Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Time Travel

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
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I think my daughter’s obsession with Dr. Who is what prompted my husband to ask me the question.

“What period of time would you travel back to if you could?” he asked.

I didn’t give his question much thought.

“I wouldn’t,” I said.

My husband, an avid history buff who thought I shared his interest, looked puzzled.

“I wouldn’t want to deal with being a woman during any time but the present,” I said flatly.

My response may have been a reaction to the fact I had just finished Stephen King’s 11-22-63, in which a man travels back in time to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. While King’s novel is a work a fiction, he paints a clear picture of how different life was for women even during those relatively modern days. He didn’t so much inform as remind me.

While I don’t have a time machine per se, I have something almost as good. I have a baby book, which my mother used to document the first few years of my life – a time about which I have no memories. When I browse through it, I am not only carried back in time, I am reminded of how expectations of women have changed greatly during the last 50 years.

Take, for example, my birth announcement.IMG_1babybook3

Considering whom my mother was and whom I would become, the announcement could not have been more ridiculous. It featured a toddler in a crown and a sash with the words “Our New Miss America is Finally Here.” I’m quite certain my mother never would have forgiven herself had her daughter grown up with any desire to enter beauty contests. I’m just as certain that the available birth announcements in rural Montana in early 1967 were quite limited, so she probably didn’t have much choice.

Just as she probably had no choice about how her name would be listed in the hospital announcements in the local newspaper. Instead of having her own name listed, she was listed as my father’s wife. She was the one who had endured nine months of pregnancy and the birth, but my father was basically given credit.

baby book 2ow, nearly 48 years later, I don’t even have my husband’s last name, and few people question that. Nor do they question the endless possibilities for my smart and talented daughter who recently leafed through the pages of my baby book with a mix of interest and disbelief.

Apparently, her interest in time travel isn’t limited to Dr. Who, but I’m fairly certain she finds a great deal more potential in the future than in the past.

And that is exactly as life should be.

This Too Shall Pass

Friday, December 12, 2014
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“This too shall pass” – a well-known adage and my new life motto.

The saying is often used when referring to a hardship or struggle, but its true meaning is twofold, and that’s how I use it. I say it to myself when I’m having a rough day or when AJ is going through a phase that is hard on mommy, and I use it as a reminder that the good times will pass just as quickly as the hard times.

When AJ was a newborn and we couldn’t stop her cries, I told myself, “This too shall pass,” and it did.

When I was dealing with the baby blues and hormones that come after having a baby, I knew it would pass. It did.

This week, we had one glorious full night of sleep, followed by four nights of not-so-good sleep. This too shall pass.

The toothless smile, the surprise on her face when she makes a new noise for the first time, those will pass too.

The good and the bad that comes with raising a baby, it all goes by too quickly. At lunch this week, some of my coworkers were talking about being baseball coaches, serving on school committees, carpooling kids and traveling for extracurricular activities. Before I know it, those days will be upon us. The days of AJ being a baby will pass and she will grow.

I know AJ is only four months old, but as we approach our first Christmas, I’m feeling the passage of time oh so strongly. This time last year, I had just found out I was expecting. It felt like forever until I would spend Christmas with my baby, and yet here we are, and I feel like I barely blinked.

We aren’t able to fast-forward through the rough parts and press “pause” on the easy parts. And for good reason; the hard times make us appreciate the good and the two are often intertwined. When I’m up at 4 a.m. feeding AJ, I get to see her sweet face and hold her tiny body. She won’t stay tiny for long and she won’t be eating at 4 a.m. forever.

This too shall pass – a silent prayer of strength, and a constant reminder to enjoy this time as much as possible.

The Naked Christmas Tree

Wednesday, December 10, 2014
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There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now. Well, it’s not completely naked. A  few lights  are strung around its fragrant limbs, but the lights aren’t on so the tree looks much the same as it did on a hilly farm only days agochristmas tree

My family hasn’t had time to decorate. We barely even found the time together to get the tree. Our days of leisurely trips to the tree farm are long gone. Choosing the tree has become a mission that must be executed with precision to insure we all make our next appointment or activity.

