another cheap gift

Exactly fifteen years ago – I had butterflies and a new guy that I thought about all the time. We’d already shared a sloppy first kiss in the park across from my apartment. Talked music, soccer and movies we wanted to see. He pretended to watch Party of Five and watched me play soccer in the rain which meant I was pretty sure he liked me. But. It was still really new. Too new for things like birthdays. I have a tendency to overdo things. And even though I was totally and completely smitten I didn’t not want to screw it up with a big over the top birthday. I also didn’t want to screw it up by not doing enough. I was 19 and these were the things that kept me up at night.
What to get my new love interest that I wasn’t even sure I could call my boyfriend yet. Without scaring him off and still totally impressing him. I remember leaving a copy of the new Rolling Stone, a mix cd and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms in his truck.

I guess it worked.

Because 15 years later I am still wondering what to get him and thinking maybe a copy of Rolling Stone and a mix cd might not be a bad idea. 15 years is a lot of gift giving. Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries. Back then I probably didn’t even know his middle name. Now, I know that he snores when he sleeps on his stomach, can’t eat onions and what brand of hair gel he uses. The butterflies have been replaced with dishes, leftovers and soccer practice. But, I have been given way more than ever expected. More than magazines and mixed cds and even butterflies.  Other people’s birthdays are about gifting, but maybe it is a good time to remember what we have been given.

A few years ago I wrote this…and it is worth revisiting.

"The 19 year old version of myself didn’t make too many good decisions and was a pretty big mess. Yes, I had great friends and was involved with some pretty great organizations and loved Jesus…but it was no secret that I often skipped class, drank too much, signed up for credit cards I shouldn’t have, drove too fast and chased after all the wrong boys.

I’m 32. And I still do some of those things. But the last one I can scratch off the list.
Because, surprisingly it is something my 19 year old self managed to get right.

Thirteen Octobers ago, this shaggy haired guy with a goatee asked me to go to a soccer game with me. I had just broken up with a great guy, pretty much for being great, and the last thing I wanted was a new boyfriend.
But he was cute. And so I said yes anyways.
And he has been stuck with me ever since.

He was some magic combination between the good guys that I wanted to like and the bad ones that I always ended up falling for. He liked good movies, live music, soccer, Rolling Stone, the occasional beer, and Jesus. He watched my soccer games (even in the rain), called back when he said he would, held my hair, laughed at my jokes, made me a mix tape, called me out when I needed it, changed my tires and went to all my silly formals and date parties. He was patient. And didn’t scare easy. And he stuck around, even when he shouldn’t have. And even my 19 year old self knew better than to let this one go.

And today he turns 33.
And we have shared a lot of birthdays. His, mine, and now our kids.
And on his 20th birthday we had only been dating for about three weeks and I remember struggling with what to do or how much to write in the card. It was way too early to be breaking out the L word.
But I was completely smitten.
And still am.
And now, I don’t have to hesitate to say that I love him.
Because it wasn’t too long after that birthday that it slipped out anyways.
And that somehow over the last 13 birthdays, he has taught me so much more about what that word really means.

On our first valentines day, we were both a little strapped for cash and not really too into the Hallmark holiday so we set a 5$ limit on gifts. I bought a box of Star Wars valentines cards and wrote something that I loved about him on the back of each one.(corny, I know…and I won’t even mention that all he gave me a half eaten bag of candy that year and a couple of bouncy balls!)And now, because in many ways I am still the same girl, we are a little strapped for cash so I thought I’d resort to the same trick for his present ( that and the whoopee cushion Owen picked out at Dollar General).

