In the Name of Adventure

I think God laughs when he makes a woman the mom of all boys. He takes a Barbie-loving, bow-wearing, pink-bedroom dwelling, sensitive-hearted girl, and grows her up to a woman who gives birth to testosterone.

My friend John used to say our house had so much testosterone it must flow out of the faucets. I’ll confess, as much as I thought I wanted a little girl, and had to mourn the many things I would never do (read: buy baby dolls, plan manicure dates, and shop for prom dresses), I am delighted God gave me four boys.

Oh believe me, when they were younger I would call my friend Heidi and say, “Talk Girl to me! I can’t take another armpit fart or soda generated burp so loud it rocks the foundation of our home.” Heidi has three boys and she knows how stinky and loud and gross they can be. She also knows what I know: Most boys have an insatiable desire for adventure. (Ask her about her son Jack, sometime.)

So yesterday when my boys asked to go to the lakehouse, I was much obliged – mainly because as much as they love adventure, I love spontaneity. I was eager to ditch the laundry, put off the taxes and leave the house cleaning to another day. We packed some food, grabbed a change of clothes, and loaded the car and a couple of bikes so two of the boys could ride in the morning.

When we arrived, one son quickly unloaded his camera gear and staged his tripod at the end of the dock so he could do long exposures of the clear, star-filled winter sky.

The other three ran to the basement playroom to bounce on the stack of mattresses and kick the soccer ball to at one another. After a late dinner, the three older ones competed in a friendly game of Poker while the youngest watched a bit of the Kentucky versus Florida basketball game.

Poker didn’t last long because the oldest had to check on his camera. The two middles thought it would be fun to take out the kayaks and sneak up on him from the water. As they told me of their plan, I went through a common struggle of all mothers. Do I let them? Or do I not? Is it too dangerous, or just another great adventure?

I let them go — after I laid out the parameters: you must wear a lifevest, not just have it on the kayak. You must stay right next to one another in case one of you gets in trouble. You must be within earshot of the lakehouse. They agreed and bounded outside – on the mild February night – to retrieve the kayaks.

Since their oldest brother saw them launch the kayaks from our small, sandy beach, their sneak attack was foiled. They maneuvered the kayaks around the bubbler which keeps ice from forming around, and therefore damaging, our docks and headed out into the partially frozen lake, guided by the moonlight.

The oldest aimed a second camera toward them and captured them kayaking in the moon’s reflection on the water. After a few minutes, as I walked downstairs to check on the kayakers, my oldest son met me at the bottom of the steps to show me the extraordinary shots he had taken. Seeing that they were safe, I retreated back upstairs to my blanket and cushy chair in the great room to start another episode of Parenthood. Just as Crosby runs into Jasmine on her date with the pediatrician, the kayakers burst into the room to tell me I “have to come down and kayak.”

“It’s amazing. We kayaked through ice,” one said with stardust in his eyes.

“It sounded like the Titanic,” the other described.

As much as I loved their excitement, not one bone in my body wanted to move from that  oversized, luscious chair to put my feet in freezing water and get inside a one-woman boat in the middle of winter.

So why did I find myself kicking off my shoes and peeling off my wool socks to step into that icy water and get inside that bright yellow vessel only a few minutes later? When I posted to Facebook that my boys were kayaking on February 7 by moonlight in Indiana, one friend said, “You’re the coolest mom around.” While it was a sweet comment, I didn’t let them go to be the coolest mom around. And I wasn’t joining them to prove it either.

I went kayaking with my sons because they asked me. And when an opportunity arises to live into a unique experience, especially when it’s an adventure to share with my sons, I seize that moment. I grab on, hold tight, and see where the ride takes us. Tonight it took us through the dark waters of Grandview Lake, illuminated by the (almost) full moon, into a layer of thin ice which, just like my third son said, sounded exactly how I imagine the Titanic sounded as it entered the frigid areas of the Atlantic.

It was an eery sound at first, the scraping of the kayaks against the thin ice. But eventually we stopped paddling and sat under the star-laden sky where the pieces of broken ice clanged together, sounding like wind chimes powered by a gentle breeze. It was beautiful, and – quite frankly –  beyond words.

Fear can cripple us all, and when I think of the potentially dangerous things my sons do, the things I allow my boys to do, I could become paralyzed. I could wring my hands and shout “NO!” at them when they want to ride bikes in downtown Indianapolis traffic and down rugged mountain paths. I could insist they ski and snowboard on the marked trails and avoid going in and out of the trees. I could ground them when they find ways onto rooftops to capture the urban landscape. But I don’t. And sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for allowing it all.

But I know it’s in their blood. They were created for exploration and adventure. In the book Boys Should be Boys, by Meg Meeker, M.D., she says:

Too many of us parents obsess about healthy diversions that active boys like to do, while not recognizing what is truly dangerous for our boys – like popular music, television and video games that deaden their sensibilities, shut them off from real human interaction, impede the process of maturation, prevent them from burning up energy in useful outdoor exercise, divorce them from their parents and lower their expectations of life.

All of my boys have listened to questionable music and become engaged in video games. They enjoy shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Criminal Minds.” They are not immune to pop-culture, but thankfully they are not consumed by it either. They live lives engaged and passionate for things they love: photography for the eldest, cycling for the second, woodworking for the third, and anything sports related for the youngest.

