I had an emergency radio. I bought it from L.L. Bean, and it had a hand crank-- no batteries needed. It had a flashlight, an alarm signal, and a place you could plug in a cellphone to charge. It came in a small black case and made me feel prepared. For what, I'm not so sure. I envisioned it would be useful in a blizzard, a hurricane or a terrorist attack.
Perhaps I thought that in buying such a thing, I was sending out a message to the universe that I'd done my due diligence, so any crisis could/should just move right along please. I carried it from house to house in my young mothering like I'd moved my dog-eared junior high folder with CPR instructions in it, making a mental note to myself when the guidelines dropped the 2 breath standard in favor of just chest compressions. Surely, if I'd carried that green folder off to college, and grad school, and into home ownership and motherhood, I'd be off the hook from actually having to perform CPR, from the terrifying privilege of having to save a life.
I write this today because on the balmy afternoon and evening of Jack's accident, it never crossed my mind to get out the emergency radio. We were tucked in our cozy home. We were laughing. We were snacking. Yes, we were experiencing very strange and notable weather, but it just didn't click with me that there could be danger on our plain little cul de sac. Life seemed so normal. So relaxed. So hopeful.
Perhaps the radio could have alerted me to just how bad the situation was, if I'd bothered to turn it on. Maybe it could have snapped me to attention. Who knows? Like my neighbors up and down the street, who sent their kids out in the rain to play, I was living in the middle of an emergency situation without even realizing it.
I guess the radio didn't do the real job I bought it for.
Zipped up in its little black case, among the kids' backpacks and sports equipment, it didn't serve as any kind of insurance policy that bad things wouldn't happen to our family.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
I'm about to start revisions for my book, so I may be scarce for the next few week. It's exciting to be entering the "home stretch." and I really appreciate your prayers and support!
Before I disappear, however, I have a few things to share with you.
First, Bear is dead. Margaret's sweet hamster that Auntie Liz bought her a few days after the accident has died. We had a quick burial in the back yard, and shed some serious tears. Bear was a very dear pet who let me carry him around, baby talk to him, and never once nipped at us.
Second, I need to tell you about our Christmas tree fun. So, you know how we've always had a Kids' Tree and a Grown-up Tree? I know Kristen Howerton got flack on Twitter last week for wanting to put up a separate Kids' Tree, because she didn't want to cover her main tree with all of the dough and paper plate ornaments from her four kids. Well, I say "More power to you, Sister!" We've been doing that for years and the kids have always loved it! I'm pretty sure having two (or three or four!) trees does not mean you love your kids any less.
You see, our family attended an Advent craft workshop for 9 years straight. Each kid came home with 10-12 ornaments per year. That's a lot of glitter and macaroni, people. There was no way my mom's gold balls and silver bows were going to fit on one tree with all of that homemade goodness. Thus, the two trees.
The kids felt special, plus it helped me seem much more laid back than I was when Tim's mom sent us 2 identical Hallmark Mark McGuire baseball player ornaments one year. Instead of hiding them on the lower inner reaches of the regular tree, I got to exclaim, "Wouldn't these be so festive on the Kids' Tree!?" without looking like too much of a jerk. Over the years, the contents of the trees got more intermingled as we put more of the kids' projects on the main tree, such as the paper ornaments they made with the names of Jesus on them.
Anyway, in the old house, the Kids' Tree was a large artificial tree that stood in the upstairs stairwell right outside Jack and Margaret's rooms. I liked how its lights sparkled through the window as we pulled into the driveway. In the new house, there's no such spot, so the Kids' Tree is now front and center in the living room, and you see it right when you walk in the door.
But that still left the matter of the "real" tree. After a colossal Thanksgiving road trip, that started out with my feeling hopeful and positive and ended up screaming sadness and LACK into my heart, we made it home to a dead hamster and the task of purchasing and putting up the real tree. Tim got it in the stand for me. He debated cutting off a few lower branches to make a more solid fit, but then decided against it. I said nothing.
