few things do i love more than busting up an anxiety machine. (for the record, i picture them as fallen At-Ats.) you know that fear and love line on Donnie Darko? i live for changing those decisions from fear to love. you want to eat all organic? yes! do it! but do it because it makes your body feel wonderful. don’t do it because you don’t trust corporations. choose to homeschool, public school, nature school, or unschool your babies? do it! but do it because your heart beats fully with the curriculum there. don’t do it because you don’t trust the system you aren’t using. whatever choices you face, choose your path because you see God in them. the outcome won’t change, but, oh! the fear will.
i was in a Christmas store at the magic kingdom last week. a boy, maybe 11 or 12 years old with a thick Jersey accent said, “mom! mom! come here. look at this. look! chip and dale? Jewish. Jewish! i had no idea. but look. they’re on an ornament. Jewish! i had no clue.” he was so happy. so childlike and excited and awe-struck and bumfuzzled. who knew? chip and dale are Jewish, just like he was. later i saw them eyeing the dreidels i always want to buy. i wished him a happy hannukah in my mind and tried to etch the memory of his voice on my heart. okay, God. i see You there.
days later, i was waiting in line for an elevator in a veeeeeery busy area of Disney Springs. after a few minutes of waiting, it was only me and several groups of adults with their elderly parents. some were in wheelchairs, some were being held on the arms of their grown children. i missed my Grammy with everything in me and felt the memory of all those times i helped her get somewhere. as another wheelchair was rolled near the elevator, a man pushing his dad told the newcomers, “good luck. if they’re under 30, you’re not getting on.” i piped up (i always pipe up.) “good news! i’m 31!” and we all laughed together. then we piled on an elevator that beeped we were too heavy, and everyone was happy. i’ll never see a one of them again, but, okay, God. i see You again.
i went into the most crowded Sephora i guess i’ve ever seen. (in their defense, i try to avoid that wonder gallery as much as i can. i have to limit my exposure to all of that self-care glory because i wish i had a million dollars. hot dog!) it was PACKED. i kept my horse blinders on as much as possible. Saturday Skin and to the register. don’t stop at Jo Malone. don’t pass go. don’t collect $200 and spend it directly in Sephora. while i was speed walking to the register, one of the workers reached across me to get something for a customer. it was a near clothes-lining that ended with us face-to-face. alll the personal space invaded. she immediately apologized profusely, and i joked, “it’s fine! did you want to just hug?” a huge smile spread on her face as she said, “YES. LETS.” and, y’all, we hugged like reunited sisters. it was love. big, big love. she said, “ohhhhhh. thank you. this made my day.” and the line in front of me immediately started to move. i think i smiled for 30 minutes straight after that. okay, God. that time i actually felt You.
you know that thing about how kids listen to everything you say? yeah, that’s true. that’s really, really true. that’s not a myth. that happens, like, a lot. tonight i got out of bed and Charlie asked, “you gonna go use the neti pot?” I said that, yes, i was, and he replied, “alright. you feelin’ sick?” i told him that physically i felt fine, but it’s a good idea to keep your sinuses rinsed. then i pointed out all the sinuses on his face. and, y’all, we’ll talk again about sinuses tomorrow. he’ll have questions. he always has questions.
while i was using my neti pot, i heard him ask his dad why it was important to cry (benjamin button disease, i tell you.) and i could only catch small responses from john like, “adrenal glands” and “tear ducts” and “hormone releasing” and nary a word of argument or boredom coming from our 2-year-old. he’s my observer. he’s my learner. he’s also the child of two medical nerd parents. so, for like 6 months now, he’s described body aches as his nipple hurts. why? i don’t know. except one time he wanted to know what those circles on his body were called. alright then. i thought it was a one-time convo, but it took. he couldn’t count to 20, but he could tell you when his nipple hurt.
i didn’t know that by giving birth you also inherit an occasionally rude parrot. my particular parrot doesn’t have a sneaky bone in his body. so, when he overhears 2 family members (cough mom and Jill cough) use the word “shut up” a week apart from each other, huzzah! a new favorite phrase is born! (in their very weak defense, mom was talking to an automated telemarketer and jilly was reading a chapter book out loud and forgot not everyone in the car was over 6 and discerning.)
he doesn’t know what it means, but he knows that it’s not okay to say. so far he’s never said it in anger. he just thinks it’s a knee-slapper, regardless of what his parents continually say. in fact, his toys go to time out almost daily for saying it. (it’s always nice when you get to completely remove the benefit of the doubt.) but there’s just something about that phrase that works for him. which means weekly we go through a battle of, “hey! mama! guess what. my say shuh up.”
