We are in This Together

We are in This Together

Working for the School District, I feel pretty blessed to know so many of your children and so many of you. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified, not of the virus itself (although it’s pretty scary alone) but of what will happen throughout this time for all of us- the “ending” of this pandemic, if you will. A week ago, I wasn’t prepared, I mean I’m still not. I didn’t buy toilet paper even as a basic need – and now I can’t.

It makes me think of all the people that aren’t/weren’t able to address even their basic needs. The stores are empty, Amazon is sold out of everything I have tried to buy, we have been recommended to isolate; the virus is spreading. That’s all scary stuff. Please turn to all of the local resources available to you if you need them. If you need help locating services, reach out to me and I’ll connect you! There is no shame at all in asking for help at this time (or any time), and people WANT to help.

I’ve been a stay-at-home-mommy; I’ve even sometimes been a “teacher” to your children. I know that we all have some long days ahead of us, but I truly feel blessed to be at home right now with my children; to be their teacher (I was their first, after all), to be by their side when they’re scared (and happy, and sad, and even mad), and I’m thankful I have them by MY side when I am scared (and happy, and sad, and even mad). I hope that someday, when we are all able to look back at this, that is the part they remember; that their mom was home with them and that they are loved. Trust me when I say that I know that some of you can’t be home with your kiddos right now, and I’m thinking of you all. My husband is out working overtime every day and I know he’d rather be home with us, but hey – bills, right?

NONE of us know what to do – we are all a little scared. We are all going through tough times and none of us know what to expect. Some of you are small business owners and I know this is devastating and terrifying, but know that you are appreciated. Some of you work in healthcare and have no idea what to expect in these coming weeks with your jobs and your families, but know that you are so appreciated. Some of you are working in stores and gas stations, with massive amounts of panicking and emotional people, please know that you are appreciated. Law enforcement officers, EMTs, Firefighters you have some long days ahead – we so appreciate you. Teachers, I know you are sitting at home (or even in your classroom) scared for your students and their families, and doing everything you can to help them – even from afar; please know that you are so appreciated. Although I have clearly missed a profession or two, the point is – while we are (or on our way) all in isolation, we still are not in any of this alone. Lean on others, ask for guidance or vent – call me if you need something, call anyone – but don’t forget you’re not alone.

When you see me posting pictures of “homeschooling,” it’s not to make you feel inadequate or to boast, it’s to give you a starting place. If today isn’t your day, maybe tomorrow will be – or maybe it won’t and that’s ok, too! For me, I handle my emotions best by keeping busy and by helping others. I HAVE to have a schedule so that I feel as if I have SOME control over any of this. That’s my personality and it may not be yours. We may not be the same, but we are not alone. If you don’t “teach” a single thing to your kiddos over this “break” – they will be just fine, but my advice is to bond as much as you can because you FINALLY have the chance to do that. Play a game together, do a puzzle, draw a picture, watch your favorite movie together, listen to music, share a hug, bake a cake, make cards for a nursing home, read a book, take a walk; be present. Those are all pretty easy ways to connect to each other (and also easy ways to make new connections in growing brains, aka “learning”).

Major takeaway? We are all in this together, you are not alone. If there is something that you need – please, please reach out. Let us use this time to reconnect and unite (ironically, from afar) rather than divide and isolate (again, ironically from isolation).

Forever My Babies

Forever My Babies

Our baby is no longer a baby, and I’m not sure when it happened. The youngest of four, somehow time seemed to always stand still longer with her. She was three for an eternity and four for what seemed like forever, and now she’s five and in kindergarten and reading sight words and making new friends. Tonight, when I tucked her into bed – I saw her as a big girl and my heart broke just a little.

Part of accepting that she is getting older, is accepting that everyone in the family is also getting older. Her oldest sister is 20, with 21 just around the corner, and I just can’t bring myself to believe that is possible. As time is passing so quickly, are they each adequately prepared for life and the responsibilities that come with it? Am I prepared as a mom to accept that as each day passes, they need me a little less, even when I feel like each day, I need them a little more?

