After a summer away adjusting to life in the sandwich generation and debating how to balance the blog and the new business, I decided that the blog was too therapeutic to ignore any longer. My thoughts the last few months have created a traffic jam in my brain, and the occasional leaks of incoherent ramblings ( I’m sorry, my friends who had to listen!) simply confirmed the necessity of regularly processing  my thoughts into words.

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It was a different sort of summer at our house, as the effects of children growing older altered our typical family plans. My family has a reunion over the fourth of July every year, but this year our immediate family was represented only by the mother-daughter contingent. Our 15 year old spent his first summer away working at a summer camp and our 12 year old and Dad had Boy Scout camp scheduled the week of July 4. It was a pleasant trip for the two of us, but bittersweet as I realized that our days of traveling there as a family are probably over, at least for the next few years. Talking with my aunts who grew up overseas and spent their high school years in boarding schools, I gained a whole new perspective on the concept of the empty nest.  “Why does everyone always say, “When they’re gone, they’re gone?” quipped one aunt. “Here we are!  We didn’t go anywhere!”

And, my son who was “gone” for the summer was really only gone  a week at a time, as we picked him up each Friday night and brought him home long enough  to sleep and wash his clothes and take him back again on Sunday.  I was truly amazed at how smoothly the transitions went and how naturally the family dynamics flowed back and forth with and without him in the house. It gave me hope that the transition to college, early or not, will be a positive experience.  We were also thrilled to see the independence and responsibility that he exhibited at camp.  Some of that has dissipated as he has been home for several weeks now, and I’m forced to ask myself – does he feel too safe and comfortable at home?  Will I have to be that mean mother bird that pushes her baby out of the nest? I hope not.

Summer, for me, always seems to be a time to slow down and reflect on the past year. I guess I’ve been in the educational mindset for so long that the new year for me begins in the fall. And so, as summer draws to a close, I am making my lists of all the things that I’ll do differently this year and all the activities that my kids and that we as a family need. My husband and I were fortunate enough to get a weekend away with time to talk about what our priorities are for each child and for us for the coming year.  As Ecclesiastes 3:1 states,” There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

The trick, as we all know, is not trying to fit every activity under heaven into this one season!

It all started last Sunday morning, with my husband tentatively telling me that he’d had a disturbing dream the night before. “I don’t know if I should tell you this, ” he said (as I got that queasy feeling in my stomach), “but I had a dream last night that your dad died.”  Not the way you really want your Sunday morning to start…or any other morning, for that matter.  However, since he has not been known to have prophetic visions before, and does often have unusual dreams, I didn’t think too much more about it.

Until Tuesday night.

My phone rang and my mom’s shaky voice on the other end was telling me that Dad was on the road somewhere about an hour from home and that the last people he saw noticed he was slurring his words before he left.  The conversation I had had with my husband came back to mind with gut-wrenching horror –  it couldn’t really have been true, could it? And why would anyone let someone who was obviously having difficulties get in their car and drive home?

Oh, yeah. We’re talking about my dad here – one of the last of the  Marlboro Man I can do anything and nothing can stop me generation.

For forty- five painful minutes I had visions of my dad’s car wrapped around a tree somewhere on a rural road as he lay helpless. But against the odds, he showed up at home, still not sure he needed to go to the hospital, but no longer protesting as my mom quickly drove him there.

Miraculously, he emerged with only a mild stroke affecting his speech and no paralysis, and is getting more of his words back every day. We expect a nearly complete recovery, but things will still never be the same.  We have come face to face with the frailty of life, and that even our seemingly invincible dad is getting a few chinks in his armor as he ages. I have watched my mom struggle to handle the monumental tasks that suddenly dropped with a crushing force on her shoulders.  And  I wonder…how much can I do when I live 10 hours away?

sandwichgenerationBecause I have a wonderfully supportive husband and terrific local in-laws who adore my children, I was able to escape my mom duties  to come home and help my parents.  But, I’m only here for a week, and the need is much greater than I had realized. I am beginning to feel the pull of the sandwich generation – people torn between raising their own family and helping their parents as they age.

How do you find the balance between pouring your efforts into raising  the children God has blessed you with and giving back to the people who gave unselfishly to you as you grew up ?  Particularly when you don’t live nearby? According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 10 million people in the US juggling this load every day. So, I am certainly not alone. And I do have a sister, who lives only four hours  from my parents, but she has four young children and a job, so it’s not any easier for her to be here on short notice.