Every time I pass by the living room, the naked tree serves as a reminder of life as it is today: more things to do than we have time to do, the energy and opportunity to do them and an appreciation that the fullness of each and every day.

The unpacked brown cardboard boxes and plastic crates that surround the tree serve as reminders of life as it once was. Most of our holidays decorations and ornaments represent a person, an event, a pet, an interest or a special occasion. Collectively, they  have written the history of my family’s life. Almost every object has a story that we read each December, put in a place of honor then pack away for eleven months only to be taken out the next year and read again.

Our new kitten Artemis, who adopted us a couple of months ago, serves as a reminder that life will be different in the years to come.  In fewer than 24 months, Artemis will be a full-grown cat who may or may not be jumping at the limbs of the Christmas tree and poking her pink nose into the boxes of decorations. My son will be in college and may or may not be participating in the family’s annual pilgrimage to get the tree. And I’ll be older and  shaped by circumstances I can’t even begin to predict today.

There is a naked fir tree in my living room right now, but it won’t remain naked much longer. Soon, it will be decorated, glowing and the center of celebration. After the presents are opened, the cookies eaten and the holiday meals enjoyed, it will stand in my living room for a few more days, but it won’t receive the attention it once did. If history holds true, we will forget to water the tree, and the needles will dry up and start to fall out.

By New’s Year Day, the ornaments will once again be packed up, the tree will be dragged to the curb and the needles will be vacuumed. All that will remain of this year’s Christmas tree will be photos, a few ornaments and the memories attached to both.

Time marches on, and change is a constant. We can’t hold on to the past, and we shouldn’t try. But we can hold on to traditions. They are the architects of memories and the link between the past and the future. They can also be found anywhere we can find family – even in a naked Christmas tree.

Being Present

Friday, November 7, 2014
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I went back to work this week.

My last day at home with AJ was Monday, and we had such a special day.

We did the same things as we did in previous weeks, but this day was different.

I made the conscious decision to be as present as I could be – to not worry about anything and simply enjoy spending time with my baby. For someone whose hobbies include making lists and organizing anything, this was a quite a challenge. I didn’t plan an agenda, I didn’t have a list of chores, I didn’t even worry about what was for dinner. And, maybe more importantly, I didn’t pick up my phone (except to snap a few photos) and I didn’t get on social media. It was wonderful.

I spent the day savoring little moments and observations – the curiosity in AJ’s eyes when looking at my hands, how her smile is already verging on flirtatious, her determination when trying to roll over. We played, cuddled, “talked,” and simply enjoyed each other’s company. Her little personality shines through more each day, and I watched her figure out the world. Unlike many days of my maternity leave, I didn’t worry about things like crying or naps or what time we needed to be home for her to eat.

I really think AJ could sense my mood and it wore off on her. She didn’t cry at all and was all smiles all day.

It was an ordinary day, but it was one of the best days of my life. This might sound like an exaggeration but I promise you it is not. I will cherish the memories of that day forever.

Not every weekend or day off will be like my last day at home. Bills won’t pay themselves and the dishes and laundry will pile up. Errands will need to be run and chores will need to be done. Responsibilities must be met.

But I learned a valuable lesson Monday – sometimes we need a “pause” day. A day where we pause our busy lives and make the effort to be completely present, physically and mentally. A day where we put all our worries aside, turn off our phones, and enjoy what we love most in life. These days will without a doubt end up as the best days.

Spending Time

Wednesday, November 5, 2014
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Like many Americans, I looked forward to an extra hour of sleep last Sunday morning.

That’s not to say I like the practice of changing clocks twice a year.steve jobs

The extra hour of sleep wasn’t actually an extra hour in my life. It was simply a debt that had to be repaid for the hour taken from me this past spring. And I resent that lost hour, especially since I’m never been able to find enough hours in the day,

I think I inherited that trait from my mother.

We both feel better about ourselves when we are being productive. Because of that, we often put too much on our plates.

We just load those plates with very different items.

When I was very young, my family lived in a tiny house on an Indian Reservation near other families with fathers who also worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My mom, who has always taken great pride in ensuring that no speck of dirt survives more than a week in her house, was burdened with two small children who thought life should be messy and did their best to live up to their beliefs. Mom would spend the day busy cleaning, cooking and doing chores. When my father would arrive home, she would ask him how other women got their chores completed early enough to play cards and socialize while she never seemed to get ahead.

