Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My First Noel or New Mom: Here's a Cheat Sheet

"It is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us." -- Dickens

Almost exactly twenty years ago to the hour I went into labor for the first time.  I had just eaten a delicious and gigantic Christmas meal (hint: try to avoid overeating just before labor and isn't pretty!) and we set off into the foggy night, wishing for Rudolph to guide us, on a 40 minute drive to the hospital.  John was so nervous he never even turned on the headlights of the car -- we drove with our running lights on!  I was so preoccupied with the changes in my body that I never noticed.  :)

At 6:57am on December 26th, 1992, at 8 lbs. 8 oz. our little bundle arrived, John William Foraker -- forever known to us as Jack.  He was named after my dad who had suffered a very serious heart attack while I was pregnant.  Today, Papa is alive and well and one terrific grandpa.

Jack was an easy baby, a curious toddler, an easy going grade schooler, a thoughtful and funny middle schooler and a willing high schooler.  He tried all sorts of things in high school, including a new sport, and grew and thrived in high school.  Today he is a sophomore in college -- a 6'4" big guy loving college and all of the adventures offered there.  All phases of his childhood have been relatively drama-free and he has been pretty much a cake walk to parent.  Jack is what we like to call an "old soul".

I take no credit for this.

I can see myself twenty years ago (how is that possible??) holding my tiny newborn in our mint green rocking chair singing Christmas carols to him and marveling at his beauty.
Here is the cheat sheet I wish I had.

Secret #1: Children come out of the womb hard-wired as they are.  Their personalities and temperaments are their own.  You can try to nudge them in the direction you wish they were but it is not very likely you will shift them in any significant direction.
You must learn to love them as they are.
The sooner you can do this, the happier you will all be.

Jack showed us his way of viewing the world at about 18 months.  I would tell him no and he would say, "Maybe tomorno?" in a questioning, sweet way.  He was able to adjust to limits and change.  He is intrinsically optimistic and so he just hoped that tomorrow things might be different.
Life is pretty easy when you view setbacks in this way.

Secret #2: Whatever stage they are in is fleeting.  I remember thinking that I would be nursing    In actuality I only nursed Jack about six months.  1/40 of his entire lifespan so far and shrinking.  If someone had told me that then, maybe I would have nursed a little longer.  The terrible twos...sassy all goes away.

Believe it or not, the plastic toy phase will go away too.  Eventually they will stop sucking their thumb or using a binkie.  They will potty train.  They will read and write and yes, even figure out how to borrow from the ten and subtract.  All the legos on the ground that you step on and curse in the middle of the night, will finally get packed up and put away.  All the backpacks strewn everywhere.  All the clothes, the messes, the bizarre handprints will find a way out of your house.  The crazy ride of day to day
parenthood does morph into another alternate universe.

Secret #3: Enjoy the time you have with them. Love them.
It really is that simple.
Just love them as they are.  Accept them. Guide them.
Most importantly, be there.
You will never regret the time you spend with your child, ever.  If you feel in your heart a strong need to switch jobs, quit a job, take a lesser paid position and have time with your child it.
They really like you.  For awhile there, they crave you and your attention.
Give it to them freely -- without reservation.  You cannot spoil them in this area.
If they feel your precious presence, if they feel that you are really listening, that is all they need.

Secret #4: You really can't mess them up.  (Aside from the obvious things like neglect, abuse and insane over protection.) They are crazy resilient. Crazy.  All parents blow it and get queasy when they look back and think they could have handled a situation better.  Turns out that's how we learn...all of us.  It's OK to blow it.  The real test is getting back in the game for another round.  How you handle adversity is the way your children will think to tackle their own problems.
Messing up is part of life.  Losing your cool.  Royally wishing for a's all messy when you live day in and day out together.  It's OK.  Be nice to yourself.  If your kids see that you forgive yourself, they might actually believe that you will forgive them when they mess up...which they will, guaranteed.

Secret #5:  They are your teacher and your free access to the divine.  That quote from Dickens at the top is on my fridge.  The wisdom our children show us day in and day out is stunning.
We just have to stop rushing enough to notice.  

Throw away your agenda and your time frame.  Let them lead.  Let their wonder and joy in our world show you the way.  Children know how to love without limits.  Children are honest. They see the world in a profound yet simple way.  Listen to them and respect them.  If they are full, they really are.  If they aren't hungry, don't make them eat.  They know their bodies.  It's the adults who overeat and over-indulge.  If they are afraid of something, listen to them.  Don't push them into trying to get over it.  Offer them a chance to be afraid in a safe place.

