This Time. Every Time.

My girls have been helping with chores around the house and have really taken to their “jobs.”  Taylor, 11, helps with the glass, vacuuming, and dusting while Cate, my six year old has been emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, and putting it away.  She stacks the spoons backwards, and can’t reach all the cupboards, so often we work together – her handing me the cups and bowls and me letting her stack the Tupperware.  With laundry, she very carefully tries to match up the edges of towels and fold the t-shirts just right, her eyes squinting and her tiny fingers taking their awkward time… though they are never quite folded properly. It’s adorable.

While cleaning my kitchen this morning, I opened a drawer to get something and saw several towels all folded haphazardly and randomly stacked in the drawer. Nestled on top of one of the towels, totally out of place, was a mixing whisk.  I can imagine my little Cate setting it there with great care and deliberation after putting the towels away Friday.  I can see her smile as she does it.  Normally, I would smirk, roll my eyes a little, and put it back where it belongs, where she knows it belongs, but today it was different.  This time, my heart caught in my throat… I really missed her.  This weekend is a weekend my daughters are with their dad and so they’ve been gone for the last day and a half.


I’ll never be fully used to weekends away from my daughters.  I always miss them and despite trying to keep busy, the hours just feel a little emptier without them.  This particular week and weekend have been rough, and their being gone stung even more.  And now, in my kitchen looking at this silly whisk, my little girl seemed so far away.

So often I’m worrying about the next thing, what happens after this thing, after this moment and I realize how much I can be missing that’s right in front of me.  Worse than wanting something that has yet to happen is regretting something that has already passed.  That’s a pain that cannot ever be fully overcome.  It lingers.

So, this time, I’m done waiting for what might be coming, what I want to happen, and I’ll just be here.  I’ll be in the now.  The lesson this time for me is about not withholding anymore… words,  embraces, or opportunities.  Don’t leave the words unsaid.  Don’t let the memory of fear of what has happened or what could happen keep you from living your now.  Don’t let yourself stay in a dark place either, don’t settle for something less than you deserve. Change things now. Right now.  This time.  There is no other.

When my girls come home I’ll hug and kiss them, like I always do, but I may stay a little longer in the embrace, grateful for this moment with them.  I will fully feel their arms around my neck, the smell of their shampoo, and the sound of their giggles in my ear.  I’ll close my eyes and let myself completely be theirs.  I’ll keep living for the “this times” that are given to me.  Not because it might be the last time either, but because it’s this time and this time is what we have and it will be over before we know it.  We are all a long string of “this times” that form the timeline of our life, the memories of our storied past, and the foundation for what lies ahead.  So don’t let it slip by. This time is important every time.

[Writer’s Note: This week a wonderful wife and mother from my community was taken far too soon from the people who love her. Her name was Andrea Kruger.  To donate to the Andrea Kruger Memorial fund drop a check made out to “Andrea Kruger Memorial Fund” at any Union Bank and Trust in Omaha/Lincoln, Nebraska. You may also transfer funds to the account by calling 800-297-2837.]

Music of the Soul

Music is a powerful force.  A single note can take us back, instantly, to another place and time.  Songs you’ll never forget, no matter how much time passes, so connected to your history that they aren’t just songs, they are tangible memories, part of your past, and the emotional reaction when you hear them is back to something that you don’t just recall… you relive.

Sometimes these memories of song are happy ones, joyful irreplaceable firsts or milestones.  They put an immediate smile to your lips, involuntary and unavoidable, spreading across your face as the chords fill your consciousness.  You can taste the past, smell it, hear the sounds… A first love, a first kiss, a first dance… a first unforgettable moment forever tied to the lyrics. These songs immediately elevate and everything seems just a little brighter in their wake. 
And then there are the songs that take your breath.  Painfully.  Immediately.  Just a handful of notes and you’re paralyzed. The sudden sound arising a terrible, searing ache well below the surface.  Deep, complete, and consuming, it’s like being haunted by your own past.  But the stinging pain is anything but a phantom… those songs leave in their wake a melancholy, a longing that lingers even after the song has ended, long after we thought it shouldn’t hurt as much as it does.  As much as it always may.

