June 2014

Because God Shows Up At Dance Parties

by Priscilla on June 24, 2014

One thing I’ve had to be honest about myself these past few years is that when I wasn’t looking I turned into a fuddydud. I know hipsters don’t use the word fuddydud anymore. In fact, whenever I type the word fuddy, auto correct changes it to buddy.  I’ve mentioned before that I quit listening to music as much and started tuning into all news stations. I turned up my nose at hit TV shows and loyally watched my PBS or BBC. I put on the pounds and I put off spontaneity .

In February I wrote about my diet challenge with some friends. I failed to let you all know that I shed 15 pounds as well as 30 cholesterol points. (All while eating a lot of eggs and bacon so don’t let people tell you eggs and bacon is poisoning you.)

Growing up Baptist, I wasn’t allowed to attend dances, but I’ve always loved to dance. When I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to take tap lessons. After watching a Broadway musical, I’d shut the door to my room, move the furniture around and pretend I owned the stage and danced and tapped and swooped (quite horribly), but I felt free…and happy…and I always, always, always, was keenly aware that God was watching all of it….and it was Good.

Losing the weight, coupled with coming to camp has reminded me of loving to dance. Not the lewd, attention grabbing moves of music award shows. I’m talking the hey we are all in this together massive crowd dancing that if we are lucky, happens once or twice in our lives.

Today, the weather at camp was a director’s nightmare – on and off again storms. Clearing the waterfront and ball fields and getting kids to safe areas until the storms passed created confusion for a few minutes, and somehow, I found myself in the dining hall with about 150, 7-12 year old campers and their counselors. One of the leaders (who knew what he was doing because not every 20 something can pull this off) started playing music – just the right music that this age likes – and for the next 30-40 minutes, the kids danced. The counselors danced. The kids and counselors danced together. And the 40 something woman who’d buried her dancing shoes so far away in her heart, got up and jumped, and clapped and grooved and sang right along with them.

I am so sick of Frozen’s, Let it Go, but Let It Go crooned with a crowd of sweaty, eager kids, singing their hearts out is another story. Kids off all races…some from foreign countries. Kids on the autism spectrum. Athletes. Dr. Who Geeks, Skinny kids. Chubby kids. Kids going through some very tough stuff at home. Kids from stable families. Scholarships kids and kids whose parents could buy the entire place. Together this tribe skipped around to Best Day of My Life and pointed fingers at each other declaring That’s what makes you beautiful!

And with each step and jump and bellow, the years of fuddyduddiness slowly started to fall away. I looked around and thought What a gift. We thought we wanted sunshine, but the Father sent us rain instead, and in that rain, we found community in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time in an unexpected way. The God who looked on my dancing in my room alone as a girl allowed me to grow up and be a woman dancing with an enormous room full of children – terrible moves and all. No hiding. No need to. The best part? My girls were a part of this big hot mess, and they watched their mother twirl and spin, and then they twirled and spun with her.

Rain comes into our lives when we least want it. It disrupts well laid plans. It drives us from where we think we are supposed to be, doing what we believe we must do. It sometimes causes us to rub shoulders very closely with unexpected people from unexpected places. Sometimes this can frustrate, but, sometimes, if we are patient, despite the rain and the wind and the thunder; despite the grey clouds that continuously roll in with no signs of letting up, someone cues the music. Someone starts to tap his foot. Someone stands up and begins to clap to the rhythm. Someone starts to dance. A few people shed all fears of self image and lose themselves in the music, and before we know it, God shows up, and community happens.

Rain is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to ruin our plans. In fact, sometimes it transforms what we thought we wanted to do, into something our soul needed to experience.

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Tom’s Top 10

by Priscilla on June 15, 2014

My father is no longer with me physically, but, never have I felt him in spirit as I do in this place. This camp that he and I shared. This non school  that taught us so many life lessons. This haven. This connecting space. This small island of peace.

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Every Father’s Day as I peruse all the Facebook postings of friends about their fathers and grandfathers, and as I click “like” on so many photos and memories, I have to smile at what my dad would think of my taking so much time to peer into others’ worlds.

Quit wasting so much time in front of that boob tube and get out and DO something.

He’d be right. He was always right. Always.

So I am.

I’m writing, Dad. Are you happy? It’s going to be about you.

My father. The man I always looked for and found in church by his shiny, bald head. The one my friend said looked like Vincent Price now, when I told her he looked like Clark Gable when he was young.

The truth is I never knew my father young. I came along about a quarter way into his 54th year. The phrase I think I heard most from people who didn’t know me or my family well? Priscilla, your Grandpa’s here to get you!. Sometimes out in public we’d run into patients who didn’t know Dad’s, eh-hem, fathering skills, and we’d get, Oh, Dr. Brown! Grandpa’s out with the girls tonight!

