Have Her Cake…

The more I get in touch with who I am, the more I am convicted about how I should invest my time, energy, and money. As the birthdays of my daughters loomed on the horizon, I considered how we would celebrate them this year. The birthday parties of last year and the year before just couldn’t be done, as they entailed more planning, labor, and finances than I cared to invest this year. We would have to take it down a notch, and scale back financially. As I became more attuned to Spirit, I realized that we needed to do something differently, even if it meant a lower-key celebration than in years past; however, I struggled to balance the warning to heed my own inner voice and the desire to give my daughters a special birthday celebration.

I considered various plug-and-pay (oops, I mean “play”) places and venues that cater primarily to children: Chuck E. Cheese, inflatable amusement parks, and other such operations designed to make it “simple” to celebrate the guest of honor. Inarguably, those places are strictly for kids, but adults hate them almost as much as kids love them. The food is usually meager, and tastes just okay, it’s loud as hell, and if there are kiddie areas, they usually feature ball-pits or shared apparatus that are cesspools for viruses. The smaller kids get stomped by the bigger kids, who know good and well that they have no business occupying the little kiddie areas. Then to add insult to injury, adults are subjected to a frenzy of antsy children eager to redeem tickets for some cheap dollar store chotchkes. Parents wait impatiently, arms teeming with children’s gear and goodie bags, and when it’s over, everyone swears that it will be a while before signing up for this mess again! As much as I’ve come to despise these places for their success at sucking us in, they were options worth considering, particularly during this period which my dear friend calls “forced convalescing”; nonetheless, I just couldn’t bring myself to prepare for a stampede of unruly children or for playing musical rooms. Not exactly what I had in mind!

Conversely, I also wanted to steer away from a celebration where the focus becomes more about entertaining the adults. The poor birthday child (if you can find her) keeps asking “Mom, when can we cut the cake, when can we open my presents?” “Not now baby, we’re still waiting for Cousin Lester to come.” LOL!! The adults are drinking it up, listening to grown-folks music, probably well on their second helping of food already, and there is nothing else for the children to do but pester the adults. I also wanted to avoid a celebration that was too over the top, or required too many moving parts. I’ve found that in those instances, both the birthday child and parents are overwhelmed. Though my physical limitations were enough of a reason to reel the party in a bit, my conscience screamed even more loudly, “less is more, party-girl!” In the bigger scheme of things, it mattered little to my daughters how much I spent on their birthday parties or where I chose to have them. The decision was mine to make.

When our youngest daughter’s birthday came about on May 16th, I suggested to my husband that we invite four or five of her friends, do one craft activity, have a light bite, and follow with cake and ice cream. It seemed easy enough, or so I thought. I would order the cake, and coordinate the activity while perched at the kitchen table, with my feet propped up on a chair. My husband was perplexed and said “Whoa! Slow your roll, butterfly!” He insisted that I was already getting way ahead of myself, given that I was just closing in on my second week after major invasive surgery. So instead, we agreed to extend our small family celebration to just one other family with children close in age that could also enjoy the same experience.

Needless to say, my little ladybug’s “party” turned out to be a beautiful and special celebration! I soaked it all in as I watched my birthday girl dance with her friend and sister, to Katy Perry’s “Firework” (their girls’ empowerment anthem), and “Four Boys Named Jordan”. Of course, I had to put on “Single Ladies”, by special request, for the birthday girl. (I’m still not sure why that song is so infectious among such young children.) They danced, played, laughed, spun, fell out, and giggled as they held hands and caught glimpses of their reflections in the oven door. Unlike previous birthday parties, I did not have to corral a herd of children, or tend to a burdensome list of items. This time, I was fully present. After cutting the cake and opening her cards and presents, she very contentedly remarked, “my birthday party is over, Mom…I had fun!” Our one guest family packed up to return home, while we picked up what little there was to pick up, and quietly retired for the evening. Our little birthday girl was ready to call it a night without being exhausted or over stimulated. When it was all over, I was thankful to have had a simple affair, as it brought pure enjoyment to the one who matters most…our youngest birthday girl.

I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate our oldest daughter’s birthday yet (May 25th), but whatever we do will be beautiful and special. At minimum, it will reflect simplicity, and my desire to “take back” and re-inject our own meaning into birthdays and other family festivities where going overboard will no longer be the norm.

