For the past couple of years I’ve asked the boys to compile their summer wish list at the end of the school year… partly because I’m curious about what they are interested in and partly because I worry that if I don’t put it on a list and then on the calendar, we’ll get to the end of August and I’ll feel awful that “we didn’t DO anything this summer!!”
I made the mistake of Googling “summer plans” and “summer routines” the other day.
I was instantly overwhelmed with posts by a ridiculous number of über-super moms who basically run summer camps for their kids for nearly three months…I was exhausted just reading about it. So I stopped. (After I had gleaned a couple of little gems that I might be motivated enough to try.)
Anyway, several of the moms talked about the “Summer Bucket List” which we kind of already do… so I got curious about my real-life super mom friends and their kids’ summer plans. Wanna share lists??
I just got a phone call from Ian’s mom… she is at the bakery right now picking up his cake that was our RAOK #2 this week.
I just had to update because I was so certain that my time at the bakery would be so much better than theirs – that whole giving is better than receiving thing, right? She insisted that the bakery owner call me so she could thank me… the minute she heard my voice I could tell she had those “brimming tears” (and me, too, of course.) She was gracious and lovely and I wished her a very, very happy birthday party weekend.
And y’all, I just know that when she hung up the phone she got one of those awesome hugs!! So yay for us – her time at the bakery WAS almost as good as mine!
But first, do you know what “brimming tears” are? They aren’t sad or mad tears. They aren’t exactly just tears of joy either. They are the tears that happen when you are just completely full. There’s just so much…so much good, so much love, so much gratitude, so much in-this-moment-right-here…that the slightest extra thing, extra hug, extra smile, extra word makes you spill over in the form of tears. Brimming tears.
(They can also happen the other way… so defeated, so anxious, so exhausted, so hopeless that one more little thing – one more spilled cup, one more middle-of-the-night-wake-up, one more mean word… and you spill over that way too. But that’s not the kind I’m talking about today. No, not at all.)
Today I am the mother of a ten-year-old. For those ten years he has been in a tiny, cherry wood urn sitting in an heirloom cabinet in our living room. I can see it from this chair I sit in. It is surrounded by Willow Tree figures. For ten years I have been trying to figure out how to be a mom to my oldest child – simultaneously the easiest and most difficult of my children. He doesn’t talk back. He doesn’t have a perpetually messy room. He requires no laundry, no car pooling and no grocery store lists. But he’s also never reached for my hand. Never laughed so hard that I wondered if he would be able to catch his breath. He’s never snuggled, fresh from a bath, into my lap in order to get to stay up past bedtime. For ten years I’ve been trying to solve this dilemma – what does it look like to parent this oldest child of mine?
Just like parenting my living children, I’ve made some mistakes. But I’ve tried to learn from them…and from other brave moms before me who share these experiences. I’ve never stopped trying to figure it out, trying to get closer to what I think it could be…lots of trial and error about how to keep his memory alive and honor the ways he’s changed me and changed our family. I imagine it’s something I will do for the rest of my life – and I hope I never feel like it’s done. One of the things that does work for us is to spend his birthday inflicting kindness on as many people as we can manage… and today it was pretty splendid.
So here they are… the WWS Random Acts of Kindness to commemorate a decade:
Now that the boys are getting a little older, they throw their ideas into the RAOK bucket when February comes around. This is Whitman about to deliver flowers to the office at his school. He also took flowers to his teachers (and in his backpack when he came home this afternoon there was the cutest thank you note signed by the whole class…too much!)
I should also note that Whitman really wanted to give gift cards to, well, like to everyone. I’m not entirely sure he knows exactly what a gift card is, but he definitely wanted everyone to have one today. This tradition could get pretty expensive if we ever let him be in charge!
Check out this adorable little bakery…serious cuteness in here. This was easily one of my favorites of the day.
I had made arrangements (via email) to anonymously pay for someone’s birthday cake – and out of the three bakeries I contacted only one of them even answered me and then followed up again to let me know that an order had come in that might be what I was looking for. I was so grateful that someone took the time to help out with my little request.
To the lady at the counter: “Hi, I’ve been emailing with someone here about paying for a birthday cake?”
A head poked around the corner from the back, “Oh that’s me. Are you Jennifer?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“I think I have to hug you.”
