Monday, December 17, 2012

Just Mourn

They say that everything happens for a reason.

But I wholeheartedly disagree.  I haven’t believed that trite phrase for quite some time.  It’s one of those clich├ęs that we fall back on when we don’t know what else to say or more likely, when just listening makes us too uncomfortable.

It’s like saying “There are no words . . .” or “This too shall pass . . .”  or “Everything will be ok . . .”  It’s like sharing a personal miscarriage story when someone’s child has been torn from this life, from their family.  Grief gouges a deep hole in the fabric of one’s life.  A scary, dark abyss that people want to fill with something, anything.

Because simply listening is hard, listening takes time.  And an ability to endure silence and grief and rage and any other emotion that may come into play.  It’s uncomfortable.  It requires us to suppress our own agendas, causes, and solutions in favor of empathy.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason.  There is such a thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  There is such a thing as evil which strikes without rhyme or reason.  There is no reason inherent in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

It happened.  It’s horrible, and it happened.  It gouged an abyss in the lives of 27 families.  And it horrified a nation.

But there is no reason that it happened. 

It makes me feel sick to listen to all the people coming out of the woodwork with a cause, with an ‘it’s time to...’ or ‘let’s fix this...’ or ‘if only...’  Don’t make this tragedy about gun control, or mental health treatment, or even about the way our society views God.

There is no fixing this. 

Patience.  Silence.  Empathy.  Let’s close our lips and open our hearts.  Let’s wait.  When those in mourning are ready to talk, let’s listen.  Let’s mourn with them because we can imagine the tiniest sliver of what they must be feeling as we send our children off to school.

Maybe those in mourning will one day look back on this tragedy and assign some meaning to it.  Maybe they will find comfort through faith.  Maybe they will learn something beautiful from something so terrible.  Maybe this sorrow will one day deepen their joy.

But that is their path to choose.

Ours is to be silent and mourn.  Just mourn.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day of Thanks

We had a fabulous turkey day season, even though we didn't have turkey.  R made the best ever Indian costume at school.
B and I got to see her sing with her class and then eat a feast in front of us.  And by "eat," I mean pick over and declare that this and that and the other thing are yucky.  She has a little way to go in the gratitude department, especially when it comes to food.

On Thanksgiving itself, Shaggy took his son and his air rifle out to look for squirrels.  
He's been talking a lot lately about how squirrels make great hot wings.  And Aunt N (who joined us for the weekend), wisely informed him that squirrels don't have wings.  Although they do seem to disappear entirely whenever Shaggy is outside with that air gun, because he always comes back empty handed.
While dinner was cooking in the fire, we set out into the back woods for a little adventure.
 We had some fun, found some fascinating creatures under an old log, dug up a little tree, and caught ourselves some sun flares.
Shaggy proved to be a great fire chef.  Not to be confused with fire chief.  He lost his chance at that when he left the Chicago fire department twice.  Ah, well.  I like it better here anyway.  Although I really, really miss that schedule.  Always will.
The chicken came out perfectly.  Nice flavor.  Not overdone.  Perfect.
We were slightly dismayed when we pulled the lid off the sweet potatoes.
They looked a little too crispy.  But surprisingly, once we peeled off the charred skin, they were perfect inside.  I'm not much of a sweet potato fan in general, but these were flavorful and had a smoother consistency than any others I have tried.  Kudos to the fire chef.
There were other parts to our meal, but who wants to hear about them all?  Everybody helped, which was nice.  The other part to remember was how adventurous it felt to cook over a fire.  We did it a few times in Cali, but something tells me it will be a much more frequent occurrence around here.  Someday there even may be a lot less guesswork involved in the process.
We were happy to share our meal, and our laughter with Aunt N.  Who never fails to bring a lot of laughter of her own.  She finds so much humor in life, which is awesome.
Apple berry pie.  Also awesome.  Though the apples were a tad bit undercooked.  But since I didn't make it, I probably shouldn't be too critical.  It was delicious.  And warm.  And was a great complement to some creamy vanilla ice cream.  Shaggy is well on his way to perfecting this pie.  But I hope that he never actually reaches that point because he claims that when he makes the perfect apple pie then he has to give up making them forever.  How can you follow perfection?

