Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago...Part 1

Hi Readers! I am writing to you from my hometown (one of many) Chicago.  Here I am plopped down in my in-laws backyard, wearing grungy, mud stained sweats and an "Athens, I love you!" t-shirt, with my hair in a sloppy pony tail.  A nice neighbor just gave me a funny look from his backyard and said, "um...who are you?"  Just wanted to give you a visual. 

If you read one of my recent posts, you might remember that I was anxious about returning to Chicago after She and I parted on such lousy terms.  When we left, my hubby was looking for work and our family had survived two of the worst years ever.  We're talkin' like Biblically bad.

After all my hemming and hawing... all my bitching about how I would never leave Georgia again...something happened.  I prayed about this trip and whether or not going alone was a great idea for a lady with anxiety issues and two kids.  When I finally accepted my inlaws' generous offer to fly us home if I would ONLY just pin down a date, a strange kind of calm settled over me.  I actually started to get excited about the trip.  That's a big deal for me, people.  You see, my strategy for dealing with unpleasantries is usually just to avoid them all together.  Kind of a "we shall never speak of this again" philosophy.

Silly me.  God always has way better plans that I do. 

As we were leaving the house to make the long trek to the airport, my husband said, "I'm so nervous about your trip! How come you aren't nervous?!"

"I dunno. But I feel good about it."

The flight was uneventful.  It was actually the couple of days before that were a little scary.  My almost six year old came down with an awful virus that gave her a 103 degree temp just 48 hours before we were supposed to leave.  Usually this means that she will have the fever for several days before it breaks, and that my four year old is a walking time bomb, just waiting to combust with the same germs.  I wrung my hands as I called the airline and asked what it would cost to move the trip back a week.  Just a simple matter of $800, the rude representative told me! 

So, we prayed.  I knew that my in laws would just die if we had to cancel.  Sure enough, Savannah woke up Tuesday morning just as healthy as she could be!  Thanks, God. I read my trashy paperback and listened to the girls' animated chatter all through the flight, occasionally shushing them when one of the Barbies got too melodramatic.  As we landed, my six year old looked out the window and said in a hushed voice, "Oh, Chicago, how I've missed you!" At that moment, I had no doubt that this trip was going to be special.

My four year old, however, had her doubts.  As we stepped out into the hot sun, wheeling our bags across traffic to reach our pick up point, Lilah said, "I'm not sure this was such a good idea!" She still looked undecided when we pulled up to Grandma and Grandpa's house, but all that disappeared when she lept into her great grandmothers' arms as they greeted her.  It was a sweet reunion!



The next day, we loaded up the car and Grandma, Grandpa, Savannah, and Lilah set out for Wisconsin Dells.  Having spent the better part of my childhood in the South, I never had the privilege of doing the "Dells." Apparently, this Wisconsin kiddie heaven is packed full of resorts that offer everything from massive water parks to roller coasters to zip lining and mini golf.  I missed out!  Here's what is not in Wisconsin...

ME!  That's right.  Since our family will be doing Disney in the fall, I said no thank you to the Dells experience.  You see, I wanted to give Grandma and Grandpa an opportunity to fully enjoy their bonding time with the kids without any parental distractions!  I know.  I am just selfless like that. 

If you are a stay at home parent or just a parent, period, you may appreciate the incredible gift that my in-laws have given me.  Almost three days of being kid-free!! If you say that you have never wished for that then you are a liar, my friend.  They even left me a car, dude.  I feel like I'm sixteen again...only I don't have any desire to raid the liquor cabinet or throw a party.  Just give me a good paperback and some PEACE and QUIET. 

The first thing I did with my freedom is visit my friend, Jessie.  Jessie and I have been the best of friends ever since I was dropped in her lap as a rookie music teacher in our old school district.  She looked at me like, "What am I supposed to do with this?" I looked at her like "a deer caught in headlights," as my former principal referred to me.  She quickly showed me the ropes and gave me a kick in the ass whenever I insisted that I could not do this or that.  Today, she is the Godmother of my four year old and my dear friend. 

