Monday, October 30, 2017

The Hungry Ghost


When I worked as a waitress I once had a table complain about me because I was "too smiley." That is a true story.

I waited tables in high school and all through college. I had a lot of stories. Like the one about the irate father who became practically hysterical when I told him I could not bring his young daughter a grilled cheese sandwich. "I know it's not on the menu, but HOW HARD IS IT??" He helpfully offered me his own recipe, "Just put some CHEESE between some BREAD and WARM IT UP FOR CRYING OUT LOUD."

"Sir, this is a Chinese restaurant. We don't have any bread. Or cheese."

It was a fun job.

It's always fun when your sole source of income is dependent on the whims of people who may or may not become enraged when you tell them that fried rice costs extra.

Admittedly, I approached it with the same sort of enthusiasm one might muster for an appointment to get a mole removed. I suppose I could have had a more positive attitude, but someone had already complained about me being too smiley.

My last waitressing job was at a P.F. Chang's China Bistro adjacent to a large shopping mall. One evening, right before the dinner rush, I noticed the hostess leading a well-dressed middle aged man to one of my tables. She handed him a menu and plopped down an extra in front of the empty seat across from him.

There was nothing unusual about this scene, many people choose to be seated while they wait for the rest of their party, but I did notice he appeared to be having an audible conversation complete with hand gestures, pauses and an occasional burst of laughter. At first I assumed he was wearing one of those bluetooth earpieces that were suddenly so popular. It was 2003 and important people couldn't be bothered to actually hold their flip phones to their ears while milling about in public anymore.

As I approached the table the gentleman was still deep in conversation. I placed a beverage napkin by his elbow (or "bevnap" as we in the biz call it) and leaned in to politely signify I was ready to take his drink order.

"Oh hello," he acknowledged, turning to me, "I'll have a Diet Coke and she'll take some unsweet tea," he motioned to the empty spot across the table. "You do have Sweet 'N Low though, don't you? She likes to add it to her tea."

I nodded and suddenly felt an uncomfortable chill down my spine, because now I had a clear view of both his ears and there was no earpiece in either of them.

While at the beverage station I tried to make sense of the odd interaction. Surely he ordered a drink for a close friend who was on her way...but the talking? Had they started making Bluetooth earpieces so small they fit inside the entire ear? Maybe it was some kind of new telephone implant.

My lone patron was still chatting away when I approached his table with the drinks. "Thank you so much," he said as he reached to pour sweetener and stir the tall glass of iced tea on the opposite side of the table, "I think we are ready to order."

"Um, ok," I replied hesitantly.

"I'll take the Beef and Broccoli and what would you like, dear?" He glanced up at the empty chair and waited.

I waited.

He waited some more.

"How about Chang's Spicy Chicken?" I suggested helpfully. It was one of our most popular dishes.

"Oh no, Sally hates spicy, don't you, Sally? Well, do you know what you want? I thought you had decided already! Oh, really? Hmmm, that does sound interesting." He turned to me again, "What do you think of the Mu Shu Pork?"

Sometimes when we find ourselves in situations that we cannot seem to make sense of, we simply react with the most normal instinct that is programmed into our social schemas. If I saw an alien from outerspace taking a walk through my neighborhood I would like to think that I would run and hide, but it seems I would probably just wave and say, "Hi, how are you? That is a lovely dog you have there." So, when asked my opinion on a dish for his invisible friend, I did not exclaim DOES IT MATTER?? THERE'S NO ONE THERE TO EAT IT!!!

Also I was still hoping for a decent tip. The only way to secure a good tip from restaurant patrons is to happily go along with whatever they say. What's that? You ordered your Lemon Chicken without lemon sauce and now it just tastes like plain chicken? Shame on the cook! He should telepathically know the exact dish you were visualizing in your head! I'll refund your money immediately.

"The Mu Shu Pork is delicious," I answered.

I have zero pictures of me waiting tables because film was expensive and we were not going to waste it on pictures of ourselves in dirty aprons. But here is me at a restaurant in college. Taken by the only person we knew with a digital camera. Thanks, Jeff!

A well-known fact in the restaurant world is the only thing worse than a bad customer is a restaurant manager. I'm not saying all restaurant managers are condescending jerks, I've known some lovely ones, but if I were forced to choose between being stuck in an elevator with a restaurant manager or with Hannibal Lector, I could at least have an intelligent conversation with the cannibal.

