Saturday, November 11, 2017

Marriage On the Half Shell

Most relationship experts would tell you that a relationship founded on blatant lies and Facebook stalking won't last more than a month or two. As of Tuesday, I have eight years that prove those experts wrong.

Really, this story starts 10 years ago, when I was looking for a nice guy to take me to dinner. Seriously, I wasn't looking for marriage or even a boyfriend, I just wanted somebody to pick up the tab at Mr. Friendly's every now and then. So, I did what any girl would do- I set my sights on a guy and I made a plan. You should know, this plan involved crashing a Sunday school oyster roast, strategically placing myself beside the chosen one at the oyster table, and then telling him the biggest whopper I've concocted in my adult life.

If you will recall from a previous post, my mom always told me I didn't let guys help me enough, so I decided this would be the perfect time to see if she was right. In order to give Alex the opportunity to be my knight in shining armor, I became the girl who didn't know how to shuck oysters, when in reality, I was the girl who had been shucking 'em at Nance's in Murrell's Inlet for as long as I could remember. Alex fell for my desperate (fabricated) plea for help hook, line, and sinker, and being the gallant gentleman that he is, proceeded to give me an in-depth lesson on the art of opening oysters.

The next week, I started my Facebook page with the sole purpose of sending Alex a message thanking him for sharing his expertise. We exchanged some witty banter, and a month or so later, he asked me out. The rest, as they say, is history.

Over the past eight years, Alex and I have learned a lot about marriage. As it turns out, it's a lot like that oyster roast we went to all those years ago.

For starters, oyster roasts and marriages require the right tools to get the job done. For an oyster roast, you need a steam pot, oyster knives, gloves, towels, and a table with a hole in the middle. For a marriage, a few tools that come in handy are patience, a sense of humor, trust, and romance, courtesy of those oysters, perhaps.

I've noticed one big difference between the tools though- you usually start an oyster roast with all of your tools set up and ready to go, whereas in a marriage, you are continually enhancing your tools and even adding more to your toolbox. It takes a lot of trial and error to learn how to use the tools the right way, and sometimes you rely on one tool more than the others, depending on what your relationship is facing. Without a doubt, I have grown and learned more about myself in the past eight years of marriage than I did in the first 31 years of my life.

Anyone who has been to an oyster roast knows shucking oysters requires some serious work. Marriage is no different. If I'm being completely honest, I wasn't really prepared for how much work it takes to get to the good part. Love is as much a verb as it is a noun, and growing and nurturing a marriage is where the action comes into play. An oyster can't shuck itself; neither can a marriage reveal all it has to offer without some effort and attention.

Shucking oysters isn't a fast process- you have to take your time and be patient to get that shell open, but once you get to the delicious oyster, you know the work was worth it. Some oysters steam open perfectly, making them easy to pry apart, while others require a whole lot of poking and prodding. I think years in a marriage are like that- some years go along without a hitch, while others include challenges that require a little more work, a little more patience. The key is to keep working at it until you get to the good part.

When it's finally time to eat the oysters, everybody eats them differently. Some people like them raw, straight out of the shell. Some people like them on a saltine with a splash of hot sauce. Some people like them dipped in cocktail sauce. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks.

Marriage works the same way. Nobody's is the same as anybody else's, and what works for one couple may not work for another. You can't judge another couple's marriage by your own, and it's a waste of time to try to make your marriage a carbon copy of someone else's. Sure, we can always learn from each other, but too much comparing can make you lose sight of the good thing you already have right in front of you.

My favorite part of an oyster roast is the atmosphere- everyone is laid back, just chatting, laughing, and telling stories around the oyster table. Plus, everybody is quick to give props to the guy manning the oyster pot, praising and thanking him as he dumps pot after pot of steamy, hot oysters on the table.

And that's the biggest thing I've learned about marriage- communication and praise are the most important tools we bring to the table. At that first oyster roast, I laid it on thick, praising Alex's deft, if not methodical, skill with the oyster knife, suppressing my overwhelming desire to rip the oyster out of his hands and yell, "Just give it to me; I know how to do it!" (Thankfully, I was smart enough to know that an outburst like that would probably sabotage my plan.)

But seriously, it's important to to show appreciation for your spouse's skills and talents. The world is full of enough people ready to knock you down and tell you you're wrong. Be the person who is there to lift the other one up. Be the cheerleader, the fan girl, or whatever else you call it- just support each other. And the talents don't have to be super huge or impressive. Alex always takes one for the team and cleans out the absolutely disgusting vacuum canister without flinching, and I give him a high five every single time.

