Lawn Mowers

Today’s guest post is written by the very talented and insightful John Clinkscales.   I have the privilege of calling John my neighbor, my friend, and my cousin.  I hope his words inspire you as much as they inspire me.  Enjoy!  ~ala

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“Lawn Mower” – n.  A machine with a rotating blade for cutting grass.

 

“Ma-Mow” – n. What my 19 month old son calls a lawn mower or anything that vaguely resembles a lawn mower.  I hear this word no less than 1,000 times per day – the boy is absolutely obsessed with lawn mowers.  Anything that he can push is a “Ma-Mow”.  His walker, his corn popper, the shopping cart, or the rolling chair I’m sitting in while typing this – all are “Ma-Mow’s”.  I’m starting to worry a bit that his life aspirations are set a bit too low.  Or maybe I’m just pissed that our yard guy has replaced me as his hero.

 

Here are a couple conversations I’ve had with him recently:

 

MORNING TIME

Me: “Good morning buddy – how’s it going – did you sleep well?”

Him: (rubs his eyes, looks up and smiles) “Ma-Mow”

Me:  “Yeah, lawn mower, we can go look for those later.  Do you want some breakfast?  What about cereal?”

Him: “Ma-Mow”

Me:  “Yeah……well…………I’m so excited to spend the day with you – let’s go find Mommy and we can play – I love you so much!”

Him: “Ma-Mow! Ma-Mow!”

 

NIGHT TIME

Me: (just finished reading a book, singing and getting ready for bed) “Ok buddy – time to go to bed – it’s been a great day and I loved getting to spend time with you on my day off – can I have a good night hug?”

Him: (looks up at me with his big brown eyes) “Ma-Mow”.

 

You get the picture.   It’s all the boy thinks about – well, that and what different types of food he can put into his hair – but mostly just lawn mowers.  It’s a phase – and for his mother and me who are both new parents – his first real phase for us to experience.  (If he was into something before this, he wasn’t at the age to effectively communicate it to us.  And I have a hard time classifying “Pooping”, “Sleeping” and “Crying” as phases – since we, and especially I, do all those things as adults – some more often than others.)

 

Phases are a part of life.  Actually, phases ARE life.  Every one of our lives is made up of a long series of phases – with some people only going through a few phases, living a relatively constant life, and other people (especially the ADD people like me) going through many different phases.  We all go through them – even as adults.  I can remember many of the phases that I went through – including the “I’ll never wear cowboy boots because I’m alternative and listen to grunge music phase”, the “Country Music is AWESOME” phase, the “I’ll never join Facebook phase”, the “I LOVE FACEBOOK” phase, the “Religious Phase”, and the “Sports” Phase.  The “Sports” phase could be broken down into many sub-phases as well – such as the “I want to be a pro hockey player” phase, the “I’m great at football but too afraid to try out for the team at my 5-A high school because I’m a skinny white kid” phase, and the “I SUCK at golf, I’m giving it up, who am I kidding, I LOVE golf” phase).

 

But with kids, the phases are much more pronounced and noticeable, because at that age you literally don’t have anything else to worry about or to occupy your time with.  If you want to pretend to mow the lawn all day, then by God you can pretend to mow the lawn all day.  As adults, and as members of this constantly changing and in your face society/culture, we are taught not to focus just on the present.  It’s always about what comes next, how to get to the next milestone, how to improve our lives.  My wife and I always find ourselves dreaming of the next big thing, whether it is “What school is our son going to go to?”, “How can we renovate our house?”, or “What country can we cross off next on our ‘To Visit’ list?”  Kids don’t have to worry about all that.  All they care about is what they are currently interested in.  And for my son, it is lawn mowers.  Ma-Mows.  I guess it’s not surprising that he loves them so much – my grandmother always tells me about my lawn mower phase and the fact that I had “special” tennis shoes that I called my “mowin shoes” – and that I would scramble to  put them on as fast as I could whenever I saw my dad gas up the mower.  That is one of her favorite stories, and as she gets older and starts telling the same stories over and over again, that is always the one that comes up first.

