No one has greater love than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Love is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! But let me back up a little bit because every good love story needs a little background.
So, a little boy showed up at school one day with a toad in a small plastic habitat. And in “monkey see, monkey do” fashion, my son had to have one, too. And since his birthday was coming up (and since I’ve been known to slip into moments of complete mom idiocy) we decided to add to our family. After a trip into Wichita a purchase was made in a somewhat questionable pet establishment in an equally suspect part of the city. The sales fella assured us that this was an easy enough pet to care for and that our new fire belly toad would happily enjoy the little plastic habitat that we had already purchased at Toys R Us. (FYI: living creatures almost never thrive in plastic containers.)
So, Todd the Toad moved into my son’s bedroom. WAIT…I forgot to mention that fire belly toads (which are poisonous by the way…so should have looked that up before we brought it home) also need LIVE crickets every 3-4 days. Okay–if you have never seen a toad devour a cricket you might be surprised to discover that it’s pretty amazing and just as cool as some of the things you’ll see on Animal Planet, except that it’s happening right in front of YOUR face! So Todd would entertain us during feeding time, but that was about the extent of it. And since this particular toad didn’t have much of an appetite, more crickets drown than actually made it into his mouth. And this was a problem because cleaning this little plastic habitat became not only necessary, but also quite gross. To top it all off, poor Todd wasn’t thriving. He seemed miserable, sad and scared. My only thought at the time was: please, please don’t let us kill Sean’s birthday present! Something had to be done and thus another moment of mom idiocy ensued.
Google is one of my best friends. It wasn’t long before I had loads of info and armed with knowledge we headed back to a different pet store (in a better part of town) and looked for a whole new set up AND a companion toad (because two is always better than one and who doesn’t need someone to pal around with? I know, even more mom idiocy!) Almost $100 dollars later, we were set up with a new industrial terrarium and cover, a special light bulb, a new lamp, spring water, an electric thermostat and even a little greenery and log to keep our toad chums happy. The children were ecstatic and tossed names back and forth on the drive home. They settled on Bob and Todd because it sounded like good radio DJ names (???) and the dynamic toad duo settled into their new digs. We are such good parents 🙂
So here’s where the actual love story begins…you thought I forgot? Within a week my son had a few questions. There’s nothing quite like the “birds and bees conversation” presenting itself when you least expect it. After a very matter-of-fact talking to…Todd was renamed Trudy and my daughter declared the two “married.” Casey began praying for baby toads while I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into. Back to Google…more research needed to be done. (I am pleased to report that we were NEVER blessed with the “pitter-patter” of tadpoles!)
Bob and Trudy were quite the pair and displayed text-book fire belly toad characteristics. Trudy was quite docile and ended up being much smaller in size than Bob. Her skin stayed dark in color and she would secrete the poisonous milky fluid that wards off predators whenever she became frightened or uneasy. Bob on the other hand ate like a champ, his skin color would fluctuate between various shades of green according to his male hormones, and he frequently “barked” through the night to communicate with his beloved Trudy. (The barking sounds like a high-pitched dog bark, but it is so faint that for weeks we thought our neighbors must have purchased a small canine.) Bob was very protective and frequently “bowed up” when we would get too close or stare a little too long at the goings on in the tank. However, Bob displayed one unusual characteristic…while Trudy would hide and bury herself in the rocks, Bob was always trying to escape. On more than one occasion we would find Bob tucked up in the top corner, trying to get out. Although the crickets did manage to escape the terrarium on a regular basis, it basically seemed impossible that Bob could ever get out. He was easily bigger than Trudy but still small for an amphibian (2-3 inches at best) and the tiny crack that separated the cover from the terrarium was just too narrow. Bob wasn’t anywhere close to strong enough to move it on his own. It just couldn’t happen, right? Yet, he continued to try. We imagined he was on a quest to take his beloved Trudy and blow this popsicle stand…aka our house.
These antics played out day after day, month after month, and eventually year after year. We became regulars at the pet store (our frequent cricket purchases earning us occasional freebies) and we became experts at fire-belly toad behavior and habitat maintenance. These tiny toads became members of the family. They were my son’s roommates. We learned to recognize their barks and moods. We had to arrange care for them whenever we traveled. Not to mention, our dog was extremely jealous of his pet brother and sister. Like any family member, they were thought of and cared for on a daily basis. So imagine our surprise when sweet, little Trudy started slowing down. She would bury herself in the rocks for days now or hide in the log. While she was never the most active toad, her lethargy became worrisome. When she stopped eating, we feared the worse. We were about to lose a member of our little family.
