No Place OR Space to Sing (A Life Interrupted)

Grief is just love with no place to go.  —Jamie Anderson, author

Not many know this about me, but I love to sing…and I sing all the time!  I have a deep love for all types of music…popular songs from the radio, church hymns, TV theme songs, little ditties from musicals, you name it—I’ve even been known to make up my own songs!  But here’s the thing, if we’re going to get real here, my love for singing is CONDITIONAL as I rarely sing in front of others.  And while I wouldn’t necessarily categorize myself as shy (more of an introvert…and yes, there is a difference,) I do come from a musical family so I think I may have some skill (?), it’s just that my love for music and singing, in particular, is a pastime (a pleasure) just for me.  

When the pandemic began and the Stay at Home order took effect, most of us found ourselves quickly adapting to our new circumstances and reorganizing our lives to accommodate working from home and for those of us with kids, the pros and cons of distance learning.  Since I already work from home I had become very used to having the entire house to myself from 8am-3:30pm every day during the week.  These hours, which I regretfully took for granted, allowed me to work, meet with clients, volunteer, and establish a schedule with plenty of introvert time…in other words, a place and a space to sing.  

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, I barely noticed the lack of song in my life.  With everyone homebound, daily life was consumed with trying to find a new rhythm, learning the ins and outs of Zoom meetings, and checking in on loved ones.  No singing with the bedmaking or laundry.  No singing while making a lunchtime sandwich.  No songs at the coffee pot.  Without kid pick-ups and drop-offs, travel to meetings, or even just outings for shopping, my drive-time concerts ceased, too.  It’s not that I wasn’t plugged in or without access—I felt like I was constantly connected to my iPhone and my earbuds were practically glued to my ears at all times!  The reality was that I just couldn’t find a time or a place to sing.  In some ways, it was like our average size home transformed into an HGTV tiny house overnight.  A tiny house with no place to sing.

I’m not sure how real singers manage, but for myself, I have to be in the mood to sing.  Singing is not something that I can just turn on or off.  Aside from being in a place to sing there are so many things to consider.  Music genre, tempo, and playlist.  It shouldn’t be this complicated and so if this sounds like it is, it’s just me.  This is my way.  Complicated.  And it’s not that I stopped listening to music during these early days of the pandemic, it’s just that I couldn’t sing.  Maybe, more like a feeling that I shouldn’t sing.

Easter came and went.  My birthday came and went.  Still no singing.  Then at the beginning of May, both my parents tested positive for COVID-19.  I’m going to state the obvious.  You need air to sing, and suddenly there simply was no air.  Up to this point, all the emotions that accompany a pandemic (stress, anxiety, weariness) were an undercurrent for me.  I’m a realist, I understood the risks when all this began.  I was not naive to think that our family would go untouched.  Yet, I worked hard to balance faith over fear.  With their diagnosis came a heaviness and a weight of worry and concern.  As my father recovered, my mother’s condition worsened…eventually she was hospitalized.  Like I said, you can’t sing without air.

My mother’s time in the hospital was filled with ups and downs, hope and trepidation, good days and bad days…and finally, the worst day.  

Nothing prepares you for grief. The day following her death, I found myself for the first time in many weeks alone in the car.  Settled in for a four-hour drive, I finally had a place to sing.  My first inclination was to turn on the radio, but it wasn’t to be.  Although I had a place to sing, there was just no space in my heart to sing.  Instead, I drove in silence.

In the past two months, I have experienced a vast array of emotions.  Some days have been a complete blur, as the time has both flown by and stood eerily still. As much as one can after loss, we have settled into the uncomfortable and are moving forward, it is the only option. Today, finding a place and a space to sing still remains challenging, but thanks to my daughter’s shared love of musicals (and the absurdly catchy “Hamilton”), I am again slowly finding my voice.  

Ironically, on my way to pick Casey up from soccer practice last week, the song “Drinking Problem” came on the radio along with a flood of memories.  My mother, who never had a beer in her life, loved this song!  My sister and I discovered this interesting tidbit while driving with her to my grandmother’s 90th birthday party last fall.  We were floored to learn that she knew every single word and wasn’t afraid to sing it out.  Through tears, neither was I.  In her memory, a place and a space to sing.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song, I give thanks to HIm. —Psalm 28:7

“A Life Interrupted” is an ongoing series of blog posts dealing with the loss of my mother to COVID-19.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Gray to Grace

Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.  Haruki Murakami

Last week’s tragedy will never make sense.  No answer will ever be good enough.  Understanding will likely never come.  A life cut short.  Senseless violence.

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ERNIE ORTIZ 1949-2019

It has been said that we’re all one phone call away from dropping to our knees. And nothing has ever been more true. Human life is fragile and fleeting. Most of us naively walking around as if we have all the time in the world, as if our days are not numbered, as if we have some sense of control…and sadly, we do not.  And while life itself is a gift, we don’t always live like it.  Our words, our actions, our brokenness speak for themselves reminding us that we are all fallible humans.  Even the best of us walk the line between sinner and saint daily.

So it is no surprise that at some point, we all find ourselves here…struggling with loss in its many forms, be it friendships, relationships, marriages, jobs, hopes or dreams, but I feel it is the loss of life that hurts the most.  It’s inescapable.  Unavoidable.  The grief, the permanency, maybe even the unknown…it fills our thoughts, occupies our hearts and often leaves wounds that never quite heal.

