The Tragedy of Hello

I didn't write nor did I read to myself.

I played games. And read aloud to little ones. And held those little cherubs. And played Duck, Duck, Goose. And Yahtzee. And Connect Four and more.

I watched as they laughed their way down a steep hill covered in ice, tumbling over sides of sleds as they reached the bottom, snow covered faces.

I watched as they opened gifts that called out to them the last days of Christmas. Watched them play with those toys for the first time – scoot trucks across the floor, shoot BB's through their new air rifle, model new dresses made for a princess, shine light throughout the darkness by means of the mouth of a roaring lion and a giggling hippo.

We read books about trucks and mighty tractors. And princesses. And little critters. And green eggs and ham. And a baby named Jesus. And Bethlehem. And we laughed some more. And we played some more.

Exchanging gifts on the morning of Jesus' birthday, the most beautiful was a mirrored snowman that reflected pure, unselfish love with which it was made. Wrapped with a red scarf – or a pipe cleaner, whichever the eye chooses to see. Red symbolizing the heart – beating strong, beating hard.

Then came moments long dreaded. Moments filled with preparations for our leaving. To find our way back home to a place where I know I won't be able to breath for a time. I won't be able to think through a day without tears. Tears of sorrow for something distanced that I desperately want close once again. Tears of grief for something I have lost in proximity, at the very least. Tears of pain from my heart being ripped apart – once again.

You may not understand. May not be able to say you know how it feels because you have never felt it. Have never had your heart ripped out. Have never lost something so priceless, had something taken away that you held so dear. You may not know. You may not understand. But them, you may know all too well, maybe even to a greater depth than I.

In the missing of understanding, the goodbyes were inevitably, inevitable. A new job had to be secured. A new caregiver found. Replacements put into place. Out with the old, in with the new. Unfortunately, I am the old.

Later, we knocked at your door and you answered. Welcomed inside, we reminisced. Laughed. Shared. And then once again, the goodbyes are inevitable, inevitable. With tears. With young minds that don't understand the why of goodbyes. With older minds that understand but find it oh so hard to accept. With each hello, we now know there will be another goodbye. This makes the hellos difficult and the goodbyes a bittersweet tragedy.

We inch toward home, mile by mile, moment by moment, the distance far, the time dragging on. There is no excitement. There is nothing waiting to take the place of the smiles that filled the last bit of life. Sorrow fills the air like a strong arm around your neck, suffocating the life out of you.

But I know there will be a place of contentment. I know that even in the lack of happiness, joy can still exist. These things I have learned well this past year. These things I put my hope in: in contentment I will find Peace. In hope, a Companion of compassion.

We travel down the road and, as I brush glitter from my shirt, I comment that we have forgotten one item. Left back there behind us. A coffee press.

We will survive without it.

A few more miles. Another comment is made of something else left behind. I ask what it is. A toothbrush? A sock?

“A piece of your heart.”

Ah, yes. That's why it hurts so bad.

LI wonder if God felt that hole when Christ came to earth… Did a piece of His heart leave heaven?


Rainy Day Ideas for Little Ones

It's not summer break, but having the kiddos home from school over the holidays can drive you to insanity. They're excited for Christmas, Hanukka, etc., and you're desperately trying to get the house in order before Uncle Jed arrives with his new dog. To top it off, it’s been raining non-stop for a week. Trying to keep the kids entertained can be mind boggling. If you’re feeling as if you’re at your wits-end, try a few of these suggestions for bringing some activity indoors without losing your mind.

Play-Dough! One item sure to please and you can make it yourself. Incorporate the kids into the process to make it a family affair! You’ll need:

2 cups flour2 cups warm water1 cup salt2 Tablespoons vegetable oilFood coloring

Mix all ingredients together. Stir over low heat. After dough pulls away from sides, remove from heat and cool. Make sure you cook it long enough so it feels like Play-Doh and doesn’t get sticky.

Turn the dough onto clean counter. Knead until smooth. Divide the dough into balls for coloring. Make a divot in the center of the ball, and drop some food coloring in. Fold the dough over, working the food color through the body of the playdough, trying to keep the raw dye away from your hands and the counter. You could use gloves or plastic wrap at this stage to keep your hands clean- only the concentrated dye will color your skin, so as soon as it’s worked in, bare hands are fine. Work the dye through, adding more as necessary to achieve your chosen color. Store in air-tight container or bag.

