Am I a homeschool burnout?

Now that we’ve officially wrapped up this year’s schooling, complete with evaluation, portfolio, and the turning in of paperwork, I can admit something as I look toward our final year of homeschooling: I’m more than done.

Am I tired of homeschooling? Maybe. This year has been one of the “struggle” years, as we dealt with our daughter’s depression and anxiety, lack of motivation due to the aforementioned issues, and the scramble to catch up and finish well despite it all. There have been other struggle years, and I’m pretty sure that’s not unique to our household.

Am I sorry we chose this route? No way. When I look back at the worst times of our homeschool years, I know without a doubt that they would have been much, much worse if we’d had the kids in traditional government school.

Homeschooling three children to graduation (the youngest will graduate in 2018) has been one of the most rewarding choices my husband and I ever made. It’s also not been the easiest of choices and is not for the lazy, but I would never say I regret it. Our household has been richer for it, as far as the relationships we have with each other. Our “kids” (seventeen, twenty-one, and twenty-three) have diverse tastes, ever-expanding interests, and great friends. Best of all, they know who they are because they’ve not been forced to change themselves based on what their school peers have deemed popular or not.

If I’m tired of anything, it’s the paperwork. Even though Pennsylvania finally changed part of their homeschool law so I only have to turn in my evaluator’s okay at the end of the school year, it’s still the state with the second-most stringent set of homeschool laws in the US. I still have to put together a portfolio for the evaluator to look through so we can prove we’ve done the work required by law. And I still have to write up yearly objectives that I may or may not follow, depending on how the school year progresses—even though there’s no way for the school district to check up on me to see if I followed those objectives, or to make me list where I may have deviated from the plan.

It’s needless paperwork for every homeschooler, and it bugs me. I realized as I worked on next year’s objectives for our daughter that these would be the last set of objectives I would have to write, and I almost poured myself a glass of wine to celebrate.

The real celebration, though, will be next year at this time, when I reflect on a total of twenty years of homeschool life.

Victory, satisfaction, and a wee bit of relief.

 

 

Mother’s Day reflections

Once again, Mother’s Day has rolled around as it has every year, and once again I find myself mentally reviewing parenthood in general.

Anyone who is a parent knows there are times—sometimes more often than not—when parenting seems like a losing battle. Nobody really prepares you for what parenting does to you, whether mentally, physically, or even spiritually.

The thrill of having a baby is often overshadowed by the sheer exhaustion of all that a baby requires. Babies, by their nature of being . . . well, babies . . . are takers. Any giving they do is completely involuntary. They can’t help it; they are completely helpless, dependent on their parents to keep them alive and content. The involuntary giving is cuteness, snugglability, and the awesome realization of parents that we were given the privilege of taking care of this tiny little person who is somehow so amazing that all tiredness and self-sacrifice is worth it.

Mind you, we don’t always feel that way in the midst of yet another toddler tantrum or sleepless night, but when saner heads prevail, we get it. It’s worth it.

My kids are no longer what I can classify as “kids” in the strictest sense. Our oldest is 23, next in line is 21, and the “baby” is very close to turning 17. They’ve turned into people in their own right, with their own friends (some of whom—gasp!—I don’t know personally), jobs, and interests that may or may not reflect mine. Even so, I still worry about them and still want to take care of them as best I can, even though they really don’t need it in the same way.

The babies who used to wake us up multiple times a night were replaced by toddlers who would wander into our room in the middle of the night, unaware that they were more often than not interrupting the first intimate moment we’d found the time and energy to enjoy in days. The toddlers were replaced by teens who would stay up later than we could manage to hold out, and then young adults who would change plans and suddenly arrive home on a day we’d planned to have the house to ourselves. And still . . . worth it. Worth every instance of interrupted intimacy, every middle-of-the-night phone call that starts with, “I’m okay, so let’s just get that out of the way first,” every “I need you to come and get me because . . .”

