Friday, November 15, 2013

Writing Prompt #11: Your Friends

This past summer, I ran into an old college friend at Target.  After our initial double-take, we hugged, lugged the carts to the side of the aisle and chatted for a good ten minutes.  If only we had been closer to the lawn and garden section-- we could have just pulled up a display lawn chair, popped open a beverage, and chatted the night away.  However,  the fact that we had kids and husbands and commitments waiting for us at home encouraged us to move on.  So we hugged again, promised to get something on the calendar and said our goodbyes.

As I was driving home, I thought about how great it was to bump into her-- how that ten minutes had  really brought so much joy to me.  And it got me thinking about friends and happiness and life.  Sometimes, when it's sunny outside and and I'm driving with my moon roof open, listening to Jimmy Buffett sing about margaritas, I feel like all is well with the world.  I feel like we're living during the best time in history, among great people doing incredible things.  I feel like I cannot even list the number of remarkable people in my life, so many of them doing so much good for the world.  On days like these, it seems like no matter what terrible things we may be dealt, no matter how far I fall in times of adversity, I'll be caught by a net of friends so wide and so deep that I'll somehow survive unscathed.  And not only will I survive, but I'll be surrounded by so much love and hope and strength that I'll be a better person because of it.  On those days, my heart seems to nearly leap out of my chest with gratitude for the people in my life.

On those days, it's nearly impossible to even remember the very real moments feeling lonely and anxious and doubtful.  Fortunately, these days of anxiety and fear and doubt have lessened in the past few months.  In June, when we sounded the battle-cry after falling on tough times, we were surrounded by friends who jumped to our assistance and walked right by our side.  At that moment, I realized that I've surrounded myself with the type of people who would do anything for you, despite the inconvenience placed upon them.  How lucky am I?  How lucky are we?

And yet, I still sometimes feel like I keep friends at an arm's length.  If you asked me how comfortable I would feel arriving un-announced at any friend's house, sharing their living room for an hour or two, with nothing in particular to say, the answer would be very few.  And yet, those are the friendships that I crave.  I love the friendships that are deep and meaningful and intimate and still easy and spontaneous and fun.  But do these friendships only exist on college campuses?  

With a few exceptions, I met my current "best friends" within the parameters of The University of Northern Iowa.  Sometimes, this fact makes me sad-- why don't I have relationships with other moms like I had with my college friends?  Why can't our park play-dates lead to sipping cocktails on our deck?  Why can't the mom at story time turn into my exercise partner?  Why can't the lady in front of me at the pharmacy ask me to be in her book club?  Is it because most of us are just fine where we are, and that making new friends, real friends, requires some effort?  Is it because everyone else already has their friends and they aren't really looking to initiate anyone else into their cool club?  Does anyone else wonder where they "fit in" among the Mommy-world or is it just me?

Perhaps, the uniqueness of college friends is what makes college friends so special.  What other time in your life will you rely so heavily on your friends based on sheer proximity?  They are your alarm clocks, review partners, and dinner dates.  You turn to them to discuss job interviews and living situations, and new romances.  Together, you celebrate the highs and cry over the lows.  They are who you turn to when some of life's toughest choices begin to arise.  They are always there.  Literally.  A few doors down, a few doors over, a flight up.  Surrounded and surrounding.  Feeling nervous?  Feeling panicky?  Feeling fat?  Sad? Angry? Scared?  Knock three times and head over to their living rooms and grab a comfy seat.  Fill the afternoon with tons of conversation or share silence.  Nap on their couches.  Eat their food.  Things will be fine-- afterall, you have each other.

I realize that these types of friendships are few and far between in Mom-dom,  but it still is part of my 'friend-fantasy'.  My 90 year old grandmother shares stories of her coffee klatsch and card clubs; groups she belonged to when she was a stay-at-home-mom raising young children.  She easily admits that the women got together to socialize with each-other, they were not getting together under the guise of a play-date or extracurricular activity for their little ones.  Of course, the children were nearby, but the women were gathering for themselves, they placed a value on their adult friendships which is something that seems a bit lost these days.  And while I'm all for setting up play-dates and encouraging social skills among three year olds, it might be nice if we grown ups start nurturing and tending to our own friendships a little more.

Maybe what makes this hard for me is that I do have these old, deep, intimate friendships, but most of them are not at my fingertips.  Many of my close friends are spread out across the Midwest and Rocky Mountains (with one rogue friend living in Arizona).  Maybe I'm just a little homesick for them because of all the history between us.  Maybe I'm just craving a night on their couches with an old "Seinfeld" re-run, or a good belly laugh over margaritas.  Maybe I secretly am having a hard time letting anyone else into my own cool club that has been so tightly reserved for my college besties.