 

I love that my son is infatuated with lawn mowers.  But to be honest, sometimes it gets boring, and even sometimes frustrating.  It’s literally all he wants to do.  I want to be able to take him to the back yard and kick a soccer ball, play tee ball, take a walk in the big truck his grandparents got him for his birthday or anything else besides push his imaginary lawn mower up and down the yard for hours at a time.  PLEASE – CAN WE DO SOMETHING ELSE!!  As an adult – it’s hard for me to focus on pretending to mow the lawn for that long.  My mind wanders.  I find myself constantly checking my phone to see what the latest is on Twitter, if anyone liked my Facebook post, or what the weather will be for the next 10 days (do I really need to know if it is going to rain 10 days from now or not?).  My wife and I start talking about what is going on at work, what shows will be on TV tonight, and making drinks to pass the time. I find myself wishing that he was older and that we could play catch, go fishing or ride our bikes up and down the block.

 

Every day when I get home from work, I pull up to the house and come to the back door.  I hear him get really excited, and I picture all those scenes in the movies and TV shows where the boy runs up to his dad and gives him a big hug when he walks through the door.  And for the few seconds from when I start to jiggle the keys in the lock until I open the door to see my son in the living room, I think that is just what is going to happen.  But it never does, he just looks up at me with my arms outstretched, says “Ma-Mow” and starts pushing around Thomas the Train – blowing right by me with imaginary grass spewing out the side.   I forget that he is just a kid and that this is just a phase, but my immaturity shows through as I get my feelings hurt and walk past him into the kitchen, to grab a snack to satisfy my own needs.  It’s hard to imagine that someone so little can hurt your feelings, but when you love something that much, it happens.  Later on in the night I always come down on myself for acting that way, and not appreciating my son for what he is – a 19 month old that just wants to show off to his “Da-Duh”.  And since this is his first real phase, I feel like it will last forever, not realizing that it won’t. Soon it will be on to the next, and the lawn mower phase will be gone forever.  It will just be the story that my parents tell my son when he gets older, just like the one my grandmother tells me.

 

Drew Magary writes in his new book on parenting in the 21st Century – “Someone Could Get Hurt” (a must read by the way) – about the time in his daughter’s life when she went through her “Princess” phase, and how it even went so far as to her begging him to act out the final scene of Snow White (her favorite movie at the time) with her.  She would play the soundtrack on the CD Player, dress up in her official Disney Snow White dress and play dead on the couch in their living room. Drew would come over and gently kiss her on the head to wake her up and her eyes would pop open and she “smiled as if she had been brought back from the grave”.  He would then whisk her up into his arms and dance around the living room while the finale played on.  His mind would race forward 20 years or so to the day that he would be doing this for the last time at their wedding – the day that he would officially not be the only man in her life anymore.  As great as that moment was – it was hard not to get caught up in thinking about the future.

 

He goes on to say that after awhile, his daughter did not want to play Princess anymore.  Shocked, he asked why and she said “Princesses are for little kids”.   She continued by saying she only wanted to play “Alicia! From Go, Diego, GO!”  She was on to her next phase with many other phases ensuing after that.  The last paragraph of the chapter reflects on his memory of those phases:

 

“On a shelf in our basement, we still have all the remnants of her infatuations: Charlotte the bus, the dresses, a toy car wash my brother–in-law constructed for her.  Each group of toys represents a phase in the girl’s life that she’ll never be again.  Sometimes I miss those versions of her.  Sometimes I have to fight the urge to listen to some dwarf song while I’m working because I want to get a whiff of the memory because the memory is the only real connection you have to that version of the child.  Even a photo is hopelessly inadequate.  I look at the photos now and find it hard to believe those phases ever existed.  I need something tangible to unearth the feeling: a song, a dress, a magic wand, whatever.  In my head, sometimes I can hear that choir at the end of Snow White still singing, and I can see the girl lying stone-dead on our couch.  I miss seeing her like that.  I miss having the chance to save her.”

 

We all want to be able to save our kids.  To save them from all the crap that goes on in this world.  To shield them from the bad and to only let the light in.   And the good news is that we can.  We can save them by being there for them NOW.  Not later.  NOW.  By taking interest in what they are interested in during THIS phase of their lives and not wishing that they are something that they will be in the future.  Our neighbors (and more importantly our friends) across the street, have three little letters above the giant clock in their breakfast room – NOW.  It is there to remind them to stay in THIS moment.  To appreciate THIS phase in their lives.  To not worry about what the future has in store for them or their beautiful daughter, because no matter what, they will be together.

 

I’m leaving from work here in a few minutes and when I get home, I already know what is going to happen.  I’m going to drive up, park the car, walk toward the back door, hear my son get excited inside, open the door, smile down at my son, say “Hey buddy – It’s so great to see you, can I get a big hug?”.  And just like every other day he will run right past me, pick up Thomas the Train, start pushing it around, look up at me and say “Ma-Mow”.  And you know what – I can’t wait.

