14 Circles Around the Sun: Celebrating My Son

Today, my first-born turns fourteen. His birthday always brings back memories of past celebrations. I remember his first fish-themed birthday party in Winston-Salem. We invited all of the neighborhood babies and my new-mom friends, who helped me survive my first year of motherhood…I remember his fourth birthday in Omaha and our first with extended family: My brother-in-law made a surprise appearance as Spiderman. He wore a Youth XL costume that I found on clearance. (Yes, it was WAY too small and slightly inappropriate.) He joyfully shot silly string around our house and on my son’s new neighborhood friends… I also remember celebrating my son’s short-lived electric guitar lesson phase with a rock ‘n’ roll birthday party in our unfinished basement. My husband and father-in-law lovingly built a “real stage” for the preschoolers and hip hop dance instructors to perform on…

My son’s birthday always brings back images of him carrying the Earth around the Sun, one circle for each year…Oh, how I miss his Montessori preschool and his beloved fire truck slippers! I remember sitting patiently at the edge of the circle, counting each unhurried orbit and feeling like life was moving in slow motion.  During the preschool years, each day felt LONG with hours that needed to be filled. Now, I am amazed by how quickly each year and phase has passed.

When I first met my son he weighed five pounds and was small enough to fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. Today, he stands several inches taller than me and has become a person that I look up to both literally and figuratively. In the beginning, I was my son’s teacher. I tried to lead by example, demonstrating the importance of “pleases” and “thank yous.” I showed him how to share and to take turns. I worked really hard (and not always successfully) to teach him the difference between indoor voices and outdoor voices. Actually, we are still working on this lesson.  I’ve always wanted him to maximize his potential academically and to find and follow his extracurricular interests…but my highest goal is to raise a kind kid. Ultimately, that is how I will always measure my success as a mother and his success as a man.

But, somewhere along the line, my son started leading by his example.  He taught me that there is more than one way to do things and that my way isn’t the only one.  So, to celebrate my son’s birthday, I want to acknowledge some valuable lessons that I’ve learned by being his mom:

Be Authentic.

My son has always walked to the beat of his own drum. There was a time when I wanted desperately for him to just fall in line…to sit quietly without waving his hand around and firing off one question after another at his poor teacher…to color inside the lines. But with time, I’ve come to see his insatiable curiosity, strong will and inability to follow the pack as qualities that while challenging to mother will serve him well in life.

Be Loyal.  

If you become my son’s friend, he will always have your back. He’s the kind of kid who will literally jump into a fight to defend a friend…will write a petition to stand up for a friend’s injustice…will volunteer to take a demerit for a buddy who is in danger of redirection room. As his mother, I cannot condone these actions. But, I admire the way he looks out for his friends, stands up for what he believes is right and always wants to help a friend in need.

Laugh a Little (or a Lot).

At times, my husband and I may error on the side of taking life a little too seriously. I think that is why we were blessed with a son who can add humor to literally any situation. I love that he can make his little sister and brother laugh when they really want to pull out their hair in frustration with him. This summer, he spent nearly a week away from our family.  His absence was marked by a strangely quiet house and unusually tidy bedroom… I missed his laugh and welcomed back both his noise and perpetually unmade bed!

The Same = Boring.

At fourteen, my son’s greatest loves are muscle cars, biking, fishing and conservative politics.  He’s completely self-taught and knows more about these subjects than the rest of the family combined.  Our family shares many common values. But, we have learned that life is a lot more interesting if we think independently and accept and appreciate each other’s differences.

I often find myself wondering where my son came from?  One look at him and there is no denying that he is mine. I am so proud of him and grateful for all of the gifts that he’s brought into my life. As I look ahead, I feel excited for his future.  It will be fun to support his journey.  I can’t help but wonder where life will take him in the next 14 years?

xo Kara

 

 

Grateful and Authentic: A Work In Progress

10.21.16

I recently celebrated another birthday; this one carried very little pomp and circumstance. However, it encouraged me to take a step back and to look at the big picture…to celebrate all of the experiences that have brought me to this point and to ask myself, where do I want to go from here?