Seeing Bridget that day made me ache for her company and realize that I do have a another wide and deep net of friends close by.  The thing is, these friends are like are the Tums in the medicine cabinet.  You know they're there if needed, but you rarely use them (unless you're like Kelly and me in High School, when we ate them like candy).  Sometimes, you even forget about them for days or weeks, but when you feel a little "not right" you know exactly where to look to remedy the situation.

This summer, when things got all topsy-turvey in our world, my friends supported me with that crazy strong net.  I received texts and emails and cards in the mail.  They called and stopped over and invited us for dinner.  The extended their arms and I fell right into them.  And it felt really good.  In fact, it felt amazing.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it's crazy for something messy and ugly and sad to happen in order for me to feel my friends' arms around me.  Why do we wait until things fall apart to reach out?  Why don't we call and write and invite all the time?  Is it because we don't want to?  Is it because we're the first generation of humans not meant to? Or is it because we're all "so busy"?

I've begun to realize how much I dislike those words.  Because honestly, if we really want or need to do something, it happens.  Things get inked onto the calendar and as crazy as that day is, we make it happen.  For some reason, we justify running around like crazy to get kids to practices and ballgames and parties with their friends, but we rarely ink in time for ourselves.  How many women do you know that would admit to running around like crazy --for themselves?  Who do you know whose busyness is because of their events not the events of their family? Have you ever heard a woman breathlessly explain that her weekend was crazy because she ran a 10k the morning, then rushed to have coffee with a friend, went out for lunch with her sister, and then had book club later that evening?  Even writing that sentence seems so.....weird.  What a crazy selfish person that would be, right?  But what if that woman did even one of those things each weekend?  Still seems a little selfish or just impossible, but why?  Why not take time for herself and her friends? Why not put those things on her priority list and make a statement that of course she's busy being involved with her family and her friends.  We have 8,760 hours to spend each year, yet it's difficult for us to find one hour a week to devote entirely to ourselves--doing whatever we want.  And if we devoted just one hour every week to ourselves, we would still have 8,708 left for our jobs and kids and errands and eating and sleeping.  I think that's plenty of time leftover to even check facebook.

As I write this, it dawns on me that perhaps it's my turn to do the inviting-- maybe I need to start the book club, or invite the mom from story hour, or ask others to exercise with me.  Perhaps that is the first step.  Will it ever evolve into a wide-deep-tangled net of friends who know the ins and outs of each-other's lives?  Probably not, but I suppose that's okay.  I suppose just connecting with others, as we humans are meant to do, is a good start.

(I know you're dying to see pics of those college days....reluctantly, I give you these gems...)
(Kelly, I have no pictures of you during this time. WTH?)

Random Thursday evening road trip to Colorado.  One of many taken in '98-'99 when gas was honestly .98 a gallon! 

Spring break in Madison. 

The infamous 21 crown--somehow never lost by the end of the night and always saved for the next 21st b-day.


Grad School. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Remembering Them

Life has somehow gotten crazy busy, and I feel like I've neglected this little blog for awhile now.  There are so many things I want to write about, so many things I want to post and remember, but one of my summer resolutions was to take more time to just be me.  To do the things I truly want to do, and not feel that I "need" to do.  Sometimes, I feel like I "need to update the blog"... but then I remember that I'm in the middle of a really good book, or have a super cute knitting project on my needles, so those things take priority.  But slowly, as the urge strikes, I'll be updating the blog-- just forgive me when the posts are quite outdated.

So for this one, let's back the calendar up to Halloween-time.  As we celebrate Halloween, other cultures celebrate what has come to be known as "The Day of the Dead".  This tradition is actually a combination of the Catholic "All Saints Day" and the Aztec "Day of the Dead", but I won't go into a Central/Southern American history lesson right now.  Instead, it's just important that you realize the central theme of this tradition is to honor and celebrate the ancestors that have passed away.

Obviously, different cultures and religions have different beliefs when it comes to an afterlife, and for me, this is one of the hardest and most confusing things to even think about.  The idea of Heaven has, for as long as I can remember, not made any sense to me.  I think it sounds like a lovely place, and I certainly would want to be first in line if the place does, in fact, exist.... I just am not convinced that it does.  Do I want to be reunited with my ancestors someday?  Of course.  Would I love to someday meet the little souls I carried so briefly but lost this past year? More than anything.  Does the idea of one more run with my healthy Maddy make my heart skip a beat? Yep.  And while I can see the comfort in believing those things will someday happen, it isn't a belief that gives me any sense of peace.  For me, the "what if's" have always overshadowed this promise of an afterlife, making the whole idea hard to accept.  I find much more peace in accepting death as final, but keeping spirits alive by honoring and remembering those who have gone before us.

