Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from a Pool Toy

I sat on the edge of the zero-depth kiddie pool and watched my girls splash near my feet. Reese filled a miniature watering can and poured it into Allie's open palm. Ah, those precious giggles. Matt sat nearby on the floor of the pool fiddling with a rubber squirt toy. Last fall we talked about spending his spring break in Mexico sans children, but instead opted for the far cheaper - and much less relaxing - family fun day in Peoria, Illinois (just 30 minutes from home). Toddler Splash at the Riverplex and Burger Barge 2 for lunch. Upper class all the way.

We really did have a great time at the pool. Reese finally overcame her fear of getting her face and head wet, and she had a blast going down the miniature water slide and perfecting her crab walk. Allie had not been in a pool since last summer, and her elated expression was well worth missing out on the palm trees and Margaritas. 

Sometimes when I see my kids having so much fun in such a simple moment I wonder where I derailed. I can (reluctantly) admit that I am a bit of a no-nonsense person, and the days of carefree child-like fun seem so far lost. My desire to prevent messes and injuries often overrides my ability to let loose and have fun. Routine. Order. Control. Boring. That's me. And if it doesn't seem that way to others (thank God), that's often how I feel. 

Watching the girls continue to play, I caught a glimpse of Matt raising a now full squirt toy out of the water. Before I could react, he sprayed a line of water down my abdomen. I shot him a "don't you dare" look as he submerged the toy again. This time he shot me in the face. In the face! He roared with laughter as I stared back at him. "Hun, c'mon," I always say in that long, drawn out way that shows my level of irritation with just two words.

Only I didn't say that. I didn't say anything. Instead, Reese jumped up and said, "Daddy, Mommy doesn't want you to do that!" This wasn't the first wake-up call to the reality that I am creating a miniature no-nonsense version of myself. Her personality is mine in every way. She is bossy and controlling. She prefers order to chaos. And she is often intolerant of even the most innocent teasing. 

And, boy, did I marry a teaser. He's the type who likes to give me jumper cables while I'm cracking eggs. (That's when you take your index fingers and poke them into both sides of another person's waist). One year when Reese had the flu on New Year's Eve, Matt wanted to bet on which one of us would come down with it first. I was not amused. That night, I got up from the couch and went to the bathroom. As I hung my head over the toilet, he peeked around the corner and said, "You win." And suddenly there I was throwing up and laughing at the same time. He's witty and sarcastic and his humor has thwarted way more arguments than it's caused. In fact, it tops the list of things I love about him. He's hilarious.

Yet here I am today giving him dirty looks because I don't want to go to a dumpy burger joint with frizzy hair. Really?? 

I realized then that I never derailed. I just don't choose to laugh as often anymore, and for some reason it seems that the older I get, the less laughter wins. I blame stress – and not the I-can’t-pay-my-bills stress or someone-I-love-is-dying stress, but the kind of senseless self-induced, anxiety-driven stress that I can’t seem to pin on any single life event (or even series of events). And isn’t life just too damn short for imaginary stress to override moments of laughter, joy, and soaking-wet fun? 

I think so.

As suddenly as it appeared, my angry expression transformed into a sly smile as I reached for a squirt toy of my own. I pointed it at Matt and squeezed the head of a rubber tiger. A pitiful arc of water dribbled from its mouth. Matt laughed even harder and sprayed my face again. I tried to reload, but I couldn't squeeze the tiger hard enough to reach him. After a few more tries, I dropped my weapon in surrender. Water dripped from my face and hair and our laughter echoed off the walls. 

Reese ran over and sat on the edge of the pool next to me. "Spray me, Daddy! Spray me!" 

Matt squirted her belly. She squealed. "Do it again!"

Then Allie walked over to him and doused him with the watering can, getting revenge for Reese and me. Someday in the future, when I hear a song that prompts a spontaneous mental montage of special moments, this scene at the pool will surely make the cut.