I have no magic parenting skills and I certainly fall short in my call to parent well. It is by the grace of God, and I believe through the meager prayers I utter and those of my dear boyfriend, who nightly prays specifically for each one, that they have invited me into their adventures, if not physically at least in the recounting of their exciting endeavors.

Through these adventures, they are discovering more of who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their limits and abilities, and perhaps even birthing new dreams. The lessons from obstacles they face and the pleasure they seek carry over to their daily living and their relationships. I learn so much from each of them, and even though some of these activities cause my heart to stop now and then, I am grateful that they allow me in, that they continue to invite me to play – even if it doesn’t involve Barbies or painting our nails.

Categories: Parenting Boys, Urban Living | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Open Letter to Divorced Women

An Open Letter to Divorced Women,

I’m hoping you can give me some answers. I have so many questions. Even after nearly 5 years in this fellowship in which I didn’t ask to be a part, I find myself wondering if you struggle with the same questions, wrestle with similar matters of the heart.

Granted, our stories are distinct but we may have a shared experience with one another: your husband cheated, or drank too much, or one day he up and left with no explanation. Maybe he decided he never really loved you, or he liked men more than women; maybe he was more married to his job than he ever was to you. No one but you and your husband, and maybe some trusted friends and therapists, truly know what went on inside the crumbling marriage that wore you down, broke your heart, and shattered your dreams. No one on the outside really understands what it’s really like to step through the wreckage of the tornado that swept through your life, as you tiptoed through the pieces of what was left of it and reconstructed a new you.

After all hell broke loose in my marriage, and I started to emerge from the utter depression and pain, my sister-in-law said with worry in her voice, “It seems like you are reinventing yourself.” Damn right I was. I couldn’t stay the same. The circumstances of my life would not allow for it. Since she’s a therapist, I thought she of all people would understand how a woman enters a metamorphosis when the framework of her life shifts and the faults become visible.

That may have been the first time I felt like my relationships were like the blocks in a game of Jenga. When a key piece is removed, the entire structure starts to sway and eventually crashes all around. So I ask, were any of you fortunate enough to stay in relationship with your in-laws? Or maybe “fortunate” is something you feel now that you don’t have to deal with them. For me… I still feel the pain when my ex-husband and children go to his family get-togethers. I ache when I see photos of the nieces and nephews who no longer know me because they were so little when we divorced. I cry when something reminds me of the inside jokes I shared with my sisters-in-law, because now it feels as if it were from another time, another dimension – so out of grasp.

I also wonder if you ache every time your ex-husband has a new girlfriend. Or maybe you cringe every time he mentions his new wife. It’s silly, really. I have been dating a wonderful man for three years. Yet, every time my ex-husband breaks up with one of his girlfriends, there’s a part of me that wonders if he is going to come back for me. He doesn’t usually leave me wondering long as he has another girlfriend pretty quickly, which of course jolts me back to reality.

My boyfriend once said the only person he worries losing me to is my ex-husband. As hard as it was, and as much as I didn’t want to hurt my boyfriend, I wanted to be completely honest with him. I told him he had every right to be worried because there have been times that it’s crossed my mind. Times when I wonder what it would be like to reconcile and have all of us living under one roof again.

My friends are quick to remind me what it was like. How depressed and oppressed I was. They remind me of the details of my marriage when it was at its worst, the details I often gloss over because the memories are too painful. But I took my marriage vows seriously, and while I was not perfect, I never wished for the divorce. I wanted to stay married to the man I said “I do” to when I was 24. I wanted to stay married to the man with whom I had four children. I wanted to repair the damage that was done, to start fresh and live a long, happy life together despite the bumps and bruises. Do you ever wish for a reunion, even if it is rooted in magical thinking rather than the truth of what really happened?

When I go there in my mind, it is quickly followed by the gut-wrenching thought that I would have to give up my boyfriend, whom I love deeply. I have no doubt God brought him in to my life for a reason, and to think of giving up that relationship makes me want to vomit. It wouldn’t make sense to go back to something so unhealthy when I now live within a healthy, loving relationship. It’s not easy, this relationship with my boyfriend. We are very different, and both stubborn, but we fight for each other. We fight to understand one another, to work through miscommunication and treat each other with respect and honor. So how do you reconcile all of these conflicting thoughts and feelings? Tell me, my divorced friends. I’d like to hear your stories.

There’s one last thing I want to ask, although it’s more of a series of questions. Do you ever feel like people view you as someone with a huge fault? Someone who wasn’t lovable enough or who was too much of a bitch to stay married even when you know you don’t have a bitchy bone in your body? (Not that I don’t… because I do… have bitchy bones, I mean… but never enough to cause a divorce.) Do you feel like you wear the Scarlet A or that people think you carry some sort of disease that may be contagious? Do you feel lonely when you go to dinner parties with couples? Or maybe you don’t even get asked to dinner parties any longer. What do you do with that, dear friends? Most of the time I don’t concern myself with what others think of me when it comes to my marital status. Other times, my self-esteem is rocked. I’ll admit, it helps having a long-term boyfriend, but there are often times I feel shame when I utter the words, “ex-husband” or “divorced.” I suppose it’s part of the imperfect world we live in. But I’d sure like to know how you handle these feelings and insecurities.

My friend Jenni and I have had many conversations as it pertains to the life of the divorced woman and I know we are not alone. I’m thankful for her kindred spirit and journey. I pray that if you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ll read this knowing that yes, it hurts like hell to feel rejected, but you are worthy! You are loved! God has you! He hears you when you exclaim the words: “I can’t believe this is my life.” Jenni and I still say these words from time to time.