Dad never had the nerve to say that my mom could play cards and socialize if she  really wanted to do so. She was choosing to use her time in a different way.

I can’t imagine spending so  much time doing housework.  Just as my mother didn’t have time to play cards with the neighbors, I don’t have time to clean my house. I tend to spend too many hours at the office and doing volunteer work and writing and walking my dog (which I try to pretend is a chore.) The reality is, like my mother, even though I complain about never having as much time to relax as other people, I’m actually quite happy being busy.

But I still need to ensure I’m not so busy that I’m wasting time.

Time, like any other precious resource, has to be budgeted.

When I was  in graduate school and working full time, I thought I didn’t have any time. I couldn’t let go of my need to ensure every paper I wrote was perfect and that I aced every test. I couldn’t understand how some of my classmates, who were also working full time but also had children, were only concerned about getting by. I never wanted to “just get by.” I wanted to be perfect.

My last year of graduate school, I got pregnant with my son, gave birth in April and graduated in May. When I graduated, I had as much pride in putting the letters MOM behind my name as I had in putting the letters MSW there.

Nine months of pregnancy during the most demanding time of my life taught me that no one can do everything perfectly. The more thinly we spread ourselves, the fewer things were are capable of doing well.

No one has unlimited time, and how we spend it speaks as much or more to our character as how we spend our paychecks.

I was thinking a great deal about how I spend my time this past weekend – not just because of the “extra” hour but because senior night was celebrated during the last home football game at my son’s high school. As parents proudly escorted the senior football players and band members onto the field while the announcer talked about each student, my eyes welled with tears.

Next year, I’ll be escorting my son onto the field, and I’m already wondering how the time went by so quickly. I’m wishing I had more and worrying whether I spent the time I had as his parent wisely.

But for the moment, all I can do is treasure every moment and remember that time, unlike money, can’t be saved. It can, however, be wasted or spent wisely.

I simply hope that years from now I’ll look back at this time and pride myself in making some very good investments.

As Time Goes By

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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I have friends who swear their  bodies are the clearest indicator of the passage of time.

I disagree.birthday cake

Granted, every time I bend my knees, they crack and creak. Every day when I look in the mirror, I see another wrinkle on my face. And every effort to read small type has become an exercise in futility.

But my aging body isn’t what really makes me feel the passage of time.

That comes with watching my children grow up.

Last Friday, my youngest turned 13. The night before Kendall’s birthday, I walked into the family room as she and her father were looking at her baby book. She was laughing at the funny stories I had documented in the  pages and was looking at photos taken on her fourth birthday. In one picture, she was smiling at the camera while her friend Joey had his arm slung around her shoulder as he gazed at her.

“Oh yes, Joey,” I said looking over Kendall’s shoulder at the book. “He told us he was going to marry you.”

Kendall rolled her eyes and continued to flip through the pages of her baby book while her father and I looked at each other.

That photo had been taken nine years earlier, but Giles and I felt as though we had been joking about Joey’s intentions only yesterday. To Kendall, Joey is a distant, if non-existent, memory. My perspective of time appears to be out of whack.

For example, at church on Sunday I was talking to a woman whose daughter just started high school – at least in my mind she had just started high school.  But when I asked how she was doing, her mother reminded me that she is a senior in college. I couldn’t believe that many years had passed, and I thought about how college is just around the corner for my son, a high school junior.

Even though Giles and I have been making payments on Shepherd’s pre-paid college plan since he was born, I’m having a difficult time realizing that the time to make use of that fund is almost here.

I was holding a newborn in my arms the day we bought the plan. At that time,  my son’s college education was only a vague concept for the distant future when I would be a worn-out  middle-aged woman.

I like to think the years were too short for me to be that old and worn out. They did, after all, go much more quickly than when I was a child and summers went on forever and Christmas seemed as though it would never arrive.

I’ve come to recognize the days will continue to grow shorter and the years will continue to fly by. I’ve also come to recognize that even though there is nothing I can do to slow time down, there is a great deal I can do to ensure I treasure every minute of it.