Laughter doesn't always come up against another choice; it just flows naturally from a good happy mood. Other times, it fights tooth and nail just to get you to crack a smile. It’s like the way your response to a messy spill can land anywhere between indifferent shrug and total meltdown depending on anything from hormones to stress levels (real or imagined) to where this spill falls in today’s lineup of mishaps. If I’m in a good mood and Matt gives me jumper cables while I’m cracking eggs, I laugh and turn my head to kiss his cheek. If I’m in a bad mood, or (more often) in a self-induced stress frenzy, I resort to an irritated “grow up” comment and matching eye roll.

What I’ve learned, though, is that – in more circumstances than we may know (or care to admit) – our response is a matter of choice. In the split second that I felt the water from Matt’s squirt toy begin to pelt my face, something inside me wanted to react with anger or annoyance or – at the very least – a pleading, “Hun, please don’t” with forced politeness. At the same time, another part of me urged a different response…

“Laugh. Really, it’s ok. So what if your makeup runs and your hair gets frizzy? So what if you didn’t pack a brush or a hair tie? The annoyance you feel isn’t about Matt or the squirt toy. It’s about other (totally unfounded) fears and worries that have nothing to do with family fun day. What a great chance to let all that go for a while. Now grab that tiger and squirt him back!” 

An hour later, I sat at the Burger Barge 2 with my Moo-Shroom (aka Swiss and mushroom) burger and fries and, seriously, the frizziest hair ever. I took Allie to the bathroom for a diaper change and glanced in the mirror. Cringing at the sight of my, I turned on the sink hoping some moisture would temporarily tame my frizz. From her position on my hip, Allie reached forward and splashed in the water. I gave her a moment of fun (ah, those precious giggles) and then turned the faucet off without touching my hair. I dried my hands and looked in the mirror again, smiling at my wild hairdo and the memory of the moment that created it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

This is Now

The Hearts at Home Blog Hop continues today with "Love Your Now." I haven't participated in a Hearts blog hop in 2014, so let me bring you up to speed. The conference theme for 2014 is "Love Your Life" so this year the bloggers will be sharing what we love about various aspects of our lives. Last Monday I woke up to an email containing the topic for March - Love Your Now. I had just spent the whole weekend with 3 close friends in Lake Geneva at a Christian women's retreat (Breakaway). When I came home I felt refreshed, energized, and totally on fire for Jesus. Upon reading the email, I was so excited to write about all that I love about this time in my life - my "now."

Then all Hell broke loose.

First, a little background tidbit. We hired a contractor to replace our patio door with a sliding glass door. He called me while I was at the retreat to ask if they could come out on Monday. I knew that would be inconvenient with the kids, but we had already rescheduled twice (our fault, not theirs), so I said yes thinking I would just take the kids to a friend's house while the carpenter worked. I should also add that five minutes later I completely forgot that I just had that conversation.

On Monday morning L got dropped off at her usual time and we started our normal daily routine. Around mid-morning, the doorbell rang and I looked outside to see the guy with our new door. I had totally forgotten! Not a big deal right? Wrong! I originally thought I would leave with the kids, but I had no car because while I was in Lake Geneva my car was hit and was not drivable. So I welcomed the carpenter and braced for impact because...

Sawdust + power tools + curious toddler = God help me!

For the next nine hours, there was a seven-foot hole in my living room and constant noise from saws, hammers, and drills. Nobody could nap because of the noise so Allie was a crying mess all afternoon.

Around lunchtime, Matt called to see if I could take over with the whole car thing because he had too much going on at work to make all the necessary phone calls. Oh and by the way, he now has to stay late and go to a meeting for someone who can't be there (which means he won't get home until well after bedtime).

I started making phone calls to the other driver's insurance company, the body shop, the tow truck, and the rental car place, and I couldn't really hear over the noise of the tools and the children so everything took longer.

Suddenly, Reese was tugging my arm and urgently yelling, "Mommy! Mommy!" Finally, I turned to her with a highly inappropriate "WHAT!?" And she said, "L threw up!"

I peeked around the corner and there was L sitting on my couch covered in vomit.

That was one of those moments where I stop and think, I could deal with this OR I could just get in the car and head for Mexico... Oh wait, I have no car. Now what??

So I did the most intelligent I could think of and called L's dad at work, like he can teleport here and fix it. I should add that L's parents are some of the most flexible and laid back people I've ever met, and I'm fairly certain that they think (or I should say know) that I am a neurotic mess. Well, if they didn't before, they do now.

