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

 

 

What Does Your Calendar Say About You?

11.8.16

Last week, my kids celebrated the end of their first quarter with a Recognition Rally in the school gym. As I sat in the bleachers with the other parents, watching the principal award each honor roll student with a certificate, it hit me: We are already in the second quarter! Where has the time gone?

Before I sent my baby off to full-day kindergarten, I was worried that I would be depressed and lonely. How would I spend my time? Maybe I would go back to work part-time? Focus more on writing? Get my photos organized and the “2016 Family Album” caught up? Or, finally clean out my storage room? Maybe I’d start cooking more meals from scratch and stockpiling my freezer with casseroles and soups? All great ideas in theory, but not in action…

Instead, I find myself rushing from drop-off to work out…to Costco/Target/Trader Joe’s…to the physical therapist’s/dentist’s/hair salon…home to change a load of laundry, clean up the house and to make dinner…and back to pick-up. Occasionally, I’ll sneak in a volunteer meeting or lunch with a friend. But, mostly, I feel like a little gerbil on a wheel: Running, running, running, but not really getting ahead on any of my grandiose plans…

I remember reading an article in the New York Times by Carl Richards titled, “Your Spending Choices Often Reflect Your Values.” In it, Richards asserts that if a future cultural anthropologist were to stumble upon one of your credit card statements, he could make basic assumptions about your values based on how you spend your money. He encourages the reader to take time to look at what you say you value, versus the values reflected on your receipts…and, to be more proactive about aligning the two.

When I look at my family’s crazy schedule on my iCal, I recognize that there isn’t a lot of free time right now. Our after school hours are jam-packed with homework, dinner and the juggling of three kids’ extracurricular activities. My husband’s evenings are often consumed with meetings and various call shifts. We are all racing against the clock to get everything on our “to do” lists accomplished before bedtime.

If a future anthropologist were to find my iCal, no doubt he’d think we were a little crazy and over-scheduled. But, he’d see that I value my family (they take up most of the space on my calendar). And, I value my health; I deliberately carve out time each day to exercise. He’d also see that I value my friendships, extended family and volunteerism. (Luckily, my iCal does not reveal all of the time I waste on mind-numbing Bravo TV and other guilty pleasures.)

As I sit and ponder where all of my time has gone, I realize that I need to be more intentional about setting aside time to do things that are important to me…and intentional about defining what is important to me. As my blog gets ready to celebrate its first anniversary, I need to decide if I want to make it a priority – or if I want to pursue other goals…

I also want to encourage you, my beloved reader, to look at your own calendar and to see if it reflects what is most important to you. Because, it’s true: Our time is finite, so we must cease the day!

xo Kara

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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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Life is all about collecting new experiences.

4.28.16

Sometimes an off-handed remark can challenge your way of thinking.

I recently traveled to Kansas City with my daughter’s dance group, so she could participate in workshops at various studios and perform at different venues around the city. While our daughters were dancing, the mothers made small talk.

As the weekend went on, we moved past our daughters’ dance resumes and started to have more real conversations. As I was talking with an intelligent attorney and mother-of-three, she mentioned that her family was in the process of narrowing down where they’d like to live next. She explained that her company was relocating to another city and that her position would be ending within the year. I told her that it seemed exciting to plan a “second act” for her family. I asked her how the kids felt about moving and she said, “Life is all about collecting new experiences.” I nodded in agreement.

As I consider her philosophy on life, I realize that I’ve approached life from the opposite direction. Thinking back, most of my new life experiences have been unintentional. It’s not that I deliberately avoid them; I just feel more comfortable going with the tried and true.

I remember when my husband was in medical school and was interviewing for residencies around the country. On a whim, he applied to do his internal medicine year in Hawaii. We did a quick analysis of what the residency would cost us, factoring in my loss of income, the high cost of living and the incredible moving expenses. The value of collecting a new life experience was pushed aside for practical reasons. Our decision to stay put for his internal medicine year enabled us to save for a house and to get our feet on steadier financial ground, but it cost us the experience of living in Hawaii for a year. All of these years later, I find myself wondering if the money saved was worth the experience lost?

When it came time to interview for medical residencies around the country. I was supportive, but firmly in the “stay in the Midwest” camp. I reasoned that we’d be starting a family soon and that I wanted to be close to family. When my husband matched in North Carolina, it was a complete shock. I had never been to the state. I didn’t know anyone who lived there. It was 900 miles away from Kansas City. And, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. This life experience was the ultimate, unexpected gift.

When we decided to move back to Omaha, I wanted my children to grow up near my childhood home and to attend the same elementary school. I hoped they’d enjoy swimming on my old swim team and develop a mild interest in tennis, so they could play with their dad. Eight years later, I am shooting zero for three: My elementary school was not the right fit. None of my kids embraced competitive swimming. And, the simple question, “Anyone up for tennis?” is consistently met with unanimous groans and eye rolls. In other words, despite my intentions, my children have forced new experiences on me; I’m grateful for them.

I’ve learned that as much as I’d like for my children to enjoy everything that I loved about my childhood and to embrace the interests that my husband and I share, you can’t force a square peg in a round hole; they will follow their own hearts. I need to meet them where they are, not where I want them to be. My son will choose books and robotics over organized sports every time. Given the opportunity, my daughter would spend all of her free time dancing. My youngest loves Legos, sports and learning right now; I look forward to following his journey as he discovers “his thing(s).” By following my children’s lead (not my own plans), our family will collect new experiences, friends and pieces of wisdom along the way.

Looking back, I can see that my accidental collection of new experiences has exponentially increased my own happiness throughout the course of my life. In the future, I will try to be more intentional about collecting new life experiences and supporting of my husband and children when they don’t choose the tried and true route through life. Collecting new life experiences requires a little leap of faith, but the risk is worth the reward.

Do you deliberately collect new life experiences or do you tend to choose things that are familiar? Why? Thanks for sharing your thoughts; your feedback is the fun part.  🙂  Kara