Gearing Up

          I might not typically take much notice of the boys outside the coffee shop I’m in, around eleven years old, eating caramel covered apples and hitting each other with wads of paper.  But today when I saw them I saw my own son and was struck by the fact that soon enough he will be eleven, and then eighteen, and then a full-blown grown-up.  He is only seven and a half, but I know it will come faster than I can believe.
          I get glimpses each day of the man he will someday be peeking through the little boy he is now.  When he rolls his eyes in annoyance, or carries in a bag of groceries for me, or wears boxer briefs instead of his hot wheels undies.  Or when he looks at me with his green-blue eyes and says in all seriousness “I want to go on a date with you.”  We do that sometimes.  Our “dates” can be anything – any activity that only includes us.  Once to a museum, after which we got ice cream, once on a walk, after which we got ice cream, once to the doctor’s office and grocery store.  After which we got ice cream.  He and Marc go on dates too, and it also always involves a treat.  Surely that is part of the draw for Luke.  But he also loves the chance to spend one-on-one time with his mom or dad, getting all the attention, all the head pats, all the hand-holding he wants.  He actually wants to be with us, and it’s great.
          We had a particularly fun summer – mornings together while Lily was in preschool and Mae was asleep.  I made a concerted effort to ignore all the things that “needed” to be done and spend my time on the things that truly needed to be done.  For my son.  I chose making gloop over dusting and doing science experiments about carbon dioxide over vacuuming.  It was awesome.  My house was gross, but my relationship with Luke deepened, and as I’ve heard countless times, in twenty years that’s what will matter.
          Plus, gloop is way more fun than dusting.
          I know that a day is coming when he won’t want to go on a date with his mom.  There will be a phase, and that phase could be long, where he thinks I am lame and uninformed and embarrassing.  I remember those days with my own parents.  I once hid on the floorboard of our brown Chevy at a Sonic, because, horror of horrors, I was there with my parents.  And I knew the car hop.  And he was hot.  My dad proceeded to tell the hot waiter that I was hiding in the bottom of the car and I was forced to emerge, red-faced and scarred for life.  Nice, Dad.  But how embarrassed could I have been to hide like that rather than be seen with my family?  Very, I guess.  I hate to think of Luke feeling that way about us, but it will come.  And it will suck.  And then it will pass.
          Luke started second grade today.  I walked him the two and a half blocks to school, taking in the sunlight, the welcomed cool air after a ridiculously hot summer, the tingling excitement that comes with a first day.  I watched neighborhood kids reunite after two months apart, giggling with nervousness and joy, and I thought of his first day of kindergarten.  We have a picture from that day of him walking, proudly wearing his new astronaut-monkey backpack full of school supplies, his hair combed and clothes unwrinkled, ready to leave me and his early childhood in the past.  That was a hard day.  Today he wore the same backpack, but I noticed on the way that his hair wasn’t combed and realized we’d forgotten to buy glue.  And we weren’t really worried.  So different than that first, first day.  It’s already normal to go back to school.  It’s also normal to get a big kiss from me as he heads in to class, which I know will change soon.
          I’m sure these boys outside the coffee shop wouldn’t welcome a big kiss from their mommy as they joke with their friends.  I can hear the “Geez, Mom” now.  It’s not too far off, this next stage; the eye-rolling is just the beginning.  I will miss his hugs, the fact that he thinks I’m funny, and even the never-ending descriptions of his lego creations.  I will look back longingly at the days of making gloop in summer and going on dates to get ice cream.  I know I will cry over the loss of my baby boy many times.  But it will also be astounding to watch him navigate adolescence, discover himself and the world, and morph into a man.  When I think of the way he fit into the crook of my arm when he was new to the world, and now he reaches my chest when he gives me a hug, my mind is just about blown.  So far I’ve enjoyed each stage, at least in part, and I’m sure that even in adolescence there will be something to appreciate – bits of my sweet boy peeking through the tough exterior of puberty.  Or of his future, mature self emerging.  I can’t say that I’m ready, or ever will be, for Luke to think his mom’s a dope, but I’m gearing up for it.  And if he happens to want to go on dates with me all through puberty, I’ll consider it a bonus and take him out for ice cream.

