what i learned this week #7

whatilearnedthisweek1.  Traveling long distances in the car is awesome when a) you don’t have to drive, b) you have a smartphone, Kindle, old-fashioned notebook, tablet, and colored pens, c) you can lie down in the back and sleep.  This may have been the most vacation-like part of my vacation.  And also?  Two of my kids were in another car asking someone other than me why it was taking for-EHHHH-vuwh.  That explains it.

kentucky children's garden2. The Kentucky Children’s Garden is somewhere we’ll visit again…next time with good play-in-the-water shoes.  My parents live in Lexington, but last week’s visit was the first we’d heard of this fabulous play area located next to the arboretum on the University of Kentucky campus.  The shots above really don’t cover half of its awesomeness.

3. My point-and-shoot camera that cost almost $300 a few years ago doesn’t even compare to an iPhone 5 camera.  Sad day.

4.  I can finish a book! (I may have up to 8 books “open” at all times.) I read Start by Jon Acuff and thanks to aforementioned Kindle, even read through the very last Appendix in the car.  The book gave me tons to chew on, including an idea for a new blog and the realization that I think about writing music multiple times a day and probably should actually… start.  (Or, technically, end the 14 year hiatus.)

5.  My grandfather worked intelligence for the Army.  I knew he was in Europe doing “radio” stuff, but I did not know that he was intercepting messages from very powerful people.  So cool.

6. Taking the time to exercise on a roadtrip is totally worth the extra effort.  I got to run in beautiful new places, and I’m pretty sure I had more energy to visit with family because of it.

7. Chocolate Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip ice cream is totally worth the extra effort of saying its ridiculously long name.

that time i said ‘no way’ and was wrong

I’m not sure how many people heard me say, “No way.”  Some heard variants like “no stinkin’ way” or “not even a possibility” or “ha ha!… no.”  Anyway, I told enough people that I wasn’t returning to full-time work that taking a new full-time position this week has merited an explanation several times a day. 

I just knew I didn’t have the stamina to handle a full day of teaching in a public school.  Maybe if they’d let me bring a cot in and get an extra “planning” period… Then I could do it.  And if they didn’t mind me shambling down the hall like a 90-year-old woman every once in while… Then I could do it. 

I turned the puzzle pieces over in my head until the curvy parts were bending and creasing, but I just couldn’t make things fit right for the coming school year.  Given all our families needs and desires, we knew something would have to be compromised, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  I prayed for wisdom until God was probably like, “Yo, girl. Anything else you’d like to talk about?”

So then I ran a 5K with my family in June.  And more to the point, I finished in 37:27!


(And yes, my husband pulled both boys in that Radio Flyer the whole way, with the exception of a few sprints by our 4 year old.)

I’ve never run a 5K in any form or era.  I probably couldn’t even have run 2 miles by myself without stopping at that point.  I’m not a natural runner, and I’d only done 5 training workouts with my couch-to-5K app.

And it got me to thinking… How in the world?!  I’m not a runner, and I’m struggling with fatigue every day.  Eventually I realized that when I’m around a lot of people, I can overcome so much that would normally keep me on the couch. 

At first, I felt bad about that.  I thought, it’s such a mental thing!  Why can’t you just do what you need to do?!  But then I realized that God made me to be an extrovert, a people person, a crowd-dweller.  Perhaps one day when my brain is donated to science, they’ll discover I dosed myself outrageous quantities of adrenaline while in the midst of throngs of people.  However it works, it doesn’t make pain go away.  It makes me get past it.

Instead of beating myself up about what’s hard for me, I decided it’s okay to capitalize on what’s natural to me.  And that became a, “Wellllll, maybe I could…”

A few weeks later, I found a doctor who thinks he knows what’s wrong and thinks he can help me.  I go for my second visit Monday, and I have a lot of hope that some things – if not all my symptoms – are going to get better..

In between the 5K and the doctor, even more changes were happening that aren’t really bloggable (read: boring.) 

My final holdout was chlidcare.  We’ve been so blessed to have the younger kids at home or at a wonderful morning preschool, and I really, really didn’t want to put them into daycare.

And God said, “Let there be a good family friend who loves our children, recently retired, considering looking for work” who will help fill the childcare gap.

And that was it.

There was a full-time elementary music position open, and so back I go into the land of small folk!  I’ll have more to say about leaving my alternative school family and joining a new crew in the days to come, but for now, I have to say:

My “no way” has become a “Here am I, Lord.”  It’s clear to me that he has orchestrated this thing in to place, and I’ll serve to the best of my ability. 

