Concussed… and Changed

Two-and-a-half weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and got a concussion. There’s no sugarcoating it: getting a concussion sucks. I hate pretty much everything about it.

Except I think having the concussion has changed my entire approach to life, parenting, and how I treat myself. And I think this approach is better than my old one.

But everything else I hate.

One of my favorite refrains is, “I got this.” It’s a source of encouragement when I’m overwhelmed; a battle cry when I’m underestimated. A 12-hour work day on five hours sleep? I got this. Boot camp, despite a knee injury? I got this. Installing a dishwasher by myself? I GOT THIS.

Most of the time, perseverance is a really good thing. But sometimes, this insistent independence can be a problem. See, I’m super awful at asking for – or accepting – help. I usually try to go it alone because I don’t want to bug anyone. I got this.

Likewise, I am terrible at giving myself the chance to rest. Days after my c-section with Annie, I defied my OB-GYN’s orders, lifted up two year-old Ella, and tore my stitches. Years ago, after pulling a hamstring, I eschewed rest and began to run again almost immediately… which, brilliantly, resulted in my inability to run for a full 12 months.

Resting is anathema to my ADHD self. Even when I follow the experts’ advice and “rest,” it’s a modified version – like when you tell kids not to draw on the walls and they draw on the door instead and are all, “WHAT? I’M NOT DRAWING ON THE WALL!”

Then, I fell down the damned stairs. And everything changed.
17904003_10155050456470295_2101696276078330487_n
Langston was very concerned about me…

Not that instant, though. Even as I huddled on the floor, bruised and bleeding, I brushed off Nick’s concerns. “I’m fine! Nothing’s broken!” I showered and got the kids off to school as though everything were normal. And then my head really began to hurt.

After posting a self-deprecating story on Facebook , several friends said they were available to offer assistance, so you’d think I’d have taken them up on the offer.
Nah. I got this.
Totally drove myself to urgent care because I didn’t want to be a bother.

Lemme tell you what would have been an even bigger bother: asking a friend to post bail if I’d hit a tree  because my concussed brain couldn’t think straight. SUPER AWFUL AT ASKING FOR HELP.

Honestly, I figured I’d be back to mostly-normal pretty quick – modified, Emily-style “rest.” I told Nick, “People get concussions all the time. It’s no big deal.” “No,” he countered, “People get concussions all the time and they think it’s no big deal, which is why they’re not taken seriously.”

It became apparent really fast that a concussion can, indeed, be a big deal, and that I couldn’t “rest” my way out.

No matter what I did (or didn’t do), exhaustion would overtake me. I hated that.
I hated being tired. I hated napping. I hated that this one little fall, this seemingly innocuous event, had turned me into a version of myself that I didn’t recognize and didn’t want to be.
17951460_10155051853025295_8768312465337691396_n
Flying + Concussion = VERY SPECIAL

I couldn’t drive. For a week. Not even home from urgent care (Nick got me).
I hated it.

I hated not being responsible for my own self. I hated Nick leaving work to take me places. I hated feeling like I was burdening him.

Nick never once complained. NOT ONCE. Not even when he drove – after a full work day – to the wrong place to pick up the printout of my CT because I neglected to tell him it was at urgent care and he drove to the radiology office instead. This is a man who lays on his horn at least twice daily, and not once did he so much as raise an eyebrow at being my taxi. Which was more than a little humbling.

People like to help. I know this, because I like to help. One of my biggest parenting priorities is showing the girls how amazing it feels to help others.
But receiving help was a whole different ballgame.

The “cure” for a concussion? Lie down, I’d been told. Minimal screen use. Don’t read. Dim light. Limited exercise. Most important: rest. Let your brain rest. It’s been banged up. It needs to heal. REST YOUR BRAIN.

Well, let me be the first to tell you that resting your brain is REALLY FREAKIN’ BORING. “Boredom” is not something I typically experience. I am Energizer Mom, Super-Emily. Even in my so-called down time, I’m multitasking – folding the laundry while listening to the girls read; sorting recipes while watching a movie; painting nails while drinking wine (#fail).

Heck, at least when I’m sick, I get to dive into a good book or watch a Star Wars marathon. I hated not even being able to read a magazine or scroll through Instagram. I hated being unproductive. I hated feeling like I was wasting time.