Beautiful and tragic, music makes up the soundtrack to our lives.  Adding to our life story… feeding and starving the soul one note at a time.

Exhale

Taylor and Cate, August 13, 2013

My two girls returned to school yesterday. Taylor boarded the bus at 7:20AM.  That was a first for us both and I know she was nervous, though she tried not to let on. She timidly smiled and gave me a small wave as she stepped up on the stairs and disappeared from my view. My heart caught in my throat.

I thought, “Don’t lose it now.”

Exhale.

Where did the time go? How did she get so tall, so capable, so independent and strong?  My baby was heading for sixth grade, and inside her sister was casually eating cereal and watching Sponge Bob eagerly waiting for her first day of first grade. Whoa. How did this happen?

Taylor, 2002

Then it was Cate’s turn.  She chatted non-stop on the walk to the school about nothing in particular, clutching my hand – though not tightly, more out of habit; she wasn’t nervous. When we found her teacher, she marched right up and gave her a high five. Turning to me as I crouched down, she wrapped her arms around my neck, squeezed tightly, and trapped me in her little grasp. She kissed my cheek. She didn’t hold me tight because she was afraid of letting go, she was holding me tight because that’s what she does when she’s excited. She was ready. She let me go, her twinkling eyes meeting mine and then she turned. I watched her walk confidently to the end of the line with a big smile on her face. And in this noisy, crowded courtyard, I locked eyes with her one more time, my beautiful and courageous Cate, and fought the sting of tears with a smile.

Now I thought, “Don’t lose it here.”

Exhale.

Cate, 2007

When I got back to the safety of my car, I couldn’t keep tears from flowing. And they weren’t exactly sad tears… they were tears of a woman overwhelmed with awareness. Sometimes the “real-ness” of life, the beauty, the pain, the love, the gravity of what we have, what we lose, and what we face catches up and taps us on the shoulder.  And there in front of us are all the things that we are left to carry.  It’s not one window, but all our windows blowing open.  Each part of our lives, our memories, our experiences, and our future is completely present, woven throughout our parts and they can’t be cut out or released. They can’t be unknown… they are ours and they are staring us in the face.

In those moments… it just gets heavy.

It doesn’t mean that we are broken, even when it feels like we are. It’s actually realizing the sum of our parts, the realization that we are whole – more whole than we want to recognize in the day-to-day. It’s finding out in these flashes that “whole” doesn’t mean perfect or happy either. Whole carries pain, regret, and loss. Whole is not what we are seeking, it’s what we already are.

We aren’t categorically any one thing, or any list of things either. As a whole person we begin to realize that we generally exist on sliding scales of opposite realities. We’re both the lover and the fighter, the brave and the terrified, the generous and the selfish, the quitter and the one that never gives up. It’s a matter of where we exist on that scale at any given moment. Where we tend to stay.  But we can be one loss away from being on our knees; or one joy, one smile, one touch away from near perfection.  Here lies the delicate balance that we dance on every day of our lives; this line between the absolute miracle of our life, the incredulity of actually being alive and the finality and inevitability of our death.

It’s that awe of a fully, whole human existence, when the scale is heavy on both sides that is overwhelming. It was that particular brand of overwhelming I was feeling now. I was both frantically resistant to the knowledge that my girls were growing so fast and immensely proud of their progress.  I was both astonished by the passage of time and grateful for all that we’ve been able to share as a family.  I was both debilitated by fear and  filled with an all-consuming hope for what this day and the days ahead would hold.  I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was strongest… it was just everything at once.

I sat in my car and my heart pounded painfully but so fully in my chest, the tears ran freely, and my mind raced through everything… all the emotions coursed through me like lightning.  It was only a minute or two and then, with that same deep sigh escaping my lips, I relaxed.