First on our agenda was some time with my sweet brother in law.  I had not seen his kind face in exactly a year, and it was so good to just sit with him and share a laugh.  He is a rock if I've ever met one and never fails to inspire me.  When he first saw us he said, "It's so great to see you! You guys look so happy and pretty!" Now THAT'S how you talk to a girl. Jessie and I made our next stop at Rock Bottom Brewery, where I indulged in some truly awesome lobster and shrimp tacos...heaven.  We followed this culinary delight up with another kind of delight.  Jessie peer pressured me into seeing "Magic Mike", the new movie about actor Channing Tatum's short lived career as a stripper.  Okay, that is a bold faced lie.  I totally pressured her.  It know, if you like that sort of thing.

Today, my little loaned car took me to see my good buddies, Kristen and Jeannie.  Jeannie and Kristen are two of my college know...from the second college I attended.  Like I said before, I had some growing pains, okay?  Anytime you put the three of us together in a public place, we get odd looks.  Why?  Because we are seriously loud and obnoxious!  My mouth actually gets sore from talking and laughing so much.  Here's what I love about old friends: they are just so authentic.  They have seen all your hangups and warts and they love you anyway.  Our chosen rendezvous location was Cooper's Hawk Winery.  Kristen and I were members of a delightfully nerdy book club that used to meet here and we both developed a craving for the winery's delicious sangria.  Yum!  While we were there harassing the other patrons with our obnoxious conversation..."No! Channing Tatum does do all of his own dancing!  You don't know what you're talking about!", I got a lovely surprise. I ran into an old co-worker/friend from a past life...the one before kids!  He and his wife are expecting their first child and he was grinning from ear to ear (the best). 

Now, is where the paperback and peace and quiet come in.  The silence is strange at this hour for one who is used to final bedtime pleas and a dog that is itching to be walked.  Strange, but nice. Hubby, if you are reading this, your wife is sorry that you are lonely and don't be too jealous of my fun here in the Windy City!  After all, it was your idea, sweetie. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Pot Stirrer

Have you ever had one of those weeks that God just stuck His big hand in and decided to stir the pot a bit?  I am reminded of the old spiritual, "Wade in the Water," that promises:

Wade in the Water
Wade in the Water, Children
Wade in the Water...God's gonna trouble the water

Boy, does he ever!  Notice I said promises rather than warns.  To me, a warning has a scary connotation to "Oh comes a Mack truck!"  kind of thing.  But a promise...a promise is something special, full of potential that you didn't know your life had.  

Yeah, I'm getting rather philosophical here (yawn).  

If you saw my last post, Moonbeams, you know that I was in a funk last week.  After I posted that little nugget, my friend Kristi sent me an "All you alright? Anything I can do?" email.  Isn't that the best?!  How great is it to have people that "check in" with you, just to see how you're doing?  

My deepest desire has often been for God to make me different...a less obsessive, neurotic, more chillaxed version of myself.  As if He is a fast order cook that I can send my personality order to.  As if He did not know exactly what he was doing when he knit me together.  

Here's where the pot-stirring comes in.  You know how you read or hear something one time and it just kinda sticks?  I was flipping through the Bible and I found this great scripture that stuck like white on rice and I wrap it around me like a soft blanket when things are rough.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don't know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.  Romans 8:26, New Living Translation (2007) 

What a gift!  I really believe that. When I am too weary, disappointed, weak, etc... the Holy Spirit knows my heart and does my praying for me.  

This week, when I was not feeling the Kate-love, God interceded and literally blew my mind by the precious souls he placed in my path. So much of life is the every day, doldrums of ordinary life.  It's about putting one foot in front of the other and doing what needs to be done.  So, when someone or something is placed in our path like a breath of fresh air, we need to sit up and take notice!

A few days ago, I spoke to my college roommate, Kate, who is newly single and enjoying her life as single lady and mother.  We have stayed close through the years, largely due to her efforts (I'm embarrassingly slow about returning phone calls) and our deeply rooted shared history.   Kate knew me when I didn't know how to work a washing machine or write a check and she held me as I cried hysterically (seriously ugly) while my mom drove away from my dorm. We don't get to talk as often as we'd like, but when we do...look out!  We talk until our cheeks are sore from being pressed up against the receiver.

Inevitably, we always get on a roll about the old days, like two old ladies reliving the glory days.  Only, they were not so glorious for yours truly.  Oh, hell no.  More like the worst growing pains experienced since Sybil!  I said as much to my dear friend, who lived with me for four years, and her response left me humbled.  She said, "Don't ever say that!  Those were wonderful years.  They were incredibly hard, and sometimes painful, but I wouldn't trade them for anything.  You know why?  Because I was with you!  And you loved me when I wouldn't let anyone else."


