KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 1

Summertime is always the best of what might be.  –Charles Bowden

As soon as the first warm rays of sunshine arrive, this song comes to mind!  Suddenly, it’s 1985 and all is right in the world.  “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves was a chart topper when I was just 10 years old.  Double digits, no worries or cares and summer was so close I could practically taste it (the song was released in May.)  There are two things I find absolutely charming about this little ditty…1) despite the fact that this tune came out more than 30 years ago, my kids practically know all the words AND 2) the song has one of the most dreariest music video settings EVER!

Thanks to pop culture, “Walking on Sunshine” has been the catchy, upbeat, background track to more than a handful of movies and television shows, it’s been highlighted in a variety of commercials, and is featured on countless “best of summer” playlists.  The song has been rerecorded at least three times and is a universally popular cover for bands worldwide…making it hard to believe that it was the group’s only top 40 hit in the U.S.  Searching up the video on YouTube is a real treat, too!  Hard to believe that this song, which invokes so many sunny, feel good vibes, was shot on an incredibly gray, bleak (typical?) day in England.

As a kid, I really only remember cranking it up on the radio while eating popsicles and dancing around my mom’s kitchen.  Now, it’s a permanent feature on my own summer music playlist.  I still crank it up today…in my own kitchen, of course (popsicles optional.)

UP NEXT:  Song 2…a classic, beach favorite!

Parents’ Guide to the ULTIMATE 80s Summer (Your Kids Will Thank You)

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.  –Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

So, I’m thinking about putting my current mommy neuroticism on hold for just a bit and going with the flow this summer.  Way?  WAY!  You see I was totally inspired (that’s “totes” inspired for you millennials) the other day by this clever blog about creating a ’70s style summer for ours kids.  While I could absolutely relate to the writer’s top 10, the bulk of my childhood actually took place in the 80s…complete with jams, jelly shoes, Hypercolor t-shirts, mix-tapes and some of the best movies/television EVER!  Thinking about that place in time brings back memories of super rad summers…chillin’ with choice family and friends, no grody schedules bringing us down,  livin’ it up with totally tubular fashion, and maxing out with non-stop gnarly fun 🙂  Back then we turned our nose up at bogus rules and wigged out parents that just didn’t understand the 80s way of life.  Dudes and dudettes, the 80s were BOSS and wouldn’t it be totally righteous of me to share those good times with my kiddos?  Agreed?  Cool beans.

Rockin' the 80s look!

Rockin’ the 80s look!

Here’s my take on the ULTIMATE 80s summer.  Grab your shades, fetch your fingerless gloves, style that hair sky-high…and prepare for AWESOME.  It’s going to be a tripendicular good time…major.

  • Wear what you want…how you want.  Have you seen some of the styles from the 80s?  Hideous, sure, but fun and unique every time.  I don’t remember my folks saying, “cover up” or “that’s too revealing” because in the 80s it was about funky layers and mismatched everything.  So Mom didn’t do laundry last night?  Whatever, kid…you’re living in the 80s now and your faded gym shorts look good with that yellow button down shirt…just remember to pair it with your converse sneakers and a backwards ball cap.  K-RAD.
  • Watch TV…a lot of TV…actually the same shows over and over.  Back in the day nothing new came out in the summer on television.  It was rerun city, baby, and I LOVED IT!  I didn’t mind hitting the couch, remote in hand and settling in for rerun episodes of Three’s Company, The Facts of Life and Family Ties.  So you’re replaying them during the show’s regular time slot?  Still must see TV for me!  Get hooked on my mom’s soap operas…there’s nothing else on, why not?  HBO is showing Sixteen Candles for the third time today?  I’m glued anyway.  While I’m not on board with letting my kids get hooked on soaps, I see no harm in letting them binge watch some retro goodies like Boy Meets World, The Sandlot and Goonies.  Excellent!
  • Drink Kool-Aid ALL DAY and eat your weight in Popsicles.  They always tell you to stay hydrated…especially in the heat of summer.  I know it sounds like a lot of sugar (and it is,) but that doesn’t mean anything to the 80s kid.  Orange Kool-Aid (same color and “flavor” as juice) was perfectly acceptable at breakfast with a bowl of cereal and toast.  The punch version was a staple at every birthday party I ever attended.  Lemonade Kool-Aid was just as good as fresh-squeezed and PINK lemonade Kool-Aid was the beverage of choice for the uppity, preppie set.  When you’re not sucking down this sugar-water, head on over to the freezer for a frozen treat.  Popsicles are inexpensive and unless you want to risk brain freeze, they can kill a lot of time.  Hands down…there is nothing like working on a grape popsicle while sitting on your front porch during a scorching hot, summer day, my friends.  Go ahead, kiddos, enjoy (to the max!)
  • Sunglasses are a must…even indoors and ESPECIALLY at night.  That’s right.  Wear your shades, like all the time!  Your specs speak volumes about who you are and what you stand for…sporty, goofy, cool and if you can pull off the flip-up sunglasses look…all the better!  The coolest kids I knew during childhood had a pair for every day of the week (probably mallrats.)  So come on kiddos, grab your plastic eyewear of choice and get your spec-tacular summer started.
  • Baseball and sunflower seeds.  This pretty much sums up my existence during my childhood summers.  This duo provided evening entertainment as well as a pseudo dinnertime meal.  In the 80s we didn’t have all the fancy flavors they do now…we ate our salted sunflower seeds until our lips were swollen and we lost all feeling in our tongue.  When we were done…we begged for more!  This vicious cycle is never so appealing as when we’re camped out at the baseball diamond.  Sure, you have those who prefer peanuts siting in the stands, but nothing really fills a hole (or maybe burns one in your throat) quite like sunflowers seeds.  Bonus points on your 80s summer if you can score some Astro Pops at the ball park (those bad boys look soooo much cooler than they taste!)

