Category Archives: thoughts

The Ends of Eras

 

My kids, in some combination of children, have played softball or baseball since the 2009 season.  The oldest, now a junior in high school, started the trend, randomly declaring in fourth grade that she wanted to play softball. The others followed suit and started playing in the years following. We were lucky to find baseball and softball leagues that played in the same field complex. So, our son would play “up the hill” at the baseball fields and the girls would play “down the hill” at the softball fields. For the last few years, we had four kids playing bat and ball sports every spring into summer.  It was glorious chaos!

The schedule we maintained was incredible. It was a solid three months of games or practices almost every night of the week. We’d buy a giant piece of foam-backed posterboard and make a color-coded schedule to keep in the living room. Each child would have a color with all their practices and games written in their color. The family would gather at the fields, some days with all the kids in uniforms because some days they’d all have games. We’d scrounge in our bags and in the car for change with which to buy concessions and fill our pockets with Double Bubble to get us through the day. Sometimes we’d work the concession stand or scoreboard. Nights were filled with bright lights and families in lawn chairs and as the kids got older the nights got later and more competitive, but never more competitive than they were fun.

Now, suddenly, the era has ended. Our son aged out of little league last year and is not interested in playing anymore. Our oldest is too busy with choir and working her first job. Our other two daughters are dancing competitively and can’t manage the schedule and so it is over, almost without warning. I sit here wondering, if I’d have known last year that it would be our last year, would I have done anything differently? I don’t think so.  Because it was a favorite season, I always squeezed the marrow out of the experience, savoring every moment of it. Maybe I would’ve taken a few more pictures of all of them in their uniforms. But no, I’m mostly sad, not because of regret, but because I loved it so much and now it is over. I think if you have to be sad, that’s the best kind of sadness to have.

This is the first of many eras that will be ending in the next few years. When they were little and eras ended it wasn’t so painful because there were new and promising stages of childhood on the horizon. Now though, I think the eras that end hurt a little more because they will shortly start aging out of childhood. (The oldest will graduate high school next year with the rest following like dominoes every other year). Each era that ends now feels like one step closer to the end of this amazing journey of parenting children. So, I’m feeling the end of softball and baseball this year a little more than I have felt the end of other periods we have experienced.

Our youngest will finish her last year of elementary school in June and another giant phase of our life will be over. Time just keeps speeding by and it’s all I can do to try to take it all in before they are all grown. The beginning stages, when they were little and it was difficult, seemed to last forever, but now that things are grooving and life is filled with so many of these beautiful moments and much easier times it seems to be slipping away and I can’t make it stop or slow down. All I can do is live it, chasing them, chasing time, and not waste a moment except to catch my breath.

 

 

 

 

 

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Take time to listen to the tales…

cowboy hatI’m an East Coast girl. I’m always on the go and always somewhat in a hurry. Even when I am not actually in a hurry, I have this looming feeling that I SHOULD be in a hurry. Get the information and go; do the task and move on; Go Go GO!

You can imagine that sitting still and listening is not always a strength of mine. When I am in the mood to get to know someone, I can sit with them for hours, but if I am in GO mode, I often feel like a tightly wound spring that needs to release and move onto the next thing.

This fact became especially apparent to me the other day. I was scheduled to have coffee with an older gentleman about a project we are working on together. When we planned the meeting he told me, “Let’s meet at 4 p.m. I’ll be wearing a cowboy hat, so you can recognize me; either straw or felt, depending on the weather.” I probably should have known at that moment that this meeting might be different from what I was planning. I thought we would meet, get a hot beverage, I’d get some answers to the questions on my list, and get home.

I arrived at the coffee shop before him, got my drink (a chai latte), and prepared my notebook and pen. When he arrived, I realized he was definitely not in GO mode and that, yes, he definitely must have envisioned the afternoon going a bit differently than I. He moseyed in, wandered to our table, and immediately started discussing the options the coffee bar had added to the menu recently. Then he told me a story (the first of many) about his experiences back east when he lived in Massachusetts.  Eventually, I managed to direct the conversation to the project we will be working on together. But nearly every question I asked was answered in a roundabout way with a story or two that were indirectly (or not at all) related to the topic we were discussing.

I found myself getting warm and frustrated. The time was ticking away and there were (what felt like) a million other things I could or needed to be doing rather than spending all this time on his stories. However, as I sat there, watching his mouth move yet hearing little because my own thoughts were swirling around in my head, I realized he just wanted an audience for his stories.  He meant no ill, but only to share a few of the treasures he has collected on his life journey.

Our lives are that; a collection of memories and stories. Good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, our stories make up who we are and as we age, I imagine we have fewer and fewer people with whom to share these pieces of ourselves.

So, sitting there, I took a deep breath and started to try to listen because I realized that someday I will be older and I feel pretty certain I will want the same thing; someone who will just take a few minutes so that I can share a part of me. Don’t get me wrong…it was still difficult. The competing GO mode was still there, but I became aware of the fact that sometimes I need to shut that off. I need to work on giving people a little more of myself by taking time to just sit and listen to their tales.

