Friday, May 29, 2015

A Love Poem For My Minivan

Dearest Homer,

It's been about half a year now
Since I traded in my sporty red car
I balked at buying a minivan
I never thought it would go this far

The ridicule came on fast
The van haters came on strong
I cried some tears from their words
But have since learned they are wrong

After a decent psychological hurdle
My affection for you now runs deep
I can't imagine any other pairing
Oh you to your death I will keep

I swoon at your spacious interior
Your head room, leg room, cargo space
With back seats down, who needs a truck?
Even landscaping timbers have a place

Your complexion isn't the best but
Dents and dings make no difference to me
I'm not so interested in what you look like
We're not in the business of being fancy

Your power steering is pretty wonky
Making turns is sometimes tough
But I just look on the bright side
My mama arms will get buff

Your cup holders are a little insane
They number one more than eleven
With almost two per passenger
We're definitely in drink holder heaven

I know there are fancier out there
You're not the newest model or year
But paying cash & incurring no debt
Was definitely cause for cheer

So, here's to us, dear Homer
Many more happy years I foresee
I raise my wine glass in a toast
To my darling Odyssey

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dear Kids, Don't Be Careful

Dear kids,

Remember that time when our little family was outside in the backyard and y'all were trying to climb backwards up the slide at the same time?  Or that time y'all were running sprints on our new sofa?  Or that time you were carrying around daddy's heavy drill?  Or that time your ride-on toys turned into bumper cars? Or that time you were yanking at the window blinds to get on the other side of them and wave bye bye to OmieJean?

There was a phrase that echoed across all those experiences, and more where they came from, over and over, to the point that I got sick of hearing myself say it.  

"Be careful."

Now, your mama is a careful person.  I very much like it when there is a plan, things are predictable and everyone and everything is in one piece.  But here's the thing...

I don't want you to live a careful life.

Yes, there is a time and place for care, caution, reserve.  I mean, I'd rather you not crash your car or go to jail or fall off a roof.  I'd love for you to take care in what you purchase, to do your best to make sure the things you own are ethically created and traded.  I'd prefer that you give mama a call once you are done driving back to your college dorm after a weekend at home to let me know you made it.  But really...

I want you to live a brave life.

Don't be careful around poor people or homeless people.  Don't just hand them a couple dollars hoping they'll bug off.  Fling love at them instead, listen to their story, shake their dirty hand, acknowledge their history, treat them like a human, an equal, not someone you think is just out to take advantage of you. 

Be brave with how much money you live on.  Resist the urge to gradually elevate your lifestyle as you get older and feel like the world says you are supposed to, but instead set the bar low.  Figure out an income level where you can provide for your needs and live plenty comfy, then stay there.   That takes courage.  To resist the next best, grass is greener, new fangled lifestyle item out there.   Be brave in the face of "everybody's doing it" and "I guess it's time for an upgrade".  You can do it, I promise.

Don't be careful with where you live.  There's no need to skidaddle to a cute suburb where houses look the same and so do incomes and front yard alarm system signs.  Live in your city, plant roots in your city, enrich your city, even if that city comes with urban struggle and mediocre school districts. 

Be brave with who you love.  Love the outcast, the needy, the forgotten, the persecuted, the sinner, the arrogant, the rude, the down and out, the full of themself, the eye-to-eye and the want-to-punch-them-in-the-face.  

Don't be careful with how you serve.   Don't box your service into a half a day here, a project there, merely checking off the pat-yourself-on-the-back box for another year.  No, serve with abandon. Serve with your whole life in a way that changes your whole life. Live out an all consuming attitude of service to others and love of others, all others, such that people think you are crazy for taking it so far.

Be brave in the face of the world's standards.  The world will tell you to be careful.  It will tell you to carefully structure your life so you are comfortable and "set".  Don't continually chase comfort for yourself.  Under the world's standards, will you ever really reach it?  Instead chase adventure, live out a calling, use your life for others rather than yourself, stockpile memories rather than wealth, love with abandon. 

Kids, I want you to live a brave life.  I pray you have the courage to do so and I will be rooting for you the whole way.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Parenting Advice From An Amateur: Hire A Dang Babysitter

Joey: When can I stop by to drop this stuff off?
Me: We'll be home at 5:30 then we have a babysitter coming at 6 and we're going on a date.
Joey: A date?  Is that allowed?
Me: Heck yes it's allowed and we're really good at it.

