Beginning, Middle, and End

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Life is one big love story with hundreds of little love stories within it.

Ram Charan

I wasn’t intending on telling a story as I rode with Sarah into the city on a Monday night. I was just going to lend moral support to our friend, Kim, a storyteller. Earlier in the day, Kim asked me, “Are you going to tell a story?” and I said “Absolutely not!” without hesitating. Later, Sarah told me, “I have a story. Do you want to do one, too?”

This time I hesitated and said, “Maybe.”

What are you supposed to do when you’re out on a Monday night in the spring in your favorite city with two fearless women who don’t seem to be concerned about baring their souls to a roomful of strangers?

I folded under the peer pressure and put my name on the sign-up sheet.

The storytelling event, an open mic, is a popular long-running series in Chicago. The stories are unrehearsed. Anyone can walk in, sign up, and be called up to the front where there’s just a microphone. There are rules: The story can be no longer than 7 minutes, and the audience is expected to offer up unbridled enthusiasm. I mean, each storyteller approached and retreated from the microphone among thunderous applause from a supportive audience. It was a safe space. Phones were off, eyes were up, ears were open. We were all going to be vulnerable. Together.

I felt the earth shift during that evening of storytelling. I heard stories of love, loss, and redemption. Of breaking rules. Of making up new rules. Feeling alone. Overcoming.

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Since that night, I’m starting to consider my quiet life as a series of my own stories. I hadn’t really thought of it quite that way before. But when your life is a story unfolding, it makes you want to try new things, experience things out of your comfort zone. Because who knows what might happen? Everything could go right, and that will become a sweet story.

Or everything could go wrong. That would make a compelling story. All of it is good.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Band Wife

March 2019 – visiting Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs with our 174 “kids.”

Spring Break involved a bus ride spanning four states with 174 teenagers and about a dozen adults. We traveled to the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Colorado, arguably one of the most stunning spots in our country. Two years ago I did this on a trip to Disney World. Four years ago I was on a bus to Memphis.

I’m a Band Wife. My husband, Mr. Band Director, is a musician and a teacher, and his passion is showing young people how to make music a part of their everyday life. Mr. Director wakes up early and is excited to get to a before-school jazz rehearsal at the high school where he’s taught for 13 years. He leads his band during the day. After school, there are sectionals, auditions, lessons. In the evenings, there are sometimes performances, rehearsals, marching band during football season, pep band during basketball season. After an event, Mr. Director can’t leave until the last student is picked up. Weekends, there’s the occasional call: “Mr. Band Director, I forgot my instrument at school. Can you help me get it?”

I only tell you this so that you understand that for Mr. Director, this isn’t a 9-5 job. This is a calling. A lifestyle, in fact. When Mr. Director isn’t in the classroom, he is reading articles about more effective teaching methods, reaching out to other musicians to exchange ideas. At our dinner table, we sometimes get a music lesson, or tips on how to practice better to achieve mastery on an instrument.

Being a Band Wife isn’t a calling, but it is a lifestyle. Band wives know the literature. They understand the different sections of the band. They’re sitting on the sidelines at the football game and basketball game, cheering for the band (and the team, too!). They’re in the auditorium. They’re armed with lawn chair and mosquito spray in the back of the van for all the summer concerts outside.

So why do I spend spring break riding 18 hours on a coach bus, thankful for my neck pillow, crushing a bag filled with snacks between my ankles to keep it upright as we rumble along the highway?

Because it’s Band Tour, silly.

Those 174 kids are like our extended family. They shape the world our family lives in. Based on these 174, the world is in great hands. These are thoughtful kids who are kind to one another, who look out for each other, and make great music together. Even better, they aren’t shy about sharing their music with the rest of the world. Some of them will go on and do music as a career–performers, educators, songwriters, arrangers– and others will use music as a stress reliever or a side hustle outside of their “day jobs.” But they will always have music in their lives. My husband makes it his life’s work.

I get to watch my husband do what he loves. When a student is hurting, he cries with them. When a student makes a sudden connection with music, it can feed his soul for days. As the Band Wife, I have the best seat in the house.

Pie is our Family Crest

My sister made me this Michigan Blueberry pie … with our Great-Aunt Anna’s piecrust recipe, of course.

The story is legend in my family: My oldest son, Clark, was a teenager when I entered the kitchen and found him, mid-bite, eating a piece of the pie I had just finished making. The realization came over me slowly as I took in the scene: his fork slid slowly out of his mouth while he looked over and locked eyes with mine. Although his eyes remained fixed sideways on me, his body remained forward, leaning over the pie plate where his left arm was positioned like a protective sentinel against like-minded key lime enthusiasts. Looking down, I saw that this wasn’t his first bite.

“I accidentally ate half the pie, Mom.”

Actually, it sounded more like, “I akthidentally athe half thuh pie, Mom.” (His mouth was still full, after all.)

He didn’t necessarily mean it apologetically; he stated this as mere fact, offered up as a logical explanation for the scene before me.

It remains a question in our family to this day: Can one eat half a pie, accidentally?

If I had to choose a family crest–symbols to represent our family’s interest and priorities–there would be music notes. Probably books or a pen. And most definitely pie.