Secret #6: Chex Mix.  As Jack was getting bigger, in the middle of high school, I asked him what his favorite family memory was so far. He thought about it for a minute and then got a gleam in his eye.  He said wistfully, "Oh mom, it was the Chex Mix.  Do you remember when the Saunders were over and we were all just hanging around in the den having fun for a long long time and you came in and gave us Chex Mix?"
(I'll admit right now that I did not remember that at all...I was still reviewing in my mind our many vacations, family traditions, favorite books or family dinners and thinking he was going to mention some of those memories so I was taken off guard.)

I responded, "Really? The Chex Mix?"

"Yes,"  he said "you came right in and poured a whole entire bag of Chex Mix onto the table without a bowl or anything!  We were so hungry we just all ate it together from the pile.  It was great!"

Maybe he loved the fact that they finally were allowed to reveal their inner piggy-at-the-trough selves.  Or maybe he just loved being so free with friends.  Or maybe he just couldn't get over that I didn't have napkins and bowls and proper me, I have no formal dining room, I'm not that proper so that idea is kind of funny.

I have no idea why he glommed onto that memory but it was a wake up call for me.
The memories we hold dear are not necessarily the memories they will hold dear.
For them, it might just be all about the Chex Mix.

Which leads me to...Secret #7: Loosen Up!!!  Right now, this very minute, stop taking it so seriously.  Have some fun.
 Dance. Sing. Be silly. Tell them stories about yourself.
This is where John comes in.  You see, I really, really wanted to do this right.  I was committed to being a "good parent".  For whatever reason, although John was too, he has always been able to see the lighter side.  The guy is ready to laugh.  That helps so much.  Nothing is that big of a deal.  Laugh at the weirdness.  Enjoy the goofiness of kids. Relish in knowing their idiosyncrasies.
That is the good stuff, trust me.  If a teacher is mean, don't freak out on the teacher, just reward your child with an honorary sundae. It's not so serious.

Secret #8: It Gets Better Believe it or not, this twenty year old kid I have is even better than that tiny infant...way better.  He's interesting and funny; passionate and curious.  He's kind and thoughtful; gentle and daring.  I am so so grateful I have gotten to be on this journey with him.  I love seeing the person he is becoming and listening to what interests him or what makes him laugh or what music he likes. I can't wait to see where his life leads. Better yet, I can't wait to visit him there or cheer him on in whatever he chooses.

Being a parent is a blessing.  You are so so lucky!
Count your lucky stars that you get to be along for the ride.
Hold on and let go...if you learn how to do that, you must have a twenty year old!

Happy Birthday Jack -- we love you! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012


"Nothing is worth more than this day."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Last night we held 2006 baby and me.  We were hurrying in the dark to Patrick's performance.  She had her new warm jacket on and her purple sequined holiday skirt.  I was wearing my thick red sweater.  We were together.  I could feel her fingernails and reminded myself that she needed to have her nails clipped.  I felt her hand and held it tighter, trying to get a grip on something that was growing and moving and forever headed out of my reach.

I've been trying to get a grip since Friday.  
It hasn't worked.

Friday, something beyond description happened in our country.  Some sick, sick young guy decided to take his anger and hatred out on an elementary school.  He walked around shooting up children, most of them born in 2006, until at last he turned the gun on himself.  

They were first graders.  Just living their day, learning to read, practicing their math facts, getting ready for Christmas.

I don't know how to make sense of any of it, so I tighten my grip.  I hunker down.  I read a few more books at night to her.  I give her cake for breakfast.  I pretend I need to fix her hair again just to fix it for myself.  I'm pretty sure she thinks I'm weird.

What can we do?  Any of us???

We can reach out to those suffering, instead of pretending not to notice.  
We can share a smile.
We can wait an extra few seconds before honking our horn or sighing with agitation or making that snarky reply.
We can offer kindness and acceptance where there is none -- and yes, right now, right where you live, there is somebody who needs just that.
We can think of others first.
We can support our schools with action -- let them know how much we appreciate their hard work and selflessness.
We can be patient.
We can pray.
We can love those who share our space today.

And that brings me to today.  That is all we have, any of us.

We live in a dangerous world.  

But we live in a beautiful world too. It is full of sunsets and roses and heroism every single day.

Today, I'm going to be present and mindful of the meals I make, the words I say, the thoughts I think and the actions that I spend my precious twenty four hours doing.
I'm going to lean toward love.
I'm going to really live my day.
I hope you do too.
I love you!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

I Never Said Thanks...