Even as the mama of young adults, my time is still not my own, because if they have a need, I still want to be there. If there’s time to just hang out and talk or grab a meal together, I want to be available and it can’t happen as easily as it used to. It makes my heart happy when they actually seek out time with me. But being a mama at this stage has also given me a heart for younger moms and their struggles.

Secondary to raising our own children, one of the best things we can do as mamas is to be there for other moms. I am blessed to be friends with some of the adult children of my own friends, and I think it helps to have a listening ear and an encouraging word or two when they’re feeling overwhelmed. My mother was not someone I could confide in, and was not what anyone would call a listener. Uh . . . and not sympathetic or understanding, either, for that matter. So I completely understand that there are times when it’s easier to talk to a mom other than your own. They can listen and not judge, and it’s not up to them to solve your problem or to take responsibility for it.

My daughter (our youngest) has a couple “extra” moms she trusts when times are rough. We’re extremely fortunate that she is open with us (even when we don’t want to hear what she needs to tell us), but even so, I think it helps her to know there are other adults she can run things by if she’s trying to figure out how to tell us what she needs to talk about, or if I’m not immediately available, or even just to get a differing viewpoint on a problem she’s trying to work out. Far from being jealous, I’m thankful. God has been gracious to put wise people in her path, and I’m not foolish enough to turn down the help.

In the same vein, I have extra “kids” who call me mom, ranging from teens to young adults, and I’m happy to give them solid hugs and a bit of my scant wisdom when it presents itself. In the way that others are there for my children, I want to offer the same. Yesterday, in fact, I had a thoroughly enjoyable morning filled with delicious coffee, laughter, and deep conversation with a beautiful gal who calls me her “work momma.” She wanted to take me out for Mother’s Day at our local chocolatier (mmm, truffles), and it provided a three-hour block of time for us each to be “filled” during an otherwise-draining season of life. She’s a young adult who sees me as my own person, which allows me to be open and vulnerable, yet who also trusts me to treat her with the love of a friend and “extra” mom. She has a terrific mom of her own, and yet there is still a need for that extra set of ears during tough times. I’m privileged to be part of her life.

My mom was sort of a tough taskmaster when it came to Mother’s Day. She had to have the gift, the card, and the phone call—any one of those three missing, and the day was a bust. Over the years, I came to realize that I just needed to do my best and live with it, even though I knew she told her friends and neighbors how neglectful I was. My worst Mother’s Day was the first one after our son had died, and I didn’t want to really interact with the outside world. I was content to spend the day with my husband and children, and yet I knew my mother would be upset if I didn’t call. When I finally did call, I was scolded for not calling early enough in the day. She’d been stewing all day long, not even considering the grief I was dealing with after losing a child only four months before.

I vowed then and there that I would never be like that with my own children. Yes, we all make promises to ourselves to not be like our parents, and I’m sure there are inevitabilities of a familiar mannerism or two, but of this one I’m certain. My children will never be made to feel that a gift will make or break my love for them. Thankfully, in that way, my kids are sort of like me: we love to give or receive thoughtful gifts and appreciate them, but we don’t always feel comfortable having to come up with something simply because the calendar says we should. I think that helps, that we think alike on that point. No pressure, kids. No pressure.

I’m proud of the adults they’re growing into, and yet there’s a whole host of new things to pray about as I trust God to guide them through life. Children are a huge tax on a person’s spiritual walk! They give us so much to pray about, and so much to be accountable for. I love my children with such a fierce, possessive love that I can’t imagine how God can love them more, even though I know He does.

And that kind of love for my kids helps me to understand how God can love us no matter what. The love is unending, even while wanting to punch them in the nose for a callous observation that cuts deeply, or for an offhand remark that makes me cry silently in another room so they don’t see how hurtful they can be. I will wager that there is no child on earth who knows how often his or her parents are brought to tears . . . either for them, or because of them. I would imagine God has wanted to punch me in the nose once or twice. I’m extra thankful he’s more patient than I could ever be, even on my best day.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39

Happy Mother’s Day, mamas out there. You’re doing better than you think you are.