We had lost ants (and countless other bugs) and a Beta fish named Swimmy, but on some level we all knew this would be different. We had cared (and dare I say loved) the toads for quite some time. They really were a part of our every day. I wondered how the kids would take it. Would they cry? What kind of questions would they have about death? And heaven? And ultimately, our Great Creator? I’ve read countless articles about the important lessons we learn through our pets and that death is a part of the life cycle that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about. And while all of this was milling about in my mind another thought occurred to me, what about Bob?
I wish I could say that we had plenty of time to delve into the subject of death and loss, but we didn’t. Trudy’s time had come. And afterward, Bob barked and barked and he continued to try to escape. And it wasn’t but a blink after Trudy passed away that her companion, her partner, her protector, her “husband” (my daughter pronounced them married, remember) went missing. MISSING! A poisonous toad was lost somewhere in our house. Good gravy.
Of course, the kids were distraught. Bob just had to be found. How could he have possibly escaped? They couldn’t lose BOTH of them. It was too much. We searched the tank…uncovering rocks and logs and faux plant life. Nothing. We searched the bedroom. Under things, behind things, and around things. Nothing. We systematically began searching the next closest bedroom, closet and hallway. Finally, the thought occurred to us. If Bob did manage to escape, would our dog have eaten him? I know it’s gross, but we were in sleuth mode and had to check off all the boxes. My husband made a quick call to the vet and we waited, but Maddie (the dog) was as healthy as ever. And no Bob.
After a week all hope was lost. We gave up. We wondered if some how he managed to make it out of the house. And the question became, if he did–how long could he survive? We cleaned out the tank. Repurposed the table it sat upon and eventually moved on with life.
Every once in a while the toad topic would come up. Everyone had a theory. 1) Bob just couldn’t live without Trudy. 2) He escaped in a desperate effort to find her. 3) He met his doom in the belly of our dog. 4) Or….he some how managed to make it outside..found freedom and made a new life for himself. 5) Perhaps, he was eaten by the crickets (I know this one sounds extremely far-fetched, but research shows that the crickets can and will turn on a predator and in large numbers crickets can actually take a small toad down.) We just didn’t know, until…well, until we DID know.
About half a year later, I discovered Bob (or what was left of Bob) shriveled and flattened…hidden under a pair of old baseball cleats in the far corner of my son’s closet. Now, before you think I’m a bad housekeeper I must say that YES…we had searched that closet dozens of times, YES…Sean regularly gets in and out of his closet, and NO we are not like many on the popular Hoarders TV show who neglect their surroundings to the point that critters frequently die and go unnoticed for months at a time. I don’t know how Bob made it across the room. I don’t know how long he survived in that closest (he would have needed a food source, water and tropical temperatures.) What I do know is that he was found, the mystery was solved and my heart was heavy. The love story was over.
Those itty-bitty toads taught me many things. First of all, I never thought I could love such exotic, and let’s be honest–ugly, creatures. I didn’t think that something so small and needy would ever survive in our care! I couldn’t imagine what a time commitment they would be or how much fun it would be watching them grow, play and change. These tiny creatures were awesome in so many ways. It is just another example of a truly amazing Creator! How could I have known that these toads (like children) thrive in routine and schedules, they’re very social and live in a communal setting in nature, they pair up and protect one another, and at the same time they are remarkably equipped to protect themselves from predators of every kind? They were such a wonderful example of a committed love relationship. And in many ways they came into our lives at just the right time…their parting prepared us for difficult moments to come. It still blows my mind.
Love truly is a funny thing. It will make you take insane risks. You’ll find yourself in unbelievable circumstances. And sometimes, yes sometimes, love will cost you absolutely everything! What a wonderful lesson for our whole family. In the past few years we have experienced loss (unfortunately, on more than one occasion) and as we grieved it occurs to me that while acknowledging the death we have also celebrated the LOVE. The love of family and dear friends. Of course it hasn’t been easy (it never is,) but I think we honor those who have gone on when we remember them well. We still talk about the toads. In fact, as I was writing this, I wondered did I ever take photos of them? Will there be images to keep their tiny spirits and their special story alive? And to my delight, I found many pictures and thus, many happy memories.
