Through the Years

I was raised in a family that didn’t have a lot of extra money.  We weren’t poor, but we did have to manage our money carefully.  Our version of going on vacation was piling into our car and driving across country to visit relatives.  We got one new pair of school shoes and tennis shoes each September, which were expected to last for the entire school year, and most of my clothes had first been worn by my older sister.

That’s probably why I have such fond memories of our annual shopping trips to buy our special Easter outfits.  I didn’t just get a fancy new dress–I got new shoes, special socks, a hat and sometimes even a little purse.  The shoes were always white patent-leather, which only looked good until the first scuff mark appeared, and that was usually about five minutes after I put them on.  But I didn’t care, because I thought I looked great.  As far as I was concerned, wearing my new Easter outfit to church was the second best part of Easter.  The best part, of course, was receiving my very own Easter basket full of candy and knowing I didn’t have to share any of it.

Now I’m all grown up, and honestly can’t remember the last time I looked in the mirror and truly thought I looked great.  I also haven’t bought a special Easter outfit in years, either for myself or for my own children.   I still have my old Easter basket, but it’s tucked away in a storage bin with my other memorabilia.  The purple wicker has faded to the palest of lilacs, and a really heavy chocolate Easter bunny would probably break it in two.

But that’s okay, because I enjoy Easter now just as much as I ever did.  It doesn’t matter that I won’t wear a brand-new outfit to church, or that I’m the one who has to clean the house and fix the food for our immediate family’s Easter lunch.  I’ll gladly hide the eggs for my grandchildren to find and spend a couple of hours making my mother’s home-made potato salad.  (It’s labor-intensive, but the results are worth it.)

One thing I’ve learned about the holidays I’ve celebrated all my life is that the way I celebrate may change, but the important thing is that I still celebrate.  Participating in meaningful rituals and traditions, gathering with the people I love, and in general, just being grateful for actually experiencing another new holiday is what really matters.  And why we never really outgrow the holidays we love.

Portrait Of A Father

Dad 2It’s a little hard to write a post about my father, because I know some of my readers also knew him and have their own thoughts about who he was.  Some knew him as their father, too, and others as a family friend, or as the father of their friend (me.)  Some thought of him as an outstanding minister, which he was.  But all I can do is write about him from my own perspective, and trust that people understand that my perspective is both unique and personal.

Like most men of his generation, my dad thought of himself as the absolute head of the family, and he expected to be treated as such.  He did have a temper, which meant I always tried my best not to make him angry.  Now I realize that his angry outbursts were probably a result of his struggle with depression, but that’s a perspective I didn’t have as a child.

I know I inherited his creativity, his sense of humor, his love of reading and writing, and his love of all animals, but particularly for dogs and horses.  Sadly, I also inherited his love for sweets and his tendency to carry extra weight around the midsection.

My father showed me by example how to live according to your principles.  Growing up, I knew of very few other fathers who had given up a successful and well-paying business career to enroll in seminary and become a chronically over-worked and under-paid minister.  And I noticed how he always donated generously to anyone who asked, even when he couldn’t really afford to do so.  I remember that he always did and said what he thought was right, even when his opinions weren’t particularly popular.

Like all of us, my dad was a complicated person, and far from perfect.  I know I never completely understood him, partly because we can’t ever see our parents (or children) truly objectively, and partly because I think it’s impossible to ever fully understand anyone else.

But I choose to remember the father who was always there, who bought me the horse I so desperately wanted when I was twelve, who stood patiently outside in the freezing rain while I decided exactly which Christmas tree we should buy, who always listened when I needed to talk, and who I knew I could trust.  I remember the father who regularly cooked for us back in the days when most men stayed out of the kitchen, dyed the mashed potatoes pink when we asked him to, and who made me hot tea with lemon and honey when I was sick with a bad cold.

Coleman Application_page 3 1Ultimately, there were two things that I always knew, and still know, about my father:  that I loved him, and that he loved me. And that is more than enough.

Motherhood: The Journey Continues

When I first married my husband, we only talked about “maybe” having children, and it was a couple of years before we started talking about “when” we have children, and a couple more years before we decided that it was actually time to start a family. Shortly afterwards, our daughter was born, and exactly two and a half years after that, we had our son.  So for me, motherhood was a gradual process from an abstract idea of maybe having kids, to a definite desire to be a mother, to actually becoming one.

And the process didn’t end there.  From their infancy and toddlerhoods, when my job as a mother meant accepting responsibility for their every need, to their childhood when I had to begin stepping back and letting them learn things for themselves, to their teenage years when I could no longer ignore the fact that they were well on their way to adulthood, my role as a mother has constantly evolved.  Those early years when my kids were so dependent on me were exhausting, but simple.  The delicate balancing act of trying to decide how much support to give and how often to give it began later, and it just got more complicated as they grew up.  These days, everyone makes fun of “helicopter parents,” but anyone who has been a parent knows how hard it is to decide when our kids need our help, and when they need us to step back and learn how to fail.

