Wednesday, August 15, 2018

first day of school! first day of school!

Today was a big day for us, as the kids started a whole new school year!

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Here are some pictures of our students - bright eyed and ready for their first day.  There's William and Elizabeth, who are geared up for eighth grade (it's unfathomable that this is already their final year of junior high school)!  And Henry, who is just starting his middle school experience in the fifth grade:

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And then there is our Carolyn - who will be homeschooled this year - HOMESCHOOLED! - and is quite excited about it, as one can clearly see:

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The possibility of homeschooling has always been part of our educational vernacular and is an option that we've told the kids - is available to them, should they want to pursue it.  It's something that I've always thought would be a wonderful thing to do - but it required children who were willing to do it, too - and up until this past school year, we didn't have any takers.   But something really clicked in seventh grade, where Carolyn took an inventory of her learning environment and how well her experience was flanging up with her educational hopes and dreams, and decided maybe she should do something differently.

When she first approached Charlie and I about homeschooling her during her eighth grade year, we were skeptical that she was serious.  So we took a look at her grades and told her that if she was sincere - we wanted her to get all of her languishing grades up to "As" to demonstrate that she truly possessed the motivation to succeed.   Lo and behold, her grades shot up and she began exhibiting an ownership and commitment to her education I hadn't seen before.

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Carolyn is a very sensitive and somewhat shy girl, and she has always been much taller than her siblings and most peers.  (At the moment she's 5'10" and still growing!)  The way I see it, she's had a hard time finding her social groove because it's challenging when you're surrounded by itty bitty bubbly girls that come up to your arm pit and weigh as much as your left foot.   Girls like her sister.   Who - of course she adores - but you couldn't find two more different children in a family.

Recently, she told me that she was treated so badly by girls in her first and second grade elementary school class, that she thinks it actually scarred her, socially.  (Apparently, those incidents were even worse than third grade.) And when we first moved to Texas, there were a group of girls that we met (triplets, nonetheless) who were so aloof and cruel, it caused her to withdraw even more.  Kids can be so mean. Add to that a junior high school with 1300 children in your grade, for a total of 2600 students in the entire school, and its not difficult to see why she might feel overwhelmed. (And why I feel so overprotective!)

From my perspective, the kids were gone from 8:00 every morning until 4:30 every afternoon - and always had an hour or more of homework at night, either before - or after - their extra curricular activities. It felt like we were always rushing to catch up so they could eat dinner - and get to bed before 10:00 each night.   Under Carolyn's new schedule - she'll have all of her school work done within six hours each day and will have no homework at night.  All that extra time will be spent doing things like - taking walks, writing poetry, volunteering, and breathing in life. Ahh!

(My suspicion: it's just a matter of time before one or more of her siblings jumps off the crazy train and gets on the homeschool bus with Carolyn…)

Ultimately, she has made, what I believe to be, the very wise decision to get off the gerbil wheel for at least one year.  Over this next year we hope that while all of her peers continue to grow mentally and physically - she will grow academically and learn all kinds of wonderful new things that will give her the solid foundation she needs before she enters high school.  Earlier this week, and after extensive research - we ordered her an awesome literature-based curriculum that will cover World History, Language Arts, Robotics and Technology, and includes a math program full of hands-on manipulatives.   She'll also be taking private music lessons, and joining a homeschool PE and co-op so she can engage with other homeschooled kids during the week.    It's hard to tell who is more excited - Carolyn - or Charlie - who is taking the lead on working with her at home.

Because her curriculum won't be here until early next week - today while her siblings were all at school, Carolyn asked her father what they would be doing.  He told her that first, she'd need to help wash the dishes and do the laundry.  Then, she'd help do meal planning and shopping for the week.  Later in the afternoon, he taught her how to make lemonade and bake cookies for the first day of school party we've hosted for all the kids in the neighborhood, since and our own children were in Kindergarten.

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Tomorrow, they'll be working in the garden.  Charlie told her, "Carolyn, this learning that you're doing right now - we call this HOME ECONOMICS."  To which she replied, "Are you sure it isn't INDENTURED SERVITUDE?"

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To which I say…  I think she's smarter, already!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Amazing Trip of Summer 2017: Yellowstone National Park (south)

It was a little more than a year ago that we completed our epic month-long road trip that took us throughout some of the most beautiful national parks in North America.

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We just completed another epic month-long road trip, this summer, that took us around the panhandle of Florida and up the eastern seaboard. But before I write about those memories (which at this rate, may not be until the children graduate from high school), I really need to capture what memories remain of last summer - or I fear I'll lose them forever.