I find myself re-evaluating the life decisions I made years ago – should I ask my husband to leave a job he enjoys,  uproot my kids, and move closer to home?  But then we leave my husband’s parents behind, and his only sibling does not live in town.

There are no easy answers in a culture that prides itself on independence and freedom of choice. If I had understood in my early 20’s the choices that I would face 20 years later, would it have made a difference in the path I chose? I don’t know. Experience is the best teacher, and wisdom is rarely bestowed upon the young.

But of this much I am sure –   life is precious and can be snuffed out without warning.  We were granted a reprieve this time, and it will make every day together that much sweeter.

I never understood before how the parents of young Olympic athletes in our country could fathom allowing their child to move away from home while still a child, live in a dorm with other highly driven and dedicated athletes, and only visit their families a few times a year. Now, we were not blessed with gifted athletes in our family, so it was always just an academic discussion, a “what-if” scenario where my husband and I were sure that we would never make those choices for our children. Family is too important and the gold medal too elusive — the cost was just too high. Well, you know what they say about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes….

We still do not have an Olympic-caliber athlete in our home, but we do have a brilliant young son who has hit an academic wall of sorts; the kind of wall every mother thinks she wants to face. When I called the guidance counselor to explain that he just didn’t feel challenged in his honors classes, she responded, “Well, that’s a great problem to have. That’s wonderful!” Only it isn’t. It means that he faces the very real possibility of being unchallenged for 3-1/2 more years before college. That he could cave to the pressure of the masses and just stop caring, never to be all that he is capable of becoming.

So, how do we stave off this potential disaster and help him find a way to stretch himself and his mind? We have met with the teachers and guidance counselor, but their solution seems to be to let him continue on the current path. After all, he is making A’s, so why are we complaining? Also, their hands are tied by local regulations so they can’t let him skip ahead without extensive and expensive testing which they seem unwilling to do.  The other students are already calling him “the kid who knows everything” because of his great vocabulary. He insists that he doesn’t; that there is plenty left for him to learn, but it falls on deaf ears when he appears light years ahead of the rest of them.

He needs a peer group of students who love learning as much as he does and who can feel the thrill of the academic challenge. And where can we find that for him? One option we are seriously considering is an early-college entrance program. There are only a handful of programs like this in the country, where gifted high school juniors and seniors enroll in a particular college, but all live together in a dorm just for them, with more restrictions than the regular college students but all of the academic opportunities.

Yes, I have shed many a tear over this, wrestling with the idea that my first-born may be leaving home two years sooner than we expected. He has a close relationship with us and with his brother and sister, so it would be a tough transition. It’s all still in the discussion stages – no bags packed yet-but when I watched the promo video for this program, I knew. When he watched it, his face lit up. His dad got excited about all of the opportunities it would offer him. Next week, we will attend a Preview Day to get a taste of life on campus.

It’s not a done deal yet. But in my heart, I’m sympathizing with all the parents of young Olympic athletes out there. I get it now – they didn’t make those hard choices for their kids; the children chose because it was who they were created to be. Having a child with an exceptional gift or talent is certainly a blessing, but helping them to find the right outlet to refine their skills can be a bittersweet experience.

A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.
Benjamin Franklin

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Lectures, DARE presentations, and well-scripted movies have nothing over a bonfire for keeping your kids off drugs. Why? Because one of the top ways to keep your kids clean is to have strong family relationships, and one of the best ways our family has found to enjoy each other’s company is around our backyard firepit, warming up by the bonfire.

On Valentine’s Day, rather than enjoying an intimate evening out with every other couple in town, my husband and I opted for a relaxing evening at home with our kids. Since there was a hint of spring in the air, the kids requested one of their favorite activities, which is gathering around the fire pit to enjoy a bonfire. Something about just being outside of the house helps everyone relax and talk more freely.

This time, we read stories about Hudson Taylor, a famous missionary to China, and talked about the amazing ways God had helped him through some difficult trials. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were having a very frank discussion with our teen and tweens about the dangers of drunk driving and of playing around with drugs. What seemed to be just an innocent evening out under the stars became a wonderful opportunity to reinforce the boundaries protecting our children’s innocence, with no lecture necessary.