While Alex does have many talents, reading minds isn't one of them. When we first got married, I thought that as my husband, he should just automatically know everything I needed and wanted without any sort of hint.  When he didn't quite get it right, I would get angry, saying he didn't really "know me." So melodramatic, right? I finally realized that philosophy was totally unfair of me. How could I expect him to know what I needed if I wasn't willing to actually communicate my desires, my frustrations, and my joys?

Alex and I have come a long way in the past eight years. I'm proud to say I'm much better about telling the truth now . . . except when it comes to ironing- I still pretend like I don't know how to do that . . . but don't tell Alex!

Our marriage isn't perfect by any means- we have had plenty of grains of irritating sand rub one or both of us the wrong way. We've had to work together to turn those rough spots into pearls, and I know we will continue to have to add layers to our relationship. My hope, though, is that we will continue to work and communicate so that in 50 years or so, we can look back and see that together, we made a beautiful strand of pearls.

Because that's the thing about an oyster roast . . . it's not just about one oyster, it's about the whole experience.

Our oyster bride and groom ornament

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Parenting Roller Coaster

Some days, I really think I have this mom thing down pat. I'm reading good books with the boys. I'm cooking meals with chicken and lots of veggies, all organic. I'm going outside and throwing the football around instead of watching TV. Yeah, man, I'm killing it.

And then some days, I totally muck it up.

Like, for real.

I had one of those days on Wednesday. Alex and I were getting the boys ready for school, and since it was a brisk 42 degrees outside, I thought Jackson should wear pants. Jackson begged to differ.

Normally, school clothes aren't a big deal in our house. As long as the boys wear what I suggest (i.e. require) on the first day and picture day, I'm pretty open to what they wear the rest of the year. That's not really a battle I want to fight every day. Plus, I'm a time freak, so I'm way more concerned about getting everybody out the door on time. As long as we pull out of the driveway by exactly 7:09, I can overlook the fact that the dinosaur shirt one of the boys has on doesn't quite match those plaid shorts he picked out.

That being said, I have no real, clear explanation for why Wednesday morning became a showdown, but I was bound and determined Jackson was going to wear pants instead of shorts. It was like the more he complained, the more I dug my heels in. I'm nothing if not stubborn.

This standoff had been going on for a few minutes when I realized I was stuck.

Because truth be told, at this point, I didn't really care what he wore, I just wanted to get to school on time. But I worried that if I let him change clothes, I would be giving in and opening a door that meant anytime he wanted his way, he would know he could just throw a fit and if he held out long enough, Mom would give in. I was paranoid that I would be setting a precedent that would encourage him to buck authority for the rest of his life, ultimately leading him to a life of crime. I'm nothing if not melodramatic.

So instead of giving in, I left Jackson whining in the kitchen while I calmly walked away to finish get dressed, thinking surely he'd eventually give up and keep on the pants.

But he didn't.

And that's when I lost it.

I stormed into the kitchen and got right down on his level, you know, like all the good parenting books suggest, and yelled something along the lines of, "I don't give a crap what you wear. Freeze if you want." Let's be honest, that's exactly what I yelled, as I flung the shorts at his feet. Pretty sure you won't find that strategy recommended in one of John Rosemond's newspaper columns.

The guilt immediately washed over me, knocking me down and making me feel like the crap I had just been yelling about. This whole situation started because I didn't want to look like a bad mom who let her son wear shorts to school on a cold day, but I ended up being a bad mom who yells at her son, making him cry for real.

I quickly apologized for my reaction, we hugged, and Jackson headed off to school (in shorts), excited about the day ahead . . . but I was still shaken.

My whole ride to school was a never-ending stream of questions- Why did I (over)react like that? What if Jackson hates me forever? What horrible behaviors did I teach him in that moment? What if I die on the way to school and that's the last memory Jackson has of me? Why all this drama over two extra feet of fabric? Why is parenting so hard?

Wouldn't it be great if there were some sort of boot camp for parents at every stage of development? The facilitators would put you in these role play scenarios, and you'd have to figure out what to do, what to say, how to react. That way, when the same situation really occurred, you'd be ready to handle it calmly and gracefully.

When I got to school, I was still upset over my reaction, so I texted Alex. He replied, "Jack knows your love lasts longer than a temporary angry outburst." Man, I sure hope so. And I am so glad I have Alex's calm to balance out my crazy.

