Sep 172009

So…parties. They make me nervous.

I don’t feel like I’m very good at anything that parties require of folks. Like getting off the couch and changing out of sweatpants and mingling and staying up late. There was a time in my life when I fancied myself an expert at all of these things. But that was when I was comfortable with a few dozen helpful drinks before the party and an occasional arrest afterwards. Now, it’s different. My standards for myself are ever so slightly higher. Now I have no armor, no help, nothing to take the edge off and to make myself, or others, more charming. And so partying is harder. And honestly, quite scary.

My neighborhood friends had a party last weekend. Not a terrifying dress up , get a sitter, evening kind of party, but the potluck, bring the kids, you’ll be home by bedtime kind of party. Which is better for me. Except, of course, for the pot luck part. When my friend called to invite us she said “Just bring a side.” I know that’s easy for some people. I can tell because they add the “just.” But my “sides” are frozen broccoli and Lipton bagged rice, neither of which travel or present well.

I have prepared the same Lipton bagged rice every evening for the past 7 years.And every night, I still get nervous and read the directions carefully. I think there are three directions. Something like – add water and rice and boil and then stir. But I still prop that bag up, demand silence from the children, follow along with my finger, and concentrate. Because in the kitchen you must never let your guard down, people. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN.

Anyway, I was pretty sure frozen broccoli or bagged rice wasn’t the way to go, so I brought another trusted side. Cheetos.The BAKED KIND, friends, because I care about the health of the children. Although Cheetos are already bagged, I put them in another bag, so I could smuggle them into the party without anyone seeing what I brought. I have this system down to a science. So when we arrived, I waved my hellos, scurried inside, and slipped my Cheetos next to all the lovely casseroles that appeared to have one million ingredients each. DO PEOPLE SERVE CASSEROLES AT HOME AS SIDES? Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Then I went outside and played with my favorite group of ladies and kids in the world.

All was well and lovely until it was time to eat. Our hostess, Karen, whom I suspect my parents secretly pay to help keep my family running smoothly, called us all in to eat. The kids ran ahead and the parents followed, and we all stood around the table holding our plates and admiring the beautiful spread.And one of the kids said “I want some mac and cheese!”I did too. It was homemade and looked like a mound of love. And then another kid said “My mommy made the mac and cheese!” And I thought, Oh crap. I know where this is going.

So of course, another kid said “My mommy made the pasta salad.” And then another chimed in with, “My mommy made the chocolate chip cookies!” I stared at Chase, willing him to catch my eye so I could send him my “Don’t. Say. A. Word.” signal, which he knows quite well.

But ….no such pot luck.

He looked up, of course, and announced… equal parts loud and proud:


I am seriously considering calling the local high school this week and asking if I can audit their Home Economics class.

Sep 182009

My deepest fear is that my relationship with God is a fair weather friendship. I suspect that I love God mainly because He’s taken it pretty easy on me. I wonder sometimes if my prayers and rituals and devotion are really a frantic dance to keep Him placated and distracted enough to leave my family well enough alone. Because I suspect that if He took one of my children, I’d turn on Him, fast and furious. And so my faith has always been tenuous and conditional. But when Sunny, a long lost high school friend and the single mother of five, read my blog and sent me the story of her stepdaughter, Shayla… I began to wonder. The following essay is a gift Sunny offered me, and I asked her to offer it to you as Momastery’s first “Me Too” post.

Shayla Marie

Shayla is my ex husband’s oldest daughter. She came into my life when she was seven years old. Two years ago she was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While undergoing her first intense chemotherapy treatment, doctors discovered a very serious heart condition called long qt syndrome. This would require her to have a pacemaker. Because of a series of complications and infections she endured several heart surgeries. After going through torturous rounds of chemo and radiation therapy, at the tender age of eighteen, she lost her battle to cancer on January 28, 2009. Shayla was such an incredible child and young woman.