I dug the old valentines out of the closet this morning and was intending to list some of the things on the back here.
Most of them were super cheesy, or ridiculous, and a few even made me blush.
So I’ll mostly have to start from scratch. 33 reasons in no particular order. With just a few of the old ones in italics.
1. because you iron my pants.
2. because you make me be a grown up when I really don’t want to.
3. because you let me be ridiculous and silly all the other times.
4. because you have really good hair.
5. because of the way you scratch your nose with your whole fist and I sometimes think you are going to rub it off.
6. because you make better pancakes than me.
7. because the inside of my car doesn’t appall you. And yours might just be even worse.
8. because you like good movies and music.
9. because you sometimes ask me to dance with you in the living room.
10. because when you read Hank the Cowdog to Owen, you do all the voices. (and I am pretty sure I have heard you read Purplicious)
11. because you are smarter than me.
12. because you are way better at disciplining our kids than me.
13. because there needs to be at least one person in the house who can balance a check book. or at least try.
14. because you can usually find my keys.
15. because you make me feel safe.
16. because you do more around the house than most dads I know. (too bad we are both slobs).
17. because you hold my hand sometimes even when you don’t want to.
18. because you sneak candy into the movies for me.
19. because you give me a book allowance.
20. because you paint Tess’s toenails. And sometimes mine.
21. because you let me steal your jeans.
22. because you like me better when I don’t wear make up.
23. because you secretly like Gilmore Girls too.
24. because you don’t let me beat you at games.
25. because you are honest.
26. because you don’t know what you want to do when you grow up either.
27. because you let me drag you all over the place when you would much rather be sitting at home watching sports.
28. because you rarely say “I told you so” when you are right, which is more often than I’d like to admit.
29. because you get it.
30. because you made me a book.
31. because you sometimes you let me sleep in.
32. because our two ridiculously cute kids look just like you.
33. because you push me and encourage me and make me better than I would ever be without you."

and I guess it is time for a few new additions:
 34. because you rinse out my cereal bowl at least five days a week. And only complain about it  two.
35. because you finally learned my Starbucks order.
And one to grow on….
36. you can fix things – like appliances, computers and lawn mowers but you rarely try to fix me.


And 15 years later. Your hair is shorter. Mine has been through at least a dozen color changes. There are more lines around my eyes. Somedays our lives of leftovers, spelling lists, insurance and bills seems a million years away from those two kids. But maybe it wasn't that long ago after all. And this girl, the grown up boring one, still chooses you. She'd be crazy not to...


loosening my grip

Most of my favorite conversations happen over cake. Usually with coffee or wine.
I licked frosting off my fingers and talked apprehensively about something in my life I wasn’t sure of. Something I wanted desperately, but wasn’t quite sure that I trusted.
My friend put her fork down, and opened up her hand. Palm up. And said this, “Hold it loosely”.  I nodded. Took another sip and we moved on to other important topics like running shoes and T. Swift.

Later that night when I crawled into bed and my thoughts began to run wild I reigned them in a little with that idea. Holding the things I value loosely. Carefully. With a willingness to let them go. Or at least admit that they aren’t really mine. I looked it up online and stumbled across this quote from a Chuck Swindoll book:

“I'll never forget a conversation I had with the late Corrie ten Boom(a holocaust survivor.  She said to me, in her broken English, "Chuck, I've learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!”

                                    Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity

This morning my family went to breakfast. A crowded diner where the syrup is warm, the pancakes extra fluffy and my coffee cup never hit empty. My kids sticky with syrup we shoveled pancakes and hashbrowns into their mouths. Tess had more than she could eat, so my husband snagged a piece of bacon off her plate. Despite the fact that she had two more pieces, she threw a fit and ripped it from his hand. She also grabbed the other two strips and held them in her opposite paw. With two fists full of greasy bacon that she didn’t even want, she eyed her pancakes and wondered how to get it in her mouth without putting down the bacon. And she couldn’t. She had to put something down to pick something else up.  Even if it meant someone might eat her bacon.

 Sometimes I wonder if my daughter is related to me. She can sniff out all things pink and glitter from miles away. Yesterday she watched you tube videos on cake decorating for a full hour. She colors in the lines, and accessorizes and insists on matching. But one gene, that I know she got from me (besides her freckles) is her tight grip. She holds on ferociously to what she wants. And refuses to let go. And will fight you tooth and nail while you try to pry it out of her hot little hand. Literally, I have the bite marks to prove it.

 This summer she had a fascination with roly polies. She would grab a few off the driveway on our way to the car and always want to take them with her wherever we were going. She would hold them tightly, and they rarely made the trip alive. She would then drop them and look for something else to squish and suffocate with her vice grip.

Not everything should be held so tightly.
Roly polies. Chips. Butterflies. Christmas ornaments. Cookies.
All things Tess has learned the hard way could be crushed and damaged in her tight closed fist.
My finances. My writing. My career. My relationships.
All things I have learned the hard way could be crushed and damaged in my own tight fist.

It is instinct to hold on to things tightly. When my kids were babies before they could talk or crawl or even hold up their own hands – I’d slip my finger into their tiny fist and they’d grab on tight.

 But eventually they outgrew it.

 And so should I.