This whole thing made me realize parenting is a lot like the roller coasters the boys and I rode at the fair this week. The ups and downs. The highs and lows. The fear and the courage involved in both. You step into the car, wondering if you're even going to survive the ride. One minute things are going uphill, you're full of excitement, waving your hands in the air. The next thing you know, you're racing downhill, hanging on for dear life, hoping you don't get sick. You know the track will level out again, but there's really not a lot of time to stop and recover your wits before the next series of twists and turns.

But here's the thing about riding a roller coaster . . . you never do it alone. There are always other people along for the ride. As parents, we are all connected too, bolted together like the cars of a roller coaster, sharing in ups and downs. Most of the time, we're learning on the fly with little time to practice beforehand. The important thing is that we learn from our mistakes. If we're willing to share the good and the bad with each other, we can form our own kind of boot camp, complete with sage advice from parents who have already ridden the roller coaster a few times before.

When I picked Jackson up from school on Wednesday, he voluntarily held my hand all the way to the car, chattering about his day, happy as a clam. I've gotta tell you, I was so relieved he didn't hate me, I almost started crying for the second time that day. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be frustrating and rewarding, exhausting and exciting, sometimes all in a matter of a few minutes. But as I looked down at that little hand in mine, I knew that even with its ups and downs, twists and turns, parenting is the best roller coaster in town.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Why Ask Why?

Anyone who has been around young children for any amount of time knows their favorite question is "Why?"

On Tuesday, the boys and I went to the Epworth Food Truck Rodeo, which brought on a slew of whys: Why are we going to Epworth? Why do people live at Epworth? Why can't we eat shaved ice before dinner? Why is Daddy parking cars? Why can't he bring his cool orange vest and flashlight home for us?

Thankfully, all of those whys were relatively easy to explain, but not all why questions can be answered in a few words, and some can't even be answered at all. As a nation and as a world, it seems like we've had an over-abundance of why questions lately.

Personally, I have a running list of why questions I'll probably never get the answers to. It starts with some frustrations about childhood illness and infertility and ends with my utter confusion over the fame of the Kardashians.

There have been times in my life when I've gotten the answer to a why question I was probably better off not knowing. We think knowing the reasons will bring us comfort or clarity, but we better be sure we're asking a question we really want the answer to. It's like asking a guy why he's breaking up with you . . . are you really prepared to hear what he might say?

This summer, my struggle with needing to know why truly got put to the test.

When Alex lost his job in July, I immediately asked why.  I wanted details, and I wanted it all to make sense. I questioned Alex, I wanted to question his company, and I even questioned God. I let understanding the why consume me, frustrate me.  I wasted several days being angry, demanding an explanation from anybody who would listen. Finally, I realized that wasn't helping anyone. Ultimately, the why didn't matter. There was nothing I could do to change the why, so I needed to move forward.

Through this experience, I realized there were three things that were helping me get past my need to know why.

The first thing I did was pray. I prayed for all sorts of things--patience that Alex would get a new job. Peace not to spend 24 hours a day worrying until he did. Discernment that he would know when it was the right job. Distraction so that the waiting wouldn't deplete his hope and his positive outlook.

Funny thing is, those are the same things I pray for when the boys get going with their whys too- "Dear Lord, please give me the patience to endure this never-ending stream of questions that makes me want to pull my hair out. If you could just send a big truck, a school bus, or a rescue vehicle down the road right this second to distract these boys, I'd be forever grateful."

The next thing I did was to be thankful. This one was definitely the hardest. Chances are, if you're left asking why, it's usually because something you wouldn't normally give thanks for has happened. Who wants to count their blessings in the middle of adversity? I don't think that's exactly a natural reaction, and I found it took a little creativity on my part to find the silver lining.

When I looked closely, though, I saw we have a lot to be thankful for. We have family and friends supporting us. I think I've gotten more texts from friends checking in over the past three months than I've gotten in my entire life, reminding me that we're not alone. I'm also thankful that Alex has been able to spend more quality time with the boys than ever before. He has been able to take the boys to school, attend school events, and even coach Jackson's soccer team, all things his long hours prevented him from doing in the past.

Finally, instead of spinning my wheels over the why, I decided to do what I could to help and offer support. Instead of letting the unknown and the unanswered paralyze me, I tried to figure out how to be more productive. It felt good to actually do something, even if it was something small like proofreading a resume or brainstorming job ideas. Taking concrete action gave me a small sense of control in an otherwise uncertain situation.