 

This year, I’m okay

January 20 has, for the past 11 years, been a lousy day in our house. January 20, 2003, is when we lost our almost-five-year-old son. Nothing alters a day on the calendar for the rest of your life like the day a family member dies. Each year from then to now, the Christmas and New Year holidays have come and gone, and all of a sudden, there’s January, in all its crappy glory. We’re all coming down from a sugar high, needing to get back into a routine, having to start up school again, fighting heavy snowfall, and dealing with full dark at 4:30 p.m.

And then comes the 20th. It wouldn’t be so bad if the day’s emotions were predictable from year to year. Unfortunately, emotions are neither predictable nor controllable. We’ve marked the day in a variety of ways over the years, from going out of town to watching videos of the kids to getting a small cake. Most of the recent years have been more of a quiet glance between Tim and me, sharing a thought here or there, or texts throughout the day. I’m not sure if the kids remember the exact day or not, or if they consciously think about it in the same way we do.

I find myself marking the day on the calendar in the same way I mark all our birthdays: with a heart drawn around the date. I’m not sure why I do that, since it’s not really a celebration per se, and I’m certainly not likely to forget it if it doesn’t have that heart around the “20”—but the new calendar gets put in place and there it is.

This year, I feel motivated to write about it, because I feel…okay. Not spectacular, but not struck (or stuck) with the usual January melancholy. In fact, I’ve felt joyful overall every time I’ve thought of Tig over the past few months because of so many wonderful benefits that have resulted from his short life, and yes—even through his death. It’s an odd perspective.

It’s shown me that no experience is ever wasted, whether good or bad, precise or all-encompassing. Treasure all of them; store them in your heart, because it makes the reflection that much more precious when the time comes.

The pain of losing him has never lessened, and I’m quite sure it will never go away; however, it’s blurred on the edges a bit, not because I feel it less but because (I think) I’ve learned how to deal with it better as each year has passed. Each day, each week, each month, each year has shown me how God used that time in our lives in a way that will never be duplicated; that revelation has turned my grief into wonder.

Psalm 30:11 says, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” (NIV)

I’m no dancer. You’ll have to trust me on this, because if you want proof, you’ll wish you’d trusted me in the first place. But my heart dances, in a way, when I sing, and I’ve been singing a pretty cool song in my heart lately.

This year—not last year, and maybe not next year, but this year—I’m okay. Maybe even better than okay.

That holiday feeling

We’ve got that holiday feeling

That happy holiday feeling

Our favorite holiday of the year

When I was a kid, I used to love listening to my parents’ Christmas albums. My dad loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and to this day, I still think Herb’s “Christmas Album” is one of the best ever.

I have a thing for the old Christmas songs. Once again, I’m going to reference a post by Elle Todd in which she talks about current artists butchering her Christmas favorites. (Honest—I do come up with my own ideas, but she sneaks into my brain and steals them somehow…I’ll look into it for a future post. But you’ll probably read about it on her blog first, of course. Rats.)

Back to the point—or points, really, since I have a few things I want to say about this whole Christmas thing.

The songs I like most are either old or sound old. It’s that old-style vocal quality that makes me fond of the sound of Harry Connick, Jr., or Michael Bublé (Mister Bubble, as we call him around our house, since nobody appreciates him but me). If I’m listening to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” it needs to be Andy Williams. “Santa Baby” must be done by Eartha Kitt…and I have no idea why anyone would listen to the other truly awful versions available, although Mister Bubble’s version of “Santa Buddy” is a pretty good alternative. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is best done by Al Hirt and Ann Margret. The list goes on.

Because my dad was also a huge Barbra Streisand fan, we had every one of her albums, including her Christmas one. As a child, I loved to sing along with it, using the never-lit candlestick in our dining room as my microphone. Picture an eight year old who thinks she has Barbra’s pipes, belting Christmas songs at the top of her lungs when no one else is home. I laugh at the memory of it now, but was deadly serious about sounding like Babs at the time.

As an adult, though, I began to wonder why a Jewish person would have recorded a Christmas album. Isn’t Jesus, after all, the big stumbling block between Christians and Jews? Why would someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus as the Messiah sing songs like “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?