For the longest time I hated, HATED, having a father that was so ooooold. One that sported pull on leather ankle boots (That he’d pay me 15 cents to shine. He invented slave labor.)  instead of boat shoes. One that liked to garden instead of golf and donned button downs instead of Izods. Hipster is a word that will never be used to describe Dad.

I thank God for that. Dad could break a hipster in two. Probably still can.

I was reared by a full grown man. By the time I came along, he’d weathered, poverty, war, disease and death just to name a few adverse situations. The kid who couldn’t catch a break, grew into the man who who went out and made his own, and here’s just a fraction of what he taught me:

1.) Suck.It.Up. Life is tough. It’s tough for everyone. If you want something, you can’t expect anyone else to go out and do it for you. It’s all on you.

2.) The best education you can get is to shut up and listen to what others have to say. (Haven’t quite mastered this one yet, Dad. You surprised?)

3.) Exercise every day.

4.) Don’t overeat…but one bowl of ice cream a day won’t kill you…neither will a piece of apple pie now and then.

5.) Make the very best of every educational opportunity thrown your way. I’m not paying for you to be part of some  fashion show. I’m paying for you to get an education so I don’t want to hear any more of this bellyachin’ about how strict your principal is about the dress code. (See #8)

6.) Don’t have sex unless you are ready to have kids. Don’t come home expecting me to raise your kids if you get pregnant. I’ve already raised my kids. When you have sex, you are saying you are mature enough to be a parent.(Scared the abstinence right into me.)

7.) Be in awe of the outdoors. Spend as much time as you can in it. Work in it. Play in it. Sleep in it. Be in it.

8.) Quit Yer’ Bellyachin’. (Other variations include Quit yer Moanin’ and Quit Yer Bitchin’. The use of the word bitchin’ meant I’d crossed the line.)  This is an extension of Suck.It. Up.

9.) Lose that extra 10 pounds. It’s bad for your heart.

10.) Kids will keep you young. Your kids. Your grandkids. Other people’s kids. Keep them around. Play with them. Work with them. Coach them. Enjoy them.

Love you, Dad. Here in our special place with kids – your grandkids and everyone else’s as well.  Thanks for leaving Crosley as part of your legacy.

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Don’t Poke the Bear

by Priscilla on June 8, 2014

Several years back found me on the proverbial couch. No, it was the literal couch – of a counselor’s office. Nope, not ashamed to admit I was fighting Depression among other things, and I wasn’t too proud to get professional and medical help. My father had died, my husband’s job took him away months at a time, and I was raising twin 4 year olds virtually alone. This wasn’t exactly the rosy scenario I’d filled out in my senior scrapbook page entitled Where will you be in 20 years?

Among the many things I was berating myself over in this particular session, I finally opened up and shared what I thought was my darkest secret. The one truth that proved I was a horrible, horrible mother.

I don’t feel connected to my kids, I admitted.

Shamed.

On the outside I looked like the good mom. I fed them all the right things. Toted them to the library for wonderful story hour programs. Got them out and about with friends and family. Allowed messes all over the place. Ok, yes, sometimes I forgot to feed them and thus the now famous Hotdogs in the Bathtub incident (for you readers who have followed me the longest – you know of which I speak.) But for the most part they were clothed for public appearances, and their hair contained only trace amounts of PB&J on the majority of occasions.

But something was wrong with me. I wasn’t like other moms. I didn’t adore my daughters. (That’s adOOOOre with multiple capital O’s.)

Other moms discussed how much they loved motherhood.

I didn’t. I just sat and listened wondering what the h-e–double hockey sticks was wrong with me. These creatures wiped me out. They refused to potty train instead asking for a pull up so they could go quietly poop in the corner, while never giving me a private moment whenever I entered the bathroom They woke up with night terrors in the middle of the night. They strewed boxes of feminine products all over the closet declaring, We’re having a tea party, mommy!  I gave, and I gave, and I gave, and I gave, and what other mothers were getting from their kids, I wasn’t. I was just numb.

Something was wrong with me. I was a horrible mother. After all, I’d suffered a miscarriage before their births. I knew how many women ached to hold children, and I was blessed to have these girls in my life. I had friends who were childless not by choice, and  I could drop multiple eggs in one fell swoop and, bam! Two babies at once. These ladies should be the moms. Not me. I felt nothing.

Just shame.

I can’t remember what my dear counselor said, but I know that she helped me lay down my feelings of unworthiness at the foot of the cross and walk away. Oh, every once in a while, I’d walk back and pick up the burden and try to shoulder it for a while, until I recognized that this didn’t help myself or anyone else in my life so I’d turn around, head back to the cross, and lay down my burden…again….and again…and again.

