Thursday, July 17, 2014

Splinched Yet Again


I've been splinched.

Yet again.

It's becoming a summertime tradition.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, keep reading. But first look at the great fun we've had with a couple of metal detectors.

Mom's brain must be here somewhere.

The search and rescue team.
Master detectors!

Better than a brain . . .  a plane!

For those of you who wondered why I had fallen off the face of the electronic world, first, thank you for your concern. Second, let me site three reasons for Internet silence:

1. We were in Michigan and Canada for about three weeks.

2. We returned just in time for a three day frenzy of uniform and supply shopping

3. I've been splinched.

Regarding the third reason, Harry Potter aficionados will recognize the term "splinched." Splinching occurs when one attempts to magically move from one destination to another, a process called apparating. When apparating, one should remember the three D's -- destination, determination, and I can't remember the third one which may explain why I keep splinching.

The result of splinching is that some body part -- ranging from a leg to an eyebrow -- gets left behind.

I've done a lot of moving this summer -- home to mountains, home to Michigan, Canada to home. I've facilitated a lot of moves -- Dave and Tim to Boy Scout Camp, Tim to Boot Camp, Tim to a vocations' retreat. And while in town, we've moved quite a bit as well. Mostly home to pool, pool to home.

I've had lists and bags and tables covered with gear.Suitcases and backpacks and wet bags (or are they called dry bags?) have gone up and down the attic stairs again and again and again.

It's been good, really good. Our recent visit to Michigan and Canada was probably our best ever. In fact, this summer has probably been our best ever. That's if you disregard last Friday and Saturday which were just this side of gruesome. Boys and clothes shopping? Too, too fun, don't you know!

The highlight was heading out for boys' white button down shirts, size 16. Sounds easy enough. Walmart? Sold out! Target? Nary a one in sight! Sears? I found two -- same size, same brand, slightly different design. One was $5.98; one was $16.98. Sold!

Ignoring these rather trying and lengthy shopping excursions, we've had a good summer. Not perfect, but really, really good.

Even when it all goes well, summer has a certain intensity. A relaxed intensity in that we typically don't have deadlines and school bells and homework. But we're all together almost all of the time, and that alone can be intense.

In this world, there are introverts and there are extroverts; I would have to call myself a hybrid. I do not do well when I'm alone day after day. Isolation and cloudy weather are a particularly difficult combination for me.

But the opposite is also true.

When I'm never alone -- when I have to post rules detailing the circumstances in which my offspring can knock on the bathroom door -- when someone is nearly always right there needing or wanting something -- eventually, I splinch. Honestly, I don't think I've been alone of two hours since May.

When I splinch, I'm fairly sure the part I leave behind is my cerebral cortex.

I can't think.

While vacationing in Michigan and Canada, I had a dozen thoughts I wanted to write about, but most of the trip involved grandparents and aunts and uncles and lots and lots of cousins. It's wonderful, and it's intense.

And I couldn't string two sentences together.

Rather than fighting it, I simply recognized my splinched state of mind, put people before things, and enjoyed our vacation.

One day soon, I will locate (with or without the metal detector) and once again take possession of my cerebral cortex. Right?

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Were You Raised in a Barn? Would You Like Some Hay?

So we are packing up for a road trip. This process follows an invariable path:

Step #1 - Congratulate myself that I am -- against all odds and despite a busy swim schedule -- caught up with laundry.

Step # 2 - Tote a suitcase to Ainsley's dresser and there unearth the mother-lode of dirty clothes.

Step #3 - Repeat Step # 2 for John, Kolbe, and Tim.

Step #4 - Think back to that YouTube video (remember A Mom's Rant) and recall that classic line: Were you raised in a barn? Would you like some hay?

Step # 5 - Embark on a marathon session of laundry, giving thanks all the while for the conveniences of modern life.

Step # 6 - Check Dave's dresser and thank our good and gracious Lord I married a man so tidy he could step into the Marine Corps and never miss a beat.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Iron Sharpens Iron

Swim Team 2014.

It's all over but the party. For the most part, the mothers are elated. But then mothers typically rejoice at the end of grueling endeavors -- pregnancy, labor, potty training, research papers, science fair projects, braces, nearly every sports season.

I, for one, have mixed feelings.

We started swim team in 2013 with nothing but noble motives:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

By those measurements, Swim Team 2013 was a great success.

