Ash Wednesday... Worship on the Throne

I’m not sure why, but some of our most memorable family outings are in the restroom…Hey, don’t judge! When you have three small girls it is all about divide and conquer; so we have a standing reservation in the Family Restroom!

            I have VIVID memories of the five of us in the family restroom at our niece’s cheerleading competition…I was in the stall with one of the twins trying to assist her after she dropped half of her coat in the toilet, while Chuck was helping the other twin at the sink – as she sprayed water all over his face. Meanwhile, Bianca had gotten a hold of our umbrella and was using it as a weapon, whacking Chuck in the shin… All of this happening at once, but seeming to be occurring in slow motion. Chuck was trying to hold it together, while holding a child, and reprimanding another; and he looked over at me to see what I was doing to help the situation…and I was sitting in the bathroom floor laughing uncontrollably – wishing I had a camera crew with me to document this MESS that I call my life.

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Happy New Year!!!!!

Happy New Year!!!.............What?...............

It’s MARCH?!!?............... How the hell did that happen?

     As cliché as they are, I usually really do enjoy writing-out my New Year’s Resolutions (usually before the year is a fourth of the way over.) I actually have a ritual – even a designated notebook – where I write out my three personal and three professional goals for the year – and then I write three steps I’m going to take to make those goals a reality. (Some of my past goals have been running a marathon and pursuing work as a commercial model, so they usually have a fairly high success rate – much more optimistic than saying my New Year’s Resolution is to give-up bread or coffee…which would fail within the first week.)

     But this year, I was in a really weird place as the New Year rolled around – almost an emotional/spiritual purgatory. You see 2014 has begun with me experiencing some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows…all at the same time.

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Silent Night

Last night I stood in the back of my church sanctuary – holding one of my precious twins – and cried uncontrollably as I watched my four-year-old sing Silent Night with her classmates.

About twenty of them total – three and four-years-old – dressed up like kings and shepherds, stars and angels…My sweet Bianca was dressed like an angel with beautiful wings dipped in gold sequins that sparkled in the sunset flowing through the stained glass windows.

Tears fell as I imagined this entire group of children – innocent, precocious and full of life – erased from this canvas. Then I watched their teachers, Miss Tracy and Miss Laura, patiently guide our children through their song… And I imagined them being gone too. And in an instant, the entire sanctuary had been transformed. Because if you took these people away, you immediately amputated a part of every person in the audience…

And then my thoughts drifted to Robbie Parker, the brave father of Emilie Parker, who somehow found the strength to step in front of the news cameras to tell the world about his beautiful little girl only hours after learning of her horrific death in Sandy Creek Elementary School. I thought about how Robbie somehow found the compassion to offer his condolences to the shooter’s family – letting the world know that the only way to survive this tragedy would be through forgiveness and love.

And as I thought of Robbie Parker and his sweet Emilie I cried not only for them, but also for the events that had happened earlier in the day at my own house….

 

To say that my daughter’s End-of-the-Year school program was a disaster last spring would be a vast understatement. We’d hyped this performance up for weeks, inviting extended family in for the festivities.

Bianca and I had walked to school the night of the recital – her in her bright blue shirt and yellow headband, me following her with my camera. We sang We’re Following the Leader as I marched behind her, grinning ear-to-ear.

We got to church (the place she was baptized, where she attended her first vacation bible school, a place she should feel completely safe) and I left her in the all-purpose room with her teachers and classmates taking my spot in the front of the sanctuary so I could record her performance.

The back doors of the sanctuary opened, and I immediately heard a collective Awww as moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles caught first glimpses of their little ones.

But the wind was knocked out of my sail as I watched Bianca approach the front of the sanctuary with tears rolling down her flush cheeks. What happened? I wondered as my mind raced. She was fine twenty minutes ago….

These are the moments that make you wish there were some sort of Parenting 101 that was mandatory before the hospital allowed you to bring your child home…. Like there was a professor at the hospital grading your exam at the exit doors before allowing you to leave with this most important, super-fragile, human being you’re now responsible for nurturing, guiding, teaching, loving…No Pressure!

