Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Frienemies: Screens

I've identified my summer frienemy:  the screen (both big and small).  At times, it's quite possibly my best friend.  It provides the boys with distractions when one mom hits her limit or just needs a moment to put away a dish or twelve (in complete and utter silence!).  It offers entertainment when a pack of boys need a respite from the heat.  It fills an evening, makes us laugh, connects us to others, provides information, and gets us to think (and blog!).


It saps the boys from those summer moments that just can't be replicated with the touch of a keyboard or the click of a mouse.  

A screen doesn't provide the thrill of a frog hunt.  A digital photo of a frog can't compare to the feel of a slimy amphibian cuddled in the sweaty palm of a hand.  

A screen doesn't offer the true sensation of camp.  It can teach how to bow an arrow, but it doesn't provide the thrill of nailing a target.  It can educate on wood working, but doesn't furnish a three-dimensional piece of pride.  It can describe camp fare, but doesn't provide a true feast for the tastebuds. 

A screen doesn't improve sports skills.  It may instruct on the fundamentals of the game, but it does not toss a ball, swing a bat, kick a goal, or catapult a golf ball.  

A screen doesn't provide companionship during a sleepover. It may entertain, but it won't listen to secrets, giggle at jokes, and make invaluable memories.

A screen won't cannonball, hike, stargaze, swim, play, and lounge.

And that's why screens are my frienemies; there are limits to our relationship.   

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tween Room Remodel

 Before pictures:  The room is a hot mess!

After shots:  Stunning!  My sister-in-law captured Caleb's personality perfectly in the decor.  Plus, it looks clean and organized!  So happy!

My favorite decorator and her assistants!

I marvel at those gifted in the area of home beautification.  I drool over finely dressed rooms splashed on the pages of magazines or featured on HGTV.  But after many years on this Earth, I've identified and accepted home decorating as my area of weakness.

My sister-in-law Heather, however, is a decorator extraordinaire.  She's innately creative and enjoys unleashing her talent upon and within the walls of a room.

Recently, I bemoaned my decorating woes to Heather.  I mentioned that my tween still slept under bedding we purchased for him when he was two years old.  Heather gasped and instantly rattled off ideas to create a more tween-like room.  An idea was hatched for Heather to decorate Caleb's room.  My only stipulations: be budget-friendly and capture the essence of Caleb (he loves lizards!).

Heather knocked it out of the ball park.  The room is fun, yet mature.  It's organized, yet not too formal.  It's lizard-themed, yet not tacky.

Caleb adores his new surroundings.  He's demonstrated ownership and pride for his space.  Better yet, he has shown appreciation that his parents see him as an adolescent who deserves a room that reflects his growth.

Thanks to Heather for sharing her talents with us!  Her gifts blessed us all mightily!  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Camp: A Reminder Moms Are Still Needed

 Competed in my first trail run race with a group of friends.

 The view during the course!

Yes, that's blood dripping down my leg.  I tripped over a tree branch around mile four and made a not-so-graceful landing.

Afterthoughts from race:  Trail runs are much more difficult than running on a pavement course.  The twists and turns, inclines, obstacles (mud, branches, etc.) make it a challenge, but such a fun experience!  It transports you back to that feeling of being a kid again, running through the woods.

 All smiles for the finishers!

The best part about the race: all finishers walked away with a yummy cupcake!

My brother lived in a fraternity in college.  When I walked into his frat house, I felt the need to pull on a hazmat suit, hold my nose, and divert my eyes from images I didn't want to replay for years to come.  Clearly cleanliness, order, and hygiene did not fall high on the list of priorities for those college men (although kudos to my brother for being one of the more orderly ones!).

Retrieving my children from camp reminds me of that fraternity.  I have that same repulsed feeling as I observe the conditions my boys lived in for the last several days.  Take Boy Scout Camp.

Yesterday, I picked Connor up from Camp K.  He looked exhausted, dirty, and hot.  I peppered him with the fun questions at first.  What was your favorite part?  Who was your best friend?  What was the most delicious meal?

But then I snuck in the "mom" questions.

 Did you shower?

No.  Were there showers?

