Florida hurricanes aren't what we expected. We thought they'd be like strong weather warnings in Lexington, where people flock to the stores to stock up on bacon and eggs and then stay in their cozy houses for days until the snow and ice subsides. Hurricane Sandy has been about as underwhelming as Tropical Storm Debby a few months ago, complete with people posting sarcastic pictures of their tipped over plastic lawn chairs as "storm damage". We've had two very windy and rainy nights in a row, but the days weren't any stormier than a normal Florida fall day.
People don't stay in for hurricanes, either. We've been on the local
news site today, looking at images of people lining the boardwalks to watch the
high waves cresting just a few feet below them.
I enjoy the cooler days because the kids finally get to wear the jackets I have to buy for them "just in case" but never use.
The weather did hit Fort Pierce a little harder than Vero Beach, so Craig telecommuted on Friday instead of driving south to work. The ducks got an unexpected mid-morning visit from all five of us.
My girls wore raincoats to keep from getting wet and my boy stomped through the storm gutters in his sandals. This is typical. Just moments after this pictute, he fell headlong into the water.
The interesting thing about Florida weather is that it's actually more pleasant to go out on bad weather days than on normal days when it's just plain hot and humid. No bothers with sunscreen, no sweaty clothes to change at home.
This is a typical Florida picture. Raincoat because it's cute, and no pants or shoes because it's still 84 degrees. My kids are in for a rude awakening if we ever move to a climate where shoes are mandatory.
That evening Devon put on this year's Halloween costume for the first time. Someone gave us the conductor overalls and hat when Devon was still in newborn sizes. We've been saving it for his third Halloween, and probably his fourth and fifth. As you can see, it's still a bit big.
When the kids were in bed, Craig and I got started on our Date Night: making a float for the Vero Beach Halloween parade. I was a bit surprised that the parade hadn't been cancelled since it was going to be held on Day 2 of Hurricane Sandy, but the recreation department assured us that it was still on.
I drew the face on the tagboard freehanded, and Craig took a boxcutter to one of the wardrobe boxes we've been storing since our last move.
We painted, glued, and punched holes.
We started at 8 and were just letting the paint dry at 1. It will definitely be remembered as one of our more fun and unusual Date Nights. We look forward to doing things like this WITH our kids in the future, but right now they're just too young.
Devon's face when we showed him "Big Thomas in the Garage" made the late night worth it. We reassembled Thomas in the Vero Beach High School parking lot, anchoring it firmly with twine against the predicted high winds. We found our group, Treasure Coast Twins, all of whom were dressed up and much admired:
Kaley and Ryley
Robert and Ryan
Noah and Julianna
Carrie and Melina rode in the "Sodor Line Caboose" behind Devon's Thomas. You can see that we put more effort into making him happy this time around. Since the girls aren't really into wearing shoes, headbands, hats, or any article of clothing they can remove, I wasn't sure it was possible to get them into a costume. They ended up really loving the butterfly wings I bought for them, but more in the eating sense of the word.
We took a group picture,
...and then the conductor decided to get this train moving!
Craig dressed to loosely suggest Mr. Topham Hatt. I looked for a top hat at Walmart to complete the look, but didn't find one in the costume aisle.
I didn't want to wear a dress and be Lady Hatt in winds that were predicted to top 25 mph. I went as one of the "workers".
The kids were definitely a perfect age to enjoy being in a parade. I hope our twins group decides to do a float for Christmas. Devon waved to the families who came out to watch, many of whom took pictures of the little conductor driving his Thomas.
The parade ended at the community center, where everyone got a bag of treats.
Devon enjoyed showing off his Thomas. It was one of the perks of having little twin sisters. Not only did our huge triple stroller serve as the form that kept his train rolling, but we never would've thought to participate in the Halloween parade if we hadn't been part of a group. It was SO MUCH FUN!
We tried for a good family picture, but by the time we got back to the car it was noon and the kids were showing signs of wear. Carrie was sucking her thumb and Devon was cheerfully dismantling a piece of red licorice and spitting little pieces all over Thomas.
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Wednesday night was Blue Night at Awanas, and Craig was working late. I wrestled Devon into his blue Puggles shirt, blue jeans, blue socks, and blue shoes. Then I opened a Fun Size M&M's and lined them up on the coffee table to entertain Devon while I found something blue for the girls to wear.
"OOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNEEEEEE treat! Crunch! TWOOOOOOO treats! Crunch!"
