Remembering to Play When the Kids Are Away

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I read this quote recently and thought of my kids who are all really good at “play”, even though they are now in their early 20’s. They are all playing college sports. The girls still play Just Dance together when they are home and dance until sweat drips down their beautiful faces. My son (gently) swings a golf club in the house and wanders around with a hockey stick in his hand! He is always trying to get guys together to throw a ball or play ice hockey when he’s home.

Over the holidays, when I was with my own kids, other 20-somethings and little ones, I played. I’m good at play when my kids are home on breaks. I sing (really poorly-pretending I’m an opera singer!), play cards, board games, play in the snow, visit the indoor golf range, dance with them and engage in other fun activities.

When my kids are away, I do not play. (Nice rhyme, huh? :)) It’s been hard to play the same when they are not around.

Why? Well, the first thing I could come up with is that we tend to be utterly ourselves in the presence of those we live with. We goof off with our bed-head hair and laugh without the ever-present self-consciousness we possess outside of the house. I am most comfortable with them. They are also fun people, so it’s easier to have fun when people are fun.

I had invited a few women over for an evening visit recently and I suggested we play a game. To my joy, they agreed and we ended up laughing and having a good time. After that, I had over some friends and we did a girls movie night. I realized that I need to start generating some “play” on my own since these kids of mine are spending less and less time in the nest.

Some adults are great at play, while others not so much. Many set aside time for weekly game night, poker night, couples night out or whatever. I just haven’t figured out my space yet. I’m better with the empty nest in recent months, but I’m still figuring out a few things, including my play time :).

One lesson I’ve learned is that half of “play” is getting it right in my mind. If “this” isn’t done, then I have no business playing. Wrong mindset. The chores, to-do lists, obligations…they never end. I have also learned to relax more with others, permitting myself to have real fun – absent kids. Play must be prioritized and not thought of as a luxury.

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, reminds us that play “takes us out of a sense of time and place”. Source. As an adult, I tend to watch “time” more than necessary.

How often do we see kids jump out of the pool, run up to the house and ask, “Is it time to finish my chores? Should I get out of the pool to vacuum? Organize the basement?”

Kids are often unaware of time because they are enjoying themselves. Part of restructuring my life as a Mama whose nest is a little quieter these days includes giving myself permission to lose track of time… See the source image

 

 

Like Moses, My Arms Got Tired

Exodus 17 11-13

As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when he lowered them, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side, so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his army with the sword.… 

Just like Moses, I was in the battle. Moses wasn’t on the battlefield, but he was having a profound effect on the outcome. I wasn’t in the high school, the hospital or the locker rooms, but my loved ones were and I was on a prayer mission.

Moses’ hands were in the air praying to ensure Joshua’s victory; and whether my hands were in the air praying in the car, or I was on my knees, or at church, or at the kitchen table, I had determined throughout my parenting years that I would be a prayer-warrior. And, I was. But my urgency and the amount of time spent in prayer really revved up during my kids’ later teen years. It wasn’t all about them, it was the onslaught of circumstances on top of parenting teens…

During the battle, I studied my Bible in a new way, went down on my knees more, read and prayed fervently. I spent countless minutes on the floor of my son’s room…aside my daughter’s bed while they were at school… One day kneeling on my son’s floor, completely perplexed as to why God was not answering my prayers how I wanted them answered, I lifted a photo frame off my son’s bed stand and whipped that sucker clear across the room. There is still a sharp, deep cut in the body of the NHL fathead on his wall. On that particular day, I was really angry which is rare for me. Looking back, I was just hurt that God was either saying “no” or “not yet” but either way, the more time passed, the less chance there would be for what I was praying about.

To make up for less-than childhoods of our own, my husband and I were doing way more than normal parents. We set out parenting with more enthusiasm than Dory and Olaf combined. And, we never lost steam. He is a man in non-stop motion. You will not see him reading the paper nor does he leave projects unfinished. I am just as productive on the home front, endlessly working on something to make the nest more comfortable while working outside the home part time. I invested time in my own friendships, invested in my kids and all the other kids they brought into the nest over many years, I handled group gatherings and hosted every holiday at my house.

