Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Of Mice and Men

Home life with all males creates a remarkably different life-style than the one filled with four females and one lonely father I experienced growing up. This past week happenings in our chap dominated home really struck me into seeing some truths about males.

For example, Lucas and Daniel wanted to buy dwarf hamsters. I had a hamster when I was young. It was a good memory, except for finding it dead in the cage before sunrise about four months later. I burst into tears and carried its cold fuzzy body to my parent’s bed and cried until they woke up and asked what was wrong. They flipped out. Outside of this sad ending, I find hamsters to be cute and cuddly pets that are fun to watch. I also think it is great for kids to experience the joy of cleaning out the cage. I endorsed buying hamsters and a few days ago my males sent out to Petco and returned with mice! Not loveable hamsters, but…..beady-eyed, long tailed, snake and cat food sort of mice. The very same thing folks buy traps to kill, my sons paid their own saved up money to buy…... The main course snake owners purchase to feed their cobras? They are now family members. Rodent! As if that does not gross me out enough, they were so “affordable” they returned home with three of them!

THIS is why boys need daddies to take them to Petco. Had I been there? After hearing that dwarf hamsters eventually kill each other when they get older, we would have returned with a couple fish.

Another example… husband grew up quad riding and had wanted to buy a boy toy for the last ten years. I resisted. I just hated the statistics on injuries and worried that there would be an accident that could have been prevented had we bought those Legos instead. Two years ago, my dear friend Stephanie, had a heart to heart with me and explained that God made boys a different way, let’s just say “Wild at Heart.” She suggested I encourage the male bonding and adventure to flourish in my guys. She heartened me to embrace it. I came home from that late night conversation and shared it with my husband. I tell you the truth… that very next weekend he went out and bought the first of three quads and the trailer followed shortly after. I am outnumbered on the love of off-roading and I have had to trust my husband’s direction with our sons. Why? I would feminize them to death, if I could….just to keep them safe.

Yesterday Ralph and I went quadding. I was sort of excited about going, especially since the kids were not with us, so I could avoid ulcers worrying about them. It was just the two of us and I packed our lunch and stepped into his male world. I cruised the Hungry Valley following my husband who was having the time of his life. He led me on dusty trails, bouncing around like a toddler in a jolly jump. He gave me some pointers that I definitely needed, as we had only been riding together on sand dunes before, and this rocky desert riding required a totally different approach to staying alive. It started to be fun.  I am beginning to understand why my guys MIGHT enjoy this risky, filthy sport. And yes, I will go again.

From pet mice to quad riding (and everything testosterone-like in between) I am learning that boys desperately want dads to lead them in the ways of  men…. and men need women that will appreciate this leadership.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Did You Get for Christmas??

You know, it really doesn’t matter what was wrapped up under the tree with my name on it….I find that the best gifts are the laughter of gathered friends and family, lights and gingerbread houses, decorations and eating peppermint sweets, cocoa with clouds of whip cream and too many cookies. We have had a full week of reindeer games, dinner parties and afternoon naps. Perfect way to celebrate the life that God sent to us is by living and embracing the life He set before us. Looking back over our week, I am reminded how blessed we are in this department of life.

Our family walked down Gemini Court, which is a street with the largest electric bill in town…so many lights and mechanical decorations, THINK: Disneyland’s It’s A Small World crammed on one bright street. We happened to pick the night that Santa visited, so every crying toddler and stroller packed the sidewalks, while hay rides and Thomas the Train carted kids up and down the street. It really did have that Disneyland feel to it. The best part was that we dressed up one of our wiener dogs like Santa and she was a hit amongst the kids.

My friend’s birthday is 6 days before Christmas and I think that is a tough birthday to have. Tired of overlooking her special day, we threw her a party. LRC (left, right, center) is the new game around here and it is a simple dice game that requires only knowledge of your right and left direction. Another night we cruised our hood with our neighbors, enjoying peppermint cocoa and feeling the crisp California winter air nip at our noses, while admiring the lights. Afterward, we watched the Grinch and my youngest had never seen it all the way through. That  Grinch tale will never get old.

Tuesday we went to dinner at our friends (they make the best martini’s) and attended our church Christmas program together. Don’t martini’s and church go together? Maybe, just at Christmas time? Mabye? It was a great show with dancing, singing and an amazing guest speaker who was born without arms and legs. I left feeling inspired by the true meaning of Christmas and thankful for my limbs. Now that is a gift!

 Other highlights included Christmas Eve dinner at our home and Santa Tom visited for the 13th year in a row. Our dear friend, who has donned the red suit since our youngest was born, comes to pass out candy canes and listen to the children’s requests. It is  fun to watch my boys, who have now figured out that it is our friend Tom. “Santa” is still Santa to a couple kids in the group, so there is still a little magic that fills the room.

On Christmas morning we have a tradition and that is to read the Christmas Story from the Bible and say a family prayer of Thanksgiving before ripping into all the presents. Years ago, my husband read the story, then Lucas grew old enough to read, and finally, Dan is fully literate. This was the first year both kids shared the reading. It is a solid tradition that keeps the perspective of what all this hoopla is for.