    The Astro Pop :)

    The Astro Pop 🙂

  • Stargazing…oh, yeah.  I can’t remember if we borrowed the telescope or if it was just handed down to us, but either way we were the luckiest kids on the block (even if we didn’t really know how to use the silly thing!)  We spent countless nights outside on our back porch just checking out the moon and trying to spot planets among the stars.  We looked for constellations and laid flat on the picnic table in our yard to take in all the night sky’s wonders.  It was peaceful and totally stellar at the same time.  Come on kids, put down your technology and open your eyes to something so much better!  Shooting stars and meteor showers are just as mind-blowing today as they were in the 80s.
  • Brush up on your gaming skills, dude.  No, I’m not talking about video games…I’m talking about real games…as in the type you gather around a table to play!  Growing up in the 80s we took our games pretty seriously.  Bragging rights were always at stake, occasionally money was involved, and sometimes a stupid dare was the prize.  Either way, we played to win.  All night Monopoly games, vicious games of Sorry and Battleship, and my favorite–card games.  Nothing says summer like a knock down game of Spoons!  This is definitely on my list for this summer.  My kiddos need to learn this throw back game and maybe even how to throw a few elbows in the process…I said we play to win, remember.
  • Fun…on the cheap, duh.  Ahhh, yes…the 80s were a good decade for America.  As kids, most of us didn’t know that we were average middle class and that was okay.  We didn’t expect new cars, designer clothes or the latest gadget.  We were content with simple things and made the most of our days with basic, cheap fun.  For example, we grew up without Supersoakers and Nerf water guns.  The sprinkler and the garden hose provided all the fun we needed.  Water balloon ambushing an unsuspecting friend walking into the backyard was good for a million laughs.  I can remember neighborhood water wars…and when our rinky-dink water guns weren’t enough to win the battle we repurposed 2 liter soda bottles to soak each other to the bone.  Make-shift water games and activities are the absolute best…and my kiddos have already started creating their own water fun with friends this summer.  No pool required.  For added inexpensive fun, check out free zoos (yes, they do exist,) state parks and road side attractions.  You have not lived until you’ve had your photo taken with an extreme size, concrete animal or the world’s largest something or other!  Homebodies can make a whole mess of fun with a good, old-fashioned watermelon feed…complete with seed-spitting contest.  Go ahead, invite the neighbors.
  • Summer music playlist…for sure.  In the 80s, a mix-tape took time and skill…and usually involved a pretty hip friend.  Getting the hook-up on the latest songs sometimes meant that you had to listen to the radio and quickly hit the record button when your favorite jam came on.  I remember countless tapes where I missed the first few beats of a song, you could hear the commercials or maybe even a little of the the DJ talking (pretty amateurish, I now, but whatevs.)  I also remember the awesome feeling that came with getting a “real” mix tape, where 5385cee5557560322982989a1b9ee844someone with an elaborate music collection or DJ skills put together only the best.  Rockin’ out in your bedroom with your boom box full blast…there’s nothing quite like it.  A close second would be toolin’ around town with your Walkman in tow.  Poolside fun requires just the right set of jams, too!  When we were old enough to cruise Main Street the perfect mix tape could make or break the night.  Today’s kiddos love music just as much and here’s where their technology could actually come in handy.  With the swipe of a finger, kids can create their own, FREE summer music playlists or tap into ready-made lists on music streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Prime Music or Pandora.  It amazes me just how much 80s music they already know thanks to pop culture, but the best part is when I pull up the old music videos for them to see with their own eyes!  Thank you, YouTube.  Let’s just say it’s good for a lot of laughs 🙂

So take a chill pill and relax.  After all, savoring summer isn’t privy to just one decade.  We can all take part in this bodacious ride!  Summertime is where we write some of our best stories.  It’s where we create many of our favorite memories and cement those relationships we will always treasure.  This is where best friends are made, family road trips take place, where crushes and first loves are experienced and we collectively have a chance to breathe and reset.  Take in the warm temperatures, go places you’ve never been, laugh a lot and when you run out of things to do–start the list all over.  The rules are different in the summer…and the 80s rules…well they just RULE!  Parents, say hello to what just might be your best summer yet.    Totally (to the max.)