Don't get me wrong, this plan isn't fool proof, and there are still times I find the whys creeping into my thoughts. There is a scene in Forrest Gump when Forrest runs through dog poop, and when another guy mentions it, Forrest simply replies, "It happens." And he's right- we all run through the proverbial dog poop at one time or another. The important part isn't why "it" happens; the important part is how we respond to it. Granted, it does seem like life would be easier if every why had a nice and neat, cut and dried answer. But that kind of thinking assumes we live in a black and white world, when in reality, we live in a whole lot of gray.

In 1990, Budweiser introduced a new beer to the market, popularizing the mantra "Why ask why? Try Bud Dry." While Bud Dry didn't make it as a beer, the slogan has had a much longer shelf life, mainly because it gets to the heart of the matter, putting actions over thoughts. Life is going to have its challenges, that's a given. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is let go of the questions and try to help each other move forward one day at a time.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cards, Cokes, & Chocolate Chips

Over Labor Day weekend, several of my college friends and I had a reunion at Edisto with our families. It was a wonderful weekend of swimming in the ocean, playing football in the sand, and laughing until our sides hurt. 

On Saturday night, a few of us decided to play the card game Golf. All you really need to know about the game is that you're dealt four cards, but you can only look at two until the end of the game when you hope you have the lowest score.

Well, before we started, I just felt like I needed to make a confession, so I shared that I used to play this game with my grandmother, and since she was legally blind from macular degeneration, I used to cheat and peek at all four cards so I could up my chances of winning.

I know, I know, it's horrible, but clearly I still feel guilty about it since I'm still confessing to the crime 30 years later. That should count for something.

Anyway, after about the third round, when I finished with 28 while everyone else finished with 0's, 2's, and 3's, my friend's eight-year-old daughter looked at me and said, "Miss Katherine, I see why you had to cheat!" Touche, Kate, touche.

Back then, I really thought I was getting away with something, but now that I think about it, I realize Mimi had to know what I was doing. We are talking about a lady who read every book in the Darlington County Library and graduated magna cum laude from Queens College . . . she was no dummy. Plus, macular degeneration caused her to lose her central vision, not all of her vision. So the question is, if she knew I was cheating, why didn't she stop me?

After thinking about this for a few days, I can only come up with one answer: LOVE.

Because that's what grandmothers do- they spoil their grandchildren with love, whether that means letting them win at cards, baking them obscene amounts of homemade chocolate chip cookies, or buying them enough Barbie clothes and shoes to make Imelda Marcos jealous.

Grandmothers are lucky because they don't have to be the enforcers. They've been the disciplinarians as parents, so now it's their turn for fun. Life experience has taught them not to sweat the small stuff. Mimi knew my mom was providing structure and setting boundaries for me to ensure I wouldn't wind up on the mean streets of Rock Hill, so she was free to conspire with me for more than a few shenanigans, usually at my mom's expense.

More often than not, Mimi lived by the motto "What my baby wants, my baby gets." So when I asked for a basketball and a goal for Christmas, she was happy to oblige. The only problem was, my mom wasn't exactly on board with this plan. Not wanting a basketball goal attached to the side of her house, Mom only bought the basketball, thinking that would be enough to satisfy me and thus ending the story.

Not quite.

Mimi quickly took matters into her own hands. She bought a goal and hired some of the young waitstaff at her retirement home to come bolt it to the house while my mom was at work. When Mom pulled into the driveway that afternoon, there I was, shooting layup after layup, pleased as punch, and there wasn't really anything she could do about it. Mimi-1, Suzanne-0.

Sometimes I watch my mom with my boys and think, "Man, she never would have let me do that when I was little." Of course she wouldn't have, she wasn't my grandmother. A grandmother's love is unique and irreplaceable. No one will ever love you like a grandmother because no one else can.

Hopefully, you can relate to this story. Hopefully, you had, or you still have, a grandmother, an aunt, a great aunt, a neighbor, or a family friend who loved you to the moon and back. A Mimi, a Nanny, a Ma, or a Gigi, a loved one who sugared you up and  spoiled you rotten and then laughed and heaved a sigh of relief as she watched you get in the car with your parents to go back home.

So much of who I am was shaped by my Mimi. She taught me the importance of reading good books, serving the church, and treating neighbors like family. Mimi was the epitome resilience, demonstrating her strength time and time again as she refused to let sickness or loss define her life.

I wish Mimi could have met Alex and the boys. She would give Alex a little love pat and ask him if he'd ever thought about shaving his beard, and she'd eat goldfish and drink bottled Cokes with the boys every day at five o'clock. It's weird how some of the most important people in your life never have the chance to get to know some of the other most important people in it.