When the kids were buckled in their car seats and my hand was poised to put the key in the ignition, I realized that I had given no thought to my own appearance. Being from Lexington, Kentucky, I have at least five Wildcats shirts that would've been appropriate for Blue Night Awanas, but my recent struggles to get the laundry done mean I've lost interest in changing my clothes unless something is really dirty. If I don't go out, my black yoga pants and t-shirt can last the evening, turn into nightwear, and make it into the hamper the next afternoon after I've finally gotten around to exercising.
I decided that my white tank top and jeans would be all right, but I traded my purple Crocs for the only pair of blue shoes I owned. Flip flops are always a good choice for Florida. Floridians wear flip flops everywhere: to church, the store, the beach, to job interviews. I'm pretty sure they even get married in flip flops. I'm sure that thought popped into my head because my flip flops were periwinkle, a color that featured heavily at my wedding and is no longer in style. I tried to remember how old these shoes were. Six years? Nine?
At a stoplight I looked at myself in the child-minder mirror, noticing a new and colorful bruise on my upper lip. Devon gave Carrie an affectionate head-butt while she was sitting on my lap earlier, sending her head into my face and making all three of us cry a little. I was reminded of the bruises that my Dad would get from pitching practice with Tim. Proud that his son could throw a fastball hard enough to leave a mark, Dad would always have Tim sign his name on them with a Sharpie. I wondered what people would think if I let Devon sign my face. Probably not a good idea, since he colored his first wall a week ago and we're trying to teach him what is appropriate for coloring (paper) and what is not (tables, walls, the computer monitor, the floor, and yes, people's faces).
I hadn't had time to put on makeup, which may have covered the bruise a little. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only mom who manages to dress several children in cute matching clothes but doesn't give much more thought to her own appearance than a daily shower. When the girls turned one year old, I made a personal resolution to be presentable and wear makeup if I was going to an "adult activity" (church, lunch with friends, the mall, etc.). I made a real effort for a month, which sometimes meant going out in my red leather Bohemian sandals, tan Capri pants with beach sand still in the pockets, my Wallace and Gromit t-shirt, and full evening makeup. Then I stopped caring again.
When I'm out by myself with the kids, I like to think I'm "hidden in plain sight". Everybody still looks at us, but definitely more at the giant green stroller careening towards them with seventy pounds of children in it. I'm the least interesting part of the ensemble, grunting and sweating like Serena Williams in the back.
This time, not so much. As Devon hopped onto the rumble seat and I threw my weight right to swing around, I felt the toe strap of my flip flip let go of the sole. I looked down at the absurd periwinkle Hawaiian flower that now swung freely over the top of my foot. I didn't have another pair of shoes in the car. I'd have to go home and change. I threw my weight left and started to swing back around.
Devon began to cry.
"I want Mommy play Awanas! I want Mommy play Awanas!" he wailed.
"Devon--," I started.
"ON THE FIRST DAY GOD CREATED THE LIGHT! ON THE SECOND DAY GOD CREATED THE SKY! ON THE THIRD DAY GOD CREATED THE GRASS, THE TREES, THE FLOWERS, AND THE BEGGETABLES!"
I couldn't go home.
I shoved my foot further into the dangling shoe and limped on my heel into Awanas, stroller swaying right to left. I parked the Green Machine outside the baby room and threw my ruined shoes in the bottom.
Devon took my hand and shivered with excitement. He's far too young to be embarrassed by how his Mommy looks, barefoot or not. He put on his shy face and barely greeted Miss Erin and Miss Kristi. I think it's funny that they've barely heard him talk, while he'll chatter on and on about them on the ride home, in the bath, and straight through to bedtime. We marched in a circle and played our instruments to the Puggles song. I watched Devon's frown of concentration as he spread glue on his paper plate sun and his smile when Miss Erin shook glitter on it. We learned the next installment of the lesson Devon will repeat for me:
"ON THE FOURRRRRRRRRTH DAY, GOD CREATED THE SUUUUUNNNNNNNNN!"
Forty-five minutes later, I was called out of the room by my friend Laura who is also the Early Childhood Ministries director. She gestured to the Green Machine, still parked outside the room. Perched on the front seat were a new pair of flip flops.
My desperate waddle through the parking lot had not gone unnoticed. Someone had gone to nearby Beall's department store and bought me some shoes so I wouldn't have to wear my broken ones home.
Yet another reason why Wednesday night Awanas at First Church of God is the highlight of our week. If my son is surrounded by such loving and caring adults, surely he'll grow up to follow their example. Yet, church is not the only place where I see nice things happen to people. We just passed the one-year mark in Vero Beach, and we often pause with the strollers on our nightly walks and reflect on how much we love living here and how everyone in our community is so warm and friendly.