The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”–Ferris Bueller, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 12

There are only 18 summers in childhood.  -author unknown

To be honest, I’ve been putting off writing about this song.  I decided to include “Lost Boy” by Ruth B. on my summer playlist for two reasons.  First, I remember it playing practically non-stop last summer (2016) and I couldn’t quite wrap my head around its success.  And second, because (eventually) its haunting lyrics and melody spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

A piano ballad on the Billboard Top 100 might be unusual, but the term “unusual” pretty much describes this song from start to finish.  The Canadian singer/songwriter Ruth B. said she wrote the first line of the song after watching the television show Once Upon a Time.  She then “debuted” her partial song via the Vine app.  Fans encouraged her to write a full song, and thanks to internet demand, she released a YouTube video in late 2015.  Record labels finally took notice and an official music video arrived in Spring 2016.  Many in the industry thought the idea of a song about Peter Pan simply wouldn’t fly (pun intended.)  Several said it was too “Disney” and others wrote it off as anything but a summer music hit.  Obviously, they were wrong.  A ballad about a young boy who refuses to grow up, a rebel of sorts who will not conform, a carefree character who chooses fantasy over reality…it was a song that resonated with so many…even a 40 something year old mom.

“Lost Boy” was the song that played on the radio when we headed to the ballpark and played again on the long rides home.  On nights when our team won, the song’s melody suggested that these were absolutely the very best days.  Peter Pan was definitely on to something–never, ever grow up! On nights when the team lost, the song resounded with a heartbreaking quality.  A reminder that perhaps these were indeed “lost” years, where boys transform into men despite the alluring idea of living in “Neverland.”  Watching your children grow up is something that no one can prepare you for…believe me, I know.  I’ve read all the books, sought out advice from everyone under the sun and I still sit in awe.  My mind can barely wrap itself around the idea that these kiddos are becoming adults and my heart practically refuses to believe this is even a possibility.  Yet here we are.

I remember what it was like to be fifteen.  It was the absolute best and it was the absolute worst.  It was fun and it was lonely.  It was exciting and it was scary.  It was pivotal.  Neverland never looked so good (at least to this mom.)

UP NEXT:  Song 13…”I would walk 500 miles….”

 

 

Shout Out to Other Mothers (THANK YOU!)

MOMS.  Because not all superheroes wear capes!  -author unknown

WOW.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s MOM upside down!

Okay, all kidding aside, WOW is the only word that comes to mind for me this Mother’s Day.  I’m not sure what made this year’s holiday different, but I feel very compelled to give a huge shout out to other mothers today.  I feel like belting out a great big THANK YOU…complete with song and dance (not to mention a few hugs!)  But mostly, I just want you all to know that I see you and I really just couldn’t do this mothering thing without you.

Some have said that being a mother is the most important job on the planet.  Something along the lines of “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”  And there’s plenty more sayings out there to describe motherhood (and, believe it or not, most of them are favorable!)  Still there’s nothing like being deep in the parenting trenches to remind you that you cannot do this alone.  We need each other…sometimes desperately.  I need you to be my eyes and ears,  I need you to catch my kids doing good AND to give me the heads up when they make poor decisions.  I need you to double-check our kids whereabouts and sleepover plans with me…because communicating in the tween/teen years can be difficult and responsibility/accountability are crucial.  I need you to share advice and help me navigate through tough situations.  And I need you to be loving examples, safe places, and trusted adults whom my kids can turn to, if needed.  And I promise to do the same…because motherhood is an interesting club.  It’s not necessarily hard to join (although I’m sensitive to the fact that it can be.)  There’s no pre-mom exam.  No age limit.  No “green light.” Some of us fit in from the get go.  Others clamor to get in.  Some of us enter hesitantly, if not reluctantly.  Many of us trudge through.  And some of us never quite find our place.  Regardless, once you’re in…YOU’RE IN.  And there’s no guarantee of success in this club.  There’s no real manual.  No graduation.  And sometimes, in spite of the numbers, it can be a pretty lonely place.  I can’t speak for everybody, but for myself I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into.  Albeit the oldest of four, growing up in a very large extended family, having countless hours of babysitting under my belt and with a “mother hen” type personality…I never felt like I was ready.  In fact, during my teen years and early twenties, I was pretty dead set against becoming a mother.  I had this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I wasn’t up for the task.  At age 26, my son was born…and while this was a well thought out and planned event I still knew on some level that I had no idea what I was in for (despite all my research)–and I was right!