Sometimes we drive each other nutty, but this guy really loves me…

me and chris 3

Our anniversary is coming up this Saturday. It will be 17 years. That’s a pretty long time. I like to think of myself as young-ish, but 17 years married starts to make that a less convincing argument. I think about the Hubs and where we have been. It hasn’t been a dream, full of wonderment. Marriage is not a fairy tale. Let me say that again…Marriage is NOT a fairy tale.  Our marriage is NOT a fairy tale. Sometimes I don’t know how any marriages last. It’s often a bit of a Gong Show, but we are still here, hanging on,  and experiencing an upswing right now, which is nice.

Here’s the thing:  he still  loves me, after all this time. I am still first. Not even his comic books have surpassed me…yet. I never wonder if he still loves me, I just know it. I am not an easy one to love. I know you must find that difficult to believe, Reader, but it is true 🙂 I am strong-willed and opinionated. I have a really horrid temper and mornings make me grumpy. I am wildly jealous and territorial. And yet, this guy loves me. Not only does he love me, he likes me. He really, really likes me. He thinks I am funny and cute. He sees my wild swings of emotion as side effects of my passion. He finds my jealousy and territoriality (is that a word?) charming. I have never, ever felt like I had to apologize for being me. He accepts me just as I am.

Hubs is steady. Level. Calm. Content. Loyal. He is everything I need in a life partner. And he makes me laugh til I need my inhaler (I have asthma). That is a most excellent quality. He is better than me and he loves me better than I love. I am not sure what I ever did to deserve to be loved in such a way.  My conclusion is that I did nothing. Not everyone finds someone who loves them in  this way, or who doesn’t get bored with them. I got lucky. I picked a Really. Good. Egg.

He tells me often that he hopes our kids turn out like me, but Hubs, I think we make a pretty fine combination. My Mallard Duck, or My Golden Eagle (did I tell you they pick a life partner too?) I am so very glad to be going through this journey with you. I hope you can tolerate me for a really long time, but if not, I’ll just kick your butt.

I am finally free…

I find myself in a curious situation of late. The situation will likely not make sense to those who don’t really know our story. The story, as it were, is long and drawn out so I will offer you the 25 cent version.

Basically, we moved to Minnesota for a job in a friend’s church. Hubs was trained as a pastor but was hired as an administrator at this church. Shortly upon arriving here we realized we were in way over our heads. The church was much more conservative than we had realized and their opinions on gender roles, marriage, etc. were far to the right of where we would ever have placed ourselves, but our friend had gone through a bit of trouble to get us to Minnesota and give Hubs this opportunity, so we felt a little stuck.

Over time and through many unpleasant experiences with the people in the church and the leadership, I realized I couldn’t fake it anymore. I was not, nor will I ever be, a woman who would fit their mold. I am forthright, strong-willed, goal-driven. I don’t submit easily and our marriage is quite egalitarian. These points were all points of contention and it became a constant battle of me trying to make myself look the way they wanted me to look and behave the way women “should” behave. In the end, we decided we needed to leave. I remember a conversation I had with a Deacon at the very end where I gave him a piece of my mind. He said, “You have no right to speak to me so boldly,” and I said, “Well, actually, we are both humans and I most certainly do.” He was speechless.

Upon leaving, we didn’t want to cause any trouble for our friend, so we left quietly. However, I always felt in some way controlled by them. I think, looking back, there was definite psychological damage done, all in the name of Jesus. Ironic. After we left, I blocked everyone I could think of who attended the church from all my social media. Whenever we would see one of them when we were out and about, we’d say, “Alert, alert!,” and go off in another direction. It’s like we were living scared.

However, we recently found out that our friend is no longer the pastor there and suddenly my world has opened up. For whatever reason, I now feel completely free of that place. I think, despite my feelings about the church, I felt some sort of loyalty to our friend. With him no longer working there, I feel free of those people and the power they once had over my life. I have realized, I hate that place. I hate what it does to lives. I hate the teachings and the way it made me view God and people outside of Christianity. And realizing all this, the healing can begin. I don’t need to have hate but pity, as I have realized their theology leaves those who can’t measure up feeling stranded and hopeless. Thank goodness, we are never really stranded or hopeless.

I have unblocked all those people from my social media. I am not afraid of them anymore. I am not afraid to see them out and about. I feel like I can stand up straight knowing I make mistakes and so do they. Their judgment, which will always be there, doesn’t matter to me anymore. It suddenly feels like a distant, unpleasant memory. The only artifact of the whole thing is that we live here in Minnesota, where we moved to for a job in a place that essentially no longer exists as we knew it. I am free, and while I have always been free, now I actually feel it.

Honey, I’m so glad you’re well…AKA: Perseverance

us
Well, he did it. The Hubs. He got out. He worked at a coffee shop for fifteen years and now he is OUT! At first he worked there so that we could have health benefits while I stayed home with the babies. Then it was to help pay for seminary. Then it was because people who work for churches don’t get paid much, generally. Then there was the whole Minnesota chapter…too long and gory a story to get into. Then he became a Manager and the schedule and demands of the job were difficult on him and on the whole family unit. And now that chapter is OVER!!

