Time to be Less busy and Restart the “Welcome Wagon”

K gave me a tight hug as her eyes teared up. “I didn’t know people did this anymore,” she spoke as I handed her a slightly still-warm pan of chicken broccoli casserole. The recipe was hastily written on the top along with my name and phone number and the names and ages of the boys. “I forgot to include the dog,” I said with a smile.

I had noticed the moving truck when I got home from work earlier that day. Scanning my cupboards and fridge, the only meal I could think of putting together was this comfort-food casserole, though it had sadly been so long since I had last made it, that the recipe had faded from my brain. But I had just been in her situation three weeks ago. My mind was stretched beyond belief trying to make sure I had moved over the Christmas presents and knew where they were. Making sure I had the tree up and slightly decorated again. Making sure everyone had at least a couple outfits to wear. Making sure the boys had “nice” clothes to wear at Christmas Eve service when the two youngest were doing the reading from the book of Luke. Helping my sister tear up carpet, sweep and mop sanded floors, clean up a house while still packing up the last one before the truck came. A week in, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. I was tired of delivered pizza and Chinese take-out. I had shared cookies from our Cookie Day baking with the neighbors on either side and across from me whom I had met. But I just wanted “real” food.

And so that it what I wanted to take to the new neighbors. I also really wanted to have some great little gifts like my sister and friends brought me on my first day of moving – bottles of hand soap and hand towels for the bathroom, sponges, and Chlorox wipes. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if I had some of those around that weren’t used yet (from all my cleaning the past couple weeks) and I could make up a little basket or bag to take along with a meal to the new neighbor? Wouldn’t it have been nice, I thought when I got home, if I had remembered to take a bottle of wine over with the meal, as her words continued to dance through my head: “Thank you so much. It’s been a really trying day.”

I know, I thought. I know. It’s not just the physical exhaustion but the mental toll that hits you in those days of moving. It’s one of the top stressors of life, even if it is a really positive thing in the end.

The next day, one of my neighbors brownies neighbor2whom I hadn’t met yet from across the street stopped over with a plate of warm brownies. Like the neighbor next door, when she returned my cookie plate, she had written her name and number on a piece of paper which I have tucked into my “new house” notebook. It was wonderful to be genuinely welcomed and to be told, “Call me anytime if you need anything.” Certainly so many of the neighbors have called out, “Welcome to the neighborhood” and told me about all the things they love about the neighborhood. And so far, the three neighbors who are clearly retired and whose houses surround mine have all said, “It’s so nice to hear kids playing outside again.” (Meanwhile, I say to myself – oh, just you wait for the weather to break. Let’s see how long that “noise” is “nice”!)

The reason I felt pulled to this neighborhood was that a friend of my middle son lived near the entrance to the “no outlet” essentially-two-street community. My friendship with his parents was growing and I just knew it could be a beautiful opportunity to live nearby. I know it’s hard to move right at Christmas time and in the middle of winter because most of the neighborhood tucks in and stays inside as the snow flies. But I’m looking forward to meeting the neighbors as the days lengthen and warm up (and maybe winning over the guy who lives behind the house and apparently is VERY protective of his pine trees from the evils of boys’ snow sleds….). I’m looking forward to putting some furniture on the front porch and planting myself there as much as possible to say hi to Pippin and Fergie and Gunnar and Millie and any other dog who pulls their owner past the house. (I might also be doing some glaring at those who want to speed just a little up the hill because they will likely encounter scooters, and fat boy bikes, and ramps, and hoverboards, and Nerf guns and kids all over the road!)

And, I’m particularly looking forward to making up a couple little gift baskets of cleaning supplies and wine and throwing together a little meal for the next people who move into the neighborhood – because it’s time to bring back the Welcome Wagon. Just tell me where the moving truck is. I think I got this now.

When Newness brings Peace

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding….” (Phil 4:7)

There certainly was very little Peace and Quiet over this Christmas break despite the typical expectation of such. This year we moved to a house after living in a cramped, tiny townhome for the past 3 years. The older two had their own bedrooms, but the youngest slept in my bedroom. The TV was on one side of the “living” room space and the couch on the opposite side so the great joy in annoying the eldest was to cross in front of the TV multiple times…or just pretend to forget and stand there. The kitchen was tiny and I couldn’t stand to have a kid in there with me whenever I tried to cook anything on the non-existent counter-space. There was no garage, no basement, no storage area.