 

“Yes my boy, Ma-Mow.  Let’s go.”

~John Clinkscales

I think the stork got lost

I found out about sex for the first time when I was 5.  If you are thinking that’s a little young, you’re right.  I was playing outside in the backyard with my friend, Matthew.  His mother and mine were inside the house visiting.  Matthew and I were swinging when he suddenly jumped from his swing, stood in front of mine, and asked:  “Do you know where babies come from?”  Matthew was a year older than I was and I didn’t want to appear stupid.  “Of course I do,” I said.  “From God.”  He smirked and replied, “No they don’t.  A boy puts THIS inside of THAT,” as he pointed from his crotch to mine.  I am sure my face fell and I remember bursting into tears and running inside to our two mothers.  I can only imagine how the two women felt as my 5 year old self  interrupted their conversation to demand to know where babies really came from.

That was it for my sex education until my sophomore year of high school.  I went to a very small, private Baptist school.  Honestly, I’m surprised we even had a Health class at that time.  Although I did receive a great education for which I am grateful, there were many things, like the history of evolution, which were deleted from my curriculum.  It should come  as no shock, then, to say that my sex education was pretty much limited to watching a video of a live birth, watching a video of an abortion, and basically being told I was a horrible person going to hell if I had sex before I was married.  I know my girlfriends and I thought that getting pregnant would be SO easy.  We were worried that we could get pregnant without even having intercourse.  “What if a guy has an orgasm in a public swimming pool and the sperm somehow swim up inside us?  Could we get pregnant?”  Yes, this was a serious conservation I had on more than one occasion.  So, imagine my surprise when I actually wanted to get pregnant and couldn’t.

My ex-husband and I had been married for about 2 years when we decided it was time to start trying.  I got off the pill, sure that I would be pregnant within a few months.  I had it all mapped out… I was 25 years old and expected to have my two children before I hit the ripe old age of 30. I gave myself a few months because he traveled Monday- Friday, every week, for work.  I knew the timing might be challenging.  And it was.  Months turned into a year and I started to get worried.  I began charting my temperature every day and using fertility sticks.  I grew to know my cycle very well.  I was just starting to get discouraged when the bottom fell out of my marriage and then getting pregnant became the last thing on my mind and the last thing that I wanted.

I married Kirby at the age of 28.  Although we didn’t want to have children right away, I didn’t want to get back on the pill and so I didn’t.   I felt like I had a good enough understanding of my cycle to know when it was “safe” or not.  After some time passed, we decided we would start trying.  We didn’t want to make a big deal of it… “It will happen when it’s supposed to happen” became our mantra.  Again, month after month nothing happened.  Although I tried my best to stay positive and to not get discouraged, every month was a roller coaster ride of emotions.  I would tell myself not to get my hopes up, but I always did.  Then, I would be heart broken when I would find out that I wasn’t pregnant.

When you are in the middle of fertility problems, it seems like everyone around you is pregnant.  You see babies wherever you go.  I tried so hard not  to become jealous and bitter, and I think I hid my sadness very well.  But, it was there, inside of me, growing.  People would ask us when we were going to have a baby.  We’d smile and say, “Hopefully sometime soon.  It will happen when it’s supposed to happen.”  The hardest part for me was being around groups of women.  I was now 30 and it seemed that everyone my age had a child or two and that was all that they could talk about.  It drove me nuts.  “Don’t you have anything else to talk about?”  I wanted to yell and shake them.  “You used to be an interesting person.  What happened to you?!?”  Of course, I’d just sit there and listen, the sadness growing bigger. So big, perhaps, that there just wasn’t room left for a baby.  I felt like a failure, like I was less of a woman, because I didn’t have a baby to hold in my arms.

After 3 years of trying with no luck, we decided we should seek help. Kirby and I both were tested for different things.  Of course, the female side of this testing is much more involved and painful, although it’s no picnic for the male, either.  I remember standing in the kitchen with Kirby one afternoon when the phone rang.  It was my doctor.  Although Kirby couldn’t hear her, he was watching my face closely.  She told me that the results were in and that she didn’t think it would be possible for us to get pregnant on our own.  I hung up with my doctor and fell into Kirby, sobbing.

