captain my captain

I drive a boat about as well as I drive a car.
Which is not saying much.

As much time as I’ve spent on a boat you think I’d be able to dock a Carnival Cruise ship, however, there is a pretty big difference in being a passenger and being the captain.

And I love the wind blowing through my hair, to park at the island or bounce along behind it holding on for dear life while someone pulls my tube into the wake. My arms ache for days afterwards but I will trade the ache easily for the ten minutes of feeling like I am still a teenager.
However, these attempts in the captain's seat usually are more comedy than success.  This weekend I even almost managed to sink a kayak...(which is a funny story for another day).

My dad just bought a new boat and I tried to pay a little more attention than I had in the past. This time when offered, I made sure to take a turn at the wheel even though I’d much rather be lounging across the seat watching my kids laugh and get splashed by the waves.

But mostly I paid attention to my surroundings.
Because on the lake it is really easy to get turned around.
There are no streets signs and all the inlets seem to look the same.
I have spent years of summers on this lake and I still only know my way around via landmarks.
I know to get to the gas station to aim for the dam and turn right. 
Then aim for the McDonalds sign.  
To get to the party island, aim for the big lighthouse then make a right.
Getting back home is the hardest but I have finally learned a few landmarks to let me know that I am in the right place. 

I’m sure by now, google maps would probably be able to help me out…..but I’m not quite sure it can direct me which exact inlet to turn. As far as I know most houses only have their addresses printed on the curbs, not the docks. But I do know that if I go under the telephone lines that I have gone too far.

On the boat, I have to pay attention not only to where I am going but also to where I have been. At least if I ever want to find my way home.

In high school I could not wait to get my license.  I may not have had a fancy car, but I did have one that seated most of my friends, my parent's gas card and by far the best musical selection. Junior year my friends and I all had plans to hit the mall right after school to shop for homecoming outfits. I’m sure there would be stops at the Buckle, the Gap and Chickfila for dinner (because these were the days before Chickfilas outside a mall existed).  The bell for last period finally rang and we all met at my car parked slightly askew. We buckled up, I adjusted my mirrors, turned up the radio and backed out.  And then I drove straight home.  It took awhile for my friends to notice that I was going the wrong way, but eventually someone piped up from the backseat…”Hey why aren’t we going to the mall?”.  I had to confess that I didn’t know how to get to the mall. To which they all laughed because we had been to the mall no less than 637 times. And that was just since junior high. So I explained that I only knew how to get to the mall from my house. Not from school (which for the record was only like 1 mile and 3 turns away).  They teased me a bit, but it gave us more time to cruise and we were 16. The only thing waiting on us was our precal homework....and we had no problems keeping it waiting.

I knew exactly where I was going.
I even knew how to get there.
I just didn’t know how to get there from somewhere else. There was no navigation system to type it into or google maps or annoying voice coming over the blue tooth saying “redirecting” every time I took a wrong turn. 
So instead I went back to the route I knew.  

It is hard to get lost these days, although I assure you I still try.
As long as I can get a phone signal I can find my way almost anywhere….

But sometimes I still struggle to know where I am.
To know how to get to where I want to be next even when I know exactly where it is. 
But more often when I don’t.
Or I find myself on a less than familiar route.
I try to pay attention to where I am going as well as where I have been.

To get where we are going sometimes we have to find our way home.

lost teeth and tied shoes

The other day before I left for work I gave my daughter’s loose tooth a little wiggle.
A few minutes after settling into my chair, turning on my computer while waiting for my email to upload, I heard my phone ding. I looked down and there was a picture with my daughter with a gap between her bottom teeth. I made a mental note to make sure I got some cash on the way home. And caught myself confused at what I was feeling. Excited for her but also sad. I wrote off the bitter part of the bittersweet as feeling that I had missed it even though I knew it had more to do with her growing up than me missing out. I couldn’t wait for my son’s first tooth to finally fall out. It seemed to take forever and took all my patience not to yank it out too soon.  It  finally happened when I hadn’t been there either. In the car with his dad on their way to NASA while I stayed behind hoping his little sister would nap so I could get back to the beach. I was nothing but ecstatic when getting that text. With Tess it seems too soon. Too early. Something inside me screaming “not yet”. 

I also recently registered her for kindergarten. I can not wait for the raise that comes after I write my last check for childcare. She is so ready for kindergarten…and I am so ready for one pick up and drop off and for her to stop being forced to take naps so that she will go to bed before me on the weeknights….That I was caught a little off guard by the wave of emotion that fell over me as I started my car in the elementary school parking lot after dropping off her shot records and filling out all those forms.