But there was an outside. There was an open green space with playground equipment that hardly anyone used if they were over five. And there was a glorious double-bump hillside that made perfect sledding conditions (perfect because the boys could thump over in their boots and I could stay in my warm abode!). And there were kids. Kids who also liked to play outside. Kids who knocked on the door at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Kids who knocked at 8:00 pm on a school night. Kids that thrived on my boys’ energy and creativity. Kids who were great friends.

So the Saturday before Christmas, I moved over as many boxes as I could pack in the car with supplies to host our first “Cookie Day.” Many friends came out and we baked for hours (despite a nasty cold), creating 56 dozen cookies as the one oven browned sheet after sheet of dough. Sunday and Monday we packed and carted boxes. We cleaned some parts of the new house and some of the old. My sister tore up carpet and sanded two hardwood floors. And Christmas day after the excitement of gifts and a quick meal, we put polyurethane on the floors and opened all the windows. And when the moving trucks pulled out, my wonderful brother drove in from Ohio with two of his older daughters to finish up moving all the odds and ends.

It’s been anything but restful. Anything but quiet. But there has been a remarkable peace that has descended on the family. Christmas Eve I sent the boys down to the basement (“game room,” “man cave,” “den”…we haven’t settled on a name yet!) and I set up their rooms with beds and new blankets and put some select pieces of their school artwork (which I just framed the week before Christmas) on the floor as I didn’t have the tools or the energy to work on hanging them. I had name signs for each room. And The Little Guy jump around in his room with such joy and excitement to have his own space for the first time in his life.

Space. There’s now space for the boys to get away from each other to rest. There’s space in the kitchen (bless my mom and a couple great friends who helped clean and set it up) for me to experience joy and peace in preparing meals for the boys (I got tired of pizza and take-out pretty quickly!). There’s space to put the new hoverboards and electric scooters in the shed and the hand-me-down dirt bike that Mr. Ornery managed to fiddle with enough to get it working. There’s space to breathe and breathing feels very good.

And after three years, there’s a sense of settling and permanency. My brain is no longer searching and searching for the right house, the right location, the right school. It’s not perfect. I really intended to get a MUCH bigger yard for the boys, but it’s got great indoor space and a quiet flat road in front for their craziness.

I am so grateful for everyone who helped physically and emotionally with encouraging texts and messages and Facebook comments. There’s still much to do. I haven’t finished cleaning up the new place yet and there’s boxes upon boxes in “storage” at my sister’s and parents’ houses that need to move over.  But, a longtime friend said to me recently, “It’s so great to see how much you are enjoying that beautiful new home of yours.” And he’s right.

I’ve actually caught Super Tall Guy with smiles on his face!

Managing This “Season’s” Stress

The theme of this month seems to be figuring out how much stress my brain can manage before it entirely implodes.

I think I’m pretty close to that, although I seem to just yell a bit more at the boys and that releases some from the pop-off valve.

Given that it’s mid-December, there’s a great deal of excitement about the upcoming favorite day of the year. There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the daily Elf and his location search (for the younger two) and about the daily “Advent Bags” (which were lovingly packed by their grandmother) that reveal goodies. And there’s a great deal of excitement about moving to a new house. For the boys, these past few weeks have been filled with constant expectation and a lot of joy. (Not complete joy because their mother hasn’t been giving in to their every whim and desire for “stuff, but there’s been plenty of joy!) 

But for their mother, it’s been an endless stream of things to do and things forgotten. For one, until you go through the process, it’s pretty hard to understand the emotional energy and time required in purchasing a house. Inspection. Negotiations. Research on radon abatement (including an hour on the phone with a talkative radon guy when I essentially had just one question – will you get it down below the acceptable safe limit of 4!).  Finding, printing, signing, scanning, emailing financial papers after financial papers to the mortgage lender.