I recently read a quote that said, “I constantly go between wanting you to stay my little baby forever, and being excited about all of the amazing things you’ll do in this life,” and I can’t even “YES!” this thought enough. Unfortunately for our youngest, I think I had it in my mind that she was just always going to be the baby, and while she may be the baby of our four children, she’s definitely not a baby any longer.

I miss the days of staying at home, when my major task for the day was just holding my babies in my arms, singing them to sleep or tickling them awake. We have traded bedtime songs (mostly) for bedtime books and even though I tend to still tickle them awake, baby coos have been traded for frustrated morning grunts (although, I must admit that most mornings, I have two very cheerful little girls). While they continue to grow and change, my love grows for each of them; and while I miss so much the days that they were babies – I also look forward to who they’ll become.

Where will their passions lie? What will fill their hearts the most? Also, will they be able to maintain the confidence to do what they want, be who they are, truly live to their fullest potential? Will they be able to stay strong and stay true to themselves? Will they be able to love again after a broken heart? Will they be able to love themselves through the different stages of their lives?

I think part of the sadness in my children growing older, is knowing that our once simple times of playing and learning our ABCs is quickly replaced with much tougher learning experiences which, ultimately, will mold them into who they’re going to be as adults. Each new day writes a new page in their life’s story; each year a new chapter.

As they learn and grow, so do I. I’m always hoping that I’m doing this parenting thing right. Am I using the right moments to teach, and not missing anything too important? Will they look back and remember all of the love that surrounded them, or will they remember the times I yelled at them to put their shoes on? Will they remember how lucky they have been to experience so much in their little lives and pass that on to their children someday? Will they remember that they’re never, ever alone? The answers are unclear as I have no idea what the future will hold, but I can hold on to the hope that they’ll never forget that I always did my best, I always loved them with every ounce of my being, and regardless of the time that continues to fly by (at lightening speed) – they’ll ALWAYS be my babies.

Christmas with Intention

Christmas with Intention

We have four children with birthdays in January, March, April and June – ours are in August and December. Six months out of twelve, we are celebrating a birthday at our house. Generally, after the last kiddo’s birthday in June, I start shopping for Christmas. I know that sounds really ridiculous, but we have a LOT of people to buy for, not just our kiddos. We are blessed with a big family, and not just by blood, but by our extended family of friends and/or their children. In turn, we are blessed by many gifts in exchange. I assure you – one quick glance at our play room, and you’ll know our children want for little. 

This year, rather than start early – I have decided to limit the gift giving for our children. The littles will be limited to 10 gifts a piece (and Santa’s limit is undecided though it will be even less) and while that still seems extremely excessive, I have decided those ten gifts will be purchased/gifted with intention. I read an article that suggested intentional/minimal gifting could be limited to four gifts: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Also, I have read in the past that Santa should always bring the most modest gifts in an effort to show compassion to your child’s peers. 

Our ten gifts will go as follows:

  1. Wish list item
  2. Wish list item 
  3. A fiction book
  4. A nonfiction book
  5. A STEM/STEAM toy
  6. A pair of shoes
  7. Something that encourages creativity
  8. An outfit
  9. A keepsake
  10. An experience*

*To expand on “experience,” I want to point out that could mean many things for many different people. For example, my oldest asks frequently for a mommy/daughter date so even a handmade coupon promising one-on-one time with your child would be an inexpensive addition to your Christmas gift list, yet the most rewarding present of all. 

There are many reasons for going minimal this year, as I have given this a lot of thought. 

Appreciation. I want my children to truly appreciate their gifts. I am extremely guilty of ALWAYS going overboard and buying “just one more” gift, especially when I start shopping so early in the year (which, I did not do this year). As we all know, it’s not the number of presents, it’s the “thought that counts.”

The playroom. Over the years our playroom has become a collection site for way too many things. Recently, I cleaned out five garbage bags (that we donated locally). Five garbage bags. I was then able to add a reading area to their playroom (which I have always wanted to do) and an art area, and I feel like those are both very important activities for the girls to be engaged in more fully.