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us. –Helen Keller
Every summer has a story. –Unknown
Summer never looks so good as it does on the last day of school! Like a brand new penny, summertime is all shiny, a token of possibilities just waiting to be spent 🙂 Back in May, we anxiously awaited days of unscheduled fun and endless adventure (not to mention the joy of “forgetting” to set the alarm clock!) In so many ways I was more excited about summer than my kids…the monotony of pick up/drop off and the constant scheduling/rescheduling of team practices, medical appointments, school projects, etc…. And while it’s not my favorite season of the year, summer was sure sounding pretty good! In theory, I was willing to overlook the scorching temperatures, bugs and the chaos that is the spontaneity of summer. I planned (funny, huh?) on enjoying it all and loosening the reins of my control freak lifestyle. Feel free to laugh at me….
Now that the end of July has rolled around (and the school supplies have debuted at the local stores,) I realize that this summer has been anything but the relaxing, carefree season I imagined. Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT complaining. I spent the better part of the summer watching my children grow and learn on the baseball/softball diamond. We’ve squeezed in sleepovers, sports camps, swim lessons, and Vacation Bible School. My “Camp MOM” program has netted the children a few prizes while propelling (okay, FORCING) them to look at Scripture in a new and exciting (?) way. We’ve easily eaten our weight in Dairy Queen ice cream and discovered the addiction that is THE SNOW CONE! We’ve managed to eke out a little pool time (NEVER enough for my kids.) And we made our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a little family visit. All very good things! Still, I feel a little incomplete. The busyness of summer has me feeling like we missed out on the lazy, less hurried parts of the season. Frankly, we’re running out of days and there’s still more on my list.
So here and now, I’m putting out for all to see MY Summer Wish List…because summer break is all about the parents, right? Forget about the kids (not really!) Here goes nothing:
1. Catch fireflies in a pickle jar. Might as well be specific 🙂 Don’t worry, catch and RELEASE!
2. Stargazing. My opportunity to impress my kiddos with my vast knowledge of constellations. Yeah, right.
3. Drive in movie. This is a tough one because I don’t really like sitting through movies…it’s a huge time investment. Equally problematic is that I’m REALLY picky about the movies that I watch. Cross your fingers.
4. Road trip. Okay, if you know us…then you’re already aware that we’ve been on the road for baseball tournaments this summer. Those don’t count. I want to go see nature…(I can’t believe I uttered those words!) I’m thinking State Park adventure 🙂
5. S’mores. Enough said. Throw in a couple of campfire songs and we just might call this one EPIC!
6. Eat outside. I don’t know why, but I love to picnic. It goes against my ant phobia, but it’s really true. I enjoy dining outdoors.
7. Professional baseball game. This is already in the works! Hooray 🙂
8. Read three GOOD books. I’m sort of a nonfiction junky…and those are typically long reads. Managing to get through three would be heavenly. I’m still on book one.
9. Visit Lawrence, Kansas. Stroll down memory lane while reminding my kids that they can choose any college they want (as long as I approve of it.)
10. Go to the zoo. Because it’s fun and I like Orangutans (a lot.)
Okay, people. There it is. And since time stops for no one, I needed to get started on this list YESTERDAY. Because while summer technically goes through September, my kiddos start school in mid-August.
Summertime is always the best of what might be. -Charles Bowden
UPDATE 8/2014: Completed 9 out of the 10. Not bad 🙂
Like a gold ring in a pig’s nose is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. Proverbs 11:22
I’m not the first mother to wonder about my kid’s choices in role models. And I’m not writing this because my daughter has suddenly gone all Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus or (insert your favorite female celebrity villain here.) Still, it has come to my attention recently that being a lady isn’t really high on anyone’s priority list anymore. So much so that recently when I told my daughter that a certain behavior was not “lady like,” she looked at me with a puzzled expression. Mom fail 😦
Here’s the problem: I’m her mother. And one of the things I pride myself on is being a lady. Yet my daughter seems pretty unaffected, confused, (and quite possibly) doesn’t care about what that means. I’ve been told that as a mother, I am my daughter’s primary influence and still, I’m not seeing the fruit of my labor. I feel like I’m losing the battle in a war where I thought we were all on the same side. And by we, I mean women. Turns out the rules of engagement have changed–BIG TIME. So maybe I need to come up with a new strategy…and I need YOUR help.