Did your brush your teeth?

At night. 

Use sunscreen?

I couldn't find it. 

I took a few deep breaths.

We walked to his tent and I surveyed the conditions he'd lived in for days.  Martha Stewart would convulse at the scene.  It was a rustic campsite decorated with my son's clothes, wrappers, and other sundries.  His pajamas took residence on the wet, muddy ground (the same spot he said was a common habitat for a pack of frogs).  A soggy towel was strewn across the bed.

I held my tongue and refrained from unleashing a (much needed) lecture.  Instead, I silently said a prayer:

Thank you God for keeping him safe and letting him have a fun experience.  Thank you God for the reminder that I am still needed in his life, in the least to assure he brushes his teeth, cleans his room, and hangs up dirty towels!  Amen.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Limits on Love

Chaperoning Boy Scout Camp in 90 degrees was an adventure!

In prior blogs, I've mentioned that my boys have expressed displeasure with some of my summer expectations. Their unhappiness has been verbalized in different ways.  A common accusation is that I don't love them. When I insist that love is at the root of my expectations, they seem unconvinced.

Words can only go so far; actions seem to have a bit more punch.  Hopefully, the last several days I've proved my affection to my sons through my actions as I've spent time with them doing things they enjoy.

Let's start with Tuesday when I chaperoned Cooper's Boy Scout Camp.  I don't know what says love more than being willing to spend eight plus hours with 16 boys in the woods: making wood crafts, cooking food over flames, and dodging bows and arrows (and did I mention the temperature was a sweltering 90 degrees).

But I think the clearest sign of love came last night when I accompanied Caleb to his Hoosier Herpetology Meeting for "Bring a Pet Night."  At this meeting, the pets don't come in the furry, cute sort of form.  Instead, they are scaly and creepy. (And to put all readers' minds at ease, the group was not allowed to bring venomous snakes!)

When we walked into the room, all the members sat by coolers.  No, these coolers were not filled with icy beverages, but with snakes.  (Did I mention I'm petrified of snakes!)  Periodically, a cooler was opened and a snake's head popped out.  Everyone oohed and aahed over the scaly creature.

Another member walked up to Caleb and me.  She asked if Caleb brought a pet.

"No," I replied.  "He doesn't own a reptile."

She responded with a shocked expression; it was as if I just announced, "We decided not to buy him shoes or feed him dinners."

She recovered and rattled on about her 70 snakes.  We discovered that she lives just miles from my house (which I think will be the source of many a future nightmare!).  She engaged us in a lengthy discussion about her turtle's kidney stones and the possibility of surgery.  It was one of those rare conversation where I had absolutely nothing to add but to maintain a smile and a continual nodding of the head.

The meeting started as the first member strolled up to the podium with cooler in hand.  She revealed a few friendly box turtles.  I relaxed and gazed at Caleb.  He was enthralled and I loved being with him in his element.

The next member walked up with an even bigger cooler (think weekend tailgate sort of cooler).  He dug his hands into the cooler and brought out a 13-foot python.  I almost lost my lunch and peed my pants. 

At this point, I decided to support Caleb from afar... in a chair outside the classroom (far enough away from the snakes, but close enough to keep tabs on my son.)

After the last pet was shown, I gathered Caleb.  Snakehead Ed, a particularly knowledgeable and colorful member, asked again about Caleb's pet (or lack thereof).  I confessed that Caleb didn't own a reptile.

Snakehead Ed shot me the same disgusted, pity look as the other member.

He announced, "You need to get a starter snake.  A python is a great started snake."

He continued to rattle off the details on how to acquire a ball python.  (After all, they only grow to be four feet!)

Caleb was pumped.  As we left Snakehead Ed, Caleb talked about the python as if he was already a member of the family.

I stopped him in the parking lot and spun him around.

"Caleb," I began.  "I love you enough to attend these meetings with you.  I may even consider adding a reptile to the house if it comes in the form of a gentle turtle or lazy lizard, but there is NO way we will be acquiring a python."