I approached my manager who was stationed at the bar, completely absorbed in a football game on tv. "Um, excuse me," I began. He turned, clearly annoyed at the interruption. I went on, "There's this man at one of my tables and he's with his girlfriend, but the thing is, his girlfriend isn't real."

The manager blinked. I continued, "Like, there's nobody there. He's just talking out loud to a chair. He's ordering food...for the chair." I emphasized 'chair' really dramatically, just letting the impact of the situation take full affect.


I wasn't really expecting a non-reaction, although I probably should have. "SO, either he's totally nuts or his girlfriend's a ghost. And I don't really feel comfortable waiting on crazy people. Or ghosts."

The manager stroked his chin. He had this habit of rubbing the soul patch under his lip, as if he were constantly checking to see if it were still there. I liked to believe it was because growing that inch of facial hair was his greatest achievement in life and I wanted nothing more than to rip it off his stupid face.

"Yeah, well," he finally replied, "If the crazy dude pulls a knife on you or tries to drag you out of the restaurant, just don't make a big scene. Wouldn't want to interrupt the other guests." He laughed as if he had just told the funniest joke of his life.

"I hope he stabs you in your stupid chin," I muttered under my breath because I am really good at insults.

Failing to gain any support from management I relayed the situation to some of my fellow servers. The restaurant was getting busier, but the employees still had time to carry on a conversation. When the restaurant becomes so slammed the servers can only bark commands at each other we refer to it as "in the weeds" as in "Please run my apps to table 11, I'M IN THE WEEDS!!"

Sometimes I still use it on my family during the dinnertime hour at our house. "No, I can't get you a glass of water right now," I yell while manning 3 different pans on the stove, "I'M IN THE WEEDS!!"

Between "bevnaps" and "in the weeds" you have basically leaned all there is to know about working in a restaurant. You have me to thank if you ever get the urge to serve ribs at Chili's.

Anyway, the other servers were pretty impressed by my story. Every night there was always this unspoken competition over who had the best crazy customer story. Tonight I was going to blow everyone out of the water.

"You know," one guy pointed out, "maybe this is part of some sort of new hidden camera show, like Punk'd but with regular people." His theory was not half bad and I suddenly wished I had taken the time to wash my hair that day or at least worn the shirt without the soy sauce stain on the sleeve.

I figured I might as well go all in. If this were a hidden camera show then I was going to win an Emmy for "Sweetest and Most Cooperative Victim on a Prank Show" and if the guy was a complete psychopath set on murdering me after his meal, I may as well spend my last few hours having fun.

The order finally came up and I brought it to the table. Mu Shu Pork is a dish consisting of sliced pork stir-fried with mushrooms, bok choy, eggs and probably some other ingredients that become difficult to distinguish once they are all tossed together in a flaming wok. This mixture is then served along side paper-thin Chinese pancakes with the intent of wrapping the mixture inside the pancake to create a sort of Chinese burrito.

Because PF Chang's is such a classy, distinguished restaurant, they have a strict policy that guests are not to wrap their own Mu Shu. Oh no, the servers are specially trained in the art of Mu Shu wrapping using only two large spoons because hands would be gross. The whole process of presenting the Mu Shu, dividing the filling into 4 equal portions and somehow maneuvering said portions into perfectly wrapped burritos using only spoons, takes anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes and always seems to need doing while the server is already in the weeds and her other tables are giving her death stares while she painstakingly forms Chinese tacos as the waiting table sits awkwardly.

As I worked my Mu Shu magic, Harry narrated my every move for Sally. (I decided to secretly call him Harry because obviously.)

"Would you look at that, Sally? She's putting the filling in one of those taco shell things and, well I'll be, she's wrapped it up in a bundle! That sure looks delicious, Sally."

I placed the first Mu Shu wrap on a plate in front of Ghost Sally. I noticed her ice tea remained untouched, the condensation rendering her bevnap a soggy, pulpy mess.

"So," I attempted some smalltalk as I wrapped the final Mu Shu, "How long have you and Sally known each other?"

"We've been seeing each other for a while now," he replied.

"Oh yes, it's nice to see people," I winked, tossing my unwashed hair back over my shoulders in case Ashton Kutcher might be watching.

The story of Harry and Sally would be pretty good if it ended right there, but it gets even stranger. After Harry finished his Beef and Broccoli (and Sally's poor, cold Mu Shu remained untouched), he stood up, knelt down on one knee and began proclaiming his love to the empty chair.

At this point I felt very invested in this relationship, so I immediately ran over and asked, "Oh my goodness, what is happening?!"