And then there’s the packing; that is, after finding a moving company. The man who came in to provide an estimate might have casually mentioned, “Looks like you need to start packing….” I took his advice and increased from my two-boxes-a-night pace to spending almost this entire weekend packing up the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, the storage area which hasn’t been touched in three years (hello, daddy long-legs!).

And….two boys have succumbed to upper respiratory infections (the fancy name for a cold) and the middle one has succumbed to pre-teen obnoxiousness (the fancy name for being a brat).

If this was the only stress for December, it might be tolerable. But interestingly, there’s also the impending expiration of the 5-year cycle of my “Maintenance of Certification” for my pediatric boards. So I’ve spend 15-20 hours in the evenings working on those requirements. Strangely, my Pennsylvania medical license is also due for renewal by the end of the month so that requires some additional “continuing medical education” credit hours. And then there’s the email from the hospital where I am credentialed that my TDaP vaccine needs to be updated by the end of the month; so now my arm is sore from squeezing that appointment in!  Oh….and  also the oil change because I’ve had the new car for three months now, so I had to pop in and get that done on the way home from work one day.

To top it off, it’s also The Little Guy’s first year in competitive gymnastics and he had his first competition at the beginning of the month. Fortunately it was in town and we didn’t have to travel, but his joy in winning first place for his age group in the Rings event made me realize I better get prepared for his next competition in January. It took awhile to book a hotel room at Splash Lagoon (a water park close to the competition site), but the boys are thrilled.

It’s gotten to the point of being humorous (almost). It’s definitely to the point where I am conscientiously spending my days telling myself to unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I’m reminding myself that this is a season of craziness and it will pass.  I’m reminding myself that we don’t have to do everything we usually do this time of year (I say as I compose this from the hard wooden bench at the ice-skating rink…since the boys “had” to get out of the house). I remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect; the boys will have fun no matter what I do, despite my personal pressure to make this move and this Christmas “special.” And I remind myself to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep (at least every third night….as there’s clearly some viruses around to fight off and supposedly good sleep makes moms less grouchy!).

And tonight I have a sneaky suspicion that my neighbor is right….Mr. Ornery has his first band concert tomorrow night. I’ll need to find some dress clothes for him. I don’t think I’ve packed those yet…..

Sigh, so when you see me and you think – “wow, your hair sure has gone gray” – I’m still blaming it on the boys and this time I’ll blame it on not having enough time to keep up with the dyeing!

Countdown to Christmas – yes, this Advent, I am grateful for the greatest gift two thousand-some years ago and the many blessings and gifts bestowed daily this month!

(Ahem…well, I’m off to make my list of things still needed for Cookie Day at the new house. It’s going to be a blast. I hope!)

 

 

Waiting for a Home

It wears upon the soul to live in “transition,”  to be in a time of waiting. I have been doing that for so much of my life. You spend your school years just wanting so badly to grow up and have the “privileges” of being an adult. Then there’s the “step” of college to get to your career and your “life.” For me that was an extended prolonged journey of graduate school followed by medical school and a longer than usual residency program.

Finally, I thought. I have arrived. But at the same time, the kids started to arrive as well. And each one of them brought multiple “transitions” and waiting periods. Waiting for quarterly court hearings. Waiting for goal changes. Waiting for adoption. And just when it settles down, the boys are starting into preschool and kindergarten transitions. And a year and a half into what I thought would be their first stable school, we were asked to leave as the private school decided they didn’t have the “resources” needed to teach my eldest.

So, we bounced into a townhouse to move into a school district that welcomed the boys. Half of my packed belongings went to my parents’ house and half went to my sister’s garage (that’s where the Christmas tree and decorations, the bikes, the winter gear, etc sits waiting). Waiting. For the past 3 years we have been living in transition, waiting to find a house to call our own.

My boys have naturally made the best of their waiting. There’s a great community of friends here in the neighborhood. There’s a great diversity of cultures in this neighborhood. There’s good support. But they were so ready to move last year when we were a week away from closing on a house. It was a huge disappointment to lose the house, but that house also brought the stress of changing schools and new transitions.