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The overwhelming memory that I have of our trip last summer, is that I've never felt such freedom.  While we had the concept of a schedule in mind - and plans to visit specific locations - we had an entire month slated for travel, and the flexibility to pretty much do whatever we wanted - whenever we wanted.  So when we decided that we wanted to stay an extra couple nights in the Grand Tetons because it was just so beautiful: we stayed.

Of course there was a lot of ground that I wanted for us to cover, so before too long - I was anxious to get back on the road because there were some awesome locations to the north waiting for us.  Awesome locations like Yellowstone National Park which is very big and very famous and was just a hop, skip, and jump up the road from the Grand Tetons.

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Because it is so big - and famous - Yellowstone is kinda the Disney of National Parks (translation: it is mobbed with people).   It is also quite diverse with the flora and fauna, and cool geologic features thanks to the active magma chamber just beneath your feet. (Watch where you step! No, seriously, watch where you step because you can easily fall in a geyser or mud volcano and gruesomely die.)

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I'd been there once already and after this most recent visit, can solidly say that Yellowstone isn't one of my "favorite" parks.   While it does have an incredible primitive beauty, and is tremendously vast, for my tastes, it doesn't have the take-your-breath-away grandiose scenery that you see in parks like Zion, the Tetons, or my newest favorite park, Glacier.  (And Jasper.)

We packed up our gear in the Grand Tetons and hit the road by 7:00 AM which, not to brag, is really gold-medal worthy when you're a band of gypsies like us.

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Because we were arriving from the south, and didn't have reservations, we made an immediate stop at the first come/first serve campground we encountered. If there's one thing that we've learned during these nomadic adventures, is that if we know we're going to be in a general vicinity - we need to snag a spot and not take any chances.

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Especially at a place like Yellowstone, being the Disney of NPs - since it books up months in advance.   We arrived early - set up our tent - were swarmed by mosquitos, and then set off to see Old Faithful.  One of the drawbacks with Yellowstone - aside from the vast crowds and mosquito swarms - is that it is so large, the idea of driving to and from a landmark, while in theory sounds good - in reality, can take the better part of a day.  In fact, when you calculate the delay because of the bison herds that are known to block the road, we determined it would've taken less time to drive from Massachusetts to Maine than to drive from our campsite in Lewis Lake to Old Faithful.

Once we arrived at the world-famous geyser, we were happy to see that our arrival coincided with a Ranger Talk on Old Faithful.  As we clustered around the Park Ranger, Charlie and I both shot each other a look and said, "We could so totally do this! How do you feel about living at Yellowstone?!" 

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See, Charlie often talks about pursuing a job as a park ranger. In fact, during our visit to the Grand Canyon in 2016, he talked with National Park Service management personnel who indicated that job opportunities are available for geologists, like us. Not only are there jobs, but a perk includes government-funded housing - for our family - in the park.

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We actually considered it for a whole day.  But that evening, I had a nightmare that the children were playing soccer in the front yard of our Grand Canyon home, and in that split second moment they looked over their shoulder to make sure no one was behind them to steal the ball ….  they didn't see the rim, and yeahhhhh.  No thanks.

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We walked around Old Faithful, and witnessed at least three eruptions during the time we were there.  I'll admit, it was fun getting so close that the water sprinkled my camera.

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While in Yellowstone, we drove out to Firehole Canyon, where we all jumped out of the car and directly in to the water.

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It was crazy fun - like Mother Nature's amusement park - but it could also be a bit sketchy for new (or tired) swimmers, and if we ever make it up that way again, I'd remember life jackets.

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We also rented a boat for a trip around Yellowstone Lake.

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Since the kids were so keen to go fishing, we purchased a rod and tried our luck.  With the first cast, we landed what was probably an 8-pound fish, but as we were pulling it in to the boat, in the moment we realized we didn't have a net - the line snapped - and we lost the fish and our one and only lure.

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So we headed back in to the dock, where we bought another lure, and a net.  We headed back out, as the afternoon winds started to pick up and the waves grew higher and higher. For the next couple of hours we kept trying - and trying - with no luck.  But on our final cast, we caught another fish.

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We'd been given a guide regarding the kinds of fish in the lake, and were told that if we caught any indigenous fish - including a cuttthroat trout - we had to throw it back in the water.  But if it was a brown trout, or rainbow trout - we could keep it.  After we landed this fish, we all poured over the pictures in the guidebook to ensure that it wasn't an indigenous fish.  Since it lacked the obvious red markings of a cutthroat, we'd convinced ourselves it was a rainbow trout and we were in the clear, so put it in our bucket, and returned to the dock with great plans for dinner that evening.