“baby, listen to me. that word is not funny anymore. it’s unkind and we don’t say it, okay?”
“uhhhhh okay shuh up.”
“what’d you just say?”
“my say shuh up.”
its ongoing, y’all. and here’s the best part: never forget how obvious my boy is. he, quite unfortunately for him, inherited my ability to face punishment head-on. he will not steal a bag of cookies and eat them. but he will wait patiently until you see him slow motion reaching for the cookie bag, grab it, and run into the other room, slamming the door. he LOVES the chase. he loves the disobedience. and he will wait oh-so-patiently for a responsible adult to see him break the rules. he was little, y’all, LITTLE and saying things like, “mommy, my not obey. me no good guy.” before he broke a rule. pleeeeeenty of heads up. honestly, i think i’ll be grateful for it in the long run. we’re big on honesty around these parts. (read the above paragraphs, if’n you doubt that.) i cannot think of a scenario where i lied to my parents growing up. on the flip side, i can think of many times i’ve told some very rotten, far too blunt and painful truths though. it’s definitely a bittersweet character trait. but i still prefer all the cards on the table, open face sandwich truth-tellers.
which leads me to my last story. his favorite and my most mortifying pastime. some polite, wonderful, helpful stranger will say something like, “hi, cutie! how are you?”
“my fine tank you. how you? mommy, my say shuh up.”
“aw, what’d he say?”
“oh! oh, he said he’s fine thank you.” dagger looks.
“and shuh up.”
“thank you. excuse us. have a wonderful day.”
WHY, YALL. WHY. i wish i could pinpoint this one conversation to one time. but it’s like 10 different memories where he gets the same smile on his face before he says it. and, the thing is, in his mind, he hasn’t even said it yet. it’s a heads up. hey, ma, get a load uh this. i’m about to say that word that gets me in a heap of trouble. here it is. it’s a’coming. i think you’re gonna love it this time. aaaaaaand away. we. go.
i recently discovered that i am a 4w3 on the enneagram. and, to tell you the truth, i don’t even know if that’s what i am or if i wrote that sentence correctly. i had to use spell check just to write that sentence. the enneagram has always been kinda like dr. who in my mind. i know i could really grow to love it, but it’s presence and all that i’d have to learn with it is just too daunting. so i just dabble enough in it to understand that it’s a thing.
however, i did read a description that made me fist pump. one characteristic of a 4w3 is that they lean in heavily during times of emotional pain. they see all trials as opportunities for growth and strength. and all God’s children said, “AMEN.” if that doesn’t describe me to a T, i don’t know what does. (yes, i do. the terms kind ugly, likably obnoxious, and negatively positive all do, too.) but, really, OH. oh, that is so me.
i’ve recently come across some anger in my heart. deep, true, genuine anger. the kind that i fully believe you’re supposed to find in there sometimes. as long as you witness injustice in the world with a heartbeat in your chest, you should feel angry. the Bible doesn’t say to not be angry. it said in your anger do not sin.
so i find this anger, and i’m just reading these incredible books at the same time. good books, man. timely and perfect and so all over the place that they seem handpicked for me. the resounding theme i keep encountering is to sit in the negative feelings and unpack them. take as long as you need to. just don’t shrink back and don’t wallow. (or, wallow, maybe, but don’t stay there forever.) if it makes you uncomfortable, it probably means you’re in the right place. do you know how greatly different it is to sit instead of wallow? sitting is actively participating. it’s present. it’s waiting and knowing. wallowing is cowering. sitting is expecting.
so i get the hint that i’m supposed to sit in these feelings. and the more i sit, the more i feel my heart burning. it’s not smoldering. it’s snapping and crackling and really picking up some steam. it feels like the flames come from the same place in my soul that stirs when i worship God. the flames get higher the more i sit in it. and, yet, i’m not afraid. i’m not afraid for the home of my body. i’m not afraid of getting burned. i’m not even afraid of burning others. my heart is a furnace with a heavy, heavy and safe door. and inside the fire is continually burning.
