Letting Go

b o a t  c r u i s e sNo no no, not “Let It Go” – letting go. As in, letting go of your kids.

You spend 40 weeks growing these little beings inside you. You feel every kick, every somersault, every hiccup. You dream of their features, their personalities, you choose their name. You provide them with everything they’re going to need on the outside… and yet, as soon as they are born, they’re on a mission to gain independence from you. And this? This is one of the most gut-wrenching things a parent will ever experience.

Sitting up, crawling, first steps… all exciting moments. But with each of those moments comes the realization that your little one needs you just a little less than they did before. The good thing is that these milestones only happen every so often. The bad news is that they sneak up on you like a stealth ninja warrior and before you know it, your child is waving to you from the window of his school bus or ignoring you as you drop her off at the mall to meet up with some girlfriends. (You hope.) And you wonder, how did I even get here?

I am not quite there yet but I am at the precipice and let me tell you, these are scary waters to navigate. My daughter came home with an invitation to her first non-family sleepover party last week and like any 6 year old girl, she was stoked. Absolutely stoked. But then I read the invitation and my heart sank. I didn’t know this girl, nor did I know her parents. I knew nothing about them! There was no way I was going to allow my kid to go to some party with people I didn’t know from Adam. And then I stopped and I thought. I thought about the sleepovers I went on when I was younger. My parents weren’t friends with the parents of those girls… but they still let me go. Crap.

One could say that it’s a different time than we grew up in and yes, you would be right. But when we were children was a different time than when our parents were children and… they still let us go. Knowing that my husband was on the same “No Way” page as I was, I asked my mom for advice and as she always does, she came through. She suggested I reach out to the parents to see if we could meet before making a decision about letting our girl attend the party. Such a simple solution! DUH. Because any normal parent would totally understand and anyone who didn’t, well, that’d be our answer right there. So I contacted the mom – who totally understood – and we set up a time for our entire families to meet. The meeting happened earlier this week and wouldn’t you know it? Super nice people, nice kids, and off our girl goes in another week to her first sleepover party.

But all of this got me thinking. If our parents’ generation was mostly okay with allowing us experiences – even when they weren’t thrilled with them – why and when did our generation become so scared? I was ready to throw this perfectly nice kid’s birthday invitation right in the trash and for what? The unknown. I was scared.

You could say, Well, our parents grew up in a different time than we did” and you wouldn’t be wrong. But they grew up in a different time than their parents. Every generation has their challenges. And there has always been evil in the world — it’s just at our fingertips now. Literally. We have access to so much information, it scares us.

I’m not suggesting that we let our kids do everything they want to do. Obviously they need to learn about the dangers of the world and boundaries and all that fun stuff but they still need to live. They need experiences. I know a sleepover is a minor thing but I’m so glad I reached out to my mother for her advice instead of just throwing the invitation – and this opportunity for my daughter – away.

Now, will someone please remind me of this post when my children reach driving age?

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Playing catch-up

W I N  A  T R I P If there’s one thing I hate doing, it’s playing catch-up. Whether it’s at school with homework assignments missed during an illness or just a simple conversation of which I missed the first part, it’s a pain in the butt to play catch-up… and yet, that is where I find myself today with this new blog of mine.

My apologies for disappearing off the face of the earth. On October 1st, I started a new job – my first job in almost 9 years, actually. So I knew October might be a bit on the crazy side, juggling kids, home, new job, and everything else. But then on October 2nd, my grandmother passed away aaaaaaaaaaand that was the (temporary) end of LoveLaughterLunacy. So again, I apologize and I sincerely will try not to let 6+ weeks lapse between posts here.

That said, what I’d like to share with you all today is my new job.

A couple months ago, it was becoming clearer and clearer that my days as a stay-at-home mom needed to come to an end. I was beyond stressed – I hadn’t worked since 2006. Who would hire me? Especially with my limited availability? AND make it monetarily worthwhile? I’ve done retail before and I hated it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns; there was NO WAY I was doing that again. So I decided to meet with a ridiculously smart and business-savvy friend from church to go over how she successfully launched her education blog and how I might do the same. It was quite daunting to think about, especially for one as UN-business-savvy as me so when she approached me a few days later with an offer to do some general office work for her, I jumped on it.

