the tooth fairy

Last night, with blood smeared on her cheek, Tess finally came downstairs with her top tooth in hand. I have been eagerly awaiting that gap toothed grin, since the last one fell out 10 days ago.  Tess is a little self conscious of her spacious smirk, but they are probably my favorite smiles. Three years ago I wrote about the exact same thing (below)…and it is all still true.

My son has been working on it for weeks. Wiggling, pushing his tooth back and forth with his tongue sometimes even until it bled. And I couldn’t have been more ready for it to fall out. His first top tooth fell out about a week ago, and the lone one left was hanging on by a thread. Pointing the complete wrong direction. I sent him to school day after day with this crooked snaggletooth praying it would be gone by the time I picked him up. Until finally, yesterday he pried it out and came running triumphantly to my room before 7 am, tiny tooth in hand. On a Saturday. It is hard to fake excitement before I have had coffee and he has lost enough teeth by now that the tooth fairy is ready to take on a second job just to keep up. And even without my contacts in, I could see the Grand Canyon of gaps across the top of his mouth and I suddenly couldn’t  get enough of his gummy grin.

And I know that soon, this big empty space will be filled with 2 giant grown up teeth that he will have forever, (hopefully, assuming, he doesn’t take up hockey any time soon). Little kids with grown up teeth look different. Always a little bit funny until they grow into them.

The last few days I keep asking him to smile for me, and occasionally snapping photos. I am in love with these gaps. His grin is for sure the cutest, but when it comes to my kids there are plenty of places that I leave room. I buy their shoes just a tad too big, and their pants a little too long. I know that eventually they will fill them. At some point I stopped giving myself this luxury. I’ve bought shoes in the exact same size since about the 8th grade and if anything I buy my pants too small, hoping to shrink rather than grow. And my heart isn’t quite as stagnant as my shoe size or as fickle as my waistline, but I’m not quite sure that I have given it much room to grow either.

Those things we all need more of....
Time. Space. Margin. Rest.

Days on my calendar without dots on them.  Time spent on my couch rather than to do lists or running around. Money left over at the end of the month rather than the other way around. This season has seemed especially busy. I seem to have more work than ever and less time to do it in.  God, who is always a bit wiser than I, left a few gaps. Pried a few things from me because He knew that I would never pull them on my own.

I was not like my son, triumphant over each loss. Instead I grieved them. Whined about them. And quickly tried to fill them with anything or anyone I could find.

But I am starting to see that maybe this space isn’t so bad. That they are in fact gifts. That growth happens in the gaps. In the spaces where we leave room for it. Not in plates that are too full or calendars that are doublebooked or even in pants that are too tight.  And although I’d like to keep all my teeth, I will try to welcome gaps and space as they show up. Understanding, that things will have to pulled and tugged loose to make room. Space created from loss for something bigger and better and more permanent to fill.

 Now, if I could just get the tooth fairy to leave me a few bucks under my pillow….

And the last time these two had toothless grins -->

the annual REAL Christmas letter

Every year I like to write the kind of letter that people used to send with Christmas cards but with a few important caveats. First, I do not have it together enough this year for Christmas cards or even pictures of my kids both smiling and with their hair brushed.  Second, those old school Christmas letters are mostly crap – so I started writing REAL Christmas letters about seven years as ago as a joke, in response to all the fake and cheesy ones people send out about how perfect their lives appear on paper. A friend and I laughed about how refreshing it would be if people wrote real Christmas letters. Confessed to filing for bankruptcy or bragged about their kid’s straight C report card.  What if those letters were a place where they shared the highs, but didn't ignore the lows. It would be way more honest and a whole lot more entertaining. Most people don't write Christmas letters any more. These days we do not save our perfect lives for yearly updates; we post them in our Facebook status and on Instagram 365 days a year. I am just as guilty. I post pictures of all the fun places I go and eat, not all the nights I am in pjs before the evening news. So now every year I try to rewind, reflect and share the highs and a few honest moments as well. So here it is - my year in review.  I have learned a lot of things this year, but brevity was not one of them….so settle in.