I waited for him to do the lights, which is his usual job. I prefer to be the one who says, "Dude, you need more lights in that bare spot" than the one actually doing it. Tim, however, wasn't feeling well, and decided to watch football instead. I was aggravated but decided to turn over a holiday new leaf.
Instead of reminding him that he had spent 3 hours working on his sister's tree on Saturday, and helping my brother with various home projects during the 6 days of male bonding time they had sans families before Thanksgiving, I kept my annoyed mouth shut. Killing him with kindness wasn't an option, so I just opted not to kill him.
I waited until the family went to bed and did all the lights myself. Then, I started to decorate. One thing led to another until the tree was almost finished after about 3 hours.
Except then it began to lean at an odd angle. It was not secure in the stand. I lovingly woke up Tim and inquired as to whether he might be willing to come downstairs and straighten the tree with me, lest it fall crashing down in the night. He demurred and resumed sleeping.
It didn't fall, yet I was forced to look at the Leaning Tower of Tree-sa all day yesterday.
Last night Tim was ready to deal with it. Which is good, because if I had to look it one more day, wondering when my heirloom ornaments were going to break, I think I'd have to turn my new leaf right back to the other side.
He lifted the fully decorated tree out of the stand, while I chopped off the offending branch. It was not an easy process. There were no I told you so's, no sounds at all really, just the tinkling of ornaments hitting the floor. After the tree was secure, I stood back and congratulated myself for not being a nag. All was well, even if the tree looked a little worse for the wear. The tree had survived, and so had our marriage.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied Tim crouching near the base of the fully decorated and lit tree with a long pair of hedge clippers. One of the branches did not look quite right to him. It protruded farther than was acceptable to his newfound Christmas decorating sensibilities. So he opened those suckers up and chopped off the branch along with a strand of lights-- and the entire tree went dark.
I still did not say a word, but climbed into bed with the tv remote and a large bag of M&M's.
Today I took the lights off and hung new ones, which was of course super-easy to do on a fully decorated tree.
The tree now looks fine, thank goodness, and my tongue is sore from biting it for the past 3 days.
All is well.
But could someone kindly inform my husband that "trimming the tree" does not mean what he thinks it means?
Monday, December 2, 2013
One of my friends has a "Favorite Things" party each year in which you buy a few small items like your favorite lip gloss, a candle, or chocolates, and share them with other guests. Each person leaves with 3 little gifts, and you find new products that people really love. Kind of like on Oprah, but without the free cars or $80 t-shirts.
Anyway, I was thinking about some of my favorite things. Not like, Peace, Joy, and Hope, but things you can buy in a store.
This was hard because my two most favorite things, flannel penguin pj's, and the blue bathrobe that I am wearing right now at 11:06 a.m., are from a thrift store, so I don't even know where you could buy them.
So, what are my other favorite things?
Breville Electric Kettle: $79.99
Tea lovers rejoice! My most prized possession. I use it 8-10 times a day! It uses less electricity than heating up the stove, and it turns off automatically, so I can walk away from it without worrying about it boiling over. This is important since I almost burned down the house boiling lice combs.
Cuisinart Panini Maker and Griddle: $79.95 (sale!!)
I bought this for Tim because I was hoping he'd make me Paninis on it. Success! He can throw any kind of meat and cheese on bread and it comes out well. Add some pesto or sun dried tomatoes first...yum! We use the other side of the reversible plates for making pancakes or frying bacon or eggs. Amazon says it's regularly $185, but I always see it for under $100.
Clear Plastic Christmas Balls from Walmart: .88
At under a buck, these ornaments have endless possibilities. You could fill with sand from a beach trip, a photo of your kids, love notes, or colorful, shredded paper. I filled mine with some of Jack's Legos to hang on our tree.
Method Spray Cleaner: $2.99
Per Tim's and my pre-nup (just kidding, kind of), I clean counters frequently. I love having the kitchen smell like Cucumber, Lavender, or Grapefruit instead of chemicals and my bad cooking.
Jack's Promise Pendant from Holly Lane Designs: $48.00
Looks great when paired with a small crystal teardrop, also from HLD. This pendant is inspired by Jack and his interests. Verse, "For with God, nothing is impossible."