I've mentioned before that finding the UU church has been such a blessing for me.  It's comforting for me to share space with like-minded people, who listen to my beliefs with no agenda or concern.  On the first Sunday in November, the UU's held a special service to honor our ancestors.  People were invited to bring photos of loved ones and light candles in memory of them.  We learned about several customs and religious ways of honoring the dead, and had a visitor speak about the Japanese Obon festival.  Later, we were invited to write the names of our loved ones on paper, and lay them at the foot of the altar.  (This was done in a similar way Buddhist traditions write names on tablets and build shrines around them.) But perhaps the coolest part of the whole service was when we broke into groups of 5 or 6 people and shared stories about our loved ones.

I loved sharing that my grandma nicknamed me "Sugar Plum" and my Grandpa Arv had a bathroom devoted to the Iowa Hawkeyes.  I talked about the little wooden animals and houses my grandpa Bernie made for us and the way my great-grandma taught me how to play Chinese Checkers.  I ended by saying that every time I teach a student how to play Chinese Checkers,  I can feel my great-grandma's spirit close by.

As I listened to my group share stories, it dawned on me how similar and yet how different all of our stories were.  The same themes intertwined our stories-- themes of love and happiness and silliness and devotion. I loved learning about these people in my friends' lives and enjoyed sharing mine.  And as I drove home that morning, I thought about the millions of people who have gone before us, the lives they've led, the lessons they've learned, the people they've touched.  Their spirits linger when we remember.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Rescue Me from Halloween

Yay!!!  We've officially made it through October and the lovely Halloween holiday!  While I admit to loving the spooky Halloween decorations like spiderwebs and monsters and those trendy sugar skulls, I'm so thankful that Halloween is over.  For whoever invented this holiday certainly didn't have three year olds in mind.

Halloween began in Spahnville way back in June, when C announced that he wanted to dress up as a pillow pet.  Naturally, I figured this idea would be long forgotten come fall, but sure enough, when the talk of costumes started to come up, Charlie again eagerly mentioned being a pillow pet.  I tried to come up with alternate ideas, but he was interested in none of them.  At one point, he wanted to be a Sponge Bob pillow pet, but we horrible parents don't allow Sponge Bob in this house so that was nixed too.  Poor kid.

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but eventually, he agreed to be "Diego" (the Spanish speaking cousin of much-loved "Dora the Explorer").  Diego is an animal rescuer, and C plays "rescue" whenever he has free time.  I was thrilled--mostly because I thought a Diego costume would be fairly easy to throw together-- some khaki pants, a blue shirt, a little animal-rescue patch, and a vest.  I'm slowly conquering my fear of the sewing machine and decided to channel my inner Project Runway contestant and make a vest out of Mason's old work pants.  If you look closely, you'll notice the seams are not straight, the sides are uneven, and it's all wonky around the arms.  But it works for a three year old and I was (am) incredibly proud of myself.

Seeking positive affirmation for the job well done, I excitedly showed off the amazing vest and complete Diego costume to my little animal rescuer.  I thought it was awesome.  He didn't.  In no particular order, here's where I screwed up:

1.  The vest didn't close.  (I eventually was ordered to add velcro to remedy this)
2.  Khaki pants "feel yucky".  (Tiger stripe leggings were substituted)
3.  The vest "doesn't go all the way up!"  (Tough luck, kid.)
4.  The rescue pack doesn't go on the same way that Diego's goes on.  (Suck it up, kiddo)
5.  We don't have a purple camera that the pictures "shoot out of it".  (Sorry little one, not going to buy a Polaroid for Halloween)

Eventually, I think he realized that he needed to make due with what he had.  Or the idea of trick-or-treating was compelling enough to let the crappy costume slide.  And judging by the smile on his face, everything turned out just fine.  No rescue needed.

The completed look!

C was thrilled to get a mask!  (Even though he couldn't see a thing-- no wonder these are outlawed)

Mase broke out the power tools for carving.

C broke out the safety goggles.

Ready to rock the trick-or-treating!

Shouting, "Arescate amigos!"

Heading out.

Wrapping up the night.