Whatever These Moments Have to Teach Me

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I still find myself sometimes falling into the trap of thinking every moment needs to be accomplishing a goal or achieving something. In this mindset, I have a litany of “shoulds” running through my mind: I should be intentional with my time. I should either work and be productive or relax and have fun.  I shouldn’t waste time. But, this line of thinking quickly causes me to strive for control.  I start planning excessively and rush from one activity to the next, never being fully present in any of them.

The kids and I got home about a half hour ago. Sienna spent the day at The Cambridge School Summer Academy and Mateo was at baseball camp. I’d promised Sienna we could look at Halloween costumes when we got home.  She has her heart set on being Anakin Skywalker and has been researching costumes for several days.  As we came in the house, I agreed that we could look at costumes first, but there were many things we needed to get done – homework and bathing being of most importance.

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I sat down at my computer, expecting the kids to start asking about the costumes. But, they didn’t. They went to Teo’s room and began collecting stuffed animals.  I didn’t know what they were doing but whenever they start playing something imaginative together, I never interrupt their flow.  So, what to do next?  My mind starting bouncing around to various ideas – should I get some more work done?  Sit and read for a few minutes?  Pick up around the house and start on the evening chores?  I ended up making a decision without making a decision.  I started reviewing and replying to several work emails.

The kids were playing in the living room, just a few feet away. I suddenly heard something fall to the ground.  Teo called out, “I’ll pick it up, Sienna!”  To which she replied, “Thank you, Teo.”  I smiled at their sweet, polite exchange as I turned around to see what they were doing.  They’d created an animal hospital, bandaging up their stuffed animals. (Note the animals’ bandages in the photos!) Each injury or medical condition had an involved back story.

Taking in the moment, I thought: “Stop, take this in. This is your life.”  These are the moments that I would have missed, or worse, would have stopped, when I lived inside my head; when my To Do list demanded all my attention.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. As the kids get ready to start a new school in the fall (more about that later!), I’ve been recognizing how much of their learning and growth happens at home.  This is where they learn how to treat other people, how to express their needs and wants, how to forgive, and how to receive grace.  Hearing Mateo’s offer to help, and Sienna’s loving appreciation, I was struck by how everyday moments between family members are so valuable.  These moments don’t have to be planned or structured, they just happen.  But, in those moments, we shape the culture of our family.  We shape the worldview of our children.

Now, this was a sweet moment, but there are just as many challenging ones in a family! When a child is frustrated about not getting what they want.  When a parent sets a limit that the child doesn’t like.  When we simply all have different ideas of what we want to do in that moment.  So much good comes from these moments of grace, growth, and learning.

I’m letting go of trying to figure out exactly what our afternoon and evening should entail. I’ll say a prayer that our family time would be blessed today.  Then, I’ll pay attention to whatever these moments have to teach me.

Tell Me Everything that Happened

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On our long car ride back home from the Grand Canyon, Mateo starting asking Dennis and me about life before the kids were born. He’s been doing this more lately and it tickles me to no end!  He’ll continually ask “Then what?” when we gloss over years with general statements.  He wants details!  This time he said “Tell me everything that happened.”  With hours of driving ahead of us, we indulged him and enjoyed a trip down memory lane.  We told the kids about the apartment downtown and how we ended up moving to a condo in Hillcrest, that we toured while looking for a place for Gaga (aka my mom) to rent.

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We went through my high risk pregnancy with Sienna and her joyful birth. We shared about Gaga moving back up north and how we found Grace Lutheran Church and Preschool so Sienna could attend school and be baptized.  Then, we told them about the miscarriage we had in the fall, when Sienna was just under two years old.  Teo had a lot of questions!  I assured him that we had indeed told him about this before, but he must not have been old enough to understand or remember.  We recounted how, while wiping tears and driving home from the medical office where they discovered the missing heartbeat, I prayed and then told Dennis: “We’re going to look back in a few years and we’ll have the children we were meant to have.”

After answering several questions, there was a long pause in the conversation. Then, Mateo asked “Would you have had me, if that baby had lived?”  Time froze for a second as I pondered the poignancy of his question.  “Well, no. We wouldn’t have.”

As I’ve told people this story, a few have prompted, “Of course you would have!” before I told them my response to Teo’s question. I understand the sentiment there, not wanting Mateo to feel that his existence was ever in doubt.  But I’m pragmatic and tend to be very transparent.  Just based on biology, my response was accurate. If that pregnancy had continued successfully, the baby would have been born in June, 2010.  Teo was conceived in April, 2010.  We likely would have stopped after two children, and, even if we hadn’t, a baby conceived at any other time would have been a different child.

I turned around to face Teo in the backseat of the car. “Lovie, remember what I just said.  We knew that God was blessing us with the children we were meant to have.  You had to be born.  You completed our family.”  He smiled and rubbed my hand.  I turned around and swallowed the lump in my throat.  I couldn’t believe how insightful and philosophical Mateo was to consider his place in the history of our family life.

It’s so fun to have kids at an age where they’re curious about our life before they were born.  I remember my parents telling us stories about their years in Sacramento where my dad was in law school.   The passage of time feels so real when you reflect back on the years this way.