But then a funny thing happened on the way through Swim Team 2014: John proved to be  fast. Wednesday morning during swim team means water polo, donuts, and ribbons. Last week I sat with a cluster of moms as their children began running to them -- some elated, some clearly not -- to show off ribbons earned the night before. One mom glanced over to her daughter and, in a monotone voice, fed her an obviously well-rehearsed line: Look at your time, not at your place.

Look at your time, not at your place.

I've said it dozens of times myself. This was especially true for my older boys who joined the swim team 8-10 years too late to have any chance of being competitive. Fitness and fun, I'd tell them. It's about fitness and fun. Look at your time, not at your place. I created a spreadsheet to track the boys' speed. And it really was fun to watch them improve both in form and in time.

So here we are in 2014, and our goals are pretty much the same:

1. To improve our swimming

2. To bring a little order to our day

In our first meet, John garnered a couple of firsts and a second. Ditto the second meet when he might have earned three blue ribbons had he not lolly-gagged toward the end of the freestyle sprint. See, suddenly I'm analyzing and not just enjoying. The third meet brought a goggle malfunction as did the fourth meet and the divisional championship, and suddenly I'm stressed and aggravated and thinking like a Hollywood stage mother when, really, it's all about fun and fitness, right?

Then Dave got to chatting about swim team with a guy at work, and the guy showed Dave this mystical page that lists the swim rankings for our entire region and, as it turns out, John and his good buddy Henry were doing just swimmingly.

Horrible, horrible pun, I know.

And none of this -- the malfunctioning goggles or the ratings -- helps keep our focus on fun and fitness, and by "our focus", I really mean "my focus" because John? He's oblivious. He just gets in the pool and does his thing and does it well.

Go, Kolbe!

A whiff of success and suddenly we're far more focused on performance than fun, thinking about what didn't go well rather than looking at what did.

Well, we all survived and actually enjoyed ourselves in the process, if you can enjoy yourself spending hours and hours watching a sporting event in a sauna.

(Not to digress, but if I were still employed by Procter and Gamble, I'd totally be writing those commercials that celebrate swim Moms. Walking into a humid lobby with three children and fifty two pounds of gear, carrying the gear up two flights of stairs that were -- no exaggeration whatsoever -- my 140 degree attic in August, moving up to the bleachers that made the lobby feel like Autumn in Maine, squishing into the stands with a thousand other parents and feeling sweat drip between your shoulder blades all so that you can cheer for your kids who spend just about two minutes in the pool.

And that, my friends, is swim team finals! Please do not judge the mothers who prayed their kids wouldn't make it into the All Star Meet which was deja vu all over again the following night.

So let's offer a virtual high five for swim Moms everywhere).

Proverbs 17 reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

I've heard friends debating the purpose of athletics. Fun and fitness, of course, top the list. But what about competition? Does it do nothing more than fuel the ego (parental or otherwise)?  One dad mentioned Proverbs 17 and suggested that iron does indeed sharpen iron, that sports can be a greenhouse of virtue through which we learn to do our best, to push ourselves, to win gracefully, to lose gracefully, in short, to hone key life skills.

In a rather comical application of this principle, Ainsley turned the corner with swimming after watching her friend Isa put her head in the water and plow forward with the front crawl.

"Isa's more better than I am," my sweet daughter lamented, head down in the pool gutter.

Somehow that combination of bad grammar and green-eyed envy spurred my girl on. The next day, she, too, put her head in the water and managed a very respectable dog paddle.

The girl swims -- and one day soon I'll get a  picture of it. Meantime, let's dance.

I have come to no grand conclusions about it all except for what I shared with Rachel as we left the pool: There's one sort of struggle when your kids aren't good at sports and a different sort of struggle when they are.

I think we're all ready to party.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Tomorrow   Today is one of my favorite feast days. With no time to write, I pulled a few thoughts from the archives.

For those of you who have been praying for our parents, thank you, thank you, thank you and please don't stop.

And let me add two more intentions. In the span of maybe seventy-two hours, two people dear to me have had newborn babies placed in their care for adoption.This is the culmination of years of prayer. One of the adoptions faces some legal hurdles. Please, please pray in gratitude, in joy, and in hope for a smooth transition for Mama, Daddy, and Baby.

The Heart

Dave and I enjoyed our weekend getaway.

Through Dave's savvy use of Priceline, we snatched up a gorgeous hotel room for less than usually pay for a dive off I-77. We are more accustomed to big rigs and bad coffee than waterfalls and sleek furniture. This was very nice.