Also?  My husband is really pumped that 3 boxes of “school stuff” have a home that is not ours again.  Poor guy.  I thought he’d be happy I only brought home 3 boxes this year!

big boy beds and bursts of blubbering

Moving Boxes

Sometimes it’s the pile of too-small clothes in the donation box that makes a parent cry.

Sometimes it’s breaking down the crib and carrying it out for the yard sale pile that makes a parent cry.

I did both of those things today without shedding tears.

And then.

Maybe somewhere between re-folding the stacks of yard sale blankets and picking up the 700th Hot Wheels car, I lost it.

It started small with pinched, down-turned corners of my mouth and squinty eyes.  That’s a pretty picture, huh?  Did you just try it?  Yup, it was that awkward.  So thankful that the kids were out on the river with my husband and not at home to see me twisting my face crazy ways.  Within about 5 minutes, irregular rhythms of previously stifled sobs and sniffles were bursting into the empty house.

Nobody’s going off to college; Nobody’s going for an extended stay in a hospital room.

I’m moving our girl out of the room she’s shared with middle brother for the last 2 1/2 years, and she’s only going on the other side of the wall.  She’ll have her own space, and baby brother will move to the bottom bunk.  I’m not too upset about being done with the crib (yet.)  I’m sad that moving her out probably means changes in her relationship with her brother. 

She needs her own space more and more as she is getting older, and there are several other great reasons that swapping rooms has to be done.

But the way they play together 80% of the time?  It’s precious, and I hate being the one to initiate changes that might mean they’re not as close.

My sister pointed out today that I don’t know what positive changes between them it might bring about that I can’t foresee.  She’s right.  And already tonight, I heard middle brother talking about himself in ways that sounded like he might be gaining some much-needed sense of maturation. Halleluuuu-yer! That brought tremendous relief, because I was seriously concerned about jealousy on his part, too.

In an odd way, the pain of moving on from one chapter in their childhood brought me joy.  There are days when I’m too busy or too self-absorbed to be the mom I really want to be, but having my heart break over 10 feet of floor space reminds me that God is slowly making me into who he wants me to be.

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3, emphasis mine)

introducing kids to music {a podcast follow-up}

You know those people who give you a chance even though they haven’t seen you since you were 19-and-something-of-an-idiot?  Cintia is one of them for me, and I like her.  Social media reconnections are boss.

Cintia and I had a conversation today about introducing your kids to music, and it streamed live on YouTube.  If you didn’t see it live, boy did you miss out!  I’m pretty sure she’s already edited out the part where my dog peed on the chair behind me.  Regardless, you can check it out here.  I apologize for the poor sound quality on my end.  I didn’t realize my webcam mic was so bad.


Anyway, I had a few more thoughts after we finished chatting…

On simple ways that parents can introduce music to children:

  • Put a CD player in the bedroom that the child can operate.  It’s better than an iPod at younger ages, and the concrete experience of getting a new CD (even if it’s one you burned from your iTunes) is thrilling for them.
  • Take the kids to as many concerts as possible!  Duh.
  • Keep an eye out for musical toys that don’t do all the work for your child.  If you push one button to hear a song, that’s not really learning anything.
  • Take out your earbuds, Momma.  Play it for everybody!

On children’s ability to sing:

  • Don’t ever tell a child she has a terrible voice or “can’t sing.”  Most parents aren’t that accurate in judging their own abilities, anyway.  The point isn’t always to be the best.  It’s to enjoy.  And, by the way, if we judged how great a cook you were going to be based on your mudpies…
  • The more they sing, the better they sing.  This is not a hard-and-fast rule.  If you make your child sing 6 hrs a day, they are not guaranteed to sell more records than Whitney.  But, singing is the ability to recall and make your body reproduce what you recall.  It’s imitation, and it usually becomes more accurate with more attempts.

On tips for parent-guided interactive musical play:

  • Use your sing-song voice to give instructions.  (Think of the “nanna nanna boo boo” tune and sing “Run and get your shoes on!”)  Betcha the child sings back to you.
  • Be a broken record.  That may go against lots of parenting book advice, but I’m not thinking of nagging.  I’m thinking of the way we have said “I_____ love_____ youuuuu!” thousands of times to my children in the same rising-rising-falling tones.  My youngest began filling in the final high-pitched “youuuu” long before he was really talking.  That’s musical.
  • Get silly.  If you can possibly muster up just a little bit of leftover magic dust from deep in your feet, shake it back out and make up a song about what you’re doing right now.  Or, even better, when your child is doing this (magically unprompted!) join in.  Add to the song.  When you get stuck, just repeat stuff you already sang.  It’s like… magic.
  • Pay someone to teach you how.  Music Together, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, and the Learning Groove are music teacher-led classes that involve both parent and child.