 And I can’t help but question that simple advice. Of my friend’s open palm. And how impossible it seems to hold anything at all with your hand like that.
There are all kinds of obvious connections to make – like all this stuff we are holding onto so tightly isn’t ours anyways. We should be giving more than we are gripping. But, it also made me think of something else. Awkward first dates.

 I am a hand holder. And when I first started dating my husband (or a slew of way less great guys before that), I’d want them to take my hand. That first little sign that maybe they liked me. However, I usually wanted them to make that first move, so I’d awkwardly have my hand resting face up on my leg in the car, or dangling dangerously close to the popcorn in the movie theatre. Just in case the guy the guy wanted to grab it. I’m sure it was sad and obvious. But more often than not it worked.

Because an open palm is way easier to hold than a tight fist.
So maybe you can hold on to things with an open hand after all.
Hold things loosely but love them fiercely.

there is no I in team

Saturdays are spent hauling lawn chairs and water bottles. Watching from the sidelines. Cheering and chatting with the other moms as my kids run up and down the soccer field. Or on the couch grading papers while my college team has another average year on the football field. My husband follows even more teams, he TiVos premier leaugue soccer, MLS, baseball and any other sport that they will show on TV.
We support our local teams, our college team and more than occasionally the underdog.

We all want someone to root for. And someone to root for us.

Even better than cheering on your favorite team is being a part of one.  Up until my senior year of high school – I suited up for the tennis team. But tennis is really an individual sport. Even if you are wearing matching windpants. Occasionally I played doubles – but two is more of a duo –not so much a team. Senior year, title IX, and my school started a girls soccer team. No one had ever heard of Mia Hamm even though she had already won her first world cup. My team was not winning any world cups, and barely won any games. But I remember my first real game. Beneath the lights. Spread out on the field.  Losing 10 to 1 or something equally awful but with matching double french braids, new jerseys and gum tattoos and thinking this was different. This is how it felt to be on a team. And I liked it better. Even getting our ass kicked and sucking wind.

Teams are not limited to who we root for or what jersey we wear. They find us or we find them at work or church or your neighborhood everyday. We form alliances worthy of Survivor. And sometimes even seemingly the most mature work/church/fill-in-the-blank-with-your-group environments could put junior high girls to shame. And to some degree they can be good. People to vent to, or make copies for you or watch your class while you run to the restroom. People who don’t think you are crazy when you ask a question at Bible study or don’t laugh when you fall asleep in the pick up line. These people are on your team. You can count on them. And that is a good feeling. It is one of my favorite things about being married. Knowing that at least one other person is always on my team. Unless of course we are playing a board game or a quick set of tennis and then I am most definitely trying to beat him.

But sometimes people try to put you on the opposing team or force you to pick a side. I’ve had people make assumptions that surely I am on their team. They assume I vote the same way, hate who they hate and hold the same grudges they do. When I am not even sure I want to play the same game. It makes me tired and sad and confused. Like maybe I should be on their team, even though it isn’t a game I want to play. And I can’t help but think we have picked the wrong opponent. Maybe it is just easier to try and beat someone else, than to try to win.

 I read a lot of books. Currently I am in the middle of some Jodi Picoult trash, a book on education, a memoir, one on writing and a few you’d buy at Mardel. I read a lot from the last category. And when they get to scripture or a well known bible story…I sometimes start skimming or jump ahead. I have read that stuff already. Multiple times. But this time I read a story that I have read and re-read and never hardly paid that much attention to because it seems so absurd in the first place. Crazy old testament stuff. A king trying to bring down the wall of a city by marching around it a few times and blowing a horn. (Joshua and the wall of Jericho), but the author managed to get me to read a part of the story I never noticed before. I guess the part we skipped over in Sunday school (Joshua 5:13), where Joshua decides to ask a pretty brave question to a mysterious man that the bible claims is not a man but the actual commander of the army of the Lord. You think if a sword bearing angel showed up right before go time, claiming to be ready for battle would encourage the guy. Instead, Joshua lays a pretty big question on him,  Are you ready for us or for our enemies?”

In other words –Are you sending me in to get slaughtered? Will you take care of me?
Should I trust you? Are you who you say you are? Are you good?

Are you even on my team? Or you on my enemies?

 And God’s messenger answered with a shocker. He didn’t say “of course I am on your side, Joshua.” Or “Trust me”. Or “We are going to slaughter them.” Or “I have your back” or even “let’s get rid of those awful Isrealites”.

Instead he said this.

