Still Learning

Her gaze was unyielding as she looked at me and said,

“You can do this. You have it in you.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled.

“How many children do you have?”

“A four year old and a baby,” I replied.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That would be simple. I have six children! And we have done just fine. You will too.”

Even though I smiled and nodded, I think she spotted the uncertainty in my eyes.

“You really can do this. Trust that you can do anything.”

With that, she handed me cash for her items she had purchased at my garage sale and left. It was as if she had been sent as a confirmation to all the other messages I had received. For weeks leading up to our meeting, every time I turned the dial on the radio or changed the channel on the television I was confronted with the subject but had tried to dismiss it.

The question that hung over my head was: Did I have what it would take to home school?

There were those who would question the socialization of my daughters as if they were living life in a cave sequestered away from “the real world.” And, by what right did I have to educate them when I lacked a teaching degree but had successfully completed high school along with a B.A. in Psychology? Would the kids resent me later for not sending them to school?  Was I damaging them for life?

Despite these terrifying thoughts, this woman’s words penetrated my heart that I could take on the task of home education and successfully raise two strong, intelligent women. Her encouragement brought about a clear cut decision so much so that I began working that summer with my preschooler on workbooks just to test the waters.

It proved to be that it was the right direction to go, and the following year when she was to board a school bus, she was at home sounding out consonants and coming to understand vowels. One of her favorite subjects was reading out loud to me as she walked around the room with her book. I had heard that for some kids, learning came easier for them when not chained to a desk. So as she fluttered about the room, I helped her get a grip on simple sentences and story lines.  At times, I had to draw things on paper to keep her attention, and I am the first to admit that I lack the skill to draw, however, despite this, she discovered ideas about American history.  As we progressed, I bought curriculum packages that had captivating photography and hands on learning to enhance the experience.

Because of a four year age gap between the two girls, I started kindergarten all over again as the older one moved into third grade. This began what I called my “ping pong ball” years where I would bounce between the two to answer questions to clear up brain fog.  While just finishing up in one room I would hear these phrases called out,

“Mom! I don’t get this!”

“I think I am done with this!”

“Mom, what is this?!”

And so my days were consumed with explanations and at times reading my teaching manuals to be sure I was giving out accurate information.  I always had the inner critic telling me that I wasn’t equipped to do it, that I was missing something, and that someone else could do the job better than I could.

In between the studies, we regularly attended group activities that included field trips and specialty classes.  At one point, I was helping plan day trips, writing a newsletter and teaching gym classes to various ages. While one was in ice skating, the other was in dance. Sometimes, we had to do “car school” as we ran from one event to the next. For those who think isolation is inherent to teaching kids outside of school, think again. There were days I longed for quiet time.

So the years rolled on and my first daughter graduated. It was at this point that I realized I only had four years left. It felt like a lifetime in front of us until it wasn’t.

This past week, I sent in the final progress reports to the private school that my youngest child has been apart of. All of her online classes had been viewed and all the book work completed. It was a mixture of sheer joy but also a tinge of sadness like saying goodbye to a friend for good.

It seems unreal to say she is done. I am done. We are finished.

Add to this unconventional way of living the fact that she requested not to have a celebration at home but wanted to go to Hawaii to see the ocean for the first time in her life.

While waiting for take off, I kept wondering where the time had gone and how did I find myself on a plane bound for paradise? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were learning to color and tell time? I glanced across the aisle at the two who seemed much at ease with leaving behind the old for a new adventure. Youth can somehow do that a little easier than those who have put a few years on.

I looked at my bottle of water and recalled the science lessons on evaporation and how liquids become solids. How we planted seeds in the garden and sprinkled them daily with the hose. How excited they both were to watch the progress of a plant sprout and spread out into a big sunflower in the garden.  Just like them.  How they have grown so much while I thought I was paying attention.

As we took flight, I glanced out my window that took me back to our days of geography and learning about cities and various terrain. Using colored pencils to shade in maps that would help solidify learning for those of us who aren’t so knowledgeable on what country exits on what part of the globe.

All of these things have been on my mind as I don’t know how to fill in the gap of home schooling that has been a part of my house for nearly eighteen years.  The realization has come that just because I was led to complete a short term mission in life doesn’t make it mine forever.

That is the key.  We get caught up in the idea that what we have today will be here tomorrow.   There is a grieving that makes us automatically feel empty and unsure about what to do next when the ‘for sure thing’ no longer exists.  This is the space where we have to make a decision to either see it as a negative or a positive.  I could say,

It has ended,” and spend my time crying in a corner.  Or I can say,

“This is just the beginning of something good coming up next.”  