When I got married, my sister gave me a handful of recipe cards written in her confident handwriting. She’d married more than a decade earlier, so I trusted her to vet all the best recipes. Among them was “Tanta Anna’s No-Roll Pie Crust.” It remains today to be the only pie crust I’ve ever made. I may never venture into the world of pie crusts shaped with wooden rolling pins. Tanta Anna (my great-aunt), and her hand-shaped pie crusts have sustained me and my family for decades, long after she’s left this earth.

Birthday pies have replaced birthday cakes in our house. When I went on a no-sugar diet for several weeks, I just switched over to making pie crusts for quiche. With my very hungry husband and four hungry children, there have been countless pies I’ve baked that I never got a crumb of. These days, with two teenage boys plus a tween with bottomless stomachs, I abide by a two-pie rule. If you’re gonna make one, you might as well make a second so everyone can have some.

Tanta Anna’s pie crust recipe is still in my recipe box, on the same card hand-written by my sister. The card is stained and warped with years of use. Now, it rarely needs to come out: I’ve memorized the recipe. It’s become part of my DNA. Making a pie crust is a repetitive, meditative motion that has become ingrained in my mom muscle memory. Crimping the edge of the dough is like rocking a baby, or grabbing a child’s hand before crossing the street.

I can’t be mad if my kid “accidentally” eats half of a pie I baked. It’s all part of the circle of life. It’s a badge of honor, a return hug. It’s the wordless equivalent of saying, “Thanks, Mom.”

I mean, “Thankth, Mom.”

Oh, hello, 2019.

At the turn of the calendar each January, do you choose a word of the year?

I do.

For 2017, I chose “Fierce.” That was the year I tried to get my mojo back as my own person, not just “Mom” or “Wife.”

2018 was “Ritual.” It was the year I chose to establish new habits like exercise and making more time to connect with my spouse.

But 2019? I just couldn’t come up with the right word. Until it smacked me in the face, quite literally.

While walking the dog on a Thursday evening, I took a spill. I fell right on my face. I tripped on the sidewalk, and down I went. Pretty, right?

I’m lucky. I know that now. I got great help from my daughter, a kind neighbor, my caring husband, skillful emergency room personnel. The next day, an oral surgeon did what I can only classify as a miracle when he muscled my front teeth back into alignment.

Above me on the MRI table at the hospital, one ceiling tile was decorated with a shiny laminated poster of an impossibly blue sky, fluffy white clouds, and lush green palm leaves. This could almost feel like vacation, I thought wryly to myself, if not for the bleeding and the throbbing pain.

I contemplated the word “spill” as I lay there, not moving. I like the sound of the word, the way it cuts through the air like a knife. It takes on different meanings. It’s short and to the point.

spill
 verb
\ˈspil \spilled\ˈspild,  ˈspilt \ also spilt\ˈspilt \; spilling
Definition of spill 
1: to cause or allow especially accidentally or unintentionally to fall, flow, or run out so as to be lost or wasted
2a: to cause (blood) to be lost by wounding b.archaic KILLDESTROY
3: to let out DIVULGEspill a secret

I’m claiming the word SPILL for myself for 2019. Or rather, it claimed me. I’m going to let it remind me that I got knocked down along the way, but I got back up.

I’m going to spill my guts through my writing.

Also, I’m going to use spill as a metaphor for gratitude. As in, my cup spills over. I have more than I need or deserve. A pesky little fall? A cut lip and scratched face? A bruised ego? It’s nothing compared to what some have had to face. Maybe this is a clue that I need to enter the new year with a stiff upper lip, with my arms swinging.

So hello, 2019. Let’s do this.

Snow Day

macro photography of snowflakes
Photo by David Dibert on Pexels.com

Today’s snow day extends our long, luxurious Thanksgiving weekend another day. Last night, as the snow fell and the power flickered on and off a few too many times for my comfort level, we waited in hushed tones for a call or text from our school district. At 9:30 p.m.–hallelujah! We knew what the call was about before we answered. The lovely, scratchy sound of a pre-recorded message: “Due to weather conditions, school is canceled tomorrow …”

(In case anyone ever wanted to know, I can affirm that a teacher is just as excited about a snow day as students–maybe more!)

A snow day rates way higher in my book than a scheduled day off. I have so many memories of our four children waking up early searching for snow pants and boots, going out before breakfast to scope out which neighbor kids were out already building snow forts. They’d come back once they were good and cold, noses running, cheeks bright pink, eyes sparkling at the sight of me making pancakes or waffles or muffins. We’d hang up the wet snow gear on the shower curtain or throw it in the dryer so it would be ready for round two.

Today’s snow day is a bit different. One teenage son’s plans to go out to have breakfast with his friend was delayed by the reality of clearing snow off the car’s windshield and the driveway, but hopefully the sense of accomplishment he felt afterwards was worth it. Another teenage son is still sleeping soundly in his bed, earbuds in, broadcasting to the rest of us that he is not meant to be disturbed. Our 11 year old daughter is still holding on to precious childhood wonder: searching for snow pants, layering up to go outside and build something in the snow with her friend. I can’t help but wonder to myself if this is the last year she’ll wake up excited to play in the snow.