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Once we returned and gleefully showed the dock boy our catch, he grimaced and said, "Looks like a cutthroat."  The harbor master came to inspect and solemnly added, "Yep, looks like a cutthroat to me, too."  They went to get the Park Ranger - and minutes later - came back to tell us that they had just been called out on an emergency and today was our lucky day, because if a Park Ranger had seen us with a dead cutthroat, we'd have received a hefty ($400?) fine.

Charlie immediately hid the lemon and garlic he'd bought in the little general store.

We quickly got in to our car and started the drive back to our campsite while discussing the situation.  We're definitely not experts, but the fish that we'd caught didn't look like the fish in the brochure of indigenous species.  Those fish had vibrant red slashes along their gills...

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And our fish … well, it really looked like a rainbow.  My guess was that it was a hybrid.  But the fact remained that people who were more experienced anglers than us - said it was an indigenous fish, and as much as we wanted fish for dinner - we didn't go too far, before our conscience took the wheel and pulled our car to the side of the road. We said a prayer for the fish that we'd plucked from the lake - that it's spirit was free and that it's body would feed the wild animals of the area - and we gently bid it adieu and tossed it in to a tributary.

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Along with our hopes and dreams of catching and eating a fish from the world-famous  Yellowstone National Park.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

just sit right back and you'll hear a tale…

Alternate title: the family that sails together - wails together!

As I wrote about a few months ago, Charlie and I have recently taken up sailing. Our children, by association, have taken up sailing, too. They happily come with us on the sailboat, whenever we take it out.  Sometimes they help.  Most of the time, they sit with their legs dangling over the side eating Goldfish crackers.  It's (almost) always fun and I love being out on the water, moving solely under the power of the wind, with my people.

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The sailing introduction program that we signed up for back in April, included two full days of instructor led training, followed by 4-hours of training with a skipper, followed by 4-hours of solo sailing.  Because five of us actually took the class - we are each eligible to receive 4-hours of skipper training (20 hours). And 4-hours of solo sailing (20 hours).  Last month, we completed our skipper skill building.  Earlier this month, we took a boat out for the first time on our own, and since there was zero wind, it was totally uneventful until we ran out of fuel in the middle of the channel, when we were trying to motor back to the harbor.   And …. that's how we learned to always make sure that the fuel is topped off before you head back to the harbor.

Today, we went on our second solo sailing trip which was anything but uneventful.

When we left the dock, we weren't optimistic that we'd have much wind because it was stifling hot and stagnant at the marina.  But once we left the harbor, the wind picked up, and we could see whitecaps in the distance.  We excitedly hoisted our mainsail and within seconds, were underway.   Once we opened our jib sheet, we were flying through the water; sailed all the way out to an offshore drilling rig, and lapped it.  Everything was going swell.  UNTIL…

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One of my favorite authors, H. Jackson Brown wrote, in essence, that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy holiday, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. OK, OK. Hold my drink...

If you really want to tell about the character of a person, stick them on a 26-foot sailboat, in the ocean, in 15 knot winds, on their maiden solo voyage, with four children.  If our children wind up on a therapist couch in the next 10 years, I think they can point back to the Wednesday their mother completely lost her mind while sailing in Galveston Bay.

After our successful voyage to the offshore rig, we started heading back to the marina.  Charlie had us sailing downwind -  and we approached the shipping channel, I'm trying to furl the jib, but it wouldn't come in.  In no time, the sheet whips out of my hand, somehow taking my arms with it - flapping around the port side of the boat. The boat is perpendicular to the wind and we're heeling at least 30 degrees. Water is washing over the side and I can't stand up straight.  I've got flashbacks to being rescued by the Coast Guard as a child on my father's boat - and start screaming.  I can't pull the jib in no matter what I do and WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE DAMN SHEET?

William tries to help by shouting orders to his siblings and I snap that he needs to BE QUIET OH MY GOD.  WE'RE DYING SOON!  Charlie leaves the helm to help me pull in the front sail.  Carolyn takes over the helm from her father.  Because space is limited, I heave myself to the back of the cockpit - and am sitting directly across from Carolyn who is doing a stellar job navigating.  But then she momentarily loses focus of the wind direction, and we have an accidental jibe when the boom violently whips from port to starboard across the cockpit - knocking William in the head and nearly knocking me overboard.  Unfortunately, it didn't render me completely unconscious, because that would have helped.  The boat is being tossed around like a cork, sails are flapping, sheets are whipping about, water is sloshing over the side - I don't know which way is up.

Charlie swoops in and makes everything sound. I don't know what exactly he did, but we didn't sink.