They probably don’t offer that class, because they know the majority of us would fail miserably…. Because parenting is the NUMBER ONE example of On-the-Job training….

The truth is, none of us…. even that Super Nanny from Great Britain…. have a clue when it comes to these snap-decision, last-second-play moments.

As I watched Bianca’s procession into the church, I proceeded to run through what I have since come to refer to as the Four-Stages of Stage Fright Damage Control…

1)   Avoidance & Denial – Yep, I sure did continue to smile and videotape as my daughter decomposed on stage, holding her little flag up over her face to try to conceal her tears instead of waving it like her classmates… her little shoulders shaking uncontrollably.

2)    Consoling – After what felt like twenty minutes of this (I’m pretty sure it was more like twenty seconds) I realized I could no longer ignore my child…. So I rushed to the front of the sanctuary and knelt in front of her. It’s all okay, Bianca…. Mommy’s here

3)   Bribery – After several attempts to utilize my sweetest, most-understanding voice – I realized she wasn’t buying it…. So I immediately shifted gears and began whispering that I would buy her pretty much anything she wanted as long as she would stop crying and participate in her program…. Now if that’s not Grade-A parenting, I don’t know what is!

4)   Anger – (The following is not my proudest parenting moment) By the time I realized nothing was working; it was time for Bianca to pair-up with her partner for part of the program. Obviously that wasn’t happening, so here stood one of her classmates wanting to participate…. with no partner. I was so mad – and looking back, six months later, I’m still mad. But now my anger has shifted onto myself.

Why on Earth was I upset with a THREE-YEAR-OLD for having stage fright? I’ll tell you why, because I thought it reflected poorly on me. If I’m being totally honest with myself, I have to admit that I was worried about what other people were going to think or say. Awww, that poor little girl. I wonder what’s wrong with her? I wonder what her parents are like? As I write this I realize even more vividly the absurdity of my thoughts. But that’s what happens sometimes when we’re parenting, we don’t think rationally.

 

Looking back, I should have done things so much different. Like getting up on stage and making a complete fool of myself in order to make my little girl feel comfortable. Or, just rescuing her from the stage and pulling her down onto the floor with me where she could have watched or participated from a much less threatening vantage point – without hundreds of people staring at her.

 

So when the calendar rolled around to Bianca’s Christmas program, my husband and I joked that we weren’t inviting anyone…. We just didn’t want Bianca to feel any pressure this time around. We were downplaying the whole thing –so it wouldn’t be a big deal if she decided not to participate.

But Bianca seemed really excited as the event approached, practicing her songs as she frolicked through the house, so we decided to invite our parents. We talked to Bianca about her program, and she insisted that she wanted to sing and dance with her classmates.

And here we were… The Big Day had finally arrived. I was much wiser now – learning from the events six months ago, right? WRONG!

Bianca began acting-out as I tried to get her dressed. You know, the normal kicking as you try to get them in their panty hose, thrashing as you try to fasten their shoes, threatening that they’re Gonna Scream if you don’t stop!

I tried to remain calm, diverting Bianca’s attention by asking her to practice singing her songs for me… That went over like a ton of bricks as she fell to the floor and insisted I do NOT know the words to Away in a Manger.

I finally got her into her white tights and tank top, which was like dressing an alligator, and we moved in to the bathroom where I attempted to give her two French braids. Do you know how difficult it is to French braid a head as it rotates like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist? If you’re the mother of a four-year-old girl, I bet you do.

I was quickly reaching the end of my rapidly fraying rope when Bianca looked at me in the mirror and said, “I don’t want to go to my program!”

Did I say she said that she didn’t want to go to her program? What I meant to say was she screamed, whined, cried

What happened next is another one of those parenting moments I am less than proud of…

I clenched Bianca’s braid, put my lips down by her ear and proceeded to tell her – in a less than loving tone – that she was going to PERFORM in her program…or ELSE!

