Saturday, January 31, 2015

School Cafeteria Opportunities

 Game Night with some good friends.  Doesn't get much better!

On my "baby's" 6th birthday, I joined him for lunch in the school cafeteria.  Birthday snuggles were an added bonus!

Caleb rocked his band solo and ensemble contest.  He proudly wore his gold medal.  Caused me to ponder: At what age do we stop wearing medals? 

This teacher sets the bar high!  He surprised Cooper and another classmate by showing up at their basketball game.  Cooper was elated to have his teacher as a member of his cheering section!

Last week I served as a lunch monitor in the boys' school.  It is a volunteer position that rarely fills.  Some may think it lacks glamour.  Others may gravitate towards roles that don't involve peeling an endless supply of mandarin oranges.  Many may be intimidated by working with the paid lunch monitor (who has a demeanor that makes drill sergeants appear timid).

But being a lunch monitor has its perks.  It provides parents a peek into the social lives of their children as played out in the school cafeteria.

The boys' lunch is staggered.  And so I watched each son arrive in the cafeteria at different times.

Collin snagged a table with the kindergartners.  At his age, gender is irrelevant.  His mixed-gender table engaged in a lively, silly discussion.  Someone tossed out a potty talk reference, and the table hushed.  The potty mouth was shunned for his naughtiness.

Caleb dined with his sixth grade companions.  They are a like-minded bunch that can best be described as quirky.  But there is an affection for each other that ties each boy to the group.

Connor sits with the athletic crowd.  The boys ooze "cool" and the conversation floats between Super Bowl picks and weekend sporting events.


His seating arrangement puzzled me.  He parked his lunch box in a round table with his female classmates.  A few tables over set a group of second grade boys.  I motioned to the boys' table; I suggested to Cooper that he move to the table of males.  He said he couldn't move; the table arrangements were set weeks ago.  

As I circled the cafeteria, I stewed over his lunch room seating arrangement.  I fretted over his ability to make friends.  I pondered whether I should transform into one of those demanding parents that insist their child gets this, that, and the other.

As my internal frenzy swirled, I started to observe other children in the cafeteria.  There was a little boy who sat a few seats alone from his classmates.  I walked over to him and engaged in a conversation about the quality of the school's chicken sandwiches.  Then, I noticed another second grade boy who had the "bad luck" of sitting with the first graders and seemed a bit subdued. 

As I began to really take in the scene, I noticed less of the problems, and more of the opportunities.  Perhaps Cooper's lack of a solid seating arrangement affords him the ability to seek out and love on others.  Maybe he can be the net to gather the lone cafeteria eaters.  He can land them in a place of acceptance and affection that starts by sitting together around a table and sharing the contents found within a lunch box.

But first he needs to really look around the cafeteria, and that requires looking beyond his own lunch box.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Dreams of Running

Another round of birthdays in the Wood house.  Because we like to cluster our celebrations, we had two birthdays within two days.  Mine was first.  I turned....., and Collin reached the ripe old age of six.  

Caleb walked onto the treadmill and methodically placed his water and a sheet of paper in the cupholder.  He stood for a while, seeming to deliberate on the course of his next minutes.  I gulped, wondering how time would play out.  And then it was if some internal switch flipped in Caleb's brain; he roared the treadmill to life and his feet took to motion.

He started walking, but within minutes he was running on pace with the rotation of the treadmill belt.  His eyes remained locked on the clock.  Several minutes later, he returned to walking.  And so he went in a walking-running pattern for the next 30 minutes.

Caleb is doing the couch to 5K program.  This time, his third, he's entered the plan with more confidence.  He thrives on the predictability.  He appreciates that the treadmill lends itself to a "bubble-like" feel.

He's agreed to do the plan, but scoffed at participating in an actual 5K at the completion of the training plan.  I'm disappointed, but grateful that he's still getting exercise for the next several weeks.  (This from a kid who favors the couch over the playground!)

I thought about Caleb while I was running.  I wondered if one day he'll surprise me.  Perhaps, he'll announce his interest in track.  What if he suddenly begs to sign up for a 10K, half marathon, or marathon?

It's possible.

Just look at me.

I wondered if my mother ever thought I would be a runner.  I certainly didn't start out that way.

At the age of 16, out of the blue, I decided to go running.  I'm still not sure where I developed such a harebrained idea.  Perhaps a cute boy was involved.  I honestly can't remember.  

Nevertheless, I laced up my tennis shoes and raced out of the house.  Our home is perched at the bottom of a hill, and the only way to run is up.  About thirty seconds into my run, I realized it was a bad idea.  In fact, it was a terrible idea.  My lungs felt like they might explode.  My heart was on fire. Every single part of me ached.