And the other day she told me she knew how to tie her own shoes. Since my son (who is almost 9) has barely mastered this skill, I assumed this was a typical Tess exaggeration. Like the way she counts to 100. By going 1, 2, 3, 4, …100. Or that she would tie it into a million knots like she did my own tennis shoes not too many weeks ago.  So I am surprised when she sits down and makes two bunny ears and pulls them through into a weak but passable knot.

I’m not the overly sappy mother. I encourage my kids to do what they can themselves. They make their own more jelly than peanut butter sandwiches, dress themselves (much to my dismay sometimes when I pick them up),  order for themselves at restaurants (this backfired when my son order lobster while out with my inlaws) and have a few simple chores. 
We all have things we want our kids to be. 
And ultimately I want to raise kind, brave, generous kids who love God and but also ones that will eventually move out of my house! In other words…I am attempting to teach them to be independent, have opinions, ask questions, resolve their own conflicts, have their own experiences, lose the training wheels, and apparently tie their own shoes. 

My kids lives are marked by firsts. These are the kinds of things we write in baby books. Well, clearly I am not the kind of mom that can keep up with a baby book…but if I did I’d record things like first words, first haircuts, first steps. Their childhoods are marked by firsts like little sharpie lines on the doorframe they keep moving upward. First days of school. First folder signings. First recitals. First goals scored. And oh my little 3rd grade son…. with his first “girlfriends”. I do not even want to think about first kisses. 

But motherhood is marked by lasts. The last time they need help with their seatbelt. The last time you can spell out words without them knowing what you are saying. The last time they insist that you read Goodnight Moon 427 times before they go to sleep. The last time you they let you hold their hand in the parking lot or refuse to go into the women’s restroom because at school they only go into the boys.  Often the lasts go by a bit unnoticed. They are not celebrated like a lost tooth and left under your pillow. They are just lost. Like the last time an “a” gets tacked onto the end of my name. And suddenly, just like that “momma” is just mom.

Tess is my last born. 
So these firsts and lasts that keep getting tangled together are weighing a little bit heavier on me than they did the first time around. I celebrate her lost tooth. I will do the happy dance when I write my last childcare check. And I can not even begin to fathom the joy of not having to tie another shoe, put another straw in a capri sun or having to wrestle my kids into bed at night. I do not miss for one second my last diaper, the last time I desperately hunted for a pacifier, spit up stains on my only clean shirt or waking up 12 times in the middle of the night ( I wish I was exaggerating on the 12 times…but there is a reason that this is my last child). But. Then there are other lasts.
The last time my kids smell like lavender baby wash.
The last time I carry them to their beds where I don’t feel like I need a back brace from the weight of them. 
The last time I strap them into the car seat to drive them around and pray that they fall asleep before I do.

First lost tooth.
Last days of preschool.
It is bittersweet.
Firsts mean my kids are growing. Becoming exactly who it is that God has made them to be…but it means more lasts are on the horizon as well. It is in my nature as a mother to hold on to the lasts. To stretch them out just a little bit longer. To hang on. 
Lasts remind me it is time to let go. Just a little bit more.
The truth is my kids are 8 and 5.
I’m not letting them go anywhere except maybe to play in the yard unattended. 
Which to be honest petrifies me a little and is a newish first for me as well…but finding myself with these new reclaimed moments to read or watch a TV show or cook dinner without “help” (read the opposite of help), having to answer a million questions or breaking up fights is worth the teensy bit of worry that they are breaking their leg on the trampoline that creeps in while I load the dishwasher.  

As my kids gain some independence and autonomy I am gaining a bit of mine back as well. In short spurts. 20 minutes here. A sleepover there. I read books without pictures. I watch movies without talking animals. I have meals in restaurants where you order with out number. I sleep for 5 hours straight before the dog wakes me up to go outside. Four years ago I would have traded my left arm for an hour to read, I would have cried tears of joy at the prospect of three straight hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

Instead today, I wipe away unexpected tears as I pull out of the parking lot for kindergarten registration. As I slip a dollar under my daughter’s pillow. And as she makes sloppy loops and loose knots on her own tennis shoes.

flashback friday : Mine

(I posted this a little over 3 years ago....and today is baby day for one of the toughest girls I know. Again.)

For almost a month every July they were mine. A few dozen 15-16 year old girls.

They came from some of the best neighborhoods and private schools to group homes and everything in between.
And somehow, magically, the guards and labels and cars and boyfriends and social status didn’t seem to make it very far past those slamming double screen doors.

And it only took a few nights on those hard bunks hearing each other snore and cry and fart and giggle for everyone to start getting real. And no one put on their make up in the morning. Hair air dried or immediately went up into a ponytail and it was one big community closet.