As I raised my eyes back up to the mirror, I caught a glimpse of my daughter fighting to hold back her tears… And I saw an ugly mother staring back at me… And then I saw Robbie Parker… What would Robbie Parker give for one more Christmas program with his little girl? I thought before becoming completely unglued.

I wrapped my arms around Bianca, carried her to the toilet where I rocked her as I repeatedly apologized. “You don’t have to do your program if you don’t want to, Bianca,” I cried. “You can sit in the pew with me if you want to.”

“I’m sorry for being a bad girl, mommy,” Bianca cried too. “I’ll sing in my program.”

 

And sing she did. Not animated and loud like some of her classmates, but quietly and reserved – in her own voice. She shook her jingle bells, she rumpa pum pummed her drum, and she sang Silent Night – as I stood in the back of the sanctuary and cried.

 

I have no doubt that every parent out there tonight feels an indescribable feeling of sadness for all of the families in Newtown, wondering how in the world their lives will ever go on after such horrific tragedy…But I also know every parent out there has felt like they were at their wits end while dealing with their testy child – on more than one occasion.

And it is a very difficult position to be in… As parents we want more than anything to cherish every second with our children. But we also want to guide them and shape them into mature, respectful human beings. And sometimes that means we have to discipline them, which means – at least for a brief moment – we are not their favorite person.

On a daily basis I pray that God gives me patience while dealing with the ‘melt-down moments’ happening on a regular basis in my house. But I also thank God daily for bringing these miracles into my life.

I heard a quote recently that said, “Be child-like, not childish.” I think that sums up what I need to keep in mind while parenting. Bianca is child-like when she acts out, speaks up and jumps around like a wild banshee. I have to remember not to be childish while parenting to that.

And I think we can all agree that after the horrible events in Newtown, the most important piece of parenting advice we can take away is to make sure we tell our children how much we love them…even if we might not like them very much at the moment.

A few of my Favorite Things….

I’ve decided… I’m starting a petition to make everyday Thanksgiving Day. I mean, what’s not to love? Turkey and stuffing, napping, and—if you’re a lunatic—the opportunity to literally shop ‘til you drop (or get pepper sprayed by a fellow shopper…. or get arrested….)

But in all seriousness, is there a more fitting holiday than one where we give thanks? And shouldn’t we be giving thanks everyday?

While I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the thankful Facebook posts this month, it’s as if all of my friends are hitting copy and paste on their computers. They are almost all thankful for the same things…. On November 1, God was getting a ton of love. Then the next week included major shout-outs for husbands and wives, children, parents, sisters and brothers, grandparents…

It wasn’t until people got finished giving thanks for their family that things really got interesting, because this is when people really started to look at the little things in their lives that they are thankful for.

I’ve read a lot about how important it is to live a life of gratitude. The basic premise being that as we show thanks and ‘gratitude’ for all of the things we have in our lives – as opposed to fretting over all of the things missing from our lives – we will attract more positive energy

In order to begin living a life of gratitude, one of the first things you are suppose to do is to create a Favorite Things list. This is a list of 100 things you are thankful for. (Believe me, it sounds a lot easier than it really proves to be.)

And while the first inclination is to just go through that laundry list of relatives and loved ones we’re thankful for… that really isn’t the point. I mean, shouldn’t it be obvious that I’m thankful for my husband (most days anyway….)?

No, I’m thankful for coffee! And that doesn’t make me a shallow person. It makes me human. And while in the grand scheme of things coffee is a very small, unimportant, miniscule part of the universe – it brings a little bit of joy to me. It puts a smile on my face, I’d like to believe a little pep in my step, and I know makes me much more bearable to live with.

So…if I can find that much to be thankful for in a small cup of coffee, I should be able to find so much more to appreciate about those obvious parts of my life.

And when I put my head on my pillow each night and begin to thank God for the greatest parts of my day, I no longer generalize by praying, ‘I’m thankful for my kids.’

Instead I pray, ‘I’m thankful that I got to run a 10k with Brennen today. I got to spend an entire, uninterrupted hour with my fifteen-year-old that didn’t involve a single text, tweet or IM.’

