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.

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Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic Expectations

I love reading, probably (definitely) more than I enjoy writing (and I really enjoy writing). I know that I have read something really great (in my opinion), when it inspires me to write. I read blogs, books, magazines, newspapers, social media posts, memes – anything that inspires me, encourages me, helps me better myself (as a person, as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, at my job); anything that teaches me something new (among my favorites: politics, traveling, other civilizations and/or demographics, specific areas/regions of the world, grief; and pretty much anything related to families, children, and raising children); DIY projects, remodeling tips and ideas, cooking, baking and hobbies; basically, I love reading and the world of opportunities it brings to think, reflect, learn, and absorb.

I recently came across a couple of women who have partnered together as best friends and mommies to showcase their trials and triumphs through motherhood. As I was reading their blogposts, I noticed a newly published book of theirs that I immediately (and I mean right then) purchased from Amazon. “Mom Truths” by Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer (Cat and Nat) came the very next day (thanks, Amazon Prime) and I was able to take it on our weekend camping trip (actually, I may have driven back to town from our campsite to pick it up from the UPS driver himself – I HAD to read it).

I read all 221 pages this weekend between roasting s’mores, a (very hot) day trip to the beach, and sitting around chatting with my own mom friends/mom tribe (most of whom I have known since grade school) as our children (15 of them, give or take, depending on if you counted friends that stopped by and/or borrowed children from other campsites) ran around (or rode bikes/scooters/hoverboards) freely and with minimal adult direction (shout out to the older kids who made a financial killing off of supervising our littles this weekend).

I cannot rave about this book enough – it spoke directly to me as if it were written about my own family, our experiences, and our own trials and triumphs. I caught myself (more than once), reading lines (or multiple paragraphs) aloud to my husband, both of us noticing a direct association to one of our own children. It was a book written by mommies, for mommies, and it is spot on. It highlights society’s (and our own) unrealistic expectations of mothering and of our children (and of other mothers) – it made me really put some these expectations in perspective. I cannot emphasize enough how unrealistic most mothering expectations truly are.

Recently, I saw (and posted) a meme on Facebook that said, “Behind every photo taken at home is a mom pushing random crap out of the way so her house appears clean.” That meme, paired with this book, made me realize that I am just as guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of myself (and maybe even of others). Should I not take the picture of my daughter beaming with pride over her latest artistic creation, because her craft supplies are strewn out all over the background? Should I not take the pictures that will include the sink full of dishes in the background (I didn’t do the dishes because I was helping with craft time)? Should I not take that spontaneous trip to the pool because I didn’t get the laundry put away? I am guilty of these things, friends. Guilty.

I clean every day and, inevitably, every day, a new mess will appear – maybe exactly where the last one was, maybe somewhere completely unexpected. My children are not great at picking up after themselves, sometimes I am not great at picking up after them, and that is totally ok. It’s ok that there’s a mess in the background, take the picture. It’s ok that you didn’t fold the laundry before you left, make the memory. It’s ok that Sally’s house down the street is spotless AND she found time to take her children to the pool – you are not Sally. You are you, and you’re trying your best – that is enough.

I started thinking about the photograph I would pair with this post, imagining how I would stage it ahead of time. I was going to use my kitchen table, where I read the last few pages of “Mom Truths” while I drank my coffee – and that is exactly what I did. To stage the picture, I pushed away all of the “crap,” wiping down the table, cropping out the wallpaper on my kitchen wall that I strongly dislike – laying my copy of the book next to my coffee cup. I took 28 pictures of the same setup, keeping the one I liked best, and adding filters to it. It’s the first thing you’re going to see when this post pops up and it may even encourage (or discourage) you to read this post in the first place.

But, the picture at the bottom of this post is the real one. It shows what my table looked like minutes before I staged the first photo you saw. It shows my coffee cup, where I left it after finishing my book – but my coffee had long since been cold. It will show that my centerpiece had just served as a hanger for my newest pair of sunglasses (the ones I didn’t need but hey, they were on sale); the pile of paperwork that I HAVE to do something with, but haven’t sat down and completed (including stamped and ready-to-mail bills that I haven’t taken to the post office, even though I go there once a day); the obvious emptying of chapstick from my pockets (two tubes, a pair of earrings and a hair tie); the paint stains on my table (one of the newest pieces of furniture we own and it, itself, is like 7 years old) from the time I let the girls paint canvases with acrylic paint (PSA: it does NOT come off of tabletops easily, if at all); the scratches in the shape of a flower (or a cloud, depending on your perception) that my youngest (and definitely the one responsible for this “masterpiece”) does NOT know how it got there (“Maybe it was Windsor?” – Windsor is my dad’s dog); the table that, based on my first picture, you can’t even see my husband sitting at while he plays Mario Kart on the DS we just bought our kiddos as a bribe to keep their rooms clean.