During the past year, living a grateful and authentic life has become my personal mission statement. While I clearly have not mastered the art, I have learned a few things along the way:

  1. Be thankful and ask for help. Last January, I began keeping a prayer journal. Each morning, I try to take a minute to document my blessings; I celebrate everything from my strong cup of coffee to the sweet freckles on my daughter’s nose. Then, I pray for help… This simple ritual starts my day off on the right foot, with a thankful perspective and a calm heart.
  1. Collect authentic friends. I hear myself telling my kids to fill up their lives with friends who lift them up, make them happy and like them unconditionally.  Lately, I’ve had to remind myself to follow this advice, too.  Life is simply too short and too busy for “friends” that add stress and subtract joy.
  1. “No” is not a bad word. I’ve learned that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. There are only so many minutes in each day. And, we all have a limited number of days. So, I have become more selective about how I fill up my calendar. Just because I think that I have time to take on another volunteer project or other commitment, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for me (or my family).
  1. Each day is a gift. Ever since my birthday, my enthusiastic five-year-old (who loves everything birthday-related) keeps asking me, “Are you 41? Are you still 41?” Each, innocent question connects me to my aunt, who passed away at 41. It reminds me not to take anything or anyone for granted…
  1. Be brave and try new things. Writing this blog is completely outside my “box.” Putting my thoughts out into the “Universe” for others to read and judge is terrifying. Whenever someone mentions that they are following me, it makes me feel a little self-conscious (like I forgot to wear my cover-up to the pool). But, I appreciate the encouragement; it’s much more fun to have an audience than to write for myself.

So, thank you for joining me on my journey. I encourage you to take a step back and to admire your life…If you’re inspired to create your own “mission statement,” I’d love  for you to share it, too.

xo Kara

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Surrender, Enjoy the Journey

9.8.16

Twelve years ago, my first-born son arrived three weeks early and in the midst of Hurricane Frances. I remember the loud rain and crazy winds whirling around Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Nearby streets were flooding; I was so thankful to be safe, inside the hospital with my doctor and husband by my side. The next morning we learned that Frances spawned 101 tornadoes from Florida to Virginia…In hindsight, it seems like the perfect setting for my son to enter the world and for me to become a first-time mother.

Since then, motherhood has been a lot like a violent, cyclonic storm. No book or class could have possibly prepared me for it. And, I thought I was prepared. I’d read What to Expect when You’re Expecting; being an over-achiever, I’d even read ahead to What to Expect the First Year. My husband and I had taken the “Prepared Childbirth” classes and learned about labor, delivery and how to care for a newborn…

Looking back, I roll my eyes at the judgy person I was before I became a mother. I remember traveling for work and wondering why young parents around me could not calm fussy babies on airplanes?!? Or, why a frenzied mother of three would give her children sugary lollipops to keep them happy in the cart while shopping at Target?!? My son was born before everyone had iPhones, but I imagine that I would also have had an opinion about giving them to children in restaurants and waiting rooms…because I was prepared to be a really perfect mother. I was prepared to have perfect children…

But, God had other plans; we are all perfectly imperfect. And, twelve years into my journey as a mother, I’m thankful for my family with all of its flaws. I’m grateful for the lessons that my children have taught me about the silliness of pride and the beauty of authentic, unconditional love. I’m thankful that they’ve taught me to be humble and to give myself a little grace. I’ve also learned to extend that grace to other parents who are also struggling to do their best.

Back on September 8, 2004, when I first met my fragile, five-pound son, I felt like I was looking into my own eyes. He inherited them from me. Over the years, I’ve seen them reflect my own joy back at me (and my own strong-willed, stubbornness). Although we may not always agree on everything, when I look into my son’s eyes I can see that we are more alike than different.

As we celebrate his twelfth birthday, I can’t help but wonder if we are standing in the eye of the storm? No doubt, his teen years will bring new challenges. But, today I want to celebrate a dozen things (in no particular order) that I love about my son at age 12:

  1. His infinite thirst for knowledge.
  2. His insatiable appetite for books.
  3. His sensitive soul.
  4. His creative mind.
  5. His ability to forgive.
  6. His generous spirit.
  7. His easy laugh.
  8. His courage to color outside the lines.
  9. His kindness to younger children.
  10. His quirky sense of humor.
  11. His strong sense of loyalty.
  12. His inability to be anything but his authentic self.