And people, she wasn’t joking around. You know how sometimes you get a hug and it’s nice – it’s just a simple, quick hug and it warms you up a bit? And then there’s what happens when people hold onto you for longer than that. And they talk to you while they are loving on you. As this woman who I had known for exactly 1.7 seconds was squeezing me she started saying, “I lost my husband recently and, oh, that was so, so hard. I just can’t imagine a child. This thing you are doing to honor his birthday, it’s just beautiful…beautiful.” (She was still hugging… and I could tell that her brimming tears had started.) We chatted for a minute – she asked about Wheeler and then the lady at the counter took a noticeable breath and headed to the back. My new best friend leaned in and said, “She lost a baby, too…this is probably hard.” I know I don’t have to tell you, but this is where you can cue my brimming tears if you are picturing this like a video in your head. I paid for a cake for a little boy who is celebrating his birthday this weekend – Ian, who likes all things construction related – and requested a picture of the cake when it was finished, if that wasn’t too much trouble. As I was signing the receipt the other woman came back to the counter and she was taking a good hard look at the card I was leaving – this side:
And then I knew why no other bakery had called me back. (You can cue another round of brimming tears for that moment when I got back into my car.) I almost feel sorry for Ian’s parents…I mean, sure, they are in for a nice little surprise when they pick up his cake on Saturday and don’t have to pay for it…but, seriously, I hope somehow they get one of those hugs. I hope they get at least one dose of brimming tears. If not, they won’t get nearly the joy at Meemo’s that I had today. Bakery RAOK Update
These are some of the cards the boys made to send to soldiers who are serving overseas. Thanks to the most awesome nanny in the world, this little project took place on a day when I was working until 9:30pm…and it was lovely to come home to a table full of these cards. We used A Million Thanks as our resource to send the cards out today as RAOK #3. Most of the cards just said “Thank you” or “Thanks for your service” but one, there was just one that had a little something extra (that I hope my brother gets to see…)
Can you see that? “Thank you for everything you do for us.” And then the tiniest little stick guy under our flag pointing what looks like a gun at another little stick guy who is in “som other contry.” Poor little guy in some other country…can you feel patriotic when you don’t even know where you are from?!
(Apologies for some of these photos which were taken with my phone. Let me tell you a little story about my phone. It’s an iPhone, technically. I believe they actually refer to it as an iPhonasaurus. A few weeks ago I was at the end of a session with a client and I grabbed my phone to look at the calendar to schedule his next appointment and he said, “Geez doc, that thing still work? Does it even HAVE a calendar on it?” “No,” I said, “Actually it’s not a calendar, it’s a sundial. But it works just fine. How’s next Wednesday at two clicks past the third quadrant?” Yes, he’s at least a decade younger than I. And yes, many, many clients can not resist the urge to call me “Doc”… not because they think I am one, but because of my last name. OK… so there you go. My phone is old. The camera sucks. Let’s move on.)
Shortly after Christmas one of my favorite souls on this planet posted on Facebook about how the homeless shelter at which she works had not gotten nearly the stuff they needed during the holidays. And that was a particularly bad thing since the holidays are when people tend to do that kind of thing. So I pledged to her that when Wheeler’s birthday came around, we would send a package of whatever she needed most at that time…which is what the boys are helping me do at the post office in that Jurassic photo above. Maybe now a shelter full of men in Seattle can stop sharing nail clippers. Ew.
Time to head to the park for RAOK #s 5 and 6. The weather was so gorgeous today, so these two were just plain fun.
A bin full of dog toys and frisbees at the dog park. Whitman really, really wanted to go around and hand out each of the toys to the dogs and owners that were there. He absolutely couldn’t understand why I was content to just set them out on a bench and leave them.
But, as you can see, he’s really shy like that. (And no, in spite of the last few photos, Linc was not in a bad mood…he’s in an anti-camera phase at the moment, so his cooperation can not be counted on.)
We moved on to the playground. I sure hope that little cutey on the rock wall got to enjoy some of the bubbles we left behind.
The next Act of Kindness would test us all. Our will power, that is.
Here’s Whit reluctantly dropping off the toys and treats for the dogs at the Animal Defense League. Reluctantly because, again, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t just take them into the facility with us and hand them out to each and every dog there. Which I totally get.
