Prescribed Staycation


If you read my blog last week, you know that I’m still working on my NaNoWriMo 2015 novel, and I was hoping to use this week to finish it because it’s our spring break. Yes, we’ve had other spring breaks in which we traveled – my kids’ first plane ride was over spring break – but this year, we’re having a well-deserved staycation. Since November, we’ve taken two big road trips and two trips to Disney. With another big road trip looming this summer, the idea of leaving home for a fifth month in a row didn’t appeal to me (or our budget).

So far, the kids and I have been to the dentist and the doctor; my elder son had a baseball game and piano lesson; we went to story time at our favorite indie book store and had lunch out with my husband; we visited my grandmother for an afternoon; we even saw a movie in the middle of the week – all the normal stuff that I did before I started working full-time again (except for the movie in the middle of the week part – I had to do something a little spring break-y). I’ve even gotten eight hours of sleep every night – doesn’t that sound like heaven? My main goal was just to be a homebody. My kids have ridden their bikes a lot and made pillow forts on the couch – things that we don’t always have time to do when school’s in session. They’ve had the chance to be boys (and I’ve had the chance to write).

Unfortunately, kids these days just don’t get the chance to be kids as much as they should. They’re overscheduled either because their parents both work full-time, and so they assume the children should also be occupied 40 hours of every week, or the stay-at-home moms want to have “freedom” when the kids are out of school – in other words, a kid-free house. While I am a huge proponent of structure for children, that doesn’t mean that they need to be up at 6:30, out the door by 7:30, and spending until 5:00 that night in day camps and kids’ gyms and sports and play groups and you-name-it.

One mom of now-adult children told me that she always felt like a cruise director when it came to her kids’ vacations, and while some of us may admire the Pinterest moms who have cool crafts and activities planned for every play date, what’s wrong with sending the kids out the door and just letting them play? If you’re at home with the kids, that doesn’t mean you have to helicopter 24/7. On the other hand, if you work full-time, you need to remember that your precious time off needs to be split between “me” time and kid time. A teacher I know once told a full-time working mom that, instead of signing her daughter up for a week of camp, the mom needed to take that week off to spend at home with her daughter. What a novel idea!

I know that many people don’t have the choice but to work full-time, but there’s something wrong if both of you are so busy that you can’t find the time to read to your child for five minutes before bedtime. Or go out for ice cream on the weekends. I know of a mom who gave up a great career when she had a harsh wake up call; after losing two family members, she realized that if something were to happen to her, her kids wouldn’t miss out on much more than a kiss right before bedtime. The money took a backseat to being able to be the one to pick her kids up from school.

Remember the 1989 movie Parenthood with Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen? Remember how Steve Martin’s character is the overworked, underpaid, baseball coach dad of three with another on the way? Remember how, when complaining about not getting a promotion, his wife is more worried about him missing their kids’ upbringings, not the money? Yeah, she got it.

In his book The Christian Moral Life, Timothy F. Sedgwick writes that, while many take issue with the idea of sacrifice (such as losing one’s self in giving everything up for some other), “[t]he broader meanings associated with sacrifice arise from the original Latin meaning of sacrifice, which was to make something sacred or to perform a sacred act.”

Keep it sacred by keeping your children at the forefront. That sometimes means having a date night or a mini vacation away from them. But it also means coming back. It means letting them be kids – and being there to experience their childhood with them. Sometimes the only medicine needed is a vacation day with your child, snuggling on the couch and reading every picture book in the house.

Sound anticlimactic? If you’re thinking, But this isn’t what I thought I was signing up for when I became a parent, you’re right. It never is. It’s a whole lifetime of sharing amazing/frustrating/sleep-deprived/joyful moments with a unique human being that wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you.

