A Letter To Jake On Launch Day

image

Dear Jake,

The car is packed and you are fast asleep on this, your last night at home. We’ve emptied your room and stuffed boxes and bins full of essentials like toilet paper, pop tarts and the mini dunk hoop for you to have as you leave home for college. It seems fitting to send you off with a few words of wisdom as well, lessons I hope you have learned and things I hope you will remember in your head and in your heart as you launch out into the world.

Have a good faith life. Say your prayers. Go to church. Be proud of your faith. When you have dark days (and you will, we all do) check your faith life first. Prioritize and put it at the top of the list. Remember that when you put God first everything else will fall into place. You are likely to meet many new people of different religions and beliefs. Be respectful of theirs and share yours. Be a bridge of kindness and love. Find a thriving parish and faith community that feeds your soul. Who knows, you may stumble upon a bible study group and make lifelong friends.

Speaking of bible study, talk about stuff you want to do. Dream big. Share your passion and goals with those who will support and encourage you. Inspire others and chase your dreams with all you’ve got. Do big work. Put in the time, blood, sweat and tears it takes to make things happen. It can all be done. All of it. The world is yours and I truly believe you can do anything you set your mind to, so long as you follow it with action and perseverance.

Learn the value of a dollar. There is a reason ramen noodles are associated with college students. These years are likely to be rather lean. Be creative and spend wisely. Stretch your pennies as far as you can. Work hard, play hard, save hard. Be mindful of your money and don’t live above your means; that won’t impress anyone. Part of knowing the value of a dollar means knowing what money can buy and also what it can’t. Remember to always take pride in earning an honest living and be mindful that the most important things in life cannot be bought.

Don’t waste a bunch of time. These next four years are unique and special. They are a gift, a luxury.  Make the most of every day. Don’t sit around watching the world go by from the comfort of your dorm room and video game controls. Don’t waste days as you sleep off late nights. Go out and be part of things. Learn something new as often as you can. Take advantage of all the opportunities that will surround you. Go to sporting events, attend interesting lectures, explore crazy art. Admire the works of others. Learn from different people. Branch out. Never again will you have so much free time to absorb so many interesting and new things. And never again will so many opportunities be literally right outside your door. Take advantage of everything. You won’t regret it.

Be on time and show up. Don’t be late. Just don’t. Be early and be prepared. Respect other people’s time and give them the best of yours. Really show up for things. Be present and joyful. Participate in class. Engage in meaningful service projects. Dance at weddings. Wear a festive tie to the Christmas party. Go to funerals and offer condolences with genuine spirit. Kiss babies at baptisms. Share moments that matter in other people’s lives. Go out and be part of things. Celebrate the accomplishments and milestones of others. There is enough sunshine for everyone and when your time comes, your people will be there to celebrate with you as well.

Say yes to adventure and honor your commitments. Be spontaneous. Have fun. Every day is a gift and full of promise. Life is too short not to enjoy each and every day. Put yourself out there. Take risks. Allow for serendipity. Say yes to things and be open to what might come next. No path is perfectly clear, and by no means is any path perfect. So take roads that feel right. Trust your judgement. You never know where your choices will take you, so choose wisely and be open to opportunities that come your way.  Commit to things and give them your all. Find happiness in your commitments; this is easy when things are new and experiences are fun, but it can be especially difficult when there are challenges and the gloss is long gone. Stick things out. Embrace the hard, you’ll find it’s worth it in the end.

Find your people. Be yourself. Be good. Be kind. Look for the good in others and surround yourself with friends who will challenge you, laugh with you, push you, encourage you and bring out the best in you, just as you should do with them. Healthy relationships enrich your life in more ways than you can even imagine.  Who knows, that soon to be fraternity brother or that person in your English class may become one of your best lifelong friends and your kid’s Godparent one day.

Come home for love. Know that we are here. Always. We are your family and we love you unconditionally. You always have arms to greet you, hearts to welcome you and a soft place to land. 