We all know that our bodies change when we have a child.  Hormones fluctuate, things shift, etc., but what happens to your heart has to be the most remarkable, extraordinary change of all!  While the other changes occur over a matter of months, it seems that your heart changes almost immediately.  Your priorities change, your instincts change, your thought processes change…basically, what I’m trying to say here is that EVERYTHING changes.  What I was really least prepared for was the general roller coaster ride of motherhood.  The wins and the losses.  The ups and the downs.  I’m pretty much a planner (and a bit of a control freak) and motherhood is everything but a well-defined plan and you can throw any hope of control out the window.  Plan A quickly moves through the alphabet to Plan Z, and in no set pattern.  What works one day (and for one child) quickly falls to the wayside in lieu of something completely different for another child (or the same kiddo down the road.)  Uggghhh.

Photo of a soccer birthday cake (or at least what’s left of one) that a sweet “other mother” made for my son on his 15th birthday.

So for all this (and so much more) I continue to look to you, fellow mothers.  Without other mothers, I’m not sure where I would be.  I’m grateful to have my own mother to serve as an example and a guide.  Grateful for a mother-in-law who offers love and encouragement.  Grateful for a sister, who lovingly mothers all the nieces and nephews and her own stepkids with a natural mothering gift.  I’m grateful for sister-in-laws who treat my kids like their own.  And I’m especially grateful for the mothers of my children’s friends, the “church” moms, the “teacher” moms, the “neighbor” moms and other mothers in my community.  You all ROCK!  BIG thanks for your kind hearts, for the rides to and from practices/games, for the driving them through the fast food line and including them in your family plans.  Thank you for the birthday cakes, countless sleepovers, day trips and shopping excursions.  Thanks for bridging the gap when our family schedules were overloaded.  Thank you for sharing photos of my kids and yours just doing their thing.  Thank you for the “Walmart Updates.”  Thank you for not judging them harshly, for understanding that they are in a unique circumstance (as are most kids) and for offering them grace and love.  Thank you for including them in your family life.  And thank you for your example…often times it’s your own mothering actions that speak volumes.

So let’s forget the mom-shaming, the parenting peer pressure, and all the other nonsense.  And instead, keep breathing life and love into each other’s kiddos.  Keep talking, keep texting, keep cheering, keep showing up and keep vigilant.  Please continue to keep your eyes open…looking out for my kids and others.  Thank you for filling my ears (and heart) with bright spots that you see in my children.  I see the same bright spots in your kiddos, too!

We truly are on each other’s team.  Happy, happy Mother’s Day!

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.  Proverbs 31:25

 

 

My Least Favorite Question (A Mini-Rant)

A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.  –Bruce Lee

People ask questions.  Some appropriate, some inappropriate.  Some thoughtful, some downright stupid.  I have to admit that as I’ve aged I’ve noticed that I’m often on the receiving end of very polite queries (because being 40-something has its perks?)  Gone are the days of fielding ridiculous questions from peers.  Adios, unseemly questions from guys.  It seems like the only people with a license to ask me anything personal has been narrowed down to family and a few close friends.  It’s not that I’m anti-question…I just think for the most part my matronly disposition wins out–“respect your elders” and all that.  I wouldn’t even be entertaining the topic of questions if it hadn’t come up recently.  And when I went to file it away in my little brain I realized that I put it in a folder that I’ve labeled “My Least Favorite Question,” and let me tell you…this file is getting thick.

Spencer FamilyThe funny thing about this file is that My Least Favorite Question has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my kids.  I’m trying to decide if I’m overreacting…and if nothing else, just get to the root of why it bothers me so much.  So here it is.  My heart absolutely sinks when people ask my kids, “Are you going to be a Pastor like your Dad when you grow up?”  It probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s bothered me for years and now that my kiddos are getting older (tween & teen,) it actually bothers me more.  I mean, if your mom’s a teacher does that mean you’re going into education?  If your dad sells insurance is that your child’s assumed destiny?  Not necessarily, right?  So hear me out.  I would love for my children to go into the ministry!  What an amazing blessing it would be to see my children choose to serve the church full-time.  I would be so incredibly proud if they opted to attended seminary/Bible college and become ordained clergy.  I can think of nothing better.  Still I cringe when people ask…mostly because I think it is unfair.  Unfair…and maybe even detrimental to their faith development.

If you have a minute just google “pastors kids” or “PKs.”  There’s a lot more out there than I expected…and most of it negative.  Despite the stereotypes, I’ve tried really hard to raise “regular” kids.  “Regular” kids who go to church.  I remind them that they are loved by God, created for a purpose, and gifted with talents and abilities.  These are things that I think all parents should say to their children.  They are not more special than anyone else, set aside or placed on any sort of pedestal.  They are works in progress (as we all are) and yet in a recent conversation I’ve discovered (again) that they have been placed in uncomfortable positions and asked faith questions that no youth should have to answer to.  One child responds politely (perhaps because this child hasn’t been asked particularly difficult questions yet) while the other child has been asked about homosexuality, evolution vs. creation, validity of the Bible, and more.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t answer these questions as a kid…I’m not sure I want to debate these questions as an adult…let alone with someone older or in a more authoritative position than myself.  It’s not right…and it never takes place while my husband and I are around.

