Posts Tagged ‘family


Magic on Ice

As the year comes to a close, so does our holiday season. This year, the season settled in with disillusion. I resented the materialism and mourned the childhoods of my daughters, all the while seeking a spiritual connection that went missing some time in September. It was difficult to stave off cynicism, particularly after a Black-Friday all-nighter that left me feeling used and exploited like a night at a frat house caveman party.

Then I took Berlin ice skating.

Ice skating is like mainlining childhood for me. Growing up in Minnesota, I spent many weekends on the lake. If it got dark, my dad would turn on the Nova’s headlights and I would circle the lake, getting more and more bruised as I pursued a doomed Olympic career. The minute my feet are captivated by little white boots with metallic blades, I am eight again, and everything is possible.

So mother and daughter circled the ice, together in childish spirit, chatting about the latest pop stars and admiring our icy grace as we twirled around dodged wobbly grown ups and slow beginners. Most of these obstacles belonged to the same group. When we got cold, we left the ice to sit by the fire and we stopped talking long enough to notice these people. It was a family, reunited from lives that took them all over the country. Grandpa and grandma were there with thermoses of hot chocolate for the brothers and sisters they had borne. The cousins were scattered around the ice and the fire pit, according to age, and they chatted feverishly, distracted only by the effort of gliding around the ice. Remember that? The anticipation, the travel, the arrival, the hiding away with those so dear and precious for their absence?

Magic. I nearly fell off my skates. The season IS magical, there is no denying it. It is the only time we step back from living to make love a deliberate part of our routine. We have parties and gather, but even as we are alone in our daily routines, we think of others. We think of their needs rather than their demands…What to gift, whom to gift, charity, life changes as we catch up through Christmas letters and admire growing families. This season, despite the guerrilla tactics of retailers, exemplifies humanity at its best. I believe that love is our greatest emotion wrought with a power we cannot understand. The media has undermined love with manipulation and lust, but deep, platonic love is the closest we can come to a God who is Love. Perhaps the retailers are stealing Christmas from the Christians as we stole it from the Pagans, but there is a reason it is so sought after. It exemplifies the best of us and that is a perfect reason to hold on to it. There is a movement among Christians to give up the materialism and commercialism of the holiday and while I agree that these things are distracting, I think that the cost of letting them go is too great. Our material prowess is the result of a human spirit set free, and we ave a right to embrace it. If we do not, it becomes a controlling force and embraces us. We are commissioned to act as the Lord’s Hands and Feet, serving humanity. This means many things, but giving is a large part of it, the easy part. The rest comes in time as we learn to express love untarnished by a fallen mankind. We need to practice. We need this season. We need this magic that is really a miracle.


Life is Steadfast

My daughters make me miss my grandma. She was an amazing woman who always had time to share something sweet with me. In those moments she told me what it was like to live through the depression, how she felt when her husband built her a house in town – away from the farm, and how she cared for four children by herself after he passed. Then she would tell stories about life on a Minnesota farm and she’d even pass on the stories her parents told of their journey from Norway to that very Minnesota farm. Nobody could accuse my grandma of being rich, yet anyone who spent an afternoon with her came away knowing something about the richness that life holds. My grandma understood, above all, about the twists and turns of life and how to make the most of the few things that remain constant. Like children. She would have been just “tickled” to see my girls.

Even as a little girl, I understood the wisdom my grandma had earned. She shared what I was ready for and I appreciated what I could. My mom looked to her grandma the same way. She was quick to dispense with great advice and engaging stories and the small tidbits that made my mom think things out for herself. I remember being hesitant to say too much to my great grandma because she always knew what motivated me and that scared me just a little. Now I think she would be a much needed mirror for my soul.

Many cultures recognize this. They revere their elderly and are honored to care for them with respect and adoration; but Americans seem to have a somewhat different view. We weigh the value of a life against the cost of sustaining it. We consider whether it is worth caring for the elderly and if their quality of life justifies such care. Then, as we pursue our busy lives, we consider where to put them so they will be out of the way.

