Ski Bum Sagacity

ski bumYou’ve likely heard this before, or something similar. That you cannot always choose your circumstance, but you can choose how to respond to your circumstance. Of course, this is eye-rollingly trite in the face of earth shaking circumstances such chronic health issues or imbalanced brain chemistry. But it’s still something I need to pay more attention to if I truly desire to live with more joy versus wallowing in complaints and discontent.

I was reminded of this recently when the hubs, the kids and I made a trek to Colorado for a ski weekend. (Another blog post is forthcoming about the importance of taking vacations.)

This trip was our second family adventure to a mountain resort, and like the first, we wanted to tie in a visit with the hub’s brother and his family who live in Denver. Last time, we stopped at their home for a visit, a meal and an overnight stay. This time, our schedule and anticipated holiday weekend traffic meant we would only connect with extended family if they ventured up the mountain road to get to us. They agreed and we all looked forward to a dinner out in Keystone, CO.

I’ll jump to the end of the story and say it worked out really well. The eight of us, who see each other only once or twice a year, had a terrific evening. We enjoyed a great meal while catching up and sharing stories.

But before it went well, it didn’t, at least for my brother-in-law. Picture this. He lives in Colorado but doesn’t downhill ski. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy skiing. He just doesn’t enjoy the bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads leading to local ski resorts each weekend. And he’s not a fan of typical tourist shenanigans.

Now to be fair, most locals living in any tourist destination have a love/hate relationship with tourists. I get that. But here’s the thing. His mood was less than, shall we say, cheerful when he first arrived on our doorstep. He’d encountered people driving poorly, larger crowds than normal and inadequate signage that led to a bit of a parking lot fiasco. Frustration rattled him. We’ve all been there.

Over dinner and a few beers, we laughed about his experience. I recall saying something like, “Since you live here and know there will be traffic and crowds because it’s a holiday weekend, you could prepare yourself for these aggravations by deciding in advance to remain calm, relaxed and patient. Or, because you know there will be traffic and crowds, you could choose to be angry before you even leave your house, and then get even angrier once you encounter what you already knew you would.”

He laughed and said, “Obviously, I chose option B.”

Now, I’m super glad it all worked out and that we had a great visit. But I can’t help but wonder how often we all choose option B. When we know something is going to be difficult or distasteful, why do we choose in advance to respond negatively? Or is it sometimes possible to visualize those things that might make us uncomfortable and try to prep our attitudes in a more positive direction? I think this is part of a bigger issue–our relentless desire for control–even when it comes to circumstances we cannot change or improve. When we can’t change it, we get angry about it, as if our anger has any power over the universe.

Now forgive me if I sound as if I’m babbling some psychoanalytical self-help mumbo-jumbo. It’s just that many of us already know what our triggers are. Mine typically include tardiness, rudeness, lack of sleep, lack of coffee, being too cold, being too hot, being too scheduled and sometimes feeling like I don’t have anything to wear.

And yet, we willingly turn over our joy by getting riled up in anticipation of our discomfort-thus tripping our own triggers on frustration, stress and anger. This is nothing less than self destruction. And when you’re married or around other people–mutual destruction. Gah!

There must be a better way. Maybe one better way looks a little like a Colorado ski bum even if saying this will surely make my brother-in-law cringe. I’m not talking about recreational indulgence of the Colorado variety. But I am talking about taking more deep breaths. Look around. Most of what we get cranked up about either isn’t as important as we think or is beyond our control anyway. Ski bums by definition are actively choosing a lifestyle of joy, eschewing negativity and being open to adventure instead of insisting upon control. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that Colorado ski bum attitude back with me into daily life. Although my days may look different than a ski bum–what with children, a job and a more stereotypical suburban existence, I’m still hopeful that with a little practice, prayer and patience, I can choose better reactions to stressful situations.

It is my prayer that you (and my brother-in-law) can get better at this too.

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This Little Light of Mine

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Day two of dreary dampness here on the tundra. Folks in my neck of the northern plains can’t really complain though since we’ve been dodging the cold and snow more typical of this time of year. And yet, a sadness looms. Hearts are heavy as grief tries to inch some folks closer to despair. The world fallen. Cruelty, anger and suspicision create a fog that can be difficult to see through.

At least this is how I feel at the moment. Sad for lives lost. Frustrated by injustice. Fearful for the future.

I do not like to feel this way. I search for joy. For hope. I hug my kiddos. And admittedly, I am more excited than ever, at least since I was a child, to prepare my heart and home for Christmas. Truly a season of hope. Seriously, what is taking Thanksgiving so long to get here? I’m ready to get this holiday season started!