The whole dilemma requires a little sorting out. When I think about what it means to be a lady, I will admit that the first couple of things that come to mind are superficial, you know, surface stuff. Good manners, age appropriate dress, polite disposition…you get the drift. I can hear the groans now–THIS ISN’T 1950. To which I have to say, I know and I’m not trying to make a case for going back to that decade (and for your information I wasn’t even alive then, either.) But I think there is something to be said for these external characteristics, because like it or not they demonstrate the heart and spirit of a person. For example, good manners are the outward expression of one who puts others above themselves and exhibits generosity and kindness. This person is not a pushover, soft or a “goody goody” as my daughter might call them. (BTW, in kid speak a “goody goody” is a derogative term and means that someone is only pretending to be proper.) Good manners reflect a common courtesy, demonstrate a love for one’s neighbor, and reflect a sense of personal pride. I hold these things in high regard and I don’t often see them in young people. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see young girls swearing, name calling, belching, lying, dressing provocatively and flat-out acting anything but lady like! And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Sure, females can do anything that males can do, but I still think an argument can be made for being the “fairer” sex. (And that doesn’t mean letting the guys of the hook for their lack of decorum, but that’s another post.)
I want my daughter to say please and thank you, to acknowledge someone when they walk into or exit a room, to know how to sit in a dress, to make eye contact with adults, to speak and not yell, to chew her food without putting it on display for the world, to treat others justly and with respect all while having combed (tangle free) hair and a good attitude (no white pearls required.) Instead, I see her influenced by her rough and tumble brother, her peers, music that glamorizes booty shaking and countless television shows where kids make the rules and adults are portrayed as irrelevant idiots. Girls are depicted as shallow, devious, backbiters who will stop at nothing to get ahead and put others down in the process. If we reap what we sow, what exactly are we setting our children up for? In no way, shape or form, will I give up on my little girl or the girls of the world for that matter. I refuse to rely on the school, church, social clubs, media, or society to raise my kids…but I’m not above asking for their help or support. We are in this together.
I know this won’t be wildly popular. Accountability never is. But holding our young girls to something better is important. I want my daughter (and yours) to be confident, caring, strong, and intelligent all while being afforded every good opportunity that the world has to offer. I want our little girls to be taken seriously and to know their worth isn’t based on how pretty or thin society judges them to be. I don’t want our girls to derive their power from sex and provocativeness in the way that so many of today’s celebrities do. Similarly, girls do not need to tear down other girls to make themselves standout. Our girls are worth so much more than that. At the same time, I want them to take pride in who they are on the inside and outside without feeling like they have to act like males to get ahead in this world. If we can live in a culture that claims to celebrate diversity, then why can’t we live in a world where acting like a lady isn’t a negative or a slam against women?
A lady exudes grace. A lady stands out in a room for all the right reasons. Her life and the way she carries herself speak to her great character. A lady is powerful and others are drawn to her strength. I feel like the lines were so much clearer 20 years ago. Somewhere we have blurred the boundaries and gotten off track. My little girl is special (and so is yours!) I want her to grow up in a society where men hold the doors open for women, swearing like a sailor is actually left to the sailors, gentlemen who wish to court my daughter come to the door to meet her parents, and she is valued for the jewel that she is. I pray she is not influenced by cleavage and short shorts at every turn, feels that she has to keep up with the boys to be taken seriously, yell or be rude to voice her opinions or settle for anything less than a gentlemen.
I need your help. Please be the tasteful, responsible, smart and beautiful women that I know you can be. Hold yourself accountable for all the little ones out there. They are so easily influenced and if you sell yourself short, you are not only letting yourself down, but you’re providing a disservice to little girls everywhere. I remember when my daughter was tiny and she dressed as a princess and believed she was really something special. Some days that tiara never came off! She even went through a spell where she wore a white pearl necklace (a la June Cleaver) with every outfit, everyday. She was royalty and not the diva-like, spotlight seeking, entitled, stop at nothing to get ahead females we see today. Just a precious child who believed she could do and be anything. Somewhere along the way she realized that real princesses don’t exist and was left to settle for the ways of the world. And so today, I’m desperately seeking female role models who will represent women in a positive light. Women who will be real, authentic, elegant, modest, smart, athletic, and all around awesome! I want my daughter to see these women at the grocery store, at school, at the ballpark, in politics, on television…basically everywhere. And I want her to want to be a lady, not because her mother told her to, but because as the quote goes, “being a female is a matter of birth, being a woman is a matter of age, but being a lady is a matter of choice.”
Baseball is a lot like life. It’s a day-to-day existence, full of ups and downs. You make the most of your opportunities in baseball as you do in life. -Ernie Harwell
When you park your back-end on a bleacher for a good chunk of the summer, your mind occasionally wanders. I think it’s a by-product of the summer air, sunshine and warm nights, and the endless possibilities stretched out before you as a favorite player/team take the field. This magical time at the ball diamond lends itself to reflection and contemplation. And as a result, I’ve come to appreciate the game on an entirely new level this season.
