Monday, June 18, 2012

Faith Of My Fathers

I have a lot of fathers in my life. Most of the time I get along with them. Some of the time I can be rebellious, ungrateful, rude. Some of the time they deserve it. Most of the time they don’t. With Father’s Day this past weekend, I got to thinking about them all and the influences they’ve had in my life.

My relationship with my dad had always been up and down. Walking a fine line between resentment and affection. It’s probably because we’re alike in a lot of our negativities: emotional, a tad sensitive, prone to impatience and taking ourselves a little too seriously. Growing up I felt like I really identified with Ariel, having a dad who yelled in my face one minute and then regretted it the next. I see that pattern far too much in my own parenting. When I was younger, his apologies were readily received, his offenses quickly forgotten. As I got older I wasn’t so quick to forgive. We butted heads repeatedly. More than once I heard, “Honor your father and mother! Obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right and the first commandment with a promise!”, to which I always cuttingly replied, “Fathers, PROVOKE NOT THY CHILDREN.” My dad and I were both at fault those tumultuous growing up years. He, for expecting too much and pressuring me to be the way he thought I should be. I, for not being willing to give him that little extra he always wanted to see in me. For deliberately needling him because I knew I could. After my parents separated, Dad tried a lot harder to meet me halfway. For a long time I felt like it was too little, too late. I rebuffed his efforts to get to know me better, until I had my own son. Things changed after that. I realized that nothing- NOTHING- is as black and white as I thought it was. There is so much gray area to get lost in. And now that I was stumbling around in that gray fog, how could I blame him for doing the same all those years? Our relationship is vastly different now. We still butt heads sometimes. But Dad is a different man than he was when I was a teenager. And I’d like to think I’ve grown some since then. We understand each other better. We’ve learned how to communicate. There are a lot of lessons I can learn from my dad. He’s a lot wiser than I gave him credit for.

My stepdad, AJ, came into my life about 10 years ago. That was a rough segue for us. Anything I say about him is not to undermine my dad or make him look bad- just a disclaimer. The first time I met AJ was Easter Sunday of 2003. He invited all of us kids to his apartment for dinner. He made steaks (for 9 people), helped my mom put together Easter baskets for us, bought stuffed animals for Ashton (who was as yet, unborn). He was a nervous wreck. Looking back through the filter of knowing him for ten years, I can see how hard he tried to impress us. It was a tough task. Four adult children, two adolescents in the peak of all their angst, combined with the hurt and resentment and- yes, let’s just admit it- our firm determination to hate this guy no matter what. He was so brave. He made corny jokes, but never made much eye contact. He honored my mother, but didn’t rub it in our faces. And over the past ten years, he’s worked his way into our hearts, in spite of our early intentions. When my grandpa was sick, he packed up, no questions, and moved my mom down to Florida to be with him. And now that my grandpa is gone, AJ holds down the fort, the only man surrounded by four women from my mother’s family. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what does.

My father-in-law is the dad I’ve butted heads with the most in recent years. He’s ornery. I’m ornery. We’ve had quite a few battles, one of our most memorable explosions being the time he cut Chloe’s bangs while I was out to lunch. I still get worked up telling that story. Just last week we got into an argument that resulted in slammed doors and raised voices. He sulked in his room and I sulked in the kitchen. He says I give him a hard time, I say he deserves it. He’s never been an outwardly affectionate man- Jeremy can attest to that. Having grandkids has softened him remarkably, but he’ll always be the type to show his love subtly. For instance: Jeremy and I live in The Box House, which is actually owned by my father in law, rent free. He’ll sometimes come over on his days off to trim bushes, touch up paint and siding, and do general upkeep. He brings us baskets of vegetables from his garden. He’ll sit and talk history with Ashton for hours (sometimes whether Ashton wants to or not). And although Grandma spoils the kids, they know who to go to if they don’t want to hear no. Papa fills them to the eyeballs with donuts, ice cream, and popsicles. He takes them out to the garden to get devoured by mosquitos while they pick corn and green beans.