This year is harder for me to reflect back on than others because it has been rough and at least a few months of it are a complete and total blur or pain pills, hospital bills and Netflix.  Usually I find myself in this time of year writing about cool places I have gone, races I have run and what my kids have learned.  This year I haven’t gone to many places, I haven’t need to buy new running shoes all year and I am pretty sure I have learned more than my kids. Usually when I reflect, I feel like everything is the same. Same job, same house, same pant size…it is only my kids that seem to grow. This year has been nothing but change. Since this time last year I have gone back to school, I have changed my address and added some hardware to my skull. Currently no new tattoos – but there are still a few days left in the year.

Shaun has taught my kids to ski and they have totally caught the bug. Owen zips down the mountain with young 10 year old legs that don’t ache that put mine to shame.  He loves the ocean like me, but he is still Shaun’s carbon copy and pouted all the way home from the mountains this year pausing only to argue over Pokemon cards with his sister. Owen has moved up from elementary school to intermediate school complete with lockers, lock-ins and dances. He is still completely oblivious to girls and never uses the deodorant I bought him.  He knows way more science than me, but cannot remember to turn in his homework.  Shaun coached his soccer team again. Owen managed to score a few goals and Shaun managed to not get a red card this season. He is outgrowing all kinds of things, like finally some of his jeans but also kids meals and the tooth fairy. He is only 10 but can sleep late and disappear into his room for hours at a time venturing out only for food. I love the extra sleep and my new ability to go to Target alone….but sometimes miss the little kid that left Legos all over the floor. (I take that back--- he still leaves Legos all over the floor!)

Tess has lost a handful of teeth and some of her girly-ness but none of her sass. She still loves a fancy new dress, lip gloss and doesn’t think there is such a thing as too many Barbies, but she has also into Star Wars, Minecraft and overalls.  She is a “maker” and wants to create things all the time. Out of little blocks on my phone, or cookies, or Legos or anything made from pipe cleaners and glitter. She will not however make her bed.  Tess doesn’t love school as much this year unless they are doing crafty things or serving chicken nuggets in the cafeteria that day because she also almost never remembers to “make” her lunch…..which is just as well because last time she made her own lunch it involved 3 bags of chips and some Oreo cookies.  Her hair is usually going in all kinds of directions and her socks are always mismatched, this however does not seem to deter her because on the way home from school recently she told me that a boy kissed her on the playground. On an unrelated note, I think Owen is going to start karate soon.

Shaun has been busy, running, traveling and picking up my slack (and counting down the days until the new Star Wars came out).  The rest of his time he spends in his garage. I love the fact that our new home has an actual pantry and that the yard takes so much less time to mow (ok, for Shaun and Owen to mow). Shaun loves that he has his own garage. To make things in. I guess he is a “maker” too, like Tess.  Sometimes he even makes dinner. With my surgery and school, Shaun has had to step up and help out in all kinds of ways that I am so grateful for.

Moving was a little traumatic for me. Leaving behind the place that I brought home my babies from the hospital to. The first place where we built a home and drew sharpie lines on the doorframes.  We packed it up and emptied it out. I have been to the old house a few times (because I forgot to change my address on Zulily and they keep getting my packages).  They have replaced all the floors, painted all the walls, wiped out the flowerbeds and scraped the popcorn off the ceiling.  It looks amazing but feels empty to me.  Which is ok because it took us no time to fill our new sink with dirty dishes, fill up the junk drawers, the clothes hamper with laundry to wash and most of all fill this new address with laughter, leftovers and dog hair.  There are still a few boxes to unpack, but this new place quickly went from our new house to our new home.