And during the day we swam, fished, crafted, walked up a lot of hills and stole ice from the ice machines. After lunch they read the newest Harry Potter books on their bunks and passed around the latest Seventeen magazine. Or shaved their legs with spray bottles. Dug through their caboodles. Listened to their Discmans. Wrote their friends or boys and occasionally even their parents. And later we would dance in the alcove, run people’s bras up the flag pole, sneak forbidden snacks and wonder what the night’s activity would be.

(campout dogpile)

And late at night. Those bunks were always at least two deep. And it didn’t matter if we were sticking to plastic mattress covers or laying flat on our backs on the tennis courts looking at the stars, two hours into our scheduled fifteen minute devotional or singing around a campfire, their stories spilled out.

(2 of my favorite girls in my bunk!)

And some of them were really normal.
They weren’t pretty enough.
Or popular enough.
They missed home.
Or their parents were splitting up.
They were jealous.
Or they’d never even kissed a boy.
Or they’d given their last boyfriend too much of themselves.
And some of them broke my heart.
They threw up after every meal.
They were abused and berated.
Their dad was in jail.
Their mom had taken off.
Their parents were addicted.
They were addicted.
They were deep in depression and had contemplated suicide.

And I don’t know that I ever said the right words.
But I listened. And I laid there.
And I told my own stories and insecurities.
And I snuck a few of them out to check email or raid the fridge or walk across the catwalk late at night. To keep having those conversations.
Because I didn’t know how to heal broken hearts, but I knew how to be present.

And at the end of those long hot weeks.
I was spent. And drained. And emotionally exhausted.
I had given them every single piece of me. I was tired and sun burned and out of clean clothes.
And I was completely empty and so ready to get home.
But I knew it mattered. I knew it was important.
Because once. Someone had done it for me. When I had slept, and written my name in sharpie, on those exact same bunks. In the exact same alcove.
Spilling out my own stories and hoping for someone to listen.
And she did. And it changed me.
And I knew that it was my turn to do the same.

And I had taught them some of them how to put in a tampon, and bait their hooks, make a banana boat, how to do a jump serve, how to pray, that doing a belly flop off the dam is a really bad idea, how to tip a canoe, to expect retaliation if they came after me with water balloons, hit a bulls eye, what I think God sounds like, how to properly wrap a bunk with toilet paper, and how to get their sheets to stop slipping off those miserable mattresses.
And they taught me how to love with my whole heart until it was so empty that it was full.

And at the end of July they all went home. Back to their fancy neighborhoods and grouphomes and happy families and horrible ones that I didn’t want to think about.
And I started teaching highschool. I got married the next summer instead of reclaiming my bunk. The good one by the fire escape and a decent breeze.
And there was no facebook or myspace to make keeping up easy.
But a few of us managed. I got letters and emails and mix tapes in the mail.
We caught up over pizza and coffee and ice cream when we happened to be in the same town. And their was a whole table of these girls at my wedding.

And these girls aren’t girls anymore.
They are 26ish.
And wives and mothers and girlfriends.
Some of them are in med school and law school and most of them have real grown up jobs and health insurance.
Some of them live across the country. And some of them have traveled places I’ve only read about.
And at least one of them lives in my own town.
But they are still mine.

And to be honest. For the most part, I’ve lost touch with most of them.
Life kind of does that.
Even with facebook.
But this morning I was logging onto my computer and I saw a facebook post that one of them had just had a baby.
And so I did what you always do on facebook when someone has a birthday or a baby or says something funny or is going through something hard.
I wrote on her wall.
But suddenly that didn’t feel like enough.
And I flashed back to this girl with short hair and sassy at 14 giving me a run for my money in the intermediate dorm.
And later at 16 and beautiful and the stories she told on those bunks.
And the hard that she had lived.
And just a few years earlier I remembered tears quietly slipping down my face as she walked down the aisle. And my son dancing at her reception.
And I knew that facebook wasn’t going to cut it.

And she lives in my town.
But I didn’t know her number or even the hospital.
But that didn’t stop me from literally sprinting out the door.
Without brushing my hair or brushing my teeth. Just like one of those July mornings because suddenly I couldn’t get there fast enough. I drove too fast and called hospitals on the way. And got it on the first try.
Room 207.

And I was the last girl she was expecting to walk in the room.
But her face lit up when I did.
And I almost crawled straight into her hospital bed with her because it would have been just like one of those bunks.
But instead I went immediately to hold her beautiful baby girl, named after her grandmother. The exact same one that used to send her to camp every summer. And I pulled up a chair and let her tell me a few more stories.
Because in some of the most important ways, she is still part of mine.