Our carbon footprint. With toys that only cost $1 at Dollar Tree (or the Target bin, or even at Walmart, etc.), it’s easy to say “yes” as we shop. But honestly, those are the first toys I toss out when I purge, the first toys to break, the first toys to get lost. With already overflowing landfills, I am literally spending “only $1” to contribute to more waste (I’ve already started saying no to these impulse purchases). Side note: I don’t want to discount that these purchases are what some can more easily afford, I am speaking solely on intentional gift giving as my motivator.

The true meaning of Christmas. I want to focus more on doing for others, why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, being truly engaged with friends and family, creating and passing along tradition. I can’t believe that the true meaning of Christmas hasn’t been lost, as I go to the store to purchase toothpaste on the first day of October and see a small endcap of Halloween/fall items and pass two entire aisles of Christmas decor.

They don’t NEED it. They truly don’t need any of the things they get for Christmas. They don’t NEED this year’s Christmas fad item (and the fact that we haven’t had cable in 10 years is a bonus because they don’t watch commercials to know what this year’s fad item is anyway). They WANT for gifts and, hey, in life we don’t always get everything we want (I don’t want to raise my children to believe that they do, or feel “entitled” to anything they didn’t work hard for). Why put all of that pressure on ourselves as parents when it’s literally not a necessity. Food, they NEED food – they don’t NEED a new doll (when they already have 20).

As far as the big kids go, it is easier to gift with intention. We can make purchases directly from their lists and know that they’ll get used/worn and appreciated. Our oldest daughter is intentional on her own, and only asks for what she feels like she needs (#goals). For everyone else? Handmade items. This year, I am going to make something for each of my friends. I feel like it aligns with intention and focusing on what Christmas means to me. So, if you’re reading this and we exchange gifts – make me something instead of purchasing a present (a handmade card would be perfect). 

Autumnal Grandeur

Autumnal Grandeur

I have always looked at the ruby-throated hummingbird’s delicate, flittering wings.
But had never really seen as he rested,
Perched proudly as he searched for his mate.
So much beauty never considered.
Guilt consumes me.
I’m inspired to change.
To not only hear, but listen;
Not only touch, but feel.
Respond to the echoing call of the common loon,
Beckoning me back to Moose Lake.
Watch as my girls listen to the chorus of howling wolves
Beneath the sky’s dancing Northern Lights.
I want to observe the blue needles of the Minnesota pines become bluer,
The red carpet of dewberry become redder.
I wonder how it smells,
As I remember the comforting aroma of birch bark and blueberries,
Of campfires and fresh caught walleye.
I dream of how it feels to jump off the end of the long wooden dock
And swim in the cold lake’s waters.
I consider the stories of the woods’ tallest tree.
It has seen so much more than me.
Impressive in it’s grandeur.
I will be back,
To seek answers to all I have missed.

Inspired by my mom, I wrote “Autumnal Grandeur,” for a creative writing project in my last semester at ISU. I spent the whole semester writing and designing a book about the power of a mother/daughter bond, in which this poem was included. It was published in the Clinton Journal two years ago as a part of my mom’s column, “Naturalist Notes.” Since then, it has been edited to the way it reads now. It serves as a reminder to me, once again, of how we can always improve on the past while still preserving our memories.

Balance

Balance

Repost from 2015:

I visit the cemetery frequently with my two young girls. Although they don’t completely understand, they know that we are visiting their Nana, my mom, Carol McFeeters Thompson. We share laughs and stories with mom – sometimes even tears – hoping that she is able to hear them, knowing that either way she is there in our hearts.

My oldest daughter recently started preschool, leaving some special one-on-one time for my youngest and me. Last week, Collins and I brought donuts and juice for a picnic with mom. That morning, the clouds were dark with the threat of rain. We were already committed to our plans, and headed for the cemetery anyway. We laid out a quilt (made of my old souvenir t-shirts mom had saved from our travels together) under the oak tree that extends over mom’s grave as well as the graves of our Grandpa and Grammy. We listened as acorns dropped from the tree, making a thud as they hit the ground around us. We felt the breeze as it blew lightly across our faces and through our hair.  We noticed as the dark clouds faded to white and then separated so that the sun could shine directly on us. My mom may not have been there physically, but she was all around us. She had always encouraged others to see the beauty around them, and that is exactly what we did. Inspired by her life’s lessons, we sat and really took in our surroundings.