School has always been easy for me. Unless we are talking about waking up for 8 am classes, Calculus or these days remembering to take attendance. I started school, as a student, again last January after a decade, 2 dogs, 2 houses and 2 kids later.  And aside from lots of coffee, the experience couldn’t have been more different from my last two degrees. I’ve been know to say, only half joking, that I am getting a doctorate in humility. My degree plan is in curriculum and instruction and I have learned a few things about that. But mostly I have learned all kinds of other things I did not anticipate. It only took me one week in to realize I was not going to be learning what I thought. I was so eager for someone to teach me everything I wanted to know about education. I wanted help finding internships and mentors and guide me through my own research. Instead I quickly learned how much I didn’t know and how little someone else was going to do for me. My first semester I learned more life lessons than academic ones. I learned a little about how to budget my time, how to ask and how hard it is to use punctuation properly. The last year has really taught me to budget and use my time more wisely - to make checklists, set timers and always keep a book or article in the car. I am a procrastinator and an extrovert. I hate to say no to something fun or miss out on an opportunity. I say yes even when I have stacks of papers to grade or laundry to hang. Those quizzes can wait. Laundry can stay in the basket, but I doubt my professors will understand that there was a concert I wanted to go to, that my kids wanted to go swimming or there was a Gilmore Girls marathon on TV. I still get to say yes occasionally but I had to be a whole lot more selective. No is a struggle for me, but I have tried to recognize that every yes I say is a no for something else. I am like the weight watchers of fun these days…saving up my bonus points for the people and things that I love most (and naps). I am learning that I can’t go to every birthday party, happy hour, concert or movie and that I should use my yeses for things like my kids soccer games, queso and not wait until the last minute to read 80 pages of journal articles. These days I waste a lot more time with people and things that I love rather than just things I like.

 I usually pride myself on being able to do things myself or figure things out (or asking Shaun to do them) but becoming a student has given me far more questions than answers. I am constantly asking all kinds of things to all kinds of people. I have sought out some of the best leaders and smartest people around me. I have taken notes. Sometimes I have listened more than I have talked (this is a small miracle for me). I have caught myself saying, “I read and article that said”…..about a million times to many to people who probably could care less and others who should care but don’t. Regardless I have asked, for help, for direction, for information, for whatever insight they can give me.  Not every one is thrilled with my ideas or questions. One meeting actually left me in tears. Most people, however, like to talk about what they are good at or experts in if I will just shut up long enough to let them, whether we are talking about school, cooking or Gilmore Girls. 
In many ways I am so ready to be rid of 2015.  The year has been expensive a struggle and not my most fun. I ran no big races. I did not go to DisneyWorld. Most of my pants no longer fit.  Someone recently plowed into Shaun’s car and he will probably be driving a rental all the way into 2016. Balancing school, work and my shrinking social life only gets more complicated while on bed rest or in pain. I have spent so much time thinking and writing about pain this last year that I can’t bear to give it more than a few lines here. I am so eager for a new theme, but it has taught me about hope, gratitude, anger and doubt. To be still and to wrestle. I am tired. Some days are easy, but some are still really hard. All I know is if I can write a paper while taking heavy narcotics and still make an A then I can do a hell of a lot more than I think I can.
This year has left me broke, tired, hurting and out of shape.
But. I. Have. Never. Been. So. Loved.
By professors that give me As on terrible papers.
By my friends and family that brought me meals or unpacked boxes.
By my husband that hangs up the laundry and does the dishes.
By my God that lets me wrestle.

So I am glad for my year. Tess’s lost teeth, Owen’s lost homework, our new home and the hard and beautiful lessons I have learned. In 2016 I hope for better, but I am still so very grateful for right now.

and if you are interested....from last year and the year before

advent and ordinary time

Sometime in October….Ordinary Time

I am at church. It has been awhile. The last time I was here I left in the middle. I said I was running an errand but more likely I was running away. Suddenly we sing a song. Oceans. 

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
Standing and trusting. 