"She said yes! Sally said yes! We're getting married!" Harry joyfully exclaimed.

I replied the only way I knew how, "Yay! Let's have cake!"

I brought him some cake on the house and Harry visited each nearby table to tell them the good news.

Since you're wondering, yes, Harry did leave a good tip and one of the busboys took Sally's leftovers home for himself. Maybe ghosts don't like Mu Shu, but broke college kids sure do.

My manager was very confused and slightly annoyed when I asked him to take the cake off of Harry's bill. "You want us to buy an engagement dessert for the man sitting by himself? Where is his fiance?"

"Well, technically I suppose she's a ghost, but love breaks down all boundaries, you know what I mean?"

It wasn't the best job but I sure got a lot of stories out of it.

I'll admit my ghost story is not very scary,

...but the thought of having to wait tables again?

That is something of which I am truly terrified.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

While the Kids are Away, Mama will...


I have reached a point in my motherhood journey in which I have 2 free mornings a week while my 3 children are attending their respective schools. As I typed that line I swear I just heard a choir of angels harmonizing on a high note together.

TWO FREE MORNINGS. Oh, I had big plans for those two free mornings when I sent all my little ones off in August. I can brunch with friends! I can run errands in peace! The house will be spotless! I can download all 2,604 pics off my phone and print them out in nice little coffee table books! AND THAT WILL JUST BE THE FIRST DAY!!!

It is now November. I did go to brunch one time and I organized a closet, so there's that. I think my sweet husband also had similar expectations of a tidy house and a showered wife on my free mornings. Sometimes he will helpfully suggest tasks I can accomplish on those days. "Um, Honey, Sweetheart? You know that giant pile of stuff on our dining room table you said you were going to take to Goodwill? Well, it's been there for about 3 weeks and I was just thinking that you could maybe, possibly take it while the kids are at school?"


But seriously. Factoring drop off and pick up times, I have about 3 child-free hours on preschool days and they are the fastest hours of my life. Kids-in-preschool-minutes are as fast as getting-a-massage minutes. They are even faster than kids-are-finally-asleep-let's-break-out-the-chips-and-watch-netflix minutes. It's amazing how I get anything done with those minutes whipping past faster than I can fill up my cart at Target.

Still, just to prove to my husband and anyone else who dares question my time management skills, I have carefully documented everything I accomplished this morning while the kids were at school.


9:20 Pull in the driveway after dropping kids off. Alanis Morrissette is on the 90's station; sit in the car until "You Oughta Know" is over, obviously. Sing loudly. Sit in the car through 2 more songs because the 90's was such an awesome decade.

9:30 Go inside and sit on the couch. Stare out the window and think about all the stuff I'm going to get done today. I have 3 whole hours ahead of me. I probably even have time to repaint the guest room.

Get out my phone to check email. Check Instagram instead. Oooh, someone has reposted a throw pillow giveaway! You can never have enough throw pillows. Click on over to the throw pillow account where I discover this sweet woman is actually selling the darling throw pillows to fund the adoption of her Ugandan daughter. Stalk her blog and read her entire lifestory. I now feel we are BFFs.

10:15 WHAT? It's 10:15? Guess I should unload the dishwasher and clean up the kids' breakfast dishes. As I unload the forks I notice the silverware drawer is a complete disaster. I cannot stand to live with a crumby, disorganized silverware drawer for one minute longer. I feel so accomplished as I am cleaning the silverware drawer!

10:50 Realize I still haven't checked my email. Go to check my email and notice a Facebook notification. It is a notification for an event that I did not sign up for. A friend I haven't spoken to in 15 years is hosting an online party for products I do not wish to buy. That notification felt like a mean trick.

But look! Someone has shared an article, "12 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast." I definitely want to be successful before breakfast. I begin to read.

1. WAKE UP EARLY. Does it count if my kid woke me up at 5:45am but I gave her the iPad and stayed in bed til the last possible second?

2. EXERCISE Well, I haven't technically eaten breakfast yet, so I could still get that in!

3. SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH FAMILY  Yes! I definitely snuggled with my daughter at 5:45 while she watched the iPad.

4. MEDITATE Stared out the window thinking about all the stuff I was going to do today, CHECK!

5. CHECK EMAIL Oh shoot.

11:05 In a fervent effort to be successful before breakfast I change into yoga pants and a tank top. I am definitely going to exercise this morning! I am feeling a little hungry, so I think it would be okay to eat breakfast before exercising just this once. I go to the kitchen to make a protein shake, but somehow eat half a brownie and a slice of cheese instead.