Still, just this once, I listened. I took it easy. I was tremendously fortunate that last week was spring break because it allowed me the opportunity to rest and withdraw without missing out on work or the girls’ activities.
IMG_1821
Lying on a beach chair is good for a concussion

We headed down to Kiawah and visited my dad and stepmom. I think I now understand what nursing home patients feel like, with their caretakers all up in their business, not allowed to do even the simplest of tasks. My dad would not let me be. “How do you feel? No, you may not ride a bike today. How’re you doing? How’s your head? Lie down. No, you’re not doing that. Yes, you are doing this. How do you feel? Let me help.” 

I hated it.
I hated feeling trapped. I hated being hovered over.
I also hated that I really needed it to happen. 

I’m still annoyed with the whole nursing home treatment, but I know he was right. I’m lucky my dad was there.

Before we left, he admonished me to continue to take it easy and not immediately return to “Supermom Emily-who-does-everything.” At that, Annie piped up, “She really does do everything. She helps with our homework, she listens to stories, she fixes things around the house, she teaches, she exercises, she cooks dinner…” She looked at me, eyes narrowing, and finished with, “You know mom, you really do do everything.” (Well, duh.)

That’s the way that it is for so many of us moms/primary caregivers, isn’t it? We do everything. We got this. It’s an image and a role that I’ve not only assumed, but cultivated – even reveled in. Moreover, I like it. I like showing Ella and Annie that we as women are capable of doing whatever we set our minds to, from designing websites to lifting weights, repairing washing machines to running corporations. I’ve never wanted my girls to think that being female is a detriment, and I’ve done everything I can to lead by example.

Except… in doing everything, in always soldiering ahead, in perpetual “I got this” mode, I’ve forgotten to show them that part of being a badass, confident, capable and healthy woman is treating your body with respect when it needs to heal – and that accepting help from others is not weak, but strong.

At first, I was embarrassed for the girls to see me couch-bound. Pre-concussion, this would have been unthinkable. I was sad and worried they’d see my incapacity and view it – view me – negatively. I’m the Energizer Mom, damnit; I keep going. Instead, they were confused… but then kind of awed. “Whoa. You’re napping. You must really be tired… And you didn’t try to stay up late doing laundry.

Mom. That’s pretty awesome.”

IMG_2145
Also awesome: the sweet shades Annie helped create to help me use the computer.

Rather than see my doing less and giving myself a break as a bad thing, they’ve become my biggest cheerleaders – and leaders, period. Three days ago, I became exhausted attending Annie’s soccer team dinner. Ella told me to sit down. “But I’ve never met these parents! I should be polite!” She physically took my arm. “Mom. You need to sit. No one will care – and if they do? That’s their problem.”

She was right, of course. So I sat. I accepted her advice, her assistance. This is uncharted territory for me – requesting, and taking, help. But since the concussion, I’ve had no choice. I’ve needed help. I don’t got this. It’s difficult and humbling. I mean, I know it’s true that being willing to admit vulnerability and ask for help is not weak; it’s brave.

I know that.
I suck at doing it.
But I’m learning.

I’m proud of the strong, independent, kickass example I’ve been setting for Annie and Ella. But there are different kinds of strong, and sometimes “independence” goes too far. By neglecting to take breaks when my body needed them, by pushing myself too hard, by trying to go things alone and always trying to “got it,” I’ve done us all a disservice.

How can I expect my daughters to respect their bodies and themselves if I don’t do it, myself?

For the past 18 days, I’ve been trying.
It’s a slow process. I’m not myself yet. I still hate it.

But this *%&$ concussion has caused me to change my approach to nearly everything… which is one of the best things that ever happened to me – and to my girls.

(Plus also I’ve discovered podcasts. HOW DID I LIVE BEFORE PODCASTS??)
img_0743.jpg

Making Allowances

Long before October rolled around, Ella knew what she wanted to be for Halloween: Eliza Hamilton (from, um, Hamilton the musical). After scouring the internet for the perfect dress, she fell for a beautiful replica in an Etsy shop.

It was expertly made, exactly like the one worn in the musical – and, therefore, cost more than double what we would normally spend on Halloween costumes. Seeing how an 18th century gown isn’t exactly something one wears to school or while running errands, we told Ella that spending so much on a costume to be worn once was simply out of the question.