It's time Caleb knew; love does have its limits!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Focusing on What Matters

Per tradition, we hit the Strawberry Festival with our friends the Brinkruffs.  Since the boys only ate ice cream with whipped topping (sans strawberries), I think we could have hit the local Dairy Queen and saved on the parking cost (but where's the fun in that!).

Cooper participated in his first swim meet!  He certainly swam his little heart out, but we may need to work on his form.  He started each race with a jump akin to a leap off a pier.  (Cara said he looked like he belonged on the cover of a Nicholas Sparks book!)  Then, he did a combination aqua jog/paddle to the other side.  Michael Phelps can breathe a sigh of relief; Cooper may have a few years before he turns into a serious competitor.  

We picked up the big boys (and their laundry!) from camp.  Collin really missed his big brother!  

Enjoyed a Father's Day lunch with my Dad.  After lunch, I put Dad to work on some house repairs (just what he wanted to do on Father's Day!).  We snapped these shots to show Chris (who was at work in the ER) how HARD his father-in-law worked on the house projects.

The boys celebrated their Papa and Dad today.

Do you ever have those moments where you worry about your child's life.  What if he or she doesn't get asked to prom; invited into the sorority/fraternity; accepted into medical school; or placed on the traveling/academy/regional/advanced sports team.  And if all these things happen, will said child turn into a juvenile delinquent, high school drop out, substance abuser, or any other less than savory outcomes?  

I've had those moments.  

A few weeks ago, those thoughts raced through my mind.

It happened after my seven-year-old son was cut from a sports team.  Immediately, I was flooded with emotions.  I went from guilt (if only I had spent my nights kicking a ball with him in the backyard) to sadness (he'll miss all those opportunities) to anger (cutting a seven year old from a sports team is loony), and every emotion in between.

I finally landed on acceptance.  God has a plan for this child and that sports team doesn't fall into the plan right now.

But still....

I thought about sports and my child.  I wondered if he would excel at any sport.  Could I do something to help him?  Should I be working on skills, sportsmanship, effort, and determination?  And what if he didn't find a sport?  Was he destined to have an adolescent without friends, an outcast, loner, or deviant?

On Saturday, we invited a little boy from his class over for a play date.  This little boy is as sweet as pie, but faces many physical disabilities.  I watched my seven-year-old son interact with his friend.  He motioned his friend to the foosball table and each boy selected a side.  

My son clearly had the advantage.  He twirled the levers and catapulted the ball easily into the goal, over and over again.  His friend lacked the motor skills and strong reflexes to be a formidable opponent.  But each time my son made a goal, he announced to his friend, "You made one too!  Let's both get a point."  I watched his friends light up with the addition of each new goal.

Once ten points were made, my son exclaimed, "We won!"  Both boys grinned and high-fives were exchanged.

I watched the scene with tears in my eyes.  This son, the one who didn't make the sports team, I fretted over for days.  I had fixated so much on my son's lack of sports prowess, and how that would impact his life, that I lost sight of the things that really matter.  Raising a son who is kind and loving amounts to much more than grooming an athlete.  

Internally I raised my right hand and swore to worry only about the important stuff.

I promise to care more about whether I'm raising a son who loves than Lord, than one who wins the race.

I promise to care more about whether I'm raising a son who is kind to others, than one who earns a spot on the traveling team.

I promise to care more about whether my son loves his neighbors, than whether he earns a PR.

I promise to care more about whether my son spreads joy, than whether he earns a high school letter jacket.

I promise to care more about whether my son exhibits self control, than whether he makes the varsity team.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Country Boys

Dinner sits.  Heads bow.  Eyes close.  Hands fold. Cooper offers up a prayer.  

"Dear God, 

Thank you for time at Erin's.  


A simple prayer, but to the point.

We (boys and I) are thankful for time at Erin's house.

Typically, I'd insist he call Erin by a more respectful name ⎯ Mrs. Erin or Mrs. Miller. ⎯ but she is different.  All rules of social etiquette are bent in favor of familiar and affectionate terms for a friendship with roots 35 years deep.

A visit to Erin's house is a novelty to the boys.  She lives in the country, surrounded by crops and chickens.  Thick woods encircle the fields and provide ample opportunity for little boy exploration.