11:25 CHECK EMAIL! I AM SO SUCCESSFUL! I DELETE THE JUNK MAIL! I SIGN UP TO BRING NUT-FREE, EGG-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE COOKIES TO THE CLASS PARTY! I'm sure there's a recipe on Pinterest for nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free cookies shaped like Santa hats or something. Oh hey, look! There's a clearance sale at Anthropologie!

11:45 Write a blog post about how much I get done on my free mornings.

12:20 Freak out because I have to go pick up kids in 15 minutes and I have not yet painted the guest room or even showered.

12:36 Relocate Goodwill donations from dining room table to trunk of car where they will sit for 3 more weeks.

12:45 Arrive at preschool with no make-up and wet hair. I'm annoyed that those tricky minutes have all escaped me yet again, but I'm also feeling strangely relaxed. It was probably all that meditating I did.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When Motherhood Changes and You Do Too

Three years ago I was lying in bed at 5:45am staring at the ceiling and wondering how long I could let the baby cry and still be considered a good mother. I already knew what the day held and I didn't want to do it. It was the same routine on repeat, like the movie Groundhog Day but way less funny with way more bodily fluids.

The baby lived on my chest, wrapped tightly against my body, over and over, in a cloth that stretched approximately 75 feet. I loved the way her tiny form nestled into mine. I would lean my head to inhale her sweet baby scent and use every last bit of restraint to keep myself from stuffing her into my mouth where I would keep her for eternity, which is something that makes perfect sense when you're running on post-partum hormones and 2 hours of sleep.

I loved babywearing. For the first 30 minutes. At minute 31 my cozy wrap began to feel more like a straight jacket. I could feel beads of sweat forming in places I couldn't itch and my vertebrae began violent protests and threatened to leave my spine to join another part of the skeletal system because they certainly did not sign up for this nonsense. I couldn't agree more and if I could have used them to form a third arm I would have, because I clearly did not have enough as it were. I couldn't hold a newborn and chase after a toddler and help a preschooler draw a lion, except not that kind of lion.

So the baby slept in the wrap on my chest and nursed in the wrap and I probably would have driven around with her in the wrap except it was too hard to maneuver my arms around her body while steering. I would like to suggest post-partum women be sent home from the hospital with some kind of supervisor.

Having a baby was the hardest thing I've ever done. Having a bunch of babies in a row made me fantasize about going to jail so I could be left alone in a small room with nothing but a bed and a Bible. 

Lock me away, Your Honor! I'm guilty! Guilty of not enjoying every minute of having babies. I probably enjoyed 30% of the minutes. The other 70% was just hard work. Long, hard, exhausting, cry-your-eyes-out, pray-for-strength-to-get-through-the-day work. Was it worth it? Unequivocally, absolutely, YES.

Do runners enjoy every minute of a marathon? Do medical students enjoy every minute of residency? Admittedly, I have done neither, but I imagine people take on hard things not because they are fun or easy, but because somewhere deep down they know that the hard things are really the only things worth doing. It's the hard things that show you who you really are, what you are capable of and where you draw the strength to keep going. There is often unspeakable joy hidden in the midst of hard places and the only way to find that joy is to do the work it takes to get there.

Sometimes we take on hard things not by choice, but by circumstance. Either way, the result is the same. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, as they say. Of course, that still doesn't mean we should enjoy every second of our near death experience.

The quickest way to make a new mom feel like a failure is to tell her "enjoy every minute! It goes so fast!"

Really? I wanted to say to that older woman with fresh makeup, leisurely making her way down the produce aisle. May I smear some yellow poop in your hair? How much would you enjoy that? You know how long I've been awake? Twenty hours. That's 1,200 minutes. Every night I pray for time to speed the frig up.

It's been seven years since I had my first baby and three since I had my last. I feel like I've crossed over this bridge of diapers and sippy cups and naptimes and I can't believe I'm already on the other side.
Although, when it comes to photos, some things never change.

2 out of 3. I'll take it.
I see a young mom with a new baby and I'm nostalgic, longing to hold my tiny babes one more time. I still want to put her baby in my mouth, but I also feel a sense of relief, maybe even a feeling of accomplishment that I have pushed through all those endless hours. I have this urge to lean over and whisper "enjoy every minute! It goes so fast!" I've almost forgotten all the hard work and tears and one million ounces of breastmilk that it took to get me to this place. Instead I tell her "you're doing a great job! Your kids are amazing! Yes, I would love to hold your baby while you rescue your toddler from the third story of the playplace."