I ran about a 1/2 mile.  I practically crawled back into my house and collapsed on my bed.  In between gasps, I made a pledge to NEVER.EVER.DO.THAT.AGAIN.

(Sidenote:  I have a childhood friend with a worse story.  She decided to run for the first time after a heavy Thanksgiving meal.  You can imagine how that ended!)

After a good night's sleep, the previous day's run didn't seem so painful.  I vaguely remembered some good parts.  Didn't I smile once?  And so I pulled back on my running shoes and chugged along that same route.  I limped (not crawled) back into my house and collapsed on my bed. I was hurting, but not as much.

So it continued, day after day.  I added distance; I speeded up; I continued to feel better.  I joined the cross country team.  I ran races.

I got degrees.  I continued to run.

I got married.  I continued to run.

I had children.  I kept going.

I started to run further distances.  I landed at the Boston Marathon.

Did my mother, in her wildest dreams, ever see 16-year-old me running the Boston Marathon?

I imagine not.

And so I keep dreaming about my son.  Holding out hope that he'll surprise me one day too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

When the Wrong Numbers Sabotage Inner Thoughts

Martin Luther King weekend was spent in Chicago to celebrate Collin's 6th birthday.

"It is January in Chicago, right," you say.  

"Why is your son wearing shorts?" you ask.

Let me explain:  we whisk Connor straight from soccer practice to Chicago.  He didn't want to steal any precious moments from the Lego Discovery Center experience by changing into long pants.

I could almost hear their inner declarations of "I've died and gone to heaven" as they ran around the Lego Discovery Center.

How do you follow up a day at the Lego Discovery Center? At the Chicago Science and Industry Museum, of course.

My sweet college friend Rachel and her family joined us for the day.  In my head, we're still 19 and running around campus.

MLK Day we were back home.  Spent the afternoon with Memaw and Papa and the Harlem Globetrotters.  The boys have lots of new tricks to integrate into their next basketball game!

Math has never been my strong suit.

I loathed the obligatory math courses in high school.

I switched majors in college just to avoid a required Calculus class.

I never fancied myself to be good at numbers.

I gravitated towards words and language.

But recently, I thought about how numbers dominate much of my inner thoughts.

This epiphany came as I was running.  As I pounded out a few miles, my thoughts stuck on a number: the digits that just appeared on the bathroom scale.  The number was higher than anticipated.  I'd like to attribute that fact to a particularly gluttonous holiday season paired with a Chicago weekend packed with all the best (and worst) Windy City food. (Or I'd like to blame a faulty dryer that somehow has managed to shrink just my clothes.)

The number trailed me as I ran.  I couldn't shake it.  It was relentless.  It paced me and persistently stuck in my thoughts.  

I used that number to do math.

I can run 5 miles to counter that one Chicago style pizza slice.

Maybe I can add another mile to diminish the calories from that decadent Red Velvet Cupcake.

Maybe I'll skip chips at lunch today and deduct another mile.

(Perhaps I can make that number move with Jedi mind tricks.)  

And so the inner equations raced through my head.

Then came the epiphany.

Maybe I am a numbers person.

And if I am a numbers person, perhaps I'm fixating on the wrong numbers.

Why do the digits on the scale mean more to me than other numbers in my life?

I started to think about what numbers should be more important.


My one relationship with God.

My one husband.

My one home.


 My two parents.

My two in-laws.


My four sons.


Family members.



I realized, it wasn't bad to be fixated on numbers, as long as they are the right numbers.

And so I spent the remainder of the run grateful for the other numbers in my life; the ones that mean more than the number that can sometimes sabotage my thoughts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Best Sort of Award

Caleb poses with his good buddy Trace.

We received an email today from Cooper's teacher.  When I spotted the email in my inbox, my heart beat faster and my palms started to sweat.  Historically, personal emails from teachers bring the sort of news a mother dreads.

Just wanted to let you know that _______ had a rough time.

______ seemed a little more spirited than normal.

________ just didn't seem like himself.  Is he lacking sleep?

You get the drift.

I opened the email with much trepidation.  Slowly, I scanned the words.  My heartbeat slowed.  My fists uncurled.

It was a notice to attend Wednesday's honors chapel because Cooper (yes, our Cooper) is getting the Fruit of the Spirit award: the award for Christ-like behavior.

I sat stunned for a moment, and then I became a bit giddy.

I thought about his first eight years of life.  I reflected on his many "spirited" moments and all the patience and love that has been poured into this child. 


The one who never met a tree he wouldn't climb, never faced a challenge he wouldn't tackle, never met mischief he wouldn't engage in.


