Saturday, December 24, 2016

Positive Lessons in Tragedy

I know it seems strange to write a blog about tragedy on one of the most joyous evenings many of us have, all year long.  But Christmas Eve is as good a time as any for me to share something that I have felt for about ten years and can finally put into words.  At least I think I can.  In the past week, I feel like there has been an abundance of tragedy.  Car wrecks.  Parents dying at a young age.  Children in the hospital with scary outlooks.  Unfortunately, I doubt that it is really a seasonal thing or a now thing.  I know that this is an everyday thing.  It’s just been more present, in my view.  This blog isn’t for any of my readers who are going through these things, now.  If you are fresh in a tragedy, this isn’t the blog for you … yet.  It will be sanctimonious and unwelcome in your journey.  You will hate me.  It took ten years for the fog of tragedy to clear before I could see any positive.

Now then, if you have been through a tragedy and are on the path to figuring out the “what now”, this MAY be for you.  It may not be and that’s fine.  It’s definitely for me and that’s why I write.

There have been a few hard times in my life.  Things that just didn’t go as planned and really set me back.  None of them as much as twenty years ago when my brother passed away.  The world is full of people who have lost a sibling.  I have learned that it is very rarely discussed.  When you lose a child, it is thought of and discussed, often.  As it should be.  When you lose a parent too early, it is a sympathetic plight.  Again, as it should be.  Losing a sibling isn’t really touched upon.  For years, I felt lost in why I was still so darn sad and no one seemed to notice.  Was I the only one who noticed?  The dynamic was off.  Things would never recover.  But, they did and then some.  Good things came from this awful, terrible event.  Don’t get me wrong, I would do anything to have Jared back.  I think about him all the time.  I wish with all that I have that my kids could have met him.  But, without this tragedy, I don’t think my path would have been the same.  I have a pretty bumpy but good path. 

From this time (at least a decade), I learned a lot.  I learned perspective.  Nothing slaps you in the face with perspective quite like the permanency of death.  Things like Austin’s accidents (yes, plural) were awful but not permanent.  I recognized that as long as he was here with us, we were winning.  As long as he still wanted to beat the pain, we had a chance.  As long as there was still fight in us to work together, we would make it.  And, we did.  Selfishly, I am hoping we passed those tests and don’t have to revisit that.  I have also learned what I call “little perspective.”  Little perspective is the practice of keeping a bad day or moment as just that.  A bad day or moment doesn’t make for a “my life stinks” perspective.  I have bad days.  I just quit letting them become bad weeks/months/years.

I learned that my timing and God’s timing are two very different things.  I wanted four kids in four years.  It’s easier to remember their ages if you just have to count down.  Kidding, sort of.  That didn’t happen.  Two years of multiple miscarriages were hard, terribly hard.  For a while, I felt like I had failed my plan.  But, I had learned that it isn’t my plan that counts and God would take care of me.  Now, I see it as I type and wait for the awakening of Chaney and twenty minutes of her sitting on my lap, sucking her thumb and holding her pillow.  Kind of hoping she lets me finish this blog because I am not sure I will finish it, if not.

The biggest positive impact this tragedy had on my life was in my relationships.  Yes, it feels a little off to use the words “positive impact”.  I have relationships that cleaned themselves out, as a result of this.  People who I held close or looked up to that showed they didn’t care on the level I did.  Sad, but necessary and probably saved a lot of sadness on down the road.  And then, I have relationships that showed up and stayed.  There are people who are quietly watching and cheering for you.  I began to recognize and see those people above the ones who are just present when it is easy or will garner them attention.  The best relationship change was one of improvement.  From Jared’s death, a relationship improved.  I won’t go into a ton of detail because this isn’t just about me and not everyone likes their feelings and soft parts exposed.  I can say that I have a relationship that I don’t know would have been a strong one had Jared’s death not changed both of us.  I am grateful that the direction it was taking changed.  I have an enjoyment of relationships that I didn't have before.  It's more about the interaction than the what we are doing or the excitement.

