Tell them while they’re still here

Tomorrow, it will be two years since the day my father passed away.

Last week, it was two years since my grandfather, my mom’s dad, left us, too.

They died four days apart, and we all thought, for just a moment, that the world was going to hell in the strangest of handbaskets. 

I remember being so caught up in everything relating to my grandfather that when I think back on the days before my dad died, I can’t really remember anything significantly affectionate or deep between him and I. Which sucks when you very much want life to play out like movies do.

We’d love to live in a world of goodbyes wrapped up perfectly tight. We would like grief to be neat and contained, the peace of knowing we did everything perfectly in the last moments sustaining us through the messiness of carrying on.

Our last time seeing each other, he was shuffling down the sidewalk in front of my childhood home with a walker. He was going to get checked into the hospital. 

He had battled prolonged illness relating to his kidneys and liver for almost a decade. Nearly every time he needed to go to the ER relating to his illness, he fought us.

He always waited until he practically bottomed-out before he would give in and let us drive him to the hospital, usually at 9 o’clock at night when he finally admitted to himself he couldn’t take it anymore.

Not this time.

I drove over to my parent’s house with the kids in tow to greet my mother who was returning from her parents house for the first time in several days. For the first time since my grandfather died.

We were all heartbroken. We knew we needed each other, but the feat of talking everything over seemed exhausting. We spent time just sitting together, trying to piece everything from the last few days into something that resembled a new but familiar reality. 

while they are still here

My older sister would be driving dad to the hospital to get checked out. This time, he didn’t need to be convinced. He simply gathered what he needed should he have ended up staying for several days. He got dressed. And he waited patiently for one of us to drive him. 

Our hope was that he would be released the day of or before my grandfather’s funeral. I took a suit of his to the cleaners on Thursday.

I picked it up on Saturday.

The funeral was Monday.

That suit is still hanging in my closet, wrapped in cellophane. The ticket from the cleaner’s still clinging to it.

If I had known that would have been the last time I was going to see him conscious, as himself, it would have gone so differently. But, as we all know, we don’t get do-overs in real life.

In the haze of everything, I at least know our words were warm to each other in passing. His trip to the hospital didn’t raise alarm or cause us a heap of concern. This was one of the few times he wasn’t taken to the hospital when we were all in pure crisis mode. It almost felt like a relief in a way knowing he was there, being treated and resting and safe, while the rest of us were trying to support my mother. 

I’m sure he reminded me, again, about picking up his suit, probably much to my quiet annoyance. I probably smiled and assured him I had this seemingly minor detail under control. I remember that he looked gray. And so tired. His own heart hurting, I’m sure, from losing my grandfather. They’d known each other for over forty years. My mother’s heart was broken. He hurt for her the way that only a spouse can hurt for each other.

I’m sure I thought that Monday would come, and then after that we could work on trying to be as close to normal as we were going to get in my family, probably ever again. 

That was the last time I saw him the way I knew him.

That was before a 6 a.m. phone call on a Sunday. My mind an ocean of confusion and sleep in my eyes as I tried to understand what was happening. Things like this don’t happen. People don’t up and die days apart. This wasn’t not supposed to be his time. Not when he seemed…so okay before he left. He was only there as a routine visit. Nothing was really wrong.

I couldn’t find the light switch to flick on to help my brain understand. To help my mind find it’s way to what was really happening. 

I have gone over the timeline of that day a handful of times. It feels like it was so long ago.

It sounds so cheesy when we talk about living each day like it is our last. We know it isn’t possible. We will all have days of groaning and rushing and hectic schedules and flat tires and fights with our spouse and dinner burning on the stove.

Sometimes, we have days or illness and hospital stays, funerals and depression, anxiety and penetrating sadness.

It isn’t possible to live in complete awareness of all we have. Life becomes foggy so fast. And we forget about what truly matters even faster.

We are seemingly at its mercy, at the whim of this endless cycle. Like I said, it’s but a breath. I’ve been a student ever since, to these mechanisms of time.

The way we break this strain of time, though. How we can climb out of its clutches – even if just for moments – is to throw everything open and let love in wherever we can. 

Which is why you should tell them while they’re still here. While you are still here.