OR

‘I’m thankful for the sword fight I got to have with my girls in the yard today – their first experience with the joy of sticks.’

By learning to appreciate the little things in life, we heighten our senses to experience life’s greatest moments using all five senses.

A life of gratitude truly is…something to be thankful for.

I went looking through an old journal yesterday and found my original list. Here it is….

 

Family (I began my original list writing each family member’s name. By the time I got to twenty, I knew I had to generalize) – friends – photography – writing – books (actual books, with paper pages) – the camera I have – the camera I want – our house that we live in – the house that I want to build one day – my car (even though it’s a lemon) – heat – air conditioning – comfortable shoes – cute shoes – my computer – the guys at the Mac store who help me with my computer – coffee!!!!! – Snow – snow skiing – snow ball fights with my kids (my husband being the biggest kid of all) – marshmallows in hot chocolate – marshmallows for s’mores – the chicken burrito at Moe’s (I think this is what I was eating for lunch as I made this list.) – Internet – disposable diapers – automatic car washes – carpet cleaners (ON A TOTALLY SEPARATE NOTE – REREADING THIS LIST IS SHOWING ME JUST HOW SPHIZOPHRENIC MY THOUGHTS ACTUALLY ARE…WHO THINKS BURRITO, INTERNET, DISPOSABLE DIAPERS….) Disney World – fireworks – flowers – horses – the smell of fresh-cut grass – hiking at Red River Gorge – running – the running playlist on my iPod – Asics running shoes – yoga – Pilates – The Grove Park Inn – TiVo – books on my iPad – cook books – phone calls to the women in my family when I don’t understand a cook book – peanut butter smoothies – hugs and kisses – my conversations with God – my church family – the power of prayer – music – theatre – memories – date night (which now usually involves Dominos and Red Box) – Dominos – Red Box – mindless TV – dancing with my daughters – dancing with my girlfriends – Pull Ups – fashion – salons & spas – hot stone massages – letters in the mail – my coffee maker – the view out my kitchen window – dreams – doctors & nurses –service men & women (this is huge being a police officer’s wife) – democracy – freedom of speech – my tax guy – watching my daughter at gymnastics – hearing my kids laugh – smelling good food – Crested Butte, Colorado – Roatan, Honduras – the hammocks at CoCo View Resort in Roatan – Jonathan Creek on Kentucky Lake – Scuba diving – planes to travel – Xanax to get me on planes to travel – wine – passion – work ethic – coupons – hope – faith – texting –actual phone calls – sewing with my mom, sister and aunt – books on tape (or discs or my iPod) – XM radio – news – debating issues with my husband – staying up all night just talking at my sister’s house – game night – summer days at the pool – old photo albums & journals (that I can show to my daughter) –planning for the future – living for today - ME

RIP: My Chad-Man Fought off the Evil Eye

When I was younger I showed American Saddlebred horses (think of dressage horses, but wound a little tighter without as many fancy tricks.) One of the common practices when working with these horses was to put blinkers – or blinders – over their eyes to keep them from spooking or getting distracted by something off to the sides or behind them.

You see, horses vision in primarily peripheral – due to the fact that their eyes are located on the sides of their head. So when they had these blinkers on, they were putting all of their faith in their rider to not lead them astray – blissfully unaware of what was happening around them. (Or terrified, depending on the horse.)

 

Anyway, I sometimes feel like I’m walking through life with my own set of blinkers on…you know – tunnel vision, denial.

Call it what you will, but some days the only way I make it through is to pretend that the things around me just aren’t happening. That is, until reality reaches back and slaps me across the face, saying, “Hello! You can’t ignore this any longer!”

 

My girls have an aquarium in their nursery. It’s not like I had an aquarium on my baby registry or one of my eleven-month-olds specifically asked for fish in her room. No, they are leftover from when the nursery was my youngest son, Brennen’s room. (When we found out we were having twins, everyone had a bedroom switcheroo – except our goldfish.)