Now at these nicer hotels there are these really helpful folks called bell-hops who handle your luggage for you. Who knew? The bell-hop and I were putting our smaller bags on a cart as Dave pulled the larger cases out of the trunk.

We had stopped for dinner shortly before our arrival. Ainsley had been getting cold, so I had opened my bag to grab a blanket. I failed to zip the bag shut.

Cue ominous music.

So there's Dave pulling out my suitcase. And there are all my personal effects scattering across the streets of downtown Tampa. I didn't take a close look because, I ask you, did I really want to see my unmentionables lying on the asphalt for all the world to see? Not so much.

Humiliation complete and personal effects retrieved, we tipped the good bell-hop and settled into our comfy room and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

On Sunday we walked a few blocks to a beautiful church for Mass. Friday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the parish happened to be the Church of the Sacred Heart. Call it the catechist in me, but things like this make my day.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates back to the mid 1600s when a French nun, now known as Saint Margaret Mary, had a series of visions revealing the nature of Christ's heart and His deep love for us. I have a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung in my grandmother's house throughout my childhood.

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd we explore why God presents some of the same lessons over and over again. Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis? Why are there four Gospels? Why did Jesus present parable after parable?

Each one, we learn, reflects a slightly different face of God.

So, too, it is with the saints. Saint Francis presents a vision of simplicity, detachment, and love. Saint Teresa of Avila calls us to the heights of contemplative prayer. Saint Faustina helps us understand the limitless expanse of Christ's mercy.

Saint Margaret Mary came to a unique awareness of the nature of Christ's heart. It is this heart that I pray will reshape what is lacking in my own.

The path to wholeness and holiness is not always a simple one. I've heard the saying "Act as if it all depends on you. Pray as if it all depends on God." Sometimes we ask God to do a work in us that we cannot do for ourselves.

In my early twenties I returned to the church of my early childhood. I embraced with a joyful heart so much of what the Catholic Church teaches. There were, however, a few lingering questions and theological issues that I gnawed on for a few years. I developed a habit of receiving communion and praying, "Jesus, I believe in you; help my unbelief." While there was no 180 degree shift, one day I simply found myself at peace.

Sometimes I am confronted anew with the limits of my heart, with my stunted ability to love. I judge others. I am impatient or dismissive with my children. I avoid certain people.

I don't want to be this way. I want the heart of Jesus.

So as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I continue to seek His heart. As I pass my grandmother's image of the Sacred Heart that now sits on our prayer table, I pray, "Jesus, meek and mild, make my heart as unto thine own."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Road Is Long

I will be forever grateful that my children have known all their grandparents.

They'll remember gardening with Papa and fishing with Grandpa. They'll remember Oney the Scrabble champ and Grandma's incomparable baked beans. They'll remember Papa's colorful rendition of Harvey's Hideout and Grandpa quipping "Gifts are appreciated!" every time they made a wrong move in a chess game. They'll reminisce about Grandma who rode the waves at Hilton Head and took them to the video arcade.

I never knew my grandfathers -- one died before I was born, and one died when I was very young. When my Uncle Jack hit 64 or so, he became the oldest living male Regan. The women had longevity; the men died young. We have modern medicine to thank for the fact that my children continue to build memories with these four special people they call grandparents.

The downside is suffering.

Their grandparents are aging -- facing different maladies, loss of function, cognitive and physical, and it's hard, so very, very hard. Hard on us. Hard on the patient. Hard on the caregiver.

I remember being in a support group meeting many years ago and listening to an elderly friend named Fran describe her last drive. Her sight was failing; her reflexes were compromised. It was time to turn in her keys. She spent the afternoon driving up and down her driveway for several hours. She turned off the car and gave the keys to her daughter.

I was healthy and twenty-something and struck by what a life-changing moment that was for Fran. Our neighborhood has lots of terrific qualities, but you can't walk anywhere from here -- not the store, not the church, not the bank. Fran's wings were clipped.

And this is the path our parents are now on.

God is near to the broken-hearted, and not one bit of our suffering is wasted. And so I am praying for grace -- for frail and failing parents and for their more able-bodied caregivers (who sometimes seem to carry an even greater burden).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spoiling for a Fight

Do your kids fight over things that are not even a remote possibility? Mine do. Constantly spoiling for a fight that ain't never gonna happen.

We pull into the gas station and spy a totally cool car -- gold, sporty, souped-out.

"I call that car," Ainsley shrieks.