Blank Page

          A blank page staring back at me is a gift or a curse, depending on the moment.  Depending on whether I have anything to say.  On a day filled with inspiration, it’s clean and new and ready to be filled with crisp black letters, lined up evenly, contained in a set space, but limited only by my overflowing brain.  It’s hope and promise and all that’s good in the world.  But on a day void of ideas my point of view flips – a blank page is  endless and plain.  Not lovely in-and-of itself, but wanting.  Lonely and desolate.
          Really, a blank page isn’t good or bad or anything but blank.  It’s all about perspective, like everything else in the world.  I tell my kids this all the time.  Luke complains about dinner, we point to the photos on the wall from Marc’s trip to Africa – the kids with yellow eyes from malnutrition and liver disease.  Lily whines for every item in the toy store, and we point out the kids outside the homeless shelter on our way home.
          But even more, I have to remind myself about changing my own perspective.
          During the school year, evenings are rough.  Making dinner, feeding the baby, monitoring homework and piano practice, throwing the kids in the bath and running in to wash a bit of them from time to time, putting the baby to bed, all the while being yelled at (my children are so excited about all things in life that they yell everything they say) by two voices at once to “watch this” and that “he’s copying me” and “she hit me in the face with a car”, and asking me scientific questions about spiders and black holes or correcting me on which Disney princess wears yellow.  Was that sentence long and exhausting to read?  Exactly.
           But on a good day I can see these things differently.  On a day where I’ve woken up with a decent amount of sleep, or I’ve had a bit of a break, or God has graced me with inexplicable patience and energy, I can see the flip side of life with three kids.  Yes, I’m making dinner, but I am doing so with quinoa from South America that I have simply purchased at Costco for a reasonable price, instead of digging up potatoes in my field and cooking them over a fire I made from sticks.  Boo-hoo.  On a good day I can see that the baby I’m feeding is so patient and sweet and dimpled, she is the easiest part of my day, and she will only be this way for a moment.  My son rocks at math and is tending to his super-brain in the dining room.  We can afford piano lessons.  Bathtime – well, I guess the upside is we have running water.  My children’s minds teem with creative questions and ideas – everything is new and exciting and full of promise, as it should be.
           I’ve taught my kids a phrase that we recite when one of us is being ungrateful, which is most days.  “Let’s have an ‘attitude of gratitude,’ guys.”  I heard it on the radio once and loved it.  It rhymes, which kids like and makes it easy to remember, and it sums up the frame of mind we need.  I remind them of it from time to time, but I also need to remind myself.  This crazy life is a gift.  Crazy means it’s full.  Of people we love, and things to do, and the resources with which to do them.  If I am sitting down writing a blog, if you are sitting down reading a blog, I can assume we are in a mutual state of having been fed, sheltered and blessed with an internet connection.  We are not  suffering from starvation, or dying from the record-breaking temperatures, or being sold into the sex trade.  We may have our problems, but there’s always something worse.  Always something to be grateful for.  Always others to worry about more than ourselves.
           I started this post the other day with a blank page, and a blank mind to match.  I had nothing to say, except the bit about blank pages, because that’s how I felt.  During my three hours of writing time I put my head down a lot, checked email, updated my shopping cart on Amazon, and I ended up with one paragraph and two sentences.  Not a success.  But today I have some ideas rolling around up top and my blank page has changed.  It is full.  Whether it was a mood swing, an energy burst, or the yummy bubble tea I’m currently drinking, something shifted my perspective of this empty page to a space full of potential, waiting to spill over with words.  I’m grateful for that.  Sometimes it takes more than a couple days to see a situation in a different light.  Some things are just plain hard and you need serious effort, and prayer and caffeine to be able to change your point of view.  To see how anyone else has it worse.  Those days do come.  But the rest of the time we can keep on truckin’, looking at the flip side, having an attitude of gratitude and teaching our kids to do the same.

