Finding Our Happily Ever After…  

7.16.15

Tomorrow, my husband and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. It’s hard to believe that I met him when I was an 18-year-old sophomore at the University of Kansas. He literally almost knocked me off my off my feet when he bumped into me at “The Bull,” a dive bar down the road from my sorority and his fraternity. I remember thinking that I’d never met anyone quite like him. He was tall, tanned and handsome, with these intense blue eyes. He was also kind, driven, intelligent and athletic. He checked all of my boxes and then some…

About a week later, my sorority had a date dash: we were given 24 hours to find a date for a surprise party, which was planned for the next night. My first thought was to ask Kyle. I’d seen him running (shirtless) that afternoon and he’d yelled “Hey, Kara!” to me (a good sign). With a room full of sorority sisters, I mustered up the courage to call his fraternity and to ask for him. Eventually, he answered the phone; I asked if he had plans for the next night? He paused and said that he thought he might have to study. (It was a Friday night…and the first week of school!?!). Before I could say okay, he hung up on me. Stunned and embarrassed, I handed the phone to my roommate and said, “It’s your turn. I hope you have better luck!”

About a half hour later, the house phone rang and was connected to my room. It was Kyle. He said that he was asleep and confused when I called. When he tried to fall back asleep, he realized who I was and what he’d done. He asked if I’d found another date and I said, “No. I’m still trying to recover from your rejection.”

I’m not sure why I love this story; it’s pretty humiliating! My eleven-year-old son was asking about our first date a couple of days ago and I told it to him. He started laughing and said, “I’m sure glad that Dad came to his senses and called you back!” Me too.

Today, my own dad pointed out that I’ve spent the same amount of time as Kyle’s wife as I spent growing up in my parents’ home…It’s all gone by in a blink. I constantly hear myself commenting on how fast our three children are growing up. Although I’ve started buying wrinkle cream and coloring the silver sparkles that I am beginning to spot more frequently in my hair, I rarely pause and reflect on how quickly my husband and I are also growing up. (I think that sounds much better than growing old.)

When I look at photos from our wedding, I see two kids making grown-up promises. I see two bright-eyed, optimistic twenty-two year olds who cannot wait to take on adulthood together. We could not imagine the challenges or struggles that we’d face as a team. We could not envision the beautiful family that we’d create or the friends and experiences that we’d collect along the way. I am so thankful that I’ve had him as my teammate to help navigate the bumpy road of life. We continue to pursue our happily ever after, one small (and big) decision at a time. As we celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, I’m so thankful that he made the correct first decision and chose to say, “Yes!” to me.

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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.

Sipping the Select Sport Kool-Aid

6.11.16

Sometimes modern parenting feels a little bit like a competitive sport. Parents sign their kids up for organized sports at age three or four. By age seven or eight, many kids are trying out for select teams and focusing on a single sport or activity year-round; some continue to play other sports for fun, but time and financial constraints make it difficult for most kids to really focus on more that one select sport at a time.

I was raised to be well-rounded, not particularly outstanding at any specific sport or activity. My mom signed me up for weekly piano lessons, swim team, ballet and jazz classes, tennis and golf clinics, and YMCA soccer and basketball (one season to be exact)… We went on family vacations, where I learned to get by snow skiing and scuba diving. She sent me to summer camp, so that I could learn to water ski, shoot arrows and make lanyards… I never developed a drive to pursue any one sport or activity with focused ambition. But, I am thankful for the exposure and for my privileged, low-pressure childhood.

To be honest, I struggle a little bit with this new approach to childhood sports and activities. I think if you’re raising a driven kid who naturally falls in love with one particular sport, it makes perfect sense. If not, it’s nice to let kids shop the spectrum of sports before narrowing their focus. And, if the focus never narrows, I see value in being well-rounded. I like options.

I also recognize that being well-rounded does not always make the cut in high school…especially in today’s competitive youth sports world, where even select players can get cut from high school teams. Although select sports were not really around when I was growing up, there were kids who fell in love with a particular sport and worked really hard to be great at it.

When I was a freshman in high school, I tried out and was cut from my high school tennis team. My weekly clinics simply did not prepare me to compete with the girls who trained so much harder and spent their summers competing in the Missouri Valley. Maybe if I’d given up some of my other activities and really focused on tennis my outcome may have been different? Maybe not? Luckily, I was able to find other ways to get involved in high school (which is the ultimate goal for my three children).

A couple years ago, my daughter declared that dance was her thing. She loved, loved, loved ballet and wanted to work at becoming a better dancer. Following her lead, I enrolled her in a conservatory dance program at a small studio with excellent teachers; I kept encouraging her to keep playing soccer and basketball with her friends at school. A year later, she asked to audition for the Junior Repertory Ensemble, a performance group affiliated with our local professional ballet company. With the encouragement of her teacher, I let her try out and she’s spent the last year performing at various venues around our community. This year (after much discussion about how making the dance team will limit her ability to continue to play recreational sports with her classmates), she auditioned and earned a spot on her studio’s competitive dance team. She’s incredibly motivated to work hard and to see where this new experience will take her. I am excited for her, but a little nervous about closing the “well-rounded approach to childhood” chapter.

Last night, I attended one of her recitals at a local senior living center. The image of pure joy that was reflected on her face as she performed made me feel at peace with her decision… well really our decision to take a sip of the select sport Kool-Aid. I truly believe that part of growing up is discovering what brings you joy and makes you feel alive. Each person’s recipe is unique. There is something incredibly rewarding about watching your child discover his or her thing and pursue it with purpose.

Focus on What’s Right

3.10.16

Growing up, I remember my mom saying: “You are only as happy as your saddest child.” This past week, her words have echoed through my thoughts as I’ve driven carpool, jogged around my neighborhood and tried to fall asleep at night.

When I was pregnant, I constantly prayed for happy, healthy children. I felt like it would be greedy to add anything else to the list (smart, athletic, attractive, driven, artistic, musical or socially gifted…). When you boil it all down, these are the two greatest blessings.

One of the most difficult facts about motherhood is that I can’t actually control my children’s happiness or their health. I can make sure that all of their basic needs are met. I can teach by my example. I can preach (by far my most used and least effective tactic). I can provide constant love and support.  But, I can’t do it for them. I can’t make them make healthy choices or follow my advice.

I can’t control what cruelties life hurls at me or my family. But, I can control how I react. Do I get depressed? Angry? Even? Or, do I choose to count my blessings? Happiness is a choice.

A wise man once told me not to build a shrine to my sadness or anger. He encouraged me to make our home a happy retreat, separate from the unkind world. He told me to have faith and to trust that there are lessons to be learned; in the future, we will be able to look back and laugh at the memories that are painful realities today.

When my mind starts to go toward the sadness, I must force myself to focus on the joy. I must choose to find the beauty in the ugly. I must choose to celebrate the simplest blessings, which are plentiful. Honestly, even on my darkest days – the good still outweighs the bad.  I just have to make the choice to focus on what’s right…again and again and again.

Focusing on what’s right in my life takes away the power of what isn’t. It also allows me to be a better mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend…a better all-around person.