I have no idea what my life would have looked like if twenty years ago had been a different outcome.  Maybe, I would have ended up in the same place with the same people and same relationships.  Maybe age and life would have taught me all of these things.  I don’t think so.  I choose to believe that good can come out of tragedy.  That it is a life altering event that isn’t all bad.  Why?  It's the only way I can make sense of any of it.  Because if I don’t recognize the good, I get sucked into the world of “whys” and really there is only one “why”.  God has a plan and our ability to accept that plan controls our ability to find the positive moments in everything. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

'Tis the Season

'Tis the season ... the season to rejoice, to be grateful and to struggle.  What?!?!  Yep, struggle.  I try to keep a good balance of positivity, humor and reality in this blog.  That's our life.  It's real.  It's an amazing one that I am very grateful for.  It also has its share of struggles.  While this time of the year brings great joy and celebration, it also tends to amplify the struggles.

If you struggle with money (don't the majority of us, in some fashion), it is a more present struggle as you juggle Christmas gifts, property taxes (they sure went up), heating bills (it's really cold), etc.  If you struggle with family, it is amplified as more and more family time is at hand.  I am going to keep this on the positive side.  I am positive I am not alone in my struggles.  And, maybe just maybe someone out there needs to read they aren't alone.  Below is one of my biggest struggles.  It is one I have gained significant ground on but it still makes itself known.

Why in the world would our family picture from 2012 be a struggle?  Because, it takes me back to that day.  When I look at that picture, I don't see my family.  I see my spare tire.  I see how tight that shirt is.  I remember how tight those jeans were.  I remember sucking in until it hurt, in hopes that the pictures wouldn't show what I was so ashamed of.  That was obviously not successful.  That day was my final straw in fighting the calorie counting/working out battle.  I had been torturing myself with bland food; obsessing about counting every calorie I ran across; and working out every stinking day.  Know what I got for that?  Weight GAIN!!  Yep, I gained weight.  I got these pictures back and cried.  I knew what I was doing wasn't healthy (in spite of all the "expert" advice).  I knew that I was tired, miserable and setting a terrible example for my kids.  Not because I was fat (I wasn't) but because I was unhappy and obsessing.  I dreaded putting pants on.  I dreaded putting shirts on.  Shoot, my socks were even tight by the end of the day.

I have gained since that day but it hasn't been weight.  I have gained a better self image, a healthier lifestyle and happiness with myself.  I found something that worked for ME instead of something everyone told me I should be making work.  I started enjoying meals.  I quit caring what other people thought about how I got happy.  I quit accepting the judgment of myself and others.  I am able to see that having energy, being in a good mood and feeling good is more important than a number on the scale.  I enjoy my people!!  That's what I want to concentrate on ... enjoying my life.  There are still days I go back to this struggle but they are fewer and farther between.  This isn't everyone's struggle.  But, for those who share it, find something that works for you.  Don't beat your head against the wall everyone else tells you will work.  No two people are the same and that's pretty awesome.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Chocolate Fountain

It is said that the world is full of two types of people: glass half empty or glass half full. Well, I have stumbled upon another kind of person. A very rare person. A person who finds the good in something and makes it even better. Someone who refuses to stop recycling the good. That person is Makenna. My Makenna is a chocolate fountain.

Prime example:  I had a terrible week. One of those weeks that was so busy and full of stuff that I couldn't even enjoy it. Makenna overheard me saying that to one of my friends. When I got off the phone, she looked at me and said, "That's not true. You had a great week. A lot of good stuff happened. We did good practicing for rodeo. Your mom and dad came to visit us twice.  Degnan is roping. I am riding again. Josie is doing good at school. Chaney hasn't peed anywhere she isn't supposed to."  You know what?  She was right. All of that stuff was good but she made it sound great. She does this kind of thing all the time. Just last week, she called me from school. With a giggle in her voice she informed me that I needed to get to town with some new pants. It seems that she busted a move during gym and split her pants from front to back. She wasn't embarrassed. She wasn't put out. She just laughed at her self and kept going. Yesterday, she told me that was sure a good thing she split her pants and had to sit in the office because she was able to help the secretary remember where he principal went when they were looking for him. 

I don't think they are many chocolate fountains in the world. I think God sprinkles them sparingly and waits to see if we notice. I am sure glad I have a chocolate fountain. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Not So Rockwell Meals

Old fashioned family meals are a regular at our house. We sit down, together, talk about our day and eat. About once a year, we go all out and have one of the best meals on the planet. Chicken fried steak. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Corn. I know it is the equivalent of putting a steer in the feedyard for fattening but, it's oh so good. Last night was that meal. 