I wrote a note to my father a year or two before he passed. I left it for him on his hospital nightstand while he slept. I couldn’t look at him and give it to him. I don’t know why I thought I’d rip apart at the seams if I did. 

He never mentioned the letter, or what was in it. It was all the things I thought I needed to say. We never talked about it together. 

Now that he is gone, there is so much more I wish I could say. I’ve faced down so many days without him. Without my grandfather. My mind ever busy writing a manuscript for them they will never read. The things I wish we could share but can’t. The love that’s trapped with nowhere to go. 

That day two years ago makes me ache. That girl didn’t know that the man she brushed shoulders with on the sidewalk out front was going to leave. 

But I know, at least once or twice, in a letter. At the bottom of a birthday card. On the phone when we exclaimed how good it was to hear each others voice.

In quiet passing. I said it. Not enough. But I did. We both did.

Something. Something that let him know how glad I was that he was here. Something, from him, that said more than that he was proud of me.

And this is how we break the chains of time. By breaking focus from the things that syphon joy from our lives. By helping someone understand how much you love them. By speaking the words out loud to someone who has filled your heart with such love that your life would have been a thousand shades darker if they weren’t there.

By giving someone’s life that much more intrinsic worth and meaning. By telling them you wouldn’t want to do this life thing with anyone else.

You let someone know they matter, and really, you let rays of heaven’s light in. You let divine purpose in.

When we do this, we elevate the things that matter. And the things that will matter one day. When they’re gone. Or when we are gone. It’s the people that prove we were here, the negative space around us shaping us into who we are.

I think about all that often. And when I do, the grayness of death stills. Just for a bit. It’s not the same as if they were here.

But it reminds me that they were here. 

 

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For homeschooling moms at the start of the school year.

It’s that time of year again.

I remember my “favorite” back to school commercial from when I was a kid. It was a dad gleefully pushing a shopping cart full of school supplies through an office supply store while his kids moped after him three feet behind the cart.

Andy Williams singing “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blared in the background as the dad popped his foot behind him and sailed down the aisles riding the cart.

A part of every preteen and child’s heart in America grew dark and shriveled every time that commercial aired in the middle of the August heat. It came on like clockwork nearly every year for some time. I remember it as I prepared for elementary school. I remember it when I geared up to start junior high. 

My husband said he always knew when the school year was primed to start again. The country fair booths that dotted the field behind the local firehouse began to disappear as they were stored for winter. The lights came down. The wooden signs were stowed away. And summer seemed to have a faint golden glow that lined everything as the sun warned us it was going to tuck itself away very soon. 

Before we knew it, the summer haze burned away to fall, it was time for midterms and gym class, and where does it all go??

The start of school feels so different for me now that I am a homeschooling mom. This will be our second year. And already, I feel removed from the normal order of things that mark the return of the school year. 

If you’re a parent that homeschools, and have been for some time, you probably have a set routine by now. You know exactly what the back to school season means. 

While other families are back-to-school shopping and arranging their calendars around back-to-school and meeting their child’s teacher events, buying their kids new shoes and jeans and Elmer’s glue, you are lesson planning while you listen to your kids are arguing about chapstick and the tv remote from the other room.

For the homeschool moms at the beginning of the year.

You’re purging the school cabinet from the remnants of last year’s curriculum. You are poring over your planner with a cup of coffee in hand, sorting worksheets into folders and whiting out lesson plans for January 18th of next year while the television is blasting cartoons in the background and the toddler plays in the sink.

Motherhood is lonely enough. Overwhelming enough.

But when you throw being a teacher for your children into the ring along with a job and full or part-time stay at home mom life? The ache can be elevated to another level. There is nothing subtle about the choice to homeschool these days.

There’s already enough to do.

It’s hectic enough raising a young family.

The odds can seem stacked against you from the jump when you try to swim upstream against the prevailing culture of parenting.

You made this choice. This decision to lean in, take a breath and educate your children at home. The reasons are your own. Every family’s decision to begin this journey is nuanced and personal.

You’ve seen brows narrow in your direction in quiet, reserved judgement. You have fielded questions from prying and “concerned” minds that question if you are worried about them being too “sheltered” or “socially awkward.” You know you’ve talked to people who believe homeschooling children isn’t a legitimate form of learning, but perhaps they were too…polite to suggest it to your face.