Now that my son and daughter are actual adults, our relationship is still changing, and my role as their mother continues to evolve. I’m still helping them, but they are also helping me.  The little boy I once pushed in the stroller (for the ten minutes or so he’d consent to ride in there) is now the young man I call when I need a heavy box carried out of the basement or someone to explain to me why my computer suddenly went on strike.  And these days I am almost as likely to ask my daughter for advice (particularly in fashion, an area where she is light years ahead of me) as I am to give advice to her.   Watching my son and daughter grow into well-rounded, competent and caring persons has been, without a doubt, the most rewarding part of motherhood.

Use thisI understand now that my role as a mother will always be changing, just like my relationship with my own mother continues to change and grow.  I loved watching my mom interact with my kids when they were little, and learned a few things about dealing with small children in the process.  If I’m lucky, I’ll have grandkids of my own some day, and that will add a whole new dimension to motherhood.  But whatever happens, wherever the process leads us, I’ll always be their mother.  Always.

Valentine Nostalgia

I absolutely loved Valentine’s Day when I was a kid.   Everything about it was so much fun.  I’d pick out my box of valentines from the dime store, then spend a happy night at the kitchen table, carefully signing my name on each one before sliding it into its envelope and sealing it shut.  At school, we spent days decorating old shoe boxes with construction paper, lacy doilies and shiny heart stickers, finally cutting a slit in the top so our classmates could fill it with valentines.  And when the big day arrived, we’d have a class party with games, punch and cupcakes.  Afterwards, we’d have a box full of valentines to carry home and sort through, looking for the cards that had a small piece of candy taped to them, just to make sure our sugar high didn’t wear off too soon.

I was lucky, because I had a father who made sure the celebration continued even after I got home from school.  He would set the table with a red table cloth and our good dishes, then place a large heart-shaped box of chocolates and a big Valentine’s Day card beside each of our plates.  Some years we even got individual, heart-shaped red Jell-O molds as well, which I always thought were too pretty too eat…even though I always did.  Both at school and at home, Valentine’s Day was pretty darned nice.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy Valentine’s Day now, because I do.  It’s just that, as a middle-aged married woman, I enjoy it differently.  Red Jell-O molds and fruit punch no longer sound good, and getting a box of chocolates isn’t the thrill it used to be since I can buy my own whenever I want one.  These days, I celebrate Valentine’s Day by going for a nice dinner with my husband, and maybe receiving a bouquet of roses if he can find a florist that hasn’t doubled their prices in honor of the holiday.  I still exchange cards with close family and friends.  Honestly, I don’t need or want anything more, and I know I’m lucky to have this.

But still, there are times when I think it would be fun to go back in time, just for a little while, and be that kid again.  The one hurrying home from school on a cold February afternoon, carrying a box full of valentines from her classmates, knowing that a special family dinner was waiting, and wondering how big the heart-shaped box of chocolates would be this year.

Middle Age: The Perfect Excuse

Whenever I can’t lift something heavy or move as quickly as I used to, I blame my middle-aged body, and that’s probably accurate.  But when I trip on the stairs, knock over my water glass as I’m reaching for the salt shaker or take ten swings to sink a putt on a miniature golf course, I can’t honestly blame middle age.  The truth of the matter is, I’ve always been a bit of an un-athletic klutz.

While I was never the last kid picked when we were choosing teams at recess, I was also never one of the first kids selected.  I was usually added to a team when about half the kids had already been chosen, and that was mostly when I happened to be friends with the child doing the choosing.  The only time I excelled in gym class was when we were tumbling, and asked to do something the gym teacher called “knee walking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  We knelt down, reached behind us to grab our feet and walked across the mat on our knees, putting all of our body weight directly on our kneecaps.  I stood out from the rest of the class because I was able, and willing, to knee walk right off the mat and across the entire wooden floor of the gym and back.  Obviously, I wasn’t the brightest kid in class, but I was definitely the one with the toughest knees.

In high school, I played volleyball my senior year only because it was a brand new sport at our school that very few other girls wanted to play, so they were desperate enough to ask me.  I steered well clear of track and basketball, and the thought of trying out for the pom-pom or cheerleading squads never even entered my mind.  I was just proud of myself for taking gym class all four years and never once flunking out.  In my twenties, I did have a short stint on a church-sponsored co-ed softball team, where I spent the entire season in right field, literally praying that no one hit the ball to me.  Although I did catch a fly ball, once.

But now that I’m middle aged, I’ve realized that I don’t have to admit to being a klutz anymore.  Never mind that I have never been athletic or coordinated:  I’m middle aged, and THAT’S the reason for any and all of my physical deficiencies.  It’s taken me over half my life, but I have finally come up with a believable excuse!  I just have to make sure I avoid everyone who knew me before I turned fifty…..