Just take the picture.

About five years ago, my husband gave me a swanky camera for Christmas. 

After opening my gift, I was speechless.

My mind immediately jumped to worrying over the cost of such a gift – a gift with all of the bells and whistles. I knew that he had spent more on me than he would ever expect anyone to spend on him. Or that he would ever spend on himself.

This is his generous heart.

My new camera opened up the world of photography to me. Photography was a fledgling passion of mine, a part time past time that I was beginning to develop a keener interest in  

He, being the supportive and wonderful husband he is, made it a point to encourage my newfound pursuit. It was as much an investment as it was a gift. He was investing in a happy wife who could pursue creative outlets and build her confidence, while also maybe not go crazy in the meantime.

It was a pivotal moment for me. 

(He gave me a way.)

This past Christmas, I gave him an album full of photos from the year gone by. It was wonderful to give him something tangible that was produced by my hobby five years after he gave me a leg up on a new journey in my life. He encouraged an outlet that wasn’t directly related to chasing small children, even though it at times has been almost exclusively used to record those child-related happenings.

I can look back between when I unwrapped that wildly unexpected present and now, and see a pronounced change in my abilities from that first Christmas to this last one. I have much to learn, but I’m further than I would have been without his generosity.

(I found a will.)

Today, I was scrolling through the photo library on our computer. Recently, the computer decided that its memory was too full (the nerve!), so I’ve slowly been deleting unnecessary photos and files off of my computer in an effort to purge. 

Just this morning, I found dozens of videos, and hundreds of photos from a seemingly bygone era in our home.

A time when we just had one child. When the kitchen was still painted yellow, and we didn’t have the white shoe cabinet in the corner of the dining room that smells like cedar. Our son was a chubby-cheeked, floppy-haired chipmunk who kept two fledgling parents on their toes. 

As I thumbed through these photos and videos, some slightly blurry and a bit fuzzy, I realized that I had no immediate recollection of having even taken them.

The video of my son and me in the cozy green chair in the living room, nestled up with a pile of books stacked high. Him laughing as I playfully squeezed the inside of his thigh just above his knee. Him sitting on the back steps in the kitchen, covered head to toe in Crayola markers – I’m still thankful to this day that they were washable, other wise I’m sure he would still be tattooed in ever color on the spectrum  

Videos of my son, turning on the shower head, and drenching himself while naked in the tub, and the look of amused shock on his face. 

Then there were the photos. Pictures upon pictures of yellow haired, tiny children. Afternoons spent at the park or out in the backyard. Afternoons that now seem like a short lifetime ago. 

I looked at that tired mother in some of the photos, I studied myself with a lot less gray in my air, and I was transported back to feeling every ounce of anxiety over whether or not I was doing a good enough job.

Those days at home with two small children that seemed endless and tedious are now just one footnote in the pages of our family’s story. 

The mother in those photos was so tired, so unsure of herself. Today, I wish I could have given her a hug to say thank you

Thank you for taking those photos.

Thank you for not giving up and putting the camera down even when the kids weren’t being cooperative.

Thank you for not closing the camera on your phone just because someone at the park might have been giving you side-eye.

Thank you for ignoring the thousand and one articles on the internet say that you can’t ever fully experience a moment if you have a lens out. 

Thank you for having enough presence of mind, even though your eyes were so heavy with exhaustion that you thought they might fall out, to think to snap a photo of the things I truly want to remember.

Thank you for clicking away even when everyone in the photo had a bad attitude, because you knew you’d get at least one shot where everyone was looking at the camera. 

Photos tell our stories. Photos let us relive our story. Again and again. 

No, it’s not an exact replica of one moment or another, whether they were good or bad, certain or uncertain. And no, not every photo is of a pivotal, life changing moment. 

But a photo in the hands of the heart that’s looking to remember is like hands holding a hidden jewel.

The things we take photos of are assuredly the things we love. The things we seek. The things we want to think about one day, when we’re older and we have forgotten. Or when we are gray, and crows feet branch out around our eyes.

Our photos will only ever be precious to us, like some distinct, bespoke treasure.

So listen, I get it. 

It’s the holiday season.

And if she hasn’t already, your mom or wife or grandmother or girlfriend will soon want you and everyone else to put on an odd, matching sweater.

She’s going to want you to shave, and wear those pants and that tie you never wear. She’s going to give you several options for the color palette that best highlights everyone’s eyes when you could honestly care less.

