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!)

 

 

Nike and My Brown-Skinned Boy

It’s both sad (because of the backlash) and yet hopeful to me that a globally successful business is propelling the discussion around racial injustice.  I would almost feel bad for all those promising to boycott Nike, except for the fact that maybe with fewer people shopping in my area, there might be size 8 shoes still on the shelves for me!

That aside, the whole point of this issue has nothing to do with Nike or Kaepernick and everything to do with the fact that it’s time to start treating people with brown skin as humans. In an effort to make sure that my boys are in a good school district that can meet their varying behavioral and learning needs, I have chosen (for now) to live in an area that happens to be primarily white. It’s a choice that doesn’t always sit well with me because I yearn for more diversity (though my immediate neighborhood has families from Turkey, Russia, Ecuador and South Korea living together). So, every year I intentionally enroll my biracial children in a summer day camp within the city limits that serves primarily African American kids.

The first few days are a bit of a shock to them. Mr. Ornery came home that first Monday afternoon begging me to take him to Target to get a ball cap. Not thoroughly understanding the importance to him, I brushed it aside as we moved along to some evening sports activity or another. The next evening he continued to insist that he needed a new cap so off to Target we went. But I knew in my heart that he wouldn’t find what he needed in Target. In our “white neighborhood” all-purpose store he was not going to find the ethnic fashion apparel he eagerly sought. He also wasn’t going to find someone who knew how to braid his ringlet hair into cornrows at our “white neighborhood” SuperCuts.

What he was searching for was a better understanding of his identity. He was trying to figure out what part of him was brown skin and what part of him reflected the whiteness he saw all around. He searched for answers in outward appearances without thinking of the within.

“Why do so many of those kids at camp have brown skin?” he asks. “Why was like everyone in the Black Panther movie brown?”  Eventually, my answer became, “You know what? If you look at all the people in the entire world, most of them have brown skin. It’s just that it’s different where we live so we sometimes forget that. What matters is what’s inside people. How they act. How they treat others.”

My heart breaks at the continued discrimination and injustice. My heart breaks that people continue to judge others based on color, appearance, physical form. Bias is within all of us, but we are in control of our responses and our actions. We have a choice to be kind.

Mr. Ornery got a new ball cap. He wore it for two days. Mr. Ornery got cornrows put in his hair at a salon within the city. He wore it that way for three days (some of his hair was too short so it only was braided halfway). Mr. Ornery and his brothers will continue to wrestle with what it means to have brown skin in a country that can’t handle differences. They will search to find where they fit in and how to handle the pain of judgement.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to look for opportunities to talk with others and listen to others who are different from me in many ways. And I will continue to seek opportunities to do the same with my boys and encourage them to learn and grow in acceptance and wisdom.

Because I believe that we are all created by and loved by an amazing God. And we should show the same to others.

 

And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

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.

We need to create more Grateful Moments!

The bus was late. I was stressed. We were going to be late for the first gymnastics class. I parked the car across from the bus stop and waited. After they tumbled off, I hustled the boys over to the car and yelled, “Jump in! Get buckled!” As the bus was trying to make its busu-turn and I was clearly blocking its progress, I moved the car forward to the other side of the street. Super Tall Guy yelled out, “Mr. Ornery’s not in the car” (well, he used the middle kid’s real name, to be truthful). I stopped immediately, opened the car door and looked back about 20 feet behind me. My vision of Mr. Ornery in his bright orange shirt was blocked by an unknown car who had stopped right in front of him and the driver had jumped out to videotape or photograph my moment of stupidity.

And that’s what it was. A moment. Maybe 20 seconds. A moment when a hurried mother made a mistake. But thanks to the stranger, a police officer showed up at my door at 9:00 o’clock that night to interrupt bed-time routine and inform me of my stupidity. Fortunately, it was one of those awkward “warnings” about a “chaotic bus pick up?” and I agreed with him that yes, I was wrong. It was a lapse of judgement. But no one was hurt and I had not gone anywhere. My boys were safe and they were not traumatized. We had talked about the situation. All was fine.

Except my heart. My heart was sad that in this world, my first thought was – great! Some stranger is videotaping me and I’ll either “go viral” on social media or have a police citation.

My question is – why didn’t the stranger instead think to help. Maybe instead of blocking my view of my son, she might have taken my son’s hand and walked him to my car. We all would have said thank you and moved on with the day. It could have been a “grateful” moment.

Just five days before this, on the second day of school, a little 7-year-old got off the school bus with my boys. There was no parent waiting for him. I walked him to his house and we knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked on windows. Nothing. I called the management office of the community and they called the parents and tracked them down. I waited with this little boy for 10 minutes until his parents arrived. They thought he had gotten on the bus to day care rather than the bus home. It was a mistake.  A moment. I did not call and report the parents to the police. I helped.

Oh how I wish we could all be more helpful.

This week an elderly patient sat in my office. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return in two weeks to get her blood pressure rechecked because transportation was too difficult for her. And she didn’t have any one around to help her. She looked at me with eyes of sadness. “People tend to disappear once you get older or have a cane,” she lamented. “Nobody wants to help anyone anymore. Nobody cares anymore in this world. Everyone is just worried about their own self.”

A generalization yes, but also a reminder to me.

Let’s be more kind.

Let’s be more helpful.

Let’s think about what others might be going through and what we might do to help.

Let’s be a good neighbor and a loving friend.

Let’s create more grateful moments.

Love matters.