If I could travel back in time to his birthday, I’d tell myself to relax and to surrender to the storm. As much as I will want to control my children and to protect them from danger, it isn’t possible. The best advice that I could give myself (and anyone who is reading along), is to simply enjoy the journey.

xo Kara

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180 Birthday Candles and 70 Years of Marriage

6.19.16

Last night, my family gathered to celebrate two of my favorite people and three really big accomplishments: two 90th birthdays and one 70th anniversary. As my house filled with loud, loving laughter…mixed with a little mischief, I realized that none of it would be possible without my wonderful grandparents.

For as long as I can remember, my Nana has personified love. As a child, I was given the gift of spending one week at their farm in Illinois each summer. She stocked her kitchen with all of my favorite (and forbidden) foods; I loved it when she served me ice cream sundaes for breakfast! We spent hours dressing the tiny barn kittens in doll clothes and strolling them around in a baby buggy. I loved making hollyhock dolls from the blooms in her magical garden. Each year, she’d take me on a day trip to Chicago to explore a different museum; I remember being amazed by Colleen Moore’s incredible dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry and begging to go back to see it again and again!

Later, my grandpa lovingly built my own cherished dollhouse. He allowed me to select the design plans and colors…wallpaper and flooring, too. It was a true labor of love: I cannot imagine how many hours went into this project. When my grandma would visit, she’d take me to Miniature World, where I’d select a small piece of furniture or whimsical accessory. Eventually my dollhouse was so overly decorated that it had seasonal decorations that I’d switch out, depending on the holiday… (Maybe, I was just a little spoiled?!?)

On the flip side, my Papa has always personified laughter. I remember him embarrassing my grandma when we were shopping at Water Tower Plaza. We came out of a store and put his hat on backwards and started walking pigeon-toed toward us, pretending that he had too much to drink. He yelled her name and waved wildly. She blushed and I giggled and giggled and giggled…

At 90, he still loves to entertain both himself and everyone around him. Just the other day, he was telling me about the identity thieves that have been targeting residents in their senior living community. They’ve been calling and pretending to be representatives of a health insurance company, hoping to get personal information. My grandpa got a phone call and the game was on. He said his name was Freddie Fudpucker. He spelled it very carefully then made up all sorts of information regarding his date of birth and address, etc. When it got to the phone number, he gave them the number for IRS Fraud line and said he’d be calling it next. He started laughing; the reply was a click. I love that my grandpa can find the humor in all situations. During another recent conversation, he was laughing about how he was on Hospice for a month last summer. He truly is a miracle and proof that attitude is everything.

My grandparents met in high school and married at age 20, after my grandpa returned from World War II. Seventy years of marriage is a great accomplishment, but being happily married for seven decades is exceptional. One of the joys of having my grandparents just down the street is that I’ve gotten to know them as an adult, myself. I often leave their apartment praying that my own mature marriage will have the same loving tenderness and patience that I witness each time I spend time with them.

My grandparents are among the people that I love and admire most. I’m so thankful for those 180 candles and 70 years of marriage. I’m lucky to be a branch on their family tree. I can only hope that I inherited some of their good stuff. To be honest, I see a lot of it in my own children. I hope that love and laughter remain dominant family traits for generations to come.

Ten Birthday Wishes for My Daughter

4.20.16

Today, my daughter turns ten. Today, she celebrates her first double-digit birthday. Today, she officially becomes a “tween.”

A tween is defined as “a youngster between 10 and 12 years of age, considered too old to be a child and too young to be a teenager.” There is something bittersweet about watching your daughter close one chapter and begin a new one. It marks the passing of time for both of us. Ever since she was a baby, I’ve been told that girls are easy when they are little, but everything gets flipped upside down as they enter their teen years. Although I want to reject this advice, I understand that this sweet stage may not last forever.