So know that I wrestle with you, Friend. Five years later, I hurt. But I also feel joy. Gratitude helps. I give thanks that my boys are happy and healthy, that I have a great job and a beautiful home. I have a family and a boyfriend who love me and a God I trust despite the times I called out to him to bring my husband back to me.

I encourage you to call out to God, even if it’s ugly and seems irreverent. It’s not. He knows your thoughts already. Also, I encourage you to let the tears come. I am often surprised by my tears which is what motivated me to write this. I was folding clothes watching Parenthood and Sarah hugs Seth as he’s exiting their lives once again. Suddenly tears filled my eyes as I was transported to the last time I hugged my ex-husband on the porch as he was moving out. I could have wiped them away and shunned the pain that accompanied them, but I let them come because I know they serve a healing purpose in my life, as they will in yours.

And by all means, I encourage you to ask questions so we can relate to one another. We may never find the answers. I’ve accepted that I may never know the full answer to my divorce. Nonetheless, I’ll keep asking because as Poet Rainer Maria Rilke said:  “Be patient with all that’s unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms or like books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given to you for you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.   Live the question now and perhaps then, gradually, without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into the answer.”

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A Tale of Two Blondes

Halfway through my son’s soccer game, sweet little Ashley climbed up the bleachers and asked if she could sit by me. We talked about the game, cheered for our team and then I asked her what she was going to do the rest of the day.

“Well, I have five dollars I have to spend.”

“Oh?” I asked, “What do you have to spend it on?”

She thought about it a minute and then said, “Probably a Barbie.”

I told her how I had loved Barbies as a little girl and how I had the Barbie convertible and the townhouse. And how Ken and Barbie liked to swim and go on vacation. I left out the part about them making out in the back of the camper. Ashley was quick to lose interest in my nostalgia.

“Do you play soccer?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Weeeeellll, I would, but I really like to dance and I was supposed to dance this year but then we missed a day to turn in my paper and we were going to turn in money but my mom said I couldn’t because she would have lost money so I don’t dance this year which is really too bad because I’ve been dancing a long time… ever since I was five.”

She’s six now.

By the end of the game, I had worked up an appetite. After all, it’s exhausting to sit on the bleachers and watch your son slide across a rain-soaked field, land on his head and get his neck stepped on, all while trying to keep up with a six-year-old’s stories.

I said goodbye to Ashley after returning her to her parents, made sure my son was okay before delivering him to his father’s car and drove to a nearby fast food restaurant. A bleach-blonde girl greeted me enthusiastically by name. It took me a while to register that it was Beth, as I was in a neighboring city. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and we chatted a bit as I ordered my food.

I met Beth when she was a shy, nervous 8th grader. Over the next few years, most of my memories involve her in some sort of trouble – at school, at home, with the law. Most of her photos on social media sites are highly seductive selfies or close-ups of weed.

Beth seemed to me the antithesis of Ashley, who comes from a home with two parents who love and nurture her. Who keep her safe and secure. To talk to Ashley in her young innocence is a delight.

Beth on the other hand, had a rough upbringing. Mom is missing from her life for whatever reason. Dad is in jail. Unlike Ashley’s bright hope and energy, there is a darkness that seems to surround Beth. And the truth is, it is hard for me to love people like Beth. Really love them. I mean, I can love them in my do-good, ethereal, Christian mind. I am friendly and kind; but deep in my heart there is judgment and disapproval.

As I wrestled with this unattractive character flaw, I kept asking myself why I had a distaste for kids like Beth, when in general I am a loving, accepting human being. It took me a few days of soul searching when it finally dawned on me: Looking at the hardened teenager that is Beth against the backdrop of the sweet face of Ashley stirred my personal caldron of confusing childhood memories.

Like Ashley, I had two parents who loved me and provided all the creature comforts I could ask for and more. Like Beth, there was family turmoil which caused me to latch on to anything that provided emotional comfort. As I consider Beth, I am confronted with the reality that in my formative years, I stood on a precipice of self-destruction. When I play the highlight reel of my life, those are not the clips I wish to review.

Yet they exist right alongside the clips of the happy, little girl playing Barbies in the basement. Fortunately, I’ve been to therapy and read self-help books by the dozens. I have joined in Bible studies and prayer groups and have done some honest, hard work toward being healthy.

But the psyche is a fragile place and although I now have categories in which to file the ups and downs of life, certain triggers can push me into a place where my character flaws rise to the surface. My trigger that day was seeing the dichotomy of these two girls, one drawing me into my own childhood innocence, while the other reminded me of some of my ugliest memories.

What I learned that day, and the days to follow, is that we are a conglomeration of stories. Mine was found in both Ashley and Beth. I was quick to embrace Ashley’s and quicker to reject Beth’s. But God wrestled with me until I could embrace both of them, until I fell into grace and peace and thanksgiving –  to a God who loves me enough to reveal my flaws and my gifts. To a God who assures me time and again that in each story there is redemption.










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Magical, Mystical Telluride

Telluride. There’s something magical about this place. My ex-husband and I first came here years ago to ski and snow-mobile. Eventually we brought our kids, then friends and their kids. At the advice of our therapist, we even came here to try to restore our broken marriage. Telluride didn’t fix our marriage, but I never held a grudge.

In fact, Telluride has beckoned me back for the summers. Over the past several years my four boys, my boyfriend and I have loaded my Suburban and conquered the 24-hour drive through the Midwest, the plains and into these mountains where we discover more of the land… and ourselves.

