Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Things I’ve learned from being a Smith

When I married into The Smith family almost 16 years ago, I felt lucky and excited to be surrounded by such a close-knit group of kin. Being the youngest of only two girls, I had no idea what my future would look like with six sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law, and over 20 first cousins--just on one side.

I have to admit, it was a bit overwhelming at first. I was used to one person talking at a time, and I was certain this family had a defective “hearing” gene since I was the only one who seemed to have trouble tuning out all the excess noise. Having lots of girls all sharing one bathroom meant scrambling for mirror time on Sunday mornings. And getting that privacy one sometimes needs didn’t always come easy.

But there was never a loss for good food, a game of pepper, or a sweet little girl to fix my hair. Now they’ve all grown up. Even Little Robyn--only one year old when I started coming around--is old enough to drive.

Yes, much time has passed--rather quickly, I might add--and with it has come the creation of new memories and stories which are exclusive only to this unique and one of a kind family. Tales are often told about and among siblings of any family, but especially a large one, and these folks are no different. But the stories I have locked away as lessons for myself come from the creators of this fine group, Randy’s parents, Larry and Donna Smith.

It’s hard to believe either of them are old enough to have been married for 40 years this Sunday. But I guess that’s how it works when you marry as a teenager. The two began their life together in a foreign country during the Vietnam War, and with only ten short months to be newlyweds, as their firstborn, my husband Randy, arrived on a Tuesday in July to the smell of sauerkraut and Weiner schnitzel. OK, maybe not. But it was Germany, nonetheless.

Starting out as they did, these young kids no doubt had to rely on each other in a way some couples never know. I can’t imagine being nineteen and having my first child on an Air Force base in a foreign country with my own mother hundreds of miles away. Lesson number one: All they had was God and each other, whether they realized it or not.

Seven more kids, five children-in-law, and eleven grandbabies later, they are still married--in spite of us all.

In the sixteen years that I’ve been a part of this family, I’ve learned many things about how to be a Christian, a spouse and a parent. I’ve been touched by the deep devotion they each have to their kids, their grandkids, and their God. And I have been made into a better person simply by being granted membership into their amazing family.

So what kind of things have I learned from being a Smith? Here are a select few:
*Worship, work, play. In that order.

*Sometimes, a mother just needs to yell.

*Spare the rod, spoil the child.

*To some, it might seem completely insane that a grown man would spend five full minutes totally destroying a lawn chair--kicking, throwing, bending its metal--all for pinching the flesh of his precious child. It might seem insane until one has a child of her own.

*Silence can be deadly, but sometimes it’s better than the alternative.

*Planning is for sissies.

*This too shall pass.

*Being an accountant is a lot like coaching baseball only harder. Nobody provides a bag of seeds or a covered set of bleachers so that willing wives can be a part, cheering their mates on to the end of another successful season.

*Working hard is not an option.

*There is still good to be gotten from a twice-used Ziploc. Waste not, want not.

*Go with the flow.

*His mama’s biscuits may take 10 years to perfect, but they’ll never be as perfect as his mama’s.

*Nothing that we do is too trivial to God.

*We may not always be able to anticipate our partner’s next move, but we can always be there when he makes it.

*Nothing works better than prayer.

I said before that I felt lucky to be a part of such an amazing family. Another lesson I’ve learned? None of us are really lucky. We are blessed!

And that’s All in a day’s Work!

The turtle with no name

When you’re a mom with two boys, you do things that would once have seemed completely out of character. Top of the list? Taking care of a turtle. I balk at calling it a pet since the boys won’t name it. They don’t feed it. Now that the new has worn off, they scarcely look at the thing as they charge past him and into the kitchen for a snack.

But I, the Queen Nurturer of man, child and beast, find myself changing out water and searching for bugs just so this scaly little reptile won’t die on my pea-green countertop.

He declines to eat the tiny creatures I leave scattered across his terrain. Maybe he’s particular—or just insulted that he is expected to eat day old beetles or flies squashed beyond recognition. He refuses to stoop to my offer of road kill. I revise my tactics.

At night, when the kids are in bed, I find myself turning on the porch light just to attract a few bugs…ones un-grotesque enough for me to maim with my hot pink fly swatter and carry into the house for his supper. Oh, the irony.