Now, I have never been a fish person. In fact, I was pretty perturbed when Chuck and Brennen brought that plastic bag from the fair in to my kitchen and tried to ‘sneak’ the fish into a Tupperware bowl. But what did I do the very next day – after I specifically made it clear that I wasn’t taking care of this fish?  I got attached to the darn thing. And despite the fact that I knew this fair fish probably wouldn’t last a week, I accepted Chad as a member of our family.

 

Weeks turned into months, and months turned into years – and Chad was still here. Through trial and error we learned that goldfish need aquariums – with filters, water treatments, water cleanings (That was an interesting lesson learned while my mom was fish-setting and the glass bowl Chad was living in turned brown and cloudy. When I showed up at PetsMart, the man asked me, “Don’t you know you have to change the water in a fish bowl?” No, no I didn’t.) Through all of the algae blooms, dying friends, ammonia outbreaks…our little Chad-Man turned out to be the Fair Fish that Could. We even joked that Chad was one of those indestructible, un-killable fish.

 

So last week when I walked into the nursery and noticed Chad hanging out at the bottom of the aquarium instead of up top waiting for breakfast, I kept my blinkers on. I had to get the girls ready, drop B off at school, and get to work. I didn’t have time for fish woes. And besides, like I said above, Chad’s survived EVERYTHING! He’s fine – swimming down that river of denial.

 

The next day when I walked in and found Chad floating lifelessly, his body twisted sideways and his gills working painstakingly as he unknowingly bumped into his castle and the aquarium filter, I felt HORRIBLE! Life reached up, smacked me, and said this fish is really sick!

 

When I told Chuck, he had a normal person’s reaction – “He’s lived a good, long life. And he survived a lot longer than we ever thought he would.”

 

I, on the other hand, headed straight to my go-to for all things from parenting advice to medical diagnosis…Google. When I began typing ‘lethargic goldfish’ into the search bar, would you believe I wasn’t the first person to search for this? In fact, there are multiple websites devoted to the health and well being of goldfish. And they not only offered me advice, they gave me a feeling of hope.

According to the Internet, Chad either had a parasite or a bacterial infection. And there are medications for both, so I jumped straight in my car and headed to the fishy pharmacy. About sixty dollars, two cancelled work meetings and three hours later; I was home getting Chad set-up in his ‘sick tank’ – a tank where you house the sick fish so they don’t infect the others. I dropped the Tetracycline, which I’m pretty sure I took in high school to clear-up my complexion, into Chad’s tank…. and I waited.

 

And waited, and waited.

 

I’d find myself sneaking into the kitchen – as if seeing that he’s died slowly would be easier than if I quickly approached the kitchen counter where the aquarium was resting.

Sometimes I’d walk in to find him actually swimming and I’d get a glimmer of hope that he’d survive. I even leaned down by the plastic wall of the tank and told him, “Chad, if you can make it through the night I think we’ll be in the clear.”

Really? Now I’m a fish doctor?

 

At one point in the afternoon I became really alarmed when I walked in to check on my patient and found a yellow foam coating the top of the aquarium. I frantically rummaged through my plastic, PetsMart bag searching for the Tetracycline box to read about the side effects. I was relieved to learn that foam may form along the surface.

 

At another bed check, I found Chad suctioned to the bottom of the filter. I quickly unplugged the device, and to my relief Chad swam away.

 

When I finally went to bed that evening, I was pleasantly optimistic Chad might pull through.

 

Sure enough, that next morning when I stumbled into the kitchen – having half-forgotten about Chad in the sick tank – I was shocked when I found him floating on his side against the side of the aquarium. He was gone, and I was entirely too emotional. I mean this was an animal I had never even touched. We’d never gone on a walk, or played fetch in the front yard. Chad had never slept at my feet getting fish hair all over my bed. And Chad had never given me a big, slobbery kiss on the cheek. My mind immediately went to Homer, my 12-year-old Shar Pei-mutt. If I’m this upset about a fish, I don’t even want to be around myself when something happens to my dog.