We all got out of bed at five a.m. to drive to a beach the other day.  Not my normal routine, but when in Hawaii, you do things you usually wouldn’t.  As I stood on the shore and watched the sunrise, I understood.  Some would say that the night had ended, and some would say that the day had begun. Simultaneously, both events were happening and one couldn’t happen without the other.   It’s the natural order of how God has created life to be.  To fight against it mentally really is unnecessary.  We cannot change the ebb and flow of certain situations, but we can chose to see ourselves as instruments to be used  to impart love to our families, our friends and to humanity.  Just because something has come to a halt doesn’t mean that we are washed up or unnecessary.  We are agents waiting with open hearts ready to take on our next assignment for the greater good.  We are meant to expand and develop more understanding as time passes in order to be complete and whole.

“When is high tide?” I asked my daughter as we stood on a beach.

“I don’t know.”

“When is low tide?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Me either.”

We looked at each other puzzled.

“How can we not know this?” I said grabbing my cellphone to look it up. All these years of schooling and neither one of us could recall the information.

That says to me that just because the school bell has rung one final time doesn’t mean that we aren’t still learning.

 

sunshine

 

 

A Mother’s Pledge

We met when she was thirty-six. I didn’t know it, but she had five children in her care. By the time we became acquainted, the first four kids were thirteen, twelve, eleven and ten while the fifth one was headed for the age of seven. Unaware of the fact that she cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, cared for the sick when a pandemic swept through the house, made school lunches, and stitched up holes in clothes, I was just another one to round it all out by being the sixth.

She thought her pregnancy years were behind her, but I showed up to let her know she was wrong. According to one of my sisters, after she got home from the doctor and she had learned of her state of affairs, she wasn’t quite herself. She removed her coat, stood and stared out the picture window overlooking the street and absent mindlessly began to remove her blouse button by button. Her idea was to change into more casual clothes but she forgot she was not in the privacy of her bedroom. She was stopped before she got too far and brought back to her senses. She laughed at herself, but it was quite apparent that she was in some form of shock.

It must have been rough to be up at night with a newborn only to have the alarm sound at five a.m. to get breakfast ready so that everyone could be out the door on time for school. Once the house was quiet, much of her time was spent cleaning and making beds. Before she knew it, they were all back home.

As the years went by, life didn’t get any less difficult as everyone had after school sports, activities and jobs. Supper became like a restaurant shift where some had to eat early and others had to eat late. When I was four, she was in the height of carting people from various destinations before everyone had their license to drive or owned their own car.

The one thing she never wavered on was her appearance. No matter the stress, she always wanted to be out in public looking her best with hair combed and clothes neat. She didn’t want the world to see a disheveled woman who looked like she didn’t have it all together.

I always went along in the station wagon while she drove around town. While she was dropping one off, she usually was picking up another. I tried to stick close to her side as she always seemed in a rush during this process, and I didn’t want to get left behind in the chaos.

“Chrissy, we have to go,” she said as she walked through the living room. This meant I was to put away my toys and prepare to leave.  Because of our hectic life, she generally spoke in short sentences to get her point across without explanation.

“Time to get up.”  “Clean your room.”  “Go to your room.” “Go help your dad.”  “Go to sleep.”

I followed her into her bedroom as usual while she went to her dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and began fixing her hair with her hands quickly. I could tell by her movements she was in a hurry. She grabbed a can and sprayed in circles all around her head to be sure all strands would stay in place.  This was the era of big hair and complicated styles requiring many applications of high powered aerosol. She gave herself one quick look and then turned to see me standing waiting for her.

“What smells like lemons?” she asked me.

I didn’t understand, and I didn’t answer. She sniffed the air to try and detect where the odor was coming from.  I saw her eyebrows come together.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it!”  Her mouth was wide open.

She spun around and glanced at the product she had just used.

“Furniture polish! I just sprayed myself with lemon furniture polish!  I thought it was hairspray!”

We raced out the door with my mother smelling like an end table.

When a woman becomes a mom, there is an invisible document that is signed within the sight of God where an oath is taken to let bits and pieces of oneself go while caring for the family.  It stretches us to our limits at times but in that process we begin to see how wide and deep our love can go. There are moments of such great frustration followed immediately by dandelion bouquets and sloppy hugs in which all is forgiven.

Our world is so fast paced you might not always recognize those who are working in the trenches, and often times, it is subtle. But, the next time you see a mom out in the store patiently dealing with a screaming toddler, stop for a minute and realize how blessed you are that you have just come into contact with someone who has taken a mother’s pledge.