And delivering dinner straight to his jaw-clenching little mouth with a silver plated pair of tweezers is not good enough for me. I then feel compelled to watch him chomp, rip, mutilate his delicacies until he has swallowed every bite and looks up at me for more. It’s riveting. And a little twisted.

So maybe it’s no surprise that on the first day of school, when I returned to an empty, quiet house, it wasn’t my boys I sat down to write about. It was my turtle. My turtle with no name.

The turtle with no name

Who knew I had such an affinity for turtles.
Tough and strong on the outside.
Soft and saggy in the middle.

Indifferent little box turtle, captured and contained in a sad replica of his natural habitat.
Dirt from between the barns.
Dead leaves from the azalea bushes.
Broken sticks and twigs fallen from the decaying old elm out front.

Small, scared, hiding under the fallen foliage like a camouflaged soldier ready to attack…
Yet he doesn’t.
He barely moves, except to pull his head back inside his shell. Safe. Protected.

Tiny little turtle, burrowing himself into the cool of the dirt, searching for a break from the heat, from his life.

He eats not while we are watching; his privacy, he doth relish.
A flailing fly is in no danger from him. A baby beetle, begging for his last breath will be granted mercy from this peculiar creation.

When the house is quiet and I am alone, I hear him scratching. Marching through the downed brush. Valiantly scaling the dying vegetation that must seem to him like mountains, deserts, the barren landscape that is his new world.

Is he searching for sustenance? Craving companionship? Or is he desperately clawing, fighting to set himself free from his existence, this pseudo residence fashioned from an old foil baking pan.

I stop to watch him, hover over his world. He can sense my presence, stopping him in his tracks, retreating to the safety of the one place no one else can enter.

What an amazing creature, this turtle with no name. He asks for nothing. He complains not. He sustains himself by water and pure will and through the exquisite design of his flawless Maker.

Who knew I had such an affinity for turtles.

And that’s All in a day’s work!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Things I’ve learned this summer

To five and six year old boys, baseball season never lasts long enough.

Top bunks and cement floors don’t mix.

No matter how many times you warn them, someone will eventually break a window.

Surprises can be life-changing.

During a drought, kids suddenly notice things like who has a well and who does not.

Driving east on Washington is guaranteed to elicit the same response from our boys every time: “There’s the good grass!”

Instructions from the six year old on how to get “good grass” of my own: “You need to mow it and then mow it again.”

No matter how bad you think you might not want what you’re getting, as soon as you’re not getting what you didn’t really want, you wonder how you could not have wanted it to begin with!

Kids take wishing wells seriously.

Shots are still the pits.

There are certain things in life that are unavoidably addictive to a child: card games, video games, and picking weeds.

PreK is only three hours a day. PreK is only three hours a day. PreK is only three hours a day.

While it has been excessively hot in Oklahoma this summer, one thing’s for sure: hell will be hotter.

In 14 years, we’ll be watching Brisco in the All State games…“if we’re still alive.”

Good friends and sisters are truly a blessing.

Kids don’t have to be coached when it comes to hamming it up for the camera.

We are no less competitive when it comes to playing pool than we are at playing baseball.

No one is man enough to eat the pink popsicles.

Twelve polished rocks make the perfect infield when playing backseat baseball.

Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot is not conducive to the sleeping patterns of children under age seven.

There’s nothing more un-apropos than a malfunctioning air conditioner in 110 degree heat.

There is definitely a quantifiable number of items on my bucket list. Touching live Sea Urchins and Starfish--check. Petting Sharks and Manta Rays--I’ll pass.

It’s never too hot to mow the infield or play ball in the back yard.

Never underestimate the power of a good book.

And that’s All in a day’s work!

Who we become because of our kids

Oh for the days without worry or grief. You know. That time we often refer to as B.C. Before Children. Our world revolved around us. And our spouse. And maybe a good job, if we were lucky.

Those were the days when we planned for the weekends. For vacations. For dinner and a movie on a Tuesday night, if that’s what we wanted to do.

