get and we are on board. Serenity now, Lord. 

I watched the mothers around me write flowing prose about how proud they are of their kid and how much they love them and all the right, wonderfully incisive thoughts on this topic. Naturally, I had nothing of worth in the moment, so here’s a semblance of what mine got… 

“Hey kid. It’s just biology. Don’t make it weird. 
Love, Mom.”

That’s less traumatizing than a free box of maxi pads, right?

Old Wounds

“Good news Lizzie. The scans were clear.”

I don’t think I have ever heard sweeter words than these from my dad earlier this week. Because honestly, I do not know what I would have done if faced with the alternative. 

My dad was philosophical about it. He’s an engineer. Information is power. If there’s a knock in the engine you take it apart, find the source of the knock, and then find a workable solution. I was not. The only thing I could think was “not again. I can’t do this again” and mentally I was transported back 17 years ago to those weeks we spent wearing grooves in the linoleum of the medical center together, matching each other stride for stride as we paced the floor. And it made me think, especially as I’ve watched the news coverage of 41 all week – do we ever really get over the loss of a parent? Does time truly heal all wounds, or are some losses too big to ever fully recover from?

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her — remember something that makes me smile, see something in my girls and wonder if the same thing in me drove her just as insane. Look at my friends and their adult relationships with their mothers and feel happy and jealous and heartbroken all at the same time. It’s been seventeen years, and I think, for the most part, I’m over it – whatever that truly encompasses. I’m not numb. I don’t cry. I’m happy way more than I’m sad. But to be in that moment last week where my dad’s mortality was called into question? Forget it. The wound is reopened, fresh as the day I tore out of the ICU like my hair was on fire and ran, gulping mouthfuls of crisp February air because I knew – I KNEW in the way only a daughter could know – that this was not going to turn out the way we wanted it to. 

Maybe it doesn’t heal as neatly as we like to think it does – the gaping wound caused by losing a parent or a sibling or a child or a precious loved one too soon. Maybe we just think it does, when in reality it’s a jagged scar with irregular margins, where with just the right amount of pressure the stitches pop and it reopens, as red and angry as the day it happened. Maybe it’s a precarious balance lived one day at a time that forces all other relationships into stark relief. Maybe it’s meant to be that way – a parting gift to remind us to treasure what is left behind. A scar with a story. A weakness that can become a strength. Maybe…. I don’t know. But the one thing I do know is that I am immeasurably grateful that it’s not the story this time. 

“The scans were clear Lizzie. They found a brain, and by all accounts it’s still working.” 

They found a brain, he found his wicked sense of humor, and I found my breath again. 
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**Note: My Dad is fine. Just fine. And 71. And wickedly funny, and still healthy as a horse, if perhaps a little bit slower off the starting blocks. So don’t worry, and please don’t email or call him all worried. That would make me the world’s least popular daughter and Christmas is coming up – I want my obligatory Clarke socks. This week just made me think, and we all know that I do my best thinking over the keyboard.

*This post originally appeared on December 6, 2018