A Practice of Presence While Exploring Arizona

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Our family just returned from a delightful road trip vacation through Arizona!  By the time we left last Friday, I was beyond ready to vacate regular life, relax, and enjoy time with Dennis and our little ones.  Leading up to our departure, I’d been struggling to let go of my critical thoughts telling me how I wasn’t doing everything right.  Oh, that old fixed mindset rearing her ugly head!  So, I prayed… and prayed, asking God to help me embrace being present, accept each moment, and allow all of us grace to grow and learn.  God is always faithful!  I found myself completely present, focused on all the fun and new experiences rather than being distracted by my thoughts and plans.

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As I’ve been on this journey of growth the past several years, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I LOVE going to new places and letting the days unfold without planning ahead.  It’s just the best!  There’s something about being away from home (with all the responsibilities it contains) and in a new place (where I don’t know what to expect) that creates the perfect environment for me to just BE.  I absorb my surroundings.  I really see and hear my kids and husband.  I’m present in a way that can tend to allude me in the familiar places of home and work.

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We first headed to Tombstone, Arizona to experience the Old West!   Dennis is very interested in Wyatt Earp and has read a few biographies about his life and experiences in Tombstone.  Most of what I know is from the Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer movie!  We checked in at Tombstone Monument Ranch on Friday evening, just in time for a steak and potatoes dinner, followed by cowboy music in the saloon.  The ranch is a replica of an Old West town, with each room built into the town.  We were in the Wyatt Earp Room!  Across the “street” was the Marshall’s office.  It was so cool!  The musicians played covers of lots of old country and western songs.  My heart soared as I watched Mateo’s face light up when they sang “La Bamba” – one of his favorites!

Our first breakfast was a classic “chuck wagon” meal down by the campfire.  Arizona Bill was our host, and he taught us a lot about the ranch.  He would feature in the rest of our trip too!  After breakfast, the kids begged to go swimming.  The pool was small and unfortunately had attracted a lot of hornets.  Sienna and Teo were afraid, so I got in the pool and started swimming laps to show them it was okay.   But, they were obviously wiser than their mother because, as I reached for the wall right in front of Dennis and the kids, I got stung in the index finger!  Oh man, it hurt!  I came out of the water yelling and then plucked the stinger out of my finger.  It stung me right in the bend of the knuckle.  It continued to swell for the next two days, until it was so swollen I couldn’t bend my finger.  But, other than being annoying, it really didn’t impact the trip, except for not being able to bowl at our hotel near the Grand Canyon!

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We visited Tombstone’s historic downtown, saw a reenactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral, toured the Courthouse, and generally soaked up all things Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Old West.  Back at the ranch Dennis got to shoot several different types of guns.  Arizona Bill was the instructor for Dennis and the three other guests that participated in the shooting.  He was such a throwback to the era of the Old West!  His commentary was insightful as he discussed border issues (it’s very close to Tombstone).  He also told endearing stories of his wife outshooting him after he had hundreds of hours of shooting training in the army.  Arizona Bill even gave marriage advice, telling us to always do things together, that’s the key to keeping your relationship strong.  We loved him!

We all tried archery, which was really fun!  Later we had a family horseback riding lesson.  Both kids were scared and Sienna opted out, but she loved the horses and kept asking to go visit them in their stable, so hopefully she’ll try another time.  I got to follow the lesson with a trial ride on my horse Pablo.  It was a great way to see the dessert landscape and have some alone time.  Pablo was a lazy walker so we dragged a bit behind the wrangler and other couple on the trial ride, but that was okay with me.

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After three days of enjoying ranch life, getting to know the other guests, and having all our meals provided for us, it was time to start the second leg of our trip.  We headed northwest toward the Grand Canyon!  The drive was pretty easy and we kept entertained with music – country, Broadway musicals, and some 90s pop.  I loved overhearing the imaginative stories that Sienna and Mateo made up.  Sienna has the liveliest imagination and she gets Teo involved in long stories.  This trip the themes were the west and horses (obviously) and Star Wars, because they both love it despite being afraid to actually watch the movies!  We don’t take any electronic devices on our road trips (except cell phones for texting, GPS, and music), which definitely helps them engage with one another and their imaginations.

Tuesday morning we headed into Grand Canyon National Park to view the canyon from the South Rim.  It was more tremendous than I was expecting!  You hear people joke that it’s “a big hole in the ground” which is true.  But, it’s so immense and beautiful.  We spent several hours walking the rim and talking dozens of pictures.  Every angle seemed new and photo worthy!  The kids were interested, but got much more engaged with the visit once we got Teo a souvenir: a ring-tailed cat stuffed animal that he named Ringo.  We expected the kids to start complaining about the hike back, but they got really involved in caring for Ringo and explaining the canyon to him, so they walked back happily.  It was the best timed souvenir ever!

272The rest of our vacation included a day trip to Flagstaff – such a cute mountain town.  We explored downtown, found a great little bookstore, had brunch and then headed back to our hotel to swim and read.  I got to read a bunch on this trip – my favorite!  Our hotel also featured a small bowling alley and arcade!  We concluded our day in the arcade for the last two nights and all enjoyed playing basketball, pinball, Mrs. Packman, and racecar driving.  Teo’s poor driving skills had me hysterically laughing!

So, we’re home now and I’m reflecting on this delightful vacation.  Going in, I thought that the Tombstone part of the trip was mostly for Dennis.  But, it was so enjoyable!  I loved the inclusiveness of the ranch, getting to meet new people, having all our meals prepared for us.  It felt like summer camp!  We definitely want to go back.  But, we’ll see… there are so many places to explore!