We went in and walked around and loved on the animals and, miraculously, we have just as many animals as we had when we got there. (whew!)
Next we headed home for a little break, two more RAOKs and to wait until later so Ron could join us for the last few of the day.
WWS RAOK #8: The boys helped me pick out a child to sponsor on the Compassion International website. We found a little boy who shares Wheeler’s birthday whose name is Angel and lives in Nicaragua. This is part of my on-going effort to raise children who have as broad of a perspective as possible. I mean, let’s face it, if you are born a white male in the USA, you’ve pretty much won the global lottery. I wish, wish, wish for children who learn to be mindful of the larger picture, the planet as a whole…to think of their impact on it and to understand that other people, other humans just like ourselves, are out there living lives quite different than our own. I have hopes that by reaching out to a boy their age we will not only provide some basic necessities to him, but that they will also broaden their world view just a smidge. Baby steps.
Long-time readers might remember this post about little boxes… and so this act will be a familiar one. In March our local chapter of MISS Foundation will be hosting a memorial box painting party and these supplies will be donated to that event, turned into works of art, make their way to a local hospital and eventually into the home of a family who finds themselves on this unwanted journey. These boxes will some day contain very precious and priceless cargo.
And finally…twelve hours after we started…we completed our TENTH RAOK:
What’s movie night without popcorn?? We attached a dozen packages of microwave popcorn to the RedBox in our neighborhood. Fun, right? I hope so… it was a nice way to end a busy, bittersweet, splendid, generous day.
Throughout this day I lost count of the messages and texts and emails coming in from all over the place…my dear, dear friends by whom I am so blessed all sharing how they were remembering Wheeler in their own communities and in their own ways. In Dallas and Houston and Atlanta, Arizona and California there were people paying for Starbucks orders for those in line behind them, donations made to animal rescue organizations, formula and diapers given to a women’s shelter, extra large ice cream bought for an unsuspecting kid, cookies baked and delivered, library fines anonymously paid off, a teacher who recruited her whole class to join in and many others that kept trickling in over the course of the day. I felt giddy at the thought of all this kindness going out into the world with my little boy’s legacy attached to it…I felt über-connected to all of you. I will never be able to thank you enough.
A number of the messages wanted to know, “How are you?” And not like the usual “How’s it going?” but the much more sincere, “No, really, how are you…really?” It’s a question that I very much appreciate and here’s the answer:
I really am quite well. This is a day I have grown to love, love, love. Grown to love. I didn’t start there, for sure. These past few years I have marked the day completely out – no clients, not much work, no obligations – and it’s one of the few times I can do that with very little guilt. The time with the boys is precious – they ask such great questions and embrace the spirit of this endeavor in a way that surprises me and makes me brim (yet again!)
Here, at the decade mark, there is much, much less sadness. Of course I still wish he was here, in our family where he belongs. Of course I wonder things like how tall would he be by now? Would he play sports? Which brother would look more like him? What would his voice sound like? What would he dream of doing with his life? I wonder. But that’s not what parenting this kid looks like – I don’t get to know those things. And I’m making peace with that. Days like today help me do that. All day I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for how his existence has changed me and how much influence he has on our family…I could have burst with it. The impact he has had just wasn’t possible in any other way.
I give a talk at memorial services about the transformation that grief brings and in that speech there is bit of poetry from Gibran. He basically says that he who has not looked on sorrow will never truly look on joy. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Wheeler’s brief visit on this planet carved out such a space in me I wasn’t always sure I could endure; but here, here at the ten-year place, I mostly feel astounded at my capacity for joy and gratitude and perspective. What greater gift could a son give a mother?
And that is how I really am. Brimming.
So happy birthday my dear, sweet boy. There remains a hole in our family that is exactly your size…thank you so much for teaching us how to fill it with all the best parts of what we have to offer. You’ve made me a better mother than I could have been without you. I can’t wait to see what it’s like to learn to parent you for the next ten years.
Until then, all my love,
For past years of Memorial RAOKs… go here and here
I’m sure you have all heard about the gratitude jar phenomenon that has been going around for several years now.