"No, it's mine," John interjects, "But you can have a Ferrari."

He kindly tosses her a bone, but she's not having any of it.

"I. don't. want. a. Ferrari," she says, clearly enunciating each syllable.

"You can have a Lamborghini," he generously offers.

No, no. She's having none of it.

This morning it was donuts.

"I get all the donuts," Ainsley declares, not realizing we have precisely zero donuts in our house.

"I get the whole donut store," John counters.

Ainsley's at a loss for words, so John just forges ahead. "I get the donut store plus infinity plus infinity."

Ainsley is flummoxed completely, blue eyes rolling into the back of her head. Though she can count and handle a little rudimentary addition, the concept of infinity plus infinity makes her head spin, and Tim, our resident lover of all things Math, is not here to bail her out.

The look on her face reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Story when a kid jumps immediately from Dare to Triple Dog Dare, a gross and unforgivable violation of playground etiquette.

"Well," she says in halting voice, "I get it, too. Me, too."

In a rare act of compassion, John makes no comment on her lame response

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fun and Games

John arrived home from an epic swim meet with a new skill: He's now an expert at Go Fish. 

For perspective, the kids are at the pool nearly six hours. If John swims four events, he spends well under four minutes actually in the water. They need a few diversions. He and his pal, Max, decided to play cards.

We had a down day today, a wonderfully slow-paced, sleep late, don't do much of anything sort of day that gave us lots of time to play cards. And the game went something like this:

Ainsley, drawing a card: Oooooh! I got an "A".

John, seizing the moment: Ainsley, do you have any aces?

Ainsley, frowning: Go! Fish!

Me, knowing where all this is headed: Sweetie, that's not how the game works.

Ainsley, wailing: I want my "A"!

There's nothing new under the sun. From the archives, I offer you this:

Let the Games Begin

I've always loved playing games. I whiled away the summers of my childhood playing endless games of Monopoly with my best friend, Susan. College evenings with Ami, Kate, and Anne were filled with Trivial Pursuit and nachos from Tijuana Bob's. It's a rare board game I don't enjoy. Vacations with my extended family are filled with hours of Scrabble interrupted by rounds of Uno and Euchre.

We just acquired a new game - The Settlers of Catan. The older boys and I sat down to play this morning.

Playing with kids brings a few challenges I don't typically find when it's my mom or my sisters battling it out. My mom doesn't usually cry when she loses, and my sisters can make the dice land in the vicinity of the board.

Not so with young kids.

We have large age gaps, so right from the start finding the right game is tough. I try to find a game not too banal (think: Candyland), but not too competitive (think: Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?), and, most importantly, not too long (think: Risk).

Game chosen, we then have a few behavioral challenges to overcome.

We may or may not have a family member who can not manage to throw dice in such a manner that they actually land anywhere near the board. If the dice do happen upon the board itself, rest assured we are playing a game with dozens of tiny pieces placed in strategic locations. The dice go a flyin' and so do the pieces. Otherwise, the dice go a flyin' and land under the table, typically within Ainsley's grasp.

You know, when the dice skedaddle once or twice, it's no big deal, but, trust me, by the eleventh time, you want to shriek "Settlers of Catan, be gone!" and get a cold compress and a few Advil. We've learned to throw the dice into a plastic tub. No flying dice, no choking hazards, no pain reliever required.

Other troubles are not so easily solved.

We may or may not have a kid who can never ever remember whose turn it is. Like the flying dice, this gets old fast.

There's the kid who can't stand to lose. We have actually rehearsed good sportsmanship lines. Repeat after me: Good game, fill-in-the-blank.

Then, of course, there's edifying conversation such as the exchange between Virtuous and Kindly that took place this morning:

Virtuous: What's that smell?

Kindly: I thinks it's your face.

At such a point I begin hissing comments about kindness and civility and doing unto others. The message gets a bit murky as my patience wanes, my jaw clenches, and each word sounds like a bark.

I remember suffering through identical trials with my oldest nieces and nephews. CandylandLife, and the mercifully short-lived, Pretty, Pretty Princess. There were tears and fits and clandestine stacking of the deck in favor of the youngest. Today these same folks are some of my favorite opponents and partners at play.

This afternoon we returned from the pool and stumbled upon those serendipitous moments when the dice didn't fly, the youngest didn't get totally creamed, the babies napped simultaneously, and we laughed and played and enjoyed the simple pleasure of each other.

When that happens, all of us are winners.