Enter: her allowance.
img_8106   

Ella inquired how much we’d be willing to spend on a costume. Then she inquired as to whether, if she chipped in more from her allowance, she could get the dress. We agreed. As soon we placed the order, Ella forked over the cash and waited impatiently eagerly for the package’s arrival. When it finally came, she was in heaven – and more than a little pleased with herself for deciding it was worth the money.

This, really, was the point of her allowance: to give her the opportunity to learn how money works, and more specifically, how it works for her. What does she want to procure? Does she want it enough to spend her own money on it? What is a fair price? Is she willing to wait for a bargain or does she want something immediately, so she’ll willingly pay more? When is something worth saving for? Does it feel better to blow through money to buy things that make her happy or to let her stash accumulate?

Every family handles money differently. Some folks give kids an allowance on a case by case basis when it’s earned for chores (or something similar). Others give a set allowance that is contingent on children doing certain tasks. Others base it on grades.

When the girls were little, Nick and I decided we wanted their allowance to mean something else. We wanted Annie and Ella to learn the value of a dollar, to learn how to spend and save money, and to have an understanding of how economics work. We both know kids who, upon graduating college, hadn’t ever had a chance to figure out how to save or spend money, and the results weren’t pretty; we didn’t want that for our girls.

An allowance was also a way of giving the girls a little autonomy. I remember how frustrating it felt being completely dependent on my parents for absolutely every purchase, from a pack of gum to the latest fashion trend (Benetton shirt, anyone?). Nick and I wanted to give the girls the ability to purchase things they wanted, when they wanted to, without relying on us.

I hadn’t expected that ability to garner so much ownership and pride.

Sometimes, of course, we say “no” even if they spend their own money; there are just things we don’t allow. But more often than not, if the girls want it and can afford it, it’s theirs, whether it’s a tin of Pokemon cards or sugar-laden gum or an Eliza Hamilton dress.

This is not, in any way, to say that Annie and Ella are not expected to do chores; they are. But Nick and I decided ages ago that we didn’t want to tie together chores and money. For one thing, we didn’t want to make it an option to just skip chores if the girls decided they didn’t feel like earning their allowance that week.

Even more importantly, we wanted to instill in them the idea that being part of a family means helping one another out, pitching in, and making things work together. That means everyone is expected to do their age-appropriate share; it’s simply what we do as a family, period, and no one gets paid for it.

If you’ve been reading here for any length of time, you know I love me a good chart or whiteboard, and we’ve used a lot of different chore-type charts over the years. This seems to be the earliest…

chore-chart-extrasThese are circa 2009, when they were 2.5 and 4.5 years old; we start ’em early ’round here!

A couple years later, a chart and red stamp were used. Teeth brushed? Stamp. Bedcovers pulled up? Stamp. Trashcan carried to the hall the eve of trash day? Stamp. Within a couple of months, the girls were incorporating the tasks into their daily routine and no official chart was needed, so it and the stamp were retired.

(To be fair, Ella also got ahold of the stamp one day during rest time and stamped her wall and stuffed animals and bedsheets and clothes and I was so upset about the sea of red I encountered when I went into her room that I had made her shower fully clothed to prove the point that everything was so ink-stained, the only solution was to soak it. Not over-the-top at all. Good parenting times.)

Sometimes, the charts were very specific, with points to be awarded for checking items off the list and “prizes” to be redeemed after accumulating enough points.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-2-10-06-pmI believe these are circa 2013.

screen-shot-2016-11-03-at-2-10-28-pm

More recently, we’ve employed a system  where they earn points for being kind, helpful, etc. (putting away groceries without being asked, feeding the dogs without complaint, offering a favorite chocolate to a sister…) and can then “spend” those points on things that hold meaning for them. It’s far from perfect, but it does a good job of encouraging them to not act like schmucks.
img_8107

As for their “regular” chores, like doing their laundry, clearing their dishes, making their lunches, and the like? They still have to do those – but there’s no tangible reward, unless Not Making Mom Irritable counts. It’s just part of being a family. There are no salary negotiations on these matters nor can anyone decide to skip the labor and forego a paycheck.

Their allowance is still doled out every week, regardless of how cheerfully they followed through on tidying the bathroom or how many points they earned. Because the point of the allowance is to teach fiscal responsibility and give them some autonomy, not to offer them an incentive to pitch in.

I’ve heard it said before that the reason allowances and chores are tied together is to give kids a realistic sense of how life functions. People get paid to do their jobs; if they work, they earn money and if they don’t work, there’s no money. I absolutely appreciate that for adults; money doesn’t just fall from the sky. Neither does it for my kids.