 

We have noticed an abundant number of ground squirrels throughout the cemetery. Kendall, my oldest daughter, has named them all “Buddy.” She is thrilled when she sees them, shrieking “Hi, Buddy!”, which inevitably causes them to jump back down into their holes – every time. While I cannot immediately identify the species of ground squirrel as my mom could, I can encourage Kendall that lowering her voice and standing still will allow her to enjoy “Buddy,” rather than scare him away. In return, we can watch him pop his head out of his hole, examining us as we examine him.

 

Collins and I were surrounded by ground squirrels during our visit, as Collins is significantly more quiet than Kendall. She’s just as full of energy though, and took off running through the cemetery. We visited the graves of some of Collins’s relatives and some of my very dear friends, cleaning them off along our way – realizing the unfortunate losses so many of us share.

 

As we returned to my mom’s grave, we saw a red-tailed hawk. I have always been impressed by their grace and beauty. Watching her soar freely through the now cloudless sky immediately reminded me of my mom, of course. In an article she once wrote, she said of the red-tailed hawk, “Designed for nearly effortless flight over open country, she sailed on the wind, gliding across the sky in little more than a moment without ever flapping her massive wings.  When she rose to clear the trees, the sun highlighted her distinctive russet tail against the bright turquoise sky  She disappeared from view, but her majesty lingered.” What a beautiful and impeccably perfect description of what Collins and I saw together, sharing those memories with my daughter as my mom once shared with me – and so many others. That’s when it occurred to me, our new found friend, the red-tailed hawk, was not only graceful to watch, but intuitive. While we were busy watching “Buddy”, so was she. “She wanted only to be left in peace to use her keen vision to watch for a hint of movement in the grass below that might signal a small rodent suitable for her dinner.”

 

Collins and I spent two hours in the cemetery that day. Heartbroken with the loss of my mother, it was initially difficult for me to find a suitable balance between new and old, the future and the past. Focussing on my surroundings, I have realized that balance is prevalent and necessary: predator and prey, life and death, past and present.  What I have discovered is that we can incorporate the past into our future, mixing new memories and experiences with old.

© 2015 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

For over four years, I have ran from my grief. I ran fast and far, to revisit it briefly only a handful of times; each time leaving more quickly than the last. I can’t live in it, I refuse to, but I also probably can’t say that I’ve actually grieved properly. But then, I guess, I don’t know what grieving properly really is.

I was a stay-at-home momma when my own mom passed away. I’m lucky that I was able to spend so much time with her in the year following her cancer diagnosis. I am so thankful for that time and the remaining memories we were able to make. I accept her death, I accept the inevitability of death and my own mortality. Accepting her death is different than accepting the “why.” “Why” my mom was chosen, I’ll never understand. I can’t even think too deeply of it without wanting to vomit or completely and totally shut down.

To escape my grief, I made myself busy; so busy that I rarely slept. I finished my Master’s, endlessly volunteered for multiple organizations and causes, individually spear-headed a series of fundraisers to benefit the National Brain Tumor Society (we are over $33,000 raised), said “yes” to every favor and request, purchased a building and started a business (and then purchased another building and started another business), became the Village Clerk of Wapella, wrote a weekly newspaper column (in place of my mother’s weekly newspaper column), started a Girl Scout troop, and the list literally goes on (add in the fact that I’m a mother of four, got married during this crazy time, and I’ve remained a daughter and friend).