When I was little, I didn't realize Mimi was letting me cheat at Golf (and Go Fish and Speed too, if I'm being honest). And I didn't realize how much I would miss her when she was gone. As a child, I took Mimi's true unconditional love for granted, but as an adult, I realize what a blessing she was. I would love to have one more day with her, one more card game, one more Nick at Nite marathon, one more time hearing her tell me she loves me "a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck."

By now, I'm sure it's pretty obvious that you should never take me to Vegas to play cards- I'd probably get us thrown out of the casino within the first five minutes. But that's okay . . . I already hit the jackpot a long time ago by having Mimi in my life.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Summer Reading: Part 2

Last summer, I was working on my master's, so I think I only read one book for pleasure. This summer, I was bound and determined to make up for that drought. Here are a few of my favorites:

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

One day on (the only reliable celebrity news source, by the way), I saw this book listed as one of Reese Witherspoon's "must-reads," so I figured if it's good enough for Reese, it's good enough for me. This book has a lot of characters, who are all somehow related, and a lot of story lines, which all connect, so it was a lot like reading an Asian soap opera. Thankfully, a family tree is provided in the front of the book to make the relationships a little less confusing.

The main story line revolves around the imminent passing of the Shang-Young family matriarch, Su Yi. Her family has returned to Singapore to say their goodbyes . . . and each family member tries to put in one final push to be the recipient of the family estate. As you can imagine, this brings surprises and all sorts of scandal. Secrets are revealed, and a few skeletons fall out of their proverbial closets.

This was an entertaining read. The story takes place in myriad locations, from Singapore to Shanghi to Hong Kong. I learned a lot about Asian society and culture, thanks to the footnotes that define Asian words, people, places, and cuisine. By the end of the novel, I had added a few locations to my "Places to Visit Before I Die" list, and my craving for egg rolls, dumplings, and wontons was a little out of control.

As it turns out, this book is actually the third in a trilogy, but it was easy to follow even without having read the first two. Kevin Kwan is in the midst of adapting the books into a film, and I can definitely see this played out on the big screen, what with the fabulous locations and extravagant fashion described in the book. In an interview I read, he confessed to loving Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Dynasty, so if you grew up on those shows like I did, I feel sure you'll enjoy this novel as well.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

I have to admit, this book was different from what I expected. For some reason, I thought it was set in New England. It isn't. Then, I thought it was going to be closely tied to the Salem witch trials. It isn't. So, needless to say, it took me a few chapters to get into the story.

Once I got to about Chapter 4, though, I was hooked. While this book wasn't quite as page-turning as Girl on the Train (I read that in a day because I couldn't put it down!), it was an intriguing mystery that held my interest. The book is told from multiple perspectives, helping the reader see just how many secrets the people in the town are carrying.

Hawkins does a good job of making each character seem both reliable and unreliable at some point throughout the novel, which kept me on my toes. The New York Times compared it to Gone Girl, and while I don't think it quite measures up to that, it does offer a few twists that warn the reader of the dangers of jumping to conclusions.

Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise

So, sometimes when I see people ask for book suggestions on Facebook, I stalk the post so I can get some suggestions for myself. Creepy, right? In this instance, my stalking paid off big time.

A friend from Furman posted this was one of her favorites, and I see why. If How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days were based off of a book, this would be the book. The main characters, Min and Cal, have the same "I love you; no, I hate you" chemistry Andie Anderson and Benjamin Barry share in the movie. Add in loyal friends, crazy exes, overbearing parents, and a neurotic cat, and you have the recipe for a delightful read and lots of laughs.

Speaking of recipes, this book left me searching for the perfect chicken piccata recipe. Min, Cal, and their friends eat the dish so much, by the end of the book, it was all I could think about. It wasn't just the recipe that sounded good, it was the camaraderie and fellowship that went along with it that was most appealing. I wanted to be in their group of friends.

Overall, I loved reading about a strong, sassy, independent character. It was easy to relate to Min, and I found myself cheering her on as she worked to overcome her insecurities and let her true self shine. Hands down, this was my favorite fiction of the summer.

The House on Tradd Street by Karen White

This is another book that often pops up as a suggested summer read on Facebook. It's been on my own list for several summers because it sounded like it had everything I look for in a good summer read: a fixer-upper, a Low Country backdrop, a family secret, and a tension-filled romance. The part I couldn't quite wrap my head around is that it is also part ghost story. That seemed pretty hokey.