As if you hadn’t already considered all of those things. As if you haven’t second guessed yourself enough along the way. As if you don’t already feel immensely obligated to not failing your children and your family. As if there aren’t days where you would literally rather be doing anything else than trying to get your child to buckle down and learn about Mozart.

It can be tricky to look around and find other parents who are treading water in the same place as you, trying not to sink. Finding a community can be just as tricky as getting your kids to learn how to tell time.

You already know you love your kids just as much as any other parent. You already know we are all in this together because we want to build and encourage strong children who turn into strong adults. 

Like I said, there is nothing subtle about homeschooling. As with most things parenting related – the choices you make as a parent are up for scrutiny. If someone thinks you are doing it wrong, many people feel at liberty to comment and say so. In fact, they might even feel an obligation to do so. Make any decision that even appears on the surface to deviate from the set norm, and you are going to be asked about it. 

And yet, even with these truths, you’ll be the first person to support the educational and personal choices of another parent. Private school. Public school. Charter school. Homeschool. You know it’s more about whatever is best for a family than one-size-fitting-all when it related to learning and growing minds.

And yet.

Aren’t there days you just wish you could watch them climb the school bus steps and see those doors fold shut?

Aren’t there days you wish, in a moment of weakness, you didn’t have to plan geometry lessons? That you didn’t have to fight about phonics? That you didn’t have to admonish them to sit still? To stop wiggling? When you weren’t the one counting down the clock with more fervor than your children??

Aren’t there days you wish you could draw the line between having to be both mom and educator? Between parent and principal?

I have only done this for one school year. And let me tell you. I thought I had respect for teachers before? It has quadrupled. But my respect for active, involved and concerned parents who are doing their best? You couldn’t number it now. It knows no limits. 

It feels like it can be all for naught at times.

But I’m here to tell you.

You’re going to get to the dead middle of February, and you’re going to want to rip your hair out if you see just one more fraction or if your child takes even three minutes longer to work on the assignment they’ve already been dragging their feet on for the last half hour. 

You will wonder if what you are doing matters. 

You’re going to think about what it would feel like to be at work right now, and command the respect and attention of other adults in a room who appreciate what you have to offer beyond facts about ancient Egypt and multiplication tables.

You’re going to wonder what it would be like if they were in school, and you were washing dishes in peace or out with friends for coffee. 

Your mind is going to wander, just for a bit, as you glance out the window at another dreary winter day spent at home with tiny bodies that can’t sit still. 

But what you’re doing? What you are doing is done in love. The same as any other parent. It won’t finish the assignments. It won’t solve the math equations. It won’t get dinner on the stove on time. It won’t keep doors from slamming and voices from getting raised in anger.

It will matter one day, even if it straight up doesn’t feel like it right now.

We will have to settle for the day in the future when we can understand better and fully just how much it matters. When it gets hard, we will just have to settle for the biggest picture there is when it comes to parenting, and not for hearing our kids say “thank you” or “yes, of course I finished my worksheets, mom.”

But the work done in love? It supersedes everything. 

Except for coffee. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bueller? Bueller? – An about me post

It’s been a while – and no, I’m not trying to sound like a Staind song….

 

I realized this morning that I have added quite a few followers since the last time I did a post like this. And seeing as how one of my favorite people has reentered the blogging world, *waves frantically at Jess*, it has inspired me to press refresh over here.

My name is Ashley! I’m so glad you have found me over here in my little corner of the web.

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1.) I have been blogging for over a decade. I am a member of the generation that bridges between Gen-X and millennials. I’m old enough to remember hardly ever using, or needing for that matter, the internet, but young enough to have adapted to a wireless world. I started writing book reports in school using the card catalog in the school library (I miss the smell of those), but by the time I was in college I was searching the internet for subject matter, and also Homestar Runner. I’m not sure how many followers I accumulated over on Live Journal, but eventually I put down the proverbial pen for a good long while. I picked blogging back up again when my second child was born and I began my new journey of stay-at-home-parentage. Seven years later, I’m still here!