Joshua asks whose side he is on, and God's messenger says neither. Right before he was supposed to put his crazy plan into action. And then he said simply that he was here. And to take off his shoes because the place was now holy. (Joshua5:14)

Maybe God doesn’t pick teams.
Instead he shows up.
Maybe Joshua didn’t ask the right question.
Maybe his question should have been directed at himself.
“Who am I for?”

And that tiny shift in perspective changes everything.

My favorite team above, on a side note -- I do not know anyone named Jess. And the typo is so funny to me that I didn't even bother to call and have a correct one printed. Might be easier just to change Tess's name.
(and the book I was reading was Unglued by Lysa Terkeurst who said all of the above but better, and unlike me she managed not to use any swear words.)

what she said

The other night my 4 year old came home with homework.
Which is already a beating to get through with my 7 year old. Who is kind of dorky and actually likes reading books about spiders and asks me to make up 4 digit numbers for him to add and subtract.
My 4 year old is much more interested in Justin Beiber, the boy down the street, squinkies, tutus and anything with glitter than she is about numbers, letters, or even writing her own name. As far as colors go – she only cares about pink and purple and makes up her own stories to any books I try to read her anyways. And they better have a princess in them.

 I was not ready for two rounds of homework. For two kids sitting at the kitchen table whining about their pencil not being sharp enough or not knowing what to do next.
And Tess was particularly helpless on her little worksheet that asked her to circle six of each item because they were not pink, they were not Justin Beiber, and there was no dancing or princesses of any kind. If this is a snapshot of many nights to come, I might have to start buying more wine again.

 I have never done my son’s homework but was tempted to grab her chubby little pencil and draw my own crooked little circles. Maybe miss one or two so it looked legit for her. Owen sensed my frustration, (or most likely was trying to find an excuse to not do his spelling and practice his handwriting) offered to help her out.  (and sidenote – all you crazy mom’s out there doing your kid’s homework. You. Are. Crazy. And stop making the rest of us look bad! and to the highschool mom’s out there who clearly do all your high school kid's homework, at least come in for tutoring and let me show you how to do chemistry before you attempt it. And you weren’t fooling anyone in 2nd grade and you sure as heck aren’t fooling anyone now!)

 Owen tried to explain the concept to her. (and frankly he did a much better job than I did), and suddenly my kids looked so old. Surrounded by worksheets and pencil shavings. They might as well be working on algebra and research papers.

Last night I sat around that same kitchen table, minus the crayons and glue and talked about the funny little things our kids say over wine and carrot cake. And I realized the days of toddler misspeaks is coming to an end just as quickly as carefree evenings watching My Little Pony and doing pirouettes in the living room.

Tess puts a hard C in front of lots of words where it doesn’t belong.
We wear cajamas instead of pajamas to bed. We eat cabanas instead of bananas (and Owen can spell bananas unlike lots of the words on his spelling list thanks to gwen steffani). She plays with strawberry courtcake, instead of the more popular shorter version. She asks to bounce on the jump-o-line at friends houses instead of a trampoline and wants to take the alligator instead of an elevator or the stairs.

I love these silly little mispronunciations and never correct her. I know they are short lived and I dread the day the disappear. Owen never says belbow instead of elbow anymore, and always asks for apples instead of bapples.

And it isn’t just mispronunciations but cute little innocent misunderstandings. Like when Owen used to tell me about “tomato drills” at school.  Last week, an artist had contacted me to use Tess for a commissioned painting for a client. I met him at his studio and we went outside so he could take some photographs to paint from. Since Tess was new to the modeling world, I tried to explain the new situation to her. I explained that he was going to take some pictures of her – so that he could paint her. Tess got so excited and said “I’m going to get tattoos!”. She thought he was actually going to paint ON her.  I laughed and put more in my mental file to worry about when she becomes a teenager.

 My favorite misspeak, that I will never ever correct and hope she never loses is when she prays.  At Tess’s school they must say the “God is great, God is good, Let us thank him for our food” prayer before meals.  Sometimes we actually all sit down at the table to eat, not just do homework. And then we even occasionally remember to pray first. And I always hope that Tess does the praying. Because she has the words all wrong. She grabs my hand and says in a loud bossy voice,

 “ God is grace. God is good”

 And then she sometimes forgets the rest. Because it doesn’t really matter after that.
God is grace. God is good.
Things I struggle to get right all the time.
And suddenly I think that Tess is the only one who has gotten the words right this whole time.