When I pushed the “random crap” out of the picture, I cut out what was real and raw and TRUE. I am guilty of routinely editing the “random crap” out of my pictures – I am also guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of myself based off of viewing others’ edited pictures (the ones that they staged and pushed all of the “crap” out of).

Don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t pressure yourself to do more. Don’t convince yourself you’re not doing enough. Don’t beat yourself up over a bad day. Don’t worry about the mess. Don’t compare yourself to other moms. Don’t compare your child to other children. If you’re doing your best, that is enough.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Link to purchase this book off of Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Cat-Nats-Mom-Truths-Embarrassing/dp/0525574913/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?keywords=mom+truths&qid=1561931

Friendships are Priceless

Friendships are Priceless

My mom always told me to surround myself with interesting people. People who could talk about “things” and not others. Quoting from a letter to me titled, “Advice to my Daughter,” my mother wrote: “In your entire life, the number of people you can trust with your heart and your deepest secrets can be counted on your fingers. No one person can satisfy all of your needs. Make lots of friends – different friends for different purposes.”

I do happen to have friends of all ages, from many walks of life. For example, I have my best girl friends, the girls I can call for anything and everything. I call each one for different reasons. Whether it be to share grief and/or happiness; to get or give an encouraging word or endless support; for help from them or help for them; pedicures, shopping and lunch – I can always count on the same group of girls repeatedly without fail.

I have guy friends, some of which have been my friends for over half of my life – our friendships have continuously evolved through each stage of our lives. I have a few I talk to regularly, and a few that I may not talk to often, but we always pick up right where we last left off. Of course, I cannot exclude my dad, fiancé, or my children from my closet circle of friends. Every one of my relationships are special and different.

Thinking of my friendships, I compiled – what I believe to be – a comprehensive list of what makes lasting friendships.

1. Give support freely. You don’t always have to support the situation, but you can alway support the person.

2. Make time for friends. Setting aside time for each other will only help to nurture a friendship.

3. Be honest, trustworthy and loyal. Don’t spread rumors and don’t let others talk about your friends, either.

4. Be respectful and always show appreciation.

5. Show up, keep promises, be dependable. Friends can always count on each other.

6. Apologize after a mistake and forgive. Don’t hold grudges.

7. Be selfless. Do favors, go above and beyond – even small gestures make a big difference. Be genuinely happy for your friends through their triumphs.

8. Listen. Actually listen and remember that you don’t always need to give advice. When you must give advice, it should be thoughtful.

9. Help friends through struggles and crises.

“Try to improve their life through your friendship” – Barry Cassidy

Friendship is a give and take. Good friendships take a lot of time and investment from both sides. “They” say good friends are hard to come by, I disagree. I think you have to be a good friend to have good friends – I aspire to be as good to my friends as they are to my family and me.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Lauren Johnson

We had just left Dairy Queen. I was feeling incredibly guilty because drive thru meals have increased as we have found ourselves always on the go. Coincidentally enough, my weight has also increased significantly – I am certain that the two are correlated. Regardless, we left the drive thru and pulled up to the lights to head South on the highway, me with a mouthful of BBQ Snack Melt, when I saw a man standing there with a cardboard sign. The sign read, “Anything helps, even a smile.”

It had been one of those incredibly windy days and the man was clearly doing everything he could just to hold on to his sign. I couldn’t help but think about how cold this man had to be, and before I knew it, we had changed course and headed back toward McDonalds to get the man with the sign something warm to eat.

Collins slept through this whole adventure, but Kendall was fully alert, curious as to why were at McDonalds when we had been on our way home just a couple of minutes before. I explained to her that we were taking the “man with a sign” something to eat, further explaining that he quite possibly hadn’t had anything to eat all day. She was very upset at the idea that his “tummy was rumbly,” and thought fondly of our mission to alleviate that issue for him.