She’s going to want you to help her dress the kids in stockings and button down shirts that will definitely get messy if they leave them on for more than three seconds. And she is going to want you to load the kids into the car, and drive to the park or the Christmas tree farm or to some photographer’s studio.

Or maybe she’ll just drag you out to the backyard where she has a tripod set up, and she’ll be hurrying everyone up and yelling something about the lighting being perfect right.now.

She’s going to want you to spend half an hour smiling so hard that your cheeks hurt while you have to pretend that the camera isn’t there. She might even threaten you a tiny bit, heck  she might even want you to fake laugh until your sides hurt. One of the kids might cry. She might tell you where she’ll hide someone’s body if you all don’t smile.

She might turn into some unrecognizable scary person in the pursuit of one Christmas card worth shot.

You must actively fight off the instinct to resist her every step of the way. 

I say this, with an urgency and sincerity: the memories of you, on this day, mean more to your mom/wife/grandmother/girlfriend than literally almost anything. 

These photos will warm the nooks of their coffee stained hearts for years and years to come.

Whether they end up in an album or stuck to the fridge with a magnet, on someone’s desk at work or in a pair of hands weathered by time belonging to someone who loves seeing those family shots. These photos now are the treasures for when these moments are long gone. For people who will one day be long gone. 

These photos show that we were here, even if we might have been pissed off at the time because we didn’t want to wear a bowtie.

Not to be crass, because it IS Christmas and all, but you can surely suck it up for a few minutes, buttercup, and you can take the photo. You can be be one to have a gracious attitude so that your children or your siblings and relatives catch on. 

And one day, when times have changed, and you’ve gone the way that we all eventually do, when you’re old and gray, and you’re holding in your hands the faces that smiled long ago, no mater what’s happened in between now and that day to come – you’ll remember that you were there. They were there.

And that you all lived. 

And it will be your hidden treasure. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop.Parent.Shaming.

Do you ever have days where you just hate the internet with the fire of a thousand suns??

I get it. We all have perspective. We all have the right to sound off about what we want whenever it suits us. ‘Cause ‘Merica.

Even though I consider myself a blogger and bloggers are synonymous with sharing their opinions and offering commentary about whatever, I personally try to stay out of the fray. I don’t mind discussing one thing or another with the people in my day to day life, but it’s a whole other thing to comment about something on social media.

Even if you are like me and you’re pretty much a nobody, addressing something “publicly” adds our voices to the collective conversation in an entirely different capacity. And we humans don’t always think things through when we do.

We all know what happened at the Cincinnati zoo. We know that a beautiful and magnificent member of an endangered species died. And it’s horribly tragic. I love animals. LOVE them. And the thought of such a wonderful creature dying violently is heart-breaking. I cannot imagine what his caretakers who had to make that decision must be thinking. So yes, let’s take a moment to pause and mourn this beautiful creature. 

But I’m not here to talk about Harambe.

I’m here to talk to you about a mother. A parent. A person. On a trip to the zoo with her children. Who woke up on a Saturday and assumed that the day ahead with her children would be the same as almost any other day she spends with them.

Little did she know that her dire and awful mistake would garner her world wide attention. Scratch that. Not just world wide attention. But world wide scrutiny. And shame. And bitterness.

And hate. Because believe me, a great deal of the reaction to this news story is rooted firmly in hate.

All because she screwed up for a few minutes. I mean, yeah, she royally screwed up. And she will now spend a good chunk of the rest of her days living under the scrutiny of the public at large who doesn’t even know her, but sees itself fit to call for her to be prosecuted, punished and shamed without remorse for her child’s mistake. 

Unfortunately though, this is what we have signed up for as parents.

We have signed up not just for a 24/7 job, but also for the lifestyle and responsibilities of being a parent. We have signed up to be culpable for the actions of our children for pretty much the rest of our lives. Because we all know that whenever someone screws up, whether they are four or thirty-four, the rest of us are looking at the parents and wondering how they could ever raise such an imperfect person.

I’m choosing to speak up now because I have been this mother. Just maybe you have never heard of me because my children never ended up in the gorilla pen at a large zoo. At times my actions as a mom may have proven inadequate, but hey, at least my shortcomings have never made headlines or trended on Twitter.

Let me tell you a story that a thousand other mothers could tell you.

When my oldest child was not quite four, we were leaving our local Target store. My sons behavior had taken a downhill turn, and he was being difficult – as three year olds are wont to do on occasion I’m told. Shocking.