A Lesson in Humanity

Humanity Quote 2

My church employs a chef whose family came to the States from Bosnia in the mid-1990s. When they arrived here, our chef’s husband needed a prosthetic leg, which cost $24,000. Knowing that they could not afford the prosthesis, several families within the church pooled their money to purchase the leg. “That’s not something you forget,” our chef told me earlier this week.

I’d run into her in the church kitchen, where I smelled something wonderful. There wasn’t a church event planned at that time of the week, and I wondered what she was cooking. She told me she was preparing a meal for a widow from our congregation, one of those families who helped purchase the $24,000 leg. This widow has lots of dietary restrictions, yet our chef is glad to prepare tasty meals that follow the dietary code. And she always refuses payment.

“That’s so sweet,” I said.

“It’s not being sweet,” she told me. “‘Hi, how are you?’ That’s sweet. This is just being human.”

I didn’t know what to say. My friend, the Bosnian chef, does not mince words, and she’d put me in my place.

I’ve thought about what she said quite a bit over the past week, being human versus being sweet. And she’s right; there is a difference. I had to think about all the times I’ve thought of someone as sweet, and I haven’t been giving them enough credit. My son is sweet when he gives me a hug, but he’s human when he shows his great capacity for compassion, when he immediately thinks to pray for someone in need.

Many people call this being Christian, and if you call yourself Christian, you certainly should pray for others, feed the hungry, house the homeless, and visit those in prison, just to name a few. But I think it also short-changes those people who don’t share my beliefs, yet are compelled to act in ways that are selfless, in ways that humble themselves while serving others.

Perhaps these people are simply being human. Perhaps it’s the way we’re all born, but then the pressures of life get in the way and cloud this original purpose.

Humanity Quote 1I often see the ugly side of people, the kind that gets reported in the news: mindless mobs, riots, senseless violence. But even though they are humans committing these acts, I don’t think its our humanity that is to blame. Think of how we are born: innocent. It’s not until we grow older, when we can choose how we act, that the problems arise.

Our brains set humans apart from the rest of the animals. But not only that. While some animals are able to feel compassion – think of service dogs or perhaps the gorillas that have learned sign language – it is our humanity that leads us to reach out to other people in need and help them. Our humanity is our goodness, not the ugliness. It leads us to give when we expect nothing in return, to show our gratitude in the best ways that we are able.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that this simple message came to me at the start of my favorite season – but also the season when so many people become cynical. Consumerism is about to rear its ugly head in many ways in the next couple months. People will have their feelings hurt when they don’t receive what they expect they deserve for Christmas, or they’ll spend all their energy trying to give the perfect gift, plan the perfect event. But all of us – all of us, no matter what we believe or celebrate – have the capacity to be human with one another. In today’s society, it may even take a little rebellion to get back to our humanity, but I’m willing to try. And I think it’s something we should practice all the time.

There Are Worse Things Than Being Late


Photo credit: Wikipedia

Every morning when I take my son to school, I have to remind myself that, aside from heavier traffic during rush hour, I have to leave earlier than I would any other time of day because someone is going to get in a hurry and cause a car accident. It’s why I eventually quit using the interstate, even though it would be, otherwise, the fastest way to travel. And for the person who causes the wreck, was it really worth it to take whatever risk caused the accident? Not only is the answer “no” for that person, but it often negatively effects others, too. This was a terrible lesson my family learned twenty-four years ago when my grandmother (a passenger) was the victim of a driver’s impatience.

This is not a blog that I’m going to fill with excuses for running late. Actually, it’s not even about being late but more about the things, such as tardiness, that push us over the edge and cause us (and others) to be miserable. My problem is that I am dependable to a fault. In fact, my grandmother used to say that “if Sarah said she’d be here by noon, it must be noon because Sarah’s here.”