My damn chin starts to quiver. I try to hide behind my coffee cup and wipe away the few tears that slip out anyways. I love this song, but I can not sing it this morning. I am so mad at myself for not being able to do this. For being angry. For feeling sorry for myself. The sermon is on how heavy our burden is and how focusing on the right things will lift them off. He tells us to imagine a heavy weight on us, and then suddenly it being lifted.
I think this is bullshit.
I do not have to imagine a heavy weight. It is there. It is back. It has slammed me into the ground again. I am afraid to imagine it being lifted because the memory of the lightness is too hard. Making the weight only seems heavier. 
I am angry by the cheapness of his words. How easy he makes it sound. And that again, I must not be doing or saying or believing the right things. In this moment I can promise that I am not. I feel like maybe my faith has been cheap and shallow if it is this easily rattled.

I tell a few people how I feel. The pain that is back and with it the emptiness that hope seems to have left behind in its flight. The neurologist gets me in that day (this is a small miracle). He says he is so sorry. He increases my dosage and tells me to come back in a few months. I go home emptied out. Drained of hope and trying to formulate some idea of what to do and mostly only come up with things not to do. A friend asks me how Jesus are in this season. I am honest. If Jesus was my friend onFacebook, I think I might have unfriended him. Or at least hidden him for a little while. It is not that I don’t know that he is good and true. I do. I just don’t feel it in this moment. If this is his plan then it is a shitty plan. Again, I feel like this is so whiny. That I am not dying. My family is amazing. I take a page from Ann Voskamp and start listing the good. I look for beautiful around me. I find it and I snap pictures of the moon and write lists of the things I am glad for. I keep another running list in my head of all the things that could be worse.Thankfullness and perspective are not always the magical cures we want them to be. I tell my friend that I have given up caffeine and alcohol and running and am seeing a counselor. In her effort to be kind she tells me that maybe I should stop using so much energy to do things or fix things but to use some of it to trust.
I want to throw my phone and do not even know how to respond.
How do I trust someone who lets you hurt so badly. 
Because when I am honest, 
I do not trust. 
It is why I don’t want to go to church or sing the songs or face the absence of hope.

Prayer like everything these days comes hard.
I read about big wild prayers.
and think that maybe I should be praying wilder. Or more often. Or more faithfully. Or fasting. Or shit.... more of anything that will get me a response. My prayers feel empty and repetitive and selfish but most days I mumble them anyways seeded with doubt. 
I have not gone to God last.
I have prayed wildly and nakedly and broken.
I have asked to be healed. for relief. for comfort.
I have asked to be able to trust again.
I keep asking.
Hope I suppose keeps asking even when she doesn’t trust the answers or sing out loud.

Decemberish - Advent

The Church year has its own seasons: advent, Christmas, ordinary time, lent and Easter. Most of the year is just called ordinary time. The past season of ordinary was hard, but thankfully brief. It is likely to come back around. And pass again, but for now it is Advent. My December days are busy with ordinary things but they are still counted differently. I am not very liturgical. My church attendance is questionable, but I have always been drawn to the formal seasons. I am glad to mark my days by something other than papers to grade, pills to take and laundry to hang.

I read recently that Advent is about the longing and the waiting.

“Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom. Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already? If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.” (Sarah Bessey)

Recently i have started to understand the waiting.
I thought I knew.
Waiting in lines so deep at Target they are wrapped around the cosmetic counter.
Waiting for the bell.
Waiting for acceptance letters to come.

But I didn’t know.

Waiting and longing for what you know will happen doesn’t seem to count. That is just marking time. Waiting when you don’t know. When you aren’t sure. Hoping when there is nothing else to do. Those are lessons I have learned the hard way.

Weeks ago I was desperate and empty.
Now I feel less of that.
More hopeful. More peaceful. Making my way towards joyful.

I wasn’t sure where trust fit into all this until today when I read Sarah Bessey’s post on week three which is joy:
“So I didn’t learn to practice joy until I learned to practice grief, and I didn’t learn how to do either one of those things well until I learned that God can be trusted.”

Trusted to show up to a tired and scared to teenage girl over 2000 years ago.
Trusted to show up to a tired and scared mother today.