Now, however, they are giddy with anticipation as we are now less than five weeks from closing on a house!! And this time, I have settled into keeping the boys in the same school system and the same elementary and middle school. It’s been rough for me mentally as I keep trying to find the “best” school for them. I find pros and cons to all the choices. Finally, I’ve decided to put the priority on stability, acknowledge that I won’t find perfection, but that it is time to settle down for the sake of the boys and myself.

And so, in this Advent season, as we expectantly “wait” to celebrate the birth of Christ, my family is also expectantly waiting and preparing for a new beginning.

 

 

Failure Demon

By all accounts, I am a highly-accomplished woman. I have a college education, a PhD and a medical degree. I am an executive director, a physician and a co-founder of a successful non-profit. Despite being an introvert, I have strong social skills and am adept at networking and building community. I have many friends and a wonderful family. I know persistence, determination, resilience and hard work.

And I know the Failure Demon. The one that sits upon your shoulder and provides the 40,000-foot macro overview critique of all your deficiencies and failures.

My house deal fell through this weekend. It’s been six weeks of sleepless nights stressing about whether it was the right place for my family and finally shifting into preparing mentally to move. The boys were excited, talking about how they would arrange their rooms and all the fun space they would have to play. And the yard. Sigh, the yard.

Failure Demon points out that I’ve been looking at houses for over a year. I keep talking about wanting to move and get the kids into a different school system and yet I can’t that done. No house has been the right one and the walls of this rental townhome are closing in on us.

Failure Demon likes to point out deficiencies like this when I’m trying to focus on studying. Failure Demon reminds me that despite being a nearly straight-A student my entire life, despite passing every prior standardized test I’ve taken with relative ease, I have now failed my Internal Medicine re-certifying exam twice. I have one more chance. I am in a “grace year” and I’m running out of time. Failure next month will change me from a “Med-Peds” physician to a pediatrician. Failure will change my current employment at a medical office providing care for under- and uninsured patients. Failure will change my income and the ability to afford such things as a house for the boys. Failure will have a ripple effect.

Failure Demon reminds me that part of all this stress of choosing a house and choosing a school district is the stress of trying to parent alone and make important life decisions on my own. Failure Demon points out that my life-long goal of finding a partner, a soul-mate, a friend, a spouse is still unmet, still in the failure category. Failure Demon chuckles.

For Failure Demon points out that solo parenting isn’t even working out so great, is it? The threatening letters from property management to inform tenants that “all children must be supervised at all times when outside” have now escalated to an email asking for a meeting with the property manager next week. Apparently there’s been a report of Mr. Ornery lighting smoke bombs in the back yard while “unsupervised” the other night while I was at work. Mr. Ornery is ornery; there’s no getting around that. But Failure Demon knows that I am stretched and that trying to keep track of everything spins out of control sometimes.

Failure Demon struts and nods smugly. Failure Demon smiles haughtily. Failure Demon loves to torture all of us.

But you shall go away, Failure Demon. I will sit here for a moment. I will sit in peace. I will let the sadness of losing the house pass me by and then I will begin again. I will pick up my phone and study more exam questions on that handy app and I shall do my best. I will give my boys a hug and rejoice in their health and their creativity and their love of exploration. I will shake off that demon and rise again.

For I have confidence that “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And God’s Word is that we are loved. That we are made perfect through Him and that there is no failure when one walks with God.

So go away, Failure Demon. For Christ reigns, friends surround, and there is much work to be done.

Goodnight Home

The windmill stained glass window caught your eye the moment you walked in the front door. Sure you may have stumbled over the uneven flooring of the front porch, but isuoyn2bqy677e0000000000inside…inside the house was stunning. Over a hundred years old with built-in bookshelves, dark hardwood floors, and a back “secret” staircase, the most important thing about the house was that it first held our boys (and a couple foster girls along the way as well….one dog…countless not very hardy goldfish and a beta named Lightning McQueen who had amazing stamina).