The only answer I could come up with involved money. Barbra knew enough—or had an agent who knew enough—to capitalize on the commercialization of Christmas, even back then.

I’m not sure if it’s because things are truly getting worse, or if it’s because I’m getting less tolerant of it, but I’ve noticed more of a frantic feel to the holidays over the past few years. Sales start earlier and earlier (as I mentioned in my Black Friday post), causing us to feel as if we’re already behind before we’ve even begun. Thoughtful gifts have been pushed aside by the idea that “thoughtful” is not enough: “big” is what’s required to impress people (if you don’t believe me, listen to the Valentine’s Day ads a couple months from now as they tell men their single heartfelt flower is pathetically cheap, and “only” a dozen roses is too cliché). Time for relaxation and reflection is trampled on by the constant stream of parties which, of course, can only be thrown in during this time of year when people are already pressed for time.

I want to enjoy my Christmas. I don’t want to be so burnt-out on the whole package that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are just one more harried obligation. I remember an incident a few years ago when, upon arriving at my in-laws’ house for Christmas Eve, I placed our tray of homemade cookies and candies on the table. One of my sisters-in-law glanced at them and said, “They look delicious, but oh my gosh, I am so sick of cookies and junk after all the parties we’ve been to all month.”

Needless to say, I was pretty bummed to hear my efforts were wasted on at least one family member. I knew it wasn’t a personal insult to me (and my always-kind sister-in-law would probably have felt bad, had she known how her innocent comment had made me feel), but the whole experience made me sad that all the preliminaries of the Christmas “season” have worn us down so much that we can’t see the holiday for the fun day or two that it brings. I’m not advocating a boycott on parties and cookies until Christmas Eve morning or anything, but I suppose I’m just calling for a bit of discretion and restraint in what is deemed “necessary” for holiday cheer.

The “happy holiday feeling” Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme sang about so cheerfully (and cheesily, but I love it anyway) seems to have been replaced by…something else. For some, it’s depression; for others, it’s irritation (like me, fighting my way through holiday shoppers because I need groceries); still others feel anger at the political correctness and shout, “Don’t you DARE say ‘Happy Holidays’ to me, you heathen!” at befuddled cashiers. I’ll bet those same people just loved the Holiday Wintertainment Parade in “Jingle All the Way,” with dancing menorahs hand-in-hand with Santas and snow queens.

It’s hard to fight the urge to have “enough” gifts bought, rather than thoughtful gifts which fit the recipient’s personality. I’d rather have one gift that let me know it was me the giver was thinking about while shopping than a pile of things that were “on sale, so I got one for everybody.” Yes, I’ve had that happen on multiple occasions.

I have a friend who calls herself a terrible gift-giver because she can never think of gifts on-demand when a birthday or holiday comes along. However, the reality is that she’s an incredible gift-giver because she doesn’t give according to what the calendar says. If she sees something she knows a friend will enjoy, she buys it and gives it. Right then. No waiting. She’s given me some terrific gifts over the years based on things I’ve mentioned in passing, like buying me a sewing machine when she knew mine was beginning to act unpredictably; or a bunch of really cool kitchen items she noticed me oohing and ahhing over in a Pampered Chef catalog; or a check, tucked into a passport wallet, to help cover my costs on a short-term missions trip. She’s not rich, but she pays attention to people around her and acts with generosity.

Another friend, an author I work with, recently sent me a coffee mug that was perfect for my editor’s sense of OCD correctness. That mug was me, through and through, and she knew it when she found it. I smile whenever I use it, and not just because it’s filled with coffee.

This year, once again, I’m going to cut back a little more on the buying and focus a little more on the giving. Christmas, for me, celebrates the birth of my Savior, so it’s obvious to me where my personal focus should lie. To others who don’t believe as I do, though, I still believe the “holiday feeling” should be about giving and helping, rather than spending and taking.

Try it. You never know: you might like it.