I admired the shoes, which were colorfully striped. They looked exactly like something I would pick off a rack, they were my size, and they fit perfectly. My anonymous benefactor has to be tall, too, guessing that as a tall person I have huge feet. I returned to Devon's classroom and told Miss Erin and Miss Kristi that I was the recipient of a random act of kindness. They admired what they called my "Blessing Shoes". The whole incident went right over Devon's head. He kept on singing, coloring, and playing "I'm going to get you!" with Andrew. He didn't notice that picking the girls up from the baby room, walking back to the car, and getting everyone safely loaded in the sprinkling rain took easily half as long as the trip inside.
I was having a hard time on Wednesday night, and someone decided to do something nice to make things easier for me. I have to admit, the hardest part was not pushing my giant stroller with one shoe flapping off my foot. The hardest part was letting someone help me.
Yes, I accepted the shoes and I was really thankful. I also felt my upper arms flush with embarrassment and I suddenly wanted to remind everyone that I had plenty of other shoes to wear. For a moment I wondered if anyone would notice if I just wore my old ones and put the new ones in the "needy people" collection area so they could "go to good use". Even after putting them on I was plotting in my mind how I would accept this gift, but pass it forward like a good, financially responsible Christian. On the way home we would all stop to buy some shoes that we could donate to CareNet so that my gift would help a really needy person. Emphasis on the adjective NEEDY. I don't fit that description. Thank you very much.
Then I got over it.
It's funny how much mental arithmetic I was doing to convince myself that I was not the kind of person who needed someone to go buy them a pair of shoes. My foot was getting scuffed from wearing my broken shoe like an ankle bracelet. My kids tend to get wired and overemotional when tired, and it was my sole responsibility to get them home and into bed. With Devon wanting to walk beside the stroller and me limping ineffectively after him with the girls in the stroller, it was going to take forever. I was EXACTLY the kind of person who needed a pair of shoes.
A needy person.
My Women's Bible Study has been reading in our book about how being overly self-sufficient can really be a mask for pride. It's easy to spend all our time figuring out how to meet our own needs and the needs of our families, losing sight of our total dependence on God. The phrase "God helps those who help themselves" appears nowhere in the Bible. Here's what the Bible DOES say about people who try to get through life by solely relying on themselves:
"You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Rev. 3:17).
It doesn't sound like we're meant to have much confidence in our own strength.
Nothing gives me more reminders of my own shortcomings than being a mom. Sometimes I'll manage to get everything together, and some days I admit defeat at 10 a.m. and say a quick prayer that my kids will still be alive and reasonably well by suppertime. The first step to accomplishing all I am meant to do is letting go of my need to control, realizing that I can't do everything. God gave me my family and the energy to serve them, and sometimes all of my time and effort for that day isn't enough. It's a reminder to trust God to lead my family and meet their needs even when I fail.
I also need to graciously accept help when I need it. If one of my friends called me in the mid-afternoon and said she was having a hard time and needed some help, I'd drop everything. The kids and I would hop in the car, pick a drive-thru, and show up in minutes to give someone we care about a break. It would be fun! Ironically, thanks to my pride I'd rather suffer in silence in the middle of a really hard week than let someone else do that for me. How many times have I answered the offer of help with a clippy "I got it!" instead of a smile and a thank you.
I don't think I'm the only one. I hear on the radio about someone who pays for themselves and the person behind them in the toll line. So many times it seems person after person chooses to "pay it forward", paying for themselves and letting the car behind them get the blessing. There was even a contest to keep it going as long as possible. I'm assuming that when someone finally smiled and said "Wow, thanks! I really needed that today!" people got mad. How many people get an unexpected perk when that happens, even when hundreds of people pass it on? Still just one. Nobody decides to really pay it forward by paying for someone's coffee, feeding quarters to someone's meter before it runs out, mowing the lawn of an elderly neighbor, or being extra patient with their children. Nothing gets multiplied. People refuse the kindness of others and then feel like they've been let off the hook.
I don't feel like I need to do something nice for someone else to repay an anonymous act of kindness. I do kind things for others all the time, but not because I feel guilty when people do nice things for me. I don't want to be like that. I've worn my Blessing Shoes for three days straight. I really like them. Most of all, I know God put somebody in my life on Wednesday to take care of me AND to teach me something.
I've had plenty of opportunities to reflect on pride-free parenting this week. Last Sunday we decided to give our children a rare opportunity to visit a pumpkin patch. This is kind of hard in South Florida, where nobody really farms vegetables and alligators and armadillos are probably crawling around nearby if you get too rural. A local entrepreneur staged a "pumpkin patch" by throwing down some straw in the parking lot in back of the mall, artfully strewing around some trucked in pumpkins, and charging people $10 each to participate in a fall tradition. We instead drove to Sebastian only to find that a farm whose website had advertised a more authentic fall experience from 10-4 on Sundays had decided to close.
