Saturday, July 27, 2013

So, where were we?

July has been a wild and crazy ride and now it is nearly over. The kids got their school registration packets in the mail with all the papers to fill out, class schedules, and lists of supplies to buy in the next few weeks. They are kind of excited about school starting again, which is encouraging. I'm not wishing summer away, but it does make that transition back to the school year a lot less dramatic when it's greeted with a skosh of enthusiasm.

We're all back home now after summer trips and nothing else planned for a while. It feels good to plan trips, look forward to them, and then be able to return home to enjoy the memories made.

The past month has been intense and filled with transition, both obvious and subtle. In the coming days, my dear stepmother will be moving to a care center because of the progression of dementia and her body inconveniently giving up some of her motor skills. She's falling more and it's just not safe for her to be in their home. It's not what anyone truly wants, but there it is. My dad and stepsister have given her the gift of being in her home for several months. My dad would say that getting old ain't for sissies. I would say that caring for those who are getting old takes Herculean effort. And a village.

I bought advance Iowa State Fair tickets this week and Dad is coming along. Easing out of 24/7 caregiving into 24/7 free time would be a tough one for me and we're thinking of ways to get together more as we all move into this new place of being family.

Emily wanted to redecorate her bedroom this week while John was away and was motivated enough to clear the room of absolutely everything, including a full dresser, by herself. Of course it is all in my living room at present, but we're nearly finished transforming a little girl's room into a teen girl's room. The flower fairies are long gone and now a vibrant turquoise is taking the place of the pale yellow.

I'm also recognizing that the time I am spending on my own are little test runs for me, easing me into the next several years. My oldest is a sophomore this year and before we know it, we'll be moving him to college. My youngest is starting 7th grade and she will not be far behind. I stayed in a motel by myself for the first time in my life a couple of weeks ago. A small thing, but I find it interesting that individually, and collectively, we are all transitioning toward greater independence in my family.

My church is also going through a long transition searching for pastoral leadership. As the moderator, or president, of our congregation, I've been spending the past month securing us a pastor. I find it interesting that I have hired more pastors in my life than any other "employee." I'm thinking the number is seven for various congregations and positions. I must say that this most recent one is one of my favorites and he hasn't even started yet.

This is the summer when my core sister-friends turn 50. They've been blazing trails through the decades with me since I was 13. They did just about everything before I did. They told me about driving on their own. Their first legal beer. Voting. And all the other things, boys, girls, diplomas, mortgages, and marriages before I did. And they have served me well to show me the way.

It is human nature to fear change. Although, if we were pressed, we wouldn't really want things to stay the same. It is possible to hold opposite emotions and feelings at the same time. That desire we have for our children to have wonderful, fulfilling, and independent lives while holding on to our desire for their daily presence at our kitchen table. The time of having a foot in each place. Of watching a 12 year old going back and forth between girl and young woman.

Several years ago, I would have been terrified and completely overwhelmed by a month like this one. And I freely admit to feeling nervous, but also excited and energized at the possibilities that lie ahead.

If you haven't read Elizabeth Lesser's book, "Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help us Grow," you should. Recognize that all transitions, happy and joyful ones as well as those that are painful, are changes. They may come with feelings of grief. Lesser's book is the handbook you wish you had when you don't quite know what to do when these life changes arise. It's one of those books you pass along to friends.

Lesser writes, "How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and blossom into who we were meant to be."

I know this to be true.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Toweling off from the stress bath

It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegon...

While that's another's famous opening line, it's true here, too. The kids and I met my mom and stepdad at Ikea in Minneapolis last Saturday. We had kottbullar (meatballs) and lingon and it did my little Svensk-Americansk heart a lot of good. No, they don't taste anything like Grandma Betty's, but they'll do. We had a browse and then they went their way back to Detroit Lakes and I went my way back to Grinnell. Alone. We'll do this again in a couple of weeks.

Alone? I know, right? A couple of weeks!

Like a kid looking forward to summer vacation, the whole idea of being only responsible for my own self and no one else spreads out in front of me like the toy section from Sears and Roebuck. The potential! The possibilities! I can eat what and when I want to for supper! I can go to bed at 8 if I wanna. I can control the TV remote!

Two days into my amazing vacation, the stress of life starts finding its way out of me. I am exhausted. Monday morning, I can hardly haul myself out of bed. I go into work late morning only to turn around and come right back home to bed and sleep for two hours, awakened only by the phone. I feel numb and beat. Seriously, I don't even want coffee. Referring to my ethnic heritage, coffee is the drink of my people. Russians have vodka, Brits have tea, Swedes drink coffee. Copious amounts. I have no desire for the stuff this week. It's as if my body has said that I am beyond coffee. I need rest, not caffeine.

The last time this happened, I later learned that I was expecting my son John. I can assure you without a doubt that is certainly not the case this time. So what is it?

It's stress. Honestly.

We coast along through life thinking that we got this. It's all good. Make the lists, check the boxes, we got it goin' on, don't we Baby?

But our bodies tell a different story. We are bathing in our own stress hormones and we don't even know it. Have you ever been working toward some goal or event, a date on the calendar and then you end up sick a few days after? When our bodies finally have a chance to let down, the stress comes out.

I miss my kiddos, no doubt about it and I'll be very glad when they come back home. But I also realize that as a single parent I need to particularly aware of this. To do things on my own, to be myself and not always in parent mode. Making time for myself and finding time to be alone is not easy, but hugely important. It's a little trickier than it seems to get used to being alone. I'm an extrovert who needs alone time, but this is a lot of alone time for me. I suspect I'll get the hang of this about two days before they come home.

This is the shape of things to come. With a rising high school sophomore and seventh grader, I have more of this time to look forward to. Perhaps I need to see these weeks on my own as practice for the real thing.

In the meantime, it's time to recognize that my stress levels are far higher than I realize and I need to be taking it seriously. Rest. Exercise. Eating well. Spending evenings with friends and those I love. Reading good books and trashy ones, too. Living life well means being a human being, not a human doing.

Is it time for you to step out of the shower of stress, too?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Tractors, Not Tanks

What a gorgeous day to celebrate Independence Day!

In Grinnell, one can walk through the neighborhoods and know where the parade route is by the lining up of lawn chairs mid-afternoon. Where parties and gatherings welcome passersby with cold drinks, watermelon, and even live jazz in the backyard.

Walking down Broad street, I can "hear" my destination with music on the deck from The Funk Upstairs, a solo sax supported by a combo of drums, bass, rhythm, and keyboard.

It's so Grinnell.

In Iowa, we don't show our independence with a parade of tanks, artillery, and soldiers passing by. It's grannies in flat bed trailers and old boys from the VFW. It's golf carts and vintage cars festooned with red, white, and blue. And the closest thing to armed soldiers are cub scouts with water pistols.

Instead of tanks, we show off the equipment that feeds the world. Tractors both antique and those so new they haven't seen any black Iowa dirt on their tires.
"You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism."  - Erma Bombeck