I even had another adult with me to aid in my ventures. We were approaching our van in the parking lot when his mood was deteriorated further. I let go of his hand for just a moment as I fished out the carkeys from my purse, and guided the shopping cart containing my toddler to a stop. 

I let go for a moment and let my thoughts travel to the next thing on my to do list.

Meanwhile, my son decided that he had finally had enough.

He started screaming as he about-faced and started running full speed away from me. In a busy and crowded parking lot. Red-faced and not paying attention to his surroundings at all. 

Let me tell you something about my son. Even now, his bad moods are few and far between. He has always been a very reasonable person ever since he was born. This was incredibly unlike him. This was totally out of character and unexpected. 

But in that moment, it didn’t matter. 

I screamed and ran after him, catching up to him maybe ten seconds later, so this whole thing was over in barely the blink of an eye. But a car backing out of a parking space or rounding the corner in our lane and crushing my son would have taken far less than that. 

I wanted to vomit when I caught him. People looked at me, trying to distinguish what was going on, wondering why a child was screaming bloody murder in a parking lot.

Some I’m sure clucked their tongue at me, dismissing me as yet one more parent who couldn’t keep their child under control. How dare I?

I knew I had dropped the ball. Why would I EVER let go of his hand in a parking lot?? Why didn’t I think, and have my adult companion hold his hand? Why didn’t I help him calm down before we loaded up into the car? Why why WHY!!? 

That’s all that I could think about for the rest of the day, an even on occasion now. I think about how differently that situation could have turned out. 

My husband and I are very hands on parents. We have rules. We have boundaries. We monitor or children in potentially unsafe situations. We might even check a lot of the boxes for what people say make a parent “good.” But if you had seen what unfolded in that parking lot for fifteen seconds on a Thursday afternoon, you would probably never know that.

And if you had watched, would you have given me the benefit of the doubt that I’m a good mother?

I feel stares when I’m at the store on a normal day. Any parent probably does. 

The way we speak to our children. The way they behave. The way we as parents handle their bad behavior. We know people are watching.

It’s people who have no issue with staring us down while our child is throwing groceries from the cart or fussing at a restaurant, or people who are careful to watch the madness unfold peripherally while they purse their lips and roll their eyes in displeasure. 

Dear Peanut Gallery of the World, we parents know that you are watching us.

We know you’re judging. And maybe it’s time that you understood that no parent is perfect. Maybe it’s time you understood that children are at times highly unpredictable, but capable people.

And maybe it’s time you minded your own business.

Every parent has majorly dropped the ball at one point or another in their parenting journey. It’s just that minor screw ups don’t make it into the news.

Once, I let my youngest child fuss and cry from her bed while she was supposed to be napping because I just wanted her to give up and go to sleep. Because I was over it. Turns out she had a bee in her room that she was both hypnotized by and afraid of. 

I once let another child fuss in their bed until they drifted back off to sleep, only to find in the morning that they had puked in their bed and slept with it for the night. 

Another time, the back storm door in our kitchen wasn’t latched and my not quite two year old let himself out and went on a stroll…toward the street in front of our house.

I have snapped at my children needlessly. Been grouchy and impatient with them in public. I have punished them when I was angry. I have told them that I didn’t want to play with them and sent them away in a bid for two minutes of sane child-free time spent on my iPhone 

But I’m a mother who is literally trying her very best every single day. 

At times, my life could make for a series of convenient headlines if only something worse had happened. But headlines don’t tell you about the people who are trying to do their best by their children.  Blurbs on Twitter or Facebook don’t tell you the entire story. And they sure as hell don’t trumpet the accomplishments of the parents who get it right every.single.day. 

We make excuses for so much in this world. We tell people that they don’t have the right to judge another’s religion, sexuality, gender identity or life choices. We tell people to frequently mind their own business when it comes to matters that don’t involve them directly.

Maybe it’s time that we realized that the decisions that parents make are nobody’s business but theirs. Maybe it’s time that we realized that a fifteen minute or fifteen second snap shot in the day of a life of a parent doesn’t tell the whole story.

Maybe it’s time that we reaffirm the people who are trying really, really hard to raise up responsible, loving, aware and helpful people that we really, really appreciate them. 

When you’re just not sure

As a blogger, if I would even dare officially consider myself one, I guess my job is to share some of the stuff that’s going on in my own life. 