After a couple days of mountain biking and hiking, the boys wanted a day of rest to play billiards and ping pong, swim in the indoor/outdoor pool or take small walks around town. But the hiking bug wouldn’t leave me. When I announced that I wanted to hike one of my favorite ski-runs, my kids balked but my boyfriend Tim, who has heard me describe this run several times, was much obliged.

After giving the boys instructions for the day, Tim and I laced our hiking boots, filled our water backpacks, grabbed some Clif bars and headed toward the gondola that would take us mid-mountain where we would meet the See Forever trailhead.DSC_0064

As we climbed, and I mean c l i m b e d, I often stopped to take in the majestic 13-14,000 foot peaks around me and snap photos at all angles. Since I am fairly out of shape and couldn’t speak much, Tim talked about his past few days of journaling and praying. He told me about his conversations with God, and how he listened to what God was saying about beauty and creativity. I queried him regarding his definition of beauty and we discussed (yes, I could eek out a few sentences here and there) the awesomeness that beauty provokes. I pushed further for a definition of awesomeness.

Before I could move on in the conversation I wanted his definitions for such obscure notions. I had my definitions, but to track with him, I needed to know his. He jokingly chastised me for using such left-brain thinking, which turned the trajectory of our talking toward the importance of right brain and left brain thinking, and specifically how it matters in the way we approach God. Even in my “hippie free-free” (as Tim likes to call me), spontaneous, touchy-feely ways, I lean more toward left-brain thinking. I prefer systems and categories in order to function well, but at the same time I like the freedom to embrace interruptions for what’s truly important (that would be the ENFP part of me, for all you Myers-Briggs fans).

It was about this time, as I simultaneously focused on putting one foot in front of the other (cue Santa Claus is Coming to Town music) that I thought:  ‘If I died right now, I would die a happy, contented woman.’ There on See Forever trail, I was with the man I love being stretched physically, spiritually and intellectually. It is in these moments when I feel most alive. When life feels complete.

IMG_8519We continued to 12,000 feet and when we reached the plateau where the top of a lonely summertime ski lift hit the ridge, the awesomeness that comes from beauty stunned me into silence. Then it hit me: beauty is so elusive because it both enfolds me and sets me free. I feel it envelope me as it penetrates my senses, but it also frees me from definitions, limitations or categorical boxes. It is true wonder.

As we descended the mountain, I was free to receive some of the things Tim continued to share with me about my children, his role in their lives and a particular spiritual dream he had following a rather heated fight we had about a month ago. In our day-to-day lives, I’m not always open to hearing such things. The irony is that I feel too vulnerable most times, but where else was I more vulnerable than on a mountain trail in need of his companionship? That’s the mystical part of this place, or really any place that makes me feel alive. It allows me to welcome the mystical, the spiritual lessons, that I otherwise would shut out or ignore.

Later that evening, after we checked in with the boys and cleaned up, Tim surprised me with reservations at a restaurant I had only dreamed of due to its pricey menu. Allred’s sits mid-mountain, overlooking Telluride. When we arrived, the hostess asked us if we wanted a romantic table in the corner. Um, yes please. As the aspen trees shimmied through the windows on both sides of us, we savored our food mostly in silence because there in that restaurant, we were awed by the beauty that both held us and set us free. And again I thought, ‘If I died right now, I would die a happy, contented woman.’IMG_8540

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About Cancer and Other Thoughts

My dad has cancer. Again. He had it once before. A different kind, about 20 some years ago. Back then it was prostate cancer and once he had that little trouble-maker removed, followed by some radiation, he was back to his active, energetic self.

The cancer he has now is called small cell carcinoma of the bladder. It’s extremely rare. And aggressive.

Let me interrupt myself here and go on record that for me reading the internet is never a good idea when it comes to health issues. Maybe you’ve had better luck finding encouraging reports or connecting with a medical miracle. But when I research reports on cancer or any health related topic, I either get caught up in an abysmal medical journal abstract (thanks to my 20 years of marriage to a doctor) or I see a list of symptoms I have had which lead me to diagnose myself with some deadly disease. I know I’m not alone. My friend Theresa is the same way. She starts breathing funny and thinks she has caught emphysema, even though last time I checked you can’t catch emphysema.

Of course there are people on web forums who share their victories over cancer and other horrible sicknesses and I do take comfort in reading those posts – when I find them. Thankfully, internet aside, my dad’s doctors have been fairly positive regarding his situation, considering only 1 to 9 people out of 1 million get this cancer (I read that in a medical journal, online). Because of the aggressive nature, however, they wanted him to start chemo right away.

So last week, that’s what he did. He sat for the better part of three days with two cancer fighting drugs dripping into his arm. They swam their way through his veins and went to work on their lifesaving, cancer cell-obliterating mission. My mom told my brothers and I that he was doing excellent and we saw it for ourselves when they arrived at the lake house on Saturday morning where we were all spending the first weekend of the season together. Although he dozed off in a chair now and then, my dad worked in the yard and joined us for appetizers and conversation on the dock. Indeed he was doing great.

Until he wasn’t.  Shortly after lunch on Sunday, he asked my mom for his anti-nausea pills and headed to bed. When he woke up he was disoriented and too weak to walk without assistance. We watched over him and took turns helping him to the bathroom and back to bed. Over the course of the next two days, he battled chills, a severe headache and vomiting. Although he could answer questions accurately, it took him a while to muster the energy to speak.