Tried the Play-Dough and need something a bit more entertaining? Try fingerpainting. Make your own and paint cardboard boxed, grocer sacks or whatever thick paper you have on hand. You could even use a few layers of newspapers. Here’s the recipe:

2 cups white flour2 cups cold waterFood coloring

Put water into a large bowl. Slowly add the flour, while children stir. Once it’s all mixed together, divide into smaller bowls and add food coloring.

Once you’ve decorated those cardboard boxes, put them to use after they’ve dried and let the kids make a fort. Add markers, cut outs, curtains using blankets and more.

For some less industrious activities, have a gym party. Have everyone change into their exercise outfits’ (they choose). Put on some wild up-beat music and lead your little class in sit-ups, jumping jacks, push-ups, running in place and more. Spice it up with using the Simon Says’ game idea, do finger exercises, exercise while sitting in a chair, move from room to room, doing a different exercise in each room. When you’re finished, have a healthy snack of finger carrots and juice.

If it’s lunch time, take the kids on a picnic! Spread a tablecloth on the living room floor and sprinkle some plastic ants on top for effect. Bring out the chips, sandwiches, etc. and read a favorite story together. For a picnic game, try Duck, Duck, Goose’ around the table cloth!

Card games, board games, charades and Pictionary-type games are always fun for kids on a rainy day. Liven it up by writing your own Pictionary ideas.

Something fun that has been around for years and uses up those old crayons is making new crayons! Melt the broken/used ones in the oven, creating new’ colors in paper-lined muffin trays (make sure to remove outer paper on crayons first). After heating on 250 for about 10 minutes, remove and let harden. When cooled, bring out the paper and let the artists in your house draw til their hearts content.

A treasure hunt throughout the house is welcome rain or shine. Plant clues throughout, one leading to the other with a prize at the end. The kids will be kept busier with the more clues you have, so why not keep them going with a basket of goodies at the end filled with new coloring books or drawing pads, puzzles, markers, crayons, etc.

The key to making rainy day’s kid successful is to be prepared before they are here. Keep supplies on hand at all times, with a few treats’ stored away for emergencies. Not only will the wintry, wet days be met with less duress, but also you’ll find some of your best memories will be made indoors!


Parental Encouragement

“Hi, my name is Mommy and I’m dead tired. I have ten kids, all under the age of five and I think they all learned to run by the age of seven months. They’ve been chasing me ever since.”

Daniel pipes up with his tale of parenting his sixteen year old daughter, stating that the day she got her lisence is the last day he’s seen the family car – or his daughter.

If there were such a thing as Parents Anonymous, you can make a sure fire bet that it would be full each session. Why? Parents need support. They need to mark the calendar each night to see that yes, they made it through another day. They need encouragement when little Jr. uses all of the toilet paper to make roadways for his Hot Wheels.

Mommy, who's forgotten that her real name is Martha has stepped into a good place – where she will receive the encouragement to keep on keeping on, even if she’s being outrun by ten crazy kids. Daniel may need a private detective to track down his car because he knows if they find his car, they will find his daughter, too.

Both situations are hypothetical and yet, are they? Parenting can be exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. I remember when my kids were all under eight and I asked a friend. “Does this ever get easier?” I slightly heard her answer as I reached out to grab one of the wee ones from going into the street.

“Well,” she almost seemed afraid to answer. “It gets different.”

She was right. We went from physically running after those three little toe-headed kids to mentally fretting over them. Was it worth the twenty-five years we’ve invested in them? No hesitation. Of course.

The midnight runs to the ER for earaches that wouldn’t stop. Opening the front door to see your five-year-old riding down the thirteen feet of banister rail to the cement below unscathed. Helping your eight-year-old daughter pack and make sure she has enough peanut butter when she decides to run away from home. Watching home videos of your sporty son break his arm while snowboarding on a sheet of ice or jumping off the neighbor’s roof and onto the trampoline below. It was all worth it.

Ah yes, memories. The kind that at first may seen horrendous but within months, you can’t recount the stories without laughing.

No one said parenting is easy. It’s hard work and you never get it one hundred percent correct every time. However, you try and you keep at it and the pay off is priceless.

How do you keep your perspective when things seem so tough? You have to have a sense of humor. When Jr. #2 defies your insistence of not chewing on the dog toys, it’s hard not to laugh when his little smile turns up and indirectly his face says, “Who, me?”

When the kids are bickering, consider locking them all in the bathroom at once and tell them they are to scrub it and not to come out until it shines. That provides close quarters for unity and bonding. It sure worked for my neighbor and they have one of the greatest families I know. Be creative when it comes to parenting. What works for one child will most likely not work for the other.