But when I really started to think about it, ghosts inhabiting houses along the Battery make total sense. I mean, Charleston is known for its paranormal beings, which can be seen on guided tours almost every night of the year.  In the end, I decided to take the advice of my 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Joanne Gaskins, and suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story.

I should have known, my Facebook would never steer me wrong. This book was the perfect beach read. I loved the banter between Melanie and Jack, and their chemistry was palpable. Most surprisingly, I found myself loving the ghost story too, and I really wanted Melanie to be able to help the ghosts find peace.

One word of caution . . . this is part of a series, so don't expect to have every loose end tied up at the end of the book. I was in distress for several days waiting for book two to become available at the library, and I don't want you to experience that same angst.

Confessions of a Domestic Failure by Bunmi Laditan

Okay, let me just go ahead and say this isn't necessarily the most well-written book; however, what it lacks in style and technique, it makes up for in authenticity. I kept having to remind myself that I was reading a work of fiction and not a real-life Ashley Keller's autobiography.

This book, which reads like a blog, is spot on describing the struggles of the first year or two of motherhood, and there is at least one scenario every new mom can relate to. My favorite part is when Ashley puts her daughter in the free child care at the gym and then goes to relax in her car in the parking lot. Please believe I've thought about doing that at MUV Fitness once or twice myself.

As hilarious as the book is, it has its touching moments as well and reminds us that as moms, we all need to support each other. Nobody's life is as good as it looks on social media. Motherhood is messy and memorable, frustrating and fun, and the sooner we realize we're all in the chaos together, the better off we'll be.

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

Do you ever feel like you have too many balls in the air? Like you're good at a lot of things but not really great at anything? Like you can't enjoy the moment you're in because your mind has already moved on to the next thing on your list? If so, then this book is for you.

There have been periods in my life when I tend to over-volunteer. I can remember sitting in a Tri Delt meeting in college and raising my hand to volunteer for something I didn't really have time to do (because, you know, school), and one of my dear friends kindly turned to me and said if I raised my arm to volunteer for one more thing, she was going to rip off said arm and beat me with it. That warning, like this book, was the wake-up call I needed to reassess my commitments.

As it turns out, the best yes is often a "no" or a "not right now." And that's okay. We shouldn't feel guilty for thoughtfully planning how we spend our time and how we share our talents.

Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle

I read Melanie Shankle's first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, when I was on maternity leave with Jackson, and I have been a fan ever since. I have loved all of her books, and I read her blog on a regular basis . . . although I do have to be careful not to read it at school because it will usually make me laugh so hard I snort or make me ugly cry, both of which are kinda awkward to do in front of teenagers.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic to be selected as a member of the launch team for Church of the Small Things, which earned me an advance copy of the book.  While reading, I laughed, I cried, and I thought a lot about what makes a life good. Sometimes it's the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

In the book, Melanie writes, "It's not about doing the glamorous thing. It's about doing the faithful thing." As a mom, as a teacher, sometimes it's easy to wonder if all of my hard work is even making a difference because I don't always get to see the return on my investment. This book reminded me that I have to have faith and just keep on keepin' on, knowing that the small things like a smile and a high five truly can have an impact.

Don't think this book is all serious and tender though. There are plenty of laugh out loud moments too, like when Melanie recounts the time her husband, Perry, shot himself in the head while leaning out of a helicopter to shoot wild hogs. Who even knew that was a thing?

Now that you're dying to read the book, I have to break the bad news . . . it doesn't come out until October 3. However, there is hope! You can pre-order the book here and here and receive all kinds of fun free goodies. Or, pre-order directly from the website Church of the Small Things.

This book will also have a companion Bible study video series. It comes out October 17, but you can pre-order it here. I've watched the first installment, and seeing Melanie talk about the first chapter in person brought her message to life. This would be the perfect choice for a small-group study.

I know that's a lot of sales talk, but I promise, I would recommend this book and the Bible study even if I weren't on the launch team . . .  mainly because I want to be Melanie Shankle when I grow up.

In the end, I learned a few things about myself during my summer reading. First, I clearly need to pay more attention to whether or not the book I'm getting ready to read is part of a series. Second, good books make me hungry, both for knowledge and for food. Third, I cry . . . a lot. Five out of these 7 books made me cry at least once- I'll let you guess which ones they were. And finally, my only news sources seem to be and Facebook, so I may need to find at least one that's a little more academic.