Of course, “used to” is the operative phrase. One child slowed me down a little; two make me feel like I’m slogging through a pool of Jell-O. I’ll think, Finally, I’m going to leave early, and then the baby needs a diaper change, or his big brother forgets to brush his teeth. For someone who plans everything, sleeping through my alarm can put me into a self-directed rage, which is exactly what happened over the summer. As I went ballistic, scaring both of my children and my husband, I had somewhat of an out-of-body experience, wondering what was wrong with me. Why did I allow being a few minutes late to stress me so severely? If you quit freaking out, you’ll have time to do everything you need to do, I berated myself.

I was worried because I was going to be late for my baby’s doctor’s appointment. I just knew that it would be the one day they would take him on time, and our lateness would annoy the staff, or worse, we would get passed over and have to wait, thus making my other son late for his pre-k orientation. After my initial blow-up, everything else seemed to go wrong that day. If I’d calmed down, would my attitude have made me less panicky, less of a wreck? I can’t help but believe that was a big part of it.

I understand there are important deadlines. There are flights, appointments, meetings, and any number of other things for which we are responsible, yet getting in a frenzy and acting while distracted causes more harm than good. I am proud of myself that I’ve let go slightly. (Baby steps!) While I stressed out if I didn’t leave my house by 7:10 a few months ago, I’ve come to a sort of peace with leaving closer to 7:25. If my son is late, at least he arrives safely and with a much nicer mother.

I am particularly mindful of the added stresses this time of year. I absolutely love Christmas and don’t want worries about Christmas cards and shopping and baking to rob me (and, by extension, my family) of the joy of the season. My day job, however, is busiest this time of year. One of the services my parents’ business offers is Christmas cards, and the trend seems to be that, either a customer will get a date in her head about when she has to send her cards and be an absolute monster if the order isn’t ready by then, or (more commonly) an absolute slew of people will wait to place their orders until the week before Christmas and wonder why we’re so busy. My mother received an e-mail a couple weeks ago, in which the customer said he needed a proof of his card as quickly as possible because Christmas was swiftly approaching. Really? We had no idea. It’s not like we had any other customers’ orders to fill. If he got his cards the first week of December instead of the last week of November, were all the people on his Christmas list going to send him nasty-grams?

Seeing my mother’s frustration with that customer made me consider how I act when I don’t get my own way. Most of my busy-ness is of my own choosing. I decide to take on projects that occupy my free time, so I need to be a big girl and not complain. One of my self-imposed deadlines is for this blog. I feel like I need to write something every week, and if I don’t have it ready to go by Saturday or sooner, those little fingers of tension start scratching. But you know what? Not the first person has e-mailed to chastise me for being late. And I had high hopes of baking a different cookie every night this week, even though I also worked late and had two parties and extra shopping to do. So you know what? I only made two batches of cookies. Oh well. I’m not going to let undershooting my own expectations ruin my week.

With a son in pre-school, I cannot ignore what happened in Connecticut yesterday. I was shocked by the reality that such a horrific act of mass violence could just as easily have happened at his school, where I volunteer and bring my baby to visit. Of course, it also could have happened at a church, a mall (like the one in Oregon), a park, a restaurant, or any number of public places. But the point is, tragedies are tragedies (no matter the cause) because no one expects them. If a mother knew she would never see her child again, would she lose her temper over something trivial? I’m sorry to say that I roll my eyes and give my son the silent treatment too often, when I should take the time to be patient and slow to anger.

Instead of living on autopilot, what I can do (when I have little to no control over what others around me do) is live with intention. I can decide not to stress out, not to let everyday things drive me to distraction. I can decide to watch out for myself as well as others because their lives are precious, too. Most importantly, I can act in a way that will model for my children how to be good citizens.

When I’m disappointed that I’m not the successful, published author I would like to be, I need to remember that even if I were, that wouldn’t keep someone I love from dying suddenly. When I’m stressed over my son not learning his letters quickly enough, I need to remember that academic smarts won’t help him make good choices in life. And when I’m stressed from running late and think that my world is going to fall apart because things aren’t going my way, I need to remember that hurrying can cause more trouble than being late to begin with.