I have often wondered why "the best years of your life" were the worst for me.  But, Kate, (as usual) gave me some brilliant perspective!  If for nothing else, I think I struggled through those painful years, so that I could have the honor of sharing my life with the incredible ladies of Meredith College.  We may have drifted apart in the craziness of marriage, babies, and careers but I will love each of them until the day I die...Debi, who was my constant movie date and cake eating companion, Sarah, who let me use her head as a human canvas on which to practice my hair cutting skills, Colleen, who giggled and turned red every time she walked in on me in my underwear, Meredith, who could make me laugh so hard I'd pee myself, and Kate, who mothered me and made sure I didn't nap through my classes.  I could go on and on, but you get the gist.

We laughed, we fought, we cried, and we broke all the rules together.  It was glorious, indeed.

Today, I cherish the times when I can hear about their busy lives and see what amazing women they've turned out to be.  My good friend, Kate, has become one of the most inspiring people I know.  She's had every reason lately to be pissed off or bitter, but instead she just oozes compassion and love.  We do not share the exact same faith, but I am inspired by her beautiful spirit and her ability to see the beauty in others, and point it out to them.  What a gift!

Thanks, Meredith girls, for getting me through "the best years of my life".   I wouldn't have survived without you. 


Monday, July 9, 2012


Last night I was burdened by a heavy heart...feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.  Do you ever wish you could just stop feeling everything so strongly?  Maybe that's just me.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, for sure.  It's like I have this constant radar running on overdrive, with the sole purpose of making sure everybody around me is all shiny and happy.  Who died and made me Dona Reed?  (Yikes! Is she actually dead?) It's exhausting trying to be the best wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, etc on a daily basis.  And here's the kicker...nobody's expecting me to be the best anything!  That's just an expectation I came up with all by my lonesome.  

Everybody who matters to me accepts me just as I am. 

Sometimes I think it must be nice to bumble through life like an insensitive schmuck... clueless about what everyone around me is thinking or feeling.  I don't want to be a total a-hole, just oblivious enough to not always be looking over my shoulder for trouble.  Somewhere along the line,  life taught me that the world is not a safe place; that it is not to be trusted.  By young adulthood, I came up with this great plan.  You see, all I have to do is foresee any problems that may arise in the near future and FIX THEM!  Whew!  

Simple, right?  Not so much.  Because life is unpredictable and so are people.  We don't get to know how long the good stuff is going to last and when trouble is going to rear it's ugly head.  In a lot of ways, the need to "fix" or "take care" of those around us is a biological, female thing.  Someone smart once told me that women are the obsessive nurturers that we are because of all the oxytocin that is coursing through our veins.  Ladies, have you ever wondered why the house can be falling down around you, while your kids are lighting matches, and your husband, dad, or other male figure can't quite figure out that he needs to do something about it?  

Bless their little hearts! If you are from the South, you know that this is more condescending than endearing.

Men don't have all that oxytocin coursing through their veins so they need someone (with a vajayjay) to say, "Hey, there, Sport!  You want to jump in and do a little micromanaging?" I have fully adopted this theory because the alternative theory is that they just don't give a damn that the sky is falling.  I don't like that one so much.

Now, if they still stand around scratching their heads after you have made your request, then you may reserve the right to be thoroughly annoyed.  

So, I guess I just wish I was more like a man...or maybe like my kids. When I look at their sweet, little faces I sometimes ponder what it is that makes them so beautiful to me.  It is a quality that goes far beyond the good looks they have inherited from their lovely mother.  No, it's as if they are all lit up inside and at any moment they could just shoot little moonbeams out of their fingers and toes. Could this magic be from their relatively carefree existence? Can you even remember what it was like when your biggest problem during the day was that you lost out on dessert because you gave the dog half your dinner again? I can't! It must be so great to never keep anything bottled up!  My three year old is either laughing or crying 90% of the day. 

How do I get back there again? Don't quite know.  I think it falls somewhere along the lines of living in the moment; you know, carpe diem and all that crap.  Pretty sure it involves spending a little less time staring at my phone and computer screen, and more time staring at those sweet faces.  Last night was a good start.  Hubby is such a great person.  Before bed, he prayed for me.  Not out loud; he's not a public prayer kind of dude.  No, he sat next to me in the bed and prayed for me silently. When I got out of bed this morning, running on way too little sleep, I felt...lighter, buoyant.  He may be on to something big! 

