Wednesday, January 9, 2019

All the Much

It's no secret that the relationship I have with Anna is sometimes a bit of a challenge.  There are plenty of nights where I look at Mason and say something along the lines of, "I don't know why she doesn't like me!"  or "What did I ever do to her?"  or "All I am is kind to her and she hates me!"  To which Mason always responds appropriately-- reassuring me that she loves me and she is just a super feisty four year old right at the moment.  He is convinced that she doesn't treat him that way because he's "tougher" on her-- although I have a tougher time accepting that.  I've tried being "tough" and being lenient and everything in between.

In November, I posted these photos on my Instagram story:

I think they speak for themselves.  I never know where I'm at with Anna-- never know if we're good or if she's mad or going to give me the silent treatment or what.  (I was hoping we'd wait until the teenage years for this type of relationship but....)

But something magical happens each evening.  After baths have been taken and she smells like artificial watermelon scent and Aquafresh toothpaste.  When her wispy hair is damp with curls and she snuggles up with her beloved (although rattier by the day) blanket under warm flannel bed sheets.    After we've read books and kissed all the baby dolls goodnight I'll often ask her, "Do you know how much I love you?" And she always responds by moving her fingers about a centimeter apart and says, "This much?"  And I always say, "Even more."  And she'll spread her fingers apart a little more and say, "This much?"  And I repeat myself, saying, "Even more!"  And this goes on for one hundred days until eventually she has her arms as wide as they will go and she giggles, "ALL  THE  MUCH!" And I smile and tickle her and she tells me that she loves me ALL THE MUCH too.

And I hang on to that magic, even though it's delicate and fleeting and hope it can get me through one more day and all the shenanigans I'm going to ignore.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Holiday Magic

Although it hasn't been added to the human genome project yet, I am 99% sure that a gene exists making certain individuals filled with more holiday spirit than others.  In the case of my sister, she got a double dose of this twinkle-light-filled gene while I received the gene equivalent of coal.  It's not that I don't enjoy the holidays, I really do love them and definitely appreciate the little ten day break from regularly scheduled life.  It's just that every year, as Thanksgiving draws near and the stores are filled with holiday items and radio stations start pumping out Christmas music, I find myself wanting to run away from it all.

It's all so overwhelming: I don't want to lug up a million totes of random decorations that we display for one month of the year.  I don't want to untangle miles of multi-colored lights (only to discover that half of them don't work), I don't want to take down half of my living room wall decor to make room for seasonal decor.  I don't want a tree in my house and I really don't want to decorate that tree.  I don't want to bake and frost and store and giveaway baked goods.  And in the past, before kids, I didn't really feel the need to do all of this.  (I really loved the year Mason and I wound a string of lights around our lamp and called it good.  Liz held a grudge against me for years after that-- the audacity of a person having a Christmas Lamp!)

All that being said, I do want to light candles, and buy every kind of wine available, and host parties, and light fires, and watch Hallmark movies, and blow the 'budget' on gifts, and spend time with all the people I love.  But more than anything, I want to create a magical holiday for my kids.

For me, Christmas was one of my favorite things as a child (only behind spending seven hours a day at our skuzzy local swimming pool) .  I loved the lights and sounds and smells that have not changed over the years.  I remember tediously winding bright lights around our tree and freezing my fingers off while helping Dad carefully attach lights to the gutters of our roof.  I remember lying under the Christmas tree with my sister, listening to Mrs. Claus read letters to Santa on the radio-- keeping our fingers crossed that ours might be next.  I remember rolling out cookie dough in our little kitchen, and boxing up assortments of goodies for teachers and friends and relatives.  All these memories are as vivid as if they happened yesterday and I'm convinced it's because of the magic that surrounded it all.  As a child, I had only one job and that was to enjoy the holidays.  I didn't have to lug or unpack or decorate or clean or sort or store away.  I only had to notice, participate, and enjoy-- which is exactly what I want my children to do as well.

