Tuesday, September 11, 2018

life-giving friendships


I listened to my poet (aka the archer) recite limericks for a high school field trip in the woods.


Labor Day weekend with friends.  A trip to the farm made us want to jump for joy.


Others in the family had to "fake it until you make it" sort of joy (guess who:)) at the day's activity.


One day they'll all cooperate for a family photo.  For now, I have plenty of pictures that look like this.




Labor Day night with these beauties.


And we're not too old to do this....


Our handsome better halves with my girl Rosie.

I tossed the mail onto the counter.  A pile of magazines and envelopes blanketed the surface.  Among the heap, I pulled out a letter from Compassion International.  The envelope easily sliced open and a photo slid into my hands.  It was a picture of our Compassion child with prayer requests listed under his photo.

I scanned the list of prayer requests for our Compassion child.  My eyes zeroed onto the request for "life-giving friendships."

Life-giving friendships.

I'd never heard that term before.  

I've often prayed for my kids' friendships, but rarely have I specified about what sort of friends.  I dissected the word.  What does a life-giving friend look like?  Giving.  Loving.  Compassionate.  Loyal.  Sacrificial.  Enduring.  Yes.  Yes.  These are the friends I want to invest in our Compassion child's life, and my children's life.  These are the sort of friends that enrich and enhance my own life.

My teenage and pre-teen boys are entering the world of adolescent friendships.  At times, it can be messy, hurtful, and awkward.  As a parent, it's hard to navigate my role as mender of wounds, protector of hurts, gatekeeper of dangers, and matchmaker to suitable peers.  

I pray a lot about their friends, but now I know what friends to pray for specifically.  I don't yet know the name of their good friends, but I do know they will be called life-giving.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Toddler turned teenage battles


Cross country season continues for Connor.


Steamy temperatures slowed his time on Monday, but we applauded his efforts in the heat!



It's become a tradition.  Lake day with the running friends.


I stayed on the boat (no jet skis for me this year) and emerged from the day injury-free!

Sunday night, I placed cheese sandwiches on the skillet.  Tomato soup simmered on the stovetop.  The day felt lazy, and the dinner menu needed to match.

When the sandwiches toasted and the soup warmed, I called the boys to the table.  Several sons turned up their noses and sighed while eyeing the table.

"What's in the bowl?" one son asked.

I bounced back, "tomato soup."

He frowned and slid down into his seat.

After dinner prayers were uttered, we dug into our meals.  More sighs and scowls.

"Mom," Collin began.  "I'm not trying to offend your cooking, but the soup tastes like ketchup."

I laughed at the thought that opening a Campbell's can counted as cooking.

"Add some crackers," I encouraged.

The boys dumped a handful of crackers into their bowls until the soup was barely visible over the cracker crumbs.

"This is ridiculous," I steamed.  "You have five minutes to finish the soup."

The boys gulped and sought solace in each other's pain.

"We can do this," Collin announced to his brothers like a coach delivering a motivational speech.

Connor picked up his spoon and cautiously placed the ketchup soup to his lips.  He lightly gagged, but Collin pressed him further.  "You got this," Collin cheered.  "Work through the pain."

With a pained expression, Connor continued shoveling the soup into his mouth.

I'm a bit surprised that the boys and I continue to battle over foods.  I thought once they hit the teenage years, we'd age out of many former clashes.  Yet, we still rift over hand washing, hygiene, food choices, and bedtimes (among others).  Vegetables, showers, and sleep continue to be hot button discussions.  

One day, I imagine we'll see eye-to-eye on all of these topics.  But I'm guessing that's when they slide into the role of parent.
  






Sunday, August 19, 2018


When together, we are usually clad in running shoes and athletic shorts.  However, we gussied up for the local street dance.




Welcome to the 40s little brother!  The years look good on you!



I was so proud of Connor's first cross country race.  Thanks to my mom for these pictures and for cheering her grandson along in the race.




To make the 6:50 a.m. cross country bus, Connor's alarm buzzed at six on a Saturday morning.  I readied myself for his reaction to the early wake-up call.  

"I can't get up early on the weekends," Connor announced in the past.  "I need to relax on the weekends."

Relax from what, I'm not sure.  At 13, Connor's life appears pretty comfortable, minus a math test or two.

To my surprise, Connor awoke without a huff.  He pulled on his blue cross country shirt; he tossed his running shoes and a water bottle into his bag.  Within minutes, he arrived at the breakfast table and deferred to my breakfast choice for race day.  Then, we jumped into the car and careened down the road.  

At 6:50 prompt we arrived at the middle school.  Connor exited the car without protest and jogged over to his friends.  I sat in my car.  Perplexed.  Was this child really mine?  When did he start waking up early and listening to his mother?  Was cross country some sort of cult that brainwashed our children and transformed their DNA?