But see, that’s the beauty of the auto-allowance: it takes me, the Mommy ATM, out of the equation. If Annie and Ella desperately want Target dollar section Halloween socks, the money for that will not rain down upon them from mama’s purse so they can wear pumpkins on their toes. Even “just a dollar” adds up, both monetarily and otherwise. No; they’ve received their allowance. If they choose to spend it on jack-o-lantern fuzzier, so be it, but I’m not involved.

We do think it’s important to (try to) instill in them a healthy work ethic, to make them aware of the connection between doing a job and getting paid for it. Hence, the girls frequently have the opportunity to earn additional money to pad their allowance – by helping out with things around the house that are usually outside of their responsibility. Mowing the lawn, weeding, mopping, etc. are all “extras” that are rewarded monetarily. When they’ve got their hearts set on particular items they can’t afford, the Jobs For Hire are completed daily. Other times, the jobs go undone for weeks and the money just lingers, but that’s okay because these were just bonuses; the mandatory family chores have already been completed (for free).
img_8105

I have no illusion that this is a foolproof system, but it does seem to be accomplishing what we’d hoped – which is to say, Annie and Ella have a pretty decent understanding of how money works, what’s important to them monetarily, and how/when to save vs. how/when to spend. Considering I barely learned these until I was a young adult, I think we’re off to a reasonable start.

I think the chore thing is doing what we hoped, too: creating a sense of ownership and pride in our family, and helping foster the idea that we’re in this together. Because the girls have been learning basic household tasks for so long, they’re also fairly competent and capable at most of them, so fingers crossed that when they, like, head to college, we won’t have any last-minute Oh My Gosh You’ve Never Done A Load Of Laundry panicking. Or not as much, anyway…

Last night was the school book fair. I happily bought the girls a couple of novels, but when it came to the crap trinkets near the checkout, I drew the line. Receiving that news, Annie calmly opened her purse and handed over the cash – her own cash. She walked out feeling mighty fine that she’d been able to get exactly what she wanted… and I walked out feeling mighty fine that I hadn’t shelled out for a periodic table bookmark.

Win-win.

 

Grace Notes (aka The Great Pajama Debacle of 2015)

When we arrived at school yesterday, the crossing guard cheerfully asked if the girls were comfy – given that it was pajama day. Insert *mass hysteria* because they were not, at all, dressed in their pajamas. THE HORROR.

There was some blaming… on both parts (“Mom!! It was on that sheet that came home! HOW COULD YOU NOT REMEMBER!” “I never read any such thing!” “YES YOU DID! IT WAS ON THE SHEET!” “I believe that it is YOUR job to be in charge of things like pajama day, my dear…”). There were some angry, hissed words… on both parts. There was sulking… on both parts. There was full-on denial of any responsibility… on both parts.

As I came back home, I kept replaying it in my mind, how wrong my offspring had been for not taking responsibility for themselves, how they need to remember their own stuff, damn it! Then, after a bit of pondering, I realized that it was, indeed, a confluence of many errors – not just theirs. One daughter’s teacher did not mention pj day to the class at all (resulting in 3/4 of those classmates not wearing pajamas). One daughter did not remember that her teacher had mentioned it, and thus failed to don appropriate loungewear. And one mama (*cough*) only scanned the informational sheet that had come home rather than reading it thoroughly (although we did send in pennies on Monday and nickels yesterday for the All For Books collection, so this mama got something out of the handout…).
Still… no pajamas. My bad.

Once I realized that I’d had a part to play in The Great Pajama Debacle of 2015, I blamed myself. Harshly. I mean, if one of my kiddo’s teachers never even mentioned pj day, and it wasn’t announced over the loudspeaker, the only way she’d even know that such a thing existed was if her parents (or, in this case, me – ’cause Nick is out of town) had fully read the communication that came home and informed her of said pj day. Which I did not, and she got screwed.

So, basically a total parenting fail on my part. Which is ironic because, I mean, how many times have I berated students (and angrily chided fellow parents) for not following the directions or actually reading the emails I so dutifully type out?? HOW IS THIS SO HARD?

I felt awful. Chalk it up to another Bad Mom Moment. I DID IT AGAIN.
snow girls
This photo has nothing to do with anything other than that they’re cute.