I felt unsettled, like life was out of balance. My dad, the leader of our family, is sick. Very sick. And I’m not sure what to think, or how to feel. For a few moments, I considered chugging a beer or downing some whiskey straight from the bottle. But alcohol and I are not friends any more. We had, shall we say… a falling out several years ago.

Thankfully I walked outside instead, spotted the red kayak and without telling anyone, embarked on some time alone on the water. If I want a good workout, I paddle left from our house. This takes me by the houses of neighbors and strangers, where I refuse to stop or slow down for fear of looking weak or out of shape.

I didn’t care about impressing anyone today so I turned right and paddled along the rocky shore which lines the grassy dam. There are no houses. No one to impress. I paddled and I floated. I prayed and I cried. When I got angry I paddled until my shoulders ached (because I’m getting old, and I read somewhere on the internet that women in their 40s often experience bursitis in their hips and shoulders). When the anger subsided, I stopped paddling, looked across the lake, and drank in the beauty of the feathery clouds and the various shades of green on the trees growing on the southern Indiana hills.


Lake reflections

Just as I was getting ready to turn around and head back to the lake house, a telephone pole caught my attention. Yes, a telephone pole. From my angle, the wires and the electrical box created an illusion of a crumpled little man. (I promise I did not chug the beer or down the whiskey.) The way the light and shadows mingled, there appeared a Christ-like figure on the cross-like pole. A telephone pole crucifix in the middle of a cornfield just over the grassy dam right in my line of vision. And in my very humble, hardly qualifying prayers, I thanked God for the reminder. The reminder that he knew suffering. He knew because he had once watched his Son gasp for air and grasp for comfort.

And there in a red kayak on a sunny afternoon on Grandview Lake, I knew God was giving me what I needed. Not an alcoholic beverage to guzzle, but a glimpse of hope. The moment didn’t last long. There was no waxing poetic prayers or singing psalms of thanksgiving; it was just a moment. Nothing more. Nothing less. That was it. Suffering and comfort. From a God who knows both and uses telephone poles as reminders that He’s in it all. Hand in hand today and tomorrow and the day after that.

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How to Have an Excellent Birthday

Most adults say their birthdays aren’t a big deal to them. I suspect they don’t want to face the fact that they’re getting older or they fear someone will actually ask how old they’ll be. So they say it’s just another day, and they go along working or running errands or hoping no one will know it’s their birthday.

Not me. Several days before my birthday – oh… who am I kidding – the entire month of April, I let everyone know my day is coming. Mind you, my birthday falls on the last day of April so my family gets awfully tired of hearing about it over those 29 days.

Perhaps I tell everyone because I don’t want to be disappointed if they forget. But I admit, I don’t want my birthday to be like every other day of the year. It could be because I’m a mom of four boys and a pseudo mom to many of their friends. Maybe it’s that I want to have one day – ONE DAY – that’s about me and not about running to soccer baseball band-gigs sleepovers haircuts grocery stores. Maybe I’m just selfish and want everyone to notice me.

If you’re like me, and you still value the day you were born, I have the answer to making your birthday a day that will not be forgotten, a day you’ll feel like the queen (or king) of the world: Work with teenagers.

Teenagers love birthdays. They’ll drop by my office a day or two before my birthday and remind me (AS IF I would forget!) that my birthday is in x days. They’ll ask what plans I have or what the boys are getting me for a gift.

Last year, I walked into to an office littered with balloons. Balloons on the door. Balloons on the filing cabinets. Balloons on my desk. Balloons scattered all over the floor. I had cards and gifts and cupcakes and flowers. This year, minus the balloons (because the girl who blew them up has a problem with fainting and balloon-blowing-up really isn’t good for girl who faints),  I had flowers and gifts and cards and candy. Thanks to my boyfriend – lots and lots of candy. But the best part was getting the great big hugs and seeing the expressive faces when kids found out it was my birthday.

Teenagers know how to celebrate people, and not just on birthdays. For their friend’s track meet, they decorate her locker. To congratulate a friend who made National Honor Society, they bake treats. When they find out a friend was asked to prom by a certain someone, they jump up and down and hug each other.

Sure, they can be impulsive and loud when they get excited, but we could probably use a lesson on celebration from teenagers. When did we grow up to be people who don’t celebrate others well? When did we lose the passion for marking the victories of our friends and loved ones? Why did we stop decorating or gift-giving or simply voicing our excitement that our friends were with us for another year of life together?

I do know adults who celebrate well. Who bake cookies and give gifts. Who, no matter how many years have past since I’ve seen them, will send a card for my birthday. But I think teenagers do it best. They know how to mark victories and milestones in the lives of their friends and they do it with gusto. They celebrate my birthday with a passion because that’s how they want others to celebrate them on their birthdays. They love the attention. They want to know that others remember them, that they are important, that someone out there knows them, recognizes their impact on the world and loves them for being who they are.

So if you’ve had a few some crappy birthdays in the past, go find some teenagers. Watch them. Listen to them. Learn from them. And when your big day rolls around, I promise you – they will celebrate you better than you’ve been celebrated in years.


How teenagers celebrated my birthday.


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What Carson Has Taught Me

Carson is a senior at the high school where I work. Until last year most of our interactions were contained to passing one another in the hallways with a quick smile. She had been a freshmen when I first started working there, and her brother Jake was a senior.