I’m supposed to mine my own experiences, and turn them into something transcendent or relatable for someone else, in the hopes that maybe it will resonate with them. 

In the hopes that they can say, “me too.”

Then I read this. And I am still trying to remove the barbs that it thrust into me. 

Is what I do pointless? Is it stupid, or meaningless? It is useless?

I try to remind myself all of the time that I write for myself. And that hopefully, in doing so, some of what I say might reach someone. Someone who wants to laugh. Someone who wants to feel like they aren’t the only one. Or maybe, someone who just can’t even anymore. 

For nearly twelve years, my father has been sick. He has hepatitis c. His liver began to experience cirrhosis years ago, but the condition came to a head in 2005. Funny thing is, that word has fluttered out of my mouth at times in a high frequency over the last twelves years, but I still had to double check the spelling on it. For a long time, it was the unseen enemy, threatening everything.

He had a liver transplant in 2008. It was the weekend of my birthday. I was a new teller at a local community bank, working the second lane in the drive thru when I got the phone call from my mother.

I remember the swish of my khaki pants and how I started to cry when my mother told me that the hospital had a liver for my father as I hurriedly went and hid in the supply closet in an effort to contain myself. My joy. And my tears.

He wasn’t going to die. So many times, we thought he was going to, but now he definitely wasn’t. At least, if he could make it through the next few weeks.  

“It’s over,” I thought. 

Things are going to go back to normal. We celebrated all weekend, both my birthday and, seemingly, his day for rebirth. His second chance. I stole him a spoon from IHOP so that he would always have a trinket to remember such an occasion. 

I have no idea where that spoon is now. And the ghosts of a family broken who thought that it was over linger. 

That was eight years ago. Since then, addiction, continued and prolonged sickness, and anger have shattered my family into something unrecognizable. Something that seems unredeemable.

It’s all too much to write about for now. Maybe one day.

It’s hard enough to be someone’s caregiver, or to see someone you love struggle with sickness and poor health. But then when someone asks you how things are going and the truth is that not only is someone severely ill, but they’re also a broken person, you stop knowing how to answer the question. Because you don’t know where to start, and because they are also surrounded by broken people who have no idea how to handle all of this. 

I always thought that when your life was going to be shattered, it didn’t take years. And every time I have thought that this was it, this is rock bottom and it can’t possibly get any scarier or any worse, I have been so, so wrong.

I’m probably wrong now even. There is always a way for the bottom to drop out further.

We take our own autonomy for granted so easily. It’s without question that air will flow into our lungs without much effort when we take a breath. That our bones and skin can handle an innocuous stumble, or brushing against the corner of the counter top without injury. 

There are so many things that I take for granted, and yet I have watched someone lose pieces of themselves, year after year. 

Every time I can’t get over what it must be like to lose every part of your physical self, I feel the truth rush to me: we are more than these bodies. 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

And every time you come to a portion of the bridge that has given way, and you think you cannot pass, is when you have to trust more than any other time. 

It becomes the oxygen you need, the strength to your bones, the binding on your wounds. 

It sounds like magic. It sounds so easy. It isn’t easy. 

Sometimes, when I think that things are the worst that they have ever been, and I start looking upward for some sort of sign that I am doing this whole “faith” thing right, I always am puzzled. Is this what it feels like to trust?

This emptiness? Because that is all that I feel. 

Or is it in the empty places that faith fills in? Are we supposed to trust the emptying and the wounds?  

Our bodies may be decaying or unsubstantial, but on the inside, when troubles assail the waters we are supposed to sail on, that we are supposed to walk on in faith, it is the condition of our hearts that the Lord is secretly working to His glory. 

In the emptying, when we realize that we cannot trust in the way that things are, we learn the way that they are supposed to be. When faith fills the darkest places of us that have been emptied of ourselves, we taste the way that it is supposed to be. 

We are more than these bodies. And so, our hope should be in something greater. 

It sounds so easy. So, so easy. But when you sit in the wooden pews at church, and you see the hands of the saints around you raised in worship, but you don’t really know what you’re doing there anywhere?

That’s right where God wants you. 

He wants you to know that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. 

And even as life ticks by, and we think that we are learning, that we are growing, that we are different than the person we were a year ago, we come to yet another bedrock of truth. Where we find out just how much we really never knew to begin with. 

I’m not sure about any of this, really.

But the God in heaven is the one who scatters, and the one who draws near. 

And He will surely not allow us to be sown without allowing for us to collected.

Just sometimes, that takes time.