In this latest exchange, my child was so put off by the questioning that the only way to move the conversation forward was to change the subject altogether.  And for the first time, I sensed a weariness in the retelling…almost like this might not be worth it.  God.  Faith.  Church.  Often times, Christians are characterized as being judgemental, but I’m pretty sure it works both ways.  I hate that this happened (again.)  I can only imagine how uncomfortable this must be…to have what was a fun evening with friends, suddenly interrupted by an adult who puts you on the spot about what your Dad does for a living.  So now I’m scrambling…for coping mechanisms and tools, for words and remedies.  How can I make this better?  How can I better prepare them?  Being a Pastor is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is being a Christian or going to church.  In a world where anything goes, why does this put my kiddos on the hot seat?

Here’s a newsflash…these kids didn’t choose their parent’s profession.  These kids didn’t go to Bible college alongside their parents.  And I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t giving sermons on Sunday morning.  Today, I know of a handful of PKs who have left their faith…and statistics point to so many more like them.  Each story varies but a couple of comments stick out like “glass house,” never feeling like a “regular kid,” and “negative experiences.”  Countless blogs and articles have been written about these types of hurts.  Intense feelings that lead them to walk away from God altogether.  My heart sinks more.  I’m not asking that you handle my children with kid-gloves.  I’m asking that you not single them out, understand that they’re not Biblical scholars, and please stop asking them if they’re going into the ministry (because if they do, I’ll let you know.  In fact, I’ll probably throw a party!)  In the meantime, just let them be “regular” kids…”regular” kids who go to church.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  Matthew 7:12

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

That’s NOT My MTV….

Everything popular is wrong.  Oscar Wilde

mtv-logo-7I’ll admit that I don’t watch a lot of MTV these days, but I so clearly remember when the network first debuted in the 80s.  Practically THE perfect channel (in my adolescent assessment,) as it was brilliantly simple–music videos with young, hip, fun personalities known as video jockeys (VJs.)  The ability to tune in to my favorite songs, 24/7, served as the backdrop to my tween and teen years and I’m sure that was the story for countless others from my generation.  And while reminiscing about Paula Abdul videos, Yo! MTV Raps, Pauly Shore and MTV News typically bring a smile to my face, it’s at this time EVERY year that my thoughts about MTV merely result in a long, sad sigh as the network offers up the its annual MTV Music Awards show.

Right now the web is blowing up with critiques and reaction to Sunday night’s show.  The annual offering was pretty hard to miss given that it runs live on several Viacom channels aside from MTV.  And while you couldn’t avoid it, there were plenty of reasons one might try to.  Obviously, the show is edgy.  It was edgy back in the day, but somehow the definition of edgy has been changed from simply “pushing the limits of good taste” to “practically naked” and “high on drugs.”  Hence the long, sad, sigh.

I am a big music fan (I have kids so I think it’s important to know WHO and WHAT they’re listening to) and believe it or not, I was actually very familiar with most of the performers and nominees.  I am genuinely impressed by the talent and creativity that goes into making a hit song, I just wish it could be different.  The pop psychologist in me wonders if these music celebrities would be any less successful or culturally relevant if they decided to keep their clothes on and skip the pre-awards show doobie?  I have a feeling those with true musical talent would still find fame, but those whose celebrity relies upon sensationalism might not.  I guess that’s what they call “famous, for being famous.”  My biggest disappointment in all this is that I’ve seen research that suggests provocative clothing (or lack there of,) foul language and drug references actually make today’s teens that much more inclined to like a song or artist.  Apparently, marketing and public relations gurus are also hip to this trend as many advise their celebrity clients to continue to push the boundaries.  Listen, I was young once…we all want to push a little, test the waters, and see what else it out there as part of declaring our independence from our parents, peers, etc.  That’s pretty typical, but somewhere along the way we’ve also opened the door AND placed a welcome mat out to some pretty disappointing, potentially dangerous and scary behavior.  Long, sad sigh.

The optimist in me keeps looking for a little glimmer of hope…a sampling of the fun, nostalgic MTV of days gone by, but that’s a pretty tall order for a network that has used sensationalism as its stepping stone toward continued relevance.  Several writers have outlined their top ten moments from this year’s show and while I could recall each of these episodes…none of them stood out as great or outstanding.  Most of them weren’t even about the music.  Again…long, sad sigh.  Just another f-bomb laden, almost nude, drug-promoting, angry ranting awards show.  For me, the best part of the show was not what was taking place on the television, but rather my family’s reaction to the whole thing.  I wish I had kept a tally for every time my husband asked “why we were watching this show, when we could change the channel, and if the show was over yet?”  My tween daughter opted to watch YouTube tutorials in her room, and my teenage son didn’t even know the show was on (boy, I dodged a bullet there!)