Then, things started breaking down at a rapid-fire pace. I had small appliances given to me at my bridal shower that lasted 20 years. In the last five years, the replacements I purchased have broke down every other year. Then the oven stopped working. The fridge wasn’t cold anymore. And on it went. Between expensive kids sports and household nonsense, we were bleeding money.

Finances were tight on top of practices, games (traveling overnight for those games), driving, shopping, holidays, cooking, cleaning, talking, teaching, instructing, negotiating with teenagers in the kitchen and adults on committees, appointments, friends with diseases, extended family insanity, being lied to…

I felt like Moses. My arms were growing weak and the battles were still raging around me. My friend of 18-years was dying of cancer before my eyes and it was ripping my heart out. I was helping with her treatment visits, rotating time at her house and trying to support her daughter. My parents were embroiled in a disturbing family situation that had just come to light by a close relative. It was all-consuming and truly gut-wrenching. Despite the mountain of unpleasant circumstances, I was still mentally and physically operating at 110% as Mom, wife, worker, homemaker, holiday-maker, volunteer… just as I always had. Remaining silently overwhelmed by profound sadness and drama, I expended even more energy keeping the majority of my struggles from my children. Even though they were in their late teens, I still functioned as if they were ten. The details my extended family produced were simply not something I wanted in my kids’ heads. But, I could have exposed them more to the realities of death and dying.

One day I just got tired. All the prayer in the world didn’t seem to be making any difference at all and I eventually crashed.

I could not pray my way out of the haze draping over me. Like Moses, my arms that had held it all up for so many years were exhausted. So, I reached out just a little, looking for an Aaron and Hur. I was quickly reminded that many others had it much worse and, at minimum, they all have their own challenges. This knowledge does not deter everyone from asking for help anyway, but my type A, first-born self could not impose on anyone other than my closest friend. My dearest sister-in-Christ was the one who listened to a few of my sad tales (absent the gory details) and she agreed to be my Aaron. We still pray for each other regularly. But, I simply could not tell her all of the extended family depravity, nor could I tell anyone else about it. My own husband shrunk back, cutting me off as I shared only a sliver of what I had learned.

Everyone knows about Moses – even people who do not read the Bible or attend church or temple. They can talk about him floating in a basket, the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Not many can name his parents Amram and Jocabed. His parents no doubt, went through some stuff. His poor Mom had to eventually surrender him to Pharoah’s daughter. When they could no longer control their own situation, they reached out for help, even to the extent of having the enemy of their people raise their precious boy.

Moses’ parents’ life was not easy and neither was his. Life is life. There is good and bad and if I merely accept what is, and cease searching for reasons “why” that do not exist, I’ll fare much better. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon suggests eating, drinking and enjoying your work while you can. I had to start “enjoying” and stop thinking and analyzing and trying to figure out people because I discovered “nothing new under the sun”. There were painfully few real answers for all the sadness and stupidity. I was making myself crazy trying to understand circumstances, human behaviors and how God could bear to continue watching it all.

I had set out as a young wife and mama with the wrong mindset that if I worked diligently, life would be fairly close to perfect (try not to laugh). But the outside creeps into the nest, even when you’re really diligent. People get sick. Others make horrible choices. I internalized others’ decisions and heartache as if they were my own. I took on responsibilities that were not mine to take on. People were happy to pile their stuff on to me. It was unhealthy.

As I eventually emerged from that difficult time, I tried to see the lessons in the madness, where God may have been in the midst of some really unfortunate happenings. I refused to stay in defeat but it was not easy to overcome.

It’s hard to let go of being the go-to person because you feel you’re letting them down. And, it’s really hard to speak up to – and stand back from – crazy people, even those you may share bloodlines with. In my case, I thought I was being a good Christian by supporting others without boundaries. When you begin to draw necessary boundaries for the toxic folks, they do not like the new person distancing themselves. They want the “yes” “nice” girl back immediately. But distance and creating borders are required in order to preserve your own sanity and to have any personal semblance of happiness on this side of heaven. It also frees up mental space and physical time for enjoying the humans who truly care about you and yours.