One mom I knew told her kids when they would bicker with each other, to take a walk around the block and keep going around until they could return as friends or at least until the bickering had ceased. Of course, you don’t want to encourage this method if it’s not a safe neighborhood.

Your kids will soon begin to grow from the toddler stages and into elementary and middle schools where they will learn to make potato guns and fling the starchy beasts over the neighborhood rooftops. Perhaps they will even return home one afternoon at the wee age of eight, in the back seat of a patrol car for flinging baby carrots over their best friend’s fence at cars passing by, pretending they are in the army, blowing up the enemy.

They proceed to continue to get older, into the teenage years, learning to drive, go to the prom and find their first true love. Does parenting get easier? No. It gets different. The key to keeping your sanity and finding the lighter side so you make it across the finish line, is to smile. Smile, throw carrots with your kids (not at cars – one may end up being a police car), sit up in their tree house and count the stars at night, and when they’re all huddled in the bathroom working through their disagreements, close your eyes and thank God. The next blink and they’ll be gone.

There Should Be A 12 Step Program for Parents

Sadie walked in the room. The circle of adults, shoulders sagging from weariness, all looked as she felt – worn out. Sitting down, she was asked to state her name and why she was there. She chose to stay sitting, as any strength she had left from the days’ activities had been zapped earlier, when she tried to free herself from being locked in the closet earlier that afternoon, by her energetic six year old.

“My name is Sadie Tuckerdout. I am a mother of five and I have nothing left to give.”

Unfortunately, she was in the wrong building and was shooed out and redirected with a ‘Good Luck’ by the only one in the group who looked as if she understood.

There is no 12-step program for weary, heavy-laden parents, but there is hope. A 12-step program implies hope from an addiction. A parent is dedicated to his kids, not necessarily addicted to them. In fact, those seeking a ’12-step’ something or other, truly could be considered dedicated as they are searching for help to either better themselves, their family, their existing relationships, are in need of support – or all of the above.

There is help, but you may have to create it. You can find the support you need. Begin by checking out the neighboring churches in your area. Undoubtedly, there will be parenting classes for all ages, support groups for moms or couples, or a conference coming up that you would be welcome to attend. Every parent struggles at some stage in the role of raising a child and parents needs to know that someone has walked that road before them and made it through with their sanity intact. All the churches I’ve ever attended won’t trick you into joining if they’re truly there to reach the community and provide support and help.

Does your child have an addiction? Are you overwhelmed and don’t know where to turn? Get into a support group as fast as you can, with others who are dealing with a similar struggle. There is no replacement for talking to someone who is a little further along the parenthood path. Only they can honestly understand and tell you what has worked and what has not – ideas you may not have even considered.

Being a new mom can be extremely overwhelming. There are many support groups for after the baby is born for new moms. Check with you pediatrician’s office, the hospital information center, the YMCA, and again, churches hold a variety of gatherings for people of all ages and various needs. Baby swim classes and the like connect you with other moms in the same stage of life and are beneficial emotionally and physically for both mom and her little one.

Toddlers keep you on the go 24/7. MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers, give mom a time to get out and interact with other moms with little ones while allowing playtime for Jr., as well. Click on to find the nearest group near you and begin getting support from moms just like you.

As you hang around your kids’ sports games, extra curricular activities, etc., you are bound to meet other parents who have like frustrations and issues. There are two blessings to this right away. First, you do not feel isolated and alone and as if you are the only one struggling. Someone else is there with you and you slowly begin to realize something truly wonderful… You are normal! Second, you may need to be bold if you’re more of an introvert, but invite the other mom for tea and make a new friend! My kid’s best friends’ moms actually became my best friends and family outings increased in attendance and were always a blast.

There may not be a 12-step program for parents, but parents need support and the sooner you step out and get it – join a group, invite another mom for coffee – the sooner you’ll see… you’re not alone.


What Grandma or Grandpa Really Need for Christmas

My parents and in-laws are in their 70′s. Each year my kids ask what they think their grandparents would like for Christmas and my answer is always the same… “Whatever they like, they buy. Whatever they need, they buy. I DON’T KNOW!” But, the fact is, I do know what they’d like and need more than anything: feeling loved and their family wanting to spend time with them. That seems simple enough, but in reality, it’s not done so well these days.

Grandparents crave love. They often feel useless, as if their time here on earth is over already and they are no longer needed. They long for that assurance of being loved, wanted, useful. They need to know they still have something to offer.