2.) I enjoy photography quite a bit. It’s something I’m trying to become more proficient in year after year. I’ve gotten a few paying jobs out of it, and it’s truly something I love doing. It’s a privilege trying to tell someone’s story, and capture who they really are. Also, I wanted to catalog the memories I have made with my children. They are mostly tolerant of the camera at this point, but I want the head of whoever invented dabbing on a pike.

Ellie asleep

3.) The stuff that informs my writing? It’s a conglomeration of many things. For so long, it was parenting. And my faith. The past few years, I’ve taken a hard left because that was what life required of me. My father passed away not quite two years ago, and the last few years have seen me sifting through the wreckage of the life I had before descending into unknown parts. I have learned that grief is not the end. Life can, in its own new way, pick up where you left it. You just have to find it again. 

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4.) Who am I as a person? I am a corn-fed Maryland girl at heart, and it has taken me nearly thirty years to accept that fact. I love how unassuming Maryland is.  If I told you to think of small town life somewhere, you’d probably be quick to think of picturesque and quaint little New England towns or the sleepy countryside of Tennessee. Everyone seems to breeze over Maryland but that’s okay, it’s like a magical secret. At least, the Eastern Shore of it feels like that sometimes. I’m tied to water, not necessarily to the ocean, but the thought of moving further inland and being landlocked scares the peons out of me. But quiet, misty countryside is also in my blood, and for me, the Eastern Shore of Maryland has both. So I will fight to the death to stay here. And also, the Redskins are our only team.

I’m the kind of person who might be carrying around a bag of powdered donuts in her oversized purse. My favorite food in the whole wide world is sushi. My favorite music is a mashup of everything from The Beatles to Chris Stapleton. I am the kind of person who will throw open the front door and welcome you in, but who has to warn you to step over kids toys and not mind the crumbs all over the dining room table before I throw a plate of food in front of you. But I just as much enjoy an evening at home on the couch or a day with the covers pulled up to my chin – which hardly ever happens.  I prefer Dr. Pepper to most any wine, not that I’d turn down a glass of wine. I can be overly competitive at times, which means I’m not always the best example of how to be a good sport to my children. I am an animal lover, and grew up with a host of chickens, cats, dogs, horses and even a baby Canadian goose. Oh, yea, and a deer which my family rescued, but I’m told that’s illegal so it didn’t happen. I also love to buy the same shirt in three colors. There should be support groups for that. 

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5.) If you haven’t gathered already – I am a mother. I have three children, ages 9,7, and 3. They drive me insane, and make my world so much bigger than I ever thought it could be. I have been home full-time for over seven years, and some days, it is the greatest thing in the world. And then other days, I white-knuckle it until the husband walks in the door. I home-schooled my older two children this year for the first time ever, and am spending the summer recovering from having to remember how to reduce fractions. I consider our school year as having been a success, so I’ll give myself high fives for that any day.

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6.) Speaking of husbands, I am married to a tremendously wonderful one. Rob and I have been married for almost 13 years. In fact, it will be 13 this month. Which just seems wild. 13 and a half years ago, some guy I had only met once (and who I thought was cute, but don’t tell him I said that) messaged me online. He was currently serving in the military and was deployed, but thought that maybe when he got back home, we could spend some time together. I agreed, and when he got home we met up to watch Napoleon Dynamite as our first date – after picking it out at Blockbuster (!!!) – and we’ve pretty much been inseparable ever since. We got married about six months later after a long distance courtship, and yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds. But I married the guy who puts the leftovers away late at night before heading to bed. The guy who takes the trash out for me. The guy who always insists on pumping the gas even when I offer. And the guy who makes me laugh and my heart sing. I am so lucky.

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7.) That said, I also married a guy who happens to have the best family ever, and who also knows how to renovate a house like nobody’s business. The first home we ever owned together, he spent the better part of a decade renovating. Seriously, it took ten years. And then when it was done….we sold it and moved to another house that, guess what, needs work done to it. We enjoy comparing the before and afters, but not always so much the process. But what is life if not a process. An extensive process. And lots of work. But little, fleeting but necessary joys?

 

 

So, that’s me in a 1,000 word nutshell! I am so glad you are here. Tell me more about yourself. Do you and I have anything in common? Tell me about yourself.

Thank you for reading!