 The last dad in my life isn’t MY dad- he’s my kids’ dad. Jeremy became a daddy at a really young age. Even though we didn’t plan Ashton, he never once looked back, the way I so often have. He cried like a baby the day Ashton was born (and I have the pictures to prove it). I tell people all the time that Jeremy is far and away a better parent than I am. He’s patient when I’m not. He wrestles with Ashton and plays Barbies with the girls. He’s the good cop to my bad cop (why, Moms, does it always end up this way?? Why do we always end up having to be the bad guy?? Please let me know your thoughts on this), the Ernie to my Burt. While I take myself too seriously, he picks and chooses his battles, making him way more effective in the long run. He teaches Ashton sports and some hybrid form of self defense that I’m pretty sure he makes up as he goes along. He takes the girls on “Daddy Dates”, where they dress up and he takes them wherever they want to go. He’s a very deliberate father. What I mean when I say that is, he’s intentional. I’m fly off the handle, unpredictable, here and there. Jeremy makes eye contact when he talks to the kids. He listens to their stories. He’s deliberate with his compliments: “Chloe, that dress makes your eyes look pretty.” “Ashton, you did a really good job obeying today.” “Atleigh, your finger nail polish colors are great.” He knows his kids. He knows what makes them tick. Sometimes I might not agree with his methods, but in the end I know that he’s the perfect foil to my harum-scarum brand of parenting.

So here are some lessons I’ve learned from the fathers in my life, sometimes the hard way.

From my dad, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to change. Second, third, fourth chances are always available. Dad realized late in life some of the mistakes he made. Instead of just letting it slide, he tried hard to correct them, even when we rebuffed him. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s okay to wear my heart on my sleeve. Vulnerability can be a secret strength. He is tenderhearted. He’s compassionate. And because he understands mistakes, he’s quick to give second chances in return, and God knows I’ve needed them.

My stepdad has taught me acceptance. He knew, going in, that my mom had a lot of baggage, including 6 particularly large pieces. He took us all into his heart. He loves my kids like they’re his own grandkids- as truly, they are. He’s shown me selflessness. He’s shown me unconditional love, and what it means to act it out.

I’ve learned from my father-in-law that love doesn’t always have to look the way I think it does. No matter what people say, it isn’t always necessary to say the words “I love you”. Yes, it’s nice. But it’s easy to say, not so easy to show. And my father-in-law shows. Yes, we argue. Yes, we pick at each other. But the little things (and the big things) he does for us, show me a lot more clearly that he loves us than a Hallmark card ever could.

Jeremy teaches me lessons everyday, whether he knows it or not. He teaches me what patience can look like. He teaches me that discipline can be deliberate, not an act of exasperation. I know my kids are growing up with a dad they can trust. Whereas I may end up being the King Triton to their Ariel, losing my cool and then quickly regaining it, Jeremy is more steady. He’ll be the one teaching them how to protect them from themselves, while I’ll be trying to just lock them in their rooms.

Each of these men are a mere earthly shadow of my true Father. The best part of seeing all of these elements in them is knowing that they’re the tiniest fractions of the grace and compassion, the acceptance and unconditional love, the protection and provision, the patience and careful guidance of the Father Who placed these men in my life. I’ve been a less than gracious daughter to all of them, but especially to Him. I’ve closed my ears to lessons I could have been taught with much less heartache if I’d listened the first time. I’ve argued and stiffened my neck, I’ve turned my back, slammed doors, and thrown temper tantrums. I’ve proven over and over again that I’m a headstrong girl in need of a Father. And He’s always been that to me.

To all of you fathers out there, good or bad, struggling to show your son what a man can be, bewildered by your daughters growing up; to the fathers who need second, third, and fourth chances; to the fathers who are separated from your families right now, voluntarily or otherwise, I say: May you be an earthly shadow of the true Father. May you practice grace everyday. May you be teachable. May you lead by example and not words. And one day, perhaps in 30 years, your children will look back, as I have done, and realize all the lessons they’ve learned from you.

Happy Father’s Day, to all my dads.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Weekend Update: Music, Movies, and Cookouts, Oh My!

In an attempt to keep my blog up instead of slacking off as I have been all too much lately, I’m going to try to do a weekend update of sorts. It won’t be as exciting as SNL’s actual “weekend updates”, but at least it will somewhat chronicle our summer.

Let’s start at the beginning. On Monday, while driving aimlessly about, my kids in the back seat swinging their legs and chattering, I decided to search Pandora for a Disney station. My kids are in between ages. Ashton is too old for Mickey and the Wiggles, Atleigh is too young for all the teeny bopper Disney shows. We don’t have cable so we don’t keep up with what all’s out there. “Disney Children’s” was the first thing to pop up on the drop down list. Why not? It was the absolute best decision of my week. I’m sure I’m not the only mom in her mid to late 20’s (ok, ok... LATE 20’s) to stumble upon this channel that is chock full of classics from Disney animated movies. I about lost it. The first time Pocahontas came on, I screamed “This is my JAM!”-not kidding. Totally happened- and turned the volume almost all the way up. Pocahontas was my first ever soundtrack, on cassette. I played that thing until the ribbons wore through. I was a happy, happy 90’s child that day.