With the elderly neatly tucked away, we are forced to find counsel in sources we consider relevant to our lives. We have turned our backs on Grandma’s years of life experience for the more appealing package of Tyra Banks, which begs the question, when did we begin to equate beauty with wisdom? We hang on Madonna’s every word, wait with bated breath for Brad Pitt to speak, and take Leonardo DiCaprio’s environmental advice as law. We call their voices relevant in a world foreign to our grandmothers. We are so wrapped up in the image that we shut our grandmothers out, refusing to look at the soul-mirrors they hold.

That soul-mirror just may tell us we are faltering, reinforcing the voice calling out from the backs of our minds. I know that the only thing that would impress my departed grandparents and great-grandparents is my character. There is nothing material that can impress someone who survived the Great Depression. There is no vacation or even party that would impress a woman whose fingers bled from her chores on the farm, the chores she did before her children woke up and she made them breakfast. And I can just imagine how these departed people would shake their heads at my morning road rage, which reminds us just how easily we forget our character as we carry on with the busyness of “keeping up.”

As we fear the opinions of generations refined by hardship, it is not hard to imagine that we can find comfort accepting “non-advice.” That is, the pleasure that comes from watching Jerry Springer and his guests, knowing that we are not that bad yet. We ourselves have turned our worlds upside down with this thinking. We say that we cannot get away from the trappings of the world, yet we consistently invite these trappings into our living rooms, bed rooms, and even our children’s rooms. TV has given us the visual entertainment that we crave, with none of the admonition we fear. Programmers are certain to avoid anything that may convict or cause discomfort, so we watch beautiful people living lives we covet and slowly but surely, our priorities turn inside-out. Grandma is sent away to a nursing home and we are free from burden, not the burden of care, but the burden of introspection. With Grandma away, we are free to pursue these lives of the rich and famous regardless of cost. Unfortunately, worldly pursuits will always leave us wanting, for as vast as they are, they are finite so somebody keeps changing the goal, just to keep us interested. It is defeating. To find fulfillment, we must remain steadfast in character and priority, following the legacy of the generations before us.


The Stimulus in the Corner

A man I look up to a great deal gave me some advice.  It was the best advice I have ever gotten.  I felt backed into a corner with no way out, so I was complaining and he said, “Why would let someone back you into a corner?  If you live right, you’ll never be in the corner.”  At first, I thought he just didn’t understand that I didn’t have a way out.  Then I realized that I had absolutely gotten myself into the situation and I had no choice but to find a way out, by changing my attitude in a drastic way.  The funny thing is, I don’t even remember the situation I was in.  I just remember this advice and the many choices I have made because of it. 

Our nation is backed into a corner.  Collectively, we were irresponsible and we landed ourselves up against a wall with now way out.  We achieved some financial success, but saw no reason for gratitude.  Instead, we borrowed more to satisfy our every whim.  Then, we failed to hold our leaders to any standard.  In our apathy, we stopped expecting honesty and objectivity from our media.  Now, we have a mess and we need to change our attitude.  Actually, we need to change our entire lives.  Everything needs to be different. 

We’ve been offered a solution in the form of an economic stimulus.  Now the question is whether to take it or leave it.  It is so appealing.  We could accept this solution at little or no cost – right now.  Eight hundred and nineteen billion dollars is so much money.  Properly spent, it could solve all of our problems, to be sure.  What then, would it leave our children with?  The interest alone on this $819,000,000,000.00 is more than we have spent on the war in Afghanistan.  The size of the spending package is equal to the national budget in 1984 and it is two thirds of our current budget, that’s for all government spending.  All of it.  In the ’90’s, a $19 billion dollar stimulus package was on the table and Bill Clinton, not known for fiscal responsibility, said it was too aggressive.  That was less than a quarter of the size of this package just a little over 10 years ago.  This money means $5000.00 for every household in America.  Right now, to fund the bill, every household would have to cough up $5,000.00.  When the nation is paying it back in 20 years, our children will bear the burden of $819 billion plus all that interest.  The tax burdenwill be crushing.  What this means is that this package will create another bubble, tantamount to the housing bubble or the tech bubble, that is destined to burst.  The question is, what will become of the next generation when this colossal bubble bursts?  If we pass this stimulus package, we are keeping ourselves backed into this corner. 