I may have crossed the first bridge, but there are still many miles to go. And this place I'm in right now? I think I'm going to like it here. Here are some things I've done today that at one point I was convinced I would never do again:
1. Took a shower. Alone. Without someone crying. Including myself.
2. Rode in the car with 3 other people and only buckled my own seatbelt.
3. Walked around for several consecutive hours without a human person attached to me.
4. Enjoyed an actual conversation with my kids because they are clever and funny and amazing.

There are still hard days and there are good days, but most often the days are some of both. The hard work to enjoyment ratio seems to be balancing out a bit though. This motherhood gig doesn't always get easier, but it changes and becomes different, and that's usually what you really need anyway.

As for me, I'd like to think I'm older and wiser, but probably I'm just older and less anxious. I know some things now. I know that whether you choose to sleep train or not, your child will sleep eventually. I know that despite your effort to raise your baby solely on breastmilk and organic broccoli, one day you will walk in the kitchen and find her dipping cheetos in maple syrup. I now know that my opposition to my 3-year-old wearing his Batman underwear over his clothes was not worth the fight.

When I look over my shoulder I see the days that seemed to last an eternity evaporate in an instant. I know it goes so fast, but I also know it's impossible to enjoy every minute.

I won't give you unsolicited advice on potty training or discipline practises, but if you ask I will tell you to just lean into it, all of it: the joy, the pain and everything in between. It's all part of the maternal package. Just embrace the chaos, the mess, the snuggles, the belly laughs, and if you can't because you need to go cry in a closet for a little while that's ok too.

Now I am (mostly...sometimes) the one who gets up first. I now wake them up to start the day. I miss my babies, but I am loving these kids.

I don't know what tomorrow may bring, but if I've learned anything from motherhood it's this: these days with these little people are more than I could have hoped for and nothing like I expected.

I have less control than I think and more grace than I deserve.

I don't have a plan and I don't have answers, but we have each other and all I know to do is lean in and count it all joy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Our Disney Cruise: Important Life Lessons and an Ungodly Amount of Frozen Yogurt

I was bitten by the travel bug young. In my late teens and early twenties I spent my summers finding excuses to travel the world. I spent one summer teaching English to school children in rural Nepal, another holding babies in a Romanian orphanage. In college I spent a semester abroad, running all over Europe and painting a lot of naked people. Hashtag long story.

Most of my journeys were missions-related, focused on helping others or a cultural exchange of sorts. Of course, it's probably safe to assume that no life was changed as much as my own. I was a travel junkie chasing the high of self-discovery. No books or classes or teachers taught me more than what I learned stepping outside my comfort zone into a world of new customs and possibilities.

Still there comes a point in every journey, no matter how enthralling, in which you stop and very loudly ask yourself “WHY DID I THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA??” Maybe things are not quite going according to plan or you’re just a little homesick. Maybe you got head lice from a Chinese airplane or you just miss ice cubes because why are Americans the only people in the world who don’t drink things at room temperature??

But time tends to erase the unpleasantries from your mind until you're mostly left with a picture-perfect-postcard impression of your journey and a longing to return to that idyllic space.

When my youngest was born I had a 3-year-old, a 1-year-old and a newborn and it was so hard that I wanted to run away except I would have missed all the little stinkers too much. I longed for an escape to all those exotic places. Instead, for whatever reason, I decided that 3 was surely the magic age at which having children becomes easier and that when Elise turned 3, life would stop being so crazy and we would take a fabulous trip to celebrate our survival of the baby years. (I would like to suggest that when one is surviving on 2 hours of sleep a night, one’s loftiest goal should be to get oneself dressed by noon, not construct universal truths based on zero scientific evidence.)

So I researched and planned and finally booked a Caribbean cruise for our family, a Disney cruise to be exact, because the Disney cruise commercials promise the children will be completely entertained and the parents will be entirely relaxed. I knew cruising wasn’t exactly the “real, authentic” travel I fell in love with, but who cares about cultural exchange? I was just looking for a nap.

Finally, after weeks, heck, years of anticipation and preparation we sailed on the Disney Dream in March. We were excited. Like, really excited. I couldn't wait to island hop and to share the wonder of new experiences with my kids. I was especially excited to spend the mornings on the adult-only pool deck while the children were sequestered to the Disneyriffic Kids' Club. 