When a couple is dealt this blow, they have to decide if and how they want to progress.  I don’t think there are right or wrong answers here and I would never try to influence someone’s decision one way or the other.  For us, we decided that we would accept whatever God had in store for us.  If we were supposed to be childless, we would accept that as our answer and strive to enjoy our time as a couple. We would travel more, we would retire earlier, we would have fun being together.  We did not want to go through the route of fertility treatments and so we stopped worrying, we stopped planning, we stopped getting anxious every month, and we started living.  As much as I HATED the news, as much as I wished things could be different, it was almost a relief to be out of the limbo of waiting, to let go of the emotional roller coaster ride of hope followed closely behind by devastation.  My mind was finally free to just let go of the want of a child that had consumed me for over 6 long years.  When I was able to let this dream go, as painful as it was, I was able to start living again.

I was pregnant 5 months later.  The doctors said this was a miracle, and it was.  I know there are so many couples that struggle with infertility.  I can only think of few things that are more painful.  I wish that every story could end like mine did, but they don’t.  I wish I knew why some couples get pregnant so easily and some don’t.  I wish I knew why unwed teenage girls can get pregnant the first time they have sex and great couples have to struggle for years.   In my mind, none of this seems fair.  Yet, I have to believe that everything, even really painful things, happen for a reason.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself.  I personally had to go through years of infertility to realize that as much as I want something, as much as I fight for something, as much as I hope and pray for something, I am not in control.  I can cling to hope, I can become obsessed with want, but I am not in control.  Once I was able to realize that and let go, God gave me the desire of my heart.  Sometimes to get what we really want, all we have to do is let go.  This was the lesson I learned from my infertility.

Since my struggle, I have talked to many of my friends who have gone through or are currently going through their own struggles with getting pregnant.  Infertility seems more normal than not these days.  For those of us who have come through on the other side, we all learned so much about ourselves, our spouses, and our lives.  Although I didn’t like the lesson life was teaching me at the time, now I am grateful for the struggle.  For those of you in the middle of this, know that you are not alone.  Know that many have stood where you are standing.  Know that many are currently standing with you.  May you look deep within yourself, take a step back, and realize that you are in the middle of an important life lesson.  May you find peace within the storm.

~ala

Refueling

It’s been one of those weeks.  The kind of week where you barely remember to eat or breathe and collapse into bed at the end of each night, only to wake up in the morning with a huge sigh only to begin again.  It is hard to find the joy in weeks like this one.  All I want to do is to get through it and survive.

Sure, I notice the worried look in my husband’s eyes as he sees me whiz by.  I see the look of hurt in my daughter’s eyes when I’m too busy to stop and play, and when I do stop to spend time with her, she’s aware enough to know that I’m not all there.  My body might be sitting with her but my mind is thinking about everything else I still need to do.  I am clearly just going through the motions.

In times of craziness I seem to revert back to old thought patterns and habits.  I tend to bear the brunt end of stress in my jaw and shoulders, pretty much ensuring a raging headache.  I morph into drill sergeant mode, where I am constantly barking orders at myself, refusing to give myself a break.  When I am pressed for time, I stop taking care of myself.  I tell myself that’s what a mother does- she sacrifices herself for the good of her family.  I forget that it’s much easier to be there for others, especially my family, when I take the time to be there for myself first.

When I am empty, running on fumes, I find myself doing things out of a sense of duty, without any heart.  Things I normally love doing for my family become one more thing on my list.  I find myself becoming resentful and bitter.  Instead, I need to remember to take care of myself so that I can do these things from a place of love.  I am finding that it’s not really a sacrifice when I put myself last.  It’s actually a selfish thing where my need for perfection, to get everything done, outweighs my need for sanity and calmness for my loved ones.

Today, I have a million things to do. I can feel the burden of time weighing heavily upon me.  But, I am going to take some time for myself, to recharge my batteries.  I will do this for me so that I can be there, completely there, for them.  This is love.

Dancing in the Fountain of Youth

My husband is quite the Renaissance Man.  I’m not just saying that because I’m biased.  I think most, if not all, of his close friends would agree that he is quite entertaining and charming to be around, largely due to the fact that his knowledge base spans a significant number of different subject areas.  He is constantly reading about something new or trying out a new hobby.  Last night, we were both reading in bed.  I was reading my current book  The Deeper Dimension of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein and he was skimming through Reddit on his iPad.  We are in the habit of interrupting each other’s reading if we find something that we believe the other will find fascinating.  As I was deep into the chapter entitled “Samsara Means Running Around in Circles,” I suddenly saw his iPad thrust in front of my face.  He had discovered photographs of 4 sisters that span across 36 years of time.  The pictures begin when the girls are in their teenage years and follow them into old age, one photograph per year, with the sisters in the same position for each picture.  One can visibly watch the aging process occur from one year to the next.   Take a look for yourself HERE.  I was completely fascinated.