I have to figure that if someone is asking for help, then they really need it. I would’ve came home and worried about this man all night had I not done at least something for him. To be honest, I’ve worried about that poor man since the second I saw him and his wellbeing has consumed my thoughts.

We took the “man with a sign” his two cheeseburger meal and some extra cash. As I handed it out the window to him, he nearly cried (and so did I). He said, “oh, bless you, bless you!”, before taking off across the street to his bike. It made me wonder how long that man had stood there hoping for something warm to eat. How many cars drove by him, a block away from a drive thru, ignoring his pleas for help. How many people went home and regretted not helping, and how many never gave it a second thought?

The entire drive home, Kendall was full of questions.
“Who was that man?” “Does he know how to eat?” “Why is he hungry?” “How did you know he was hungry?” “Where does he live?” But after I answered all of her questions, her wheels started turning from why we helped this man, to what else we could do. “We could invite him to our house?” “I could give him my candy!” “Can we buy him a bed?” “We could visit him so he has friends!”

We continued our discussion and I told her that sometimes in life, we experience hardships and although I’m not certain, the “man with a sign” may not have had anything other than the clothes on his back and his bicycle. I asked her how she would feel if all she had was a coat and a bicycle. She replied, “well mommy, that would make me sad!”

I hope Kendall can always look back on this day, and without using any judgement at all, follow her big heart to find a way to help others. I also hope that the “man with a sign” can look back on today and know that even though hundreds of people went on by, there will always be that one person who will help him when he needs it. Maybe someday he will be able to return the favor, I will bet that if he can – he will. Until then, we should all learn a very valuable lesson from this man and remember that anything helps, even a smile!

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
⁃ Ralph Waldo Emerson

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Showing Compassion

Showing Compassion

“Who makes mommy happy?”

“Me!”

“And who else?”

“Kendall!”

“That’s right! You two make mommy soooo happy.”

There isn’t a single day that goes by that we don’t have this exact conversation, and usually more than once. I hope my girls always know how much they are loved, even on those days when they feel completely alone or broken hearted, they are always loved so much.

I never questioned whether my mom loved me, not once. She told me often, but more importantly she taught me HOW to love. She taught me love, compassion, empathy and respect for others. She showed me how to be selfless and giving; beautiful on the inside. I try my very best to teach my girls these traits.

I read once that compassion is the antonym to bullying. Having compassion for others, taking the time to really understand them and remember that each individual is different – wouldn’t that prevent you from harboring hate? What if we gave everyone a chance before judging them, or picking on someone for being different from us? What if we just level the playing field? We are all in this for ourselves, but we are ultimately in this for each other; the greater good.

This week, at dance class, there was a little girl pushing the other little girls. Finally, her mom got up, took the little girl out of class and said to the rest of us, “I’m sorry, but my daughter is NOT going to be a bully.” When she took her out of class, she didn’t yell at her. Instead, she had her daughter, tears welling in her eyes, watch the rest of the class. She sat and calmly (along with her father, the little girl’s grandpa) and explained to the little girl why her behavior was inappropriate. I commend that mom, she taught that little girl not only that pushing/bullying is wrong, but she remedied it with compassion.

I read on Facebook this week that a friend of mine, one who recently lost her husband, was finally getting back out and trying new things solo. She joined trivia night and had something weekly that she could look forward to. She said that her team wouldn’t always have the answers, but they had a lot of fun playing together. That is, until another team consistently made fun of them, and now my friend has quit her team and seemingly lost confidence in herself.

According to the dictionary, a bully is “a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.” Had they known my friend recently lost her husband or her story, would they have shown compassion? Why were they unable to show compassion regardless of her story? Why are we a nation full of bullies and bullying; a bunch of people who feel that they are entitled to treat people in any way other than just plain nice?

When I take these two stories and think about the impact compassion had, versus the impact that bullying has, it is clear to me that my job as a human being and as a mom, is to show as much compassion as I can. To do what is right, no matter how hard that is. To not turn the other way, when I know something is wrong but rather do the best I can to make things right. What impact do I want to have on my children and on this world? I want to live my life – everyday – knowing that I did what was right, or at the very least that I tried my very best.

“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.”

⁃ Frederick Buechner

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

A True Gift

A True Gift

As I read through my mom’s old columns, I feel close to her – as if we are having one more conversation. I can feel her passion – hear her voice, as she paints the perfect picture of her experiences.