Exhale.

The frenzy was over.  But for a few desperate moments I was feeling the heavy whole of both sides of my sliding scales… I was so unavoidably, completely, and inescapably aware of myself; my human existence – the gift and burden that represents. These moments are not constant, maybe not even that frequent for most of us, and it isn’t a flaw in our design. It’s a painful gift. A rare opportunity to feel everything that makes up the whole of you. It’s not a feeling that washes over you because it doesn’t come from the outside either, it exists on the inside, always has, and not all bubbling under the surface.  Some of it lives deep, is rarely acknowledged, or is not even known to have been there at all. These moments are a much-needed reminder of all that we are and what we have… even when it is overwhelming.  And it’s worth it… even when it gets heavy.  Especially when it gets heavy.

Paying it Forward Sometimes Burns and Smells a lot Like Hazelnut

After two days of sleeping like crap, I thought I would treat myself to a much needed Friday afternoon coffee from Starbucks. Sometimes it’s the little things that get us through the day, and I was practically giddy when I got in my car for the short drive. When I pulled up to the window I was pleasantly surprised to be informed that the man in the car ahead of mine had paid for my Grande hazelnut roast. A warm feeling crept into my chest thinking of the small act of kindness, a rare sentimental moment for me. Inspired, I offered to pay for the woman’s coffee who was waiting in her car behind me. This was turning out so much better than I thought!

 As I fumbled to hand the barista my credit card and open my monk fruit sweetener I managed to spill the entire contents of the cup onto the floor, the coffee splashing hotly onto my right thigh just above the knee. I froze. The barista who was handing me back my receipt and card was stunned, his mouth hanging open. I think he was struggling to decide if this was an acceptable moment for him to laugh or if I was genuinely injured.

“Um, I’m going to need a few more napkins.” I managed to say.

Wordlessly he handed me an enormous pile and leaned halfway out the window to watch me attempt to clean myself up. I politely requested a new coffee to replace the one on the floor. He just nodded and closed the window. Now the warm feeling I was getting was on my car seat and pooling at my feet. So, I handed the barista my credit card again and the gifted coffee from the pay it forward stranger would remain unconsumed at my feet. As I drove off with my two Starbucks receipts and slightly singed thighs the smell of hazelnut strong in my nostrils I could only think of the old saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”

 Well-played universe. Well-played.

Life Lesson #24: Take Care of Each Other

I have always felt that my role as a parent is to prepare my children for life without me – make them capable to take care of themselves, and each other, whether its for an hour while I’m at the store, on a night out when they can drive, when they are out of my house, or if I’m taken from them unexpectedly before they’re grown.  It’s not an easy thing to teach, it can’t be forced, it just has to evolve over time… lesson by lesson.

Last night, we hurried into CrossFit class at 6:30.  I had just picked up Taylor from dance at 6 and the girls ate sandwiches in the car as we drove.  In rushing out the door, Cate didn’t grab her shoes and shortly after we arrived, Cate stubbed her toe, tearing a piece of her skin off, and bright, red blood rushed out and dripped onto the floor.  As soon as she saw the blood, she panicked and began to cry.  Before she could rush over to me, Taylor took her hand, picked her up, and sat down holding Cate securely in her lap.  Taylor gently smoothed Cate’s hair off her cheeks stained with tears and began to whisper into her ear.  Cate relaxed slightly and leaned into Taylor’s embrace, accepting the comfort, and reached her hands around her sister’s neck.  
Cate’s little back heaved as she continued to cry into her sister’s neck.  Taylor settled her cheek on Cate’s head and softly rubbed her back still talking quietly in her ear. Hand over my heart, I watched them silently connect.  I saw big sister taking care of her sister in a moment when Cate needed comfort.  Soon Cate sat back and the fresh tears were gone. She wiped her cheeks as Taylor took her hand again to come find me. Taylor walked her over to me still holding Cate’s hand and said, “I think a Band-Aid would make Cate feel better, mom.  Do you have one?”  I said nothing but smiled and got her one and watched as Taylor set Cate up on the gym’s office couch and gently put it around her toe that had stopped bleeding.  
The peace between them didn’t last all night.  On the drive home, they got into an argument about who disliked bread crust more and whether we’d watch Sponge Bob or So You Think You Can Dance on the big TV downstairs… but when it mattered, their hearts were in the right place, with each other.