It only took about 10 minutes after checking in for us to very loudly ask ourselves WHY DID WE THINK THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?? Harsh reality smacked us across the face in the form of our 4-year-old flinging his tiny body on the floor of the main deck during Mickey's Bon Voyage party. 

"Sweetie, don't you want to see Mickey dancing with all his friends?"


"Would you like to wear this flower necklace and look at the ocean?"


The ship was fabulous. The service was impeccable. The food was all-you-can-eat. We did, however, overlook one tiny detail as we planned this dream vacation: we still had to be parents and our kids were still going to act like kids. In the midst of all the excitement, we had somehow forgotten everything we had ever learned about traveling with kids.

A tantrum at home? That's normal. A tantrum on a cruise? We had barely entertained the possibility. It was as if we were expecting our children to be so grateful for this opportunity that they would come to us bearing gifts saying, "Mother, Father, you are the best parents in the world and we promise to mind our manners the entire trip! And we especially promise not to growl at crew members or do anything else that causes you to die of embarrassment."

You will be shocked to discover that our kids gave us no such guarantee. In fact, our middle child decided that this trip would be the perfect time to announce that he hates water. On a boat. With 18 pools. Surrounded by ocean.

When we went ashore at Cozumel to see the fascinating, educational Mayan ruins, our oldest complained that there was nothing exciting about some old rocks and is it time to eat tacos yet? How about now? Is it time now? When are we having tacos? (Also, it turns out the tacos were "ok, but not as good as real, American tacos.")

Perhaps most crushing of all was our children's reaction to Kids' Club. The Oceaneer's Club, more commonly referred to as Kids' Club, is Disney's answer to in-house childcare and this particular kids' club included everything from Tinkerbell's tree house to a Monster's Inc. factory playground to life-sized replicas of Toy Story toys in Andy's Room. All kids love Kids' Club. All kids want to spend hours in Kids' Club while their parents sip Pina Coladas poolside. All kids except our kids. Our kids just wanted to be with us the entire trip. I mean, I can't blame them, we are pretty cool, but it would have been nice to sunbathe without a wet body laying across my chest.

On the bright side, their dislike of Kids' Club was a useful threat when they started to act up. Several times a day we would find ourselves yelling, "If you don't shape up, we're sending you to KIDS' CLUB!!"

"Noooooo, not Kids' Club!!"

Of course, it wasn't all meltdowns and sibling spats. We were enthralled by the nightly entertainment, particularly Aladdin the musical. "Star Wars Day" is one we won't quickly forget, especially Jack who was selected for Jedi training and had the opportunity to dual with Darth Vader himself.

The kids still talk about the dolphins and sea turtles we were able to touch at the conservatory on Grand Cayman.

And their very favorite thing of all? It wasn't playing in the surf at Castaway Cay. It was not the late night dance party or Pirate Night or even the fireworks display.

My children will tell you that their most favorite thing of all was the poolside frozen yogurt machine.

This particular machine consisted of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and banana yogurt and it opened around 10:30 each morning, so starting at 6:30am we spent the first 4 hours of our day telling our children it was not yet 10:30. At the beginning of the week John and I tried to be good parents and practice restraint by limiting our kids to one cone or so an hour. By the end of the week our attitude was more along the lines of "just whatever, eat until you barf."

By some miracle not one child barfed the entire trip, a fact made even more miraculous when you consider Henry's diet the entire week consisted solely of frozen yogurt and butter packets.

So what I'm saying is, if you want to experience the magic of a Disney Cruise without actually going on a Disney Cruise, all you need to do is buy a frozen yogurt machine, set it up by a baby pool in the backyard and continuously stream Finding Nemo on your iPad. You're welcome.

I suppose as the months and years roll by, the unpleasantries of this trip (a.k.a. our whiny weirdo kids) will also fade as the sweet memories take up a more permanent residence. I don't mean to give the impression that this vacation was a disappointment - it wasn't - but it was a learning experience, and that is one thing travel always is.

I miss the kind of traveling I used to do, or perhaps I miss my 20-year-old self, wide open, ready to change the world, braced to discover myself in the process. Even if I could abandon my responsibilities to trek the African continent, something tells me it wouldn't be the same. That 20-year-old traveler is fourteen years long gone.

Traveling revealed my weaknesses, but also showed me how much I was capable of, which gave me confidence. Traveling left me inspired, full of wonder and oddly content to embrace my smallness in the world.