"We all mold one another's dreams.  We all hold each other's fragile hopes in our hands.  We all touch each other's hearts."

My path only crossed hers once...only one brief moment four years ago at a Back to School Night.  At the time, my daughter was a freshman and she was the art teacher.  She was exuberant.  She was warm and friendly.  She was passionate about art and grateful to be teaching it. She had such a great energy to her that I wanted to linger and I did.  I walked around her room slowly searching the pictures for clues to this person.  I wanted to know more of her story. I remember feeling so grateful that Mary Kate got to spend 50 minutes of every day at school with this warm light of acceptance and encouragement.  I left without telling her that.  In my mind it was enough to just feel it in my heart.  I left without looking her in the eye and thanking her.  I moved on into a dark night and a busy life.

Now it's too late.

Yesterday, Kathy Carlisle, was struck by a train while taking a photograph.

"It is with great sorrow that I share with you the loss of a valuable member of our St. Francis community, Kathy Carlisle. 

Kathy, a beloved member of our faculty in her sixth year teaching art, painting, sculpting, and photography was struck by a train Saturday near the school doing what she loved - engaging in her passion for photography. Her family was notified by authorities Saturday evening.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kathy’s husband Steve Jarvis and children Will, Bianca, and Violet, who is a freshman at St. Francis.

Kathy was a passionate artist, and dedicated teacher to her students. She possessed the ability to teach students to connect to their audience through art and showed them the incredible power of photography to tell a story or convey a message.

The entire St. Francis community mourns this tremendous loss of our colleague Kathy. We reach out to her family and close friends and hold them in our thoughts and embrace during this difficult time."

 She was pursuing her passion and engrossed in the moment.  Our world lost a bright light.  We lost a teacher who cared.  We lost a woman who took the time to connect with her students.  She said hi every day to Mary Kate this year, four years later, because once she was your teacher, she was always your teacher.  We lost someone who cared deeply; who molded hearts and minds and helped awkward teen-age girls feel beautiful and smart through art and photography.  Her sunshine is gone and we all feel the loss.

So, Kathy Carlisle, thank you for your love and energy and time.  I'm grateful we crossed paths if only one time.  You lived your life well.  You showed an entire high school of girls how to mix motherhood and teaching and art into a beautiful palette.  That won't be forgotten.  Your handprint is on Mary Kate's heart...and many others.  Your legacy is your love and warmth...and your art

Thank you.

**This piece of art is from a student at St. Francis High School -- I do not know the artist. **

Friday, December 7, 2012

Little Voices...Big Message

"We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today." -- Stacia Tauscher

My heart is so full.  So full to the brim, it is bursting with love and peace and connection.  What did I do?  How did this transformation happen?
  I attended a mass presented by First Graders.

Up at the podium stood a line of small children...each were waiting their turn.  Some had hands tucked in pockets.  Some were looking down.  Some were nervous and awkward and extra careful.  They all took a turn and repeated the line they had practiced: softly, slowly, carefully and reverently.  Next to them was their teacher, arm wrapped around them for support...whispered words to help or clarify or encourage.  They knew this was the big time.  They knew they had to do a good job.  This was their chance to shine. 

Their radiant, holy light was luminous.

There is something so holy about hearing sacred words read by a tiny voice.  Something so humanizing and beautiful.  Listening to those tiny children my heart just kept filling up.  Is this how we sound to God?  So fragile. So small. So meek.  No wonder he gives us his blessing!

After mass, the entire class shared drawings and words about how they viewed Jesus.
He always shows up.
He is always ready to listen.
He is calm and loving.
He is your friend.

It hit me so clearly that the tears came...a big neon sign pointing the way.  That is exactly what we need from you, mom.  We need kindness and second chances and your presence.

Just as I was catching my breath, an entire class of First Grade voices started singing, "You've Got A Friend In Me".  They were smiling now.  They were confident and triumphant. Together, their voices could make an entire church full of bigger kids and adults stop and take notice.

God's biggest blessing comes to us in the form of an infant.  His tiny voice belies the great, great spirit transcending time and space.  He approaches us in a vulnerable, needy way...mirroring for us our frailty and natural weakness.

Today I am so grateful for tiny voices and the big messages they carry.  I am humbled and moved.  Thank you to an entire class of six year olds for showing the way.  Thank you for your love, your grace and your immeasurable presence.
You are the heart of God.