You know you just know when something is right? For me, these times include things like when I first kissed my husband (even though we were only 17 years old and we’d known each other for years, I just knew that was it) or when we first walked through the doors of our church. And now it also includes my job. From the very first day, I knew that this was the beginning of something really awesomely special and so far, I have not been disappointed.

My new job combines three things that are very near and dear to me – children, the arts, and education. I provide office support (and am dabbling in marketing) for an arts integration professional developer. What is that? Well, there are some school districts in the world who think that the arts (music, visual art, dance, theatre) are not important and have either done away with those programs in schools or are threatening to do so. We help these schools find the connection between the arts and the subjects that are pushed (science, technology, engineering and math), like teaching fractions through music because that’s what music notes are – fractions of the measure! What we DON’T do is show “regular” classroom teachers how to incorporate the arts so that the music/art/dance/theatre class in the school itself is abolished. Not only am I able to work at home 99% of the time, but she understands when things come up (like when my daughter running into the doorframe at her school yesterday and ending up having to go to the doctor to get checked out). She tells me all the time how happy she is with what I’m doing and how much I’ve helped her. The best part is that I don’t even feel like what I’m doing is work! It’s fun and interesting and I absolutely love it.

My friend got in on the arts integration movement in the very beginning so even though it’s a newer movement, she is already a well-established and credible source of help to struggling school districts. The sky really is the limit for her and I feel so blessed that she allowed me to join her in this journey. I can’t wait to see where we go from here!

Too Many Evils

Grocery shopping. Two words that can send the most mature adult you know into a whiny fit. Don’t shake your head – I know it’s not just me. But lately, grocery shopping has gotten even more stressfulwhich is something I didn’t even know was possible.

Once upon a time, I admit, I found grocery shopping fun. My husband and I would go together and we’d actually have a good time choosing our groceries. I know you’re thinking “she’s going to say it was before they had kids” and you’d be right but that’s (shockingly) not the only reason.

We were young. We were in our late teens and 20s, which is right smack-dab in the middle of the time in your life where you live in the here-and-now. You don’t think about the future. You buy Cheetos and you enjoy the crap out of them. You don’t care what’s in them. I’m not saying that’s all we ate but we certainly didn’t “care” as much back then about what we put in our bodies. And our metabolisms, they kept up with us. Our debit card didn’t groan during checkout because we were only buying for 2. It was glorious.

Enter the children and grocery shopping became a punishment. But not in the way you’re thinking. Well, not entirely in that way, anyway.

Wanting the absolute best for my children, I began to read labels. By reading the labels, I realized that hardly anything I had been buying was actually food; it was chemicals and fillers. Who wants to eat corn meal with “cheese flavoring”, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and yellow #6? That, my friends, are some of the listed ingredients of Cheetos. Gross.

How about fruit snacks – those low-fat gummy treats boasting that they provide your child with 100% daily value of vitamin C? First ingredient? Corn syrup. Second? Sugar. Modified corn starch. Natural and artificial flavorings. Oh, and red 40 and blue 1. Yuuuuum.

How are these things considered food? Thankfully, it seemed as though a lot of other people became concerned with this because it was getting easier to find “all natural” alternatives. Even if it wasn’t certified organic, I still felt better giving my family foods that contained actual ingredients and still do. But now even just looking for organic and/or natural ingredients isn’t enough. Enter… dun-dun-DUNNNNN… the Great GMO debate.

Ahhhh, GMOs. Genetically Modified Organism. Disclaimer: I am not a biotechnician, nor am I  an authority on genetically modified vs. conventional farming but something tells me that eating food whose genetic thumbprint has literally been modified for whatever reason (to repel aphids that can hurt the crop or to keep an apple from turning brown once the flesh has been exposed to air, etc) just isn’t good for us. The fact that Monsanto wants to keep GMO labeling off of products just maddening. I’m pretty sure I deserve to know what I’m putting into my body and the bodies of my children.