We decided to admit defeat and visit the Splash Pad on the way home. After all, the car thermometer said 84 degrees. We know it's time for fall, but don't feel a chill in the air or see the fall colors outside of the silk flower aisle at Michael's.
I hadn't packed a swim bag, so we stripped the girls down to their onesies. Devon's shorts got wet pretty fast and started to sag. I ignored the small pang of embarrassment I felt as I watched my girls shriek with delight as they ran through the water with Devon stepping out of his shorts to run more unencumbered behind them.
Who needs pumpkins? Or swimsuits, for that matter.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
Yesterday the kids woke up sick and cranky for the fifth day in a row. I tried to interest them in breakfast by asking Devon what he wanted to eat (oatmeal? toaster waffle? egg?).
"Popsicles!" he replied.
I couldn't think of a single reason why not.
We have a rule about popsicles. They're too sticky and messy for inside. They're either bathtub food or outside food. I strapped Carrie and Melina into the wagon, lifted Devon so he could stick his feet in his Cars boots, and grabbed a fistful of popsicles from the freezer.
We had breakfast on the front doorstep. As Devon sucked down his first and started on a second, I rocked him on the creaky porch swing and enjoyed something I rarely get in the mornings anymore now that we're up-and-out.
Time to think.
This week marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Devon is in love with his Cars boots.
Mommy chose Devon for last Saturday night's pick-a-child-and-go-shop-with-the-crazies-at-Walmart ritual. I rarely impulse buy but an article of clothing that Devon can put on by himself AND turns his feet into little Lightning McQueens seemed like a win-win. We ended up in the tobacco line for forty-five minutes. We always do. It's the only over-twenty-items line open after ten p.m. Devon hopped in and out, in and out of the boots, strutting around proudly. He checked out the people in the tabloid photos and made up stories about them.
"The girl went swimming in the cool (pool). She fell off the Froggy Potty and went boomps!"
"The man lost the monkey! Oh no! He is crying. In the bed."
I feel like we were really there for our community that night, providing much-needed entertainment for many jittery people in line behind us who decided a bit late that Nicoderm just wasn't going to get them through the weekend.
We picked up a nasty respiratory bug somewhere. We were all over the place before the coughs and crankies confined us to the house. We went to gymnastics.
When I got tired of things from Devon's closet showing up in his bed, we went to Home Depot to buy a lock for his closet door.
Door lock: 3 minutes.
Riding the John Deeres: 45 minutes.
We went to the Splash Pad like we do every week.
This was the first time I could sit and enjoy the fun.
Now that the girls are walking so well, I'm not hovering and waiting to lift them back to their feet when they want to crawl or nursing their skinned knees.
We took a Saturday morning trip to Cracker Barrel. Mommy took pictures of the kids while Daddy drove.
On the way into the restaurant, Craig asked "So, at what point do we order kids' meals for the kids?"
I smiled confidently, patting the bag where I had packed baby protein shakes, squeezies, and fish crackers. Ever since Cracker Barrel started skimping on the biscuits and corn muffins if ordering breakfast (Come on, say it ain't so, beacon of southern hospitality!) I have to pack food that will pass the time until they bring our food.
On the way out of the restaurant, I replied that the time for the Kids Menu has evidently come. The kids had a great time, devouring our entire bag of snacks and beaming bright-eyed at our pancakes and french toast. I got a half-piece of apple toast between feeding bites to the girls. Craig was a great sport. He couldn't have sneaked more than five bites of his own pancakes between Devon's demanding more. He patted his tummy modestly, saying that large southern portions aren't so good for us anyway.
We capped off the morning with a ride on the carousels at the mall.
They're perfect for us right now.
Three seats. Three kids.
Dave Ramsey would be proud.
Devon jolted my elbow, finished with his second popsicle and angling for a third. I frowned. It's a bit early for nothing to eat but Fla-vor-ices, which are nothing but fake dye and sugar. I ducked into the house for fish crackers, our staple these days.
At least four times a day we engage in our ritual "sharing of the fishies in the pikkmik table" as Devon calls it. I make three little mounds of fishies and the kids all sit down.
With a wave of the hand, I am dismissed, but I watch from a nearby chair to make sure nobody pushes, fights, or pulls hair. One set of Biblical twins damaged their relationship for decades by scheming over a "mess of pottage", so I can't underestimate the sharing of one's food in the area of positive family dynamics.