My fellow Moses whose arms are tired, find yourself an Aaron and Hur to walk this nutty life alongside you, and enjoy yourself as long as you can.

Mama Duck 

Determined to Enjoy the Breathtaking Beauty of Nature, Despite the Profound Pain of Life


I had an early morning errand to run. The dawn hours were filled with thick fog. As I drove back down the street toward my house, the sun began to rise, peeking through the few remaining leaves on the trees lining the country road. I slowed down to fully embrace the rare merger of gentle sunlight, autumn-rich colors, dewy leaves and the five feet of mist hovering over the green grass.

I stopped the car at the end of the driveway, got out and examined a drop of water hanging from the very tip of a pumpkin-orange leaf. Warm sun touched my face and I looked up to see November clouds vying for sky space, slowly screening the sun. Glancing back at the tree in front of me, I was captivated by the leaf that although had just seemed to bloom, was already retiring to the barren ground. Looking around, my eyes were suddenly too small, my vision too narrow to properly absorb the exquisite beauty all around me. Sun peeked out again, brilliantly illuminating the fog across the landscape. I reached out my right hand, as if I could lay it on top of the thick mist. I smiled and breathed deep and thanked God and tilted my face up again toward the quickly greying sky. I was standing in seasonal change…pristine early morning…my description insufficient to adequately convey the magnificent canvas engulfing me.

As my breath deepened and my spirit appreciated, the moment was crushed as my mind wandered to my brother in law who was presently receiving a miserable cocktail of chemicals dripping into his blue vein. My peace was destroyed as I thought of his upcoming days, fighting the emotional turmoil that accompanies the physical suffering of chemotherapy. My eyes pierced through the fog, staring down at brown leaves, thinking of the woman I brought a meal to last night. She can’t eat, but would enjoy watching her family fill their bellies. Her disease robs her of truly living. My throat tightens as I think of how my courageous friend who lost her battle two summers ago would love this view.

The stunning scene still beckons my attention, but my memory transports me to a time when fall represented joyful anticipation for the future. The breaking out of fuzzy sweaters, Thanksgiving, the first snow, shopping for Christmas… As nature shed its old life, autumn somehow felt like a new beginning.

Thanksgiving will still arrive, along with the first snow. I’ll wear fuzzy sweaters and prepare for Christmas, but my mind and heart are more solemn than they were when I was 20. We grow up exclaiming we’ll never be cynical like our elders. Never become so weary that we fail to embrace life with zest, but the sadness can wear a person out. Abuse, murder, slander and harassment flourish out in society while in our personal spheres, we’ve hurt and we’ve watched our loved ones hurt. The pain steals away a bit of our wonderment.

The wind picks up and hits my face with cold. The sun is now fully concealed behind the ominous clouds that are somehow still beautiful in all their dark rage. I observe one tree on our land that is wholly stripped of leaves, bare branches ready to support the imminent snow. Six inches away, another tree is still hanging on to its leaves-many still green. The fullness and emptiness, co-existing so close to one another.

A few harsh rain drops pelt my cheek, but I refuse to get back in the car. I stand there defiant, emotion welling up in me, fighting to preserve the tranquility and lightness and warmth and sheer present-ness I had experienced only minutes earlier. What choice do we have? We must resolve to stay positive, to enjoy, to hug life. We must refocus again and again and again. We must fight to recover from the hard. Lest we too become hard.

So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. Ecclesiastes 3:12

Photo: Family5Power

You’re Middle Age When…

You try something on in a dressing room and don’t bother to look in the mirror until you’ve determined it is comfortable.

I took 10 items into a dressing room a few days ago. Whether I put on pants or a top, I immediately did a few yoga stretches, squatted down, sat on the bench and did a lap around the hallway.  Only when I felt sufficiently comfortable in something did I bother to look in the mirror.

Yes, I do care very much about my appearance…thus, the shopping (and my eldest daughter is in the fashion world)! Like any other gal, I love cute clothes but they need to be practical for real living. In my twenties, thirties and much of my forties, not so much. I was definitely looking first, worrying about how I felt later.