 

mom

(The other thing…it was never too early to begin your first real novel.  Her favorite hobby is reading)

Loved From Head to Tail

I flopped into my bed at sunrise after a night of Black Friday shopping. I shivered under the covers as a slight hypothermia had started to set in. In a drowsy state waiting for sleep to fully descend, a picture began to form in my thoughts of my youngest daughter carrying a puppy in her arms. In my mind, I saw her go into her bedroom and shut the door. Then, another scene took its place of my other daughter carrying a puppy into her room and closing a door.

I opened my eyes. Had I been dreaming? I glanced at the clock. Not even a minute had gone by. I was pretty sure I had been awake with my eyes shut. A strange longing to give each girl a dog for Christmas began to grow as I stared up at the ceiling. Like a little nudge by someone saying,

“You want this. You know you do.”

After a few moments of consideration, I began to come up with every reason why I would NOT want this at all!

I just had gone through a horrible divorce.
I just had given away our black lab less than a year prior to a family who loved her. (A fallout from the divorce and lack of being able to take the time to keep her.)
I had never raised two dogs at one time.
Neither girl was asking for a dog for Christmas.

And, then I added this out loud:

“I need them to be free.  I cannot afford to buy dogs right now.”   I knew if I threw that on it, it would not come about.

I turned over satisfied that I had dismissed the entire emotional episode and fell into the most peaceful sleep during the daytime with the sun fully shining.

A week later, I received a phone call.

“I am at an appointment, and there is this lady who has puppies she wants to find good homes for before Christmas.  I was thinking you could take two. One for each of your girls.”

I had not spoken of my experience, and I had forgotten about it.

“How much does she want for them?” I asked.

“She is giving them away for free.”

“How much?”

My ability to hear correctly shut down because the event from the week before was hitting me full on.

“They are free.”

“How much?”

“Chris, they are free! She wants them to go to good homes.”

“Well, maybe I can take one.”

After I made that statement, I felt a heaviness and slight sadness in my heart. So much so that I had to blurt out the whole story about each girl getting a puppy for Christmas.

Once the entire encounter was out in the open, he said,

“You need to take two.  One for each girl.”

“I guess I will,” I said.

I told him to give my phone number to the puppy owner so she could call me later in the day.  She did so, and I made the mistake of putting the call on speaker phone.  I had each girl hanging on my every word as we spoke.  My oldest daughter wanted a boy, and the other wanted a female.  Taking only one was no longer an option.  I made arrangements to go see the entire litter later that day.

While driving over for our visit, I began to feel myself panic.  I silently went over all my reasons why I should not have been engaging in this.  Once I saw the puppies, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say no.  As I fretted along, I felt a strong peace settle in my chest.  It was like my mind was whirling a hundred miles an hour, but I had a calm that kept my foot on the gas and the car moving toward the destination.

When we arrived and I knocked on the door, I heard a chorus of barking.  The three of us were greeted by puppies running around us in circles.  We decided to sit down in the middle of it all to see what would happen.  A small little male came and settled in quite nicely on my oldest daughter’s lap.  A smaller female came to occupy the other daughter’s lap.

“Ever since we got off the phone, these two have been sitting by the door like they were waiting for you to come,” Ellie, the owner, said.

The decision had made itself.  Lily and Stinky were now ours to keep.

We left them in her care for another week and on December 12 they came to take up permanent residence in my home.  Both girls had been given free dogs for Christmas.

I still don’t fully understand how they came to be mine because having two dogs was the farthest thing from any of my wishes.  However, they completely changed the entire atmosphere of my home.  We all laughed more often, and I worried less.  Many times, we would entertain ourselves watching the two of them tussle over toys.  I can still see Lily, all of two pounds at the time, dragging her brother Stinky across the living room floor by the toy in his mouth. He had clamped onto her favorite stuffed animal and wouldn’t let it go.  They became a good distraction from all that had gone wrong.

Oddly, after we had gotten them, my youngest daughter told me something even more strange.  After our black lab was adopted, she created a virtual dog on one of her gaming systems. It helped her to get over the fact that our real dog was no longer with us.  She named her virtual pet ‘Lily’ and gave her a black coat just exactly like the real Lily.  The dogs were already named when we went to go visit them, and we kept their names once we got them home. All of it seemed to be so arranged.  In a very good way.

The following year, as Christmas was approaching, I made up cookie trays and wondered if Ellie would like one.  On the night before Christmas Eve, I had a strong inclination to put together a tray and get it to her house.  Snow was falling hard that night, but I knew I was to deliver this to her.  When I knocked on the door, I heard the familiar sound of barks.

“Merry Christmas,” I said when she opened the door.  “I brought you a cookie tray that I made.”

I saw the tears come into her eyes, and then she hugged me while I tried not to drop the entire tray.

“I just got back from the store.  My oven broke so I can’t bake anything, and I was trying to find packages of cookies or something.  This comes at just the right time.”