Things were different back then. If we saw a new pair of shoes and we wanted them, they became ours, even if we already had plenty in the closet. We wouldn’t think of dragging out those same stretched and snagged swimsuits we’ve squeezed into for the past six summers. We’d simply go out and grab another. And none of this pinching pennies for school supplies or for new tennis shoes that we just pray will make it till fall break. And Saturdays? Those belonged to us as well.

B.C. we were rested. Energetic. Organized. Focused. We knew where we were headed, and if we veered off course, that was OK too, because life’s an adventure. And it’s a lot easier to pack when you’re a one-man show.

But then it occurred to me. What about all the things we weren’t B.C.? What about the people our children have molded us into? What about the Who that we have become because of our kids?

Children have a way of forcing us to change. They can make a sweet person sweeter…or make him able to break the sound barrier with a single word. They can force an honest person to lie…or at the very least, help him perfect the often more popular art form of omission. Kids can get a lazy person up off the couch for a quick, two-hour stroll, or they can drive him to the darkest recesses of his home to curl up in a fetal ball, just waiting for the insanity to pass.

Yes, kids have amazing powers over our lives, which often forces us to think in new and sometimes ridiculous ways. Let’s face it, what childless man, creative or not, could come up with “Sink the Cheerio” or have success potty training his three-year old in only a half a day’s time by bribing him with candy? And who besides a mom could so ingeniously get her kid to eat broccoli by serving it and a half dozen other green goodies in a muffin tin…with a side of green milk? If only we could bottle that power.

And yet sometimes, our kids teach us lessons we could never seem to teach ourselves. We may have thought we were self-disciplined B.C., but you can believe if there is a chink somewhere in the armor, our kids will find it. We preach “control your temper” but have trouble maintaining our own when that crazy driver is doing 45 in the fast lane. We insist on using soft voices and nice words no matter how frustrated we become, yet we find it difficult after nearly breaking an ankle on a random, rolling baseball to maintain our own soft tones. And our angels see it. They point it out. Sometimes, much to our dismay, they emulate it.

And if our pride was something we formerly relied heavily upon, our kids can fix that problem too, with that innocent way they have of forcing us to be humble. They bring us down at just the right moment. Just when we start feeling a little too good. They’ll point out our bad breath or laugh at the hair on our upper lip, or proudly announce in front of a crowd that our legs feel like daddy’s whiskers. They don’t do it to grieve us; they are merely giving honest, unpretentious commentaries on what they see before them. And oh, how it can bring us back down to size.

Our children are our levelers. Our meter readers. They keep us grounded and keep us in line. They show us how to be resilient. How to rely on others. How to ask for help. And above all, they make us understand what it means to truly live as selfless human beings. We suddenly understand what it means to “die to yourself”. And maybe we just might learn to live it out not only with these beautiful kids, but with all those around us.

Yes, B.C. was a wonderful time, and if I tried, I could sing louder and longer than Archie and Edith ever thought about singing. But it doesn’t compare to pop flies and popsicles, early mornings and bed times, hair twirling and Berra hugs. These are the times of our lives. Whomever we are, and whomever we become, it is all because of our kids.

And that’s All in a day’s work!

No greater assurance

How often in life do we look for assurance? Assurance that the new job we are contemplating is right for our family. Assurance that we are doing all we can to properly prepare our children for life. Assurance that their precious self-esteem isn’t being crushed by a few well-deserved swats on the behind.

Assurance is a valuable commodity in the world of parenting. But our world isn’t always certain. Sometimes it’s not even rational. Is that sought after assurance even possible? Or are we chasing after the wind. Looking to calm our fears and ease our conscience. Clinging to a fleeting hope that we’re doing a good job, doing everything right.

It takes a rational mother about 10 minutes to admit she is helpless to do it alone. The simple act of putting baby to breast is proof enough that without the help of a handful of experienced mothers and The Great Almighty, we are lost. We alone are insufficient.

Of course we’ll spend the next 18 years telling those same babes that “Moms know everything. Moms can see it all.” But that’s just a rouge. A farce. An attempt to keep our kids in line and convince ourselves that we’re up to the task.