We were all gathered around the table, sharing our days and imagining seconds and thirds. It was a total modern day Rockwell moment if you didn't pay attention to Chaney's lack of pants and a few of the older ones smacking. As I was congratulating Austin on a meal, well done, Makenna was grabbing her second helping of corn.  Suddenly, she stopped, mid scoop, and asked us where the corn came from. I told her it was leftover from the night before. I buy industrial size cans of corn and they eat it for days. Makenna slowly sat the spoon back in the bowl and gave us all a sheepish smile. 

"Oh yeah. About the corn. I had some of it for snack and the bowl was so heavy that I spilled it. I didn't want to get in trouble so I cleaned it up. I forgot to tell you."  I told her that wasn't anything to get in trouble for. "Well, I scooped it back into the bowl."  Austin and I looked at each other, processing the fact we were all enjoying floor corn. He finally shrugged his shoulders and said, "Eh, we have eaten worse, I am sure. Besides, I heated it pretty good."  Josie piped up and said, "Oh great!  This is worse than the time Dad made us eat chicken out of the dumpster."  

Yep, you read that right. About two years ago (almost to the day), we were putting some finishing touches on our new store. I had stopped and picked up KFC.  I had this grand idea of us eating a picnic like meal in our brand new store. A sort of christening. Another modern day Rockwell moment. Upon arriving, I asked the kids to pick up the trash, in the vehicle and throw it out. I am sure you can guess. The bucket of chicken got tossed. I had a moment of panic. I couldn't cook supper.  There wasn't time. Austin calmly walked out, pulled the bucket of chicken out of the dumpster full of Sheetrock, wood and building materials and said, "Dig in!"  I rolled with it. So did the kids. Apparently, they remembered it, also. 

Obviously our attempts at Rockwell moments don't go as planned.  We are more of a mix of Rockwell meets Van Gogh self portrait with partially missing ear meets Family Circle. But, we have a sense of humor about them and we haven't been struck with any extreme gastrointestinal issues. I don't plan to keep keep taking the chance. I like my food sheetrock and floor debris free. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kill Free Zone

Why does the team of Austin and Erin work so well?  Is it our undying love?  Is it our never ceasing attraction to one another?  No.  It is because marriage is a "kill free zone."  It is our ability to remember that neither of us is perfect and therefore, we cannot kill one another.  Yesterday, I needed to be reminded that I wasn't perfect.  Why?  Because I was close to coming unhinged.  Why? 

Yesterday was Bacon Day for one of our pigs.  She needed to be at the locker around 8:00 a.m. Austin hooked up the trailer and loaded her the night before.  I was extremely grateful to him for doing that.  I got the older kids up and on the bus and Chaney and I into the pickup, on time!!  All of this is a big accomplishment, on a Monday morning.  Before pulling out, I checked the pig and gave her a going away treat of bananas.  Thirteen miles down the road, I notice that the side gate of my trailer is swinging open.  Holy Boston butt!!  I quickly explained my situation to my mom and hung up on her.  I came to a very slow stop, prayed and prayed that the pig would be in the back of the trailer and ran to check.  No pig!!  Panic.  Pukey feeling.  Tears.  Frustration.  I had thirteen miles of slow driving and praying.  "Please don't let the pig be in the road, in a mangled mess.  Please don't let someone hit her and hurt themselves.  Please let her be okay.  Please let me be able to load her, on my own, before she tears up someone's field.  Please let me not kill my husband for leaving the gate open.  Please let me not kill my kids for leaving the gate open. Please let me find this pig."  Relief doesn't even begin to cover my feeling of pulling into our yard and seeing the missing pig, happily rooting around.  Now, to load her.  Thankfully, other than placing 320 pounds of cloven hoof directly on my big toe, it went smoothly.  I checked ALL gates and got her to the land of bacon and sausage.  I called my mom who told me, "Oh, you will be laughing about this, soon!"  I wasn't so sure.  My plans were off for the entire day.  My foot hurt.  My stomach was still in a knot.

Austin apologized and tried really hard not to laugh.  I waffled between laughter and slugging him.  And then, my memory shot back to this moment.  This moment when I told him that I was sorry and tried not to laugh.  This moment when he wanted to kill me and didn't. 

Best Laid Plans

Marriage is about making a life together and living it.  Not making it and killing each other.  Marriage is a kill free zone.  We are doing a pretty good job of living it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Heart & Brains

Makenna once said "most of the time, I don't have a clue."  She is so wrong. Yes, she can forget to put both shoes on. She can be holding something and looking for it at the same time. But, this kid has a uniqueness that I love. Her thinker is perfectly in tune with her feeler. While many of us use either our brain or our heart, Makenna utilizes both. 