On the benefits of introducing music to kids:

  • Letting music be part of our lives connects us to the human experience throughout time.  There has never existed a culture that didn’t have music.  In my opinion, it’s a gift given to us through which we were all meant to worship.  It’s so unfortunate that our competition-driven culture has relegated music to “the experts.”

PS – I don’t have a dog.

what i learned this week #6


1.  The Zombies, Run! app has to be the most fun C25K (Couch to 5K) app ever.  Armband + earbuds + this app = me having fun running for the first time in my life.

2. Kale chips don’t save well overnight.  Eat them immediately out of the oven.  You’ll be happy.

library23. A trip to the library is the equivalent of me climbing into a Delorian with a flux capacitor.  I’m not making a statement about books being antiquated; I’m saying that being among gobs of paper covered with cardboard reminds me that once I was a bookworm, and I still like books very much.  Dear Books, Will you be my friend again?  Check yes or no.

4. There seems to be nothing more the neurologist can do for me right now.  He’s run all the tests he finds appropriate, and his parting words were pretty much, “Well, you seem to be getting better.  See you in 6 months.”  He’s a good doctor, and I think maybe what’s going on with me isn’t going to be addressed by his field.  I doubt I’ll go back unless something drastic changes.

5.  My kids are so full of grace toward me.  At the same bedtime in which I’m kicking myself for being a sorry, impatient, selfish mom, my kids are thanking God for me in their prayers and snuggling up to me.  The way they love me so fully in spite of my failures reminds me of the verse that says, “His kindness leads us to repentance.”  You can’t help but want to be better when you’re the recipient of such an undeserved gift.

graduation6. People are so weird when it comes to ceremonies these days.  We complain if it’s too long, we complain if it’s too short.  Some people wouldn’t mind if it didn’t happen at all, because “it doesn’t change anything,” even though others would pay more than $1000 to suffer in coach for 15 hours just to attend.  Some of us get dressed up in our best duds just to show up and chat with a neighbor the whole time. We are weird, y’all.  (I still think they’re important.)

how to get folks talking for no reason

I leave the high school chorus room and head straight out into the parking lot, blazer on one arm, clear party glass full of bubbly, golden beverage in my hand. I’m singing to myself, like I do far too often. I stumble in my heels and slosh said beverage all over said blazer.  I try to play it off and keep heading for my car.

Black High HeelsOh, hello couple in the truck 25 feet in front of me probably waiting for your grandson to come out of the locker room.  Thanks for staring. 

Never mind that it was white grape juice and ginger ale for a party to celebrate a retiree.  Never mind that the parking lot is full of rocks, and my middle name isn’t Grace. Never mind that no group of teachers in their right mind would drink on campus.  (Don’t Google that, readers.  You’ll find reports of teachers drinking on the job, and I’ll remind you that they weren’t in their right minds.)

I can tell, sweet couple, by the look on your faces that you think I’m actually that stupid.

Ah, well.

remember3More importantly, it’s a pretty amazing thing to celebrate someone who has served students for 30 years.  Congratulations, Mr. Don Greene… Teacher of 3rd Grade Me, Elementary Choir Genius, Rhythm & Staff Reading Taskmaster, and Encourager of Many.  May you spend all summer in your garden of Eden (I mean, yard) without a single sunburn, and may you never, ever again have to write a lesson plan in yet another new format.

what i learned this week #5 {a family health-related edition}

whatilearnedthisweekIt was after I’d written all these down that I realized they were all about food and exercise.  I may have learned other things this week, but I think I’ll save those for a blog post that will stay trapped in my head for a good two weeks.  Maybe this Summer I’ll be able to write more frequently.

  1. Don’t bake with colored toothpicks.  The dye will come off around the holes where you punctured your newly Pinterested pesto-chicken-roll-up recipe, and while confetti cake is awesome, unintentional confetti chicken is not.
  2. Zumba makes me feel like one of the cool kids.
  3. This stuff should not go in your eye. bugrepellent It’s not the worst thing you can imagine, but it was probably the worst part of my Thursday.  It’s important to make sure that the pump spray is pointed in the right direction.  Oh, you knew that already?
  4. I’m the only one in this family of five who really, really likes kale.
  5. My husband likes golf enough to play during the same week that he breaks down and visits a doctor for a shoulder issue.  Hmm.  This I cannot relate to.
  6. My middle child’s love language decidedly is quality time. 5lovelanguageskidsWe rode our bikes and ran around the block together a couple of times tonight, and twice he looked up and said unprompted, “I love you, Mom.”
  7. Two of my kids are old enough and strong enough to help me train for a 5k.  My oldest can run like crazy, and she shocked herself – and me – with how easy it was for her to run 1.3 miles tonight.  She’s come a long way since February.  Now instead of thinking I can’t exercise because I’m with the kids, I should think I can exercise because I’m with the kids.  Hallelujah!

i looked at my shoes when i might have walked

Sit down.  Sit down!  SIT! DOWN!  But the child didn’t sit down in the buggy.