Beneath the Surface

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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I have a friend who grew up with an unhealthy fear of thunderstorms.

Her fear was unhealthy not because she hid at the first sign of a storm or trembled at the sound of thunder. It was unhealthy because it was based on a lie.

Her fear was built on a belief that her cousin had been killed when struck by lightning.

Only after years and a well-cultivated phobia of lightning did her parents reveal that her cousin had actually committed suicide.

I was thinking of this Monday night when both of my children wanted to talk about Robin William’s suicide. My daughter asked how he could asphyxiate himself. My son just wanted to express his shock. Since I was also in shock, I had very little to add to the conversation even though I knew I should. I don’t want my children to be afraid of thunderstorms any more than I want them to think suicide is about a person’s final act.

Instead, suicide is about everything other people don’t act upon.

I first realized this when the brother of one my daughter Kendall’s classmate’s killed himself. The boy was in middle school at the time, and my daughter relayed the same story that the media did: the boy had been bullied. That revelation was followed by the typical outcry to address bullying by calling out people whose words and behavior are hurtful.

What I didn’t hear was an outcry to simply to pay attention to each other despite labels or diagnoses or cliques or fame.

Some people might say that Robin Williams, one of the funniest men in the world, and an overweight middle school student had nothing in common, but they are wrong.

They had a great deal in common.

They were both people. They both had feelings. They both struggled to meet the expectations of others. They both wanted to belong to a world that often doesn’t make sense. They both fought internal battles that others couldn’t or didn’t see. Because of this, they both hurt inside. And they both committed suicide.

Like millions of others, I feel the loss of Robin Williams, but I can’t claim I knew him any more than I knew the brother of Kendall’s classmate.

I never had the opportunity to share a smile, listen to, interact with or show my compassion for either of them, and I never will.

But I do have the opportunity to do all those with a neglected child, a homeless adult, a rebellious teenager, a lonely senior, a rude customer or client and an overly-talkative neighbor. Not only do I have the opportunity, I have the obligation. All of them are my fellow human beings who have feelings, struggle to meet the expectations of others and have a simple desire to belong to a world.

And they, like me, generally show only a small piece of themselves to the rest of the world. We keep what lies just below the surface hidden in hopes that we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities to a society that is quick to exploit them.

I can’t imagine Robin Williams ever approved of such a world. Instead, I choose to believe that he wanted all of us to recognize that imperfect people make the world interesting and meaningful. I believe he knew we should all look beyond the superficial to where imperfection and insecurities lie. And he  would want us to dive into whatever depth we are capable of reaching with others so we can work together to save all those who are drowning.

I also believe he would encourage all of us not to fear the thunderstorm and instead to dance in the rain that comes with it.

Roughing It

Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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A few days ago, my daughter approached me with her hands on her hips, her head cocked and her voice dripping with exasperation.

“Well, mom,” she said. “Your great experiment failed.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I said so.

“This whole not using the dryer thing,” she explained. “It’s not working.”

I still didn’t understand what she meant, so she slowed her words and paused between each one.

“The      towels      are     rough      and    my     t-shirts    are     stiff,” she explained.

“That’s because they weren’t dried in the dryer,” I said. “The dryer fluffs things.”

“Exactly,” she said.

I understood her perspective, but she didn’t understand mine – which was that dryer needed a replacement part and running it would break it completely. Besides, dryers use a great deal of electricity, and electricity costs a great deal of money. I’m all for saving electricity.

Our brief and pointless conversation was ironic.

Just days earlier, I’d had a conversation with co-workers about the benefits of drying laundry on a clothesline. I expressed the intense embarrassment I’d experienced as an adolescent when my mom had hung all of our laundry, including underwear, on clotheslines and drying racks in our backyard for the neighbors to see. A colleague, who is younger than me but grew up in the country, said everyone dried their clothes outside when he was growing up.  Another, who is older than me but who grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C., said she had tried drying clothes outside once but her sheets were full of bugs.  The only consensus we reached about line-drying clothes is that is much cheaper.

And then my dryer started making a funny noise and I decided that cheaper is sometimes better, and we don’t need technology as much as society tries to tell us we do.  Humans survived for hundreds of years without it, and even my own generation once made do with much less.