So, why do we need the bonfire to stimulate these discussions? I think stepping outside, even just a few feet from our home, takes away the pull of the computer and video games and myriad distractions of daily life. Gathering the wood and lighting the fire creates a sense of freedom, of being on vacation, where it is easier to let down your guard and open your heart. Something about the outside air causes our children to waver back and forth between utter abandon in play and serious contemplation. They run around playing chase in the dark and then huddle by the fire, drinking hot chocolate, watching the stars, and considering the great questions of the world. Every time we spend an evening out there, we agree to do it more often, but we often allow too many weeks, or months, to go by before we do it again.

The time that used to be spent reading fairy tales is now sometimes spent talking about things no parent wants to discuss, but can’t abide the consequences of avoiding. Our kids are growing up quickly, and our bonfires are numbered. We’re going to light as many fires as we can, and pray that the discussions that result will continue to guide our kids’ choices as they move further away from that familiar glow.



Scurry, scurry…frantic fury. The past month has flown by in a blur ! Despite continued attempts to keep our schedule manageable, there are still seasons of busyness because some invisible law dictates that once in a while, everything our children want to do and every event involving extended family or friends must all occur within the same limited time frame – and often at the exact same time. Ever been there? Thankfully we are nearing the end of a six week frenzy.

I regret that for me this year, Christmas seemed but a stepping stone on my quest to reach the end of the harried period. Since one major event is still looming on the horizon this week, it overshadowed in my mind what should have been a glorious celebration of Christ’s birth. I am grateful for the Lord’s mercy, even as the Martha in me continues to anxiously cook and clean in preparation for the big day.

No, I’m not talking about a fabulous New Year’s party ( though someday, I’d like to do that too), but rather a celebration in honor of my oldest son. Many other cultures have a wonderful ceremony affirming the growth of their children into young men, and my husband and I are trying to create a similar ceremony for our children. We believe in part that these markers help dispel some of the typical teenage angst, as these young people are affirmed as the maturing adults they are becoming. Our hope is that we can call our son to a higher path in life by surrounding him with adults who see him as he is, affirm who he is becoming, and challenge him to strive for greater things.

Our younger son asked if this was an “official” celebration and when I asked him to clarify, he replied, “Well, you know, a birthday party isn’t official because you have it at home; is this going to be at home or somewhere else?” In case you’re wondering, this will be an “official” celebration!

His next question was “Why are we cleaning and working so hard if the party is somewhere else?” Apparently, he was oblivious to the fact that even though the official celebration is being held elsewhere, Mom is still the official caterer, party director, and bed and breakfast hostess for out of town guests.

I am officially crossing things off of my to do list each day, recognizing my limits and dealing with the fact that I won’t get the bathroom repainted before my company comes nor will the expanse of thick wet leaves disappear from my backyard anytime soon. The constant rain over the last few weeks has seen to that.

But we will have a wonderful time with family and friends, our son will know he is loved well – and I will finally be officially off-duty for a while!

Whatever happened to the all-American holiday of Thanksgiving? You remember – handprint turkeys, Pilgrims and Indians, and waiting impatiently until you were old enough to graduate from the kids’ table to the adult table.

Looking at retailers today, you would think that the calendar went straight from October 31 to December. We faced an onslaught of ghoulish looking creatures in October, replaced abruptly with singing Santas and elves the day after Halloween. The Christmas buying campaign was in full swing, in some cases, before the pumpkins and spiderwebs disappeared. Thanksgiving, one of the few truly American historical holidays seems to have been lost in the dust. I walked into one of the large national craft stores in early November and found row upon row of every Christmas craft and decoration imaginable. Fall decorations were long gone, and after some searching, I found one shelf with a few turkeys and Pilgrims.

You would think that a holiday created in memory of the people who fought incredible odds to survive their first year in this land would be worthy of continued recognition. That promoting thankfulness would be encouraged as a positive “family value”. But alas, too much thankfulness is bad for business. After all, why buy new toys for Christmas when you are so thankful for your old ones? We can’t encourage contentment with what we have or sales of the latest flat screen tv’s will drop.

I wonder what the current economic crisis would look like if more greedy mortgage brokers had contemplated Thankfulness every year instead of dollar signs? If more potential homeowners had been thankful for the home they could pay for instead of reaching for the big one they knew they couldn’t really afford?

So I propose that we fight the big retailers and refuse to ignore Thanksgiving. Pause during the month of November to reflect on all the blessings in your life and celebrate Thanksgiving with family or friends. Spend the day next Thursday being thankful for whom and what you have. And if you’re tempted to grumble as you fight the crowds on Black Friday, be thankful that you have the money to spend.

Happy Thanksgiving!