Despite her circumstances she always remained brave and had a tremendous concern for those around her. She displayed love unlike any other person I know. While she did not have any religious influence during her short life, there is no doubt in my mind that she has gone home to the Lord and I can’t wait for the day I get to be with her again. While she readily admitted that having cancer sucked, she never wallowed in self pity. She expressed to me on more than one occasion that she was concerned about the affect her illness was having on her friends. It was painful for her to see the look of confusion in her friends’ faces. Even when they had seemingly deserted her when she needed them most, she never harbored resentment toward them. On the complete opposite end, she wished THEY didn’t have to face the reality of having a friend that was terminally ill. Her heart, while physically weak was so full of compassion and love. I will always aspire to be more like her. There were two things that she said she wanted me to know before she died, how grateful she was that I was such a “good mom” to her little sisters and brother and that she was sorry she wasn’t a better big sister.
The things I admired most about her were her determination despite the odds stacked against her and her unwillingness to give up. Doctors told her she would not be able to attend school after she was diagnosed, she attended school at Osbourn High School in Manassas for a short period of time and completed the rest of her senior year with a tutor at home and in the hospital. During the period in which she was healthy enough to attend school, she also returned to work at a daycare center. She loved children and cherished the time she spent as a caregiver to two and three year olds. Doctors told her she would not be able to attend the prom, she looked so beautiful in the pink dress her father picked out for her. Doctors told her she wouldn’t be strong enough to attend graduation, I’ll never forget the roaring applause in Nissan Pavilion as she walked across the stage and accepted her diploma. Doctors said she probably would not live long enough to receive her “make a wish”, she took her trip to Hawaii last November and swam with the dolphins just like she said she would. She was not supposed to live much past thanksgiving and she rang in the New Year with friends and family by her side.
I was with Shayla the night she died. It snowed that day and when I saw the snow begin to fall, all I could think was how Jesus washes our sins away, and makes us white as snow. I somehow knew it was time for Shayla to pass on. While I never would have “signed up” to experience something like that, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have never been as close to God as I was that moment when I was hugging Shayla’s legs and whispering the Lord’s prayer as she took her last breath. It is a sad and tragic story of a life too short, but with a peace that surpasses all understanding, I am glad you asked me to share it with you. God uses all things to work together for His Glory, and He definitely used Shayla for His testimony of what true love really is.

According to Sunny, when the unimaginable happens, His grace increases unimaginably, and we are carried through. We are carried closer. If this is true…if His grace will always be sufficient…if there truly is nothing that can separate us from His love…then is it possible that we have nothing to fear? Nothing at all?

I have read that after losing a child, it is impossible for mothers to feel understood by anyone who hasn’t experienced the same pain. It is amazing to me that God planned for this. That when parents whose hearts have been shattered by the loss of a child cry out to Him, He can whisper, “Me Too.”

For more about Sunny’s faith and her remarkable family ….swing by

Sep 212009

Once when Chase was three, he was looking through my wedding album and said “Mommy, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you look kind of BIGGER in these pictures. Like… not skinny.”

I cleared my throat and said. “Oh, right honey. Well there is a lot of food at weddings. I was REALLY FULL. And also, in case you’re wondering, grandpa was holding that shotgun because the ceremony was deep in bear country.”

Chase bought my fertilization fables for several years. But since he was five when I got pregnant with Amanda, his baby questions started to get more specific. “Mommy, how did she GET IN THERE? How is she going to GET OUT?” At first, I held tight to my routine of lies and distraction. “Oh, honey only doctors know the answers to those questions! And I didn’t go to medical school. Sorry. LOOK, AN EAGLE!!!”

But he wouldn’t let it go, and I thought maybe it was time for some professional help. So we bought a children’s book about what happens to a woman’s body during pregnancy. In the section about labor, the book discussed how the baby travels through the birth canal and then out through the vagina, which it described and illustrated as a “tunnel.”

This book was a really fun bedtime read for my husband. My favorite pastime became watching Craig try to read that book to Chase without skipping the words vagina, sperm, and ovum. Every night when Chase was choosing his bedtime story I’d yell up the stairs…”HEY GUYS, HOW ABOUT THE BABY BOOK?” And Craig would silently curse me while I giggled and felt a bit better about my heartburn and swollen ankles.

One afternoon, late in my pregnancy, I was in my family room with two moms I’d just met from Chase’s preschool. All the kids were downstairs playing with Chase and Tish’s new playhouse, which had a big tent and passageways to crawl through. Just as I began preparing a delicious snack of God knows what, we heard Chase scream,


My new friends and I froze and stared at each other for a moment. I decided immediately that this little problem was okay, really. I had a lot of friends. I didn’t NEED these two ladies.

And then I politely excused myself to check on the children.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I saw Chase squatting and lunging into his new play tunnel, or birth canalif you will, trying to pull Tish out by her head while she kicked and screamed. I calmly suggested he use some forceps.

And since I don’t have a walk-out basement from which to escape, I had no other choice but to hike back upstairs and try to explain myself and my child. I don’t remember much about the excuse I offered, but I can’t imagine it went smoothly. Which is to say, that there haven’t been any more playdates with those particular ladies or their traumatized children.

And so it goes.

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