As I watch my daughter make a wish and blow out the candles on her cake, I find myself making wishes for her, too.

Here are ten wishes for my daughter on her tenth birthday:

  1. Develop Drama-Free Friendships. My sister always tells me to “fill up your life with good stuff.” I think that’s especially true about friendships. Fill your life with friends who make you feel happy and secure…friends who like you just the way you are, no improvements needed…friends who won’t ever put conditions on your friendship or make you feel pushed to do things you don’t want to do… My wish for you is that you will find true friends who will encourage you to be you (and love you for it).
  1. Take Chances. I know that you want to succeed at everything you do. But, don’t be afraid to fail. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? Then, put yourself out there and go for it. You are more talented than you realize. And, you are more resilient, too. It’s tempting to always play it safe and to avoid disappointments. If you don’t try, you may not reach your true potential. My wish for you is that you won’t be afraid to chase big dreams.
  1. You Don’t Have To Be Perfect. I can see that you are a little bit of a perfectionist. I’m not sure where that comes from. 😉 Speaking from experience, the problem with being a perfectionist is that no one is perfect; it’s unachievable. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly. Everyone makes mistakes. And, I love you because you are you – not because you do everything so well! My wish for you is to know that you are loved without conditions; nothing could make me love you less.
  1. Don’t Take Life (Or Yourself) Too Seriously. Often, your wit catches me off guard and I find myself wondering where your wonderful sense of humor came from? (Not me!) You are able to be silly and to laugh at yourself. I hope that you will never outgrow this trait because it makes the world a happier place. My wish for you is that you will never lose your sense of humor.
  1. Never Forget Your Nine-Year-Old Self. Remember our trip to Chicago to celebrate your ninth birthday? Remember the first time you walked down Michigan Avenue? At first, the enormous skyscrapers, the roar of the traffic, and all of the people amazed you; then you encountered a needy person, asking for money. You stopped and opened your little purse and handed him one of your precious five-dollar bills – a large percentage of the birthday money that you’d saved for the trip. The smile on the man’s face lit up your own and warmed my heart. As we walked to the next corner you stopped again and repeated your act of generosity. After crossing the street, you met another person in need of help; at that point you realized that you were quickly running out of money… So, you asked if you could share your lunch and dinner with them? I’ve always been proud of you, but this stands out as one of my very proudest mom moments. My wish for you is that you will hold onto your generous, caring spirit.
  1. Be Confident in Your Natural Beauty. Over the next few years, you are going to hear a lot about what it means to be beautiful. I hope you always remember that true beauty shines from the inside out – it can’t be purchased in glossy tubes or beautiful bottles. Beauty is revealed in your words and your actions. My wish for you is that you will never conceal your natural beauty.  
  1. Don’t Be A Sheep. You are one-of-a-kind. You were given your own mind, so never be afraid to use it. I know that you have a strong moral compass, with it as your guide – you will steer clear of trouble. If you are uncomfortable with the direction your crowd is moving, have the courage to step outside. It will seem scary, but the consequences of making dangerous, unhealthy choices can be much more devastating. My wish for you is that you will always have the courage to make your own choices.
  1. No Hurry to Meet Prince Charming. I know you still say, “Ewww!” at the end of Disney cartoons, when the prince and princess kiss and go off to live happily ever after. But, one day your attitude may change. When/if it does, I hope that you set your bar high, knowing that you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness at all times; never settle for anything less. I hope that you’ll take the time to find yourself first. It’s okay to be a little selfish when you’re young: to focus on your goals, interests and dreams first. My wish for you is that when you’re old enough to date, you will have the confidence to be extremely selective.
  1. Say “Thank You.” We all have been given far more than we deserve. Focus on what you have, rather than what you lack. My wish for you is that you will always take time to count your blessings…and share them with others.
  1. Be Yourself. Discover what makes you happy (not me or anyone else). I truly believe that we all have a purpose and the sooner we discover it, the better. My wish for you is that you will have the courage to be authentically you.

Happy, happy tenth birthday, dear daughter!

May all of your wishes and my wishes come true!

xo Mom