Jake was an outgoing and charming kid. Everyone knew him. His reputation around the school was one founded mainly on his gregarious personality, but unfortunately also on his addiction to drugs. One year ago, Jake succumbed to that addiction and died from an overdose of heroin.

Two nights ago,  (spoiler alert) I sat through a play in which Carson played an addict who ultimately dies from an overdose. The play, Go Ask Alice, is based on the book by the same name. At the end of the play when Alice breathes her last, and her parents are crying out in anguish, sniffles were heard from every corner of the theatre. Tissues were passed from friend to friend, and eyes were dabbed of tears. For those of us who knew Jake, or any other addict for that matter, Carson’s portrayal was all too familiar. And all too painful.

The show was dedicated to Jake. When the theatre lights went out after the last scene, Carson walked to the middle of the stage. Her recorded voice came over the speakers as she read a list Jake had made of things for which he was grateful. Twenty things he had written in his journal during one of his stints in rehab. There was a sense of hopefulness in his gratitude. An awakening of sorts. But the awakening was never fully realized in this life as his addiction overpowered him and chained him to a darkness from which he could not be freed.

As the dim center-stage light turned up, Carson thanked everyone for coming to the show. She talked briefly about Jake and the mark he left in his short life. How he was finally free from the pain he felt over the loss of their youngest brother and his fight to be clean. (For the background story on Jake, Carson and their youngest brother Max,  see this Indianapolis Star article.) I can’t remember much of what Carson said, honestly, as I was  trying to hold back any more tears due to her performance. I couldn’t get over how she had stayed true to her character, neither glamorizing drugs nor making the character out to be a horrible demon. She had effectively given addiction a face to which people could relate.

Young Actors Theatre, the organization that produced and directed the play, raised $13,000 for Carson’s college tuition to American Musical and Dramatic Academy, in Los Angeles, where she will attend to fulfill her dream of acting, writing and directing productions that spotlight addiction and her brother’s life.

When I reached out to Carson the day I heard about Jake’s death, she responded immediately with warmth and grace. Since those days of mourning with her, I have come to know a young woman full of hope and passion. In honor of my sweet young friend I’ve created my own list of 20 things I’ve learned from Carson, in no particular order…

20. Give yourself space and time when grieving. Carson knew when she needed a break from people or from class. She took care of herself in those early days of grief (and continues to do so).

19. Share memories with those you love. Carson would often share her favorite stories of Jake from the days prior to his addiction as well as the times he was clean. She was never afraid to talk about him and made it easy for others to share their stories about him as well.

18. Keep your friends close. Carson knew who she could turn to and who her safe people were. Those who were only jumping on the “bandwagon” after Jake’s death did not get her attention.

17. Cherish the journals, photos and artwork left behind. Carson was always eager to show off Jake’s words, art and their photos together. It added to the narrative of Jake beyond his addiction.

16. Find common ground. A month after Jake’s death, another student at the high school passed away. His siblings often sat in my office with Carson and shared what it was like to lose a brother. It helped them feel as if they were not alone.

15.  Keep your passion alive. For Carson, acting was her safe place. She never stopped reading scripts and auditioning for parts. She never let her dreams fade, even in the darkest hours.

14. Educate Others. As part of her dedication to Jake’s memory, Carson continued to share stories of addiction and how others have been successful through intervention and recovery.

13. Continue to learn. I can’t count the number of times that Carson has come into my office to read an article that has taught her something new, a poem she has discovered, or song lyrics that have touched her heart.

12. Grow. Carson never stayed stagnate or gave up on life. She interned with the theatre company in which she acts so she could learn the business of theatre.

11. Act humbly. When others wanted to highlight Carson and her story, she conducted herself with grace, dignity and humility never calling attention to herself, rather in the greater story of her life and those around her.

10. Laugh. After the heavy fog of grief lifted, Carson would often bound into my office with a funny story that had us both giggling.

9. Lean on your family. Carson knew when she needed to spend time with her family, whether that was her mom, her dad, her cousins or grandparents. She knew they needed her as much as she needed them.

8. Being strong doesn’t mean you won’t cry. The strength I have seen in Carson often revealed itself through her tears.

7. It’s okay to get mad. When someone you love dies from a drug overdose, emotions can run all over the place. Carson had righteous anger, but she never let it engulf her.

6. Don’t use your trauma as an excuse. There were legitimate times when Carson didn’t feel as if she could sit through class after Jake’s death, but she never took advantage of the situation. She would go to class and if she felt as if she needed a break, she took appropriate measures for self-care.

5. Eat healthy. Carson didn’t fill her body with substances or other addictive types of behavior to cope. Her lunch often consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables and she was careful not to numb herself in unhealthy ways.

4. Keep hope alive. Since Jake’s death, I never saw Carson in despair. By the time she came back to school, and even on the most fragile days, Carson kept her head held high and took one day at a time.

3. Be aware of needs and serve others. Recently while Carson was going to rehearsal, she saw a woman in a wheelchair who couldn’t get to the grocery store due to the snow blocking the sidewalk ramps. Defeated, the woman and her young son had turned around to head back to their apartment. Carson spoke with the woman and told her she would be back to help her later. Once at rehearsal, she took up a collection, went  to the grocery with a couple friends and delivered the groceries to the woman and her son. An act of love and compassion.

2. Be brave. Playing the lead role in a play about an addict who loses her life was nothing short of heroic considering what Carson watched her brother go through. She didn’t do it on her own, however; Carson believed that Jake’s spirit, gave her the courage she needed for the show and for several other situations she has faced.