 

Bianca was the first person I told about Chad’s unfortunate departure. She came bouncing into the kitchen, saw the aquarium and walked over to check on Chad. “How are you feeling this morning little, baby Chad?” she asked in the same voice she uses when she talks to her sisters.

“Honey, Chad’s in heaven,” I said gingerly.

“No he’s not, he’s right here,” she answered.

“Well, his little fish body is here, but his spirit’s gone to heaven,” I retracted – realizing the absurdity of this conversation.

Don’t most normal people just flush dead fish down the toilet and play dumb when their children ask where they went. “What fish? I don’t know what you’re talking about….”

Bianca and I – okay, I won’t hide behind my child – I decided to make a casket for Chad. I thought an earring box might do the trick, but quickly realized Chad had gotten bigger than I realized. I found Bianca’s Hello Kitty Band Aid box, perfect!

Bianca did help me in the decoration. We wrapped the box in white paper and drew a fish and water along one side. Bianca had just finished a worksheet at school with fish on it, so we cut that up and taped it on the other side. I wrote Chad’s name at the top and his birthday and date of death on the other end.

 

Bianca asked if we needed to put some water in the box for Chad – an honest question – so I decided we could use wet wipes to keep him moist without disintegrating his casket.

 

We waited for Chuck to get home to remove him from the tank, and as Chuck lifted the net out of the water, Bianca tried to sneak a kiss. “No, no!” I said. “He was sick, and you don’t want to touch him.”

 

We sat Chad, securely fastened in his Finding Nemo decorated, Hello Kitty Band Aid box on the counter to wait for Brennen to get home from his ball game. After all, Chad was his fish and we didn’t want to bury him without Brennen.

 

I recovered pretty quickly from my mourning, and was sitting on the couch with my computer in my lap when Bianca came towards me with what looked like tissue in her hands.

 

“I had to kiss Chad goodbye,” she said handing me what I quickly realized was our dead fish.

 

“Chuck!” I yelled down to the basement, “Bianca’s been kissing Chad!”

 

Chuck ran upstairs and got Chad put back in his box as I got Bianca into the bathroom to wash her hands –and arms – and brush her teeth. I’m usually not a germaphobe, but something about my daughter kissing and hugging on our parasite, bacteria-ridden dead fish just kind of grossed me out.

 

Bianca cried, I gagged a little, and Chuck rested Chad on the ledge of the microwave…we were still waiting on Brennen.

 

Well, I hate to admit this…but we forgot about Chad. (Blinkers again, I guess because I remember being a little concerned I might cook Chad while sticking something in the microwave. I remember resting my hand at the top of the microwave making sure it wasn’t getting hot.)

 

It wasn’t until the next afternoon when Brennen came upstairs and told us he found out Chad had died while checking Facebook on the computer. (Chuck and I handled that well. About as well as we handled telling our kids that we were having twins – by my brother blurting it out when we were all on our way home from dinner one night, assuming that the boys already knew. ‘What did you just say?’ I remember Blake asking my brother from the backseat of the car.)

 

I watched from the deck as Chuck and Bianca took Chad out to the tree in the back yard where Brennen wanted him buried. Chuck got a little embarrassed as I yelled a prayer from the deck as the neighbors worked out in their yards – I didn’t want to have to get myself and the babies dressed-up for a funeral, so we stayed at the house.

 

After Chad passed, I’d decided I wanted to get out of the fish business. “Do you think we could find somebody wanting an aquarium with one fish?” I asked Chuck about our lone-survivor.

 

But then I was listening to talk radio in my car later that afternoon, and I heard an interview with a family in India. They were talking about how most people in India have fish in their homes. These fish are symbols of protection against evil spirits that might try to enter the home. The little girl being interviewed said that if anything evil tries to enter the home and harm the family, the fish will take the evil spirit into their body and die to protect their family. I immediately thought of Chad – and I felt a little at ease thinking he died protecting us.

 

So, I think I might keep a few goldfish around. Because knock on wood, things have been going pretty good since Chad came into our lives, and if fish are a symbol of protection…then I’m all for bringing a Chad Jr. home soon.