Every night during this season in my house we light a candle and let just a little of it burn down. The days are marked. The wax melts.
The candle burns down and some of the edges and the pain and the hard seems to melt down as well.

The songs get easier to sing.
The pain has eased.
The silence is less loud.
The darkness is filled with candlelight.
with hope.
with peace.
with joy.



the long way home

The other night on the way home, I passed my exit. My ten year old had to correct me and ask where we were going. I started to drive to the wrong house. I was tired. I just wanted to get home and into bed. Unfortunately I was headed to the wrong bed.
I moved 4 months ago.
For the last 120 days I have been driving to my new address, you think I’d have it down by now…and then I slipped I headed back to the old one.

Once, a few years ago…out of the blue I signed my maiden name on a check.  I have had this name for almost 15 years, but for a second I forgot my new name.

Even in my exhaustion this seemed important. As I made a U-turn, part of me thought I do this in other places too.
I forget who I am. That I have changed. That I have moved.
Or forwards.
Or at least somewhere else.
I go back when there is nothing left for me there anymore.

My surgery didn’t really work as well as it should have. People ask me what the next steps are. And I say I learn to deal with pain. I pay big money weekly for someone to stick dozens of needles in my face. (This really helps tons and is worth every penny). I stopped drinking caffeine (if that doesn’t scream desperate — I do not know what does). I try whatever supplements someone offers me. I order essential oils. I stop eating grains (ok, I only lasted about a week on that one). I quit running even though it is the only thing that makes my head feel clear and strong. I email and text complete strangers because I am so desperate to have someone say “me too” or to ask all my questions. I get massages. I take long baths and go to bed early.  Every day I take handfuls of pills that make me feel tired and spacey and not me. I avoid so many things that I love, because I know that they will hurt. Or they might hurt. I’m not even sure which one it is anymore.

I also started going to counseling (I know, some of you are out there thinking….long overdue). I have always said everyone should go, but I have never had the guts to do it. The pain is back and then gone and then back again. And as much as that takes a daily toll on me, it is nothing compared to the disappointment. To the struggle of not wanting to saddle any of it on my family or friends. To the doubts I suddenly have about what I can and can not do. My faith suddenly incredibly flimsy. Frustrated by my weakness physical, mental and spiritual….and the fact that I have easily met my yearly deductible I make the appointment. I thought I could go in and Brene Brown it. Say, this is what we are going to talk about….you fix that and leave all the other stuff alone. Within minutes, she is waist deep in my shit. Making eye contact that is hard to break. Leaving lots of space that I am supposed to fill. Asking hard questions. I answer truthfully-ish and go home each week and try to untangle all the thoughts in my head. Which I guess is at least a distraction from the literal pain I went in with.

Desperation will do funny things to you. 
In some ways it makes you less afraid.
Willing to do and try anything. 
I make other appointments too. Neurosurgeons, neurologists, neuromuscular specialists. If you recommend it— I will go.

I have started taking long baths which is something I haven't done in decades. 
At night I run the water hot, almost scalding and pour in the eucalyptus and spearmint. There is no wine because I have mostly given that up too. 
I read. 
and steep.
The pain stops in the heat.
Sweat runs down my neck into the bubbles.
My fingers prune. My pages swell with water damage.
Eventually I find myself praying. Although I am not even sure it is ok to call it that. 
More like being honest. 
Truth talking. 
To myself. Or my god. And I am not so sure about which one.
Sureness is a solid thing. It does not slip through your fingers or down your drain. These days all I know is that I am most comfortable here in the fluid.
It feels ok to whisper my prayers and doubts and untruths.
I dread how it will feel to get out. 
For my feet to hit the hard tiles and the pain to jolt right back through.
So I linger in my uncertainty until the water turns cold.
I haven’t made it through a full church sermon in months.
But I keep trying.