Thankfulness comes in all sizes

I read a post by Elle Todd the other day, Being Thankful, that brought to mind something we don’t often recognize: the things for which we can be most grateful are oftentimes not the obvious. In fact, they may have felt distinctly like not-so-great moments when they happened, and only in hindsight do we realize we are, after all is said and done, thankful they occurred.

I’ve written at great length—more than I ever thought I would—about the blessings that have come about as a direct result of how we handled ourselves during a time of great upheaval in our family. Most of those blessings have made themselves known only now, almost eleven years later. I won’t rehash the stuff I’ve already blogged about, but feel free to read my earlier posts (there aren’t that many to sift through, since this is a new blog) if you’re curious.

I had a huge post (big surprise there) in the works, based around all the “closed door/opened window” or “silver lining” things in my life, but deleted just about the entire thing when I realized it was so detailed as to be snore-inducing. (Elle, I really did want to steal your idea, but your post didn’t bore me and mine did, so you win this one.)

What it all boiled down to were two things: family and friends. Those two things were at the heart of my entire post. Everything I am thankful for somehow involves them. Finances, health, material possessions—they wax and wane, and we adapt, but the things that affect me most can always be traced back to friends or family.

It may sound trite to fall back on the ol’ friends & family thing, but I am sincere when I say I don’t take these things for granted. My dad died two years ago; he didn’t always have the best advice, he’d give our Christmas gifts back to us (“I don’t really need this; go ahead and just stick it in your car and take it home with you”) and he was kind of a Cliff Claven in many ways, but he loved us and loved his grandchildren. He had no tact, but you always knew where you stood with him, and he was generous with what he had. My mom is still around and doing well, even though we thought we were going to lose her within months of my dad dying. The cancer that seemed to be so prevalent throughout her bones two years ago is miraculously sparse right now with no chemo and no radiation. Big Thankful.

My in-laws rank right up there on my list of Big Thankfuls. Make all the mother-in-law jokes you want; you can all be jealous of me because my in-laws are terrific, from Pop & Gramma all the way down to the youngest cousin. I’m stuck by marriage with a family I would have chosen anyway.

This year has been a time of transition for me. Transitions are not always thankful moments, but this one is. I feel as if I’m settling in and beginning yet another season. This one involves my kids being older and a little more independent, which has allowed me, in turn, to be a little more independent. I’m not sure if that’s leading me to be more versatile or just lazier, since I don’t have to chase after them anymore. Still, I’m thankful for the next phase, because it’s different and new, which usually means exciting and interesting.

Being in-de-pen-dent (hearing it in my head as pronounced by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) means I can pursue activities that interest me—I’m not limited to the things in which my children are involved. As enjoyable as those things are, I’m there for them, not for me. I don’t mind waiting my turn, as long as I get a turn once in awhile.

This year, it seems, is my turn. Yay, me! Through a quirky turn of events, I ended up with a freelance copy editing job and a handful of new acquaintances who have very quickly become friends. Some of them, I swear, are long-lost family, and there’s not a thing you can say to convince me otherwise. The Big Thankful in this instance is not only having a job I enjoy exceedingly, but also knowing there are more people out there just like me. That may be scary to some of you, but trust me, it’s a relief to me. [Side note: this post ended up delayed by an almost-two-hour Facebook chat with one of those crazy people, and I hurt myself laughing. But I’m still thankful. Painfully thankful. And I know she’s probably hurting, too, so we’re even.]

The thing for which I’m most thankful, though, is this: I don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to find a list of Big Thankfuls, or even Little Thankfuls. They’re there every day. For instance, I wake up. Every single day, I wake up. And if you don’t think that’s something to be thankful about, then try not waking up.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand or complex. It can be serious or funny. As long-term as “I’m married to the man of my dreams.” As short-term as “That conversation was hilarious.”

The important thing is to recognize it for what it is: a blessing. A bonus. A woo hoo moment. A victory.

Life with family and friends. Two absolutely indispensable things, in my book.

Black Friday Anarchy and the Must-Buys

For the life of me, I can’t understand what would motivate anyone to take part in the mayhem retailers refer to as Black Friday.