So how do we survive when our limits are tested? When our patience is pushed? When the path becomes treacherous, and we’re no longer sure how this hand we’ve been dealt is going to play out? How do we gather our strength and move on?

“I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

See, we were never expected to know all, to see all, or to do it all. We weren’t created to be super humans or super moms. That’s something we worked up all on our own.

Our assurance comes not from how many tasks we can accomplish in a 24-hour period. Not from how well we can provide for the worldly needs of our family. Not from how well we are able to explain to our children the unexplainable whys of this world.

Our assurance comes from knowing that we are all created, guarded, and guided by a Maker who does not slumber or sleep. A Guardian who will not let our foot slip. One who watches over us and keeps us from all harm.

One who is powerful enough to know every thought in our mind, every secret of our heart—yet, He loves us anyway. What greater assurance could we need? What greater comfort when our paths become rocky or the way seems uncertain, than to know that God has our back.

“He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

Kinda makes that perpetual mountain of laundry seem surmountable, doesn’t it?

And that’s All in a day’s work!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kids or canines

As mothers for generations have, I often find myself watching our kids play, sleep, interact with each other and with their friends. I’m amazed at the things they conjure up in their imaginations. The games they invent. The jobs they undertake to pass the time.

No doubt I’m not alone. Kids are and have been for years undisputedly the greatest improvisers, workers, investigators, and performers in all of God’s creation. And these are only a few of their most admirable qualities. Qualities we grown ups should take a lesson from once in a while.

However, there are times when I’m enjoying the blissfulness that is a little boy’s childhood, that I have to wonder if maybe something went wrong. Did our genes somehow mutate in utero or did my undying loyalty to our longtime family Lab somehow seep into my children’s utter being? It’s a question I sometimes find myself wondering and one I can’t help asking: Am I raising kids or canines?

It might sound like a joke, but seriously, kids and dogs really do have a lot in common. After all, who hasn’t caught their child peeing in the floor at least once in their early, developmental years? If I’d have had half the insight then as I do now, I’d have had my house lined in puppy pads. It’s true.

But kids just do crazy things like that; at least ours did. They were improvising. Trying their best to solve a problem on their own.

Take for instance, a dog’s innate drive to dig. Is it really so different for a little boy? Since they were old enough to sit up on their own, our boys have loved being in the dirt. Whether they are driving cars and trucks or sliding into home, there’s just something about being one with the meat of the earth. And it doesn’t end there. We have more than one hole at our house that looks as if someone is searching for a new route to China. “I’m digging for gold,” my little guy will say. I’m not sure he’ll find any gold, but he sure is learning how to work.

Another kinship between boy and beast? If you leave the gate open, they will both get out. This I’ve learned the hard way. Kids are investigators, just like our pets. If there’s an unusual scent lingering about the yard, ole Bessie will grind her nose into the ground checking it out. And our kids are no different--minus the nose grinding, of course.

And don’t they all love to perform? I learned early on that neither kids nor dogs will actually perform their little tricks on command. I had a dog once that would fetch till his feet were bleeding…if I was the only person at home. And kids really aren’t that much different.

“Where’s your nose? Where’s your nose?” Parents ask these crazy questions in their nonsense voices and expect their babies to break out in true Fred Astaire-ian style with a song and a dance about the location and function of their little button nose. Most times, however, the kid will look back at the parent like they are mad-silly. Oh yeah, they’ll perform. But on their own time.

And they don’t really grow out of that. We can catch our kids doing all kinds of amazing things if they don’t happen to know we are watching. I’ve peered through my kitchen window too many times to count, in awe of a six year old playing “fetch”. He throws the ball. He hits the ball. He fetches the ball. And he does it again and again, until his tail is too tired to wag and his tongue is hanging out.

Finally, the most endearing quality of both kid and creature is their undying, unrelenting, lifelong loyalty. No matter how many times we rub their noses in one of their dirty messes; no matter how many times we cringe at the sight of a new hole; no matter how many times they escape through an open gate; our children remain steadfast.

They hug our necks when we are angry. They make us smile when we want to scream. They lick our wounds in ways only little children know how.

Am I raising kids or canines? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. But one thing’s for sure, like any good pup, our kids are loyal to the end. Even after a good spanking.