Even though my kids are spending their snow days differently than they used to, they are learning the exhilarating feeling of having a day stretched out before them, a completely clean slate. They have the choice to spend it the way they like, and every delicious moment they can compare where they would’ve been at that moment if school were in session.

Whether you are in snow or sun today, take a Snow Day or a Snow Moment for yourself: give yourself a fun snapshot of a memory to freeze in your mind for a later date, when you need it. Right now I’m gazing out the window searching for cardinals. I think I’ll be heading for the tea kettle next. What do you like to do when life gives you a snow day?

xoxo,

Carol

Hiding

bare-feet-boy-child-262103

Three, two, one … ready or not, here I come!

Playing hide and seek with a small child requires some acting. When it’s your turn to seek, you might see the curtains wriggle a little bit. You might hear giggling coming from behind a chair. There will be a tell-tale lump under the duvet.

I’ve been hiding. I’ve taken a break from writing for a few weeks. I needed to step away from my blog, lean back a little bit and do something else. I got together with a few of my friends. I indulged in movies, live shows, and some reading. My husband and I started binge-watching a show.

The midterm elections were … intense! The negative ads on TV were relentless. Tensions flared on social media, where a local school referendum was hotly debated. I saw people I love and care about argue with each other on Facebook and saying nasty things. Politics got personal.

So I hid.

Intentionally, I backed away from the noise and the hostility. I have a tendency to be like a sponge, soaking in all the negativity like a delicious poison. So I turned off the TV, muted certain feeds on Facebook, and made the decision to distract myself.

I’m not sure adults are really supposed to play hide and seek. I think we are expected to leave those childish games behind. But hiding is a way of carving out dark spaces that barely afford you enough room to turn around. You contort yourself, squeeze yourself in, and wait in silence. Part of you hopes they never find you. But part of you waits, knowing you can’t stay hidden forever.

There you are! I found you!

The best part of playing hide and seek is the finding. The elections are over, the rhetoric is silenced, and I’m quietly peeking out from behind the curtains, ready to rejoin a bit of reality.

Get Out!

anika-huizinga-477472-unsplash
Photo by Anika Huizinga on Unsplash

When my kids were toddlers, distraction was my most useful parenting tool. If you’re in a store with a 3 year-old and he suddenly wants a 5-foot stuffed bunny that the store so kindly placed right at eye level of your little darling, you know just saying “No” isn’t going to cut it. If he wants that bunny more than anything, on top of being tired and hungry, things are going to get ugly quick unless you come up with a distraction. There’s going to be a scene.

“Look!” you say with feigned enthusiasm. “Look over there!” (What’s over there? I don’t know. Anything: a picture of a puppy, a balloon, a flashing light … whatever gets the focus off that 5-foot stuffed bunny.) If you use just the right lilt in your voice and swing the cart in the right direction, you might make him forget that he was about to scream bloody murder about that bunny. Take that moment, multiply it by 100 times a day, and there you have the life of a toddler.

But maybe it’s not that different for adults.

Maybe I’m tired and hungry, but I’m feeling frustrated today. Irritable. I’m thinking about events currently in the news, thinking about work and family obligations, and today is a day I just wanted to relax. I wanted things to go my way. But they didn’t. Same goes for my husband. We spent a good amount of time this afternoon complaining to each other about the maddening things that hijacked our plans for a relaxing, stress-free day.

The more we talked, the more we were getting upset: not at each other, really. We were just feeding off each other’s frustrations, and as we counted the ways things had not gone our way, our voices got louder, and tone got sharper, our blood pressure was mounting.

Time to get out

We’ve been here before. Life is stressful. A lot of times it’s just little stuff, but even a tiny pebble in your shoe can be maddening sometimes.

Our little house, only two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and my beloved reading porch, sometimes isn’t enough to contain the mounting frustrations of every day life. Today is one of those days.

So we got out. We walked right out of our house and distracted ourselves, the way we distracted our little toddlers for so many years in the past. Now, as I write, I’m sitting at a table at our local library, in front of a gorgeous window overlooking a park. It’s so quiet here. There’s free wi-fi and a coffee shop downstairs. Bathrooms I don’t have to clean. Looking across the table, I see my husband’s face. He’s happily clacking away on his laptop. The creases in his forehead that were there just a few hours ago are gone.

A change of scenery, a change of pace, is good for all of us. In fact, it’s necessary. And for some reason, living in our small house has amplified that lesson for me. For one, the small house has fewer chores that demand my time. It takes just a few minutes to tidy it up. And because it’s so small, it’s taught me that my whole life can’t take place inside the walls of my house. I have to get out some times. I have to walk out the door and see new views and meet new people.

Sometimes I need quiet. Sometimes I need noise to drown out my worries. But the point is that a change of scenery can be good and give us a much-needed change in perspective. Today, getting out turned I-can’t-believe-that-happened into I-feel-so-lucky-to-be-here-right-now.

Attitude adjustment achieved. Adult temper tantrum thwarted.