No doubt the coverage of this event will continue.  Miley Cyrus will be critiqued, the feud between her and Nicki Minaj will further develop, a reporter will be assigned to find out why Justin Beiber was in tears, and a campaign team is likely assembling now for Kanye’s presidential run.  It’s all just a little too much.   As I type this, plans are probably in the works for next year’s award show, but as much as I ascribe to the “devil you know” mantra…MTV just might have to count me out.   I think I’m done.

When you get something like MTV, it’s like regular television. You get it, and at first it’s novel and brand new and then you watch every channel, every show. And then you become a little more selective and more selective, until ultimately… you wind up with a radio.  David Lee Roth

 

 

 

 

When News Becomes the Tragedy

In a former life I worked as a TV news reporter. It was my dream job! I say that because when I was an eight year old little girl, I decided that I wanted to be a journalist.  It’s a pretty big word for a second-grader, but…I liked big words!  My focus was so intense that while many of my peers played “house” and Barbies, I often cajoled family and friends into playing “TV News Station” in my basement.  It was my favorite game 🙂

While most kids outgrow or revamp their ideal job, mine never really wavered.  One of my most treasured memories growing up was getting to visit a “real” TV news station.  In the small, southwestern Kansas town where I lived we were lucky enough to have a news bureau.  A small building way out in the country with a giant antenna, a few offices and an actual news studio.  I got to see how the news was produced, watch the anchor/reporter get ready for live reports, check out the teleprompter and they even let me sit at the news desk.  I loved every minute!  Those outings only furthered my desire to make it in the news business.

My personal

My personal “prophecy” from my senior year in high school. Each student was asked to make a life prediction. Class of 1993

A self-avowed news junkie, I often surprised teachers with my knowledge of current events.  Even at a young age, I gobbled up newspapers and watched the national nightly news (sidebar, Tom Brokaw was my secret crush!) Throughout high school I wrote for the newspaper and took courses in broadcasting.  After graduation, declaring a major was a no-brainer.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed pursuing this passion in college.  The university I attended offered so many wonderful hands-on opportunities in broadcasting.  I learned about both the radio and television side of the news from wonderful professors who I adore to this day.  I never really considered it work, it was all just incredibly challenging, invigorating and oh so much FUN!  So when I landed my first internship and later my first job in the industry, I felt like I had won the lottery.  Listen up, kids…dreams do come true!

So why am I writing about this now?  I left the business many years ago and I haven’t set foot in a newsroom in over a decade, but when I heard about the tragedy in Virginia yesterday it really hit me–hard…and in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  While making bag lunches for my kiddos to take to school, I stood there in disbelief, my heart immediately aching for the families and friends of those involved.  As more information was shared throughout the day, my disbelief continued.  Look, I told you that I’m a devout news junkie (almost to a fault) and we know that for the most part the news is TRAGIC…daily and tragic.  So why was I so stunned?

It wasn’t until later that evening when my daughter and I went to pick up my son from church youth group that my personal grief came into focus.  She asked me, “Mom, when you worked in news was it scary?  Did you ever think someone would kill you?”  I told her that I loved working as a reporter, that it was exciting and rewarding.  There were so many parts of the business that I truly loved…especially the people I worked with.  I shared with her that while I had covered stories in some questionable and unfamiliar places that at no point was I ever fearful.  No sooner had I uttered those words did I realize that this was the source of my heavy heart. Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were doing their jobs that morning.  A live shot for a story about tourism.  Look, it doesn’t get anymore benign than that in the news industry.  They were young, energetic, had their whole lives ahead of them and they never, EVER saw it coming.  And while I can’t relate with most tragedies that make the news, I could relate to this one.  I had been there before…making small talk before the shoot, holding a microphone, adjusting my outfit one more time before the cameraman gave his cue.

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This photo has been floating around the web. To me, it’s a great representation of the atmosphere in a typical newsroom.

I don’t want to believe that this is the world we live in, but I’m not naïve.  We will probably hear a lot more about this story because (in case you didn’t know) news people take care of their own.  As we watch an entire industry come to grips with such a graphic example of workplace violence, we will no doubt hear new details about all of the events leading up to this tragedy.  These details will be magnified, politicized, examined, and theorized… all in the next few days.  An outsider might chalk this up to just another disgruntled employee seeking some sort of revenge and move on, but for those inside the news business there will be many, many questions.  And likely, no good answers.

Yesterday reminded me of the many wonderful people I worked with waaaaaaay back in the day.  I want you to know that I saw your posts on social media and I recall the early mornings together, leaving work in the wee hours of the night, being called in at ridiculously, horrible hours in the a.m., covering good news stories, and retelling tragedies.  But what I remember most was the family like atmosphere that truly exists at news stations across the country.  We spent countless weekends together, numerous holidays and essentially some pretty big and meaningful days of our lives with one another.  My heart goes out to those who mourn the loss of  reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward whose lives were struck down so tragically as they only intended to report the news and not be the news on that fateful morning.  If I’ve learned anything in the business, it’s that most of us started out with a pretty big dream and that those who choose this profession do so hoping to change the world (for the better.)