So what if we don’t?  I would love to say that this is a media-induced frenzy, and there is some evidenct to that point.  It is not hard to believe that if the economic situation is dire enough, we will do anything to solve it long before we take the time to truly consider our options.  And let’s be informed.  In the ’80’s, a time that keeps popping up in the media, unemployment hovered around 7 per cent and peaked briefly around 10.  It was believed then that if unemployment sunk below 6 per cent, inflation would run out of control.  Six to seven per cent unemployment was the goal then and that’s exactly where we are now.  We are moving higher, but is that the result of media-induced hysteria?  Everybody I know is employed right now, but nobody will spend.  When spending stops, commerce stops.  When commerce stops, production stops.  When production stops, jobs are lost. 

Also, the housing numbers for December are in.  New mortgages rose by 6.5% in December.  January is proving to be one of the busiest months many in the mortgage industry remember.  Those official numbers will be in within the next few weeks.  Interestingly, this optimistic news did not get a lot of press.  I, for one, am so hungry for positive economic data that I leapt on the news.  I waited for it to be touted near and far, but then, it fell flat.  In fact, to recall the exact figure I had to find the Australian version of the Wall Street Journal. 

Another thing we cannot deny – corporations are still making money.  American business is still profitable.  It may not be as profitable as shareholders and board members would like, but profits are there.  In the ’80’s, a lot of business was not profitable, not at all.  Then, the general population seemed to have enough common sense to understand that some years are better than others.  This was not a profitable business cycle.  This is not where we are right now. 

I have to wonder if our situation merits $819,000,000,000.00?  I really, truly want to believe that it does not.  But I don’t want to be wrong.

So every time I am confident that the media has hyped us to the edge of sanity, I remember the reason we are here.  Hedge funds.  A credit market gone wild.  In the last decade, the United States has lost ground as a producing country.  We offer services, intellectual property, and money.  Even in the beginning, when I was young and clueless, I looked at our credit markets and wondered where the money was coming from.  How, I wondered, did Household credit have enough reserves all of a sudden to loan billions of dollars to high risk customers?  It seemed that every company was doing this and I knew a very small bit about reserves and risk factors and it simply didn’t make sense.  I was 27 when I noticed this, and I was certainly no economist.  SO, how did Alan Greenspan miss it?  How did the OCC miss it?  How did we end up here where are lending institutions have a trillion dollar shortfall in reserves?  That is the crux of the problem, one trillion dollars, or one and a half, but whose counting?  When I remember that huge number, I have to wonder, do we need $819,000,000,000.00?  Possibly.  Should we take it?  Will it make a difference?  Will it make it worse?

It will make it worse.  It may save us now, in the short term, but we should be very concerned about what we are leaving to our children.  If we could find it within ourselves to change our way of life and to change our attitudes, we could keep our children out of the corner.


Mirror, Mirror in the Crib…

Since I have been a mother, I have made an obvious assumption that God gave us family as an earthly expression of His unconditional love.  I noticed that when the girls were unselfish, I wanted to give them more.  When they made good decisions, I trusted them with more.  It felt like I learned more and more about the Lord my Father with each passing day and I have been grateful for His love and His example. 

So I thought I had it all figured out and things were good.  But then, God felt like I should learn a little more.  He loves that.  It’s time for the annual gift binge, complicated this year by the addition of my teen daughter’s social life.  Now it’s the annual gift and party binge from reindeer hell!  After spending yet another evening driving her to yet another party and waiting in yet another parking lot to pick her up, I thought about how much I love the words “thank you.”  There is a lot of thinking time in the parking lots I frequent, so I spent some time on this, mostly because I knew I wasn’t likely to hear it.  I love to hear “thank you.”  It is usually followed by “I love you” and is all around great.  It makes me so happy to hear and I am so concerned when I don’t, when favors from me or others are taken for granted. 

Aha!  If God gave us a picture of His love when he gave us a family, then he handed us a mirror when our children were born.  I began to wonder, sitting in that parking lot, if God loves to hear “thank you” from us as much as I love to hear it from my children.  The Bible mentions gratitude hundreds of times.  He must love it.  Like our children, there is a reason we should offer thanks.  The minute we realize we have something to be thankful for, our troubles miraculously shrink.  Gratitude makes us want to share.  It makes us happy and it brings true joy.

So I wondered if God was holding up a mirror for me, a reminder that I don’t remember to thank Him for the ride – ever – but I sure complain when it is bumpy.  Or crowded.  Or lonely.