1. Celebrate teenagers. I feel sorry for anyone who dismisses teenagers as shallow, immature or without wisdom. Carson has shown me a depth, maturity and sagaciousness that lies within her young heart and soul. For that I am forever grateful.

I love you, Carsy!


Carson and friends acting goofy in the school cafeteria

Categories: Friends and Family, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Who Asked You?

I’m not very good at taking constructive criticism. Sometimes because of pride. Mostly because of shame.

Today is one of those days I’ve struggled with shame part. I had warned the boys that we would be going to church this morning. It’s sad that I use the word “warned,” but we’ve gotten out of any sort of routine when it comes to church. Most Sundays when they are not at their dad’s, we elect to sleep in or have “house church,” where we gather together in the family room, read from the Bible and then discuss what we’ve read. We pray together, and we’re done.

But I miss church sometimes. And I miss them going with me. So I warned them because I knew they would whine and come up with 101 excuses not to go. After some arguing and quite frankly some manipulating on my part,  two out of the four actually made it to church.

As for the other two:  one was downright obstinate and church attendance is not a battle in which I wish to enter because I never want my kids to have a bitter taste for faith resulting from being forced into attendance. In other words, I wasn’t willing to totally guilt him into coming with us, especially at his age where he is trying to figure out his faith journey separate from his parents.  The other objector had been coughing up a storm — and nobody wants to sit next to a hacker at church, or anywhere for that matter.

After church, I took the youngest to the NCAA Hall of Champions because he has been asking to do something fun all weekend  and I hate the idea of him sitting in front of the TV or playing video games when he’s begging for an engaging outlet. The second-born has been asking to take his bike to the repair shop so when I returned from the field trip with my youngest, I had  the second-born load his bike in the car. Then the oldest remembered he needed to pick up his guitar, and he wanted to get more driving hours in, so the three of us set off on some errands.

We were just a block from returning home when the oldest, still driving, got too close to another car and clipped the side mirror. We pulled over and rang various neighbors’ door bells to find the owner of the car so we could bear the bad news and offer to pay for damages and exchange insurance information.

By the time I walked in the front door with groceries that my boys did not offer to carry, I was spent. Haggard. Irritable.  Truthfully… I was ready to rip a head off of one of the mice, hiding under my stove, with my bare hands. From the whining about church to the lack of gratitude for being taken to places they asked to go,  to the downright sense of entitlement, I was done.

I walked into the kitchen and looked up and down in disgust at the dirty dishes piled in my sink. I passed the pile of clothes that needed to be put into the washer, and sneered at them. I threw my phone and keys on my bed, not caring if they bounced off and hit the hardwood floors, and I entered my bathroom where I turned on the water to fill my solitary, serene claw foot tub to the hottest temperature possible.

And there I sat and read my book about India. A book that had nothing to do with church, or errands, or car accidents or children with attitudes. I read until my toes looked like the tread on my winter tires.

My boyfriend is smart. He knew it was best to leave me alone.  So he waited. And several minutes after he heard the bathwater drain, he knocked on the door. By then I was in some comfy clothes propped against some pillows in my bed. He sat on the edge of the bed, and started with “You’re a good mom.” And, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.” And then, “I know you are overwhelmed.”

My arms crossed against my chest. I set my jaw forward. And I set up every invisible wall I have ever constructed for a time like this. What followed was not comfortable. But it wasn’t horrible either. He offered insights on what he saw in my boys and what he thought they really needed from me. None of it was new to me but it was now that I needed to hear it. A lone tear ran down my cheek as I dismissed the defensive linemen around my heart so I could receive the advice he lovingly offered.

Being a single mom is hard. It’s damn hard. When a married woman wonders how she’s going to survive when her husband is out of town for a week,  I try not to throw myself a pity-party knowing that single-parenting is my story every week. Nearly every day of every week, there is no spouse to help with the day-in/day-out —  wake up calls, laundry washing/drying/sorting/folding, breakfast feeding, lunch packing, dinner making, dish washing, grocery shopping, sports-practice running, game attending, band transporting, cheerleading, new shoe shopping, teacher conferencing, homework checking, shower demanding, teeth-brush reminding, full-time working — duties.

And sometimes it wears. me. out. Sometimes I’m too worn down from my children’s complaints, that I give in when I shouldn’t. Sometimes I’m in such desperate need of peace and quiet that I retreat to my bedroom instead of engaging in conversation with my children.

So we single moms (or dads) beat ourselves up an awful lot because we let our boundaries slide or our discipline tank. But thankfully I am fortunate to have a strong man in my life who loves my boys and is willing to step up more if I give him permission. And I have an ex-husband who is active in my boys’ lives and who parents them well… because, my Dear Readers, I can’t do this alone.

I thank my boyfriend for reminding me of that tonight. I didn’t ask him for his advice and I certainly didn’t ask him to do my dishes or make my kids dinner. But he did it because he knew I was swimming in a sea of disappointment and shame that I had not handled my children differently today. He knew that I wanted to have better boundaries and parent with grace instead of with disdain.

If you know a single parent, I encourage you to ask her what she (or he) needs. And ask more than once. Because there will be times when she has all of her plates masterfully spinning in the air without so much as a bobble. But ask again and you may find her slumped over a heap of broken dishes wet from her tears. That is the time she will know she cannot do this parenting thing alone. So pick something practical from the list below and take a bit of the load off –  even if she didn’t ask you.