So now I have the right side of my living room covered in tools and sawdust, the left side covered in vomit, a child who needs a shower, and a 16-month-old who I can barely handle in a hazard-free environment.

I sent Reese and N (L's older brother who comes to my house after kindergarten) into Reese's room with Allie. I told them to watch her, closed the door, and hoped for the best while I helped L shower.

By the time I got L out of the shower, her dad was there and he was kind enough to help me start the clean up process. He was super apologetic and they offered to pay for the cleaning, but I felt pretty responsible because I was on the phone all afternoon and not being very attentive.

Shortly after the kids got picked up, the guy finished the door and left. I proceeded to make a sorry excuse for a dinner for two super tired and crabby kids. Then I tried to put them to bed early, which in keeping with the spirit of my day, did not happen.

Finally, with both kids in bed, I took a shower, poured a (really big) glass of wine, and sat down with my computer. But I wasn't excited. I was defeated. What could I possibly say that I love about my "now" after a day like that??

I almost closed my computer thinking I would just sit this one out (again), but then I looked around. The house was quiet, and I was sitting in the living room in my super-comfy bathrobe with a glass of wine. The Christian radio station played softly in the background and I was ready to engage in my very favorite hobby.

At that moment, my "now" was awesome, but I didn't see that because I was still holding on to the negativity from the rest of my day. The sawdust, the car, the crabby kids, the vomit - that was then. It was over. It doesn't have to be a part of my now.

I sat there thinking about how often I let feelings from times that were "then" affect my enjoyment of now. We all have times when our now is not so great, but when we carry the emotional aftermath into the future, a bad morning can ruin a whole day or a bad day can ruin a whole week.

So I took a few deep breaths and tried to clear my head. Yes, it was a pretty awful day. Yes, it brought me to tears. And, yes, there was a series of moments that day that had me down about my now.

But that was then.

As I finished writing this post a few days later, I looked around my living room. My patio door is beautiful, and my couch is freshly shampooed for the first time in 5 years. Reese and L were playing with Allie in the other room after a very peaceful morning. We shared laughs, smiles, and hugs, and I am thankful every day for the blessing of my children and for my ability to stay home and be with them all day, every day - even if it means bearing days like last Monday. Today, I am smiling. Today, all is well in my home and in my heart. I love my kids. I love my house. I love my life.

This is now.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Trust, Wait, and Believe

Uncertainty is my enemy. Any time I have a piece of my life up in the air, I can focus on nothing else until an outcome is reached - even when that outcome is beyond my control. Right now it seems we have a lot of unanswered questions. Some involve decisions we need to make; some involve waiting on the decisions of others. All of them have me pacing the floors all day and sitting up at night in anticipation.

Fortunately for us, none of the potential outcomes is inherently bad. There will be challenges and rewards either way. I'm not worried. I'm unsettled. Uncertain. I can handle big disasters pretty well, but give me a minor uncertainty with an answer any further away than right now, and I go bananas.

Usually, I respond to weeks like this with activity. Constant activity. The faster I can pass the time, the quicker the answers will come. But now that I have two kids of my own and two more that I watch, it's not as easy to numb myself with busyness (and not the kind of mundane taking care of kids busyness, but productive re-tile the bathroom busyness).

Just a few years ago, on a week like this, I would be a tough person to live with. (Just ask my husband). I would be flustered and snappy and overwhelmed by little things. I would talk through the same things over and over and analyze every possible outcome to death.

Today, I will admit that I still do a lot of those things. I still get restless, and I still can't seem to pass the time fast enough. But I have one thing now that I didn't have then - God. As much as I still struggle in times of uncertainty, there is a peace underneath that everything is in His hands and all will be well.

I never thought prayer could have such a large impact on my anxiety, but it does. I don't ask Him to fix it. I ask Him to walk with me through it. I will probably never get over my dislike for uncertainty. It's a part of who I am. But today I am a much easier person to live with through these times. I don't know what will come of our current uncertainties, but I offer all of the restless feelings up to He who walks with me. Until the answers come...