Many of those who faithfully make the early-morning pilgrimage to their favorite stores talk about how much fun they have with a group of friends or family. They tout their incredible bargains and try to suck the rest of us in by saying things like, “It’s almost a festival atmosphere—everyone’s having such a great time.”

Carnival barkers in the making, the lot of them.

Although one could say I have all my days off as a stay-at-home-mama, I still enjoy a day with no outside obligations when it comes my way. Why on earth would I want to start my day off by getting up at an ungodly hour, jockeying for parking space at an overcrowded store or mall, and fighting strangers for the limited number of bargain items per store? In many cases, these people have been outside the store overnight to improve their chances of getting one of the three available doorbuster items before they’re gone. I’m not that aggressive. I don’t stand a chance against professionals like these.

I don’t even like fighting strangers for things I really want. Each summer, our local library system has a wonderful book sale when they purge everything that hasn’t been checked out in recent months. Believe it or not, they get rid of many classics—most likely due to the popularity of “fluff” fiction and paperback bodice-rippers—and those discarded classics belong in my house. I just know it. However, I’ve found myself avoiding the sale over the past two years. Why? Because when I’m in a situation that screams, “Every man for himself!” that’s when Mean Lynda begins to emerge. I might not say anything outwardly, but I begin to fume at the people who grab books out of my hands, glance at them, and then toss them all over the tables, willy-nilly (love that word), leaving them even more disorganized for the next person. I still won’t fight for it. I’ll just hate you if you’re one of “them.” Go ahead, block the aisle with the folding chair you brought along, so you can plant yourself in front of the books you won’t allow others to see until you’re finished browsing; park your rolling cart in the narrowest part of the walkway—because why wouldn’t someone wish to retrace their steps 25 feet to change aisles, rather than slip past you? Go ahead and encourage your children to run all over, picking up books and putting them down in random spots so no one else will find that excellent copy of Great Expectations buried under the self-help magazines. I’ll be at home, reading the books I already own, knowing that one-dollar bargain hardcover is not worth the gladiator techniques I’d need to learn to win it.

Where was I? Ah…back to the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday shopping can be done online, if the urge to shop gets too strong. The downside: if I’m wrapped up in the computer, looking for bargains, I’m every bit as absent as those who go to the brick & mortar stores that day. The upside: it’s not as tiring, and I can walk away from it anytime I want and be “present” again immediately with my family.

Online shopping can still provide some decent bargains, most of them with no shipping fee. In fact, distance of my house from shopping areas + cost of gasoline = less than most shipping fees, anyway.  There are always coupon codes available somewhere to make it all worthwhile. As someone who hates to shop as a general rule, the online thing works very well for me: I’m at home; I can browse all over the world for unique items; shopping at midnight in my pjs is no big deal if that’s when I have the time.

Now retailers are upping the ante, because Black Friday crack-of-dawn sales are not enough: Thanksgiving Night pre-Friday has taken over, at first starting with “midnight madness” deals which have now progressed to 8 p.m. and 6 p.m. store openings. ON THANKSGIVING DAY. Old Navy is open on Thanksgiving until 4 p.m. and will reopen a scant three hours later at 7 p.m. Wow. Three whole hours spent with the family, all stuffing themselves as quickly as possible to accommodate the time crunch for the hapless family member who happens to be employed there. And Staples, opening  8 p.m. – midnight? How many people are going to get up from the Thanksgiving table to storm the doors of the office supply store to get those bargain pencils and manila folders?

What’s wrong with taking an entire day (an entire day!) to spend at home with family? Or even a day at home alone, relaxing? Don’t like your family and don’t want to be alone? How about serving others by helping at the local City Mission?

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving dinner was an hours-long event. We’d eat, of course, but the dinner itself was only a prequel to the enjoyable after-time with everyone. We’d often play cards or board games after dinner with my grandma, hoping to soon feel hungry enough to eat the variety of desserts. One of my favorite memories of my grandma is the Thanksgiving we taught her to play Risk. She started off enthusiastically enough, but when over an hour had passed, she began discreetly tossing her game pieces on the floor under the table so she could just lose and get the heck away from the table. She feigned ignorance, of course, when my uncle happened to notice the pile of game parts, saying, “Oh, is that where those went?” as if she hadn’t been systematically slipping them off the table’s edge every three or four minutes. I wouldn’t trade that experience for 50% off anything a store could provide.