Backstory to this next part: This past Christmas we bought Ashton and Chloe Nintendo DSi XL’s. My mother in law bought Chloe’s, and I bought Ashton’s. It was my first layaway purchase not only as a parent, but ever. The first thing I bought with my own money since returning back to work. I paid on it with my very first paycheck, and every paycheck until right before Christmas. The most accomplished feeling came with carrying that box out of the store the day I made the final payment.

Chloe somehow lost Ashton’s DS in our house at the beginning of the year. A few months later, Ashton lost Chloe’s. Don’t ask me how this happened (the switching part- I know how the lost part came about. We live on top of each other in this tiny Box House. It’s easy for anything smaller than the dishwasher to get lost). All I know is, we had two expensive gaming systems that were completely MIA. We’ve torn the house apart looking for them off and on. This past week, for some reason, it really started to bother me. I said, “God, I spent all this money on these games for my kids. It would help if You could give me some sort of clue here.” Nothing. I asked my friend Missy to pray with me that they would be found. I know some of you are out there, saying “Big deal. Kids are over stimulated with technology anyway.” More than likely you’re right. Shut up. This was about more than the video game to me. This was about something I had invested in, a mile marker and a symbol of something I could never have had as a kid. It was important to me. The very next morning, I was searching for something on Ashton’s dresser, and there, right in front of me, was Chloe’s DS. I’d looked there, plenty of times before. And now, here it was. I was floored. This past Friday, the kids called me at work, screaming, “We found Ashton’s DS, we found it!” Also in a place I’d looked before, plenty of times. I’m still in shock. Although I shouldn’t be shocked over answered prayer, even in the small, seemingly stupid things. My faith was strengthened over this weekend.

Friday night we went to The Circuit (I've posted about it before) for karaoke night. Now, I've been singing on stages since I was 13. Karaoke was a first for me. I don't know why it took so much nerve, but I did it. Now I can't wait to do it again. I'm going to be brave and post the video Missy took of me singing. It's dark and it cuts off, but you'll get the idea.

Jeremy and my friend Maggie stole the show with their rendition of Ice, Ice Baby, but it was too long to upload. I'll just have to leave you all to your imaginations.

On Saturday morning we were taken with the insane fancy to go see Madagascar 3 with my brother, Adam, his wife, and their two kids (actually it was Adam’s idea. I can’t take responsibility for the insanity, only the perpetuation of it). On opening weekend. With five kids. A 2 year old, a 3 year old, a 4 year old, a 6 year old, and an 8 year old. I don’t really remember much of the movie. These two trailers left an impression:

Not going to lie. The Rothwellsphere has been eagerly awaiting Brave for the past 6 months at least. "Ach! Finally a Disney movie to rrrepresent our-ah people!" my dad cried (apparently he doesn't count The Little Mermaid as I do). There may or may not be a blog post solely dedicated to this movie in the future.

I'm a huge- HUGE- fan of Jude Law, even as an animated bad guy. Yes please. I love twists on fairy tales.

This was Atleigh’s first real movie experience that she was old enough to need a ticket for. I have similar pictures of Ashton and Chloe:

My poor sister in law, Laurie, wound up having to take my niece (she’s the 2 year old, and freshly potty trained) down the thousand stairs from the top of the stadium style theater at least three times before we realized that there was a bathroom on the second floor, with the exit a mere two feet away from us. The next three potty trips were much easier.
I can’t really give you a review of the movie. Between potty trips, kids whispering (not mine, of course!), Atleigh trying to decide which lap she was most comfortable in, it’s mostly a blur. I can tell you what I remember: The colors and effects were pretty. Kind of like an animal Cirque De Soliel. The jokes were funny but a lot of them were heavy with innuendo. None of my kids were old enough to understand, but Ashton is getting close. All in all it was my least favorite of the Madagascar movies. And yes, my children are still currently singing the Afro Circus song. So there’s at least one gem we got out of it. Professional review over.

After the movie we crossed the parking lot to a local favorite Mexican place, Plaza Azteca. If you don’t know what it is, or don’t have access to it, I’m sorry. You’re missing out. We sat at a huge U-shaped booth. I’m sure these people took one look at us, counted all the kids, and thought “Let’s corral this crazy town as far from civilization as possible.”
I love seeing my kids and their cousins all together. I love catching little expressions and quirks that are so frighteningly similar. I love how my daughters baby their “Baby Hannah”- I’m sure they’ll call her that until she’s on her way to college.  Although Ashton often mourns over being the oldest in the passel of kids, complaining about being an example and having responsibilities like passing the salt and letting the younger kids share his french fries, in general he handles in with the aplomb of a much older child (a trademark of being an “oldest child”). He mutters that he “hates being an 8 year old”, but I’m certain he’d hate even more being- horrors!- a 6 year old.

