Oct 2, 2015

The Most Beautiful Velvet Cape

When my Grandma Millie was a little girl she was kind of spoiled.  She was the surprise baby at the end and all her siblings were quite a bit older than her, kind of like our little spoiled Spike.  Except her family called her "Toots".

Because of the age gap she played on her own a lot as a young kid.  She had cool toys like a wicker doll stroller and a play washing machine.  And one Christmas, her brother gave her a beautiful "grown up girl" doll.  

My grandma lived with her parents on a sheep ranch.  They sold the wool to make long underwear for the soldiers during World War II.  The ranch was pretty far away from town, and even the "country school" was 15 miles away.  Most of the other kids in the area would live with families closer to the school, but my great grandparents didn't want to be away from their little Toots so they rented a small house near the school for her and my great grandmother to stay during the week.

One of the girls staying at the house next door had a pretty "grown up doll" too.  They would play dolls together almost every day after school.  Except the girl next door's doll had a fancy velvet cape.  And my grandma wanted her doll to have a fancy cape too.  This was during a world war, and her family lived on a modest budget, so it's not like velvet was just....around.  But she was just a little seven year old girl who really really wanted a doll cape.

And being the well-loved child that she was, she got that cape.

Somehow my great grandmother found a scrap of velvet to make a fancy doll cape just to please her Toots.  My grandma isn't sure how she managed to do it, but she was thrilled to have a doll cape just like her friend.

And to this day, whenever my grandma sees a cape, or a scrap of velvet, she remembers how the velvet doll cape her mom made her was the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

So, the moral of this story is: You can give your age gap babies really fun nicknames and then spoil them as much as you want, and they'll turn out to be pretty amazing anyway.

This story is about my grandma Mildred (Allen) Ray.  I hope to share more family history stories on a regular basis....but since I have a hard time even posting ANYTHING regularly, don't hold your breath.

Sep 25, 2015

The Moment

The other day a moment from my past popped into my head.  It wasn't an especially pivotal moment or anything, but the impact is still being felt.

It happened quite a few years ago.  We had lived in an apartment and gotten to know some of the other church members in the same complex.  I didn't get to know anyone really well -I'm slow at making friends- but you know, I knew who they were and had a general sense of their character and whatever.  And then we moved, and I only kept in minimal contact with a couple of the people I knew.

Fast forward a couple of years.

Opie was about 4 years old and I had no idea what to do with him.  He was especially Dr Jekyl/Mr Hyde-ish back then.  He could be the sweetest, most lovable, chubby cheeked cherub and then switch to crazed, destructo, demon child in a fraction of a second for very little cause.  It was also when everyone was very young - 4 kids ages 1-5 young - which just made things harder.

For those who don't know the church we go helps people in lots of different ways, such as offering free counseling to those who need it.  Like, real, professional, actual psychologist, counseling.  Because it can be overwhelmingly expensive, and we had reached that point.

This is when IT happened.

I had to fill out paperwork in a church office dedicated to people who are applying for counseling.  It was quite a bit of paperwork, and as I sat there I noticed that across the room another woman was also filling out counseling paperwork.  And this woman used to go to church with us when we lived in the apartment.  And we knew each other well enough to recognize each other.

Except that we didn't.

We both just ducked our heads and kept filling out paperwork, pretending there was no one else in the room.

And that was it.  THE MOMENT.

It doesn't seem like a huge moment at all.  But here's the thing - I remember thinking, "I should go say hi and see if she's doing ok, which she obviously isn't seeing as she's seeking professional counseling..."   But I was too embarrassed and afraid.  I mean, what do you say to someone in a situation like that?  I would imagine the conversation like this:

Me: Hey, I haven't seen you in awhile.  So I see you're failing at adulthood just as much as me.  High five!!

Her: Hi!  Oh yes, I am very much crapping out on this "being a grown up" thing and it's amazing!

Me: So, what are you here for?

Her: Marriage is insanely tricky, and right now I could flush all my husband's clothes down a giant pee-soaked toilet!  You?

Me: That sounds familiar, but I'm actually here because I have no idea how to parent my own child and sometimes I fantasize about running away to a remote island where everyone's sterile!

Her: Oh yes, I've had that one.  Well it's good catching up - I need to go yell at everyone in my house now.

Me: Me too, right after I grab dinner at Burger King for the third time this week.  Bye!

Conversations rarely go that way.

I've found that talking about real problems makes people uncomfortable.

Have you ever noticed that when you do bring up a sincere problem in a conversation 90% of the time the other person immediately jumps to generalized statements of praise?  Like if I had said, "My child is out of control and I think God made a mistake giving him to me" (which was a thought I had often at that stage of Opie's life), first of all I probably would've horrified whoever I was talking to, but they'd hide it and say something like, "But you're doing so great with him!  And all your other kids are so well behaved!  And your frizzy ponytail goes so well with your twitching eyelid!  And wow, you are just, SO GREAT!  But I need to go now, bye!"  And I'd be left standing there feeling worse about my problem.