When Daughter Number One was in kindergarten, I got The Call from her teacher.  She had done something awful and was more rude than remorseful.  My first reaction was exactly what the teacher expected, “Where would she pick up something like that?”  The teacher was silent long enough for me to realize exactly where she picked it up.  Number One showed me all kinds of bad habits and unacceptable behaviors I had, so I have known about the mirror.  The problem is, I thought the mirror was mine.  Fourteen years later, I understand that the mirror, like everything else, is the Lord’s.


It COULD Have…

Well, we have moved on to Berlin’s THIRD week of second grade.  Last week nothing remarkable happened.  This week she had to step it up. 

It’s 10:30 and I get a call from the school nurse. 

“Mrs. SuzyJ?  This is the school nurse.  Berlin is here in my office – she’s very brave – but there is an object stuck in her shoe.  It is protruding.”

“What is it?”

“I can’t remove it, but it has probably impaled Berlin’s foot.”

“What is it?”  I ask again, concerned that the nurse is going into shock and cannot bring herself to answer me.

“I can’t see because it is in her foot.”

“Is it glass, metal, a nail, or a razor blade?”  I am annoyed, but very concerned that the nurse does not have the stomach for this job.

“It is a paper clip,” she finally responds.  I say I will be right there and begin to pack up my desk and call the doctor.  The nurse there asks that I go to the school and pull the object from Berlin’s foot.  She tells me that school nurses tend to exaggerate, so I should not plan to bring Berlin in to the office. 

I quickly made my way to the school.  During the drive, I tried to work out the logistics of removing a foreign object AND a shoe from my daughter’s foot without throwing up or passing out.  I decide that my only option is to carry her to the doctor’s office.  It is well worth the $50.00 copay to avoid this situation.

Then I get to the school.  If you are unfamiliar with this child, read my post “Raising Berlin.”  No time?  Suffice it to say, the world has turned a little faster since this child was born – mostly because she is running it.  So, at school there is a crowd around the nurses office which includes Principal Marine and his second in command.  There is much concern.  I am ushered in by the secretary who is hurried and worried.  Well, there’s my girl, sitting on the little bed eating corn chips and reading a magazine.  The sole of her pink shoe is entirely red, which nearly takes me down until I remember that she was just grounded for coloring her shoes with red marker.  Still, there is a paper clip.  It is protruding.  It is rusty.  The crowd disperses and Principal Marine tells me I can call him directly any time to report the progress.  The tension disperses along with the crowd and I look at Berlin.  She smiles and shakes her head, “Don’t take that thing….Don’t hurt me.”  I hold up the extracted offender and Berlin squeals, “So it WAS just in my shoe!”  She scampers down off the table.  The nurse mentions that she raised some concern with the amount of screaming that went on when the paper clip entered her…shoe.  I assurred her that I was suspicious the minute she said Berlin was being brave ’cause that girl’s a screamer and a gusher!

We made our way to the lunch room where Mrs. First Year (she seems to believe everything Berlin throws her way – pity next year’s audacious child) is reassuring the class, telling them that Berlin’s mother is on the scene and Berlin will surely make a full recovery.  We walk in and the children swarm, wanting to hear all about the adventure.  So Berlin speaks to her breathless audience.

“I could have died.  It was a paperclip someone bent up like a SWORD!  It went into my shoe and stabbed my toe.  You know, it could have gotten into my bloodstream and I would have been poisoned.  I could be poisoned now because it poked me!  I could be dead tomorrow!”  A collective gasp rises from her audience, “I could have tripped on it and it could have gone into my spine, then I might have died!  At least it could have poked me in the eye and blinded me!  I’m a lucky girl.” 

Berlin nods her head slowly and looks off into the distance.  The girl can work it.  Thank goodness Mrs. First Year broke it up.  The classmates all reached in to hug their nearly departed friend and all was well in second grade.  Until next time.  Life itself is the greatest adventure.


Raising Berlin

I seem to be low on thoughts.  School started last week, which saps my strength, sanity, time, and apparently all my innermost thoughts.  So…When all else fails, we can talk about our kids.  I have two – girls.  One is 14 (remember recent birthday?  It caused quite a stir).  She is the definitive first child – neat, organized, responsible, austere, and a little snooty.  Number two is 7 and in second grade.  For description, see the attached picture (see the crazed look?).  I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since she was born. Many nights it was because I laid by her crib listening to her asthmatic breathing, but as she grew, I began to lose sleep ruminating over the adventures (?) in store. 