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We realize that because we're so close to the shipping channel, we should pull down the mainsail and start up the motor for the trip back in.  Charlie remarkably gets us positioned directly in to the wind and begins pulling down the sail, while I try to block my throbbing headache and fire up the engine, which WOULDN'T START.  I'm turning knobs and dials, clutches and chokes, yanking the cord and trying my best to stay in the boat as waves are washing over the stern and drenching my sock clad shoed feet.  I'm telling myself, "GET IT TOGETHER. YOU CAN DO THIS…." and the God of Outboards smiled upon me and it started. And then promptly died.  This situation repeated itself five or ten times before I thought, hmmm, maybe we're out of gas?  Oh right, wasn't I supposed to check fuel levels before the trip back in??

I find the gas can, open up the engine, and start pouring gas in to the receptacle while holding on to the back of the boat and willing myself to not topple over the back.  After what felt like several minutes, but may have only been several seconds, I figured we had enough fuel and put the gas can away and fire up the engine. This time it remains idling until I put it in to 'forward' and notice that we've now drifted in to the middle of the shipping channel.

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Fortunately, it's early afternoon in the middle of the week, so there isn't much recreational boat traffic and we're not at immediate risk of being run over by a cargo ship.  We're motoring in to the harbor - everything is coming together - we've survived - and the near death experiences I had moments earlier are expeditiously settling in to the deep recesses of our minds.  "Your Mom isn't a TOTAL psycho," I tell the children, "She just apparently doesn't respond well to stressful situations while on a boat being tossed around like an un-popped kernel in hot oil."  Ha. A little laughter to lighten the gravity of the moment.

We're only 200 yards feet from turning down the row to motor in to our slip at the marina, when the engine suddenly dies.  Charlie scowls at me and asks, "Jen, didn't you fill up the tank?"  Umm, I thought I did?

I pulled out the gas can again, and because the water was calm, took my time to fill up the tank. But in that brief span, a small gust of wind kicked up and abruptly pushed the bow of our boat in to a pier on the opposite side of the marina.  Charlie starts yelling, "JEN! START THE ENGINE! START THE ENGINE!"  I hastily put the gas can away, start the engine, and lurch forward directly in to the pier. Again. I  put the engine in reverse and try to spin the boat around, before realizing that the area isn't quite wide enough for me to make the turn in one fell swoop - it would require at least a 3-point rotation.  Somehow, the boat is now pointing in the opposite direction of where we need to go; the entrance to the row we need to turn down is behind us.

Instead of having a bumper boat situation with the beautiful yachts lining the row, I keep the boat in reverse and motor all 200 yards backwards LIKE A PRO.   I then put the engine in to 'forward' and motor down our row to the slip.  As we're approaching the dock, Charlie yells back to me, "You're coming in fast, slow down!" So I turn from the throttle from the picture of the rabbit to the picture of the turtle, and immediately feel the boat lose speed.  Just as we start to turn in to the slip Charlie again looks back and says, "We have enough momentum, kill the engine!"

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"I, I, I don't think we're supposed to kill the engine..." I call back to him. But when he gives me a panicked look - I figure he must know something I don't know - and hit the kill switch.  My husband yells to the children to GRAB THE FENDERS AND BRACE FOR IMPACT when the boat slams in to the dock and knocks the dock box. Charlie was right a lot today.  He kept his cool and for the most part, really knew what to do under duress. But one thing I confirmed is that you NEVER kill the engine when you're trying to dock, because you need that reverse gear to help maneuver you in to the slip.  My dad taught me that one.  He also taught me how to radio the Coast Guard for help.

We have three more 4-hour charters that we need to use before the end of the month, so we're already planning our next expedition to practice all the important things we learned today.  Charlie is adamant that he loves sailing, the kids are only semi-traumatized, and I'm seeing this as wonderful therapy to help me work out what appear to be some SIGNIFICANT anxiety kinks.

Let's just hope we don't need to execute a man overboard drill.  And more specifically, if we do have a man overboard, let's hope that the man overboard isn't Charlie or I could just imagine my poor husband bobbing in the ocean, while the rest of us float away to Cuba.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

motherhood, music, and magic

This weekend, we went on a Mother's Day "themed" camping trip through our local YMCA.  It was great for mom's because we stayed in air-conditioned cabins that had private bathrooms with granite countertops, and enjoyed home-cooked meals that other people shopped and prepared for us.   The kids had plenty of things to do during the day, and our only parental responsibility was to ensure they had on sufficient sunscreen and bugspray.

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There was rock climbing and zip lining, archery, water slides, hiking and horseback riding and several more fun things to do than we could actually accomplish.  We attended this camping event with some of our very good friends whom we had met through other good friends - and while there - we met some new wonderful people from various parts of Texas.  I remember my mother taking me on camping trips through the Y when I was our children's age (although never with granite countertops?!) - and it's so fun to share that experience with them, now.  Particularly the part that involves us meeting people from all over.