I fight this weakness.
This unsure, helpless, fear…that I can’t outrun…because I haven’t laced up my sneakers in months.
Like the other night when I missed my exit…some days it is enough to make me forget who I am. Where I am going. Who I am supposed to be.
But there is also some freedom here.
Of being willing to try anything.
Of seeking out help in any form.
Of being uncomfortably honest.

It is the opposite of being brave, but it gives me courage all the same.
Slowly everything gets a little easier and I remember which way to go.

Eventually I always make it home.

walking shoes

At my last appointment I told the PA that I was a runner. We were talking about how I felt and how much I could do and when. The running threw her, possibly because she had just written down my weight and looked at my blood pressure.  Both of which say more about my love for donuts rather than endorphins. She told me that I still had more swelling than they’d like and that I wasn’t quite ready. That I needed to focus on walking, Netflix and slowly building myself back up. To ask her again after I could make it through the day without a nap and go grocery shopping without breaking into a cold sweat. She started to give me a textbook lecture on listening to my body, going slow and not overdoing it. Clearly I wasn’t paying attention or she remembered that I was the girl who kicked the walker away in ICU and that maybe she’d have to give me some clearer boundaries. She told me to get to where I can easily and comfortably walk a 5K. Then I could start jogging. Slowly. Then get to where I can jog a 5K comfortably then I can run longer and harder. Period. The end.

I know it is crazy but I love a good long hard run. The kind where I sweat through my clothes and develop a fine layer of salt on my body.  I have rarely won any races, because it is never about winning but going further and faster than I did the last time or think I could. My brain is quiet when I run mostly because there is no energy for anything other than breathing. I feel strong when I run. Ok, that isn’t true. I feel like quitting or dying when I run. But when I get home I feel strong. I’ve written about running over and over again. Pace, finishing strong and endurance. I figure if I can find those things on the asphalt that maybe I can find them in other places in my life as well.

For the last month or so I was laced up my tennis shoes, sometimes with pajama pants and shuffle around the block or through the park. Recently I have picked up the pace (a little), the distance and at least put on shorts. I don’t even bother to make a playlist (which is usually my biggest pre-run prep) because the headphones still bother me.
These days I am a walker.
I keep to the right.
I am filled with jealousy every time someone bounds past me with their water bottle and new shoes.
I look longingly at every bench I pass and wonder if it would be ok to take a quick nap on it.
But I keep walking.
I think maybe I could try running just a little.
But I can feel my head pounding and know this is a bad idea.
Right now I walk. Damn the old lady who just blew by me.
This is as fast as I go.
My brain is still a flurry unlike when I run, even though I am exhausted.
I try to be kinder to myself.
To tell myself that I am healing.
That I need to not be in such a hurry.
That if these runners who keep passing me on my left only knew what I was healing form that they’d be high-fiving me.
That internal kindness doesn’t last too long.
I keep pressing, until I know my legs can’t handle anymore.
Today I walked four miles and it felt like I ran 40.
My face was pale. I could feel my blood sugar plummet and my muscles twitch.

Today on the trail I saw a runner wearing a tank that simply said, “rest later”.
Ironically she was walking.
Distance runners are trained to push through walls and pain and your body telling you over and over to quit. There is a time to push. To go harder and faster.
But for now, I have to do the exact opposite. I have to pay attention. I have to listen, and be patient.
I need a tank top that says “rest now”.

At the moment I have a very physical wound, but it could just as easily be an emotional one. I have a list of restrictions and a timeline from my doctor, yet I still struggle to compare myself with all the wrong people. The ones going faster and further than me. On the trail, or pretty much everywhere else in my life.

I wrote everything you just read above three weeks ago. Since then, I have tried to run a few times. Short distances at a snail’s pace. Sometimes with success, sometimes with pain. Stopping at my first hint of nerve pain. I usually don’t keep up the pace long enough to pass many walkers. But for the few I do, I see them a little differently. My smugness is gone. I notice them. I smile or say hello. The walker in me doesn’t feel quite as strong as the runner, but she is definitely kinder.

She knows that you often have no idea what someone else is healing from.