fires can be wild. they can come out of nowhere and change directions in an instant and wreak havoc on anything and everything in its path. fires rage. fires kill. you should never play with fire. but fires can also be contained. and in their containment, they refine. they can be beautiful. they are necessary. each spring, farmers all over will burn their fields to start over. they know that the fire will yield new, better life to a field that’s served its past purpose. sometimes you have to burn away what you’re naturally inclined to hold on to.
the worry for me is always of growing bitter. i am someone that is prone to bitterness, and i occasionally have to pray through situations for bitterness to not take root in my heart. and, y’all, this is the honest truth. i was sitting and feeling this fire in my heart. as i prayed through it and sat in it, i realized that bitterness couldn’t take root here. nothing could. not right now. anything that tried to enter my furnace would be burned immediately. it couldn’t take root. it would just be turned to ash.
which leads me to my next point. the visual that has lifted me as i have sat in these feelings. do you realize all the wonderful, scarred up crap this fire is burning? do you realize how much easier it will be to clean when the fire slows down? why do you think i love to throw things in my parent’s fireplace so often? because it’s one less thing i have to find a place for later. i don’t need it, but i also don’t know what to do with it. so i burn it. old feelings, old wounds, old aches. issues with control and past hurts and lost sleep and sins and struggles and the many, many seasons i’ve walked without trusting in a God that both knows AND loves me. things i didn’t realize were still hiding in corners of my heart. all of that? ash. when this fire is finished, what’s left will be more love and more truth and more goodness and more kindness and more open space and a better way home to the people i love, including myself.
don’t fuel your fires. just shut the door and let the work happen. see what starts to burn. and, for the love of all that is good, make sure your furnace is tightly closed with all safety parameters in place. if anyone around you feels the heat, you need to check your settings. this fire is not meant to burn anyone nearby. it’s not even meant to burn you.
it’s meant to burn away what you do not need anymore.
before we had our boy, my husband and i spent many an outing smiling into each other’s eyes and saying, “oh, darling, let’s never have children.” say what you want, but we just weren’t kids people. i’m not even sure we’re kids people now, but i know, without question, we are charlie people. oof. we would buy stock in Charlie, if we could. we would double major in Charlie and Gus with a minor in wrestling, if given the opportunity.
something about childrearing just didn’t sit with us. it was probably the yelling. All. The. Yelling. and the meltdowns and the loss of identity and everything else that appears to be the forefront of parenthood. and when we found out that these Not Kid People were With Kid, we kinda had the idea that we would just carry on like normal. you know, bring the kid along. do what you were planning to do anyway.
i’ll wait here while you laugh at us. it’s fine. we get it.
because it’s hard! the littlest things are hard. moving across the country to take a toddler to Disney World all the time seemed SO much easier in theory. but there’s strollers and bag checks and water bottles and hand sanitizer. there’s height requirements and heat indexes and crowd levels and analyzing sneezes. but we try because we want to try. sometimes we fail miserably and sweat through our clothes and mutter threats under our breath. but sometimes we don’t. so, we try.
tonight we decided to cross one of our long-term bucket list restaurants off of our list. Olivia’s Cafe! a most beloved restaurant with their mismatched chairs and famous buttermilk fried chicken. if i look back, we have talked about going to Olivia’s for 8 years now. and, today of all days, Johnboy decided it was time to conquer Olivia’s.
we made the reservation for 4pm because no person in their right mind eats dinner at 4pm. we’d have the place somewhat to ourselves. good start, right? and, sure enough, we did! only 2 other families were there when we checked in. the dining room was almost completely empty, so it’s was great great great just great when we were seated RIGHT next to an older couple. i’m talking, we could’ve reached out and touched their food. (we should’ve reached out and touched their food.)
charlie started the meal off by being charlie. loud. like, louder than normal loud. so happy but just far too loud. he was excited, but it was getting to that place where it’s not appropriate to be that loud, happy or not.
let me stop right there to say that i had to eat a lot of crow after i had charlie. but y’all. i have stuck to my guns, 2.5 years later, that the world does not have to revolve around families with kids. people at the far end of the restaurant? they are not required by law to think my yelling child is adorable. i do not have to comically say things over my crying kid like, “i know. i know. it must suck to be a baby.” (loudly overheard it once at Target. never got over it.) for a million different reasons, i try to be respectful. i try. i don’t always succeed. but i feel peace knowing that i try to leave parenting pretension at the door every time we leave.