If you haven’t, just go here on Pinterest and see roughly 483, 720 examples. (Basically, you jot down as many grateful moments as you care to, store them in a large container all year, and then, on New Year’s Eve, you read through them all and bask in the memories of the previous year’s highlights.)
I stumbled across the idea at the end of last year and have been waiting anxiously since then to complete our first year. I’m not very patient when it comes to fun, new traditions. So finally, 2013 has come to an end (almost) and we had our first “jar party” tonight. My boyswere forced tojoined us on the floor where we dumped out many, many piles of tiny papers and began reading through them…there also might have been chocolate fudge cake. And champagne. (Yes, I know, it was one night early… see note above about my patience.)
Suffice it to say, I was in misty-eyed-mom-mode for most of the ordeal…the good kind. What a treat. Here are some favorites:
My four-year-old listed every family member (including extended) on one piece of paper and then at the bottom it said, “they are all the best.” Both boys had many submissions about family movie nights and bike rides, pets and special times with mom, dad, and grandparents…and not a single mention of toys, electronics or anything material at all. Oh wait, there was one note about a new trampoline. OK, so one mention of a toy. Such simplicity in the things the boys wrote down – it felt humbling.
“I love my school.”
“When mommy read to me today.”
“Our house is always full of good food.”
“The earth and stars and a big sky and angels.”
“My dad lets me build stuff with him.”
“Our super soft kitty.”
I had three different entries about how blessed I feel to be in charge of my own schedule and have the luxury of flexibility…and several more in appreciation that long-time, old stressors from the past no longer exist. It was a clear way to see some patterns about what really feels important.
All in all it was a big success in my book. It is such an easy way to incorporate the “discipline” of gratitude into our everyday lives and, hopefully, instill healthy mental habits in the boys. (There’s lots of good reasons for this, in case you haven’t heard.)
Some adjustments I’m making for 2014:
A new, prettier container – with more room!
Pre-cut papers so they are always handy
Putting dates on the entries (some of the things we wrote about were hard to place exactly without a date for reference)
Making entries even more often, so I can be mistier-eyed next year. 😉
It’s never too late to start… Happy New Year!!
Here’s the new jar for 2014…with several little papers in there, already. Is it too early to be excited for next New Year’s Eve?
Sorry for the delay on the rest of the paleo menu from last week… we were out of town and I (was unexpectedly without wi-fi) decided to take a mini-break from the internet while enjoying the cool mountain air of northern New Mexico and Colorado.
We rode an awesome train:
But we are home now…back to the heat…and I think I promised a post about my favorite broccoli salad ever. I think I could live on it. Really.
Recently I got a new cookbook (please don’t tell Ron…we sort of have an agreement about me NOT getting any more new cookbooks) from Deb over at Smitten Kitchen. Truly one of my favorite recipe/family/food perfectionist blogs. Way back in 2009 she posted about a broccoli slaw recipe and I never made it…and then it showed up in the cookbook, so I finally got around to it. I’m so sorry that I waited so long.
When I say that I could live on it, I’m not kidding. As you can see, I make it in a huge batch so it will last for a few days. I think I had it for lunch for three days in a row. So delish.
This evening I made a version of Chicken Marsala that made everyone happy. Including me because it is pretty easy.
You start out with chicken breasts…
which get pounded down to an even thickness…
…and then salted and peppered heavily on both sides
…then are seared in butter or ghee very briefly (3-4 minutes) and removed from the pan.
In the same pan mushrooms and shallots are sautéed in butter for several minutes…
…then chicken broth and Marsala wine are added, along with a rosemary sprig. After a few more minutes you add the chicken breasts back in, cover and let them cook for 8-10 minutes. I took them out and sliced them up before topping them with the sauce – but that’s just because the boys like the smaller pieces. You should feel free to do what you like – they would be impressive served whole, too.
In keeping with our grain-free menu, I paired it with the with the spaghetti squash from last night and a big green salad. Delightful paleo feast. The boys ate it up (except for the mushrooms which they won’t eat because they are black. Silly kids, more for us!)
And yes, that’s a puzzle underneath the dishes. We are in the middle of one right now that takes up the whole table, so we just cover it up when it’s time to eat. No, we’ll probably never finish it.
Still to go this week…chocolate chili, cauli-rice and the best broccoli salad ever. Such yumminess ahead!