Don’t worry….my daughters will certainly have their cake, but I’ll eat it too!

Some more “healthy” inspiration:
– Hands“, by Jewel
– “Firework“, by Katy Perry

When The Easter Bunny Comes

“Is the world a better place with the Easter bunny?” Damn skippy, it is! 🙂

In fact, Easter for me has always been an important time, mostly because it comes at a time when new life springs forth, and what was once dormant becomes resurrected. Life resurfaces in all of nature. Flowers bloom, trees fill in with leaves and fruit, and neighbors reveal their previously hibernated smiles covered by winter scarves and hiked-up collars. So, although much of what comes with Easter seems to have a very commercial focus these days, I say “Let’s hear it for the Easter Bunny! Woohoo!”

As far as I’m concerned, the presence of the Easter Bunny is not about debating the legitimacy of Easter, or whether it’s a pagan holiday, but about making people happy.  At least in this household, the Easter Bunny is all about the smiles that I see on my children’s faces when they enter the household, and find that an assortment of fun surprises await them, with accompanying, personalized notes.  Though they never talk or inquire about the Easter Bunny before Easter, they’re taken off-guard every time “he” makes a visit. (I happen to know this Easter Bunny very intimately, and how much he cares about making children happier.)

Perhaps there is little excitement beforehand because we don’t talk about Easter, per se. Rather than spending time discussing religious differences or practices, we strive to teach, and live out,  the commonalities that define us all, even during a highly regarded, religious holiday such as Easter.  These include themes such as renewal (new life, babies, flowers, trees, more abundant sunshine), restoration (healing, repair), revival (celebration/ injection of new life), vivacity (life itself), and the audacity of life itself – its boldness to dare spring anew again after such dormancy.  Even children can embrace these concepts.  In this same manner, we embrace the Easter Bunny’s regularity and attentiveness to bringing smiles and contentment, ultimately creating indelible childhood memories that will last them a lifetime.

So Easter isn’t as much about candy, or even the Easter Bunny, but about the occasion itself – one for joining with families, or friends that are like family, during the earliest part of Spring, when the air is warmer, clothes are lighter, and summer fun is closer within reach.  With the palpable anticipation of more outdoor fun spent with  friends and family, the appreciation for life itself, seems new.  So breaking bread to welcome the season and restore hearts after a long drawn-out winter seems like only the right thing to do; with family and friends…and of course, my Easter Bunny! 🙂

“Let’s Hear it For the Boy”, Deniece Williams

Check Contents Before Opening

Packing Only What Fits?

Every morning, I do a once-over of the children before they depart for school, and make sure they look solid. Before I consider them fully inspected, I give them that one last look from head to toe to confirm no hairs out of place; clean corners at the mouth; smooth, unbent collars; fully zipped coats; smiles all aglow; and covered necks and chests. “Child, don’t be taking no chances with this weather…can’t be coming down with a chest cold!” (Now say it in the most southern twang you can muster.) 😮 I’m beginning to sound like somebody’s grandma…probably got it from somebody’s grandma! Inspection now complete, they walk off, and I’m assured that they are all set. 

Once they leave, I settle into the domestic affairs of cleaning off the table and counters, and putting away cereal boxes and orange juice.  My eye catches hold of a small pile of school papers which contains unsigned permission slips and school announcements, some now moot because of past deadlines. These were all from only one of their backpacks, seemingly from a few days ago. How did I miss that? They probably snuck that past me, I thought. Darn it, I forgot to check the inside of their bags…again!  It occurs to me that I haven’t personally checked the inside of their backpacks in quite some time. I’ve trusted their little growing independent selves to handle this aspect of their organization, dismissing the fact that they may need a little help along the way.

In fact, I haven’t been checking on the inside of much, as of lately. Ouch! I consider the question of how often we check on the inside. Sometimes, my steady auto-pilot feature is so engaged, that I don’t do due diligence to my total self by checking on the inside, so by all appearances, it all appears well. This small example of not checking my children’s backpacks is a microcosm of our avoidance to thoroughly check the inside, and sift through the contents of our personal selves. By all appearances, we appear well, but beneath, lies an emergent self that is steadily evolving as it navigates through life and seeks to apply the wisdom gained over the years. It busily trods through life, hoping to present itself better, stronger, more equipped for the race with each new day, yet, it is bombarded with numerous messages, of things unattended, and of stories untold.