We're not talkin' moonbeams yet, but it's a start, right? 


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can You Go Home Again?

Can you really ever go home again? Will it still feel like home?  My cousin, Annie, A.K.A. Peach Prenni recently blogged about her trip back to Kansas City, which was home to her for several years.  She is a Georgia grown girl who has come back home, just like me.  The very fact that we live two miles away from each other on Hog Mountain Rd., which is the name of the town that our ancestors lived in two hundred years ago, is a bonafied miracle, if you ask me.  Well, she had a beautiful life in Kansas City for several years, but the last couple of years there just plain sucked.  I'm using her words here.  

Friends, that is a great way to describe the last two years that we lived in our Chicago suburb home.  It sucked.  Big time.  At the risk of sounding crass, let's just say it blew.

So you can understand why my heart beats a little faster and my stomach churns at the thought of getting on a plane with my two kids and going back...home.   There was a time when just thinking about it actually incited me to hyperventilate.  After Hubby got a job that relocated us to Georgia, I experienced a strange kind of post traumatic stress disorder for the first couple of months.  Here I was all happy go lucky, looking for the house of our dreams,  living a stone's throw from my best friend, and I would be hit, out of the blue, with the overwhelming urge to curl up in the fetal position and cry.  My blood pressure sky rocketed and I began experiencing debilitating migraine headaches every week.  Wanna know my theory about that? I think that sometimes, your body waits until it feels "safe enough" to break down.  Once you're in the clear, all hell breaks loose!

Exactly one year later, my brain has settled right down and is feeling oh so cozy in my new surroundings. I  (Don't want to say that too loud!) My wonderful in-laws have been out to visit us at least two or three times.  We, however, made no plans to visit.  After their last trip down south, my mother-in-law cornered me as she was leaving, "Promise me right now, that you will bring those kids to me!"  


We were overdue.  Clearly.  Several phone calls ensued in which she begged me to pick a date (any date!) this summer.  Finally, on Mother's Day, I caved.  It became clear that Hubby would not be able to take any more time away from work due to summer and fall vacations, so I would be the one to go home with the kids.  After a great deal of hemming and hawing, the flight arrangements have been made.  My sweet mother-in-law finally just bought our can I say no to such generosity?? 

The date is soon upon us...we are just a couple of weeks away!  And I have made a decision to not allow my anxiety about the past color my trip.  Because you don't throw the baby out with the bath water, right? Annie's blog inspired me to create a list in my head of all of the beautiful things I love about Chicago (you know how I love lists!)

1.) For starters, my husband's incredible family.  They are truly survivors who have been through SO MUCH and just keep on trucking.  They are far and away the most generous people I have ever encountered and they love my kids as much as I do.  I know that I do not deserve the unconditional love they have shown me, but I gladly accept it.  

2.) My short list of very special friends.  Jessie, who showed me what it means to be a teacher at my first "real" job. And who constantly offered to take off work so that she could entertain my kids when we were in a state of crisis.  Lisa, who did not bat an eyelash when things were just awful and kept me and my kids distracted with play dates two or three times a week.  Our neighbors Sharon and Jenny who were the best of friends and gave Savannah the chance to have her first "best friend".  Kristen, who invited me over too many times to count for a glass of wine, appetizers, and let me talk for hours on end.  And my college buddies Jeannie and Jen, who met me for a drink or a piece of pie just to cheer me up! When I think about these people I just want to weep with gratitude!  

3.) Finally, our church.  When we could not have been any sadder, a big ole' church plopped down just a block from our house, like manna from heaven.  After the first service I attended at Four Corners Community Church, I greeted the Senior Pastor on the way out the door by saying, "I feel like I was starving and I just got fed.  Thank you!" Though we weren't there for very long, the work that God is doing through people there left a lasting impression.  My family will always be grateful for our time there.  

When I contemplate all of this, I am truly excited to be coming home.  Because it was home for a time.  It was the place where I fell in love for the first time, married my husband, graduated from college, started my career, birthed my children, and bought our first home.  Don't you think all of those incredible milestones should outshine any bad times that we had there?  Here's hoping!  See you soon, sweet home Chicago.