Number Two starts 2nd grade.  Scene:  Established charter school with ex-officer of the Marine Corps at the helm.  Kids in uniforms walking in straight lines.  Frantic queen bee mothers, most of whom have actually E-Bayed their souls to raise these superkids in pleated skirts.  The queen bees are unafraid to E-bay me or anyone else who would foil their plans if there is one mis-step (the peer pressure is enough to give a mother a stroke!).  The school may be academically superior, but it is certainly not prepared for the tornado that is Number Two.  Before she started school, Principal Marine counted down the years until she began.  She was infamous at four.  Now she is seven – older, stronger…better. 

Day One:  She surprises me by telling me that she does not need any school supplies.  Her very sweet new teacher gave her everything she needs.  I am surprised and a little miffed.  It took three trips to Target to check everything off the list and to ensure that the inside of her pencil box had enough style to make up for her clothing.

Back Story:  Number Two explained to her unsuspecting teacher (first year, poor thing doesn’t stand a chance) that her mother donated all of the school supplies at our house to the Katrina victims.  Number Two fails to take into account that Katrina wiped out all her #2’s two years ago.  Nevertheless, Mrs. First Year pities the child whose mother cares more for unknown children than her own and offers her all the supplies from the “emergency closet.”  I have been around long enough to smell a rat, so when we get home, I pay a visit to Number Two’s bedroom where I find a stash of glitter pencils and holographic princess folders in record time.  I lay them on the kitchen table and wait for the explanation…She simply couldn’t bear to share all that glitter and there was a chance that sharing would go on.  What have I done?  Take heart, Mom, she did take her own scissors and glue.  She didn’t use all of the emergency supplies.

Day Two:  Backpack comes home with a note from the OFFICE.  Already?  Two days?  It is requesting that I re-submit Number Two’s registration since we changed her name over the summer.  Ummm…

Back Story:  Number Two refused to answer to her given name (not actually Number Two).  She told Mrs. First Year that she has her name is in the process of being legally changed because her mom wanted to name her Berlin, in honor of her mother’s favorite rock band of the ’80’s.  First, Berlin is not my favorite ’80’s girl band.  Second, I am not actually flaky.  I am a loafer, pearl and cardigan kind of girl – a style that perfectly reflected my personality EVEN in the ’80’s.  Third, Number Two – Berlin – is obviously disappointed in her very boring mom who by now Mrs. First Year probably thinks is one Bud Light away from going roadie.

Day Three:  Phone call from the school.  Actually from Number Two herself, which means she talked the secretary into some serious rule-bending.  That is one of her many gifts.  Maybe there was no talking involved, maybe she tied the secretary up.  Anything is possible – I can’t be responsible for that 8 hours.  Apparently the very cute wedgie-sneakers (what are those called?  high-heels, rubber toes like Chuck Taylors, sling back?) that she was going to DIE without simply are not appropriate for PE.  Would I please just go home and get her some pink Airwalks so she could at least walk back to her classroom?  I say no.  She suggests that I am not mother of the year.  Let me remind you – SHE’S SEVEN!!!

Back Story:  There is no back story – don’t stand between a fashionista and her wedgie sneakers unless PE is involved.  We can all relate to that.  Despite the fact that I am referring to her as Number Two, make no mistake – I LOVE this child.  My dearest friend told me when I found out I was pregnant that this child would bless me in ways I would never imagine – and a truer tale has never been told.  She is unruly, but underneath it she is determined, strong, willful, and fearless.  She has fun in any circumstance and carries a confidence that I have not seen in such a young child.  In fact, she has never been without that confidence.  When she was born, each nurse individually commented that she seemed so at peace, despite the fact that she cried herself to the verge of suffocation.  The greatest challenge in parenting her is bringing some discipline into her life without squashing exactly what it is that makes her awesome.  My goal is that she be socially acceptable and NOT lie about my acts of charity.  I try to remember that the goal in raising Berlin has nothing to do with easy.  When we raise children, raising them to be complacent should not be a goal.  While I may envy the mother of the quiet child, I would never trade.  The peace I would enjoy for the next few years would never be worth it.  Berlin is a tornado, like I said before, not because she leaves a path of destruction, but because she is a powerful force of nature.  If I can raise her to use these powers for good, this child will grow into the woman I always hoped to be.