Aside from a handful of my friends, most of my conversations are void anything of real substance.  But what if they weren't?  What if we could let go of all the embarrassment and all the judging and just SAY REAL STUFF and have people say REAL STUFF back?   Even people we don't know that well?

Not that I think all conversations should be a complain-o-thon because yikes, but if you're having a bad day and the clerk at the grocery store says, "How are you today?"  You could say "It's not my best day" instead of the perfunctory, "I'm fine, how are you?"  And then maybe you could even have a real conversation while they ring up your purchase of donut holes and Diet Coke.

Wouldn't it be better if we all felt safe to BE REAL?

Mostly though, I just want to go back in time to THE MOMENT and tell that woman hi.  And tell her that it's ok to struggle with life.  Because adulting is the hardest.  And neither one of us should have been embarrassed to admit that, when it makes life easier and better when you know you're not the only one who has reached the point of filling out paperwork for professional counseling.  And I think I needed to hear it that day too.

Jul 7, 2015

I'm just Scared and Stupid

Once upon a time, early July 2003, I was terrified.  I had just had my first baby.  My mom was there to help me, but then something horrible happened.


My family lived far away.  Like 18 hours in a car away.  Which felt much farther as I stood by the window, watching my mom drive away, while I clutched my newborn infant with the realization that I had no idea what I was doing with this human being I created.

I don't think I had ever truly been that terrified before or since.

Until now.

Something new and extremely daunting now sits in my path.  It's like this giant monster that is just sitting there, blocking the entire path, and needs to be dealt with because there's no way around it. And I have no idea what to do.

This thing is called "parenting a preteen".


I look into the gorgeous face of my amazing daughter who just turned 12 and I think, "I'm going to mess this up so much.  But I don't mean to.  I'm just scared.  And stupid.  So stupid.  And I have no idea how to parent you.  And I'm sorry.  I'm so so so very sorry."

This preteen parenting thing is hard.

First of all, I don't have dealing-with-preteen-emotional-outburst skills.  I mean, I understand the physiology behind the emotional outburst.  Crazy hormonal changes make for crazy emotional outbursts.  That part makes sense.  I get it.  But I'm clueless on what to do about them.

I'm not really one of those sweet "come cry on my shoulder" kind of people.  I'm more of a "suck it up, you're going to be fine" kind of person.  This does not go well with preteen emotional outbursts.  However, I'm not exactly sure what kind of strategy would actually work, since these outbursts are completely lacking any logical reasoning.  But I still feel bad - sorry for not dealing well with your confusing emotions my beautiful daughter.

I also get really awkward.  I am naturally awkward anyway.  So introducing awkward topics makes me doubly awkward.  There's really no word that can describe the awkward that I become.  It's beyond the bounds of human speech.

But we talk about awkward topics a lot.  Because I want my kids to know that they can talk to me about everything.  And the next few years are going to contain SO MUCH AWKWARD.  So I'm sorry, amazing daughter, that I'm a giant weirdo who talks a lot and hardly ever says the right things.

I also expect a lot.  Because I don't know if  I've made it clear or not, but my daughter is amazing.  She is gorgeous on the outside and even more beautiful and talented and smart and hilarious and fun on the inside.  But sometimes I don't feel like that gets paraded around enough.  Because I want the entire world to know all about how insanely awesome she is. But she's shy about it.  So I push.

Sometimes I push a lot.  Sometimes it's too much.

I'm sorry I push you too much my talented girl.

Having a first child is the hardest.  Because no matter what stage they're in, everything is new for everyone.  And parents are idiots.  And they make mistakes.  And even though they try really hard, they will continue to be idiots and make mistakes.  And most of them will be made with the oldest child, because, you know, that whole "everything is new" thing.  Sorry my oldest child.

This new challenge is so overwhelmingly scary that it will be pretty miraculous if we make it through the preteen years with all our limbs and sanity intact.  

And if we do there's just more scarier daunting-ier monster-sized things in my future path.  Like the parenting of four more preteens.  And the fact that they will eventually become TEENAGERS.

And teenage parenting is a whole other  EXTREMELY TERRIFYING beast that I am going to continue to deny until it's staring me in the face (at which time I may be found rocking myself in a dark corner, in the fetal position, while repeating phrases like "he used to love me" and "where did my sweet baby go?"  and "HELP ME!").

But for now  there are some things that I want my glorious preteen daughter to know:  I love you so much more than I can ever express.  You amaze me every day just by being you.  I'm sorry I'm not a better parent and that I'm scared and stupid, but somehow we made it through that first terrifying time so hopefully we'll make it through this too.

P.S. Please don't ever become a teenager.