  1. Make her family dinner. There’s nothing like coming home from work knowing dinner is a ready to heat and eat.
  2. Ask to come visit then unload and load her dishes (or hand wash if she doesn’t have a dishwasher).
  3. Pick her child up from practice or school and, depending on the age, either watch the child at your house for a while, or drop the child off at home.
  4. If she has more than one child, ask if you can help one of them do homework while she helps the other.
  5. Take a load of her laundry home and wash it, dry it and return it folded.
  6. Babysit her children while she takes a nap. Or a bath. Or runs to the store alone.
  7. If her kids go to her ex-spouse’s for a night ask her to do something fun together. Since being single, chances are she doesn’t go out as much any more.
  8. Call her to see if she needs anything when you are running to the grocery and drop off her items on your way home.
  9. If she has a sick child, deliver Gatorade, crackers, Tylenol, etc. Or see if she needs a prescription picked up from the pharmacy.
  10. Pack her kids lunches for the week and deliver them to her labeled and ready to go.


Categories: Divorce, Faith, Friends and Family, Parenting Boys | Leave a comment

At the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

There’s a book called, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jamie Ford. I’ve never read the book but I’ve loved the title since I first heard it. So much of my life takes place at that corner.

I write this from a [diffferent] hotel room in Denver. Across the room, my oldest son plays with his early Christmas present, a brand new Go-Pro. We’re here for a college visit – and a little playtime. After our tour of campus, we’ll head into the mountains to ski for a couple days before heading home for Thanksgiving.

I watch him intently editing a time-lapse video he shot last night through the hotel window, and I can’t help but think life feels a whole lot like watching a time-lapse video.

His video contains over 800 photos shot over an hour time period which he’ll string together in quick-motion to appear as if it’s all happening within a minute or less.

If I were to make a time lapse video of our lives together, it would have to start with the photo of us in the hospital, a few hours after he was born. It’s the one where he’s in his little see-through bassinet, all wrapped up, papoose-style. His eyes enormous as he stares at me. I stare right back at him with both a sense of giddiness and anxiety as I realize I’ll be taking that thing home with me. A human. I will be taking another human being home. To care for. And love. And watch grow-up right before my very eyes.

The next photo is of him in all his chubbiness. Actually, let’s not lie. “Chubby” conjures up mental pictures of babies with a roll here or there, and maybe a double chin. This one, my oldest child, was just plain fat. So fat my sister-in-law was scared to hold him upright for fear the rolls of fat would impede his ability to breathe.

And then there are the thousands of shots with his younger brothers that came 20 months, then 48 months and then 65 months later. There are shots of cousins and friends. Of his toy guns and real guitars, and monumental events that would come together to tell his story until this moment of us in this hotel room. Next to a college campus. A college in Colorado.

Then there’s the photo only found in my mind’s eye. A photo with dark edges but a bright center, with so many details it appears fuzzy. It’s the picture of this child I love embarking on a life beyond the now.

Then the next shots filter through my head. These are the ones filled with places unknown to me, with people whose faces I don’t recognize, and stories I have not yet heard.

But for now, I watch the picture in front of me of a son who is about ready to embark on a life apart from his mom and dad. A life he will continue to record with snapshots of his story. The one that was, the one that is and the one that will be. While both of us continue to live in that place where we chew on the bitter and savor the sweet.

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A long time coming

Most writers will tell you there are times when they feel paralyzed. Right now is one of those times for me. I start to write something and I erase it all because it sounds




But I push through it. I keep typing and figure if my fingers keep moving, maybe something worthwhile will come out eventually.

Part of the problem is that my mind is so full that I don’t know where to start. So much life has happened and I don’t know what to share first. Add to that the fear that what I have to say will be irrelevant to everyone… so why bother? Or, sometimes I feel paralyzed because I have so much raw emotion over something that to write about it will cheapen the subject, or I feel as if I may not accurately express what is really in my heart.

Yet I must write. I must write because if I don’t, I will burst into a million tiny pieces and if I burst into a million tiny pieces no one will be able to put me together (unless they’re some sort of freakishly gifted puzzle master)  and if no one can put me back together then who will make dinner? It’s a real problem. My boys said so. One night, a few years ago, when I told them that I was going to quit being their mother (not my most mature moment), one of them said with a most concerned expression, “But who would make us dinner?”

So, you see, this is why I must write. Otherwise, if I burst into a million pieces I would not be the mother that my children need in order to have dinner each night. In fact, I would no longer be a mother. Period. I would just be a big mess scattered all over the floor.

Plus, sometimes I actually do have something interesting to say. And sometimes people do want to laugh at the antics I share here. And sometimes, during the best of times, there are people who relate to what I have to say and no longer feel all alone in this ginormous world of ours.

It’s been a long time coming. This attempt at writing again. From my last blog post, it’s been about five months. But all of those reasons I mentioned above were mental stumbling blocks – an overloaded mind, the fear of being irrelevant, and raw emotion from life experiences that I feel I could not capture in words.

Tonight then is simply about writing. Tonight is like a jump start. A recharging. A breakthrough. In future posts, I will delve into the incredible sorrow of losing a friend in March to the joy of climbing a mountain this summer with my family and friends to the continued craziness of raising four boys as a divorced working (and dating) woman. But for now, I’m feeling what it means to push through the paralysis and back into the writing life. And I’ll keep pushing even as I try to come up with some catchy or clever way to end this post. Even as I type this sentence ten times and then erase it because it all sounds so cliche, I will keep pushing because







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