Left unchecked, this emergent self carries its ramblings, notions, musings, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and epiphanies under wraps, sealed, to be released probably never, and most certainly, too infrequently. Occasionally however, there is a need to check its contents. A thorough inspection is required to ensure that we have what we need when we need it. We may very well need to review its contents; discard what’s no longer useful, and replenish what’s needed. In my children’s backpack, it was the announcement of the school’s new SMARTboards, a middle school parent orientation, and a May field trip (which thankfully, I will submit in time). In a broader sense, however, a review might indicate that our priorities are in need of reorganization. It might be the realization that we haven’t tended to matters of the heart. It may be the acknowledgment that we need to nurture some personal connections, rest, or are on “to-do” overload, or that our bodies are lacking some key nutrients, exercise, and quality down-time. Perhaps life has become so routine and formal, so deadline-driven; but within, we are in need of some organization, prioritization, and yes, fixation…on the inside.

Check the contents not only to find what’s missing, but to also celebrate what’s in place; what you deem most important, what you’ve insisted on carrying, what propels you. Perhaps those things are glaringly evident, indicating that you are right where you need to be. Celebrate that as well, that you may give yourself permission to occasionally mess up on those things that show up on the outside. If your personal house – your very essence, your compassion, your storehouses of love, generosity, the very inner hearkenings of your heart, talent, art, ministry, gifts – is in order, who cares what everyone else sees?  Only you know the hard work that you put in to get it that way. Pack carefully, but don’t keep piling it on. Streamline often, to avoid getting bogged down by dead weight. Broom the crap, and groom the rest! Write the stories, and get it out one way or the other. Unleash the uneasiness that comes from avoiding what’s inside, and take joy in seeing it morph into tangible action. Experience the sweet joy that springs forth from releasing the pent-up frustration and seeming inability to move forward on said project, or action item.  Eliminate those things that add no value to what you say is most important to you – your values, your core, your master plan! Cultivate and enhance only the keepsakes – those contents worthy of keeping –  that you may rightfully grow into that beautiful beyond-emergent self, from the inside out!!

And  now, for some musical inspiration on the subject:
Bag Lady“, Erykah Badu
Lively Up Yourself“, Bob Marley

From A Distance

In response to a previously written post, titled “Stuck on Stupid”, one subscriber commented that the lack of empathy could be to blame for what, until now, I’ve perceived as open displays of stupidity.  To quote, she said: Funny business aside, I think there is also a severe lack of empathy going around.  Some people aren’t that stupid, they just don’t care!  It is just your problem after all.  Why should they care?”   While I maintain their separation, I agree that the increasing lack of empathy in our society is even more troubling than sub par intelligence.  The responses following the unprecedented earthquake and tsunami in Japan present a remarkable opportunity for making this case.  

Despite increased globalization, we remain worlds away in terms of our connectedness to people around the world.  Events that occur in places as far away as Japan and Libya are told as effortlessly and casually as if they were happening right down the street.  Before too long, we are bombarded with live, exclusive, and “raw” footage.  Moreover, the delivery turns into a rapid-fire succession of image after image.  It’s no wonder some folks are tuning out, and becoming desensitized in the process.  Furthermore, reporters relate the news with such detachment, and seem to lack the emotional intelligence required to connect with the people most affected by the events in any meaningful way.  You wonder if they are on autopilot as they segue into the next “breaking news” event, which may not even be news at all – could be a viewer-submitted video of a grandmother spraying a would-be robber in the eyes with her bottle of Charlie!   😮 It makes no difference, because it is all communicated with the same indifference, stoicism, and urgency.  

I’ve got to believe that the viewer becomes overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and scope of the events themselves, and the visual display that accompanies such devastation.  Despite our desire to do something, at some level, even the most empathetic among us feel that these problems are too big for our individual input to be impactful.  History has informed us that there is power in numbers, so instead of going it alone, some of us align ourselves with any of several social, action-based, volunteer-driven organizations to make a greater impact.  Some of us will act individually; we may write a check, give of our own resources, organize fundraisers, or partner informally with like-minded friends or family to raise awareness and do our small part. 