I have a few books on deck for the fall, including Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, but if you have other suggestions, I'd love to hear them . . . it'll save me from having to stalk you on Facebook.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

My Baby's Not a Baby Anymore

Dear Reeves,

Last week you turned three. All you wanted was an elephant cake and Chic-Fil-A, no big deal. This week you moved up to the 3's room at school, and that's a huge deal because it's in a whole different building, the big kids' building, away from the infants and the toddlers. And I have to admit, all this growing up, it's starting to get to me. Why can't time slow down?

It seems like just yesterday I was taking Jackson to the 2's room with you, just a few weeks old, sleeping in your carrier. Mrs. Karen came running out of the infant room, so excited to meet you, saying, "Ooh, is that my baby?" All I could think was, "No way, lady, this is my baby, so keep your hands to yourself." I wasn't ready to let you go.

But, oh, how blessed we were that you had Mrs. Karen and Mrs. Ophelia, Mrs. Brenda and Mrs. Marsha, Ms. Marjina and Ms. Tomika to love you and teach you and even baby you on occasion. They have been wonderful teachers for you, helping you learn your colors, the alphabet, and some crazy song about peanut butter jelly and a baseball bat.

As I think about all you've learned over the past three years, I can't help but realize all the things you've taught me along the way. Since you're three, and I love a list, let me share the top three things you've taught me.

LESSON 1: You can't judge a book by its cover.

If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me you are going to be a linebacker or a tackle in the NFL, I'd own the Panthers by now. People see you and your 99th percentile height and weight and immediately assume your future involves knocking people around for a living.

But that's only you on the outside. I see a different side of you, one that is tender and caring. Sure, you love to wrestle and are pretty rough and tumble, but you're also the first one in the house to say, "Bless you!" when Daddy sneezes, "You okay, Jackson?" when he falls down, and "You need a Diet Coke, Mommy?" when it looks like I've had a rough day.

Nurturing comes naturally to you, as evidenced this summer when I was in bed with a cold and you snuggled up with me to feed me Cheetos one by one until I felt better.

That's not the side of you people always see. Sometimes you'd rather stomp around like a dinosaur or scowl and growl like a bear, but I know deep down, you're more teddy than grizzly, always ready to give a hug or a high five. And I'm positive you'll be the one taking care of me in the nursing home one day.

LESSON 2: Laughter really is the best medicine.

I laugh at inappropriate times . . . funerals, faculty meetings, injuries . . . and before you were born, I thought those were the worst times to laugh. Turns out, there's an even worse time to laugh . . . in the middle of trying to reprimand a strong-willed child!

Without fail, at least once a week, when I'm trying to scold you or correct you, I find myself having to turn away so you don't see me laugh. You definitely know how to play an audience and how to diffuse a tense situation with humor, and I have a sinking suspicion this talent of yours is going to garner me a few calls from teachers in the future

Your creativity adds to your humor, and we really never know what you're going to say. I especially love our conversations in the car. They seem to bring out your best, including the story you told us last weekend about the boo-boo on your knee. You said you got it using a sword to save a tortoise that had mistakenly climbed on a panther's back when you were at the park, and I have to agree, that was much more exciting than simply falling down at the zoo.

Between your crazy antics, dancing, and singing, sometimes all Jackson, Daddy, and I can do is look at each other, shake our heads, and ask, "What is he doing?" Your deep belly laugh is contagious, and even though you often use it to crack my composure, our family is lighter and brighter because of your laughter.

LESSON 3:  There's always room for love.

Okay, I'm going to be honest . . . when I was pregnant with you, I wasn't really sure how I was going to be able to love you as much as I loved Jackson. I know, I know, Mom of the Year right here, but hear me out. I'm an only child, remember, so I didn't have first-hand experience watching a parent love more than one child at a time. I just didn't get it.

Plenty of older, wiser moms assured me loving two wouldn't be a problem, and boy, were they right. From the minute the labor and delivery nurse put you on my chest, I was smitten. Daddy says I was like the Grinch, and my heart grew three sizes the day you were born.

I wasn't the only one unsure about your arrival--Jackson pretty much took one look at you and asked if we could send you back. But you easily won him over too.

"Where's Jackson?" is the first question you ask when you wake up, and you can't go to bed without giving him a hug (although that may just be a stall tactic!). You are so protective of him, often telling me, "You not talk to Jackson like that, Mommy," when I try to scold him. I know you'll eventually try to use your bond to overthrow me, but until then, I love watching your affection for each other grow.

As you get ready to learn with Mrs. Emily and Mrs. Rae this year, know that even though I get a little emotional wondering what happened to my Baby Reeves, I am excited to see how you're going to grow.