When it Rains, Sometimes the Falling Water is Sparkling

Lake Mac in Ogallala, NE

I arrived home this afternoon from an much-needed camping trip with my girls and one of my best friends and her kids.  It was an incredible few days and we celebrated Cate’s birthday memorably with camping, swimming, sight-seeing, and nature walks.  (A blog to come soon on that front.)  I had a long to-do list after I put in a half day or work that involved laundry, getting a medical release notarized, dropping Taylor off at soccer, getting Cate ready for dance camp, and mowing the lawn.  I also needed to go to the store when I realized I had NO sparkling water in the house.  This is a problem.

I’m addicted to sparkling water.  I drink it all day long.  I had eight cans on our camping trip alone, and I love all the flavors.  (Though the new La Croix peach/pear is incredible.)  While on my trip, my friend Libbie posted a picture of slim cans of Perrier lime on Facebook and I wanted to try them!  After dropping Taylor off at soccer and getting two loads of laundry done, I put Cate in the car and we headed to Target.

An ominous flash of lightning struck overhead as we walked through the doors, and almost immediately my phone rang.  It was Taylor from soccer… they had called off practice and she was getting a ride home.  She was a few miles west and the storm there was heading our way fast.  I had to hurry and she didn’t want to be home by herself.  I debated leaving, but I knew I didn’t need too much, mostly produce and the water, so I told Cate we’d have to hurry and rushed inside.

We got our groceries, paid quickly, and I pushed the cart to the doors and looked outside.

It was POURING. Not the kind of rain that falls gently, but the sideways rain with thick drops that were going to get us, and our groceries, pretty wet before we got to the lonely Ford Focus I could see sitting alone at the back of the lot.

I did an inventory of the cart.  All told, I had four bags, two 8 packs of La Croix sparkling water, and one 12 pack of Perrier slim cans.  I wriggled my wrist a bit.  It’s still sprained, in a splint, and sore after a lot of (probably ill-advised) use this weekend but the La Croix was light and Cate was with me so she could help.

What could possibly go wrong?

I grabbed the two LaCroix Water in my left side side, Cate grabbed three of the bags and my purse, and I grabbed the Perrier and final bag in my right hand. It was really coming down and with the lighting and flashes of thunder so close together, the storm was pretty close.  We were going to have to move quickly.  Luckily we were both wearing effective footwear… flip flops.  Yes, this was going to be totally fine.

“Ready, Cate?”  I asked.

“Mmmm hmmmm,” she smiled up at me.

We took off running out the front door together and immediately felt the large drops splash on our clothes and faces.  Cate began to giggle, “The rain is on my cheeks, mama!” she squealed.  She stayed right beside me though, since I couldn’t hold her hand and we slowed up to watch for cars, crossed the parking lot, and into the lane where we were parked.  No more than ten feet down the aisle, the box of Perrier completely came apart (it wasn’t even that wet) in my hand as we were running and all the cans spilled out and spread all over the lane as we stood in the pouring rain.

I stopped and watched them roll away, some quite far, feeling the back of my shirt completely drenched, and said a bad word.  (Not the eff word, but a bad one none-the-less.)  This had better be good Perrier.

Cate laughed.

“Let’s catch them, mommy!”

Watching it all happen was a couple in a small SUV who were driving up and in one swift motion he moved his car to the middle of the aisle so no one could get by, he and his wife hopped out and she moved Cate to the side to keep her safe and her husband and I and began chasing the cans that were now spread halfway across the parking lot.  We dropped them into the bags… one is still missing and one had a hole and had to be thrown away, but with their help within a few frantic minutes we were in the car, drenched to the core, down two cans of perrier, but on our way home.