And a little bit terrified.  What is it about the aging process that scares me so much?  I know that I am more than my body and my face.  I know that my body is more like my own personal SUV, getting me around from point A to point B.  It allows me to use my five senses to discover the world around me.  I know that one day, this body of mine will die but that the essence of me, my soul, will live on.  I know this, yet I still get a little freaked out to see truly old people.  By truly old, I don’t mean the cute great grandmas and grandpas that are still strolling around parks, holding hands.  I mean the ones that can no longer function on their own, the ones that need around the clock care. The ones that can no longer do anything on their own.  To be completely dependent on another human being in order to survive is truly a frightening thing.  To see people living in this state is a reminder of the fragility of life.  It brings up that nagging reminder that every day I age a little bit more.  It makes me think that getting older really sucks.  It is a reminder that no matter how well I take care of my body, my vehicle, it is eventually going to stop working.

It’s no wonder after seeing a slideshow of how these four sisters aged that I woke up today in a little bit of a funk.  The first thing I did this morning was grab a wedding picture and compared my 2005 face to my face of 2013.  (By the way, doing this right out of bed was probably not the best thing for my ego.  If you’re going to try this, may I suggest at least brushing your hair and maybe putting on some lipgloss… that’s just good common sense).  I don’t look that different was my first thought.  My second thought was how young I looked on my wedding day.  My third thought was if I think I looked young then, that means I definitely look older now.  Sigh.

And so off to my yoga class I went.  Today’s class was bellies and backs… 75 minutes of pure core work.  If that sounds like torture, you are exactly right.  I walked into the studio about 3 minutes before the class was about to start.  It was very crowded and so I took one of the last available spots next to an older woman.  I’ve noticed this woman before.  She is probably in her 80’s and very thin.  If you didn’t know better, you’d assume that she was very fragile and could break a hip at any given moment.  I’ve never seen her practicing yoga, and really, when you’re doing yoga you’re not supposed to be watching anyone else.  When done correctly, your mind and body are connected to your breathing and you tune everything else out.  But, today’s class was HARD and my mind and eyes kept wandering and I couldn’t stop watching this woman.  She made this class look like a piece of cake.  She was stronger and more flexible than pretty much anyone else in the class.  She hardly broke a sweat.  Many of the other students were actually screaming out curses to our instructor.  (It’s actually a lovely, very fun group.)  Yet, this woman’s practice was beautiful and inspiring.  She showed me that getting older does not have to mean getting weaker and softer.  She taught me that life, like yoga, is a journey.  It is my choice to keep going and to not give up.  That I can keep making improvements every day.  And, I also really admired the periwinkle polish on her toes.

After yoga I headed to get a pedicure.  (I really like to make the most of the two days my daughter is in school.)  I was seated next to an older lady that had two grown sons.  I was still in my yoga clothes and so she started talking to me about exercise.  Come to find out, this sweet woman, who just turned 78, plays tennis twice a week with her partner.  They’ve been playing for 35 years.  She also leads a senior citizens dance team.  She said her favorite place to perform is at the senior center for the patients with Alzheimer’s because “they don’t remember if we mess up.”  I asked her what kept her so young at heart.  She replied, “I stopped caring so much what people thought about me and started doing what made me happy.  I became my own best friend.”  Then,  she patted my arm and walked out of the nail place, taking care not to mess up her newly polished periwinkle toes.

I woke-up this morning feeling like I was close to the summit of my life, fearing what might lie ahead on the downward slope.  Life knew what I needed today and sent these two precious white-haired angels to teach me a lesson.  Age is just a number.  I am who I am at THIS MOMENT right now.  It’s my job to be the best version of myself that I can be.  Old age is not something to be feared.  So what if I have wrinkles, age spots, and gray hair when I get there?  What matters is that I truly live every moment and never stop.  I am reminded of a quote by Sophia Loren:  “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love.  When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.”  May we all learn to play in this fountain of youth, starting now.  May we all keep creating.  May we all keep learning.  May we all keep loving.  May we all keep dancing.  And may we all rock our periwinkle toes.  I’m looking at mine right now and I can’t help but smile.

~ala