Love you so very much,

Mom

 

May. Again.

 

IMG_6828

May.

Here we are again. It seems fitting to blame this magical month for my absence because it clearly took me 12 months to recover from the chaos bestowed this time last year.

I would say that but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It’s more like the recovery time somehow blended with the looming events and milestones this May would bring and somehow paralyzed me with an inability to get a handle on …. well, anything.

End of the May tornadoes bled into summer fun and school began with a growing knot in my stomach, ever mindful that Jake’s senior year would bring a thousand “lasts” that would sucker punch me when I would least expect them. Holidays brought the passing of my dear grandparents, and New Year’s ushered in a realization that my baby boy would be leaving home in a matter of months. Anniversaries, milestone birthdays 13, 16, 18 and high school graduation were approaching at a rapid pace.

Somehow last May bled into this May. Life happened. Daily. And somehow I am baffled at how quickly time passes and what a privilege it is to be part of so may precious lives, chaos and all.

Last May was just a preseason warm up for this May.  I’m not sure there is much more that could be added to this month.

It’s bursting, overflowing.

Kind of like the flowers in the garden this spring.

And very much like the pride and love in my heart when I slow down long enough to take it all in.

May’s First Monday

 

 

May 1

In honor of the first Monday in May, aka the evil month when I annually come frighteningly close to losing my mind, I am revisiting one of my all time favorite blog posts from Jen Hatmaker.  It my very well be my favorite post EVER. Of all time, ever. And I am right beside her as the worst May Mom of all time.

The calendar flips to May and it’s like all you know what breaks loose. The first two days of this month were comic in their chaos and I cannot wait to see what lies in store for the rest of the month (she said, sarcastically.) We all start running consistently late in the morning come this magical month, which leads to breakfast eaten in the car which led to (on you guessed it, May 1st) an explosion of a 12 oz bottle of drinkable yogurt all over the entire car and all three backseat riders and their backpacks and school projects. It helps to have the lid on before you “shake well”, people.

The fun start to that morning was quickly followed by a meltdown involving the blasted printer which is conveniently always on the outs or halfway out of ink. It seems to only do this in May. And sometimes December. Which, on May 2, meant that a certain young man headed off to take the SAT with a print out “ticket to test” that included a penciled in registration number and a distorted fun house picture that looked nothing like him or his license. He did not seem concerned. Whatever. I showed up to take my SAT with a #2 pencil in my hand and a Rosary in my back pocket, so what do I know.

I’m actually thinking I know less and less as the years go by. My brain is just all filled up or something. But I do know one thing – May comes like a freight train and I am bracing for the loony weeks ahead. Every day brings a new chaotic adventure. Or ten. Or twenty.

I am trying to be a bit more relaxed about it this time around. Might as well jump on the train and embrace the chaos in good company and limp across with a smile.

 

 

 

 

People Turtles

people turtle

Tommy the turtle came to stay with us over the weekend.  He was on shore leave from third grade for a few days.

I wasn’t (I will admit) super excited about having Tommy.  Not because I was unwilling to help, but because small classroom pets aren’t my favorite.  I don’t think any of the other kids ever brought a class pet home for the weekend.  A friend of mine lost the class hamster a decade ago and that possibility of repeating that disaster terrified me for years.

But Erin is the baby and sometimes being the caboose has its privileges.  And I am out of excuses.  And also I am tired.

Erin, sensing my hesitation on the whole thing, decided to try to sell me on the houseguest  – even though she already had my yes.

“Mom,” she said, “He is a people turtle.”

A what what?

“A people turtle,” she repeated.  “That means he really likes people.  And new experiences.  And he likes to be entertaining and make people smile.”

She paused and continued,  ” you know what I mean… all the good stuff.”

And with that I watched Tommy stick his little neck out in the way that people turtles apparently do.  Ready to entertain and be entertained.  Ready to have new experiences.  Ready to make others smile.