This year, I prepared for Christmas a little differently.  Rather than decorating in one exhausting weekend, I sprinkled my efforts over the course of a week.  I gradually brought up decorations, slowly placed cold-weather photos in frames, steadily replaced year-round decor with the holiday version.  I intentionally placed candles and twinkle lights and greenery in every room until little by little our halls were completely decked.

And once the monumental task of decorating is complete, the magic really begins.  For me, the magic begins a little easier if my part-elf sister can come help.  So early in December, she brought her family to bake.  We crafted and measured and mixed and poured and tasted the day away-- and the Grinchy Spahn Holiday Magic-o-Meter rose by fifty points.

And then the Magic-o-Meter rose even more when they graced us with a special holiday performance in the basement.  Magical memories.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Learn to Ski

The first time I skied, I was a Junior in college on spring break in Colorado.  I was a typical 21 year old with limited athletic ability, over-inflated self confidence, and about zero sense of mortality-- all of which were probably factors in my decision to ski Vail the first time I hit the slopes.  The friends I was with (miraculously all still good friends of mine) assured me that I would be fine, skiing was fairly easy, and it was just like riding a bike.  They all failed to understand that in this case, I had never been on the "bike".

So to make a long story short, the day played out as anyone might expect.  I did not take a lesson from a qualified ski instructor (most likely because that required money which would have cut into my limited beer & pizza funds) and instead, let my highly inexperienced friends send me down the bunny mountain with a few helpful hints like, "snowplow" (what did that even mean?) and "tips up on the lift" (again, what are tips?).  And I can't even write about the chairlift of that first time without having minor flashbacks that involved slipping, falling, and lying flat on my stomach while the chair-thing bumped over my back and the stoned lift-operators rolled their eyes, stopped the lift, and helped me gather myself and skis (that had somehow snapped off?).  All this while my mother  Mama-Bear-Friend scolded the lift operators for not slowing it down for "people who need a little extra help".  (I also have a vivid memory of her shouting, "You should be ashamed of yourselves!") All this excitement before we even got on the chairlift-- but our young brains were not deterred from continuing the adventure.  I'm pretty sure I blocked out most of the trip down the mountain, although I do remember screaming "Watch out! Excuse Me! Get out of the way!" as I careened down on two skis completely out of control.  There was no snowplowing, no veering from side to side, just flying down a snowy mountain in a tuck position like they do in the Olympics.  (Note:  I'm pretty sure I was not in a tuck position because of all the flailing around.) In the end, I somehow made it down the mountain (with plenty of crashes-- one that garnered the attention and praise of two snowboarders-- which left me feeling pretty awesome and proud of myself).

Like most things in life, there must be a lesson in that experience.  Here are a few that I learned:
1. Skiing is not like riding a bike.
2. Always take a Mama-Bear-Friend on adventures with you.
3. There is a reason they serve alcohol at the end of the runs.
4. Learn to ski.  Even if you live in the flattest county in Iowa.

Note: Everyone who knows me would probably agree that I was the kid who would have jumped off a bridge if all their friends were doing it-- especially if it looked fun.  That being said, I think not following friends into dangerous situations is a lesson parents should keep trying to teach their children, but their children will probably only learn by experience.

Mason's ski history is much different than mine.  It involves learning to ski at age four, joining a ski racing team at age 8, and skiing into his 20's.  I am guessing he never got run over by a chairlift.  But, in my defense, he had more opportunity to ski as a child-- at Sundown Mountain in Dubuque.

So fast forward to today-- and our new house that is located about five seconds from Sundown.  The close proximity is the perfect excuse to take advantage of skiing.  The other day, our whole family bundled up and headed out for the afternoon.  A friend of mine met us out there and helped Anna, while Mason helped Charlie.  I was on my own-- still rusty after all these years.  And while it wasn't like riding a bike for me (different story for Mason), it did spark a little flame of excitement for this sport.  A sport that allows me to be outside with my family, do something active, and actually enjoy the winter.  And it looks like my children will grow up on skis and be able to navigate chairlifts when they go on spring break in college.