When I was in high school, I witnessed the beginning of the must-have Christmas gifts: the Cabbage Patch doll. Our next-door neighbor tried for weeks to buy one for her daughter, going from store to store. Who decided these ugly, ugly dolls were necessary for a child’s happiness? They were seriously ugly. I can not stress that enough. And don’t tell me you had one and thought it was adorable, because I won’t believe you. You might have thought it was adorable, because the retailers told you that you loved it. But if you had looked at it, eye to glass eye—really looked—you would have seen it was no different than any other cheap doll, except it had a face only a mother could love.

As an adult, I never really paid attention to what was trendy; we shopped for things we knew our kids would enjoy. When a relative gave our then-two-year-old son a Tickle Me Elmo for his birthday (two months before Christmas), she made sure to tell us as he opened his gift that it was “the hot item” that year. He was not impressed; he was frightened of it. He hugged it, and Elmo began to giggle loudly while trembling and vibrating. Our son dropped it like a rock and ran away while Elmo continued his furry red seizure activity for almost 30 seconds. The most action that toy got was when our older son threw up on it. A month later, Christmas time, those crazy things were selling for hundreds of dollars. My husband and I briefly entertained the idea of putting an “only puked on once” ad in the newspaper but were almost afraid someone would take us up on it.

I can only hope retailers fall flat this year with their “I can open earlier than you can” plans. Families have a difficult enough time of it, trying to coordinate work schedules so they can get together at all. Webster’s defines “holiday” as “a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.”  A holiday should be exactly that. For everyone, retailers included. Stop pushing the message that getting a bargain purchase is more important than all else.

I can’t help but think of the movie “Jingle All the Way,” in which Arnold Schwarzenegger spends the entire day of Christmas Eve in search of a Turbo Man doll—the hot item of the season—for his son. It’s the first Christmas movie we watch each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s hilarious because it’s true. I’ll leave you with a one-minute clip of a favorite part of the movie:

Long-reaching effects and what they’re worth

I’m overwhelmed. I’ll tell you right now that I don’t use that word lightly. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed that the first thing I could think to do in order to cope with it is to grab my laptop and write. I didn’t want to lose the thoughts whirling in my head by waiting any longer than I had to.

I spoke this morning at a women’s conference. My main job this weekend was to sing on Friday night and Saturday morning, but there was a teeny tiny part of Saturday that included a talk: I was asked to give my testimony. For those of you who are not familiar with Christian-speak, giving one’s testimony is akin to telling people how God has worked or is working in your life. Sometimes a person’s testimony involves telling about a turning point in his life, and sometimes it’s simply a recounting of how the day-to-day survival is going.

In my opinion, a person’s testimony should be a constantly changing thing, as alive and vibrant as the everyday changes in our lives. Yes, there are certain events that are pivotal—there may be a single incident, whether wonderful or catastrophic, that changes everything and turns us upside down—but to only ever focus on that one moment in time really does an injustice to the subsequent weeks, months, and years of growth and, perhaps, struggle.

Mine was a combination of both: talking about a past event (found in my previous post, “…and now, the rest of the story…”) and talking about my life now as a result of that past event.  I was not the main speaker at this conference—I’m just with the band, man—so it shouldn’t have been intimidating to get up there and talk for five or ten minutes. Right? Ha. Thankfully, these ladies were smiling and receptive and put me at ease immediately.

Five or ten minutes…I can do that standing on my head, and I can thank my Italian relatives for that gift we call “I make friends with strangers in public places.” In all honesty, I had the best intentions of speaking for about five minutes, but once I got going, well…let’s just say I didn’t suffer from a lack of things to talk about.