Erin's girls know the woods as well as I know my local Target.  They race through the thicket with confidence and seem unfazed (even giddy) by the critters we meet along the way.

They introduce us to an old cemetery on the property.  The moss-covered gravestones date back to the mid-1800s.  In the life of a little boy, things couldn't get better.  Stories of mystery, suspense, and horror race through their minds.  Who died here?  What happened?  Do their spirits haunt the woods?

But things do get better.  The girls usher my boys down a hill, introducing them to a muddy creek.  The fun is in the hunt as the boys (mostly Cooper, Collin was a wee bit timid) dig into the creek's muddy underbelly.  Their priceless finds come in the form of rocks, insects, and animal bones.

A muddy hike is celebrated with ice cream.  Little children fill bellies with spoonfuls of sweet: chocolate syrup, carmel sauce, whipped toppings, and maraschino cherries.

My favorite is what came after.  Erin and I plop down on adirondack chairs with unobstructed view of the pastoral surroundings.  We chat and laugh amid the quiet.  At that moment, I understand why she landed in the country.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The benefits of a less scheduled life: the opportunities abound

Spent the weekend in Cincinnati with my brother, sister-in-law, niece, and nephews.

Celebrated Aunt Heather's birthday with the best cake in the whole world!  Thanks Costco!

Aunt Heather taught Caleb some sweet dance moves to be used at the next middle school dance.  My dance partner was baby Parker!

Cousin love!

Saturday afternoon, we hit the steamy zoo.

Aunt Heather gave Caleb some practice and tips on starting a summer dog walking business.

All smiles before church camp drop off.

Chris is a softie for his niece Caroline.

Cooper purchases flowers for our friend.

This spring our schedule was packed.  There were so many downsides to our overloaded life: a frazzled mom, exhausted children, dinners eaten in the minivan, (therefore) a trashed minivan, and so on and so forth.

We vowed to end the insanity and strove to have a summer with pockets filled with nothing.  Sure, we signed up for camps and lessons, but our days and weeks would have blank holes to be filled by ....well, that's the beauty: to be determined in the moment.

And so our summer has gone.

Today, with little on the calendar, I stumbled upon another benefit of under scheduling.

This afternoon, we visited our son's tutor.  She conducts her sessions in her sleepy retirement village home.  The boys certainly look out of place among her blue-haired neighbors, but they adore those visits.  Ruby greets them with a smile and the warmth of an affectionate grandmother.

Today, we were met with the same smile and exchanged our regular pleasantries.  But then I complimented a family photo on the wall; Ruby's face fell and tears cascaded down her cheeks.  It was the three year anniversary of her husband's death, she cried.  Forty-seven years together, she weeped.  I feel like half of me is missing, she bawled.

I pulled her into an embrace, but felt like my arms provided little comfort for the heaviness of the day.

She insisted the tutor session continue and I left Collin in her care.  Cooper and I walked out of her house a little numb.  We conspired to provide a loving gesture and so we raced to the grocery store to purchase a bouquet of flowers and a yummy sweet.

Thirty minutes later, we returned.  Cooper handed her the flowers and the sweet.  Ruby unleashed a fresh round of tears.  I pulled up a chair at the table and we sat and talked, played a game, fiddled with the piano, and sucked on peppermints.  She cried and smiled and cried some more.

We stayed there until dinner and then I left when my boys were ready.

Later, I thought how glad I was that I had the time to sit, just sit, with Ruby.  What if we needed to race off to a basketball practice?  Or a swim lesson prevented our time together?  Or we had a soccer game in the afternoon?  The gift of unscheduled time is that it provides the ability to be present for those impromptu needs that pop up during the course of a day or a week.  An afternoon can be spent with a neighbor whose mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer.  The time is there to whip up a meal for a family with health issues.  A lengthy, uninterrupted phone call can be conducted with a weepy friend struggling with martial issues.

And to make it sweeter, my children get to experience that same gift.  They can give, listen, and serve without the hinderance of a packed schedule.

Today I was grateful for an afternoon of nothing that was filled with something more wonderful then I could have planned.