While Connor and his teammates rode the bus to the middle school race course, I drove my car to the fields.  I arrived early to help my friend, the coach.  Coach Kara handed me race chip tags for the runners.  I attached the chips to the running shoes while the kids began to stretch.  Recent rain transformed the course into a marshland.  Mud caked their shoes and splattered onto their legs.  As an added challenge, humidity hovered over the fields turning the entire area into a sticky sauna.

While most would deplore these conditions, I was in heaven.  The setting transported me back to my own high school cross country days.  In high school, I adored the camaraderie of the team, the challenge of pushing myself, and the electricity of competition.  While soaking in the scenery, I instantly broke one of the cardinal rules of parenting:  I began living vicariously through my child.  

And.  

It. Was. Awesome.

I tried to play it cool.  I attempted to blend in with the other parents.    To the best of my ability, I acted like cross country was just like any other sport my kids would attempt.  Sure, it's just like watching football!  But better!  Inside, I couldn't really contain my excitement.  I was one step away from clanging a cowbell on the sidelines of the course and blowing on an airhorn.  I desperately wanted to paint my face and belt out cheers.  

Connor stepped up to the starting line.  The gun fired.  The packed surged forward.  I was inches away from Connor when he ran by my spot.  I cheered him on in a dignified manner while internally my head was about to explode.  My kid is doing something I love, I chanted in my mind.  I was so very happy.

I spotted Connor at the 1K mark.  He was holding strong and staying squarely in the middle of the pack.

At the 2K mark, he continued to dash forward. His cheeks burned red, and he refused to make eye contact while his mom belted out encouragement.

I stood at the finish line, and I watched Connor sprint down the shoot to the end.  He was drenched with perspiration.  His soppy shirt clung to his torso.  The sweat didn't deter this mama from pulling her son into a hug.

"I'm so proud of you," I whispered into his ear after he finished.  "You did it."

I think it took him a good day to appreciate the race.  Pain and discomfort is an acquired experience.  But, the glow of accomplishment and the thrill of an achievement dwarfs the memories of agony and the aches.  The day after a race, memories change and soften.  This I know as a runner.  

Going forward, I plan to continue to cheer on my son.  It's his race, I know.  I pray my sideline spectating days continue for years to come.









  





Friday, August 10, 2018

New School Year


Ugh.....way too dark, but Caleb's first day as a Sophomore!



Top of the middle school food chain.  Connor and his buddy Ryan are new 8th graders.




One more year until high school!



Sixth grader!

Collin's buddy at the bus stop.



Top of the elementary school food chain.  New 4th grader!




This image brought me to tears.

For the last several weeks, I have dreamed of the first day of school.  These dreams flashed into my head when I eyed a kitchen sink stuffed with dirty dishes, a laundry hamper packed with stinky clothes, or a bathroom covered in grime.  The moments were the volume level bordered on deafening, I fantasized about my boys walking into school.  In my daydreams, the boys would exit into the confines of their classrooms while I would retreat back to a quiet oasis called home.  I would vacuum by myself.  I would fold laundry without interruption.  I would make lunch without someone eating off my plate or begging for something different.  I could almost taste and smell the serenity.

On Wednesday, the first day of school arrived for the boys.  I woke up with a smile; freedom was within my reach.  I ushered the boys through their morning routines with a spring in my step.  Collin's bus was slated to arrive at 7:15.  At 7:10, he slipped on shoes and yanked his backpack off the counter.  With Rosie in tow, Collin and I ambled down the driveway towards the bus stop.  By the time we arrived at the street, my expression changed.  

The weight of the day rolled me over.  This would be the last year for a Wood boy in elementary school.  I thought we'd never reach the end of our elementary school years.  For over a decade, at least one son roamed the elementary school halls and populated a classroom with miniature chairs, comfy reading nooks, and soft spoken teachers.

My heart hurt, deeply.

At that moment, the bus pulled up to our driveway.  Collin stood patiently waiting for the door to open.  Then, he stepped onto the bus without looking back.

I waved goodbye and headed back to the house with tears dripping down my cheeks.  It seems that time doesn't slow, but accelerates.  

Later that day, I texted my mother the picture of Collin waiting for the school bus.  She bounced back with the quote, "The days are long, but the years are short."  She ended the text with, "Take heart.  This is the way it's supposed to be, even if it brings some sadness."

Collin is supposed to grow up.  He's meant to fly the coop, spread his wings, hit the road.  And, I'm meant to loosen my grip and let him go, one step (and bus ride) at a time.

I'm grateful to usher him into the next phase in life.  He's ready, and I'm getting ready too.






Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Last Days of Summer. What a Ride!