The one who's first to lend a hand, first to give every cent in his piggy bank, first to be a friend.

Of all the awards Cooper could get in his life (and I hope there are many), this one makes us the proudest.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Love Makes Pancakes More Special

Our gingerbread house turned into a New Year's house.  It's just as fun to make (and edible) after the holidays.

During our stint without heat (hallelujah, heat back on!), this is how Chris watched football games.

I love Christmas break mornings.  I appreciate welcoming the day in a more relaxed fashion.  For two weeks, I'm not the mom barking out orders and shooing boys out of the house before sunrise.  Instead, I'm the leisure mother, still clad in pajamas, savoring precious early moments with the boys.

During Christmas break, I have time to whip up better breakfasts than they typically get from their cereal boxes.  I enjoy making things like pancakes, muffins, and eggs.

One morning, I asked Connor if he'd like me to make pancakes.

"No," he replied with as much kindness as he could muster.  "You don't make it like ____'s mom."

He then went into a lengthy description of the pancakes made by his friend's mom, and enjoyed by Connor during several sleepovers.        Evidently, her pancakes were fluffier than any ones possibly created by a mere mortal of a chef.  They had the perfect combination of ingredients that no amateur (like his mother) should attempt.

But he didn't stop there.  He gushed about her culinary excellence.  Her chicken was cooked just right.  Her pasta was topnotch.  Her salmon was excellent.

I listened to his dietary diatribe and then interjected, "Well, maybe I could get her recipes and make those dishes?"

Connor sighed, "It just wouldn't be the same.  She is a REALLY good cook."

 I had to chuckle.  

I've tasted her dishes, and I agree she is a REALLY good cook.  I also agree that what she makes I can't replicate.  I think what's added to her dishes can't be found in the instructions on a recipe or purchased at the grocery store.

I think Connor appreciates what's sprinkled into her food.  She weaves friendship, warmth, love, and hospitality into her dishes.  And, when he's spooning bites of pancakes into his mouth he's savoring the company and experiences with friends as much as the flavors. 

I get this. 

When I reflect on my childhood, certain foods vividly sit in my memory.  My mouth starts to water when I think of Frosted Flakes and hot chocolate.  It was the breakfast my Grandparents served me on special overnight dates.  (Only a Grandparent would serve that sort of breakfast!)  In my mind, it was the very best breakfasts I ever inhaled.  But I imagine, if I whipped up that same breakfast today, it wouldn't taste the same.  It would lack something, and that something would be the love and affection I felt from my grandparents.

And so I didn't make the pancakes.  Those he can eat and savor at his friend's house.  But, I will try to make other things and add my own special additions, ones I hope to create in our home.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chilly New Year's

It's 55 degrees in my house right now.  That's warmer than freezing, but colder than what's comfortable.  As mentioned in my last post, our furnace went kaput, and we're too cheap frugal to get a new furnace on New Year's Day (waiting until January 2nd for that purchase leaves a big chunk of change in our pocket!).

We've learned to function in a cooler home.  We've bundled (most of us...Collin had to be talked into wearing a shirt and pants.  Please say common sense comes with age!).  Several space heaters are roaring.  The fireplace has become a centerpiece for just about everything.

Still, to bemoan our "first world problems," a brisk home has its challenges.  The toilet seat is icy.  My hands are perpetually numb.  I feel like only doing tasks that can be accomplished under five plus layers of blankets while wearing an equal amount of clothing items.

Even in the midst of our "trial," we've experienced joy.  Last night, we grabbed as many blankets as we could clutch and dragged them in front of the fireplace.  With a backdrop of a luminous Christmas tree and the soundtrack of a cackling fireplace, we all engaged in a communal slumber party.  It was one of my most favorite New Year's Eve memories.  At midnight, all huddled under the blankets, we watched the ball drop in New York, and then we listened as neighbors celebrated with fireworks at the stroke of midnight.  I loved experiencing that moment with the boys, and then waking up with them the next morning and realizing it was another year with all the hope and expectation the change of calendar brings.

And of course, our lack of heat carries with it a deep appreciation of the friends and neighbors in our lives.  We have been bombarded with generous offers of help.  For that, we are so grateful.

(And I told the boys we had the opportunity to reenact pioneer days.  Chris added, "minus the dysentery."  Love the medical humor!)

Nevertheless, we're ready for heat and the normalcy that brings.  That should come tomorrow.  As for tonight, we're buckling down for more togetherness, hot cocoa, fleece blankets, and memories.  One day, I imagine the boys asking, "Do you remember the New Year's Eve when we lost heat and slept in front of the fire?"

Of course, I remember.