And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place. Christiane Amanpour

A Flood of Thoughts (aka Back to School Panic Attack)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.  Proverbs 23:12

Back to School 2015

Back to School 2015

I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with the whole “back to school” thing. I LOVE that my kids have the opportunity to grow and learn under the guidance of some pretty amazing teachers. I HATE that summer break is over.  I LOVE that my kiddos are social butterflies…it’s good for them to be with their friends in the classroom and it takes the pressure off my role as “entertainment director.”  I HATE that we have to wake up early.  I LOVE having the house to myself for a few hours a day…and I HATE having the house to myself a few hours a day…you get the picture.  So this morning as my daughter was packing up for her first day of 5th grade…something tripped my panic button hard–this wasn’t just the first day of 5th grade…no…, this was the first day of her last year in elementary school!  I HATE the panic button 😦

As luck would have it (I’m saying this sarcastically,) we walked to school this morning…thus giving me plenty of time to think and let the panic button go to work.  Was she prepared?  Was she nervous?  Would this be a good year?  What really makes a school year good?  It wasn’t long before my panic attack became a full blown list of “did I tell her….?”  So for my sanity (because this “back to school” thing is all about me,) I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share with her (after school, of course.)

  1. School is about learning.  Sure you go there to learn the “school” stuff, but you will learn so much more. You’ll learn about yourself.  Each day you’ll grow in discovering who you are, what you stand for, and all that you’re capable of accomplishing.  You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like (and you just might be surprised how the categories break down!)
  2. No one said you have to know everything…so give yourself a break.  Some things will come easily.  Other things will make you work (hard.)  Both are good.
  3. Relationships are tough, but worthwhile.  Getting to know a new teacher will take time.  Building friendships take time.  Discovering who to avoid…well, that takes time, too.  Not everyone will like you and you probably won’t like everyone.  Either way, be kind.  You never know what someone else is going through. If you want a friend, be a friend.  It is far better to be remembered for being a “good guy” than a total jerk.
  4. Pay attention.  Learning requires focus.  Don’t assume anything.  Ask questions.  It’s okay not to get it the first time.  Practice, preparation and performance are related.  Don’t get behind.  If you need help, say something.
  5. Trust your instincts.  God gives us that little voice for a reason.  Tune your ears and your heart to it.  Remember that peer pressure can be a trap.  Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea.
  6. Think before you speak.  Words can hurt.  Offer grace and understanding at every turn.  Compassion for others goes a long way.  Be a helper.
  7. Even good kids make mistakes.  You’re not perfect, none of us are.  Making mistakes goes beyond the classroom.  You know where I stand on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.  Likewise, you should realize that lying, cheating, and disrespect will also not be tolerated.  At the same time, I love you and together we can work through anything.
  8. It’s okay to pray at school.  I’m not telling you to get on the loud speaker and lead a revival, but don’t be afraid to ask God to guide you throughout your day.
  9. School is your job right now.  As your mother, I will be on you to do your homework, study for tests and remind you not to take short cuts.  This is important for you now and in the future, but school performance is not the sum of your worth.
  10. Attitude is everything.  You get what you give.  You will have bad days.  Life is unfair.  How you navigate through the good and the bad says a lot about your character.  You can do this.  I believe in you no matter what.

So my LOVE/HATE relationship with this time of year continues.  I LOVE that I have the opportunity to share these thoughts with my daughter.  I HATE that she’s growing up so fast.  I LOVE watching my kiddos move forward on this journey toward adulthood.  I HATE that tomorrow morning my son will have his first day of eighth grade.  I can hear the panic button gearing up now….

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

He’s Not YOU and She’s Not ME (Oh, the Perils of Parenting!)

Don’t try to make children grow up to be like you, or they may do it. –Russell Baker

madhouseThe idea of being in charge of small people always seemed overwhelming to me.  Babies need constant care, toddlers keep you running, then come the tantrums…and all this during a child’s cutest phase!  And please, don’t be fooled by the false hope of the elementary school years…while the child is certainly capable of handling many tasks independently, elementary school is definitely a whirlwind all its own.  If questions and comments your child picked up from preschool friends had you blushing…just wait!  With a better vocabulary and dedicated lunch/recess time to “share,” your child is sure to come home with a couple of doozies!  I am just now treading into the tween and teen years of parenthood and I’m anticipating even more hurdles and embarrassing conversations.  I mean, these are the years they actually WARN us about 😦

In reality parenthood is everything they said it would be…good, bad, frustrating and rewarding.  We love our kiddos and I’m pretty sure the cycle of life isn’t going anywhere!  However, it’s come to my attention lately that dealing with my kids is getting a lot more complicated.  When they were little they exemplified typical “little” people behavior.  The moments of defiance and cuteness along with the awe of learning new things were just part of a normal day.  And newsflash–probably none of our children were truly exceptional at this point.  In fact, I’ve read several studies that suggest that most of our children all level out in kindergarten.  That means despite being the product of a stay-at-home mom, single-parent household, working parents, or daycare (home or otherwise,) all of our kiddos have reached the same milestones at this particular crossroad in life.  The differences become evident after our children enter school and not necessarily because of school itself.  It appears that a child’s personality begins to develop and solidify all within the first few years of elementary school (barring any huge life events, of course.)  I am not a psychologist, but I think the stats hold up.  An even-tempered child at age 6 likely maintains that even temper.  A selfish child at age 7 probably has selfish tendencies throughout life.  A sensitive demeanor at age 8 means the child has a good chance of maintaining that sensitivity well into adulthood.