I guess I did know what she meant.  People turtles have it figured out.

All the good stuff indeed.

 

 

Bringing Tea And Honey

3065948313_18a474c04d[2]

This has always been one of my favorite Winnie the Pooh quotes.  Isn’t it sweet?  It’s been on my mind for several days now, the words repeating in my head.

The past couple week have been sad ones.  Not for me directly, but for people I know and love, family by grace.  It’s been a kind of sadness by association.  I’ve had stretches like this before, when heartbreak and tragedy strike those I love and my heart is heavy along with theirs.  A unison beating of sadness and sorrow.

I’ve been moved to tears more than once in recent days, overcome by emotion.  But for all the sorrowful tears that have been shed, there have been tears of awe and gratitude as well. Odd, I know.

But I’ve realized so clearly recently what a gift it is to love and care about another so wholly that you share their sadness.  Their fears. Their sorrows.  Their tragedies.  What an incredible blessing to have people in our lives that we feel so much for.  What a gift to be able to share our lives so completely.

When we love others so genuinely we beam with pride at their accomplishments, we celebrate their good fortunes, we pace and fret when they are anxious and worried, and we hang our heads and wipe our tears when they are heartbroken.

We walk the journey with those we love – through good and bad. Sometimes the path gets bumpy and broken and there is nothing we can do to fix it.  Nothing we can say to soothe.  Nothing at all…

Except, perhaps, to continue to walk. One foot in front of the other.  One day at a time.  Side by side with those we love.

And maybe bring along some tea and honey too.

Blossom

These little guys popped out overnight.

They took me a little by surprise on this cloudy day.

Just over a week ago they were covered in snow and ice. I was not sure about the fate of the tiny fragile buds. I was unsure if the bright yellow blossoms would survive the harsh cold.

But they made it.

Through the freeze.

Through the harshness.

Through the dark days that seemed  to go on forever.

They made it.

And they are lovely.  And strong.

They seem to have a heightened beauty this year.  Perhaps more beautiful because of what they endured to survive.

A sunny reminder on this cloudy day, that spring follows every winter and hope spring eternal.

Thankful For The Light

IMG_3992.JPG

We’ve come to that point in the season where the trees are now nearly bare. Their leaves have gone, their colors have faded, and their jagged branches point and twist in a seeming melancholy sorrow.

It’s a gradual turn from radiant glory to silent sticks with these trees that greet me every morning. Or is it? Perhaps it happened overnight while I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and I was too distracted to notice.

One morning this week I was in awe of how beautiful one particular tree was. There was nothing remarkable about it. Its bark was blanched and rough, its barren branches poked its neighbors, and there was not a single leaf to show its unique colors.

But it was beautiful and radiant. It was illuminated from behind.

The sun shone so brightly on this tree, forcing it into the forefront so that every detail of its knotty trunk, every intricacy of its intertwined branches stood out for the world to see.

And it was beautiful.

On this Thanksgiving, when we so carefully count our blessings, I will say a special prayer of thanks for those who illuminate me from behind. Those who see beauty, grace, and strength in me when I do not; those who push me to be a better person by their guiding, shining examples.

I am grateful for those who light me along the way. And I am blessed to have opportunities to shine light on others.

Either way, I am thankful for the light today.

 

The House Pinterest Did Not Build

Erin's house

Erin designed, built, and decorated her own house the other day.

She thought it out, carefully constructed it, and intently decorated it.

All on her own.

I came upon the finished construction in a bit of a daze, having just spent 20 minutes scrolling through hundreds of pictures of laundry rooms on Pinterest. Hundreds. And I closed the iPad more confused and overwhelmed than when I typed “laundry room makeover” in the small search box, dependent upon others’ creativity to spark my own.

I looked at her beaming with pride in front of her accomplishment, and it struck me that she had made the whole house without consulting a single outside source.  The entire thing had been built as a testament to her strong sense of self.  And I quickly realized what a shining example that was to me.