Just how do you show a grandparent (or someone of that age) that they’re needed?

We had a preschool nearby that has a Thanksgiving feast each year that celebrated the children’s grandparents. The preschoolers were to invite their grandparents to school for that day in order that they could be honored and enjoy a special meal with their grandchild. But unfortunately, many of the preschoolers didn't have grandparents in town that were able to attend and the parents of these little ones were asked to find a substitute/adopted grandparent. I watched the foster grandparents fill in and the joy they had that day as grandma or grandpa was immeasurable.

I’ve worked in an adult day care center at a local hospital. Seniors are checked in early and spend the entire day there. What do they enjoy most? Spending time with with others – someone showing them that they matter – that they still have something to offer in life.

These grandparents love to play games. Why not give your grandparents a deck of cards with a note attached for a regular/weekly standing engagement for an hour of fun?

One thing I noticed at the center was that seniors love to dance. It’s a relaxing and gentle exercise that accomplishes several things: movement, laughter, touch. They love to dance with someone. They love to sit and talk about their past and their kids and grandkids. They love to make things. And they love to sing. But they don’t like to do it alone. They like to have others with them.

How do you give the gift of making them feel needed? You need to make a plan. Schedule some TIME to spend with them. Go for a walk with them. Play a game of cards. Read to them. Many senior aged people have a difficult time reading due to poor eyesight and love to be read to.

My father in-law plays the piano for a retirement home where the seniors come and sing hymns on Sunday evenings. They love to sing old hymns. Why not take a grandparent to a local hymn sing? Or how about calling grandma and seeing if she can “play” – not babysit. Get out the games and the coloring books and set her up near Junior so they can color together. She will love the one on one time with her grandchild without feeling like she is there to watch him.

I have a friend who regularly goes for lunch with her granddaughters. She always has so much to talk about after the time she has spent with them. She looks forward to those times with much excitement and it means the world to her that her granddaughters want to be with her so often.

An older gentleman I know is a genius at math. He tutors local high school students after school each day. He loves feeling that he still has a purpose in life and the kids adore him. Next time Junior’s struggling with his math problems, don’t get frustrated – call grandpa. He’d be honored.

Grandma’s love to be dolled up. Treat yours to a manicure or a pedigree. She would love to feel and be pampered. My daughter and I did this a couple of years ago for my mother in-law for her birthday and she felt like a queen.

Another great activity to make grandma or grandparents feels needed is to interview them. They love to feel like they have something worthwhile to say and they have a multitude of wisdom. Type up the information into a little book and find some pictures to go with the history and present it as a gift back to her/him.

Do your grandparents have a dog? Maybe you can be the weekly pooper scooper for a while or take the dog for a walk once or twice a week. And in the winter, a commitment to shoveling the snow in the driveway would be a much welcomed gift.

Spend the day at grandma’s or grandpa’s house and offer to help out with those menial tasks that never get done: a plumbing job, hanging some pictures, dusting under heavy items, rearranging furniture, cleaning the freezer/refrigerator, shampooing the carpet, raking leaves.

Giving a gift for once a month housecleaning or showing up to do it yourself would bring a smile to any woman and a car wash would bring a smile to any senior man who loves his car.

There are a myriad of possibilities to give a grandparent that they need or really want. But it all comes down to wrapping it in love and spending time with them while they unwrap it.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today is December 4th.
Today is my dad's birthday.
My dad taught me many things in this life. Like, how to change a flat tire.
And how to do things right and well, not the 'mickey mouse' or the 'deskin' way.

He taught me to respect others. And to pick up after myself.

My dad taught me many things in this life, either by word or deed.

Some say may dad could be strict and sometimes it seemed that way.

But, the older I've gotten, this much I have learned:

My dad kept me protected and safe with his rules and boundaries.

Without them, life could have been full of regrets, guilt, and shame.

My dad could have changed that tire for me or paid for someone else to do it,
but then I may have grown up expecting the world owed me something
(and I wouldn't have known how to change a flat tire).

My dad made me do things right and not 'mickey mouse',

give it my best, finish well, be responsible and to take pride in what I do.

I could have ended up an uncaring, selfish, disrespectful, lazy person who expected others to clean up after me and to do what I could do for myself but, my dad cared too much for that to happen.

So, thanks dad.

I realize now that the times you said no when I wanted to hear yes, when I said 'good enough' and you said 'not yet', when I said 'help' and you guided as you made me do it myself – you weren't being the meanie — you were loving me.

Happy Birthday, dad. I love you.

A lot.