July 18 marks the four year anniversary of her passing. Although it has been longer than that since I was last able to really hear her voice and benefit directly from her wisdom, I am truly blessed to have been left with years of her stories that I can share again and again with my children, myself, and the world.

I was thinking of mom (as I do often) and the gifts she has left in all of us. To name a few: I can feel her with every butterfly, rainbow, sunset and great blue heron; I am lucky to have retained the answers to so many natural questions from years of her teaching; I can visit the trees and flowers that she herself has planted, nurturing each one – sometimes from a seed, bulb or sapling.

How blessed I am as a daughter, and we are as a community, to be able to hold on to, and appreciate, these gifts for a lifetime. Additionally, we possess the ability to pass these gifts on through the generations, while also preserving her legacy and her life’s work.

Reading through an old column of hers recently, I found it too perfect under the circumstances not to re-share.

The Pawpaw Tree

by

Carol McFeeters Thompson

I can still see them sometimes, the two of them, on the lawn with a spade, quietly debating the merits of one location over another for planting the little tree. Settling on a spot beside the butterfly garden we had all worked on together, he dug the hole and loosened the soil at the bottom. She lovingly mixed in some nutrients, then placed the little tree he had grown from a seed in the center of the hole. He poured in half a bucket of water to settle the loose soil around the roots. She held the tree upright, studying it from multiple angles to make sure it was absolutely vertical, while he replaced the soil he had just removed, tamping it in place with his foot. The rest of the bucket of water was carefully poured around the base of the tree, eliminating potential air pockets. I watched them step back to admire their work, knowing that they had left a piece of themselves there on the lawn.

The tree they planted was a pawpaw. She was already gone when it flowered for the first time. The little tree was festooned with maroon flowers hanging below its sparse branches like bells one spring, just as the leaves were opening. When I expressed my excitement at the prospect of eating my first pawpaw, he cautioned me, “Pawpaws don’t pollinate themselves. It takes two trees.” There were no other pawpaw trees at Weldon Springs, although I had seen thickets of pawpaws in other mesic forests. They were mysteriously absent.

We talked at times about plants that were conspicuously absent at Weldon Springs: marsh marigolds that should have been in the marsh, bluebells that should have been in the bottomlands, pawpaws that should have been in the forest.

When he came to say goodbye, we both knew we would never see each other again. We talked for a few minutes standing next to the pawpaw tree I had watched them plant. “I left you a present,” he said softly.

“Really? What?”

“You’ll know it when you see it,” he promised. Then he was gone.

One spring day, as I walked down the trail through the marsh, I noticed a flash of bright yellow that had never been there before. Walking closer, I discovered a clump of marsh marigolds blooming. “That was the present,” I told myself with delight. “What a nice surprise.” I felt like he was back in the park again.

The next year, I discovered a clump of bluebells growing on a wooded hillside. Again, I approached them with delight and thought of him.

The following year, as I was leading a group of students on a hike around a portion of the lake, I spotted a handful of the familiar maroon flowers on two small saplings down in a draw. Pawpaws! Another present.

Last week, one of the children called me over to look at the pawpaw tree on the lawn. “What is this?” he asked.

There, sheltered by the large leaves on the outer edge of the bottom branch was a cluster of three lumpy oblong fruits suggesting bananas. The tree they had planted together was bearing fruit for the first time. I so wished they were there to see it; there would have been one fruit for each of us. I have been considering this week what a miracle the three pawpaws truly are.

Pollination is difficult for the pawpaw in nature. Evolving before bees, pawpaws rely on blowflies and carrion beetles for pollination. To attract them, the flower is meat colored, downward facing, and fetid – smelling like rotting meat. Pawpaw flowers are perfect – they have both male and female parts – but they are not self-pollinating. The female stigma matures and is no longer receptive when the male pollen is shed. In addition, each individual flower will only accept pollen from a tree that is genetically distinct. A pollinator must not only move from flower to flower but also from tree to tree.

In order for the tree on the lawn to be pollinated to produce its first fruit, the same fly that found one of the two saplings in the draw must have flown across the lake, left the forest, and landed on a flower of the tree on the lawn. The seeds of these resulting pawpaws, if propagated and planted on the lawn, would produce a tree genetically distinct from the other two, making pollination of all three more likely. That is something he would do if he were still here.

It has been many years since I walked through the park with my friend, “birding and botanizing,” but I can feel his presence sometimes along the trail.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com