I love that she built it the way she did. It’s hers. From start to finish. From the green and silver duct tape to the bright red swirling star in the entry. From her “please knock” welcome on the jagged carved door to the purple streamers hanging in open air windows.

It came from her heart and her soul. It was crafted with her spirit. She used what she had. She made her own decisions. She trusted her own sense of style. She allowed herself to be creative.

And she did all of it with confidence, enthusiasm and joy.

There was no Pinterest involved. No replicating. No comparing to what others had done.

I let her house sit in the middle of the family room for several days, so that each time she passed it she could beam with pride. And so each time I passed it, I was reminded of the precious lessons to be learned from a confident third grader and flimsy cardboard. Somewhere along the way I have forgotten how to trust my own instincts, often becoming paralyzed by indecision. I don’t remember how to take risks without concern about others may think. I’ve ignored outlets for creativity.

Erin’s house is a tribute to the valuable lesson in trusting ourselves.  And clearly I have a great deal to learn from her.

I am pretty sure that one day when she is all grown up she will have a lovely house.  It won’t be made of cardboard, but it will be a warm and lovely home filled with her spirit and that of those  she shares it with.  One day she’ll likely want to makeover her own laundry room and I am sure she will tackle it creatively, with her own sense of style, and with unyielding confidence in her choices.  On that day I will think back to her as an eight year old girl beaming from inside her cardboard house.

And I will grab a paintbrush and be happy to help, grateful to be learning from her example once again.

And … There Is A Tree

Survivor Tree

This morning on the way to school the radio station, like all other radio stations across the country, was discussing 9/11.

I knew the questions were stewing in both Maggie’s and Erin’s heads.  They both had different questions, but they were strikingly similar.  In fact, they were the same how and why we adults still struggle to comprehend. They both started asking things at the same time.  Maggie knows what happened that fated day.  Erin has heard “9/11” spoken of, but at the tender age of 8, has no real concept of the tragedy that took place.

I explained it as simply as I could.

“There were bad guys,” I began.  “Really, really, bad guys.”

“And they did horrible things and lots and lots of people died.”

I told them about the planes.  And the buildings.  And the firemen.  And the Pentagon.  And the rebellious storming of the cockpit.  And the empty field.  And the bravery.  And the loss.  And the sadness.

I could feel the heaviness of their hearts. It was palpable. Somehow the simplicity of my explanation only made the events more tragic, inexplicable. I watched their eyes search mine in an effort to make sense of a tragedy I couldn’t lessen or minimize. There was nothing to be sugar-coated.

I let them sit in silence for a few moments, trying to process the unthinkable. Then I reminded them that there is always something good to be found – even in the darkest, saddest times.

I told them more about the day, and the days that followed.  About bravery.  And selflessness.  And community.  And compassion.  And hope.  And love.  And survival.  And miracles.

I told them about all the things that shined the brightest on that day, and the days that followed.

I told them about the remarkable buildings and memorial that have been built in NYC, right where the tall towers stood.  I told them how somber yet beautiful it is.  And then I remembered my favorite part of the memorial.  And I continued.

“And … there is a tree.”

I explained to the girls that a tree … a single tree …. somehow survived all the destruction and death and devastation.

“It’s called the Survivor Tree,” I added.  And I quickly remembered that I had taken a picture of it on my phone.  In seconds Maggie thumbed though the camera roll and found the picture.  The girls passed the phone back and forth with animated gasps, wide smiles, and bewildered hopeful eyes.

I explained that it was found.  And cared for.  And loved.  And transplanted.  And nourished.

And it grew.  And thrived.  It was life that survived that horrible day.

Miraculous.  Hopeful.  And as a host to a nest of doves, even peaceful.

Who could have imagined there would be such a hopeful symbol from such a dark day.

Small wonders never cease.