But then, for reasons I can’t quite place, I sat back and realized that, yes, I did do it again. I made a mistake and my kiddos suffered the consequences of it. But the thing is, I’m going to keep on making mistakes because (and this sometimes shocks me) I AM HUMAN and that’s what we do. We make mistake after mistake; hopefully, we don’t do it on purpose. Hopefully, we learn from them. Hopefully, we apologize when an apology is warranted and we mean it. Hopefully, we try really freakin’ hard to do better in the future. But mistakes are natural and normal and, even when pajama day is not remembered (cue tiny violins), even when my kids stand out like sore thumbs in jeans instead of flannels, it will be okay.

Upon this realization, for one of the first times ever, I decided to give myself a little bit of a breather. I decided to let go of the guilt, of the should-haves, of the yuckiness gnawing away at me when I looked at the bar I’d set and saw I hadn’t come close to reaching it. I decided to give myself grace – not necessarily in the religious sense (I’m not quite that powerful; see above: forgotten pajama day), but in the I’m Doing The Best I Can And If I Make Mistakes It’s Okay So I’m Not Going To Beat Myself Up For It sense.

I’ve been reading a lot about the concept of grace, especially from Glennon Doyle Melton on her Facebook page and in her book. Glennon is really just the absolute shit – funny, poignant, thought-provoking, absurd, well-spoken – but it’s what she’s written about grace, about forgiving and embracing your whole scattered, imperfect, crazy self, that has really struck a chord with me.

But man, has it been difficult to put into practice.

I’m naturally hard on myself, asolutely my toughest critic. I’m not much for keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t feel outside pressure to look a certain way, parent a certain way, be female in a certain way. I don’t worry so much about appearances (see the previous post about my duct-taped car and stain-covered clothing). Some of this is just who I am, and some of this I attribute to my ADHD – so I choose to let it go. I mean, if there’s a great likelihood that it’ll take me 37 steps just to put away the laundry, it would be expecting a helluva lot of myself to have a perfectly organized house all the time.

That part is nice – the allowing myself to just be… me. To not hold myself to impossible visible standards. But the secret is that I hold myself to impossible invisible standards; the ones I’d never expect of anyone else, the ones that are ridiculous, the ones that no one else knows about but me. And when I don’t meet my own expectations – because they’re, you know, all but unattainable – I come down on myself. Hard.

If I’d tried more. Started earlier. Listened better. Said no. Said yes. Been more organized. Gone to bed earlier. Focused differently. Paid attention. Worked faster. Put in more detail. Worried less about the small stuff. Asked for help. Done it myself. Been open to change.

You name it, I’ve failed at it.

Honestly? All of this failure just plain sucks. It’s exhausting. It’s disappointing. It’s maddening. It’s stupid.

So, I’d like to be done with it. I don’t mean I’d like to stop screwing up (that would be awesome, but it’s not what I mean), but rather that I’d like to be done feeling like a failure because I don’t live up to my own unreachable standards. To allow myself to be human, to be me. To give myself grace.
dance girls
Attempting some Irish dancing after seeing it live on St. Patrick’s Day.
Again, this has nothing to do with anything. Carry on.

I decided to start yesterday. Yep – I didn’t read the memo thoroughly. Yep, I didn’t inform my kiddos that it was pajama day. Yep, they felt left out. And it sucked. But it’s okay. It was a mistake – a small one, at that. It’s okay. I’m okay. In fact, I’m pretty damned awesome.

When the girls came home, there was not one mention of pajama day. They did not come through the doors in tears claiming I’d ruined their lives (over pajama day; I’m sure they’ll be happy to come up with other ways I’m doing them in). Still, I wanted to at least acknowledge what had happened — after all, I’d completely denied that I had any responsibility in the forgetting; I needed to set the record straight. Before I left to teach piano, I leaned in and said, “Hey – I just wanted you to know that I double-checked the note from school. You’re right; pajama day was mentioned. I didn’t read it fully, so I didn’t know. That was my fault. I’m sorry.” Without missing a beat, they looked up and said, “It’s okay, mama. We didn’t remember on our own, either. It’s not your fault.”

Which, I guess, is what it all comes down to, right? This parenting thing? Growing and learning and admitting your errors and celebrating who you are and starting over again with love and a new perspective and probably a glass of wine?

They will find out whether it’s okay to be human from you. Insist to them that it’s more than okay by apologizing and then PUBLICLY and SHAMELESSLY AND BOLDLY forgiving yourself. And then Begin Again. And Again and Again and Again and Yet Again Forever and Ever Amen.