Last week Grace showed up.

Twice.

The first time was when I was following the girls home on their bikes. Riding bikes with them to and from school has become a little ritual. Twin A would rather I not be a part of the ritual, but B likes me being there. B is my favorite  for the time being. There’s a part of the ride where we come to an intersection. We have the right-away, but I explained to the girls that they need to ride defensively because not everyone at the STOP sign would recognize that we don’t have a stop sign, and they might turn in front of them. Sure enough. On this day, a young teenager pulled out right in front of Twin A. Thankfully, she’d slowed, remembering my warnings, but that didn’t stop me from making the Italian gesture of Wow, your pistons aren’t fully firing today, and I say that in all Christian love, accompanied by a loud declaration of She had the right away, you Dumbass!

The look on the driver’s face was on of sheer confusion. The look on my kids’ was shock…and then delight.

Mom used a word they weren’t supposed to – she didn’t just use it – she screamed it – in a public roadway. Look, girls, I explained when we got home, Anyone who almost kills my kid is a Dumbass, okaySo, there is nothing wrong with my shouting “Dumbass” because I guarantee he won’t make the same mistake twice at that intersection. You are my kids, and no one is going to mess with my kids, dammit. Another look of delight flashed between the two of them. Mom was being naughty.

The good little Baptist girl in me felt guilty….for five seconds, and then I thought, No, those were my kids, and I was acting like a Mama Bear. I will not feel guilty. And I don’t.

A few days later I was standing on the beach of the camp where I’m working this summer watching a Missing Child Drill.  I’m so thankful this camp practices this drill over, and over, and over.  I took part in this drill myself years ago so I knew what to expect and what I should be looking for. What I wasn’t expecting was my reaction.

As the bell rang continuously, and all these college aged kids converged, running down the stairs and out to the dock to do their sweeps and dives, my throat closed and tears flooded my eyes. What in the world? Good thing I was wearing sunglasses. But, I couldn’t stop the lump or the tears. All I could think was, What if it were my girls they were looking for? What if it were my friends’ kids. “God, please don’t let this happen this summer in this place,” I whispered.

Then it hit me. While both events were disarming, they were also  gifts. How in the world are a near bike wreck and subsequent public swearing along with a safety drill gifts? What does Grace have to do with any of it? What kind of freaked out theological lesson am I gleaning from two seemingly unconnected events?

Me – the tired mom who failed to adoooore her children a few years back – had morphed into a Mama Grizzly protecting her cubs and worrying about all the other cubs under her care this summer.

Motherhood isn’t a feeling. It’s an action. All of it. And when we are constantly acting, we wear out even to the point of not having enough neurons or whatever it is we need to feel. Motherhood is doing not simply being.

So, if you are a mother out there is completely wiped out by all the series of actions you repeat day after day after day, don’t question your feelings or lack of them. Look at your actions. They (mundane as they may feel) are what define the job you are doing. If you ain’t feelin’ it so to speak, don’t beat yourself up. The feelings will come. Grace will show up and remind you that you are indeed worthy of this job on which God has bestowed you. You’ve. Got. This. Just take off that backpack of guilt and naysaying, lay it at the cross and walk away.

Someday, if you’re lucky, you’ll have the pleasure of swearing at the top of your lungs for the sake of your children, and they won’t think of you as a hypocrite; they’ll see you for what you really are….Mama Bear.

 

 

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This week ends the chapter in my life known as The Great Lunch Lady Experiment of the 2013/14 School Year. I thought I might want to re-enter the world of teaching, but I kind of wanted to see what my kids’ school system is like up close and personal first.  The experiment is concluding, and I’ve decided against pursuing the education career route, not because the fish sticks aren’t up to par, but because I left teaching before all this testing nonsense was implemented, and now I can see first hand how much teachers’ hands are tied thanks to horrible government oversight and wimpy leadership at local and state levels refusing to fight back at all this federal requirement nonsense.

That being said, all was not in vain. Please allow me a few minutes to share my insights, lessons learned and even admonitions.

1.) If a child feels the need to vomit, he or she waits until I am the closest Lunch Lady in physical proximity to him or her. Never mind that my gag reflex is off-the-charts. You want empathic up chucks, I can deliver empathetic up-chucks. Thanks to a few close calls and more clean ups than I care to remember, I can now identify the look of an “Ohhhh, whatever I just ate is coming right back up,” look of any student and can hurry him or her off to the school nurse where she can oversee the rest of the process.