Long View

     Real Simple Magazine is having an essay contest, asking readers to write about their biggest regrets in life.  This got me thinking about the subject in some depth.  I know that it’s a popular view to believe in “no regrets” – that it is what it is, and you wouldn’t be the person you are now without the mistakes you’ve made in the past.  In and of itself this is true.  However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look back and evaluate.  That you can’t have insight into your past and weigh it against what you know now.
     My biggest regret is made up of a thousand tiny regrets, a thousand tiny choices I made as a child and adolescent, to not try new things, to not try hard enough.  I look back and see the experiences I missed, the things I could have done that would have made me happy, or more well-rounded, or more involved with life.  I missed so many opportunities because I let fear hold me back.  I wish I had stayed with dance as I grew up.  I took ballet for six years, and was about to start pointe.  And then I quit.  I was bored and lazy and didn’t know to try another form.  I wish I had tried out for basketball and volleyball, but out of fear I didn’t.  I refused to take piano lessons as a kid.  My parents tried to tell me I’d regret it, but I was sure they knew nothing.  I, on the other hand, knew that Who’s The Boss reruns were totally essential.  Good thing I listened to me.
     When you’re a kid, you don’t take the long view.  You take the right now view of things.  I looked ahead a day or two and saw the fun I wanted to have, or the boring things I wanted to avoid.  I didn’t want braces because in the short run it would be ugly.  Now I wish I had put up with metal mouth for a year or two to have straight teeth forever.  In the long run, that’s a pretty good deal.  So many little regrets, when added up, equal one big wish-I-woulda.  One big life lesson: take the long view.  I’m not sure I could have done that as a kid, but maybe?
     My seven year old son, Luke, and I share many of the same fears.  Trying new things, especially things that go really fast, is at the top of the list.  We talk about our fears sometimes – what they are and how to tackle them; he knows this is going to be one of his challenges in life.
     Last summer we made a trip to Silver Dollar City.  He was scared to go on the ubiquitous log ride, so I made him a deal.  If he would ride that, I’d ride the biggest roller coaster they had.  And he’d get a treat.  He rode it, saying “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this”  the whole time.  He got Dippin’ Dots for his act of bravery.  I went on Wildfire with five loop-de-loops and got a stomach ache for an hour.  But he saw me taking on something new and scary (I hid the sick feeling afterward) and he later told me he was glad he tried the American Plunge.  “Next time I bet I won’t be as scared of it,” he said with hope in his voice.  We worked on our fear together, as a team.  Because I regret mine and I’d like to help him overcome his.  It’s that simple.  He doesn’t see the long view, but I do now.  I’m trying to give him a glimpse.
     As an adult I decided to try modern dance.  But my body wasn’t as bendy as before.  I’d had a baby, my balance was wonky, and I could only go once a week.  By the time I realized life is short, it was too late.  A professional dancer I would never be, but I enjoyed my class for what it was – a chance to do something I loved while I was still able.  I played basketball as a grown up, too.  On a team of women of all ages with all sorts of reasons for playing.  Again, I wasn’t amazing, but I felt the adrenaline of blocking a shot.  In. Your. Face.
     I had learned my lesson.  I took the long view.
     Regret is a gift.  Wishing you could take back the insult, the lost opportunity, the time you threw up in your shoe after a high school party (I admit nothing) spurs you on to better things.  But you can’t stay there.  It does no good to sit and wallow in the mistakes you’ve made.  Regret is a teacher; It is a useful tool, but it is not a way of living.  The wisdom that it gives brings promise for tomorrow, if you can use it for your good and for others’.  That’s the blessing of regret.  The hope in the middle of the sadness.  So until the long view is no longer possible, I’ll be looking back, taking stock, and being thankful for second chances.