Now days? I’m so over anything even remotely snug, stiff, scratchy, too thin, too bulky, too hot or too cold. And, yes, appropriate yet trendy and comfortable are simultaneously possible! It just takes me a little more time in the dressing room.

No matter what I’m wearing during the day, putting on pajamas at night is the best-feeling outfit ever.

Happy Friday!

 

 

 

The Retail Apocalypse – Can Bath and Body Works Survive? Not If They Keep Bothering Us

The bricks and mortar stores that try to sell an actual experience are still doing relatively well in the era where Amazon and other online retailers threaten store fronts across America. As part of L Brands (home to the ever-profitable Victoria’s Secret), Bath and Body Works is going strong. Yankee Candle is also under a wide corporate umbrella and continues to move forward with some hope of survival.I used to really, really love shopping at Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle. I still like them both so much, largely due to what has kept them thriving: us girls like pretty, glittery, fragrant things, beautiful packaging, gift options and products that change with the seasons and holidays. We love this because every retailer from Walmart to the local grocery store no longer specialize. You can literally purchase shoe polish, clothes, Thanksgiving wreaths and food while picking up your prescription at Rite Aid.

That’s one of the many reasons I love YC and B&BW. I can linger a while and just enjoy the prettiness of it all. It’s also seasonal shopping where my girls and I can purchase items simply to make the nest more festive during holidays.

Well, that was until a couple of years ago when both companies clearly “upped” the sales requirements for their employees.

It’s not the individual employee’s fault, and Yankee Candle isn’t terrible. Sometimes annoying but not terrible. You can also enjoy smelling Yankee Candles at several other harassment-free retailers such as Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.I now approach the Bath and Body Works entrance with great caution. My youngest daughter does not like to shop (while my oldest daughter and myself can shop all day) but the one place she truly loved going to at least twice a year was Bath and Body Works. Years ago, we would walk in anticipating the new, glittery displays of whatever new season it was, tried too many spray fragrances and joyfully ended up at the counter about an hour later with our bag full of products. We walked in with our eyes up, soaking in all the displays.

Now when I walk into Bath and Body Works, there is zero opportunity to initially look up and enjoy. I brace myself for the person (usually two) who will not only say hello but ask me a minimum of three questions. I’m not the rude customer who gives them the curt, “I’m just looking”, but after a recent visit, I might become her.

I went in to pick up something small to add to a birthday gift. I was asked three questions after the hello. I was so friendly, thanked the two different salespeople, then as I was walking further into the store, one walked ahead of me, attempting to stop my stride at a table that I was not interested in shopping at. I smiled as they explained the sales promos.

Then, at the checkout, they no longer ask the customer if they would like to leave their email address. They merely tell them to do it. Of course they do this in a cheerful “the last thing you need to do is….” way. Even though I appreciate the coupons, I’m simply not entering my email every time. These retailers have plenty of ways to track our spending and inundate us with snail mail.

Picking up my bag, the young salesgirl asked loudly, “Why aren’t you leaving your email?” Now, I was irritated. I estimated her around early 20s and just trying to make a living so I was gentle.

“I receive your coupons.”

“But we send more when you leave your email each time.”

“I’m good, I still receive coupons.” I smiled and turned around, walking away.

“There are some good promotions coming up…”

I continued walking.

With at least six feet between us, her voice got louder behind me. “It really is a great way to continue your coupons…”

I stopped and turned. She officially earned my glare, which according to my kids is really unnerving. After a few seconds, I spoke gently. “I understand you are trained to ask the email question. Continuing to nearly demand I not leave the store without providing additional information is inappropriate. You have taken away the joy I have shopping here.”

I felt bad afterward. The whole point of purchasing little extras like these (that we don’t need) is to have fun. I felt bad for the salesgirl and for my girl, because now we hesitate to walk in there. Bath and Body Works (and Yankee Candle) still offer an experience you can’t have online shopping. But, aggressive, continuous sales pitches rob shoppers of the joy.

Women like to shop. Take the fun out of it, and we’ll find an alternative elsewhere :).

Click on images for source.