So now, as I walk through the aisle of the local supermarket, I don’t see cereal or juice or margarine. I see GMO grain (General Mills Cheerios), high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring (majority of juice) and a chemical crapstorm (margarine). To navigate through this “food” is exhausting and at this point in time, there is absolutely no way (for us) to completely avoid all the crap masquerading as food. If I could afford to buy myself a farm, grow my own fruit and vegetables and had all the time in the world to make every single thing my family ate from scratch, I would do it.

Unfortunately, it’s 2014, not 1914. We can’t do that so I do the best with what I’ve got. I avoid overly processed foods like the plague. I avoid artificial flavorings, preservatives, additives, and processed and low/no-fat stuff like the plague. It’s nothing but chemicals and our bodies were not designed to metabolize chemicals. So yes, I feed my family actual butter instead of partially hydrogenated soybean (which did you know is one of the biggest GMO crops out there?) oil and water, which is what you may know as margarine. I also buy as much local produce as possible from the various farmer’s markets in my area and I buy majority of our meat from a local butcher.

I try not to buy products owned by Big Food (General Mills, Kellogg’s, ConAgra,

Isn't this terrifying?

Isn’t this terrifying?

MARS, Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mondelez – formerly Kraft, etc) but even that is damn near impossible. Look at the image to the left. Those corporations don’t care about your health. They care about profit. And they’re sneaky. I thought I had found the spaghetti jackpot when I discovered Muir Glen Organic tomato sauce and paste. I read the label, saw none of the companies in the image to your left, and felt good about my find. Until I found out that Muir Glen is distributed by Small Planet Foods, which is owned by… wait for it… General Mills. Same with Cascadian Farms, another former favorite of mine, and most recently, GM’s newest acquisition, Annie’s Homegrown. The same General Mills that has put millions into keeping GMO labeling off the labels of your food.

Is your head spinning? Welcome to my world every two weeks! Ridiculous, isn’t it?

For the Beauty of the Earth

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” – Lucy Maud Montgomery
I think Anne of Green Gables, the character to whom the above quote belongs, is absolutely spot on. I love autumn. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy winter, spring and summer too, but there is something about autumn that I just love. This is a relatively new development. I used to favor spring although I will fully admit that I like each season for its offerings but the older I’ve gotten, the more I fall for… well, fall.
It’s like one last explosion of beauty before winter arrives, in all its starkness. I love the changing leaves and the smell of fallen leaves on the ground. I love the scent of pumpkin pie and apples and cinnamon. (While I’m at it, I love eating those things too.) Autumn is a time when routines return, extracurricular activities resume and moms who thrive on schedules and routines (like me) rejoice.
autumn-leaves-wallpapers-photos
It’s when it gets just chilly enough to require a jacket but not frigid enough to have to bundle up. You can drink that second cup of coffee without breaking a sweat. Even better yet? Hot toddies and other delectable warm libations. Warm alcoholic beverages not your favorite? You’re in luck because with October comes… Oktoberfest! Beer and merrymaking galore!

September also marks the return of football season. I’m sorry, but Sundays during football season are my favorite days of the week. (Unless my team didn’t show up to play.) And while September may mark the end of the regular baseball season, October begins post-season which is waaaay more exciting when your team is in the play-offs, like mine. (Let’s go, O’s!)

Are you seriously not convinced yet? How about the holidays? There’s Labor Day. (I count September as autumn. It’s my blog. I can do what I want.) Columbus Day. Two 3-day weekends in back-to-back months. Who doesn’t like that? Then there’s Halloween. Now I admit, Halloween isn’t nearly as fun from around college graduation until you have kids but once you have kids? It’s great! You get to “test” all their candy. We have 3 children. Life is grand for my husband and me in November. And then

Does this not look fantastic?

Does this not look fantastic?

there’s Thanksgiving. A holiday created, in part, for gorging yourself on the tastiest food known to mankind. Roasted turkey. Mashed potatoes. Stuffing. Sweet potato casserole. Pumpkin pie. Apple pie.