Apparently skiing from 11-3 is hard work!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018



Well, it seems we have survived the move.  We survived the physical move and the packing/ transporting/ unpacking of our items.  We survived the mental move and the logistics of setting up new utilities, enrolling in new schools, and finding new caretakers.  And somehow we even survived the emotional move-- taking our last walks around the neighborhood, playing at our familiar parks, and hugging our friends and neighbors goodbye.

On the morning of the physical move, I watched as movers loaded the contents of our entire home into a giant truck and drive away.  They drove away with my keepsakes from years past, my kids' lovies from crib days, and scrapbooks documenting so many travels and journeys.  They loaded up our furniture-- the stuff we've jumped on, cuddled on, cried on...and took it somewhere new.  They took our photos, our wall decor, our trinkets and put them in a box and put that box on a truck and drove the truck away.  They even loaded up every random item in the garage- bikes and garden tools and toys and rakes and sleds and shovels and drove away with those too.  As I stood there on that Monday and watched that green truck head East, I felt almost as empty as the house I was leaving.

The feelings of emptiness clung to me as I drove to our new home later that evening.  I couldn't shake them even as I saw Mason that night.  Our new house was a big empty space of nothing.  It felt like a black hole to me-- one that held no memories and housed none of my possessions.  I couldn't visualize myself ever happily living in it. Our new house is the picture of suburbia-- brick and landscaped and sprawled out on almost one acre of manicured lawn, it's more house than four people will ever need.  And while this doesn't sound all bad, I ached for our small ranch in our mature blue collard neighborhood.  I worried that I wouldn't ever fit in here, would never belong, could never possibly relate to "these people" who lived in places "like this".  I asked myself, "Who am I to live in this huge house with this gorgeous yard?"  In some weird way, I felt a little guilty for living here-- what will people think? What will people say? Does this reflect who I am? The people we are?  I'm still not exactly sure where these insecurities come from but I've managed to loosen my grasp on them a bit in the past few days.  During those moments of sadness and emptiness,  a tiny voice deep inside whispered to embrace these feelings long enough to process them.  That same voice reminded me that feelings don't last forever and neither do transitions.

Four days after the movers unloaded our boxes, the four of us loaded up the minivan and headed to the cottage.  I had given Mason strict instructions not to mention the "D" word (Dubuque) or the "H" word (House) or the "S" word (stuff).  My goal was to completely take my mind off of these things for nine days.  I was on the brink of breaking-- dozens of boxes were still not unpacked,  things were disorganized and chaotic, and moving into a house with an unfinished kitchen meant camp cooking in the basement (and washing dishes in a bathroom) and maybe worst of all-- drinking wine out of red solo cups.

That Saturday, as we crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin I let my shoulders relax and took a deep breath.  With just enough distance between me and this new house, I allowed myself to imagine a tiny sliver of possibility.  As we drove north and the distance increased, that sliver grew ever slightly.  And as we pulled into our driveway up North and rolled down the windows to allow the heavy pine scent waft into the van, I finally felt myself let go just a bit.

Over the next week, I felt more "at home" than I had in the last weeks leading up to the move.  We woke early, planted ourselves on the dock, swam, fished, walked, talked, drank wine, and repeated it all again the next day.  As our kids played and splashed nearby, I was able to talk freely and vulnerably with Karen and Mindy, and their listening ears and encouraging words added another layer of support to my new foundation.

And now, exactly one month after our move, I'm feeling better.  I'm in a good place, with a good attitude, with the ability to see the possibilities that are all around us.  I still have little waves of nostalgia for our old house and our old neighborhood and our old town-- which will always hold a special place in my heart.  But I've been very intentional about giving this house and this street and this town a chance.  I've hung things on the walls and spruced up the rooms and we are completely overhauling our kitchen-- all of which make this space feel more like "home".  We've spent time outside getting to know the neighborhood and can honestly say that we hit the jackpot when it comes to our neighbors-- all of whom are so warm and welcoming and kind.  Now that my sadness has lessened, I'm able to see the possibilities all around us and that emptiness is being replaced with excitement for what's yet to come.

This photo was taken at one of the public Dubuque pools-- which we had to check out right before they closed for the season.  I've been meaning to get a picture of the kids by the "Welcome to Asbury" sign... but apparently that is too much work!!