So, really, it's in my best interest to find some fault with each and every apple pie he makes.  At least until he gives up the notion of not wanting to follow perfection.

My favorite part of the day happened when our two littlest girls were tucked snugly in their beds and the rest of us gathered around the table to enjoy a second helping of pie.

Because that's when the family storytelling began.  There was no itinerary that dictated that that was what we should do.  It was prompted by a simply phrase from one of the kids, "Remember when . . . " 

And we sat there for hours listening to confessions from the girls about things they did when they were younger.  And we told their favorite funny stories about the silly things they did once upon a time.  J enjoyed being included in the after hours gathering, a privilege he doesn't always earn.  

We talked and laughed and ate.  The perfect ending for our Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Grateful. Period.

I inevitably find that any list of the things I am grateful for simply leaves too much out.  Because gratitude is a very fluid thing.  At least for me.

The very things that might drive me nuts one week are sometimes the things I find myself feeling grateful for the next week.  And the particular quirk that I see as endearing in my child one day, causes me endless frustration the next.  And it never seems to fail that I emerge from some trial or other and am suddenly able to see my life in an entirely new perspective, which allows me to feel gratitude for things I may never have noticed before.

Gratitude is a fluid thing.  It ebbs and flows.  It's always changing.  But it is always present.  There is never a moment that I find myself entirely devoid of the feeling.   And that is just the way I like it.  I am not grateful because I am happy.  I am happy because I am grateful.

I choose to focus on the positive.

I can't say that this has been the case for my life in its entirety.  There have been stretches of time where I felt mired in the mud, unable (or unwilling) to find joy.  Times when I focused on all that was wrong, all that was unfair, all that was hard, all that I was being deprived of, all that was causing me grief.

But even during those dark days, I knew that the cause of my unhappiness lay within myself.  I knew that I had turned away from the truths which could help me feel joy.  And eventually, after moping around for a while waiting for someone else to come change things, I would tire of my dissatisfaction and snap out of it.

I would open my eyes to the little moments of joy that had been there all along.  And once they were open to that, all the rest that was hovering around the periphery would come flooding into my heart.  Which helped me feel whole again.

I could make a list of the things that I'm grateful for at this point in my life.  It would be fun to look back on years from now.  But I'm not going to.  Not this year.  There's just too much to list.

Suffice it to say that I am grateful.  Period.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Stick Fort & Nature Party

On a cold, rainy day back in October, Shaggy and J built a stick fort in the woods.  The cardboard club house wasn't faring very well, so we tore it down to make room for what we hope will be the beginnings of a more permanent structure. 
We'll see how it evolves over time.
J was pretty excited that he could almost stand up in it.  The old fort was only good for crouching.
And he took great pride in clearing a path to the fort so that the kids coming to his birthday party would be able to get to it without trouble.

This party was terribly fun to put together.  It certainly helped that we weren't in the middle of a cross country road trip and we weren't still unpacking.  But we also just happened to have the perfect location for the theme.  Nature.  Which surrounds us here in all her awe-inspiring glory.  And which my nature-loving boy just can't get enough of.