Don’t show those babies what perfection looks like- show them what GRACE looks like.
– Glennon Doyle Melton

I am shamelessly and boldly trying. It sucks, but I’m trying.

(Damn good thing, too, considering that this morning we all remembered that it was Crazy Hat day… but, in our rush to leave the house a little earlier than usual so that I could sub, some less-than-stellar moments were had, including the moment where I might have crouched down low right in my daughter’s face and growled the phrase, “If you ever say that again, you’ll be in for a world of hurt.”

So… yeah. A world of hurt. That’s neat.
I’m having a little trouble with the grace thing on that one, but you’d better believe I’m going to apologize. And begin again. And again. And again.)

Sometimes, less is more

I never wanted a standard 9 to 5 job. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them – Nick has one, many of my friends have them – but I just knew that they wouldn’t be the right fit for me. Thankfully, I fell in love with teaching (which involves hours that waaaay exceed the traditional 40-hour workweek, but whatevever).

Back when I taught in the classroom, one of the things I most liked about my schedule was that it allowed me to spend the time between school and dinner with Ella and Annie; those were special, golden hours. After we moved to Rochester and I became a stay-at-home mom, I – obviously – had a lot more time with them during the day. Some of this was, in fact, Special, Golden time, but a lot of it was Please Let Us All Get Through The Day Alive, Fed, And Mostly Sane time. Life as a SAHM was good – I wouldn’t have traded it for anything – but I definitely appreciated the afternoons that I spent teaching piano and always knew that I wanted to return to work once the girls were in elementary school.

As I’ve already discussed, subbing turned out to be the perfect solution, allowing me just the right balance between work and home. If the girls had their way, however, I would be home every minute that they are. Sure, sometimes they want nothing to do with me, but they’d prefer that I be right there while they have nothing to do with me, so that when they do want something to do with me, it can happen immediately.

Between subbing and piano lessons and, you know, being a human, it’s not exactly possible – nor, um, desirable – for me to be home every waking moment that the girls are in the house. Still, I do prefer the days when I’m able to see them before they go to school; leaving the house before they awaken just doesn’t feel right. I also prefer the days when I’m able to see them after school, before my piano lessons; even just five minutes for a whirlwind How Was Your Day? recap, a brief scan of their take-home folder, and a quick hug as I head out the door can make all the difference.

There have been occasional days when I’ve left for piano before Annie and Ella come in the door, which means I don’t see them from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m., much like how life would be if I worked a 9-5 job. I don’t really like those days, but they’re manageable, especially because we get to have dinner together; somehow, that makes it doable.

Last Thursday, however, was different. Subbing meant I couldn’t be home when they finished school; piano and swim practice meant we couldn’t spend time together before dinner; and the meeting of a really cool new church community I’m joining meant that I couldn’t be home for dinner. If I was lucky, I’d arrive home in time to kiss and hug them before they went to bed… but that was not a guarantee, so there was a decent chance I’d go the entire day without seeing them. (Note: it’s not like I haven’t left the girls before, for days at a time. I’ve also done weekends away with friends and have spent plenty of days and nights apart from the kiddos and I have freakin’ loved it. But somehow, being home, being separated simply by the busyness of life, isn’t the same.)

In theory, this was not even worth my consideration. People do it all the time, right? Steal super-short moments with their kids before school and then not see them again until the following morning? This happens a lot and people are completely fine with it, yes?

I know this; I told myself this repeatedly. But it still felt… wrong. Not wrong as in morally unacceptable but wrong as in Emily unacceptable. One of the biggest reasons I never wanted a 9-5 job was because I never wanted to be away from my girls all day. Okay, sure, there have been plenty of times when I would do practically anything to have some peace and quiet, to get away for a moment, so a day without them while I was running around should have been nothing – but still… it just didn’t sit right.

A closer look at my packed schedule revealed something promising: the girls’ swim practice was to take place during the exact window of time between my piano lessons and my church community gathering. Meaning I didn’t need to be anywhere during that time… meaning, if I attended the practice, I could see the girls. Yes, it meant a fifteen minute drive in the wrong direction, which meant that I’d only be poolside for about 20 minutes. Yes, they’d be, you know, swimming, so it’s not like we could sit and chat. But I figured that, at the very least, I could wave to them. I could be near them. I could hug them when they got out of the pool as I headed out the door. Surely that was better than nothing.