that being said, i am hyper mindful when my child is being, well, a child. my child. we’ve left dollar movies and Disney World shows and restaurants and a whole number of things because it was ruining the experience for others. (and ourselves.) we don’t martyr the situation. we just simply think now wasn’t the right time. we tried. we succeeded for a minute. then we failed. opa.
it became obvious that the couple next to us were not happy to be seated so close to a loud kid. it was an immediate response, and, honestly? i didn’t blame them too much. he was loud there in the beginning. but then we got okay, and it felt for a minute that maybe they didn’t. i couldn’t hear everything, but i could hear enough buzzwords to know it was about my screech owl. charlie really was trying to keep his voice down. i’d begun the all-too-familiar routine of trying to keep him quiet and content in public, but they continued to talk quietly to each other and then offer us polite, well, stares.
you know how much i believe we’re wired to be anxiety machines, right? how i believe there’s an unseen force that wants to make enemies out of strangers and remove us of allies we don’t realize we need. i hate it. i hate it more than just about anything. and i love nothing more than to stare down that anxiety until it realizes it has no power here.
praise be, i met her gaze once. she offered a polite smile, and i said as she looked away, “ma’am? i am so sorry they sat us this close to you. i have no idea why they couldn’t seat us a little bit away. but please know how much we don’t want to ruin either of your meals. we will try our very hardest to keep him from being too disruptive.” john looked at me, puzzled. (is he not used to me by now?) she gave me a surprised nod and kindof nervous chuckle, but she didn’t say anything. as john cocked an eyebrow, i sent him a text (that’s how close we were. no talking aloud allowed.) that said, “it is increasingly harder to be rude to someone when you make eye contact and smile at them.”
we got through the meal. they continued to send glances our way occasionally, and i continued to try. but also? this was our meal! this was 8 years in the making, and, after i spoke to her, i made the decision that i wasn’t going to ruin our family date because of bad seating and a noisy toddler. also the chicken was so, so good. like, so good. i just wanted to enjoy it and enjoy my kid enjoying it. i could only do my best. when it was all said and done, charlie only lost his car seat privilege for being defiant twice. (nothing breaks that boy more than not being able to fasten his own chest clip.) i called it a success.
i excused myself to the restroom. (and, sure, i took my time a little. i needed a minute. i had just stayed completely dropped in with my 2-year-old for over an hour.) when i came back, johnboy was standing up with our pet velociraptor in one hand and my purse in the other. he said, “let’s go!” and i told him i’d be right there.
you know how i said that i don’t think the world should revolve around parents? (just me. the world should just revolve around me and my feelings.) this is the most true with how i try and leave our table after a meal. and, like, i get it. sometimes you just have to bolt and be done. but when i have time, i really, really like to clean up after my boy. i pick up the colors and forks and spoons and large chunks of food that has inevitably dropped. i try to minimize the overall mess of the table and let it show how we genuinely respect the person coming after us to clean our mess. i did my job, and i started to leave. as i walked past, the woman grabbed my arm.
“what you did just then was something i have never seen anyone do in all my years. never. not one time have i seen someone stop and clean up her child’s mess at a restaurant. you listen to me. he is a precious little boy. he is just precious. and, yes, i know, the yelling. try telling him to have an inside voice. he’ll get it eventually. but, really, you are an amazing mom doing an amazing job. he is precious and so happy. you do not beat yourself up over a meal like that. he will be just fine.”
i got full body chills and a lump in my throat. i explained how hard we are working with him every day. how deeply we want him to be a happy, pleasant kid. how close he is to finding his inside voice. and how much we pray that Jesus would show us how to raise our boy. i thanked them both and was grateful they didn’t see the clothes on my floor and the Netflix usage or my impatience and my occasional scissor hold. (he loves it, alright?) i walked to my car, a walking, relieved, refreshed human heart. ready to go another round of motherhood.
make that eye contact, y’all. share your heart. clean up your crap when you can. and, more than anything, tell that young Mother of Dinosaurs that her work matters. she needs to hear it from you, specifically.
certain musical blog titles are just references to where we’re going together. they are vague guidelines to an otherwise open-ended conversation.
but sometimes they are commands. and on this glorious Fall tuesday (it is tuesday, right?) your soul needs Brandi Carlile and good, strong coffee. we just got home from football and a pumpkin patch and Amish country with BC as part of the soundtrack. if you need to put me down, i understand. just listen to Wherever is Your Heart and come back. i’ll wait.