Trent and I have been been on two dates in the past five days.  Though that is for sure more frequent than our norm and involved a little extra dateness for our anniversary, it's still indicative of the fact that date nights are something we value and prioritize.  We got in this habit before becoming parents, when youth ministry was our baby, and the habit has stuck.

When was the last time you and your partner in parenting madness went on a date?  Hmm?  If your answer is "oh, last weekend" then I give you a virtual high five.  If you have to think real hard then this post is for you and I want you to follow up my previous question with this one: Whose fault is that?  

Here is my message to you: Hire a dang babysitter and go on a dang date.  

Potential excuses that I intend to crush or at the very least explain away so you can't use them anymore:

"Babysitters are expensive."
When we embarked on this parenting voyage, I conducted a thorough, exhaustive and possibly annoying poll of various parents and young folks who babysit to determine what a valid going rate is in our city.  I was assured that $10 an hour for two small kids was plenty, so that's what we pay, though I often round up and throw in extra because it's what I have in my wallet at the time and up the ante majorly if the sitter is caring for a sick child.   How long does it take to eat dinner out?  Two hours?  That's a mere twenty bucks to shove into a teenager's eager hand.

"But paying for a babysitter plus paying for dinner out gets way too expensive."
Then go to Wendy's. Total date cost is now at about $32. The point is not to eat a gourmet meal.  The point is to get away for a hot second from the small humans living in your house.

"Babysitters are hard to find." you attend a church?  Do you have coworkers with teenagers?  Do you have friends your age fighting baby fever that need a dose of birth control via taking care of someone else's kids for an evening?  Grandparents nearby?  If you have none of those things, check out and go from there to find some candidates and interview them.  You're not allowed to say babysitters are hard to find if you haven't even looked.  For our foster care situation, our babysitters have to be over age 16, have a background check, get FBI fingerprinting done and be adult, child and infant CPR certified.  That's a tall order and yet we have four approved babysitters in our pocket that we found.  Because we asked.  (And we paid for all that stuff they had to do.)  My experience, especially with teenagers or college students, is that they need money.  For some, babysitting is their one and only wobbly source of income.  They need you as much as you need them.

"But my child might freak out if I leave them."
They'll get over it.  Our kids freak out most times we leave them.  Heck, one time they freaked out just from seeing the babysitter's vehicle drive up in front of our house.  But they calm down and, gasp, survive.

"But that's not fair to the babysitter to leave them with an upset child."
Last time I checked you were paying them dollars.  Sometimes earning dollars is hard work.

"Nobody can care for my child as well as me."
We bypassed this one.  When our two kids were plunked in our house, we didn't know what the heck we were doing and realized full well that some seventeen year old young lady with babysitting experience would likely know more about parenting these little strangers than we did.  I think that has actually benefited us, even as we have better learned what the heck we're doing.  While acknowledging that parenting is no joke, we also realize that it isn't rocket science to keep a couple toddlers alive and happy for a couple hours.  It can be done just fine by someone other than yourself.   Maybe they get to eat too many goldfish crackers.  Maybe their hair doesn't get combed out just so during bath time.  Maybe the pajamas they end up in that night aren't what you would have picked out.  But you know what?  It's ok. If you want to start small, go on a late afternoon date that ends with dinner, then get home in time to do bedtime routine.  That's an easy first step for your kids and a babysitter to tackle.  But please venture at some point into letting the sitter put them to bed because it's so nice to return home, hand over some dollars, and just go to bed yourself.  The good news is the more you use a babysitter, the better they know your kids and their routine and the less you have to wonder if they are floundering from lack of instruction you failed to provide.  Hint: they're probably doing just fine.

So, I want you to repeat the following phrase ten times before you go to bed tonight: "I will hire a dang babysitter."  Or at least initiate the search.  You may be surprised what good relationships it yields with caregivers willing to love on your kids.  Do it for yourself, your partner, your sanity and your relationship.   For real.  Do it.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Anniversary Number Seven

A few days ago in the grocery store we ran into the pastor who married us.  He said "Y'all have an anniversary coming up pretty soon."   Yes, yes indeed. 

Here I sit in a local coffee shop, with my husband and our matching laptops, an afternoon off, a peach smoothie, a Lula Jane's cookie (aka heaven in saran wrap) and seven years of marriage behind us.  

