Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Time in a Bottle

I love October so much that I'm posting twice this month. Ha, ha--no really, its for my own sanity. I desperately need time to reflect. And just sitting down doesn't work well for me. So I'm going to write about how I should not be so busy and slow down a bit...kind of ironic, isn't it?

Turning 35 has made me realize how fast the time has gone by. I don't mind that I'm only five years away from the big one, however, it feels like being 20 was only yesterday. I think about how different my life was then. Quite carefree, and for the most part, completely naive to the world around me. And yet, there are parts of my life that were already too grown up, even at that age.

Sometimes children have to grow up too fast. Their circumstances command them to take charge and survive whatever it is that may be robbing them of just being a kid. As a young adult, I did not understand the whys or the hows of what came to be, in my own life. But now that I'm a parent, there is a sharper perspective from where it once appeared blurry. Like the children, the parents are also trying to survive. And hopefully, there is a support system in place to help them through the 'life stuff'.

My mom has been gone for just over 3 years now. Celebrating another birthday, without her, was easier than I thought it might be. I thought about where she was at, when she turned 35. And it gives me joy to know that she was happy, beginning a new life for herself--and in some ways, for her children, too. I'd like to think that she knows that I'm happy, as well. To see all that has changed since she was here--and maybe God did grant her request for a 'news feed' of sorts. Wouldn't that be the coolest thing? To have social network up there, keeping tabs on earth-bound loved ones. But then I hear that Heaven is so grand--a place where time stands still. So it may be such that when I arrive and see my mom, it will seem as if no time at all has passed, for her.

I wish I could put time in a bottle. Not to save it up, or spend it later. What I want to put in that bottle are the memories of my kids when they were little. They still are kinda little, but I'm painfully aware of how fast it all has gone by. This kindergarten chapter, this going to school every day now...it has hit me that the time I have with them gets shorter, each year. My daughter will go to preschool, next year. The comments I hear the most, about that milestone, is all the extra time I will have. And that is something--time to do all the stuff that is hard to do when they are at home.

Lately, I've been convicted of how more often than not, I will find things to do other than play with my kids. It makes me sad, partly because my mind is always thinking of the next thing I have to do...and all the while, the days go by, the months, the years..."cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man and the moon..." Just like that old song, I'll wish that I would have said 'no' to the list, and got on the floor with them, instead.

My dad has a unique propensity for remaining somewhat child-like, even at his grandfatherly age. I have many memories of bike rides, going to the parks, wrestling on the stinky floor(yes, there was 'gas' involved), playing softball, board games and cards. Those happy times are good filters against the unpleasant circumstance of life. I think that somewhere in there, I'm a lot like him. I need to remind myself of what it means 'to play'.

Kids are so creative. I love that about them. Cardboard boxes are turned into doghouses for stuffed animals--complete with an attached doggie door, made out of a paper bag. Scotch tape is a commodity used for securing all kinds of things to the back of little tractors. The grill tongs are barracudas that eat squeaky bath-toy fishies. Spoons are dog bones, pillows and bean bags are rocks for the plastic snakes to hide under. Yarn and name-tag holders have now become dog leashes. Oh, another favorite: those metal holders for steeping loose tea? They are sharks that enjoy eating coins. The barbies go to parties--riding my little pony's and giant stuffed cats--as their coaches and carriages. Cinderella has gone lots of places, at our house! And then there is all the nature stuff on the kitchen island: tree bark, rocks, pine cones, and the glass jars with the 'bug of the day' catch. The fridge is covered in artwork...

Note to self: play with your kids today. The to-do list can wait 15 minutes...or maybe half an hour. We can't bottle up time for later, but the memories we choose to make will always be with us.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Our Captive Audience

We've returned from our end of summer trek out west: ten days away, 3,712 miles logged, 8 states crossed...loads of laundry later, it still feels like I've been home only a few days. With school starting, 30 hours after pulling into our driveway, I feel caught up in a whirlwind of fall activities--kind of like those dust storms we saw rolling across the interstate as we made our way home. Now that its October, the frenzy of activity hasn't stopped. Just shifted--now we're into harvest season. I'm enjoying this warm weather and the deepening of fall colors in our area.

Back to our adventure. Was it long enough? Nope. Did the time go by fast. Yep. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. I can't tell you how good it was to leave our house in good hands, so we could put our hands on the wheel and see new places. Taking two small children on such a journey seemed daunting. I wondered, as the days lead up to our departure, was I crazy for wanting to do this now? Maybe we should wait a few more years.

I'm glad that we didn't wait. Our life as we know it has a lot of inertia at the change of seasons. We miss seeing each other when the long hours at work--and in our fields--take us away from just being together. When that happens, subtle changes in behavior become noticeable--not only in our kids, but with us a well. We all get a little cranky, you know? And we had our cranky moments on the road. Mostly on the long night drives, trying to get our hotel in that next town, only to do more driving the next day.