 After opening gifts we went to my folks who live in town. Every year we play what we titled “The Christmas Tree Game’. It was invented about 7 years ago and it is a cardboard tree board game. When your game piece travels down the tree , landing on different “ornaments”, you are commanded to pull from a pile of gifts, open a gift, swap gifts (players bring three wrapped gifts… a white elephant, a purchased anything and something homemade). Some game spots make you sing a Christmas carol as fast as you can, kiss someone or lose a turn among; other things. No doubt everyone wants to walk away with the most desirable gifts…..but it is a game of chance. I felt a bit bad for my older sister who left the game with the white elephant gift my husband brought; a five gallon camping shower and old frame….a zonker gift! However, I don’t feel THAT bad because for Christmas Santa brought her two tickets to Italy.

In years past, we would be leaving for Bass Lake for New Years with two other families. It did not work out this year, so we are doing the fun things that we would do in Bass Lake right here….like ice skating and spending the New Years Eve together in pajamas and having a talent show. It is nice to know that the kid’s music lessons have purpose, and this year I might attempt a little comedy routine.

You can see and hear that we are absorbing every ounce of Christmas joy that we can, especially since my hubby has two weeks off from work….that is why we need our afternoon naps…..late nights, Christmas Nogg and chattering takes its toll ,so extra sleep is needed to keep up the holiday pace.

 Again, I note that my favorite part of the Christmas Season are the fun connections that accompany it ….oh yeah, and I really LOVE my silver cross necklace from my husband…..THE cross….just another reminder of why this time of year carries an over abundance of joy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Christmas Suit of Confusion

In preparing for Daniel’s school Christmas singing program, he requested that he dress in a Tuxedo…upon further investigating, I realized that he meant a suit and tie. There are a couple boys in his class that show up spiffy, unlike most that meet the bare requirement of dark pants and white collared shirt. Thinking it was sweet that he wanted to look his holiday best, we took a family shopping trip that night, playing twenty questions on the drive.

When it was Daniel’s turn he told us that he was thinking of a famous building….so we started questioning him if this building was in California? No.
New York? No
Washington DC? No.
USA? No.
Another country? Yes.

He gave us hint that it was a place that started with the letter A….hmmm. After many guesses we figured out it was Australia. It did not seem odd that he would pick a famous building in Australia as his friend from school just returned from a three week trip down under, so I figured Daniel had learned a thing or two. None of us could pull an answer out of our hat as we did our best to name the little we knew about Australia’s best known architecture. Alas, Daniel gave us a much needed clue. He had to; the game was at a standstill, so he told us, “It starts with the letter C.”

That helped… sort of, not really...silence filled the car as my husband, Lucas and I scratched our heads. It appeared that Daniel had stumped us and won the game….that was until he told us the answer…..The Sears Tower!HA! He was surprised  as we were tickled when we told him that The Sears Tower is in Chicago, Illinois and that it is started with the letter S. We all had a good laugh over his dim-witted answer, or, I like to call it innocence because he is a really smart third grader 99% of the time.

The next night was the Christmas Program and Daniel took his shower and was eager to put on his new suit and tie. Again my mommy heart was aglow at the thought that this little boy actually cared how he looked up on that stage playing his recorder in front of hundreds of people, reciting bible verses and belting out Christmas carols with hand movements…….and then he dropped the bomb. He asked if I had some dark glasses he could wear with the suit because he wanted to look like he was in the FBI! That is what he really cared about…. pretending he was all dressed up to protect the president, armed with a gun and ear piece, privy to top secret information, and wearing a bullet proof vest under his dapper suit!

I tell you what, this kid keeps this family laughing and it is sad to see him grow up so fast. It won’t be long before he is working on the third floor of the Sears Tower in Australia for the FBI.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Elle Hoo

Last Sunday, the lady leading worship at our church mentioned that she sings at a lot of funerals and she had more than usual during the holidays. During the funeral service she listened to all the praiseful, uplifting, wonderful things that were being said about person who had passed on. She then double dared us to take some time to write a letter to someone we love or care for and to share the words with them while they are alive to hear them….because it is sad to think how we wait until a person dies before we relay all the things we admire about them.

Sitting next to me during the service was my friend of nine years, Elle Hoo. I started thinking about her and all the joyful and not so joyful times we have shared. Getting through her husband’s kidney transplant, Lucas’ health issues, life’s regular ups and downs, and our house fire solidified that we will be friends for a long, long time. When we met at Community Bible Study in 2000, we were part of the New Mom’s Group with our infants. It feels like God brought us together…I just know He did. We slowly became friends, walking our little ones in joggers and spending lots of Mommy time watching her daughter and my son grow up.