I remember my family’s first color television, first microwave oven, first electric typewriter, first answering machine and  first touch-tone phone. And I most definitely remember our first computer, which required us to insert a floppy disc with the operating system. I never dreamed of voice mail, cell phones, the internet, laptop computers or being able to rewind live television.

My children can’t remember a world when they didn’t have all of that technology at their fingertips.

Their disbelief reminds me of trying to understand how my grandparents had lived without television, telephones or running water. It also reminds me of a moment in my own childhood, when my grandparents had traveled from Michigan to Oregon to visit my family.

My grandmother was helping my brother Sean clean his pet hamster’s cage. “You need to use elbow grease,” she said.

My brother looked at her and said, “I don’t think Mom buys that. Should I ask her to go to the store?”

My grandmother laughed and explained that elbow grease is something that comes from within. It is the effort each person uses to get the job done.

I am thinking about that moment as I sit on my back porch in the dark. I am fortunate that there is still a battery in my laptop computer so I can write. My son is sitting at the picnic table at the other end of the deck reading a book to the glow of a lantern.

A storm blew through my town a few hours ago, and there was a fire at the local substation. The power has been out for hours.

I can’t say I’m pleased with this turn of events. The slight inconvenience of drying laundry on a clothesline is nothing compared to the worry about the food in our refrigerator going bad, the temperature in the house getting too hot, our lack of internet and television or, most important to my kids, our inability to charge our mobile devices.

And yet, as I write this on a laptop with a depleting battery, I am enjoying the gentle breeze blowing through the leaves of the oak tree that rules the backyard and the dance of the fireflies against the dark sky. I am enjoying the fact that the only noise I hear is the sound of crickets. And I am enjoying the fact that, just for a moment, I can understand a world that used to exist. A world that depended less on electricity and more on imagination and personal relationships.

A world in which kids accepted rough towels and the need for elbow grease.

Independence Day

Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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I had a flashback to the Summer of 1976 while riding my bike the other day. The rubber on my back tire had split, and the damaged tire was slowing me down.1976

Instead of recognizing the problem, I blamed myself. I thought I wasn’t pedaling hard enough, which is the same accusation I made of myself during the Bicentennial Parade on the Fourth of July in 1976.  That parade  provided some of the hardest, but most meaningful, lessons of my childhood.

I grew up in a small town in Central Oregon where summer meant two things: being outside and celebrating the Fourth of July.

Being outside involved building forts in Juniper trees, capturing tadpoles in irrigation ditches, swimming lessons at Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and riding our bikes everywhere. Bike helmets weren’t even a consideration back in those days. We only worried about skinned knees, and, when the temperatures were cooler, getting our bell bottom pants caught in the chains of our bikes. But during the warm days of summer, we were wearing shorts, and our greatest concern was how to decorate our bikes for the Fourth of July parade.

Everyone in Madras Oregon participated in the parade. Adults and children planned and prepared for months, and the anticipation of  the annual event increased dramatically for America’s Bicentennial. As soon as the calendar turned to January 1976, the planning was on. Every activity and event highlighted America’s 200th birthday.

During  Girl Scout events, all the girls wore Betsy Ross inspired outfits.

During school programs, we sang patriotic songs.

And almost all the clothes in stores that year were red, white and blue.

But, in the eyes of the kids, nothing was more important than how we decorated our bikes for the Fourth of July Parade. As I recall, there was a prize for the best decorated bike, which only partly explains why we took the task so seriously. Prize or not, kids on bikes led the parade and finished in time to catch a ride on the fire engines that wrapped it up.

With all that at stake, we took decorating our bikes in theme very seriously. We had always woven streamers through the spokes and threaded them through our handle bars, but the Bicentennial parade was something special and required extra effort.

My friend Shannon and I had a plan for how to make a statement. Instead of riding bicycles, we decided to ride tricycles with signs that said “Ready for the Tricentennial.” I don’t remember where we got the trikes. Perhaps they were from her brother Kip or perhaps they were sitting around my parents’ garage.