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When we came home this afternoon, a few of our neighbors dropped in for a barbecue that I had coordinated before we left on Friday afternoon. While I knew our Sunday afternoon would be a bit busy because we would just be coming back from our "camping" trip - I really wanted to have these friends over for dinner, because one of them had suddenly lost their mother (who lives in Australia) earlier this week to cancer.  And our other friend was home alone with her children while her husband was in China on a business trip.

We wound up having a wonderful time tonight. We put leaves in to our table, and all 12 of us sat around telling stories, and giving thanks for the mothers in our lives: those that are still here, and those that have left this earth - but will never leave our hearts. We shared sad tears, and happy tears.

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Growing up, our home was always open to people. My mother was, and still is, the most social person I've ever met.  And so it is that extended family - friends - neighbors - and exchange students came to stay with us, often for an extended period of time simply because my mother made everyone feel welcome.  Even the needy kid who I once caught trying to steal my bicycle that was padlocked outside our house, and my mother invited inside for dinner and chocolate chip cookies.

(Yes. Even them.)

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This past week, my mother moved out of her home that she has lived in for the past 38 years, and in to an independent living community in South Carolina.  It was a big decision and transition for her, that I think has been many years in the making.  She has recognized that the stairs leading to her second floor condo have been a bit challenging, particularly when she has bags of groceries to haul up, or a stairwell to descend that is slicked by ice in the winter.

I'd tried, quite desperately and unsuccessfully, to convince my mother to come and live with us in Texas. For a few days, I thought I had a legitimate shot, because once upon a time, mom had entertained the thought that she'd move closer to help with the children.  But then …. life happens, and it never quite worked out that way.

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When Jim was diagnosed with dementia, and moved in to an assisted living facility, my mother would visit with him every day.  Mom also visited with the other residents, some of who had such advanced stages of dementia they didn't speak, or would appear frozen.  And my mother, a nurse by professional training and I'm sure coded in to her DNA, would be drawn to these residents.  She would sit down next to them, and sing them a song.  Any song, but usually a song that includes their name... if possible.

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My Aunt Grace tells the story of witnessing people who she had thought for sure were in a vegetative state, break in to small grins, and start singing along with my mother.  Auntie was in disbelief.  People who didn't know where they were - or what they were doing - or when they were going home, would suddenly be singing all the words to "Amazing Grace" or "Georgia on My Mind."

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Mom tells me that part of the reason she feels compelled to move in to this independent living community ~ and not near us in Texas ~ is because of how much GOOD she thinks she can do for the residents in the nearby dementia unit.  How she feels like there are so many lonely people who need a friend, or someone to just sit and sing with them. As for us - we have each other, and an incredible community of friends, around us. Which OK. That's true.

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While I would love to have my mother live near us, I am so grateful and proud of the lives that my mother continues to touch and warm with her gentle presence.  I can only hope that one day, our children, will understand the importance of having an open door, a compassionate heart, and a welcoming table and will be as proud of me - as I am of my mom.  She truly is, and always has been, a magically bright light in my world.

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If and when that day comes, I also hope our kids can bear the sound of my singing. These days, whenever I start to sing, or do anything remotely related to making something that might be construed as musical with my voice,  the children desperately attempt to silence me. As if even the slightest hum from my lips will awaken the kraken.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

baby teeth: here there, everywhere

We're still losing baby teeth, it feels like most weeks there's at least one.  It's happened more than once, that we've lost the exact same tooth, on the exact same day.

The look on William's face: this is the expression of a 13-year old boy who is really annoyed that his mother is capturing the moment when he and his triplet sister lost their top left canine cuspids.  We've been getting this look a lot these days. Tooth or no tooth.  It's really quite delightful in backwards world.  #DeepBreaths. #ItsAPhase. #ThisTooShallPass. #LoveThemAllTheTime.

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This revolving tooth inventory can be problematic for a Tooth Fairy, who has short-term memory loss, is busy trying to remember to take a lot of deep breaths, and tends to go to sleep right after the kids do, when they should instead be zipping around the world and perkily trading out teeth for cash.

At our house, it typically happens that Mrs. Tooth Fairy remembers just before she's about to fall asleep and gasps loudly, "OH NO!" which awakens Mr. Tooth Fairy, who flies out of bed as if on wings.  And thus a search begins for small bills.  Ones are ideal, because the exchange rate here is 1 tooth = $2 dollars.  But a few times the Tooth Fairy has slipped the children a $5 and once a $20, but that isn't really sustainable with so many teeth falling out.  It's best to keep the bar low, since once all the teeth have ceased falling out, the Tooth Fairy will need $$$$ for four sets of braces.