I will not grumble about dragging the boxes of decorations from storage. I will not lament a crowded grocery store. I will bake cookies and wrap presents and shine a light in the darkness. I do have power to be a joy-bringer. I may not be able to end the cruelty of hardened hearts or eliminate injustice. But I can offer hope, comfort and kindness to those living near me on this little patch of earth.

I can write notes of encouragement.

I can visit the lonely.

I can prepare food for the hungry.

I can do that thing where I offer to pay for the take-out order of the guy behind me in the drive-through line.

I can be forgiving to family members who irritate me.

I can be gentle with my children.

I can stop wishing for things to be easy and pray for the strength to tackle what is difficult.

I can pray for peace.

I can speak truth in love.

I can write a blog post that says you are loved. Because you are.

I can sing songs to God because I’m reminded of something so profound in a section of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s terrific book, Pastrix, where she says, “Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples. Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we can stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we, like Mary, are bearers of resurrection, we are made new. On the third day, Jesus rose again, and we do not need to be afraid. To sing to God amidst sorrow is to defiantly proclaim… that death is not the final word. To defiantly say, once again, that a light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot, will not, shall not overcome it.

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Be a light for someone today my friends.

 

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Trying Not to Freak Out Over My Baby Growing Up

Once, when our firstborn was an infant–just weeks old and snuggled into a forest green velour sleeper embellished with red and white Christmas decals–he was asleep in my brother-in-law’s arms. My brother-in-law, whose eldest children were teenagers at the time, stared into my tiny child’s face and said, “I can’t remember my son being this small.” I was horrified.

After 32 weeks of a tumultuous pregnancy involving two extended hospital stays, weeks of bed rest and near constant fetal monitoring until the forces of maternal nature could no longer be blunted, there was a disquieting birth. And my tiny child was whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit where he stayed until his little baby body got into the habit of regular breathing.

IMG_2511I cherished every second spent holding my newborn child, my gift and blessing, so fragile yet resilient, my joy. I could not fathom how any parent could forget. So whenever our baby would wake in the night, I’d rock him in the dark and sing to him–old hymns or Stevie Nicks songs–anything I knew by heart. And I would close my eyes and resolve to commit each moment to memory. I never wanted to forget.

Yet, like the lyrics to After the Glitter Fades, only bits and pieces of my son’s infancy seem to remain a part of my brain’s permanent record. Like my brother-in-law, I gaze upon our now 15-year-old son and can hardly recall him once being so tiny.

I have made every effort to be the best mother I can be. I am not perfect. None of us are.

Older women would tell me how it all goes so fast. But when our kids were in diapers and didn’t always sleep through the night or allow me five seconds alone in the bathroom, I would wonder, “WHEN is it going to go faster?!”

DSC00428_0070And then, after years of wooden trains and Legos, superhero costumes and storybooks, I stepped through a time warp. Now I have to reach up to hug my son, who was once a 5 lb. completely dependent baby boy. I’ve tried so hard to hold on and not forget, that now I have no idea how to begin letting go.

DSCN1565Other mothers tell of how they cried on their child’s first day of kindergarten. I didn’t shed a single tear that day. I was relieved whenever our son showed signs of being able to navigate the world on his own. Milestone after milestone always brought a sigh of relief; we were doing something right. The kid was going to be okay. But wait…

He is now a freshman in high school and we (probably) only have four years left before he launches into the world for more than just a day. So I promised myself I’d speak affirmation to him every single day until he leaves for college. But then, he aggravated me, like all teenagers often do to their mothers. I don’t remember what he did, probably left wet laundry in the washing machine, something trivial but maddening, and I went all loose canon bitchy mom in need of wine or hormone injections. I’d blown my affirmation pledge after a single day. And unlike when he was tiny, I don’t have much time left to make everything right. It’s all going so damned fast!

And now, those tears I didn’t shed when he was a kindergartner come regularly. I cry whenever I consider the mistakes I may have made as a parent. And I well up as I struggle over how to best parent a man-boy who wants to travel across the country on a summer mission trip but can’t find his socks. Is he going to be okay? Am I going to be okay?

I remember being pregnant and frustrated that my pregnancy wasn’t going smoothly. I asked my doctor, “WHEN will I stop worrying and enjoy this?”

She told me the awful truth, that I would never stop worrying but that there also would be joy. Admittedly, I worry less. I’ve gone from checking on an infant every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing to trying to envision a future with grown children. I remind myself to breathe. There is definitely joy. So much joy. And yet, I haven’t been this emotional since giving birth. Just like no one can describe the crazy mix of emotions involved in becoming a new parent, no one could have prepared me for what I’m feeling at this stage of life. It once seemed so far off, and now here I am with growing boys ever closer to being grown up. I hope to remember most of it.

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