It's been too long since I could just enjoy being in party planning mode without too many other stressful things hanging over my head.  But a home with 5 children, house guests and hurricanes is still pretty busy, so I kept the planning simple.
I taped some pictures up on the window.  It was meant to be more than decorations, but we sort of forgot to explain the game to the kids.  We were having too much fun chit-chatting with their parents.  So once the party was over, we broke out the nerf guns and had target practice.  Those suction cup darts are great fun, especially when you're allowed to shoot at the windows.
Grammy helped me paint these egg cartons for our nature scavenger hunt.  Almost all of the items are indigenous, but we did have to plant the seashells and geodes.  Which ended up being somewhat of a disaster because I accidentally used some of K's coveted collection.  She let us all know in no uncertain terms that it wasn't ok and she wanted them all back.  Which got a little tricky for the kids who had already discovered the geode cache.  But through the tears and apologies, we managed to re-collect all her favorites.  Good job, mom.  Add it to the list of serious mom issues and remember when's (typically followed by examples of grievous mistakes.)
But the party-goers managed to have fun hunting with or without their original geodes.
I think J enjoyed being the expert regarding the possible whereabouts of various nature items.  But I'm sure he would never admit that little fact.
The hunt was pronounced a great success once everyone had filled each spot with the designated nature treasure.  And we all went inside to have some snacks.
For many of our parties, we skip the snack table entirely and just go straight for the cake.  But J really wanted one and the snacks were simple enough to throw together.
Especially simple for me because I assigned the big girls to make these cute little acorns.  Mini Nilla wafer + Hershey's kiss + choco/butterscotch chip.

We left all the rowdy, snacking kids under the watchful eye of S and a mom who stayed (she's in the primary presidency so she totally rocks with keeping children in line) so that Shaggy & I could run around outside hiding the jars of little prizes for the treasure hunt.
The kids each grabbed a bag so they could collect their prizes.
Then we read the first clue and they had to figure out where they should go search for the jar of prizes which also held the next clue.
I always make Shaggy write these kinds of clues.  He's really good at it, so I suppose I'll forgive him for always complaining about doing them.
We had those kids running all over the place to find those jars.  They were pretty triumphant when they found one.
One boy even hopped into the water to be the first to claim this one.
We had to modify the way we gave out the prizes because it was turning into a free-for-all.  See, now if I had been in the primary presidency, I would have thought of that ahead of time.  But sadly, I did not. 
Everybody managed to maintain their equilibrium about it . . .
except for R.  Who had meltdown after meltdown about this color bug or that shape of sucker.  It's tough to be five.  Her previously easy-going, happy-go-lucky personality is giving way to drama over the smallest things.
We managed to either trade or pick through the extras for a few items.  But when she began crying about all the options, I began giving out hugs instead of fixes.  That seemed to work a little better and her smiles returned.
I admit that her stormy reactions during the party surprised me.  I was expecting them from J who sometimes struggles during parties.  The easy thing would be to just stop having them for him.  But then he would have no opportunity to improve.  So I keep planning them for him, trying to help him work through some of his socially unacceptable party responses.  And I try to prep him for the tough spots so he has the best chance for success.
For this party, we recruited him to help plan both of the hunts, which gave him the chance to focus on making the party fun for his guests instead of being worried about himself.  It worked out beautifully.  Amazing, really, considering that most of the kids we invited were ones that he barely knew.  But he was a decent host and totally kept his cool during all aspects of the party.  I suppose he really is growing up!
Surprisingly, his favorite part of his parties are the gifts.  (That was sarcasm, just in case you missed it.)
But sometimes the curiosity of the kids towards said presents causes a whole lot of anxiety for him.  We talked about that and it seemed to have sunk in.  He did great.  Not a single shriek or grunt or hiding of a gift.
He was even smirking as all the kids looked over his gifts.  That's great progress, I tell you!
And then we whisked everyone inside for cake and ice cream.  No sense pressing our luck.
This one was fun to make.  Not very stressful.  Not too time consuming.  And I will continue to attest that cakes like this are easier than they look, even though no one ever believes me.
Of course, it helps to have an artistic hubby to delegate sign making to, and an artistic daughter to delegate fire sculpting to.  The trees are simply sugar cones stuck on pretzel rods with some green frosting accents.
But I think my favorite part was the stick fort that I nearly forgot to add at all.
Crazy that he's eight!
But I will revel in the fact that the most interesting thing he can think of to do with a girl is to examine bugs.  And I hope that he continues to find friends that love exploring nature as much as he does.

Happy Birthday, (not so) little bug!!