Then there are those that will do absolutely nothing…no matter what…period.  Let’s not be too quick to write them off as ne’er do wells , or as folk who weren’t raised as loving, compassionate children.  Still, I don’t believe that these are necessarily bad people.  I’m sure that their apathy isn’t as calculated as it seems.  I think that their response or lack thereof, is complicated.  They reserve the right to be as uninformed and disconnected as they want to be, and I don’t expect them to budge for anything.  Their supremacist beliefs and ethnocentric POV is a current that is almost impossible to stem.  Since I’m a believer that there’s more good in this Earth than there isn’t, I won’t occupy too much of my precious intellect on them.  Certainly, there may be an economic component.  Asking someone who is financially strapped, or can’t see their way to Monday, to give money may be asking a bit much.  But what about those who have resources, yet remain apathetic? Could it be that they’ve become so as a result of repeated news cycles?  Perhaps they’ve tuned out like the reporter? Or sadder yet, perhaps they don’t think it’s their problem. Could folks be that disconnected?  Is it an issue of judgment, even?  Does it have anything to do with what they feel is a “natural” order of things?  By that, I mean do they believe that if this is God’s will, then they shouldn’t run interference? Undoubtedly, these catastrophic events are of “biblical proportions”, but there’s nothing “natural” about them.  We don’t naturally conjure these occurrences.  They are outside the realm of most of our thinking…I hope.  Not even Stephen King could have whipped up this monster!  Okay, the jury is still out on that one.  😮  But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the manifestation of these events is the fulfillment of prophecy.  Is it okay to then sit back and watch your fellow-man pick up the pieces from the devastation, for which he isn’t directly responsible? 

Sadly enough, I have heard several “faithful” people link world events to God’s displeasure about the practice of chosen faiths other than Christianity.  At the end of the day, aren’t we all God’s children, belonging to one race, and when affected by disaster, don’t we have the same basic needs and wants for our families – food, clothing, shelter, safety, love, and compassion?  These are clearly commonalities that define us all.  So while I agree that the magnitude of events is startling, I also believe that we have the power to act in transformative ways that can ultimately bring relief to those that need it most.  Whether it’s the neighbor facing foreclosure, a crisis called Katrina, harrowing hurricanes in Haiti, or a tumultuous tsunami in Japan, we have the ability to show empathy in ways great and small.  The choice is ours.

We cannot respond to everything; however, we cannot become so disheartened that we become paralyzed or powerless, and do nothing.  Purposeful or not, these events will challenge us on many levels, and bring our human limitations in fuller view, but we are more than our limitations, and as such, we cannot afford to take a backseat.  Should disaster strike even closer to home, we may very well find ourselves wanting and waiting, hoping and praying, and certainly yearning for the empathy of our own neighbors…from a distance, far or near.

Are We A Nation, Sweet Honey In The Rock f/ Yonas


Home Sweet Home


Rewind!!! Pic by my Bud(dy) Walter James

We’re through with the most fretful part of this snowstorm, I hope.  The refrain was unanimous – this is The Storm, one that could break an over 40-year record in 1967, when over two feet of snow fell for miles and miles.  This storm has blanketed a great stretch of the country, from Texas to Maine.  We certainly got more than our fair share here in the Midwest.  The temperatures are also bitterly cold, and will make for a less than eventful clean-up and lots of ice afterward.

It’s Day Two of being housebound with the children and I’ve stocked up on the essentials, as well as a few goodies – buttermilk for baking a cake, snacks, juiceboxes, water, some canned items, fruit, veggies, water, and everything else we may need including batteries, flashlights, candles, and Duraflame logs.  Admittedly, this was all a bit frightening at first.  My youngest daughter thought it would be great to make snow angels, but she’s so tiny that she’d fall right through. Some areas around my home exceed 22 inches, and there are drifts that are taller than my friend and neighbor, who has got to be at least six feet.  That’s even more troubling for us vertically-challenged folk!

I am going bananas inside!  I haven’t been able to go anywhere, and now I have a wicked case of cabin fever.  I love my little darlings and being with them, but what’s love got to do with it? I want out!  Snow is anything but picturesque when it’s parked on your front lawn, driveway, backyard, and in front of your door.