 It’s the time of year when delicious treats like caramel apples – okay, caramel in general – is IN season and swimsuits are NOT. When you can wrap yourself up in a soft, comfy sweater while you smell the soup you’ve had simmering all day. It is the homiest time of year and who doesn’t love feeling homey?
And there is aaaaaaaabsolutely nothing that beats an autumn sunsets. Nothing. I don’t care if you’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, when you see the sky explode into

Nothing beats an autumn sunset.

Nothing beats an autumn sunset.

stunning shades of pink, orange, periwinkle, yellow and purple, you can’t help but feel happy. As you sip your hot buttered rum (or mulled wine, or…) while you’re snuggled up on the couch with your loved one. With a crackling fire in the fireplace. Watching a new episode of your favorite show because what else happens in autumn? That’s right, the new TV season!

So, my dear friends, you can try and argue that winter/spring/summer is better than autumn but you’d be wrong. Now excuse me while I go check on the soup that’s been simmering all day because it smells fantastic.

Sugar and Spice

Here’s a funny story: When my husband and I first started dating, we were 17 years old. Being a starry-eyed teenage girl, I often dreamed about my future family and would share those dreams with my OMG-why-is-she-talking-about-weddings-and-children?!-run-run-RUUUUUN!! teenage boyfriend. One day, I dared to say I wanted at least one daughter. Now, my husband is one of three boys. He wanted no parts of having any girls and told me, in no specific terms, that since gender was decided by the male’s “contribution” that if we were to get married one day, all our children would be boys. (All four of our children, I might add. Ha. Hahaha.)

Fast-forward to summer 2005. I was pregnant with our first child. At the end of July, we headed to the doctor for the 20 week anatomy scan. I’m planner so I wanted to know if I should be painting pink or blue and buying baseball mitts and footballs or baby dolls and strollers. My pompous spouse claimed there was no reason for the scan – he knew the baby was boy and recalled his proclamation from 10 years before. And, well, if you read my first-ever LoveLaughterLunacy article, you’ll recall that I did, in fact, have a little boy. A little boy that I love to pieces.

As much as I adored my son, I still hoped to have a daughter one day. You see, my mom and I are built-in best friends much the same way my mom and her mom were. I remember how difficult it was for my mom after my grandmother’s death and it made me feel good knowing that she could still have a relationship like that with me – albeit with her role switched – and I wanted that for myself one day.

Fast-forward once again to spring 2008. I was once again pregnant and utterly convinced that the child I was carrying was another little boy. Not that I would have been unhappy with another boy but I was truly ecstatic when the tech pointed out girly bits. A built-in BFF! Pink! Lace! Sparkles and glitter! In October that year, our little baby girl was born and OH.MY.GOD., did she take the world by storm with her blond hair and massively huge blue eyes. And boy oh boy, does she take being a girl seriously.

When I found out in August 2010 that we were to be blessed with another baby, I didn’t have a preference either way. I didn’t care if I had two boys and one girl or two girls and one boy but I knew from the beginning that this one was a little girl so when the tech confirmed it, I just shook my head at my “I’m-only-ever-having-boys” husband. This little girl was born in spring 2011 with a head full of dark hair and big brown eyes.

Daddy and the two girls he swore he'd never have.

Daddy and the two girls he swore he’d never have.

Watching my husband with our new baby and our precocious toddler, I knew we were in for it and I was right. Oh, how I was right.

Our first daughter will turn 6 in less than a month and she is too smart for her own good and beautiful and stubborn and severely independent and more complex than a kid should be. Miss Drama Queen will gladly do what you want her to do – on her own terms, in her own time. Let me tell you, parenting her is a challenge. It’s a fine line between allowing her to explore that fierce independence and making her follow the rules of the house and it’s something that we honestly work on every day. We do not want to break her spirit because oh, is she spirited but OMG, kid – listen to your parents!! At least I’ll never need to worry about anyone walking all over her because this kid would never allow that to happen.