Chevron Scarves from Pick Your Plum:
Shoot! I just checked and these lightweight yet cozy chevron scarves are SOLD OUT! At under $5 a pop, that shouldn't surprise me. You won't catch me without one of these around my neck, inside or outside the house. I hope they'll bring this deal back!
Flocked Hangars: $1.00 each
Huggable Hangars, Slim-line hangars, call them what you will. These have transformed my closet. Somehow they miraculously make 1/3 more clothes fit into the same amount of space. And no strap slippage either! I usually buy mine at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.
Jesus Calling Devotional by Sarah Young: $8.00 (sale) - 15.99
Great gift for a friend! This little devotional addresses the reader as if Jesus is speaking to him/her. The right words as the right time, for sure. Margaret and I just finished reading the kids' one together.
So there you have it-- a few of my favorite things. The box of rosemary and olive oil Triscuits I ate while typing this probably should have made my list, too.
What are a few of YOUR favorite things?
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I thought I would share one of our family’s Thanksgiving traditions with you. We travel every Thanksgiving, and I wanted a way to document some of the things we were thankful for, but I didn’t want to cart around anything bulky on our road trips. In 2007 I ran across a little book at The One Spot in Target. I threw it in my purse and carried it around for a full week, knowing that if I took it out, I’d most certainly forget to pack it for Thanksgiving.
This will be the 7th year we will pass the little book around the table at my aunt’s house and each write something in it we are thankful for. Each year that I’ve remembered to bring it has been a little Thanksgiving miracle in itself. But I’m so glad I did, especially since our son Jack is no longer here to write in the book.
Two and a half months after the accident, we were faced with our first Thanksgiving without him. We brought out the little striped book, realizing that although we still had things to be thankful for, our loss was so enormous, so painful, so staggering, that we had to dig really deep to even sit at the table with his empty chair, let alone write in the book. My sister, Liz, wrote the only thing she could muster up that day, being thankful for “modern transportation” so we could be together in our grief.
We laughed and cried as we looked back over Jack’s entries, as each year he spelled it “thankfull” instead of thankful. I saw the years he was “thankfull” for Legos, and family, and even ‘dough,’ a little joke he started making when he was in kindergarten. Jack was quirky. He rarely had an answer you would expect. I asked him why he had said dough. Was he talking about money, a la the Welcome Back Kotter era? No, the kid was really just thankful for dough-- you know, the kind they hand out to play with at Italian restaurants while you wait. Ok. Then there was the year he was thankful for Prester John, a legendary Christian King from the 12th Century whom none of us had ever heard of. Quirky, right?
I treasure the little book, and love looking back over it.
The entries aren’t long and detailed. On year my nephew just wrote, “you people” as his contribution. Last year our daughter Margaret wrote, “I’m thankful for Shadow (our dog), family, cousins, grammar, and a house/food.”
This Thanksgiving, two years after our horrible loss, I am able to consider many more things that I’m thankful for, including the inexplicable joy that creeps into our days as I realize that 12 short years mothering my son were preferable to a lifetime of never knowing him at all. I am thankful I am able to breathe more easily and see the years in front of me not as a bleak, miserable life sentence, but as a time for more memories to be made and more growth to come as time marches me closer to being with him once again.
When I was getting out the Thanksgiving book this year, I saw a craft Jack had made in school. And I was grateful for whichever teacher or room mother forced him to do it. You know, the good old, ‘trace your hand and turn it into a turkey’ craft where you write down things you are thankful for? It says,
Dear Mom and Dad
Thank you for:
Being great parents,
Taking care of me,
Loving me forever.
I think the word choice is perfect, because that’s how it is, isn’t it? Even though times will change and certain cherished ones no longer sit in the chairs around the table, our love for them never ends. It truly is forever.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Tiffany, of Holly Lane Designs, has given me a beautiful sterling silver Birds of the Air Pendant to give away today as a Thanksgiving Thank You to my wonderful readers. The design is based on Matthew 6:26 "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"
I met Tiffany a few years ago and carried her line of beautiful jewelry in the Christian bookstore where I worked until a few months ago. When Jack died, Tiffany was very touched, especially because one of her sons is exactly Jack's age. You probably remember when she designed the Jack's Promise pendant that speaks to his love of puzzles and includes his favorite Bible verse, Luke 1:37. I wear it on a silver chain almost every day.