Ella noticed me the moment that I entered the pool deck and could not stop waving at me. Well, that’s not true – she alternated waving at me with flashing me the I Love You hand sign.
IMG_0463
That tan-ish blur over Ella’s swim-capped head? Her hand. Waving.

Normally at practice, this girl is all about barely glancing my way and not really paying me any attention. That night, however, she was just ecstatic to find me on that bench.

Annie, on the other hand, didn’t see me come in and sit down. In fact, she swam for a good ten minutes without so much as looking in my direction. At last, while waiting to get on the block, she turned so she was facing me and when it finally dawned on her that it was her Mama on that bench, she almost levitated off the swim deck.
IMG_0465a
She was far away and it was steamy in there, so this photo is pretty low-quality, but trust me… a jubilant grin and fully outstretched, “THAT’S MY MAMA!” hands are there.

Those twenty minutes that I spent watching them in the pool were, by an enormous margin, the shortest amount of time I’d ever spent “with” them on a regular old day. They were also some of the best I’ve ever experienced. The entire time, I was engaged. I was focused. I was watching. I didn’t look at my phone; I didn’t read a magazine (as I usually do if I attend swim practice, which in and of itself is very rare). All I did was be there with my girls, marveling at the thing they love to do so much, really noticing how their strokes have changed, how much leaner and stronger they are. The time wasn’t long on quantity, but on quality? Unbeatable.

When practice ended, I still had a few minutes before I needed to leave, so we used that time to catch up on their days. I heard about recess, snack, specials – all the most important school stuff, natch – plus what they did with the babysitters, how their homework was coming along, and what they hoped to have for dinner that night. Right before I left, they each gave me an enormous hug which, considering that they’d just hopped out of a pool, soaked my jacket to its core – but I figure that’s a small price to pay.

IMG_0467 IMG_0466
Regaling me with details from their day…

I’ve always known how tremendously fortunate I am to not have to take a job that keeps me away from the girls until dinnertime each day, but I don’t think I quite appreciated it until last Thursday. I also learned something really important: that it truly isn’t the amount of time you spend with your kids that matters; it’s the kind of time. Those blink-and-you’d-miss-it twenty minutes were among the most intense, heart-filling, relaxing minutes I’ve spent with the girls, maybe… ever?

Yesterday was Thursday again, and this time my day was even longer – out the door before the girls went to school, home ten minutes before bed. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, but I wasn’t dreading it, either. I watched them sled before I hopped in the car to go to work. I sat poolside again, was there to see the butterfly (stroke) “click” with Annie for the first time ever, heard about the science day in Ella’s class next week, and took in two more soaking wet hugs. I listened to Annie read at bedtime, cuddled with Ella in my bed, and kissed them both goodnight.

And you know what? It was a damn fine day.

I still prefer spending more time together than less, but there really is something to be said for quality – in relationships, in time, in attention, in love.
And in chocolate. Always go for the good stuff, people.

And it feels so good

Last week, the most tremendous thing happened. It all started when I began reading a fantastic blog, Momastery. Its writer, Glennon, is hilarious, well-written, poignant, intelligent, self-effacing – basically all of the good stuff you want in a writer (or at least all of the good stuff I want in a blog writer). Momastery has gazillions of followers, both on the blog and the Facebook page, and for the past several years, the extended Momastery community (Together Rising) has done this amazing thing called Holiday Hands.

The premise is so simple, you might almost overlook it: people who need help, ask for it; people who have the ability to help, provide help to those who need it. The practice itself is also simple – people in need, whether it be a financial or emotional, submit their requests, which are then relayed (on a specific date that is announced well in advance) on the Together Rising site. Those who are able to provide help then scroll through the requests, decide where/how they can help, and then comment on the request indicating how much they can do (“We can fulfill your entire request!” or “We can provide $20 toward your medical bills!”). Finally, some emails are exchanged to confirm that everything is good, and voila – wishes granted.

(BTW – it is voila [or, if you’re really being technical, voilà, because it’s French], with the O before the I. It isn’t viola – that’s a string instrument. And it definitely isn’t wala or anything similar; that’s just… no. But I digress.)