Yeah seven.

As we approached this anniversary, some people guessed how many years we were coming up on and most were too low.  Many said six, so that's pretty close.  One said five. One said four.   People seem to forget that Trent and I were mere babes when we wed, not even out of college yet.  

We embarked in a wobbly, headstrong fashion into grown-up land and have been blazing our trail every since.  With each passing year, we have learned more about each other, challenged each other, cried together, laughed together, cursed together.  We have had successes, made mistakes, acted on brilliant ideas and tripped over bad ones.  Our friendship and camaraderie have a strength and depth unmatched by any others I've experienced in my life.  We are a team...when it comes to money, to time, to chores, to this ridiculous thing called parenting.  Our bond is a peaceful one, marred only by the ever so rare and short lived emotional tussle. Together we have learned how to grow up, how to set priorities, how to be gracious, how to die to self and live for others.

So here's to us.  I raise my peach smoothie and toast to seven exceptional years so far and many more to come.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In Which I Offer A Short Pep Talk To Parents

Sometimes in Parents Of Small Children Land, you end up with tears in your eyes, frustration in your heart, anger in your mouth and mud on your black dress pants.  You stumble into the house with two screaming children literally hanging off of you. Then your social worker makes an unannounced visit and asks her monthly "Any new stresses?" question and you say "You didn't see me forty minutes ago."

Dude.  Sometimes parenting is no joke.   Am I right?  

We've been entrusted with the care, health, behavior and general well being of tiny humans who rely on us to fulfill their every need.  Remind me who thought this was a smart idea?

Fellow parents out can do it.  We can do it.  

On the days when one kid can't function if not glued to your body and another has conveniently chosen a mud puddle as a place to collapse in a tantrum.   On the days when bedtime comes early so you don't blow your top and, oh wait, too late.  When patience is thin and exhaustion is thick.

We can do it.  Do what exactly?  Our best.  We can do our best.  Some days that may be a pretty crappy version of a parent.  Other days that may be a vision of parenting perfection. There will be mud puddle tantrums, but there will also be smiles, hugs, I love yous, sweet quirks and praised behaviors.

Keep trucking, parents. Keep on keepin' on.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dear Men, An Ode To Helpful Dads

Dear Men,

My husband left this evening to go camping.  Far away.  For two nights.  By himself.  Before you jump into premature jealousy of this scenario, please recall that he was pretty much a single parent for about a month at the end of tax season.  And though I previously argued that some people need to stop with the parent math, there is, in fact, a time and place for some well deserved parent math.   Husband takes care of almost all parenting duties for almost a month...husband gets some time off.  That's a freakin' no brainer.

Not-yet-dads out there, file this away for...sometime.  Dads out there, file this away for...tomorrow.

Noooo I don't mean file away the fact that helping with the kids gets you a camping trip.  File away the fact that helping with the kids is super duper immensely appreciated.   In today's modern world, I think a lot of women would love to quote Meghan Trainor and say "You've got that nine to five, but baby so do I. So don't be thinkin' I'll be home and makin' apple pie."   In a lot of today's families, ain't nobody got time for makin' apple pie, so there's just gotta be some division of responsibility.  

So often during tax season, I got asked how my kids were doing and how we were handling taking care of them while I was working so much.  Well, first of all, they go to daycare (why do so many people seem to forget this is a thing?) and otherwise Trent takes care of them.   Trent??  Oh wow!  Um, yeah, Trent...that guy I married and committed to parenting with.  He's actually better with the kids than I am so...there's that.

I'm also reminded of the time I was telling someone what our brother-in-law does and how his work shifts often land him off for two days during the week instead of the weekend so they rigged childcare for a time where he would take care of our niece and nephew entirely on any weekdays he was off.  The person I was talking to was shocked.  You mean he took care of himself...for two whole days?  Uh...yah...and quite spendidly too.

Dudes, you have stereotypes going so NOT in your favor.  Apparently you are not capable of being successful caregivers for your own children.  Gasp.  

Dads, be the surprise.  Draw out the gasp from someone.  Be an active, equal player in this parenting gig.  Heck, be the main caregiver in your family for a time if that's what your family needs. If you don't know how, just jump in and I guarantee you will learn.  It doesn't make you hipster or modern or less of a man.  It makes you a dad.  And it makes you awesome.

And it might get you a camping trip.

Ok bu-bye now.