2.) Dole makes about the worst packaging for fruit cups out there. Parents, your kids need to train at CrossFit at least three times weekly in order to pull the tops off of these things, and then, they, or the lunch ladies or at least three other kids at the table or the collective group of us will all be showered with the sticky mess of syrup that spits out of the over filled container. STOP BUYING THESE THINGS!

3.)  Those tear off yogurt sticks don’t tear off.  They tear half way and even then it’s about the dotted line and the Lunch Lady has to come over with scissors to do the rest. Multiply this by 95, and you’ve just completed my job description. STOP BUYING THESE THINGS AS WELL!

4.) Fruit flavored snacks are not fruit. You might as well just send a plastic baggy filled sugar cubes – same nutritional content.  STOP BUYING THESE THINGS!

5.) Parents, stop complaining about Mrs. Obama’s lunch plans. Your kids don’t like school lunches – here’s a novel idea – pack them! Or,  GASP! Teach your child to eat what is in front of him or her without complaint. Seriously, people, these lunches – at least the lunches in our hometown school system – are so much more healthy than they used to be. Quite frankly, some of you could take a lesson in lunch packing from Michelle because your ideas about healthy lunches are less than healthy. Healthy is not  those colossal sodium bombs known as Lunchables along with some compressed Fruit-On-A-String, washed down with Gatorade (Because our children run through those electrolytes like no one’s business in their first few hours of sitting in a classroom. ) Yes, the federal lunch program is not perfect. Heaven knows I’m no fan of big government and its waste, but Kathleen Parker, of the Washington Post, couldn’t have said it better than she did in this column. Frankly, I think she’s been reading my mind.

6.) Buying Honest Kids drink pouches might make you feel good about yourself, but they just make me feel like hell  (…and your kids still lie.)  If you insist on adding to the earth’s landfill, at least do it with Capri Sun pouches. Those nice folks over there know how to do a straw insert pouch better than anyone else in the business. (Yes, I now have become an expert on drink pouches and juice boxes as well.)

7.) All respect to the First Lady, I don’t know who out there in Lunch Plan Land decided that the food pyramid needed to include 1st graders turned loose with mini tubs of marinara or syrup, but they need to be sent to Cafeteria De La Guantanamo.

8.) On my worst days, I can be guaranteed a minimum of  25 hugs from kindergartners. These negated every single marinara bomb ever.

9.) Another note to Lunch Plan Leader – children in kindergarten and first grade lose a collective, 3,598,120 teeth per year. This is not the time to serve whole giant apples.

10.) Kids will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING for an I tried it! sticker. The other day I announced to one grade that everyone had to eat at least five bites of salad.  My coworker whipped out those stickers, and before I could say Kale is King! I’d slapped at least 35 of those puppies on kids lining up showing me their green, leafy smiles.

11.) For the love of Pete let’s quit assigning our kids seats in order to socialize them. They don’t get up and run around or yell across the cafeteria when they get to sit with their friends. Here’s the lovely thing – it appears the lessons we’ve been teaching and living out in front of them are taking. Today, I noticed upon announcing that kids could sit anywhere this last week of school, there were no socio economically or ethnically divided groups.  Without any interference from any adults, the kids mixed themselves up quite nicely. The only segregation I noticed was between sexes, but that’s to be expected at this age. When they are older, we won’t be able to segregate the sexes no matter how hard we try, so let’s take what we can get , when we can get it.

12.) Never before in my life did I fully understand or respect the work that the folks who work in the cafeteria do – from the supervisor, to the servers, to the maintenance lady, to crowd control (my job.) I thought teaching was exhausting. It’s nothing compared to watching 730 hungry children armed only with blue plastic gloves and children’s scissors. My hat is forever off to these lovely men and women who serve our children on a daily basis. You are not only wonderful coworkers, you are also mentors, encouragers, coaches, not to mention three-ring-circus leaders. You watch for allergies. You wipe away tears. You listen quietly to the stories of sadness and give hugs of joy when good news is announced. You greet the new student who arrives shyly in the middle of the year and say goodbye to the kid who has to move because things just aren’t going so well with his family life.  You cajole the grumpy kid into trying the broccoli and quietly mop up the spilled milk for the 38th time. You watch out for the lonely girl at Table 14 and kindly suggest manners to the socially awkward boy at Table 5.  As a mother, from the bottom of my heart, thank you folks for all the hard work and love you display on a daily basis. You amaze me.

I’ve got four days left, and as crazy as it sounds, when it’s all over, I’m going to miss the madhouse known as the cafeteria. Was it the best use of my college diploma? Maybe not, but one doesn’t have to sit in a classroom to learn life’s lessons. These past few months I got schooled in the lunchroom, and I’m all the wiser for it.

 

 

 

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