Here are some other examples of her work.
To enter the giveaway, please head over to www.hollylanedesigns.com and sign up for Tiffany's email list. She promises not to share your email with anyone and will only send out emails about Holly Lane Designs specials. Leave me a comment here to let me know you have entered.
Get an additional entry by liking An Inch of Gray on Facebook and letting me know with an additional comment.
For a third entry, like Holly Lane Designs on Facebook and let me know about it.
Giveaway closes Friday morning at 10 am.
Also, if your name doesn't connect me to an email address, please make sure you leave one so I can let you know if you win! Thanks!
Blessings and Love to you this Thanksgiving!
Thursday, November 21, 2013
“I don’t want you to think this is weird, Anna, but I know of a baby who needs a home. Is that something you and Tim would be interested in doing? my friend Brenda asks. “My sister was in the shower praying about a family for a baby that will be born in March and needs a home, and your family kept coming to mind. She called me first to see if it would be too freaky to ask you.”
My two best friends from childhood sit on the couch in the living room. It has been just one year since we lost Jack. They both look at me, wondering if they have crossed into forbidden grieving mom territory by mentioning a new baby. After all, they know that suggesting that Jack can somehow be replaced is ludicrous.
I answer immediately, “Of course we’re interested!” I talk to Tim the next day as we walk down the sidewalk, Margaret a few steps ahead of us, “Absolutely.” He says, without hesitation. Considering it takes us longer to by a new humidifier than it takes some people we know to marry, divorce, and remarry, it’s astounding that he and I are immediately on the same page.
“What are you two whispering about? I know you’re talking about me!” Margaret interrupts, turning around. I say, “Actually, there’s a teenager who is pregnant and is not married. We’re talking about possibly adopting her baby. Is that something you think our family should consider?” “Consider? Let’s do it!” she answers.
Tim and I always assumed we’d have more than two kids. We are each the youngest of three, so if our moms had stopped at two, well, where would this world be? But then life and babyhood came around it was a lot harder and more tiring than it seemed like it would be. Tim worked long hours first in graduate school and then at work and only saw the kids on weekends for the first few years. When he was home, he was absolutely “on” as a daddy, but he wasn’t home all that often. I didn’t have a mom around to help me make it through the weeds or give me a break. Even at the time I knew I was on holy ground, pouring myself into Jack and Margaret day after day, but it was so hard to imagine being able to add one more to the mix.
So they grew. And things got so much easier. And it got increasingly more difficult to want to disrupt the tender dynamic our family formed. One thing Tim and I noticed was that kids do not necessarily add strength to a marriage. At least not ours. They were huge balls of need in baby and toddler packages. They accentuated our already big differences, they sucked our extra money away, and they robbed us of any precious sleep that could serve as a balm for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
We would come close. Once, during a period of rampant baby discussion, we took a trip to the beach with friends. “What are you guys talking about?” Tim asked as he approached my two friends and me. “Well, I was explaining how Baby Fever has hit our house yet again,” I replied. “Baby Fever? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his response. I was pissed and embarrassed. I didn’t like the implication that I was just making stuff up to entertain my friends.
Later, in our bedroom, I told Tim how hurt and unsupported I felt when he denied knowing what I was talking about. “Oh, you mean how we’ve been talking about having a baby? I was thrown off by the words ‘Baby Fever.” Sheesh. He’s analyzing my words? Any desire I had to procreate with him shriveled up on the spot. I didn’t care if we were in a nice rented beach house with a king sized bed!
And so it went for years. First it was the lack of time together. Then the weeds of baby and toddlerhood. Then we had a glimpse of freedom as Jack and Margaret became more independent. We just never had another.
Jack would ask during snuggle time, “When are you having another baby? Please. Please. Please.” “Jack, I think I’m too old.” “You aren’t too old, mom!” Just think. You thought you were too old when you were 35. If’ you had had one then, you could have a 2 year old by now. Don’t make the same mistake again.”