Generation Hope

Today I turned my daughter over to the hallowed halls of our chosen high school.  Who could have expected this day would come so soon?  It couldn’t have been more than a year ago that I went head-to-head with her second grade teacher who made her scrub the bathroom during recess (she had splashed water while she washed her hands for lunch).  Normally the high school years bring waves of nervous laughter among rapidly-greying parents.  Not anymore.  I have been watching this generation carefully, making sure my daughter will find her place in the world and what I have learned certainly bucks tradition.  Of course, there are always exceptions.  In this case, they can be found loitering at the mall.  Overall, though, I look to this generation with anticipation and hope.  Most teens I see are willing to exchange a smile and they are very capable of carrying on an adult conversation.  When a teenager is at the counter at my favorite Target store or Subway or any of the other thousand chains I patronize, I can almost always count on friendly service regardless of whether the person is a boy or a girl. 

On a more personal level, though, I see the kids at my daughter’s school and church.  These kids genuinely care about each other and I don’t think that they could define catty.  They are intelligent in all matters intellectual and personal.  Most of these kids have defined qualities they are looking for in a mate.  They don’t date lightly, if at all.  Not only have they defined their future mates, but these teens have thoughtfully considered what their families will look like when they have them.  They understand that a fulfilling life is not a matter of luck, but rather a matter of purpose, and that is how they live.  Their purpose is not just personal, they all believe in the greater good.  This up and coming generation has no fear of being involved.  They understand what it is to support that which is bigger than them.  I see them, each with their pet cause, and it’s more than just lip service.  These kids work to make the world better already in their limited capacity as minors.  Each of them, one by one, is going to build a bright future from which we will all benefit. 

We parents may criticize the media, but I credit some of this optimism directly to them.  There was no Disney Channel when I was a teenager and somehow Disney and Nickelodeon have managed to hold the interest of these kids with their milquetoast offerings.  I am amazed that high school students are enjoying High School Musical and Camp Rock when I compare these movies to the ones we were watching.  Over the summer, I set out to have a great bonding time watching favorite movies from my teens with my daughter.  Um…Has anyone watched a little Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, or Pretty in Pinklately?  Not such wholesome fun.  We turned my favorites off at the second or third teenage panty shot and moved on to The Princess Diaries for a modernized movie night.  No wonder Generation X was a mess.  We were all latchkey children with unlimited access to all the drunken teen sex we could watch. 

And that, I think, is the key.  Generation X was the first generation to struggle.  We were not as successful as our parents, as exemplified in various statistics.  Teen drinking was at an all time high, as was teen pregnancy and, thusly, abortion.  There was renewed interest in recreational drugs, though I am uncertain if it truly rivals the baby boomers in the ’60’s.  It appeared that there was no hope for this generation to contribute to society via career or family.  But we turned it around.  We learned from our parents who, as baby-boomers, were the most self-absorbed generation.  They gave birth to the yuppie movement and the 3.2 children that came with it in their Prego strollers.  Then, they offered up housekeys so their careers were not interrupted by child-rearing.  They followed that up with BMW keys to soothe the guilt.  Then they split – baby boomers may not have invented divorce, but they certainly made it their own.  When we Gen-X’ers began having our own children, it didn’t take long to see the folly in our benefactor’s priorities.  We invested time in our children.  The emergence of women into the workplace grew the economy exponentially, but the Gen-X family model evolved along with it, putting dads into new household and parental roles.  Time spent together is precious and filled with laughing and fun as we see more and more leisure time (largely thanks to the hard work of the generation before us – it all works for the greater good).

Yes, the divorce rate is still high.  There are still teen pregnancies, and drugs and alcohol are still out there.  These are not the norm anymore, though.  Teens know that certain choices lead to certain destruction.  Finally, they believe it and act accordingly.  I am grateful.  Once a child hits her teens, the influence of her peers is greater than that of her parents.  Knowing that her friends are like-minded and have the world at their fingertips is Tylenol PM for the parent in me and for the future senior citizen that I am.

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