Ours is a high and lonely destiny, my boy.

The three girlies had fun jingling their way through the afternoon. If you follow me on Instagram (@mbsmoot), you'll know the jingle skirts have been a big hit at the Box House.

Saturday night we went to my in-laws for a welcome home cookout for Jeremy’s brother and his wife, as they pass through on their way from one Coast Guard base to another (Next summer, expect some pictures from Cape Cod!). More cousins, more food; fire, bug spray, and fireflies (not all together. That would be disastrous). Lots of dirt on feet and under fingernails.

This is what summer is about, right here.

Our twin nephews, Austin and Aidan

A rare moment of harmony between Atleigh and Curren

Noah definitely got the short end of the stick

I'm so in love with Curren's crazy Greek hair.

Our lives are busy in general. Our weekends, by comparison, are a happy hectic. The type of busy that causes you to fall into bed at the end of the day, when the sky is dark, the crickets sing, when long eyelashes fan across soft little cheeks, and thank God that you got to be a part of the world that day. That you got to contribute your individual breaths to the atmosphere that we all breathe. You thank God for the big things like family and food; for the little things like music that brings back a happy childhood, for answered prayers that grow the faith of an 8 and a 6 year old, as well as your own.

How was your week, friends? What major or minor miracles have you seen? What memories have you made?


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Swell

It’s summer at the Box House. Before my kids were in school, the year lolloped along aimlessly with no real definition to our days. Summer was just an incredibly hot version of our lives, more of a hassle than anything else. Longer days made for more troublesome bedtimes. Higher temperatures had our 100 year old house sweating it out in agony, with only one window unit air conditioner to cool three rooms. When October rolled around I thanked the gods of reds and golds, azure skies, and open windows. The white hot heat of summer was something to be endured.

Now, with the kids in school, our year is vastly different. After nine long, cold months of searching for shoes and bookbags, packing lunches, homework, class parties and portraits, summer is what keeps us going. Ashton and Chloe got out of school two weeks ago, and our real life began. Atleigh finally- FINALLY- could stop asking every morning when Sissy was coming home. Ashton could finally- FINALLY- stop whining about school ruining his “staying up late nights”. The Box House heaved a huge sigh of relief, kicked off our socks and wiggled our winter white toes.

Now, at long last, summer is what it should be. Long days are lived to the fullest. Sidewalk chalk and garden hoses. Flip flop tan lines. Tank tops and sundresses. Vegetables from the garden. Nights are even better. Camping out on the living room floor watching movies. Counting fireflies as they make their way across our yard. Cold drinks sweating in your hot hand as you sit on the front step listening to the crickets.

The best part about summer is the smells. Sunblock, sunshine and sweat. Honeysuckle, cut grass, charcoal grills. Salt water, chlorine, pool floaties. The sharp tang of ozone right before a freak thunderstorm. Laundry detergent from the endless dirty shirts and shorts. And the clean, warm smell of the kids fresh from the bath, their cool skin pressed up against me, their wet hair against my cheek as we cuddle on the couch. And the sounds! Crickets chirping. The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Frank Sinatra; Phineas and Ferb marathons, Jeremy plucking his guitar, the kids laughing and screaming, dogs barking. How could I have missed all of this before? The answer is simple- I closed my eyes to the life I could be living. So summer is hot- So what? So there’s no regular bedtime- Even better.

If I can learn one lesson from summer, it should be that days may be long, but life is short. One day, sooner than I can imagine, my kids will be grown. There will be no more dirty toes curled up next to me on the couch. No more freckled, sweaty faces looking earnestly up into mine as they show me their latest leaf or feather. The days will slip by me, one after the other, endless, long days that turn out to be not so long after all. Summer, more than anything, should lend us perspective to last us the rest of the year. Something to remember; something to look forward to. Something to teach us to slow down, breathe a little more deeply.

There are dips and swells throughout life. Summer is definitely a swell. A time of fullness we can’t hold in our arms. A time to float along with the tide, making memories and dreaming dreams. Take pictures. Sing loudly. Try new recipes. Sit in front of a fan and talk in Transformer voices. Eat outside. Walk barefoot.

Make your summer as swell as you possibly can.


To see how swell my summer is in pictures, you can follow me on Instagram: @mbsmoot (that's me) and @ms2photo (that's my photography).