Which brings us to our third and final child, our little Pooh Bear Butt. Within minutes of her birth nearly three and a half years ago, she had her father completely and totally smitten. Oh my God, you guys. It’s bad. He’ll watch her eat and smile. He thinks the way she chews is cute. This little girl is definitely more docile than her older sister but don’t let that make you think she’s a pushover. No no no, Pooh is quite the force. Her superpower isn’t fearless independence like her big sister. You know what her superpower is? I’ll let you in on the secret: she lures you into thinking that she is a sweet little angel and then BAM! She narrows those eyes and takes a massive chomp out of her sister’s arm. Or wings a Matchbox car at her brother’s head (which may or not have been something I used to do with my brother). She may be tiny but she is fierce and she isn’t about to let the fact that she’s the baby of the family mean that she gets shortchanged.

It goes without saying that even though I dreamed about my family years before they ever came into the world, I never imagined I’d have three kids with such crazy, fun personalities – and yet, as numerous people have commented – still be so totally different. I can honestly say that watching their personalities come out has been my absolute favorite thing about having children. And I can’t help but laugh at my out-numbered husband every time his girls bat their big eyes at him. Dude has NO idea what awaits us in 5-6 more years when puberty hits. It’s all sugar and spice and everything nice when they’re little but that doesn’t last forever.

Sweet Sorrow

Confession: I stink at goodbyes. Like, really really badly. Unfortunately next week I have to say farewell to a woman who has come to mean a lot to me and the idea of it honestly fills me with dread.

A little back story is in order. When my husband and I moved to our current home, it was way more of a whirlwind decision than buying a house and moving out of state should be. And for awhile after we moved here in November ’06, we weren’t happy. We loved our house but we disliked everything about this town. We were only an hour away from family and most friends but it felt so much further.

Autumn ’09, in particular, was a pretty bad time for me. Don’t get me wrong – things with my husband and kids were fine but I was miserable. We had been operating with just one car for over a year at that point so when my husband drove to work each day, I was literally STUCK at home with a little kid and an infant all day. Every day. I couldn’t even run to the grocery store if we ran out of milk. It took its toll on me and I remember sobbing to my husband that something had to change. I needed this huge void that had taken over to be filled.

Growing up, I attended church religiously (hahaha, see what I did there?) and I realized I really, really missed that. We tried getting involved in the Catholic church down the street but it just didn’t click. It wasn’t welcoming, there was no literature on how to get involved in stuff, nothing. After that experiment was a dud, I I told my born-and-raised Catholic husband that I wanted to try a Lutheran church. The very next Sunday, off we went.

Walking through the doors of that church in November ’09 turned out to be a life changing moment. From the second I walked in, we were welcomed warmly by everyone. The first time I heard the organ, I got chills up and down my spine. (Turns out it’s the 8th largest organ in the world.) The ushers assured us all through the service that our children were not, in fact, behaving like heathens. We went back again the following Sunday. Five days after that, I joined the choir.

Now, not many people who know me now know that for years, I had planned on majoring in music. For the longest time, music was my life. The stupidest decision I ever made was giving it all up after some drama with various band people my senior year. I regret that every day, even over *cough* 18 *cough* years later but joining choir was like… well, it was like being let out of a prison and into the sunlight for the first time in decades but what made it an even sweeter deal for me were the people who ran the choir.

I absolutely fell in love with them both.

The Minister of Music is a force. He is so ridiculously talented and funny and smart and he makes you want to be the best version of you that you can possibly manage to be. He is amazing with everyone, from 3 year olds to 103 year olds. He is one of the most amazing disciples of Christ I have ever known. And then there’s the Associate Minister of Music. She is quiet and unassuming even though she is not only the Associate Minister of Music but also an Associate in Ministry, a composer (and one of the most internationally respected hand bell composers ever), an organist, a pianist, a harpist… She has every right to be a pompous jerk about it but she is exactly the opposite of that. Put these two awesome people together and it’s just magic. It really is. They go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