So here’s where I stand with my now “complicated” kiddos.  As a 10 and 13-year-old, their personalities are well-developed and those same personalities are not afraid to go head to head with mine!  This is a good AND a bad thing.  As nature would have it, my kids and I have some similar personality traits.  For example, my son and I are suckers for comedies and enjoy wasting hours watching funny movies.  We laugh at the same dumb things and for the most part “speak the same language.”  My daughter and I both love organization, we approach problems very analytically, and LOVE to read and learn new things!  All three of us are artistic.  On the other hand, my kids are extremely social while I am an introvert.  Their constant need to be with friends and have friends over just blows me away!  They both enjoy sports while I threw out my hip playing kickball in my grandma’s front yard (no athletic ability here.)  They both love video games and I consider video games to be the ultimate waste of time.  None of this is a deal breaker, but we do spar over homework, practice time, and responsibility.  I wonder about their commitment level, attention to detail and their desire to work hard.  I have a tough time hearing them complain about problems that they can fix themselves, whine about situations that get a little difficult and sulk when things don’t go their way.  It’s in these things that I have to stop and remind myself, “He’s not you, and she’s not me.”

It’s not an easy thing to maneuver.  When I got into this parenting gig I never once contemplated the idea that these little beings could give me any problems or try my nerves.  In a naïve way, I imagined they would be some kind of “mini-me” and thus, they would be perfectly reasonable at all times (feel free to laugh out loud here!)  All any of us really have to go on when we enter parenthood are our own childhood experiences, the experiences of those closest to us, and maybe a couple of baby books.  So basically, we might as well go into this blind…because this is what I remember from my early days:

I’m pretty sure I was not your typical child.  In a lot of ways I was probably always a little bit of a grown up…or perhaps an old soul.  I was thoughtful in ways that most kids never think of…weighing the pros and cons of many decisions that others wouldn’t even consider.  I was very self-concerned and stubborn.  I worked hard.  By the time I was 8 I knew I wanted to go to college and I was driven to get there.  I was shy and serious.  I was afraid of failure.  I WAS BY NO MEANS PERFECT.  I put a lot of pressure on myself.  I hated making mistakes and vowed to learn from them.  I felt very safe and secure with my family.  I was creative.  I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.  I believed in a God who loved me and would never abandon me.  

This is how I “remember” my childhood, but this alone doesn’t garner enough information on how to raise a child…especially a child that in all likelihood would be very different from myself.  Oh, how I wish I had realized all this earlier!

Possessing an awareness that there are and will be differences is key to navigating my parenting responsibilities now and into the future.  This newfound credo of  “he’s not you, and she’s not me,” might be the saving grace that I need to get over this parenting hump.  Stepping back and realizing that we are all separate individuals and that our differences are okay (heck, we might even learn something from one another) could make these next years a growing experience for us all.  I know that the head to head battles will exist (there’s no way I’m going to let them grow up without a sense of accountability and purpose,) but hopefully the battles will also include some level of understanding.  I truly love these kiddos and I want to love them into being the people God called them to be…not a “mini-me” clone and certainly not the “ideal” person that lives in my imagination.  Most of us hope to raise children to be more than ourselves…we seek to give them not only the things that we had growing up but so much more.  We want them to have the benefit of all those who have come before them…us included.  The long-held belief that each generation should be better than the one before drives us in so many ways, but it’s also a belief that can cause us to “run-over” our own children.  A lack of understanding can stop them in their tracks before they’ve even had a chance to start…and we’ve all seen it happen far too many times.

My kids will not have a childhood experience that mirrors mine.  Their friendships and relationships will look different from the ones I knew 30+ years ago.  They will stumble and fall.  They will let me down and they will find a strength that I never knew they could possess.  These same kiddos will test the waters and sometimes they will get hurt.  They will succeed in areas where I’ve failed and they will thrive in places I would have been too afraid to venture into.  And really, the last thing the world needs is a “mini-me,” (because I am certainly not all that easy to deal with!)  In the end, when they finally reach adulthood, I pray that I would have loved them through all of it.  I know it will not be easy because I have high hopes and expectations (I’m still a mom after all!)  But these years–the tweens and teens, the “home-stretch” if you will, are far too valuable to just endure.  These are critical times.  Love your daughter.  Love your son.  And remember, “he’s not you and she’s not me…” it just might make all the difference.

Childhood is a short season.  –Helen Hayes