I lost track of the number of times Adrian asked, "Can we climb that mountain? How 'bout that one, over there?" Poor little guy. I had to tell him no, every time, because our schedule didn't allow for long hikes...and those cliffs were asking for trouble with our adventurous kids. But we did have our stops: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, and some great rest areas for grilling out at lunch time. It was fun to do that and hang out together. At one stop, we heard a strange clicking sound...apparantly, they have clicking grasshoppers out west. The kids were having a great time catching them. I discovered that one of Samantha's love languages is touch. She didn't quite meet her daily 'touch quota' while we traveled. She constantly asked, "Mom, can you hold me?" I kept telling her 'no', as I reached back my arm to hold onto her leg...sorry honey, gotta keep those confining seatbelts on...don't you wish we could travel like we did, as kids? It wasn't as safe, but it sure was more comfortable! My favorite place was the Grand Prismatic Spring, in Yellowstone. We stopped at dusk, just as the sun was setting. The steam from the geysers was rolling upwards, catching the rays as the sun went down. I've never seen anything more beautiful than those pools of water, teeming with microbes that somehow survive those hot temps. Those microscopic critters are what give the water its amazing hues of orange and turquoise. Adrian and I had a great time, tromping along the boardwalk--resisting the urge to run and reach over the boundary lines. The pictures were quite good, coming from an ordinary point and shoot camera. Soon they will be canvased on the wall in my house: a visual reminder of a place that made me feel so alive.

We had a great time visiting my aunt, uncle, and cousins--in their home state of Oregon. We saw many different landscapes: desert-like trails along the gorge, the falls at Multnomah with so much greenery and moss, to the Japanese Gardens in Portland. I loved every part of it and was glad they took us around to some of their favorite places. The kids liked the Bonneville Fish Hatchery the best. They got to feed Rainbow Trout--schools of them! It was fun to watch. There were also Salmon and some enormous Sturgeon kept there--one of them was like 8 feet long--wow.

I didn't buy much for souvenirs. Just took lots of pictures of mountains and the changes in scenery along the way. The kids picked out toys from the Fish hatchery--a plastic snake and a stuffed-fish(I guess it isn't really a 'stuffed animal' is it?). But there was one thing that I did buy. Something that will be forever treasured and personal: a canvased painting from my aunt. She is quite the artist, with over 30 years experience in her field. It was fun to see her artwork displayed on the walls of her house. When my eyes locked on "Sky Blue", I knew it had to make its way back to Minnesota...and hang on my wall. The colors, the water, the rocks--yep, that resonates somewhere deep inside me. Probably has something to do with an important family vacation we took. I was about five when we went up to Thunder Bay, way up by Canada. I remember skipping along the rocky shore, jumping over the water--I just wanted to keep on going...my poor, pregnant mother, chasing me down--probably certain that I would slip and fall into the frigid water below. I can't help myself: got my dad's spirit of adventure, and it is alive and well. Both my kids have it too: it was hard to contain them on our trip. There was no path they wouldn't get off of and try to explore! So when I saw my aunt's painting...I just knew it would come home with me. Mary and Dale were kind enough to ship it out so it wouldn't get damaged in our jam-packed van on the way home. Every time I look at it, I think of her--and how happy I am to have inherited adventure and appreciation for beauty: from both sides of my family.

Another aspect of our trip that was great: windshield time with Troy. We talk the most when we drive together. The joke is that I can never sleep when he drives because he won't let me. It never fails: I close my eyes and he's saying, "Hey, look at that." Or, he starts engaging in deeper conversation. Here's the interesting flip side of that: so when I talk to him--like at home, on the couch--he falls asleep. Go figure! This has been the situation for 15 years. Maybe its genetic...or maybe I am that boring(LOL). In reality, there is little time left at the end of the day, just to share. But when behind the wheel, its a different story. I get to hear what's going on with Troy. We talk about our hopes, dreams, frustrations. I wouldn't trade cheap airfare for the time we got on the road that week. It was priceless.

Here's to travel: maybe you've got some gravel in it, maybe its on the paved road. The Spirit of Adventure is out there(yes, we watched 'UP' on the way back). Can't wait to do it again and get away from what is too often a hectic, over-scheduled life. I'm glad for our little jaunts, too--like up to the cabin for a weekend. It's a lot of work to prepare for, but its always worth the trip. Lately, my "travel" has consisted of driving a new kindergartener to school, back and forth, each day. We take the paved road in, and the dirt road home--looking for combines, in the fields along the way. And in between, my brave little man is slowly telling me about his day. My little girl is also happy to have some 'mom-time', all to herself, as we run errands together in the morning. I know the day will come when they both will grow up and fly away. I'm learning to treasure our daily travels together in this busy season of life. For it is also priceless.