Lessons:
1. Really, really kind people still exist and show up just when you need them.
2. Cate doesn’t panic in a crisis, she laughs.
3. Perrier needs to construct a better box… but their slim can lime water is fabulous.

Life Lesson #23: Find (and Lose) Yourself in Learning

“Whilst I viewed those mountains, I felt a secret pleasure in finding myself so near the head of the-heretofore conceived-boundless Missouri. But when I reflected on the difficulties which this snowy barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific Ocean, and the sufferings and hardships of myself and the party in them, it in some measure counterbalanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them. But, as I have always held it little short of criminality to anticipate evils, I will allow it to be a good, comfortable road until I am compelled to believe otherwise.” – William Clark

While the summer heat rages on and my children, who bore quite easily, crave the opportunity to be and stay busy, my goal is to make their activities meaningful and educational.  I am no heathen, it’s fun education, but I don’t want a summer hangover of learning waiting for them on the first day of school.

Last week, they were tasked with building a business plan for selling bracelets. They had to come up with a logo, tagline, and marketing plan. They successfully determined their start-up and projected sales. That project kept them busy most of a day and they really had fun with the tasks.


Another day, we did a lemonade stand for charity, the Ronald McDonald House. We set up a CrowdRise page click HERE, and raised well over $100.  We’re taking the check to the local chapter next week after one more round of sales.

Taylor is taking a healthy cooking class at the local grocery store and Cate is going to a princess dance camp and they’ve had many a pool day with grandma and grandpa, but I have a big project up next for us.

This Friday, we’re learning about Lewis and Clark!  Taylor loves history and Cate loves television, drawing, and field trips so it will be right up their alley!

Lewis and Clark are arguably two of my favorite writers, yes writers.  Adventurers and discoverers, they were both incredibly descriptive in their journals as they described and documented their epic journey across the United States.  Part of that journey was through our home state and so next weekend we’ll be going to Lewis and Clark landing in downtown Omaha to see the Missouri River and walk across the pedestrian bridge.

To prepare for our homegrown field trip, the girls are going to watch two videos made by PBS about Lewis and Clark that I have watched. (Yes, while most people are watching reality television at night, I’m watching historical nonfiction and science shows on PBS.)  So, they will watch Part One and Part Two on Friday and Taylor will write up a paper on what she learned and Cate will be tasked with drawing pictures of what she watched.  We talked today about how they crossed the Rocky Mountains we had recently seen and Taylor is already getting her notebook ready to take notes.  Cate is excited that there will be bears in the video.

Lewis and Clark were the original gateway into the Western United States. On February 28, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson won approval from Congress for a visionary project, an endeavor that would become one of America’s greatest stories of adventure that involved the two explorers. Twenty-five hundred dollars were appropriated to fund a small expeditionary group, whose mission was to explore the uncharted West. Jefferson called the group the Corps of Discovery. It would be led by Jefferson’s secretary, Meriwether Lewis, and Lewis’ friend,William Clark. Over the next four years, the Corps of Discovery would travel thousands of miles, experiencing lands, rivers and peoples that no Americans ever had before.

It’s a complex, not entirely uplifting story that PBS covers with a vast array of experts and descendants of
those involved in the expedition wonderfully. Lewis, a tragic hero in this story was a  tortured introspective man who may have only been capable happiness on the trails and in the wilderness.  Their journey changed all of them, it changed our country… but it began with their willingness to go in the first place.

One of my favorite quotes Lewis offered on his 31st birthday, sitting alone at the headwaters of the Columbia River.  Haunting and sad, he reflected on his life thus far and the life he longed for.  Lewis never did find peace, but for a time, he had something that we all have to cling to… hope.

“This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the happiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now sorely feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. But since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolve in future, to redouble my exertions and at least endeavor to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestowed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.”  – Meriwether Lewis