Then,“Mom, what if you had had one when you were 38?”
And, “Mom, what if you had had one when you were 40?”
On and on it went. The last time Jack asked me I had just turned 41, and he wasn’t with us much longer after that.
I wasn’t sure what my big issue was. I’d ask myself, if we accidentally became pregnant would I be happy? Yes. Always yes. But we couldn’t seem to take the plunge. Standing in the bathroom of a Florida bar, celebrating the 40th birthdays of my college girlfriends, I tried to explain how I felt to my friend Kathy as we washed our hands. “I’ve always wanted another one, Kathy.” My eyes got teary. “I guess I’m just afraid. Afraid that I’m asking too much.” Jack and Margaret were such a blessing, and I was afraid that maybe I’d hit my limit on blessings.
Maybe another child would either be the straw that would break the back of our marriage, or would break me of the patience and love I’d been able to give my kids for more than a decade. Or maybe we'd be given a baby with needs so great that it would be too much for me. I didn't feel strong enough. It just felt like asking for one more was pushing things. I think, as I had done my whole life, I was trying to stay under the radar. Not flying too high. Not asking for too much. Hoping that I could somehow get the life I wanted by being agreeable and not making a fuss.
And then I wonder. Was Jack’s begging for another sibling his way of trying to make sure that Margaret would not be alone? I don’t know.
But I do know that Tim, Margaret, and I each answered without a second’s hesitation, that we would gladly adopt a baby who needed a home. And this baby was practically falling in our laps! I was surprised it felt so good to think about this baby. To reach outside of our grief.
A week later we got the phone call. The girl’s family had picked someone else, before they had even heard of our family. We were very, very disappointed but not devastated. There was something so positive in the “Yes” -- in the opening ourselves up to the future. To having enough confidence in ourselves as a family, despite the shame and horror of losing Jack, to think that even in our depleted state we could make a difference in someone else’s life. There was hope there.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
It was easy to forget what I had done in the past and also discount any wisdom and experience that came from almost a decade of volunteering in the community and stumbling my way through parenting.
This was around the time the term "Sweet Spot" started being thrown around a lot. At first I thought it was something racy, which I guess it could be but there is no way I'm googling it, but then I found out it refers to the place on a racquet or a bat that produces the best results. I tried to think about it in terms of what I liked and what I could do fairly well, and scribbled a list called,
"What is my Sweet Spot?"
I found that list again when I was packing for our move this past August. This is what it says:
-Teaching a group
-Organizing (parties, projects, events)
-Writing and speaking
-Problem solving in classes and meetings
-Making people laugh
-Bringing people together
At the time I was disappointed that my list was so short, and that it didn't contain anything like "XYZ computer language" that would impress a boss. Instead of specifics, my list was more like, "Okay, if I'm going to try figure out how to manage home and work, what sorts of things would I enjoy doing and be able to do fairly well?"
It would be another year before I found a part-time job as the manager of a small, Christian bookstore. It didn't check off my entire list, but it turned out to be a lovely, fulfilling job for almost 5 years. Right around that same time, I started blogging, even though I didn't really even know what a blog was.
Looking back on that list today, I see how blogging has fulfilled more items on that list than a paying job did. It nurtured my writing and ignited in me a passion I didn't even know I had. I can see how it has brought people together in friendship and support. True, I thought I'd be the one bringing people together, never that people would be coming together to support my hurting heart after a tragedy, but that is what has happened. Hopefully, I've made you laugh sometimes. I'm pretty sure I've made you cry, even though we all know that was never my intention.
Your support has helped me feel brave enough to keep showing up, to keep writing, and even to try to write a book at a time when I've never been more personally rocked or depleted.
I just want to thank you that. For being community. For caring.
In thinking about the words "Sweet Spot" again today, I realize that you, my friends, have made this place, this blog, into a sweet spot. It's a sweet space to laugh, cry, be real, and give and get support, and that comes from you, not anything inside of me.
I could never have guessed that when I wrote that list so long ago.
Have you thought about what your "sweet spot" may be?