Back to School Night for my incoming fourth grader.




Last Days of Summer Fun.

The four boys and I piled onto the double surrey.  I would best describe the experience like sardines packed upon a bike.  And, did I mention the temperature hovered around 90?  A surrey ride with four sons in sweltering temperatures was my son Caleb's idea.  At 15, Caleb would rather spend his time sequestered into his room huddled around a computer screen.  So when he mentioned the idea of family time on a surrey, I jumped at the notion of rare quality time with my teen.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, I reminded myself, even riding on an overcrowded bike with my four cantankerous boys.

Caleb, armed with a learner's permit and limited driving experience, insisted on jumping into the driver's seat.  Two other sons and I settled into seats with pedals.  Connor requested the seat without the pedals.  He reminded the group that he had cross country practice that afternoon and couldn't tire his legs.  Instead, his 9 year old younger brother would need to pedal in his place.  

Side note: Connor believes the cross country team provides him a free pass on any activity involving effort.  Lawn mowing?  Can't.  I run cross country.  Dish washing?  Doesn't work.  Remember, I run cross country.  Laundry?  Wouldn't want to tire for cross country!

As the bike maneuvered forward, I realized this would be more of a workout than an experience.  My offspring tapped the pedals with the intensity of an elderly women.  The lackluster effort moved the surrey about an inch forward; the lion's share of the pedaling fell upon their mother.  While I appreciate a good workout, launching the surrey forward felt a bit like swimming against the current with four boys strapped upon my back (and don't forget about the heat).

About five minutes into the bike ride, the boys began to squabble.  First, they argued upon the definition of a sport.  After a heated debate, the boys determined golf and running were not sports.  I debated about defending the validity of running as a sport, but I was too winded with all the pedaling.  The conversation then drifted into the sleazy and off-color art work they've witnessed in the classrooms thanks to the "artistic" talents of their classmates.  It seemed like a totally appropriate conversation for their nine year old brother!

At one point, Cooper smacked Connor.  As punishment for his impulsiveness, I said we would not go to the bookstore after the ride.  Cooper was distraught by the prospect of not visiting his beloved bookstore and sulked for the remainder of the trip.  

After an hour of panting and riding, we returned the surrey.  I chatted with Caleb about the ride.  Suddenly, I noticed that Cooper was missing.  He emerged about a minute later clutching a Coke can.

"I bought this at the vending machine for Connor," he announced while giving his stunned brother the can.

Before I had time to probe into the exchange, the surrey operator directed me to the counter to pay for the ride.  I sauntered over to the surrey booth.  When I returned a few minutes later, Connor declared, "I think you should let Cooper go the bookstore."

My heart melted over the exchange.  The boys made amends and appeared at peace with each other!

"Cooper," I said with tears glistening in my eyes.  "It's just so sweet how you loved on your brother and gave him a good gift. Connor, I love your forgiving heart."

Cooper bounced back, "No, it's called making a deal."

This was pure Cooper: savvy, cunning, and hilarious.  I just had to laugh.

As we traveled back to home, Caleb appeared pleased by the surrey ride.  Cooper and Connor remained peaceful.  Collin and I nursed sore legs and happy hearts.  

The surrey ride was quite the adventure, but so is every day with the boys.  




Campout in the Great Outdoors



Ever since Boy Scout camp, Cooper's transformed into a tween Bear Grylls.  He nestles under the pine trees and marches through the nearby corn fields.  I imagine his mind transforms our manicured lawn into a rugged wilderness; he no longer cuts through the grass, but savage brush.  The tennis racket in his hand converts into a machete. 

When Cooper returned from Boy Scout camp, he begged for a backyard campout with his friends.  He requested a night to "live off the land."  All meals would be prepared and enjoyed in the Great Outdoors.  A popup tent would provide ample lodging.  Entertainment would be provided by Mother Nature.  Cooper extended an invite to his Boy Scout friends.  Four buddies agreed to the rustic overnight accommodations.

To prepare for the night, the boys and I visited the grocery store for supplies.  I grabbed graham crackers, chocolate bars, marshmallows, and hot dogs (among other necessities).  When I reached for a bag of chips, Cooper scoffed.  "Chips aren't living off the land," he explained.  "They can't be prepared in the fire pit."

His outdoor enthusiasm continued.  When I suggested his friends bring swimsuits, he dismissed my idea.  "Swimming isn't living off the land," he declared.

Connor, who overheard Cooper's chip and swimsuit statements, declared, "You know you want everyone to have fun, right?"

With a little nudging from his brothers, Cooper acquiesced on a few items.  Swimming and chips would be allowed in the evening.

On the night of the sleepover, the boys arrived at our home.  As I imagined, they immediately jumped into the pool.  After an endless amount of water wars, we roasted hot dogs over the fire pits followed by s'mores.