It was she who first asked me to play the flute for a church service. Everything in me was screaming no because I hadn’t played in eons but I said yes. With her gentle guidance, she gave me the confidence to do it again. And again. And again. I’ve played for 25 people at the Saturday evening service and I’ve played for hundreds of people in the community singers concert. Me. I played with her for the last time just this past Saturday and I don’t know if she could tell but I could barely see the notes on the page through all the tears in my eyes. To be honest, I feel a little silly being so emotional over this – after all, I met her not even 5 years ago! I don’t really know how to explain it but in so many ways, this woman touched my soul and changed my life. She awakened the lost musician in me and gave me the confidence to perform again – not only instrumentally, but vocally too. She changed my life and I, very very very selfishly, am ridiculously sad I only got to be in her presence for 5 years.

So. KLB. If you ever read this, this is the goodbye I could never give you in person because I’d be a blubbering mess. (Like I am right now, but you can’t see me. Ha.) I cannot possibly even begin to thank you for everything you’ve done for me and brought back into my life. You are an amazing woman, a ridiculously talented musician, and I will miss you (and your eyes that literally twinkle when you laugh) more than I can ever say. Godspeed to you and happy retirement. May you receive the blessings that you’ve given to others tenfold.

About A Boy

aboutaboy-2Not just any boy though. My boy.

In so many ways, my son is just like yours. He’s 8 years old so burps and farts are, like, the funniest things ever. He is obsessed with cars and is the proud owner of hundreds (I’m serious – hundreds) of Matchbox and Hot Wheels die casts. He enjoys tormenting his little sisters. He is teetering on the precipice of knowing it all and realizing his parents know nothing.

My son, who will be 9 later this year, was born with several different visual impairments.

So my son is not like yours.

When he was first diagnosed, the outlook was grim. The pediatric ophthalmologist said our boy might never see. In the blink of an eye, the hopes and dreams I’d spent months (years, if I’m being completely honest) imagining for my child were in jeopardy. I mourned, I did. It might sound silly but I mourned big things, like the death of the plan I’d had all set for my new little family, and I mourned smaller things, like my husband not being able to play catch with his boy. While every parent is apprehensive over the battles that their children will all face one day, I agonized knowing that my son would face those in addition to the ones his impairments would bring him. I was angry. I was sad. I cursed that life wasn’t fair and that my sweet baby boy didn’t deserve all this.

I still feel that way.

But despite the grim prognosis, my boy has flourished. With every expectation he exceeds, my anguish and anxiety dulls little by little. His vision may not be like yours or mine but he sees.

Some people see him and they only see his disability. If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard “poor kid,” I’d be a rich, rich woman. What they don’t realize is what my son’s visual impairments give him. Because of his low vision, my son has the ability to judge someone based solely on one thing – the way they treat him. He doesn’t care if you’re overweight, what color your skin is, what you do for a living or what kind of clothes you wear. If you’re nice to him, you’re allright in his book. His low vision has helped shape my little boy into the person he is – sweet, loving, and able to relate to the most common – and also the most beautiful – core of humanity – the soul.

My son has unknowingly worked his entire life to never let his disabilities define who he is. He’s done so well, in fact, that upon talking to my 5 year old daughter a few weeks ago about how everyone is different, she was floored to learn that her big brother had an actual visible visual issue – never mind the internal ones. She’d never noticed it because she just sees her brother. This epiphany brought me to tears – both in pride for my girl and in shame for myself.

Raising a special needs child is difficult, it really is. You worry for their present and their future. You worry how to provide for your other children. You wonder how you’re going to give them all the care they require. You wonder how this will affect your own future and the future of your family, even your bank account. The doctors’ appointments, the therapist reports, there are a lot and they take up a lot of time. They’re tiring. They’re not always uplifting.

But watching my boy defy the odds every day of his life is a blessing. Watching him connect with a person’s soul is astoundingly beautiful. Seeing him bring a smile to the faces of so many people he meets is amazing. Learning from his sweet soul has inspired me to live more like him.

Judge less, accept more. Imagine if everyone lived like that. The world could do with more people like my son.