I. Am. Tired.

It caught up to me, it all caught up to me and I am exhausted mentally and physically; some days I cannot find even a portion of the energy that I couldn’t shut off for so long. I cannot find the energy to say “yes.” And, I’m sad. As I near my 35th birthday, I wish I could fast forward through it. I wish that every year, I didn’t have to be reminded of one more year “since” or “until.” My heart breaks with the loss of my mother. I miss her SO much, and it’s not “fair” that I don’t have her – that my children don’t have her. Although, I’ve heard it said many times that, “life isn’t fair,” I still very much wish that it was.

Here is what I have gained from slowing down, though. I have regained my ability to solely focus on my family and sometimes even on myself (that is still a work in progress). I found my dream job without even knowing it existed. I work long hours without effort, because I truly enjoy it. I have time to go on adventures and make memories with my family. I have finally focused on making my own legacy, rather than living 100% through my mom’s. I think she’d be excited, and proud. I think for a long time, I tried desperately to hang on to every ounce of my mom, rather than to live my own life. I didn’t want anyone to forget about her, but regardless of who remembers – I will never forget and I will never let my children forget. She will live through us, whether I stay up all hours of the night or sleep in.

So, if I’ve been more of a “no” person than a “yes” person lately, please don’t take offense to it. My saying “no” means I have more time to say “yes” to MY family. I can spend more time with my children so that their memories of ME will be like my memories of my mom and the home I grew up in with her, the life I lived with, and because of, her – she was always by my side, always my biggest cheerleader and she loved me endlessly. I always knew she was there for me, without any doubt. I hope my children will grow to understand that is how I feel about them. My love for them all will never falter, through life or even death.

The first day of school is here!

The first day of school is here!

I love my job. I had no idea how much I could possibly love a job, or that I would love so many children, families and fellow colleagues. I have children, too, and I know how hard it is to let them go and grow. I know that you’re worried about them, I know you’re scared for them, I know you want the best for them. I know when you drop them off at the door, you get in your car and cry. I know that some days, you do a “happy dance” because, man, you needed a break today. I know that you love your child with all your heart, trust me, it shows in how your child loves his/her friends or from how he pretend plays with a baby doll, or when he/she says “I miss my mommy/daddy/sister/grandma.” I know that you count down the minutes until you can see your baby again. I know, too, that some days 2 1/2 hours just isn’t enough time to get your house cleaned before it is time for you to pick up your kiddo. Before the end of the school year, I will know your child’s favorite color, favorite toy, favorite game. I will watch her beam with pride when she reaches her accomplishments, like writing her name or learning all of the colors, or making a new friend, or trying a new food. I will be there when he falls down, and I will help him up. I will hug her when she cries. I will chat with you on the phone and talk you through your fears. I will be there for your child, and I will be there for you. I am only with your child a fraction of the time you are, or his teacher is. Think about how well his teacher will know him. She is going to spend 6 1/2 hours (or 2 1/2 if he is in preschool) a day with him for the next 180 school days.

Your daughter cried on the way to school today, but so did mine. I had to drop mine off with her teacher and try not to cry myself. But here’s what I know about my daughter’s teacher AND your daughter’s teacher. She will take care of our daughters as if they were her own. She will love on them, and hug them, and make sure they eat, and get potty breaks and play. She will make sure our daughters play together and play nicely. She will help them through the hard and the bad and the sad times. She will smile with them and high five them through the good times. She will come to work early, she will stay late, she will work for free and spend her own money to make sure our kiddos have what they need to be the best versions of themselves. She will encourage them and teach them and guide them. She will love them, and they will love her. She will read to them, and maybe even teach them how to read. She will spark their imagination and encourage their creativity.

I think it was hard for me from an outside mom’s perspective to understand this. It was hard for me to believe for a second that anyone could take care of my child better than I could (or even the same). I promise you though, your child’s teacher will do the very best she can. Your child’s teacher loves children and she will love your child. I’m so proud to know so many amazing teachers, who literally give blood, sweat and tears to make sure that your child (and mine) is taken care of. I can say with certainty that your child’s teacher will lay awake at night thinking of new ways to teach, and she will lose sleep thinking of how she can help a student’s family that may be going through a tough time, she’ll lose sleep hoping that her students all went to bed with full tummies or with a kiss goodnight. She wants the best for him, just like you.