on weekends, we like to make a bigger pot of coffee. i call it “communal coffee” because i like those words together. it feels grounding and root-y, like maybe the Avett Brothers are standing over our coffee pot, tuning their instruments. and the truth is, we end up pouring at least a solid 1-2 cups of day old coffee the next morning. but we still make the full pot, just in case.
there’s this thing that no one reports on any news i’ve seen. when you’re flying with young children, all the families gravitate towards the back of the plane. i guess because in case of a Lost plane separation situation, we want to make sure we’re The Others with tylenol and gum and every known essential oil and 3 Nose fridas. you’ll see these parents, shuffling their kids past the aisles of people wearing normal human clothes and heeled shoes and contoured makeup and reading hardback books that they could actually afford to buy at Hudson News. the most they bring to eat as an iced latte, and they know Mexican food has no business coming with you on a plane. and you just keep shuffling to your people. The Back of The Plane People.
the first thing Charlie said to me when we sat down was, “i’m makin’ you some pancakes.” so i knew it was gonna be a good flight. we did what we have done every flight so far. we read probably 10 books, chatted, and then he fell asleep watching Big Hero 6 on my phone. and i got to peacefully people watch for the first time in a long, long time.
the couple in front of me had 3 kids. they took up a full row with one seat to spare. the first and only thing i said to her when we got on the plane was, “how can I help? do you need more mom hands?” we boarded at roughly the same time, and the dad of the group was the one to let John back in the lineup after a quick detour for Charlie to sit in the cockpit. (he would later explain to me how he flew the plane.) super personable, Happy Dad.
the next couple to board was a father and son. the son was in his early-to-mid-20’s. dad was in his 60’s. i was touched to see the son look genuinely disappointed when there weren’t two seats next to each other. even at 20, he wanted to sit by his daddy. but the dad took the row in front of the mom of 3. And the son graciously and personably took the window seat, completing their family row.
across the aisle from us, a boy of about 10 told his dad he’d be okay to sit separate. the dad asked if he was sure, and he said he was. he sat down next to a couple in their 60’s, and no one said anything more. i looked up a few minutes after take off and smiled at his open book and lack of headphones. i motioned to john and mouthed, (over my sleeping child with the headphones, of course.) “that’s my goal. that’s why i’m doing all of this.” because witnessing a 10-year-old boy quietly reading a good book is pure magic. it’s a balm for this soul.
i don’t know when it shifted, but the next time i looked up from my own book, the man next to Young Reader had gotten out a deck of cards. and as i watched, i realized he was trying to teach the boy a magic trick.
now, a magic trick on a bumpy plane is as successful as eating Chipotle as a family on a bumpy plane. and i watched this wonderfully human moment repeatedly happen where the boy would have to bend down and find the fallen card under his seat, his neighbor’s seat, and the seats in front of them. (it was the same sense of precious humanity i feel when Charlie laughs so hard he gets hiccups.) but they kept working at it until he could do the trick himself. it was so dang real and pure and wonderful. later, i’d look up to see him practicing the trick some more.
all of this was interspersed with the mid-20’s Son laughing and cheering with Friendly Dad and his 6-year-old Boy. they watched football on their iPad together. they seemed to be instant buddies. i don’t think they stopped talking to each other once in the 2 hours we flew.
when we landed and waited for our time to march down the plane, i was in the middle of reading The Bad Seed to charlie. i looked up to find the 2 girls in front of me, the Young Reader, and my own boy listening intently. while we stood up, Mid-20’s called out, “hey, dad! can you hear me? did your ears pop?” and his dad yelled, “WHAT?” making everyone in the back laugh and prompting the 6-year-old boy to announce, “welp, I just farted.” we all lost it.
the mom started shoulder shake laughing and said she was just going to smile and keep facing forward. Happy Dad said, “you there in the back, y’all just keep waiting. it’ll get to you eventually.” and, immediately, it was our turn to walk. i think i smiled the whole walk to our bags. and i never saw one of them after we left.
i don’t even know what i would’ve said except thank you for being. i was made better to witness you loving each other in this tight, often stressful space. and, oh, how grateful they made me feel to be a messy, fussy, scrappy Back of the Plane Person. the human version of a day old pot of Communal Coffee.