I usually spend little to no time talking about anything that’s less than joyful, but I just wanted to paint a picture and give you a backdrop for this morning’s post.  I get really bad cabin fever when I am indoors for too long. I become irritable, get the blues, and freak out as if the walls are closing in on me.  This seems to be more pronounced during adverse weather events.  I noticed this shortly after giving birth to my first child, who will soon be eleven years old.

While in the hospital, and severely medicated (death to Percocet and Darvocet!), I would look out the window, and all I could see was snow, ice, and slow, crawling traffic. The cars looked like little Matchboxes and the overhanging branches looked like they could snap under the weight of the ice.  Here I was, in this white box of a hospital room, with nurses coming by every few hours to ensure that I took my meds and had a bowel movement.   Come on, already! After 22 hours of labor and an emergency C-Section, I was becoming doubtful about this whole “Joy of Giving Birth” thing.  Though I was excited about the event of being a first-time mother to this most-gorgeous, round-face, bright-eyed little boy, I was anxious about taking him home in this dreadful weather.  Sadly so, I was also feeling a bit of paranoia take over me. To this day, I swear it had to do with being couped up inside a room for so long. Those five days felt like forever. I just wanted to go home!  Could I be experiencing post-partum?

Five days later, I was feeling a bit of the same even though I was home. Having a C-Section limits your movement and activity, to say the least, so again, I was inside. No white walls or box this time, but inside nonetheless. My husband (bless his heart),  started to notice what was happening , and insisted that I go outside regularly, even if I only stuck my head out the window for a few minutes!  A little fresh air would make all the difference, he maintained.  But now, as in February 3, 2011, where the heck am I supposed to step outside for some fresh air? The fresh air is as freaking cold as a naked witch’s tit in February!  What’s so fresh about that?  I.WANT.SPRING!  Day O!   Okay, okay, now that I’ve bitched about how terribly cold it is, and how dreadful this snow storm is, and about my cabin fever, I feel better.

But now, let me also share with you some of the blessings, the small beauties, of being housebound with my three children during this time.  We’re all healthy.  We have our medicines on hand should anyone go into an asthma attack.  We have warm shelter. Though we can all tell that it is certainly colder outside when we’re not wearing socks, the furnace is working.  We have food, flashlights (and batteries), as well as a generator should the power go out. (Oh Lawd, heaven help us all if I can’t figure out how to use it! )  We have a connection to the outside world – what do you think I’m doing here, talking to you?  – internet, phone, television. We have running water, clean clothes, and enough to do to keep us sane. The children have been reading, playing video games, watching TV, eating me out of house and home, playing tag, playing with toys, writing, and painting. Let me clarify that only the girls, ages 5 and 2, were painting and writing. The  2 year old is very confident about her scribbling as she is about her finger painting.  As for the 5 year old, she can paint and write all day, if you let her.  My oldest child, a boy,  isn’t a fan of creative arts, per se. He is my big-picture child.  Don’t ever bore him with backdrop.  “Put it back, and drop it…please Mom.”  😮 (I’d like to have an applause audio right here, instead of that ordinary smiley face.)

I have received more hugs, more closeness, and more love than I can stand. I have been introduced to a 1,000 year old snake, the star of a story written and illustrated by my 5-yr old, and bore witness to the nuptials of him and his “beautiful snake girl”. I’ve received a love letter from her as well, bearing that she’ll love me “no matter what”.  It closes with “you are the most loving mother in the world.” Aww…was I complaining about cabin fever? Over the course of the last two days, my 2-yr old has told me that I’m the “best mommy ever”, in the “whole wide world” at that, and my 10 yr old son has taken to reading my nookcolor, and even convinced me to download a book for him – something about Percy Jackson – which he has been reading, in earnest.  Hey, life ain’t half-bad.  Small beauties.

So I’m going to kick cabin fever as I would kick rocks, because there just ain’t no joy in staying at that layover for too long. Instead, I’ll treasure these moments, these small beauties, for when my children are good and grown, I’m certain that I’ll miss “snow days”.  I will crave their closeness as they grow and go their own ways, and will long for their love letters which make me feel so good inside, even when I don’t always get it right. I am sure that that day will come, so in the meantime, I will let them love me, as only young children can – with randomness, compassion, forgiveness, and innocence, all at once – even when I am stuck inside, surrounded by less-than-picturesque mountains of snow.