Also, the Tooth Fairy doesn't usually have cash on hand, so it has been known to happen the children have awoken to find their tooth replaced with a stack of quarters, dimes or nickels.  Gone are the days when the Tooth Fairy could raid their piggy banks because these kids know how much cash they have - at all times.  Sometimes, the Tooth Fairy slips a lost tooth in their pocket and then totally forgets about it. For several nights in a row. Which prompts a letter like this one:

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Hmmm … Oops.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

on church and triathlons

I've found that I'm fielding a lot of deep questions these days, chief among them, "Is God real and how do we really, REALLY know?"  

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In short answer, I know because I've experienced far too many things that are otherwise unexplained, and, I genuinely feel it in my heart.  Moreover, there is what I perceive to be not enough scientific evidence to disclaim it.  Also, the alternative is rather bleak, so if given the choice of believing or not believing - I'll believe every day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Amen.

Of course, this has been my own personal evolution and I cannot fool myself in to thinking that I can convince anyone to believe what I believe.  So I encourage our kids to ask questions and look at this from every possible angle.  In doing so - I'm certain they will come to their own conclusions and if their conclusions are aligned with mine, they too will have a faith that is immovable.  (Most days.)

Up until two months ago, we'd been going to church, religiously. As in - every week - for the past ten years.  As the children continue this undeterred process of growing older, having the solid foundation that an organized religion offers, has become extremely important to me. Not because I'm particularly distracted with eternal salvation - but because exposing children to religion and nurturing hope in young hearts that there is something greater than us in control, and we each have a truly divine purpose for existence, is a critical fact to remember when you are a child, and when you're raising children. (Especially teenagers.) 

In our quest, we've visited a lot of churches over the past decade and our experience reminds me of "It's Not Easy Being a Bunny."  With yours truly in the starring role of P.J. Funnybunny.   But instead of assimilating with the bears, and the birds, and the beavers, and the moose ... I've attempted assimilation with the the Catholics, Unitarians, Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers.  (To name just a few.)

After  a lot of searching, and moving across the country, two years ago we finally felt like we'd found our place.  Our children were all dedicated in the Unitarian church when they were babies, but last year, all four of them were baptized in the United Methodist church and the triplets went through Confirmation.   Around the same time, Charlie and I took a personality test that was designed to help us understand our spiritual gifts, and explore ways to serve in order to best use those gifts. Turns out, we are on the completely opposite ends of the spectrum for personality, but we both scored high in the service of hospitality.  

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Using that information, I took up a job as a Sunday morning greeter because it's not enough to just go to service each week, you also need to serve to be a genuine part of the CHURCH.  But after several months, I found that I was becoming really discouraged by the number of people who would not acknowledge me, or my efforts of handing them a service program (fickle, right??)  What started out as a simple observation grew until each week, I'd be overwhelmed by what I perceived to be incivility.   It amazed me how many people would walk in and without making eye contact, take a program from the stack in my hands, and not utter a "thank you" or "good morning" or "hey" or "move it" or … anything.  Why not just put a basket next to the door, so people can get their own programs?

I'm laughing at how trite this is, and realizing it is my own flaw, this feeling of being snubbed. But I'm human so can admit that what I perceived to be a lack of acknowledgement - - week after week - - from not all, but a significant percentage of parishioners, drastically diminished my enthusiasm for not only wanting to serve - but to worship beside them.  I might have even thought to myself and said once or thrice to my husband, "How can these people call themselves Christians?! Pfft!"

"Judge not, lest ye be not judged."  Yes, yes. I know.  Thank you, Matthew.

Meanwhile, 2/3 of my teenagers didn't want to attend the teen's service, because they would tell me that they were the only ones that didn't have cell phones and they felt out of place. Thinking that this was the latest ploy to convince me that they all needed their own cell phones, I popped in one day and in my 60-second scan, identified that were two distinct groups of kids:

1) Those that were in clusters, holding their cell phones and laughing together as they stared at the cell phone screens; and

2) Those kids that were solitary but had on headphones that were plugged in to their phones to either demonstrate that:

A) They are busy listening to music, or

B) They want to appear busy listening to music so no one will notice that they are alone.

Either way, since our kids didn't have cell phones, they didn't fit in with either group.  And, this just further justified my reasoning for not wanting to buy them their own. Please for the love of all that is holy - talk with people.  Look them in their eyes and ENGAGE.  And if you cannot understand that, my apologies children, your mother was born in the wrong millennium and cannot - for the life of her - get on board with what kids do in this modern era.  Now go outside and jump rope while I hang the laundry to dry.

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Anyway, that was two months ago, and we haven't really been back to church since.  Even though I love the work we'd do with the outreach missions, and the music, and the message, my feelings were genuinely hurt.   It felt like I was searching out people's eyes to smile and make human connection to let them know "I see you!" but didn't feel like I was getting that, or very much, in return.