One night on the cruise, as I lay in bed, feeling the sway of the ocean and listening to my children giggling to each other, I had an epiphany of sorts: the same things I miss about travel, I've found in my kids.

I've got three amazing adventures right here at home with me. I don't need to leave my doorstep to be pushed and challenged, to learn and grow. I try to teach and guide them when all the while I am the one changing, stretching.

 All I need to do to embrace mystery, to be in awe of creation is to peek in the bedroom across the hall. When I do, I feel oddly content to embrace my smallness in the world.

I didn't find exactly what I was looking for on this trip. Instead, this trip taught me that everything I was hoping to recapture, I already have.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How to Travel With Kids Without Losing Your Mind

I'm honored to be posting at We, A Great Parade for my friend Shannon who recently gave birth to her third child. Shannon is witty, eloquent, compassionate and always keeps it real. Join the parade on her blog or Instagram; her writing will uplift & encourage you and also make you come up with a list of excuses to visit Iowa so you can be real life BFFs.

Family trips sound good on paper and look precious in the photos, but somewhere in the reality of the actual vacation it becomes clear that even though you would not hesitate to throw your body in front of a moving train for these people, if you have to be in a room with them for one more minute you just might die.

Obviously there are sweet moments too: the look on your child's face the first time he sees the ocean or the can't-catch-your-breath-from-laughing card game around Grandma's dining table. We travel with our kids to make memories, to escape our routine and to connect with them through new experiences.

It won't all be perfect, but there are some things we can do to ensure we come home with the same number of brain cells we left with.

Click over to We, A Great Parade to read more!

Monday, May 23, 2016

To the Teacher Who's Wondering if You're Making a Difference

I recently came across this letter I wrote last year for my first grade teacher's retirement celebration. I decided to post it for two reasons.

1) If you are a worn-out, stretched-too-thin teacher wondering if you are making a difference in this overwhelming, underpaid profession you have chosen, the answer is YES. You may not hear about it for nearly 30 years, if at all, but you never know the life-changing impact you might have on someone just by doing your job.
2) Think about someone who has made a difference in your life - a teacher, a mentor, a friend. Have you ever taken the time to tell them the difference they have made? You don't have to write a novel. Look them up, write an email, send a Facebook message. Take the time you normally spend on Zulilly and let them know. It will mean the world to them, I guarantee. 

I'm in the second row with the pigtails. Not sure what I'm doing with my face, but I suspect I'm feeling quite smug about having the ruffliest collar in the class. 

Occasionally throughout life, the question comes up: who was your favorite teacher?

Hands-down, without hesitation, since I was 6 years old, my answer has always been Mrs. Gordey.

I was in Mrs. Gordey’s first grade class in 1990. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the particulars of learning math or science that year. I barely remember reading groups or spelling tests, but what I do remember has stayed with me for over 20 years.

I remember her laugh. I remember the way she would throw back her head with laughter when one of her students innocently and unwittingly said something funny. We must have all been hysterical too, because her classroom was always filled with joy. Or maybe that was just her way of showing how she took delight in each and every student.

I remember the fun. When I was in first grade, I couldn’t wait to go to school each day. I was so excited to see who might get “cornfused” about something and be allowed to sit with the coveted box of Cornflakes on their desk for the morning. I remember “Crazy Hat Day.” I remember accidentally/on purpose saying the banned word “ain’t”, the punishment for which was to pet a stuffed yellow lion on the teacher's desk. I remember all the stories about Mr.Gordey; apparently, he was so skinny that he had to wear skis in the shower so he wouldn’t wash down the drain. (I thought she was kidding, but I was never quite sure.) I can still sing all the words to the silly songs she taught us. I remember earning stickers, wearing buttons and especially, I remember the day that Mrs. Gordey slid down the slide.

I remember the life lessons. She showed us through words and actions that each student was special and important in their own unique way. She told us to “Do right, even if the stars fall.” She demonstrated the unconditional love of Christ every day.

When I was in first grade, Ms. Gordey asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to be a writer, a “poetess” to be exact. She encouraged my pursuit. When the assignment was to write a story, she let me write a poem instead. She even allowed me to sign my name “Poetess Anna” on several occasions. The goal of my 6-year-old life was to write poems that made her giggle.

But I did not become a poetess. I became a teacher.

When I was in college I chose elementary education as my major because 1) I was not sure I could make a living as a poetess and 2) when thinking about the people who had most influenced my life up to that point, I could not deny the impact of Mrs.Gordey.