I’m not doing this today.  But clearly, she was.

I’M GOING TO SLAP YOU!  And thankfully, she didn’t.  At least – not at that moment.

EinkaufswagenThis went on constantly for more than 3 minutes within earshot.  Every harsh sentence made my stomach turn, and I was more than ready to leave that area of the store when the mother finally wheeled her kids somewhere else, still yelling at them.  The worst part was that when I caught a glimpse of the two girls in the cart, the one she was yelling at appeared to be about 12 months old.

I think every parent has been at this breaking point.  I have. It’s that point when Mommy is the one who really needs the time out.  And every parent at some time will say or even threaten things which they wish they could take back.  There’s grace for that, thanks be to God.

But what about me, the fellow shopper?  I really wanted to approach this woman and say, “Look.  I get it.  I’ve been there — even just last week.  Can I carry your baby around and we’ll walk together?  Can I push the girls in another cart behind you?  Can I pray with you here in aisle 19?”  But I didn’t approach her.  I pretended not to notice her, because that seems to be the thing to do.  Just ignore.  Just keep to yourself, because it’s not your business.

But it is my business.  I am in the business of advocating for kids, and I am so tired of intentionally ignoring moms who are clearly struggling with the fundamentals of every day parenting.  Every parent has a bad day, but there are moms out there who are experiencing every day as a rollercoaster that just left the tracks.  Everyone is screaming, and someone’s going to get hurt.  Somewhere in the chaos, they become confused and start pushing everyone out instead of trying to keep everyone on board.  Mom is only fighting for her own survival.

In my work as a public school teacher, I’ve seen the effects of this far more than I ever want to see.

I’m not interested in a blame game.  The reasons that some parents become monster-versions of themselves are vast and varied.  What I’m interested in is finding a way to reach out to people who feel hopeless and say show them, “It can get better.”

In some cases, I think folks need a little experiential education.  Perhaps the mom I described above just hasn’t seen the gentle way someone might pick up a crying toddler and talk to them about everything they’re seeing in the store.  Maybe that mom was only yelled at by her own parents.  Perhaps that mom has been implicitly told that immediate obedience is paramount in bringing up babies and that anything should be done to enforce it from day 1.  (And we hope instead that this just happened to be the one day we caught her outside of her norm.)

But maybe more often, parents become so overwhelmed with the task they’ve been assigned that they’re simply too tired to control themselves any longer.  Insecurity and exhaustion pour gasoline on the normal frustrations of parenthood, and a fiery rage takes over.  (Full front page shout out to the single parents who are getting it done.  I don’t know how you do it.  It overwhelms me just thinking about it.)

I think it sucks that in the name of being polite, we are supposed to pretend this isn’t happening.  What about the kids?

I’m praying about how I can extend a hand without making people feel judged.  Because yes, I do judge that some types of parental behavior are unacceptable, but I don’t judge that having bad days makes you invaluable.  Otherwise, I’d have to count myself out of the game, too.

on forgetting important stuff

A dear friend, who shall remain unnamed in order to protect the guilty, and I were discussing some of our mutual flaws.  Though many elements of our stories are different, we struggle with so many of the same issues – like the monumental, soul-crushing task of changing bedsheets.  We laughed about how long it had been since one of us had last changed the sheets and how the other of us was currently sleeping on top of quilts while clean sheets lay in a laundry basket on the floor.

She laughed again and said something like, “Lauren, when it comes to us, sometimes I feel like it’s the blind leading the blind.”  And I said, “No, we’re sighted.  We just have really poor hand-eye coordination.”

remember3Isn’t this all of us in one place or another, when it comes to how we are versus how we want to be?

We get it.  We can see what should be done.  But somewhere, the connection is lost between what we saw and what we’re doing.  We forget.

This is why New Year’s Resolutions are the target of so many jokes.  We forget the beauty of the goal we’d set with the best of intentions.

This is why reading through parts of the Old Testament sounds like a broken record playing, “Then they served other gods and did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”  The Israelites, like me, forgot what they’d seen God do.