After a lot of prayer and inward reflection, I've realized that this may be part of the divine lesson we're supposed to be learning in this moment.  This is how I see it:

I) Everyone - everyone - not just wants, but actually needs to be seen and acknowledged.   That includes the cashier at the grocery store, the pizza delivery man, the bus driver, the person handing out programs at the church, and the dog.

II) Everyone - everyone - is going through something.  That includes the kids that have noses buried in their phones, or the people that are walking in to the church and don't make eye contact. Something tells me, they desperately need to feel important and a part of something, just as we all do. 

III) We are all comprised of energy and how we use it can either be positive, negative, or neutral. Positive energy is far better for our hearts, souls, family, community, and world - than negative or neutral energy.

IV) When we're in a negative or neutral energy funk - and it will happen because we're human - give yourself a break. And then, go stand in the sun - allow it to warm you from the outside in.  Marvel at the beauty of a leaf, or a bug, or the clouds overhead - and get over it.   

V) Don't take other people's negative or neutral reactions to you personally. It's really not about you. Instead, we need to keep harnessing our positive energy and after warming ourselves, reflecting what we have remaining - outwards.  

VI) No one said it would be easy, but the rewards of a life well lived and loved, are awesome.  Dig deep and keep going.  

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to see all of these lessons in action, as we cheered on athletes at the Texas IronMan competition.  We didn't get down to the race until 12 hours after it had started, and set ourselves up on the marathon course, while participants made their way past.  

While any one who participates in an IronMan is amazing - in my book - these people we were cheering on, weren't elite athletes who finished in under 10 hours.  No, these were the folks who had been out on the course for the better part of the day, were at various stages of running a MARATHON and were exhausted to their cores.

We were there, specifically, to cheer on a good friend of ours, who we were following on the IronMan tracker and had seen that he was starting to drag hard.  His transition between bike and run was nearly 20 minutes, and as we watched his run time creep from a 14-minute per mile pace, to nearly 20-minutes per mile, we decided to ride our bikes down to the course.  As a former marathoner myself, I knew this wasn't looking good if he hoped to finish before midnight and/or not get picked up by the ambulance.

Initially, we were just ringing our cow bell, but I soon noticed that we could see the racer's names on their racing bibs. So I started shouting, "Good job, Amy!"  or "Way to go Bob!"  At first the kids were totally embarrassed, and tried to hide as I yelled out all the names. But very soon, when they saw the immediate effect it was having on the people who were racing - so they got on the front lines and were cheering on these racers, like nothing I could've imagined.  Carolyn surpassed even me, and took home the top cheerleading award for the day. "WAY TO GO AL JAN DREW! YOU ARE DOING INCREDIBLE! KEEP IT UP!"

(OK, so I had to help with a few name pronunciations, like Alejandro.)  

What the kids realized was that when people were individually seen, and recognized, and cheered - it had an immediate impact.   While not everyone smiled or nodded or acknowledged that we were there (one poor guy immediately threw up his Gatorade in a nearby bush), the vast majority of people visibly brightened because of the positive energy they were receiving.  

As the sun set, I had to drag the kids off the course, because they didn't want to leave. Carolyn pleaded, "Mom, we can't go!  This race isn't over!  They really need us out here cheering them on that they can do it!" In fact, as we rode our bikes home, she kept one hand on the cow bell and continued cheering people on, until we were out of sight.  

In the end, isn't that what it's all about?  

Showing up, acknowledging each other, lifting each other up with positive energy, and doing it for as long as you possibly can.  Divine Lessons.  At least that's the way I see it.  

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Also, we need to get back to church something fierce. Whenever I attend a service, it's like God Himself is telling us to persevere,  "GOOD JOB JEN & CHARLIE!  KEEP UP THE PACE! THERE ARE SOME BIG ROLLERS COMING UP, BUT YOU CAN DO THIS! YOU'VE GOT IT - AND I'VE GOT YOUR BACK!"

Somewhere, I'm absolutely sure, this is the Word of the Lord. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

monday, monday

An incident occurred last week at school that quickly spiraled out of control. My documenting it here, is an opportunity to capture it for posterity.

The Facts As I Understood Them: A classmate who has been aggressive and confrontational towards several students in the class, turned his aggressions on William.  It was a brief moment where he called William a Very Bad Name, and then threw out a critical component of his lunch.

When William told me the story, after it had simmered in his mind for several hours, the scene had become much more ominous.  Rarely do I reach out to teachers regarding classmate issues - I think this is the first time (?) - but I reached out when I heard what William said, and Carolyn - who is also in the class - corroborated the story and this child's behavior who has consistently been 'mean'.  