Mrs. Gordey ignited the spark that lit my lifelong passion for learning. She saw my potential and I strove to make her proud. A laugh and a hug from Mrs. Gordey was better than any gold star. The confidence that was instilled in me in the first grade has lasted my whole life.

I can only hope to have the honor to take what Mrs. Gordey gave me and pass it on to another. I became a teacher because of Mrs. Gordey.

I am currently on a break from my teaching position as a stay-at-home mom while I raise my three children, but even as a mother I endeavor to impart the lessons I learned in my first grade classroom 25 years ago. I try to laugh with them, to have fun with them and most importantly, to show them how to love God and love others.

As a teacher I learned something that Mrs. Gordey has known for decades. I learned that you cannot teach a child anything until that child knows you truly care. You cannot instruct a child’s head until you capture his heart.

Mrs. Gordey has captured the hearts of hundreds of children. Those children are forever inspired and impacted just by knowing her. Mrs. Gordey has made the world a better place, one tiny heart at a time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finding Love by Letting it Die

In Charleston they eat pimento cheese at breakfast, lunch and dinner and the women wear sundresses in November.
I think I've found my people, y'all.
John and I recently celebrated our 10-year anniversary with a quick trip to Charleston, South Carolina. Neither of us had ever been and we spent the better part of a long weekend savoring low-cuisine, enjoying historical tours, sampling multiple varieties of pimento cheese, wandering the old city and sneaking several plates of our hotel's complimentary dessert buffet back to our room. Do you notice a theme here?

One of the most magical things about our relationship is that neither of us believe in the concept of spoiling one's appetite, especially on vacation. And when you are in a city known for it's culinary flair, it would be a sin to miss even one meal. Or tea time. Or cocktails and hors-d'oeuvres. Or midnight snacks from the mini-bar. We are faux foodies, after all.

I was definitely looking forward to the slow pace, the quality time, and of course, the good eats. I did have one troublesome thought nagging at the back of my mind though. We have been together for so long and we know each other so well, I was a little worried that we might run out of things to say by noon on day one. I've learned how not to hate him, but had I forgotten how to date him? When you know every single detail of someone's life, what else is there to talk about?

I planned activities during the day to keep us busy - a horse-drawn carriage tour through the city, a ferry out to historical Fort Sumter - but it was actually the mealtimes that had me most concerned. There are only so many comments one can make about the bread and butter while waiting for the food to arrive.

Ever the planner, I decided the best course of action would be to Google "questions to ask your date" because the internet has the answer to all of life's problems. Sure enough, several options popped right up and one night at dinner, when the inevitable conversational lull reared it's ugly head, I decided to use one.

I pulled out my phone. John inquired as to what I was doing.

"It's a list of date night questions," I answered and he looked at me quizzically with raised eyebrows. "What? I'm just trying to keep the spark alive! Now tell me, what movie reminds you of us?"

He laughed. "Let me see that." And we both scrolled through together. We asked the questions, some silly, some serious, some slightly inappropriate (those answers whispered in hushed tones). We giggled and we laughed so hard we risked choking on our crab cakes. We reminisced and we waxed nostalgic about years already spent.

And you want to know something funny? We did not learn one new thing about each other that evening. He knew my answers before he asked the questions, and I asked him questions just because I like to hear him tell the story - "when did you know you loved me?" "what is your favorite memory of us?" "tell me how you think I'm more beautiful than Scarlet Johanssen" (I may have ad libbed a few).

C.S. Lewis once eloquently wrote that "People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ forever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change — not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one...This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time."

I was worried that the thrills were gone, and it's true that the butterflies have long since died, but they have been replaced by a quiet familiarity, a warm fullness that comes with having a partner who knows you to your core. I had forgotten that there is actually a deep comfort in the ability to sit in easy silence with another person. Words are not always necessary. 

Our relationship has matured to the extent that all it takes is one look to know what the other is thinking. One glance may say "get this child out of my face before I go all Joan Crawford-wire-hanger crazy." Another gaze might communicate the overwhelming gratitude and love felt for this life we've created together.

That night it happened to be one calculating glance as we sauntered past the hotel dessert buffet. One look which said "obviously we need to try the comfort of our own room of course, not as the gluttonous couple who just sat down with eight plates of dessert" and just like that we were piling up plates of cheesecake, chocolate pie and cookies, and making a mad dash to the elevator for our getaway. 

Food, it seems, is our love language. And we speak it so well.
I love our quiet, mature love.

It's a world of new thrills all the time.