First, we showed the short God@Work video that discussed our family’s journey through the loss of one of our children. Then I told them what had been happening in our lives since the showing of that video at church. I’ve been amazed and thankful for every person who has approached me to tell me their personal stories…loss, struggle, depression, and hope. There is something to be said for knowing you’re not the only one who’s gone through difficult circumstances. Nobody wants to be in The Club, whether its members include widows, alcoholics, bipolars, parents who have lost a child, drug addicts, disabilities or those dealing with a family member’s suicide—but we are comforted to know that others in our particular Club understand completely where we’re coming from, and we feel safer with the numbers that show us we’re not abnormal.

What overwhelmed me this morning was not the recounting of my own event. The “oh my” moment came when I finished speaking. As I walked away from the podium, a woman stood up and announced that she’d been one of the Labor & Delivery nurses at the hospital when our son was born, fifteen years ago. Because his disorder was such a rare thing, the staff paid close attention to what was going on with him and how we, as his family, handled all of it. Unbeknownst to me or Tim, another nurse there was a regular attender at our church, and would regularly update the others, speaking of our family’s positive attitude and our unwavering faith. (Oh, if only she’d known how we struggled in those early days, simply trying to process what was happening while living at hospitals for the first two months of his life!) She also told the group that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit during that period of time was a very dark place, and the doctor we’d spoken about in our video was someone who didn’t value the lives of the babies under her care as she should have. [We knew this firsthand, because that doctor was someone we actively avoided when she’d make her rounds—her first response upon seeing us each day was to tell us of ways she could relieve us of our burden, or to inform us that she’d probably only “work on him” half the time of a “normal” child if he were to have a cardiac or respiratory arrest. The NICU nurses would actually tell us when she was due to make her rounds so we could head down to the family lounge or the cafeteria. Someone you’d want taking care of your baby? Nope, and nope again.]

The wonderful gal today was happy to tell us all that the NICU is a much more positive place now, partly as a result of our family back then and how we saw each child as valuable and lovable, regardless of the statistics that told us not to get too attached. Our attitudes then affected today’s babies and their care.

Another friend spoke up then, after the first person sat back down. A mutual friend of ours was one of the private duty nurses in our home during the first year. We absolutely loved her, she loved our son, and we were sad to see her go when she got a different job. After losing a family member last year, she commented to our friend that she was struggling with the loss and wanted to be able to “grieve like the Dietzes.”

A third person approached me during the lunch break and told me she had worked at the funeral home when Tig was laid out there. I didn’t know this gal at the time, but she knew who we were and said she was glad she hadn’t had to work the day he came in, because it was difficult when the person who’d died was someone familiar, especially when it was a child. She did say, though, that she’d heard about our visiting hours and how boisterous (the polite word for “so loud”) our half of the funeral home was. There was, during that same week, another special-needs child who had died and whose visiting hours were the same day & time as ours. Many of the case workers had dealt with both families, and all those who came across the hall after visiting the family of the other child commented to us that the atmosphere was palpably different. They felt at ease with us, rather than awkward and uncomfortable.

I look back and wonder what we did that was so noteworthy. Was the time in the NICU that impressive? Was our grief process watched more closely than we’d realized? Do we throw a good funeral?

Even if you think nobody’s watching, there’s always someone who’s observing how you handle things, whether you walk your talk (to use an already-overused cliche), or whether you talk a good game until things fall apart. I say this not to create paranoia, but as a reminder—to myself, first and foremost—that my words mean nothing if my actions run the other way. You can’t fake that; I can’t, anyway.

If our attitudes and behavior helped even one family to have their child seen as a valuable person, it’s worth it. If our lifestyle caused even one person to want a closer relationship with the God I’ve come to know, love, and trust, it’s worth it. If what people saw in our grief inspired even one person to think a little deeper about why we trust a God who didn’t heal our child in the manner we wanted, then in the words of Jed Clampett, “Whoo, doggie!” Definitely worth it.

More often than not, we don’t know how our past actions have affected someone else’s future. I’ve had enough screw-up moments that I’ve wished nobody had seen. Today I had the wonderful privilege of hearing about some of the better ones, and the feeling was sweet.

Three amigos