All I know is that my nine-year old knees and legs were much too long to ride a small tricycle with any efficiency. On the day of the parade, I gathered with all of my peers at the start of the parade. When everyone else sped off, I didn’t. I could barely pedal the well-decorated but much-too-small trike. Before long, I was trying to keep up with the antique cars. And by the time I realized I’d be faster if I simply pushed the trike, I was with the floats. When the fire truck with all my peers on board passed by, I felt completely defeated. Despite that, I didn’t quit. But I was extremely embarrassed by my poor showing.

Thirty-eight years later I’m not embarrassed at all. Instead, I proud of that little girl and her perseverance.

Life has a way of encouraging us to re-think our memories and identify how they can help in the future. As a mom, I appreciate the  benefit of of  perspective and a life time of experience. I’ve learned a great deal from both.

I’ve learned being embarrassed does not equate to failure. In fact, being embarrassed simply means you went outside your comfort zone, which is something winners always do.

I’ve learned that finishing what you start means more than a first place ribbon.

I’ve learned that blaming ourselves when something doesn’t go as planned is pointless. Sometimes, the circumstances are beyond our control: the tire is flat or the distance to the pedals too short. Sometimes, we don’t have the resources we need, like a bigger or faster bike. And sometimes we are simply out of our element.

I’ve also learned that  life can’t be truly enjoyed if we try to measure it in terms of success or failure. Life requires that we cheer on those who are ahead on the parade route and encourage those who never have a chance to ride the fire engines.

Most of all, I’ve learned to appreciate having the freedom to make mistakes, the luxury of having the independence to talk about those mistakes, the opportunity to fix the flat tires that life sometimes delivers and the importance of recognizing that we can’t control every aspect of our lives.

This Fourth of July, neither of my children will be participating in or attending a parade as I did when I was young. Despite that, I have no doubt they will be turning to me for ideas about how to celebrate. And I’m almost positive, I’ll suggest we take a family bike ride.

Unforgettable Fun

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
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I made a huge mistake last Friday. I asked my daughter if she wanted to do something fun with me on Saturday.

I had forgotten that, in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is only one situation that involves both mom and fun: shopping.

But she didn’t just want to go to the nearby mall where we usually shop. She requested we go to a much larger mall in the D.C. suburbs, and she only wanted to shop in stores that have clothes fashionable enough for nearly 13-year old girls. For the record, these are the exact same stores where she shops at the nearby mall and, from what I could tell, the clothes were exactly the same too.

The day was hard on pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But I tolerated the shopping trip knowing that the next day we would be having real fun.

We were going hiking.hiking - Copy

But in Kendall’s almost 13-year-old mind, there is absolutely no situation that involves fun and hiking.

At first, I think she forgot that. As we were getting ready to go, she asked what she should wear. (For some reason, she asks me this every day. When I make a suggestion, she rolls her eyes and tells me what she thinks of my suggestion. Then, she wears what she wants and we repeat the routine the next day.)

I advised her to wear a t-shirt and sturdy shoes.  Per usual, she ignored my advice and wore  a newly purchased floral top, matching shoes and new prescription glasses she wears to see long distances. She asked if I liked the look.

This time, I rolled my eyes.

By the time we actually arrived in Harper’s Ferry, she was already complaining that she didn’t want to waste her whole day on a trail.

While my son forged ahead, she was demanding an explanation about the purpose of the hike. When my husband told her that someday she would appreciate it, she scoffed at the idea. IMG_3502When we joined up with a large pack of Boy Scouts at the overlook, she stopped complaining and seemed to enjoy the view and the company.

Then I made the mistake of suggesting we complete the hike along the ridge, which added additional hours to our time  in the woods and on the mountain. While I enjoyed the challenge, nobody else in the family did, especially my daughter. The only solace I could provide was the promise of a hot dog and ice cream at the end of the trail.

The hike, and subsequent meal out, were hard on my pocketbook, hard on my feet and hard on my patience.

But despite my daughter’s complaints, I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the memories we made. Something tells me my daughter will also remember the hike long after she forgets the trip to the mall. I’m also fairly confident that those memories will be good ones.

That’s how life works.

Despite our disagreements and dislikes, stepping outside our comfort zones and testing our endurance always builds our confidence. When we do it with people we love, it’s even more meaningful.

And when we do it together with family, it’s unforgettable.