This week everybody sat primly in their seats, sneaking fishies from the piles in front of their siblings and passing on the ones set before them. Last week Devon enjoyed playing Creature from the Dark Lagoon. He would hide under the picnic table as the girls ate, snaking his arms like tentacles out from underneath to grab fishies from their piles and drag them back down to the depths. He called out to Carrie and Melina in his monster voice, using the new nicknames he's chosen for them.
He calls Carrie "Stink-A-Bunkers."
Melina is "Weenut Butter."
I filled the cupholders of the wagon with fishies and handed Devon the entire container to hold. He smiled incredulously at this embarrassment of fishy riches. As he gamely stuck an arm in the box, trying to see if he could bury it up to the elbow in his favorite snack, my disordered thoughts finally seized on the Bible verse I'd been trying to call to mind:
2 Corinthians 4:17: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
I've been sick too this week. Every afternoon I struggle to get my pitifully whining kids down for naps and collapse on the couch to be sick myself. I haven't had the energy or lung capacity to accomplish any of the goals I set last week: work out every other day, make significant progress on the baby books, rigidly enforce an 8:30 bedtime so Craig and I have some time to connect every night, and go to Awanas with Devon and help in his class. The virus and the shut-in lifestyle made us all cranky. It's been a struggle to convince the kids-- and myself-- that this week of illness is a light and momentary trouble.
I have only to check facebook to regain some of that perspective. A friend lost her mom unexpectedly this week, and another young family in the community is reeling from the loss of their six-week-old son. I think I have my problems, but in comparison my cup of grief has only one or two tiny drops in the bottom.
My mom's early morning phone call informed me that my Grandma Irma Jean Meth passed away last night. I watch my kids as they eat, seeing glimpses of my grandma in Devon's closed-mouth expression. I'm sad that they won't make kuchen with their great-grandmother in fourth grade like I did with mine. I wonder if they'll be great at spelling like grandma.
I indulge in a moment of confusion and frustration over her long season of illness, now finally over. She had Alzheimer's. She's been here-but-not-here since before Devon was born. When he was placed in her arms at ten weeks old, we saw only a twitch of response in her eyes. We never got to do the same with the girls. She didn't get to sing hymns over my babies like my parents do, harmonizing in her alto voice with my Grandpa.
We don't know exactly what happens in the mind of someone with Alzheimers. Was she aware the last few years and her body just lost the ability to respond? Did her mind flicker back and forth along the timeline of her life, reliving disjointed scenes and images? Did it hurt? Was she scared?
It doesn't seem "light" for her to gradually lose everything she knows, from the words to tell her daughters she's just had a haircut to where the silverware goes when setting the table to the comfort of living each day with her devoted husband. Nor does it seem "momentary" that Alzheimers took most of her last decade on earth.
The point of the verse is not to give us a spiritual pep talk or shame us out of feeling bad when life seems hard. It gives us this hope: future glory outweighs present suffering.
Grandma opened her eyes in heaven last night. Just the first moment was wonderful enough to make her last five years no more painful or inconvenient than a sneeze. The degeneration that started the moment she became part of no-longer-perfect creation on a fallen earth reversed with the screech and zip of a rewinding cassette tape. She reached out tentative mental fingers to find that the space between her's ears didn't feel foggy anymore. I'm sure that it's pretty amazing to meet God in his house for the very first time, but how much more so to reach out to him with arms that are moving for the first time in years.
It's been compared to turning off the nightlight because dawn has come, reaching the home you never knew you were always looking for, or just (for children) falling asleep in the carseat and waking up to find that Daddy has unhooked your seat belt, straightened your crooked neck, and carried you in to your own soft bed where you belong. I know the comfort of the scripture's promises of heaven are general. The real thing will defy comparison.
I don't think she's an angel watching over us. If heaven is a place out of time, it makes sense to me that no matter when we die we all get there at the same time. We stay here and live out the days God has chosen for us. Most importantly we teach our children about him, hoping that they will make the same choice we have and be given the same gift of heaven. Grandma is DONE with all that.
I'd like to think that in life out of time we can somehow relive how we were at any moment in time. If she wants to, she can give baby Devon the squeeze she wanted to give him two years ago. She's holding Carrie and Melina as babies, walking with one slippery toddler hand in each of hers, and seeing them graduate college all at the same time. It makes me a little jealous. It's tempting to think of heaven like one big after-party, but it's not. Most of all it's the beginning of real life exactly how we're meant to live it.
Since she's already seemed "gone" for so long, my Grandma's death feels more to me like the death of sickness. The dear woman I remember happy, healthy, and fully in control is very much alive.
Psalm 116:15: "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."