The characteristics that keep me wanting to be friends with Ellen are many….she is a kind and loving friend that lets me be me….I don’t feel like I have to be anyone but myself around her, even if that means I am hurting, depressed, or worried, but most of the time I am silly, honest, wine sipping and simple when we get together. Ellen is committed to her family and spends hours at her kids school volunteering in so many different areas from Art to painting shirts…..she is a classy woman who works at keeping her marriage connected, and her small tribe of four in sync. Ellen has her priorities straight! She loves the Lord and looks toHim, but she is not a stuffy, uptight, wagging her finger in your face sort. She radiates grace, compassion and understanding. Because she is genuine, I have been able to come to love and appreciate her warts and all, and she has done the same with me. It feels wonderful to know I am loved even when things do not look or feel anywhere close to perfect or under control.

Ellen is health conscious and committed to plenty of exercise for mental and physical benefits and she has introduced me to many healthy snacks that I would have never met, if not for her. For example… grape tomatoes, munching on raw cucumbers, Smart Pop popcorn, or throwing artichokes in chili. She also is an excellent baker, gingerbread cookies are her specialty. For a while, every time I called her she was baking cupcakes!

When we first met I could not believe that she mowed her own lawn, I thought…” Wow! What a woman, I am going to give that a try!”

I starting mowing and kept it up for six years… so you might say Ellen inspires me with her take charge way.

When our children were three she invited our family to Bass Lake. Since that first trip in 2003, we have shared family vacations at her parent’s cabin and every trip has been packed with the best family memories that my husband, kids and I treasure. Lots of games, crafts, laughter, long walks and home cooking take us over as we spend lazy days at the lake trying to get our kids up on skis or pulling them on a tube with their boat. She is the boat captain and an expert water skier. She is humble about her talent on the water, and everything in her life. She is amazingly comfortable on the lake whether it is knee boarding, canoeing or her world famous cannon ball. I admire the wisdom she has shown in the value of keeping the child inside me alive and active. Her natural beauty on the outside is only outdone by her loving, youthful and wacky insides….. Cheers to you Ellen, you dare to make my life a happier place and I wanted you to know why.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Christmas Goat

For Christmas my twelve year old, Lucas, chose to forego stocking stuffers and buy a goat to be donated in his name thru World Vision. He insisted on a goat, not a lamb or chickens. This decision really impressed me … the fact that he thought about it as he flipped the pages of the World Vision Catalog (a sobering read). We talked about what it meant to sacrifice and how his stocking would be empty on Christmas morning, but what that would mean for a family that doesn’t have food or milk every day. I can understand why my nine year old decided not to give up the stocking loot , he is young and it is fine with me that he did not participate. This was a gift I wanted to be given freely and in the spirit of sacrifice.

Sacrifice is painful and I am pretty sure I would have not made the same decision he did when I was nine or twelve. It really touched my heart that Lucas expressed compassion at such a young age. As a general internal reflex I find it easier to turn my head to children bloated, lying on the ground with flies dancing around their faces with big round hungry eyes. I don’t go there easily. It is worlds away from my comfy home, healthy family and cupboards filled with food. A holiday prayer that does travel my heart this time of year is for the children who are in the hospital over the Christmas Season. Most Americans celebrate the birth of Christ, but under that umbrella falls all these wonderful Christmas happenings….creating gingerbread houses, driving around to see house lights, sitting on Santa’s lap, baking cookies, spending Christmas Eve with friends and family, going to church and the best one of all… waking up in your OWN BED in your OWN HOUSE on Christmas morning. Hospitalized children experience none of that. Yeah, Santa visits the hospital, but it aint nothing like Christmas at home.

Baby Lucas was released from the hospital nine days before his first Christmas in 1997. This particular admission for him was for five months and sixteen days in the Intensive Care Unit. In his first year while being hospitalized,  Halloween came and went and I did not care that Lucas did not have a cute baby costume. Thanksgiving came and went and I ached to have my baby home, but just accepted that it would not happen and was thankful he was alive. But the thought of his first Christmas  being spent in an ICU crib just ate me up inside. I wanted nothing else but for our family of three to be cuddled up in our nest and NOT humming Silent Night to the bleeping of hospital machines. Arriving home on December 16, 1997 was the best gift of any Christmas so far. Sleeping together under the same roof, with my ten month old down the hall and my husband next to me was HUGE. Just knowing that I could hug my baby first thing Christmas morning and hold  him without a drive to UCLA was a gift words would only cheat.

Spending so much time in the hospital in his first year of life affected some development that, thankfully, he has caught up with over the years. Lucas has had his share of medical procedures in the last 10 years, enough to make him NOT like hospitals or needles and to create a tender, compassionate heart. He has befriended other children with heart problems that are actively being treated for serious issues of life or death. Possibly because of what he has lived and seen, (the stuff most healthy kids are never touched by) is the very reason he could decide to donate a goat to a needy, starving family, instead of insisting on a stocking full of more ‘stuff’ that provides short lived excitement.

When I look at the picture above, that was taken in 1997,at the hospital before being realeased for our first Christmas at home, I remember how diffcult that year was and how far God has carried Lucas...sitting back my eyes are once again opened to the truth that bad times don’t last forever and that God can turn even the icky, painful situations into something beautiful. Like the saying goes…God works slowly, but he is always right on time….. my heart celebrates that He not only sent his Son, but this Christmas, through Lucas, he sent a goat!