For two years, she has kept a jacket in her locker. When I asked her to bring it home, she politely declined and explained herself. That jacket is her "forgot jacket". It is for the kids in her class who forget their jackets or don't have warm enough jackets. She told me "it's quite handy."  

She and I ran a few errands. We bumped into a man, in town, who has voiced his extreme dislike of Austin and I, to many people. I smiled and said "Hi". He refused to acknowledge me. Makenna looked at me and said "When people won't smile and be polite, I just smile bigger. I don't have to be as mean as they are."

I feel like there are a lot of lessons coming from this smile. The world would be a lot different if we all used a balance between our heart and brain in our decisions. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Going Backwards to Go Forwards

Welcome to the hardest blog I have ever written.  It's so hard that it has taken me a year to even attempt.  Be patient.  Be kind.  I don't know how to tell this story without airing frustrations, writing the wrong thing (unintentionally) or stumbling over myself.  This is our story of dyslexia.  Before I begin, know two things:  1.  I don't blame anyone for my baby having dyslexia.  2.  I don't write this for sympathy.  I write this because there is another parent, out there, who needs to know they aren't the only ones struggling.  I write this because there is a kid, sitting in a classroom wondering why they don't "get it" and everyone else does.  Josie has dyslexia.

How did we figure this out?  We didn't.  She did.  Sort of.  Two years ago, during a skills assessment, Josie looked straight at her teacher and said "You know I don't learn like those other kids, right?"  That began a whole new way of approaching school.  Her teacher, an amazing lady, started working with her a bit differently.  We weren't thinking dyslexic.  We were just thinking we had a different thinker on our hands.  That didn't bother us, in the least bit.  Kindergarten started and we noticed it wasn't just a different thinker.  Josie would "read" a book to me and if I wasn't really paying attention, I wouldn't notice that she wasn't really reading.  The girl could pick up a book, look at the pictures and fool even the best of them.  When asked to sound out simple words, she could sound it out but couldn't tell you what it meant.  For instance, she would painfully sound out "cat" and not be able to tell you that we were talking about the very type of four legged animal that she had just finished playing with, on our front porch. She couldn't tell you how many fingers she had without counting them. She could count moving cattle on the cake line. That's hard for some adults (hellloooo, me). She couldn't get her pole pattern down on foot or her horse because she got lost with the straight line. Her test scores started rolling in.  They were all over the place.  One week she was so far behind, I was surprised the kid on the piece of paper could put one foot in front of the other.  The next test, she was at the top of the charts.  It wasn't adding up.  We asked the school to test her.  She passed all the tests.  It was suggested we wait until she was ten.  That just didn't seem right to us. I am, admittedly, leaving out a lot of the frustrations in jumping through the school hoops.  They are there but I don't think it will serve a purpose for this blog to go through all of that.  It was evident to us, the school couldn't or wouldn't address what we suspected.  That was dyslexia.  We took her to have independent testing run.  I know that sounds like it had to have been time consuming and expensive.  It wasn't.  It was a ridiculously simple process and cost a measly $100.  At this time, she has only been evaluated by professionals.  We haven't had a need to have her officially diagnosed.  We chose to use the thousands of dollars that would have cost to learn how to teach her. 

We live in a state in which the schools don't "recognize" dyslexia. Austin and I knew she wasn't going to learn as she should with the current system. So, I spent two weeks learning how to learn like Josie.  It was the most humbling and overwhelming two weeks of my life.  The simulations, in which we learned what it is like to be in a classroom, as a dyslexic, left me in tears.  I had taken learning for granted.  It came easily to me.  How could I have missed this for my daughter?  Was it our fault?  We should have spent less time loving her love of Blake Shelton songs and more time on the ABCs. How was I going to help her continue loving learning?  We hadn't hit the frustration beyond measure stage and I wanted to help her avoid it.  How could we protect her yet, teach her to work with what she was given?  We chose to be upfront about it.  We told her why she learned differently.  We taught her to use her voice and explain to people when she couldn't understand.  She told us that when she asked for the directions, twice, people just got louder.  We taught her to say "I don't understand.  I need you to say it a different way."  We worked hard to get a program into the school. 

I am happy to say that our school has a great program, now. We are working together and seeing positive things. It isn't cured and never will be. We really believe that this girl isn't going to be held back by dyslexia. We believe that God have her something hard so she can help others. We are excited to watch her learn.