If you’ve played the sport (or you know someone who has,) you’ve heard the adage “baseball is 90% mental, the other half physical.” While I’m not sure exactly how the math adds up, I do think there’s a lot to be said for the mental game. Everything from practice and coaching to adequate sleep time and game day meals, contributes to and sets the tone for a player’s performance during a game. From little league to MLB, players have their own unique rituals–special socks, flavored sunflower seeds, eye black design and even music…e.g., “the walk up song.” Sure team’s have been playing tunes in the locker room for years. Music selections that inspire and pump up the crowd are blared from the speakers at numerous sporting venues. We’ve all seen images of ball players from every sport getting off the team bus with headphones/ear buds playing their favorite jams. This attempt to block out the world, focus on the task at hand, energize the athlete and ultimately get him into the zone, have been going on for decades. For a non-athlete like myself, the process is fascinating! And thus, the baseball walk-up song has been at the forefront of my mind this summer…so much so that I’ve been experimenting with the concept on my children (how’s that for parenting?)
Before you starting thinking that I must have a lot of time on my hands (or that I’m an insane baseball mom,) let me explain. I’ve always thought of sports as a metaphor for life: work hard, practice and learn the basics, prepare, be a sponge, respect the coach, LISTEN, try your best, believe in yourself, be a team player, never blame the officials, realize that there will be both good AND bad days (and the bad days don’t define you), stay coachable and finally HAVE FUN! Baseball teaches these concepts, but there’s one more notion that I had somewhat overlooked (until now,) and that’s attitude– you know, confidence and the mental game. When our children are young, I think we focus on fundamentals and rightly so (there’s only so much teaching that can be absorbed at that age.) As they grow up and develop we can add the nuances, the fine distinctions that play a big role in success and in the long run, enjoyment and satisfaction with one’s efforts. Accomplishing a goal in any area of life hinges on these details. And if the details include being in the right frame of mind (and not relying on luck, superstitions or circumstances) then the baseball walk up song makes a lot of sense.
Players will tell you that a certain degree of thoughtfulness goes into their walk up song choice. The selection is used to invoke baseball nostalgia, entertain fans, instill confidence, set a tone for success and maybe even intimidate the opponent. Above all, it gives the player a moment to focus, be still, assess the situation, breathe and maybe even smile. The value of the strategy is obvious. So, why leave this mental game method strictly to secular areas like sports? Imagine if we purposefully approached our daily lives in this manner?
For years, I have used scripture and music as a source of peace, to call my spirit into focus, and essentially to put myself in a good mood. When walking into a job interview, the doctor’s office, approaching a loved one with a difficult situation, in parenting, ministry, and countless other situations… this practice has proven helpful in preparing myself for whatever lies ahead–both good and bad. And I know that it works! Psychologists often refer to this approach as “visualization,” a mental technique geared to create success and/or positive outcomes. While all of this sounds pretty heavy, I think there’s a place for it in both serious and less weighty scenarios…and you may already be using this strategy without even realizing it. Here’s how it works: You’re all set for a night out on the town with your friends–you know the right music will set the tone. Family road trip? You create a playlist that incorporates a little something for everyone in the car. Special date night or anniversary…a little Sinatra never hurt anyone! You get the picture 🙂
So here’s where it comes full circle…. My baseball musing went from the bleachers to my favorite players–my kiddos. These competitive and determined little league players often put a lot of pressure on themselves. As a parent, we want our children to have SUCCESS as well as FUN and having a good attitude plays a key role in that. It wasn’t long before our pregame routine included a couple of walk-up songs. Sean has two or three songs that he looks forward to hearing as we cruise over to the ball park. Casey enjoys listening to her own personalized playlist before games, but also before practice as well. Look, I’m not saying this tactic is the missing link between Losertown and Winnerville…but it sure has led to high-spirits, less pressure, and a lot more smiles! Ultimately, I hope it’s a game plan that the children will carry with them as the grow up, not just where sports are concerned, but for life. Setting the tone truly can make a difference!
We have a choice in how we approach, prepare and deal with every situation that comes our way…and the mental game has a lot to do with just how successful we will handle both the highs and the lows. And personally, I welcome any positive strategy that sets us up to “win.” I’ve even claimed my own walk-up song, a little ditty that rolls through my head as I’m pouring coffee in the morning. Because come on…we could all use that extra something (especially at 6am!)