About two years ago he started dabbling with the idea of getting out. However, looking for a job is like a full-time job and so the search was slow and difficult. Finally, at the end of August he was offered a position in the Customer Care department of a large company here in the Twin Cities!

Hubs is like a new man. He is so happy and content again. Our lives have suddenly normalized. It’s extraordinarily pleasant and almost unbelievable.  He says that each day he feels so giddy he wants to pinch himself, and I have to agree. I am not sure I could be happier for him and I tell him everyday how proud I am of him for sticking with his search and persevering in it.

Our kids are ecstatic, too. They feel like they have gotten their dad back from the Big Coffee Monster 🙂 We have explained to them that we are lucky to have the resources to be able to have choices and to make changes. I want them to know that if they have dreams, they should chase them. But, I also want them to understand the complexity of the issue, which doesn’t often get talked about. In order to go after something, you must have resources; not just money, but family support and community resources; opportunities to network. This is a reality we have learned not to take for granted. Everyone can dream, but dreams become more attainable with resources.

Cheers to you, Hubs! To us! To new chapters and to more dreams! And beer! Cheers to beers 🙂 I heart you.

chris

An Open Letter to the Class of 2014…

 

Nicole graduation

Well, it’s done. We did it. It was a fast and furious four semesters. And now we’re done. Moving on, headed back to regular life. In some ways it feels like one grandiose hiccup in the journey. Just a blip in the entirety of our lives.  But in other ways it was life altering. For me, it was a highlight of my existence.

For a person who sees life as one shell-collecting walk, I found a lot of unique and wonderful treasures during the last two years.  For you non-beach babies, I’ll explain. When you live at the ocean, many hours are spent, not sunbathing or riding the waves, but in walking along the beach looking for treasures, maybe a certain color sea glass or full shells instead of broken ones. The walk is all about collecting as you go. I see my life similarly, only people and their stories are my treasures.

While at school I was constantly amazed by the people I encountered. Everyone was so smart and interesting and full of stories to tell and wisdom to share. I’m pretty sure I met a future President of the United States and might have gotten a picture or two with him or her.   I met people who reminded me of the unquenchable hope we have when we are twenty-something and others who had a more nuanced perspective of the world. There were those that came from places whose names I have never heard and those who will return to places I will likely never see. I met friends who made me laugh every-single-time we were together and others whose stories pierced my soul and reminded me of the unsinkable determination of the human spirit and our ability to overcome hardship.

As you leave this place remember, with a little help from your friends you can do just about anything. Love people and pour yourselves into them, but always take care of yourselves, too. The better you care for you, the more you will have to share with others.  Take the world! Make a difference! Share what you know and what you think. Be humble. And if in ten years you think, “Aw crap, there’s something else I’d rather do,” then do it! Ten years ago I didn’t even know the job I will be starting soon existed! It is never too late to change course, never too late to chase another dream.

To all of you, thank you. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives; For sharing your stories with me. Thank you for letting me be your candy supplier and for the looked-forward-to conversations at my desk while you snacked. Thank you for showing me that it doesn’t really matter if I am a little (emphasis on a little!) older than you and have a few kids in tow, we are all journeying through together. I will be forever grateful that I entered this program at this grad school at the exact time that I did and got to know all of you. You have left an indelible  mark on my soul. Good luck in all you do, now and always.

Dream Big

are you doing your very bestI am at the threshold of the completion of a life dream. I always knew I wanted to go back to graduate school, but I wasn’t sure which field of study I wanted to pursue. So, instead of going right after college I got married, worked for a while, popped out a few kids. Then about five years ago I secured a job at the University of Minnesota  doing research, the gears started going again about this grad school thing, and, well, the rest is history.

Here I am, four semesters from the start, about to graduate, feeling as though I picked exactly the right Master’s program where I got the exact skills I was seeking, and will soon start a job in the field I love where I get to read articles, run statistical analyses, and write papers all day long (a nightmare for some, I know).

I share this not so that I can say, “Hey! Look at me! Look what I did!,” but so that I might convince you to believe that any dream that is worthwhile to you is worth chasing.

I was a pretty unlikely candidate for graduate school. I was in my mid-30’s, a mom of four, and had been out of undergrad for many years.

But a few years ago I realized I had given up too much of myself to live the life I was living. Somewhere along the way I had lost sight of MY goals and MY dreams and much of my identity. Getting married and having children can do that.  That was an unsustainable reality.

So, I began my journey to collect the pieces of myself and my dreams that I had dropped along the way. Going back to school was a big one.

My family had to sacrifice to get me where I am today. We moved into a smaller house, my children saw me a little less,  my hubby did a lot more housework and worked a second job. It’s been a journey for us all, but I am so thankful to have gone through it together.

I hope that in seeing me pursue my dream my children and the others who might be watching see proof that it’s never too late to go after something; you can always change course. Good enough doesn’t have to be good enough. Settle for less in life only when you want to settle. Dream big and with a little help from your family and friends know that many things are possible.