I asked William several times, "You mean to tell me, he threw out your yogurt?!" and he insisted, "YES! HE DID!"  In my email to the teacher, I indicated our children were far from perfect, but if the tables were turned - I would absolutely want to know how my child was behaving at school and treating their peers. (And the favorite part of their lunches.)

The teacher immediately responded and said that our children were 'absolute angels' and it would be handled, but it was critical that both William and Carolyn removed themselves from any equation where this child was involved. That message was received and conveyed.

A few days later, Carolyn came home and indicated she'd been bullied by this same child when he approached a friend of hers and accused them of tattling and getting him in to trouble.  Carolyn said, "Leave them alone, they had nothing to do with it!" and the child turned on her.   Later that same day, Carolyn had to present a project in the class, and William observed that the child was whispering and pointing at his sister with his friends, and William conjured saying things that were unpleasant.

The unpleasant things that kids are saying in Junior High are really, really unpleasant.  Gone are the days of Elementary School where unpleasant is 'you're a booger nose!' 

Needless to say, William decided that he wasn't going to let this incident just 'go' so after class, he went up to the boy and said, "If you have something bad to say about my sister - you better say it to ME."  The boy just scoffed at William and walked off with his gang of friends, but William was absolutely certain he heard the boy say more derogatory things about his sister - which he told Carolyn about, and more dominoes fell. When Carolyn came home in tears, I again reached out to the teacher and said I'm just alerting her what is happening, and want to leave it to the school to handle this, but mama bear is coming out of hibernation if her cubs keep coming home mentally traumatized every day.   The teacher totally understood, was completely on board with what was happening, had reached out to the boys parents - and coaches since the offending student played sports - and was really escalating this because Really Bad Stuff. Unacceptable Stuff. 

On Friday, the teacher pulled our two children in to a discussion and for the first time, a conflicting story began to appear.  "He said, she said - wait a minute - didn't you tell me that he said this? Ruh-Roh..." 

The teacher reached out to me with concerns as to what exactly was going down, and for an hour on Friday night, William and Carolyn sat with me at a table and we got ALL THE DETAILS out, a la interrogation style when I sensed that they weren't going to say anything that would implicate they had in any way done something wrong.

What I Learned:  The boy has been aggressive in class, and called William a Very Bad Name and threatened to throw out a component of his lunch, but he didn't actually throw it out.  BIG Difference.  Nonetheless, William was mad, and things quickly went downhill.  The boy had approached Carolyn and her friend, and called Carolyn a Very Bad Name, and he did laugh and point at her in class. But was he talking about her? Not really sure. Some of the other names that William and Carolyn thought he heard him say? Not 100% certain.  

Elizabeth crashed the interrogation and said, "Oh! Oh! I know who that boy is! When I see him on Monday I'm going to….." And I cut her off and said, "OH NO YOU AREN'T GOING TO ANYTHING! YOU ARE GOING TO STAY OUT OF IT! LORD HAVE MERCY!" 

A cord of three strands is not easily broken, indeed.

And when they're all in Tae Kwon Do, WATCH OUT! 

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I immediately relayed what I know to the teacher, and over the weekend we've been communicating every day. She has expressed to me that she isn't happy, because she based her response and actions on 'half truths.'  She completely trusted our children because of their 'stellar reputation' in her class - and ran this one up the flagpole, engaging parents and coaches - and was party to the issuance of some very stern warnings.

Likewise, I'm disappointed because they said all the right things that would set off my alarms (funny how they know EXACTLY what my triggers are!), I unequivocally believed them, and while a lot of what they said was true, they embellished details that may have resulted in a harsher punishment than what was warranted.  The teacher asked that I get them to school early today, so she can talk with them before any further action is taken.  All weekend, William and Carolyn have been literally worried sick about what lays in wait for them today, when they have to confess that they exaggerated, and speak the truth to a teacher that they greatly admire.

It's been hard to watch their pain and anguish, but I've explained to them that the best opportunities for growth, typically follow our most painful experiences. So they can either curl in a ball and be filled with dread, or they can own it, recognize that being human means making mistakes, rise up - and allow this situation to positively transform them.   To buoy themselves, Carolyn wrote an apology letter to the teacher, and William sat down with a pot of tea, and wrote down the definition to each word of the Boy Scout Law. Those that are the most relevant in this situation…  

A Scout is Trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.

A Scout is Kind.  A Scout knows there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. Without good reason, he does not harm or kill any living thing.

A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger although he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at him, or threaten him.

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I've got some work to do, too.  First of which is to: 1) Breathe,  2) Make sure I've got all the details 100% correct; 3) Breathe some more while thinking about best way to respond.

As is most things in life, it can often be so much easier said than done.

Onward, Christian Soldiers!