A house is a house. Bricks are bricks. Wood is wood. But when a baby enters, a special kind of mystery takes place and memories are laid down deep within your heart.  The location of the bassinet. The crack of the bathroom stained glass from a well-placed kick. The corners where the boys hid. The games of hide-and-seek and monster’s going to get you! The walls become a home. The ceilings, the skies of your dreams. The kitche, the center of life. The bedrooms, the source of peace.

is6abdz8in5vad0000000000And yet, when a baby enters a dwelling, the world shifts. The priorities change. The once “easy access” street becomes the dreaded high-speed danger trap. The easy to maintain stamp back yard quickly becomes too boring and inadequate. And the worry of school choice and the need for better options gradually stalks close enough to you that you suddenly you wake up to boxes and plastic bins and moving vans and men who don’t really know anything about safe moving except that they needed the job that day.

After years “on the market,” my sister and I closed on the old Victorian house today. The next rambunctious little boy entered tonight. He’ll pick his room. He’ll unpack his “loveys” and his little cars and scatter some Legos across the hardwood floor to help his mom feel right at home. He’ll probably fuss for a bit. He’ll probably need some lights on for the ceilings are high and the shadows are deep. But soon he’ll find the scratches on the doorframe. Soon he’ll hide in the front closet. Soon he’ll wait for the wild raspberries out back to ripen. Soon he’ll know that those walls are his home. Soon he’ll be laying down memories to cherish and share and laugh about with family.

Goodnight great big house.

Goodbye wonderful home.

Thanks for the incredible memories.

Moving Day

“Okay, go!” I said to Super Tall Guy as we backed out of the driveway of the townhouse. “3 minutes, 21 seconds and 59 milliseconds,” he said as we pulled into the driveway of my sister’s new house.

One weekend. Two moves. Two sets of movers. Countless loads of boxes via theboxes2 minivans. Strong cousin. Saintly mother. Spackling father. Lamps. TV. Shoes. Books. Headache. Couches. Beds. Clothes. Numerous trips to Target. But no toothbrushes. No toothpaste. No toiletries. None. The boys rejoiced!

It’s been twelve years in an old Victorian house with stained glass windows, built-in wooden bookcases, three floors, and a hidden back staircase. It’s been the only home the boys have known. It’s been the place everyone called “home” until we moved for school and the extended family split up a bit to diminish the chaos and to stretch out a little.

I meant to get all sentimental about leaving “home” – but the stress of a quick move left the heart door closed. In fact 36 hours after dropping the last box packed for “moving day” onto the townhome floor, I actually texted my mom to say I like the space better than I thought I would. It’s small, clean and manageable (or it will be once all the boxes are emptied and flattened or donated to the lady next door who remarked she was moving soon too).

Somehow the boys seem to have forgotten to be sentimental too. They seem to be enamored by the chance to ride bikes and scooters up and down the street, bumping over the speed bump. They seem to appreciate the new neighbors — a 12-year-old and 7-year-old boy who pop out of their house the moment my car engine stops with a soccer ball in hand and eager faces! They seem to be enthralled by the closeness to “Auntie,” or maybe it’s the community pool that’s two houses away from Auntie’s house and has diving board!  Maybe they are managing this chaos better than I.

They are less excited about the New House, New Rules reality though:

  • See this – it’s a sink. Take your plate to the kitchen, rinse it in the sink, and….put it in the dishwasher!
  • These clothes? They’re yours. Sort them into three piles and each of you take them upstairs. And those things are called drawers – that’s where the clothes go! Not the floor!
  • And this new bunk bed? Yes, you may sleep on top…but the new rule is that you will stay in your own bed – all night! No more climbing into Mom’s bed between 1 and 3 am!  (Oh my goodness…3 days in and this rule is actually working!!)

There’s a whole lot of things still back at the “old” house. I had to stop there on the way to work yesterday to grab a pair of shoes for work. There’s tons of dust bunnies where the beds once sat. Empty candy wrappers line the edge of the wall having been dropped behind the couch. The closet is full of items that will move to the front yard for a yard sale in a few weeks (if it didn’t move to the town house in the first couple days as “essential,” then it actually isn’t essential!). The tall-ceiling rooms are eerily empty and echoes abound. The windows are closed. The doors are locked. But hopefully soon it will be filled again with love and joy and laughter as a new family finds their “home.”