That is how I felt about her gift of the dogs to me.  They came at just the right moment in my life, and I didn’t even realize then how much I needed them.  Someone who loves me deeply knew and sent them my way.  Just more proof that we are loved completely from head to tail.

stinky

Stinky and Lily

When the Chips are Down

The three of us appeared war torn and zombie like as we walked through the store wishing we could buy ‘normal’. I had jokingly told people that Sunday was my favorite day of the week. The usual response to this was:

“Because you get a day of rest?”

“No. There is no mail.”

My life had become a daily dread of wondering what was going to show up in my box next as the divorce procedure was in full swing. Something would arrive from my attorney only to be countered by the other lawyer. Like a game of tennis, I was the ball batted back and forth over the net. And, this match was not about ‘love’.

Add to that the grief of having a marriage end which I had not envisioned when I said “I do.” It was the termination of a relationship that had gone off the tracks. There was a nagging feeling of remorse felt throughout the soul because the happy ending didn’t come as expected. I wept sometimes over the idea that I wouldn’t be a member of the grey haired couples club who get to celebrate 50 happy years together. It was a let down on many levels.

Tangled up with all of that was the financial aspect which I tried to hide from my two young girls. I was supposed to hold my head high and go through my days as if nothing unusual was transpiring. It was like trying to row a boat in the middle of a hurricane.

As we walked along the aisles of the store, we didn’t say much. We were too exhausted emotionally and physically. When we got near the snack bar I suggested buying them each an Icee. Those had always been a favorite, and I thought it might be a way to get a small spark of joy back momentarily.

My oldest daughter objected because she was keenly aware of our financial state, but I insisted and began the all too familiar ‘digging’ in my purse for loose change. I got into a long line as I counted pennies, nickels and dimes.

I observed other shoppers reach in and pull out bills or swipe cards to pay. It was done so effortlessly without any thought. I was slightly jealous remembering it had been that way for me at one time.

I cupped my coins carefully as I inched forward in the line. I glanced over at my daughters who had seated themselves. Their pale faces and tired eyes reminded me of my own whenever I caught a glance of my reflection. We all needed a boost of happiness, and I was determined to have some for a small price.

Just as it was my turn to order, it was as if someone smacked the underside of my hand that gripped the coins. I watched as they fell not only to the ground, but lodged themselves in between all the snack bags that were housed on shelves in front of me.

No one around me was aware of the explosion of anger that ignited within me. I quickly began gathering up what I could find on the ground as other customers streamed ahead of me buying what they wanted quickly without hesitation.

While on my hands and knees scrounging on the dirty floor, I was screaming inside,

Why is everything so hard, God?!?

I was seething as I crawled around wondering how my life had disintegrated to this lowly state.  A woman in line tapped me on the shoulder and handed me one of my wayward pennies.  I smiled and said,

“Thank you, ” not meaning a single word of it.

I stood to the side and counted the change I had managed to find.  It wasn’t enough.  I glanced at the chip bags and knew what I had to do in order to get what I had come for.

I carefully stored the money I had retrieved and then set about the task of plunging my hands into various piles of bags feeling blindly for lost coins. I rearranged the entire display with much shame and embarrassment in my search. Surprisingly, I had found everything but my last quarter when my hand ran into an object that seemed unusual.  It was square and felt leather like.  I brought it up to the surface.

I had unearthed a man’s wallet.   Holding it in front of me, I could not believe what I was seeing.  By now there was no one in line and the woman behind the counter said,

“Did you find that?!?”

“Yes,” I said in shock.

I handed it to her and she said,

“We have a disabled man who works here during the day.  Yesterday, he came in line to get food and couldn’t find his wallet. He was so upset and could not locate it. He must have dropped it where you found it.”

My anger was beginning to quickly recede.

With much excitement she added,

“If he were here right now, he would hug you.  Everything is in here. He was so worried about his bank card and social security card being stolen. He stopped by today and asked if we had found it because it was bothering him.  If you hadn’t dropped your money like you did, he wouldn’t have known what happened to it and continued to search frantically for it.  I have to give him a call and tell him you found it so he can relax.”

Just then, I looked down at my right foot and saw the elusive last quarter that I had been seeking.

I paid for two frozen treats with a new attitude, and as I was walking back to my seat a strong idea came into my awareness.

Everything happens for a reason.  

I was used to bring mental relief to someone who was in turmoil. It was as if my question earlier of ‘why everything was difficult’ was being answered.  I felt it reverberate throughout my entire spirit. There was a point to the madness.

That particular moment has become a memory anchor for me when life has become turbulent.  It reminds me that no matter what emotional state we find ourselves in, we can be a vessel to bring peace to a fellow human being and we are never alone even when the chips are down.

chips