When the sun dipped under the horizon and stars blanketed the sky, the boys retreated into tents.  Flashlight beams illuminated the tent walls.As I walked into the house to escape to my own bed, I heard the flutter of whispers and giggles floated across the lawn.

The next morning, Chris left for work early.  The boys awoke at first light.  I strategically placed wood and logs within the fire pit and struck a match onto the kindling.  The wood smoldered and smoked, but the flames seemed trapped and stifled among the embers.  Despite my best efforts, I could not ignite the fire.  My fire pit breakfast plans went up in smoke (kinda).  I retreated into the kitchen where my Great Outdoors breakfast was prepared on the stovetop.  To pass the time, the boys jumped onto video games.  I guess the Great Outdoors just can't compete with Fortnite.  

Mid-morning, the parents arrived to retrieve their children.  Bleary-eyed boys packed up their belongings.  We said our goodbyes with promises to campout again.

Hours after the sleepover, I gazed at the fire pit.  Flames leaped from the logs, contained within its brick confines.  I giggled.  So I can light the fire pit, it just takes eight hours to blaze.   

Cooper begged to sleep in the tent again that evening.  Thunderclouds and rain drops thwarted his plans.  He slept indoors on his bed, reluctantly.  On the next dry evening, he wandered back to the tent to the place where he truly feels at home.  


Friday, July 27, 2018

The Secret to Joyful School Supply Shopping


My sweet college friend Rachel invited our family to Six Flags-Chicago.



Within seconds, the boys accepted the invitation for a theme park day with friends.



The roller coasters were crowd-pleasers.  



The log rides drenched all the boys (and moms).  With the heat, no one complained.



A few days later, we switched gears and headed out to the country.



Sweet friend Erin just added cows to her farm.



The boys helped with the farm feedings (a novelty for our crew).



I'm swooning over this picture.



After a week of middle school band camp, this one is the next Kenny G!

Yesterday, I pushed two carts around the Target school supply section.  The aisles brimmed with frazzled moms and eager kids.  I clutched a wad of papers, school supply lists jammed with requested items.  Three sons flanked my cart.  I had high hopes my crew would act as assistant shoppers.  Instead, three sons worked together to provide additional obstacles and added hurdles.  One son tossed puffy paint into the cart; another son hurled glitter glue on top of the puffy paint.  Among the thousands of items needed, each son seemed to gravitate towards unnecessary trinkets and doodads.

I frantically scanned the aisles for a pack of 24 Crayola classic, thin-tipped markers.  Each item invoked a deep internal debate and a slew of ethical issues.  Did the teacher really mean Crayola?  At 50 cents cheaper, the Target brand crayons appeared to suffice.   Would the teacher know if Collin brought 18 crayons versus 24?  Surely, the smaller number of crayons would not hinder his educational future.   

At first searching for school supplies resembled an adult scavenger hunt.  But an hour into the process, school supply shopping felt a bit more like one of those survival shows or a Ninja warrior course.  I witnessed several moms ditch supply shopping once exhaustion hit.  I double downed in my resolution to press forward.  If I can tackle marathons, selecting the right Sharpie packs and 3-ring binders would not be my undoing.  

By mid-list, however, I was spent and shuffling through the aisles in a daze.  Sweat beads rolled down my back.  The boys were unraveling.  By the dry erase markers, I spotted an acquaintance Claire with her posse of kids.  Claire looked like she just walked out of a parenting magazine spread.  She seemed to float along the aisle, obliviously to the fact she was carting four of her eight kids through the school supply section.  

"Did you bring the school supply lists?" Claire asked when she spotted me.  "I forgot to bring mine."

If the forgotten list bothered Claire, she was a master actress.  She tossed off her words as if delivering a well-placed joke or witty remark.

With kids in different grades, I couldn't offer Claire a school supply list.

"No worries," Claire voiced.  "We'll figure it out."

She added, "I forgot to feed the kids lunch too.  I guess we'll head over to the snack bar."

I watched Claire mosey through the aisles while willy-nilly chucking crayon boxes and pen packs into her cart.  Her children appeared to be enjoying the outing.  A gaiety radiated from her crew.  What I noted about Claire is that she didn't major in the minor.  Claire, it appeared, knew choosing the proper school supplies paled in comparison to cultivating a right relationship with her kids.

I thought about Claire while I finished shopping for my list.  Charging through the list and selecting just the right items was zapping the joy from this mom and her sons.  Perhaps we could slow down and even savor the insanity of the shopping.  In the long run, whether or not we selecting just the right crayons would mean less the setting the right tone.

With that thought, I grabbed the Target-brand scissors from the shelf and smiled at my boys.