This is why marriage conferences and parenting books will always be in demand.  We forget the ways we want to serve those we love most.

This is why I didn’t complete any of my health goals this week.  I forget in the moment how important this leg of the table is and how many things may fall off if I don’t tighten it up.

This is why you are constantly enduring professional development on the job.  Somebody forgot that a Diet Coke 12-pack doesn’t belong in the freezer, and now you must be reminded of courteous workplace practices.

If I may say, forgetting is a big part of being human.

remember2You’ve probably heard that quote that just begs to be cross-stitched: “A friend is a person who knows the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you’ve forgotten it.”  It’s so true.  (That is, unless the tune you were humming was “Murderous Revenge.”  If someone sings that back to you, get a new song, and get a new friend.)  I need people to remind me of the good things that I know.  Isn’t it weird how we easily remember the bad, but it takes effort to remember the good?

These are some things that help me remember the life-balancing good:

I’m so grateful for my friend who is hopefully sleeping on [clean] sheets tonight.  She helps me remember that despite my frustrations and failures, I’m a good teacher.  She reminds me that too much TV for my kids is stealing too much happiness from our home.  It takes effort to maintain our friendship, but I need it.  I’ll even guess that we both do.

I struggle to take in God’s Word on a daily basis, but if I don’t, I can forget how all the dots connect.  My heart forgets peace.  My hands forget love. (I’m still feebly kickin’ it Hello Mornings style, but that’s another post.)

It’s not easy to get myself and my dancing, hiding, whining, laughing, loud, squirming children to church every week, but there’s a reason that God says in the book of Hebrews: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see  the Day drawing near.” [emphasis mine]  He made it so that worshiping together makes us remember, too.

In other words, I’ve got to remember to do something to help me remember what it is I’m trying to do.  Need to read that sentence again?  I do, and I wrote it.

And maybe the beauty in forgetting is that we get a chance to experience joy all over again every time we remember.

for anyone who has snubbed small towns

Yesterday, I met one of my piano students at my little studio so we could video her audition for a summer music camp.

My husband brought the kids over when we were done.  Shoot!  I should have gotten everyone out of the house earlier, and we could have visited Discovery Place Kids directly across the street.  They closed at 5 yesterday.

Instead, we walked to a arcade/bounce house play place caddy-corner from my studio.  The owner was having to shut down due to a family emergency.  No problem. We walked back to the van, grabbed a stroller, and headed to the library, which was about a block away.

A close family friend honked and waved as she passed us.

We checked out books, and the librarian media specialist, who knew me by name, and I chatted about the details of my upcoming student recital to be held in a side room at the library.  She invited me to bring my youngest to a weekly story time and encouraged me to organize some summer concerts with other local musicians.  There’s a nice baby grand that only gets used once a year in that little side room.  I’m on it!

Hm, now we needed a pack of crackers and some ponytail holders.  Ah, yes – to the grocery store next to the bounce house place.  Easy.

Back at the piano studio, which is just a front room in a much larger dance studio, my daughter changed for ballet, and the boys and I walked half a block to a mom-and-pops restaurant for a meeting we had to attend.

And that’s my short defense for why I love a small town.

chalk heart

(Oops.  I put that meeting on the wrong date in Google Calendar, and mom-and-pops aren’t usually open on Tuesday nights.  A three minute drive put us at McDonald’s, because they’re all fancy with a recent renovation and now have an indoor playground.)

“Defend? What’s to defend?” you ask.

I’ve heard more than I want to from folks who can only see what my small town is lacking.  At times, I’ve allowed myself to feel inferior because of these tunnel vision kinds of remarks. I’ve even made them myself, especially as a teenager.

I think I’d love living in a larger city, too.  Sure there is more, but wherever I live, I choose to grab hold of whatever good there is to appreciate.  

It was during that bit of walking that I thought about this neighborhood that was being built in Chapel Hill during my last year or two there.  It was deemed “innovative” and “progressive.”  It was designed to be a small village in which you shouldn’t have to leave for much and you should be able to walk to get everywhere.  Authentic community would develop.

Authentic community develops wherever people decide that it’s valuable.  It happens in little country churches.  It happens in university dorms.  It happens online.  It happens in MOPS groups in Dallas and AA meetings in Mayberry. (Maybe Otis Campbell and the Darling daddy would have hit it off?)

Knowing your neighbor and connecting in meaningful ways is not the exclusive privilege of small towns, and having plenty to appreciate and enjoy doesn’t need to be seen as the exclusive privilege of a metropolis.