And that’s All in a day’s work!

Taking things for granted

One day, many months ago, I was walking behind my oldest child into a building. Seems an easy enough task, but apparently my one, fatal mistake was looking away for the split second that it took for the door to nail me right between the eyes. That’s the moment I realized that when one is raising kids, absolutely nothing should be taken for granted.

There are so many things our little wonders simply don’t pop into this world already knowing. That fact seems logical. But sometimes we parents just don’t have a clue as to the magnitude of information about which they really don’t know until it hits us square in the face. Literally.

For example, when our boys started making trips next door to visit Ms. Corbin, I would walk them over. As they got a little older, I would stand at the door and watch them go. The first time they made the trek on their own, I stood observing as my two boys calmly and quietly walked up to the front door, opened it, and disappeared inside. Now in some circles, this might be called breaking and entering. I’m thankful Ms. Corbin is on the “kid friendly” side of the law.

It’s a simple mistake, or so one might think. But these social faux pas just seemed to be piling up. It’s one thing not to know that when you are the first person through a door you hold it open for those behind you. But not knowing that you must knock, be recognized, and be asked to come into someone’s home is a little too obvious. But maybe it’s not, for a couple little boys.

Yes, some errors are small and easy to correct. It seems logical that if there is always a trash bag in the trash can, that there should always be a trash bag in the can. And that if for some reason there is not a trash bag in the can, one might want to wait to dump his palate of wet paint or the remains of his supper plate until there is a bag in the can! Alas, once again, I have taken these things for granted. Still, a relatively simple slip-up to amend.

But the day, not so long ago, that I could not find my four-year old for a good five minutes—which is actually a lifetime to a mother with a missing child—was a slightly bigger blunder that would require my immediate attention.

I was working in the house doing my busy, stay-at-home-mommy things. I left Brisco playing alone, checking on him every couple minutes or so as I walked by, putting up laundry, picking up toys. The last time I saw him, he had gone to the back yard to retrieve his favorite race car. I watched him as he went, digging through that sandy bucket he’d dragged out from inside the gazebo.

I made another trip to the back of the house with yet another pile of clean clothes to put away, and when I returned, he had moved from my sight. I looked out the door and hollered his name, but he didn’t answer.

Not yet worried, I figured he’d come back inside without my knowing, so I made a quick walk-through with a hand full of clean socks, checking for him as I went. When I didn’t see him, I decided to take a closer look.

It wasn’t until I had walked completely around the house yelling his name…followed by promises of dad’s belt if he was teasing me…that I really started to panic. Where had this kid gotten off to, and why did he think it was acceptable to go alone?

As the blood began to return to my brain and I was able to breath through the racing heartbeats I could hear pounding in my ears, I had a thought: maybe he’d gone next door for a visit.

And sure enough, there he sat. My four-year old boy, in the middle of the biggest, all-ladies card party in town. Scanning the room for snacks and anything else that happened to look interesting. I was drowning in a pool of exasperation and relief.

It was at that point I decided not to take the simple things for granted. Kids don’t come into the world knowing how to hold open doors or “Knock Before Entering”. They get sidetracked. They chase butterflies. And they want to know why their neighbor has so many cars parked in front of her house. But still, I had to take action.

That afternoon, my boy and I discussed Stranger Danger. We discussed the fact that cartoons are fake and dinosaurs are dead. We talked about the difference between what’s happening on TV and what’s happening in real life.

“So what about those workout people?” he asked. “The ones on your video. Are they all really still right there? They are still doing the same thing!” So many questions, so little time.

From the moment we mothers realize we are expecting, our lives change. For nine months, we make promises and swear oaths that we’ll guide and protect our new, little life if God will just get us through the labor pains. And once we lay eyes on those precious babes, we fall in love. Some of us just never realized what adventures our pride and joy might bring along with them. I guess kids aren’t the only ones to take things for granted.

But in the end, it’s all worth it. The snuggle time and the “Will you read to me’s?” The goodnight hugs and the “I love you’s”. All the joys that sprinkle our days make up for the chaos and confusion our children dole out.

Now if I could just figure out a way to teach them about privacy in the bathroom.

And that’s All in a day’s work!