Of course, like most moms, sometimes I worry about your learning--Is it on track? Will you need to be held back because of your late birthday? And sometimes, I even unfairly compare you to Jackson. But the truth is, you're happy being you, and you've already mastered some of the most important lessons in life.

I don't know what you'll be when you grow up--maybe you'll write the next Harry Potter, complete with mythical animals and sword fights. Or maybe you'll be a doctor like Patch Adams, healing with laughter as well as medicine.  Or who knows, maybe you really will be a left tackle, throwing blocks to protect the quarterback whose jersey has the same name as yours. I just don't know.

But I am confident that God has good things in store for you. May you always be in the 99th percentile for laughter and love. Happy birthday, Doodle!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Stop Saying, "Summer's Over"

Look, I get it . . . there is a definite period of transition this time of year.

Gone are the laid back mornings of summer, when my only alarm clock was the sweet sound of my two year old singing "I'm Still Standing . . . Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" from his crib.

Gone are the days of just throwing my hair in a ponytail and wearing yoga pants all day, whether I actually made it to the gym or not.

Gone are the days of counting a dip in the pool as a bath for the boys . . . and maybe even for myself.

I get that a change is coming, but here's my problem- when my brain hears "Summer's over," my heart hears "Fun's over," and it is really starting to freak me out!

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm the only one who starts to panic, trying to cram in as many activities as possible that last week before school starts. Maybe I'm the only one who begins to worry that if I didn't get it done during the summer, now it's a lost cause. Maybe I'm the only one who wants that phrase erased from her vocabulary.

All I know is that every time I've heard those two words lately, I have been overcome with mom guilt that I never found time to take the boys to the bowling alley and now it's too late . . . you know, because the bowling alley isn't open all year long. Yes . . . I know . . . I have issues.

As a teacher, it's also hard to hear people saying "summer's over," but for a different reason.  Instead of feeling guilty, I feel frustrated because it's usually said in a ho-hum tone that channels Eeyore, the woe-is-me donkey in Winnie the Pooh. Kind of like, "Oh, you poor kid, summer's over and you have to go back to that dreadful place." Seriously, is it really that bad? Probably not. What kind of message does it send our kids if we equate going back to school with getting a root canal without Novocaine?

I always loved going back to school, the excitement that came with finding out who was in my classes and sporting my new pair of pure white, never-been-stepped-on Keds. And whether you were partial to the Trapper Keeper or Lisa Frank folders, getting new school supplies was absolutely thrilling. (My obsession with school supplies may or may not have single-handedly led me down the road to becoming an educator!)

True, school may not be fun in terms of lying around in pajamas, eating Froot Loops, and watching cartoons all day, but it's not exactly a forced labor camp in Siberia either.

The school year and fun aren't mutually exclusive. We usually have a pajama day at some point during the year. And a lot of schools have fun cereal. I know a certain five year old who eats the wholesome breakfast his mother lovingly fixes him at home, only to stand in the breakfast line when he gets to school to get his daily bowl of Lucky Charms. School definitely has its perks.

Now, not everybody says "Summer's over" from somewhere down in the dumps. Nah, some people are cheering that summer's over, singing, "Hallelujah! Get these kids up outta my house!" I've lived that life too, and I totally get it. No joke, there were a few days this summer when I went to the gym twice a day just so I could use childcare to get a little break from the Jackson Inquisition that started around 6:30 every morning and didn't end until one of us went to sleep.

If I'm honest with myself, I'm actually really lucky to be struggling with this "summer's over" mentality. Plenty of my friends, and probably the majority of the population, work all year long without the luxury of a summer break. They still find time to relax, have fun, and try new things, so I don't really know why I let myself get all worked up in a tizzy. September 22, the true end of summer, doesn't mean fun family outings or lazy Saturday mornings are over. True, it may mean they need to be a little more scheduled, but who am I kidding- I crave a schedule and I find comfort in consistency.

One of my favorite school posters says, "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." As we head back to the hustle and bustle of the school year, I'm going to plan some easy ways to keep the fun coming. I'm talking simple things, like strolling through Soda City on a Saturday morning or eating at Moctezumas Taqueria, two other things I meant to do this summer. And I'm going to remind myself that there isn't a time limit or a cut-off date for doing things I enjoy with people I love.

The great thing about summer being over is that it's time for fall and all of the unique activities that make it special, like football games and the Greek Festival. I think I'll go ahead and get a head start on my Fall Fun List. Now if I could just find my Trapper Keeper for some paper . . . .