I was out during the morning that the Holiday Hands requests went “live,” so I didn’t get to the listings until nearly an hour after they’d first opened up to the public, but I figured there would be so many to fulfill, I’d still have plenty of time. Little did I know how incredibly generous the Momastery community is; in just that hour, nearly all of the wishes had already been granted! As I scrolled through the requests and saw the comments saying, “I’ve got this!” or “We will fill this one!”, I actually began to get annoyed. Is there NO ONE I can help?? How has every one of these been taken? I WANT TO DO SOMETHING, DAMN IT!

And then I got a hold of myself and realized that the lack of people in need was a really good thing, so I breathed a little and began to search more calmly until I found a wish that had yet to be completely granted – a mom having a very difficult holiday season was asking for a few gift cards to her 11 year-old daughter’s favorite stores, so she could present her with a gift card “wreath” for Christmas. WE CAN DO THAT! I very eagerly commented and emailed the mom saying, Yes, we’d love to help! and then (im)patiently waited to hear back from her confirming that she’d received my message.

As the afternoon wore on and I hadn’t heard back yet, I began to wonder whether or not I had, in fact, been too late and her wish had already been granted. Having read so many of the heart wrenching requests, I knew that I didn’t want to stop there – I really, really wanted to help one of these women and their families – so I sat back at the computer to take one last look through all of the requests. Perhaps I’d missed something.

When I saw it, immediately, I knew: Harry Potter Anything! That was the heading. I began to read – about a family who has experienced a very difficult year, full of upheaval and loss, and about a boy who found salvation through Harry Potter. His mom said that all she wanted was for her son to receive something – anything – Harry Potter-related for Christmas, and politely asked if anyone had any Harry Potter stuff to pass on. I saw that several other people had already responded – the request was marked as “Taken” – but, after all that Harry has meant to Ella, to our entire family, I knew that I couldn’t let this one go, so I posted a quick comment saying we’d love to help, too.

And thus began an absolutely amazing email exchange between the mom, Heather, and me, where we shared a bit more about what Harry has meant to our families, shared Halloween photos, and shared stories. I’ve never met her or her kids, but I feel a deep connection to Heather; Harry can do that to you.

Eventually, I heard back from the first mom I’d emailed – the request had not yet been fulfilled, so the gift cards will be much-appreciated! That night during dinner, I told the Annie and Ella the whole story – about the Holiday Hands site, about these families, about how I’d signed us up to help. At first, they were speechless; then, they cried; then, they laughed and smiled ear to ear as I read them post after post from people whose wishes had been fulfilled, about how grateful they were, about how this community was changing their lives.

“So, mom? We’re helping make their Christmases better?”

Yep, you got it.

“That’s AWESOME! I LOVE helping! It feels SO GOOD!!”

And, indeed, it does – it feels incredibly, to-the-bone good to help, to spread love, to reach out. We spent another hour poring over the portion of Holiday Hands site (“Love LetHers“) where people have requested support in non-monetary ways — sending cards to family members in the armed forces, writing notes to sick children — and, with each one we read, they would exclaim, “I want to do that!” Eventually, we realized that we wanted to help every single person who had asked for a card or letter, and that, realistically, we couldn’t do that… but the girls are absolutely committed to sending cards to Australia, to England, and to a soldier overseas.

Actually, they’re more than committed… they’re thrilled. Because it feels SO GOOD.

There are no two ways about it: my children are privileged. They live very comfortable lives and, I hope, they will never have a Christmas when they have to go without. While I am so, so grateful for this, I also find that it can be difficult to help them to appreciate what they have, to understand that so many people’s lives are not like theirs. As Nick says, they certainly don’t need to feel guilty about that, but having some perspective, recognizing how fortunate they are, and being genuinely appreciative of it – not taking it for granted – is one of the things I strive for the most as a parent.

This year, Holiday Hands helped me do that. In that moment, when Ella and Annie understood that others were in need but that we would help, it was like an entire world opened up to them. There was such joy in our kitchen that night, the kind of joy that only comes from reaching beyond yourself and out to others. I can’t wait to see the kind of joy that we find when we actually fulfill these wishes.

I know that the families who requested help on Holiday Hands feel grateful – but I can promise you that I feel grateful, too, in so very many ways.

halloween costumes2
This photo was taken after trick-or-treating and relates in absolutely no way to the content of this post, unless you count that Ella dressed as Bellatrix from Harry Potter. Or unless you count how fortunate they were to receive so much candy, but that’s a stretch.
They are two of the things for which I’m the most grateful, though. So we’ll go with that.