Statistically, death occurs on a bell curve with our most vulnerable moments at the beginning and the end of our life spans.  If you’re lucky, it’s something one only deals with during their latter days.  We know that death due to age, illness, and disease remain tragic, but a life taken too soon, a life snuffed out, a life robbed at any age hurts as if it’s been compounded tenfold.  Many will tell you that time heals all wounds.  Maybe.  More realistically though, time only allows for space between the hurt.

Finding peace is all circumstances isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s a lot of work.  If you’re not a Christian, I honestly don’t know how you do it.  For me, knowing that I have a God who walks beside me is something that I don’t take for granted.  When I am weak, He is my strength.  When I am lost, He is my rock.  Christ’s ultimate sacrifice reminds us that death doesn’t have the final say.  Uncle Ernie was a believer, I take comfort in that.  Our lives, our very existence is not in vain.  On the mountaintop and in the valley, there remains a plan and a purpose for each of us.

In the days and weeks to come, stories will be told and photos will be shared. In talking with family, we have chosen to focus on the “dash” and celebrate a life LIVED.  As poet Linda Ellis explains, “He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.”  And what a dash it was!  Countless adventures, innumerable memories, and a bounty of friends.

When you’re a kid, life seems so black and white.  There’s good and evil.  Right and wrong.  The lines are clearly drawn.  As we grow up, move from adolescence through adulthood, we realize that life is actually more of a marbled gray.  Dark shades, complicated, stressful, and uneven as we navigate day to day living among the broken, but intermixed with bright hues, beautiful, joyful, and full of promise!  As we all inch forward, I pray that we move from that marbled gray into grace!  Life is too short to live any other way.  Let us approach each other more tenderly and offer love, patience, and kind words…only then can we truly find resolve (and maybe even peace) along the way.

Rest Easy, Uncle Ernie.

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 

2 Corinthians 5:1

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 6

Sometimes the best vacation is a staycation.  –author unknown

I love the movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” for many reasons…but especially for the line,”there’s no place like home.”  It’s just so true.  Of course, one never knows just how much they love home until they move away.  At least that’s how it was for me.  That’s why this next song made my summer music playlist.  I can remember coming home to visit my parents and my dad blasting this song on repeat FOR HOURS AND HOURS in the garage.  The funniest thing was that no one complained.  In fact, there were many times that I caught family members singing along!

“Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys came out in the summer of 2004.  I was in my late 20s, married with one child…and I was pretty much anything but hip.  But there’s something about this song that just makes you feel cool–regardless of age.  “Heaven,” written by a trio of brothers from Texas, captures a laid back summer vibe with its infectious chorus.  Peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top 100, the tune went on to No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts for 16 weeks.  Interestingly enough, the song also registered on the country music charts, too.  The song eventually led to two Grammy nominations and one win in 2005.  Their biggest hit to date, this song set the tone for so many that summer.

It doesn’t take much for me to remember that afternoon at my parent’s house.  It’s always a party when we visit!  Lots of family, food and laughter.  I can still see my son (a toddler at the time) working his dance moves outside in the garage with my dad.  Whenever I hear “Heaven” it puts a smile on my face and I am grateful for both summer and a place to call home!

Up Next:  SONG 7…”That’s when I had most of my fun….”

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 5

I could never in a hundred summers get tired of this.  –Susan Branch

“Steal My Sunshine” by Len hit the airwaves during my first summer as a resident of sunny California.  The song was all things Golden State–feel good, shiny, pop-inspired, retro and contemporary fun–imagine how surprised I was to find out that it was the product of a Canadian group!  This little goodie hit the pop charts in 1999 but takes some of its great music flavor from both the 70s and the 80s. Besides all that, who doesn’t love a song whose music video features an orange moped posse?

While crawling through my Bay Area commute, I recall scanning my radio presets only to discover this song playing simultaneously on two stations!  Whaaaat? Both the pop and the alternative station spinning the same tune, whoa–this song must be special!  So I turned it up and quickly added another song to my list of favorites.  “Steal My Sunshine” was inspired by a night at a rave, helped reunite an estranged brother and sister, and almost didn’t make it make it onto the group’s CD (fortunately it was retrieved from its hiding place…under the cowriter’s bed!)  All of this makes for quite the story behind a song that landed in Billboard 100’s top ten and on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “Best Summer Songs of All Time.”

This catchy song was still receiving plenty of airplay when I finally had an opportunity to visit Los Angeles that same fall.  It was the perfect background music for a trip to Venice Beach, celebrity sight-seeing and soaking up all things California.  Today you can still find it on a number of summer playlists…including mine.  All the more reason to love a song that enjoys elite “one-hit wonder” status as it “perfectly captured that warm, lazy feeling you get when late summer still seems like it could last forever,” at least according to Stylus Magazine (2007.)  And I think they’re right on.

Up next:  SONG 6…how far is heaven?

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 4

If you are lucky enough to be at the beach…you are lucky enough.  –author unknown

Some days are made for the shade and this beach classic definitely fits the bill.  “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters made its debut in 1964.  This tune tells the story of a quiet, secret getaway just for two amid the busyness of the surf and sand.  Personally, I remember hearing the song as a young kid and it was the catchy chorus that had me hooked.  Only later did I really grasp the song’s meaning…and it still makes me blush to this day!

One of the more interesting notes to this little ditty is that this one song has two different lines in it…depending upon the version that you’re listening to.  The mono version of the song says “we’ll be falling in love,” while the stereo version says “we’ll be making love.”  Back in 1964, the mono version served as the radio edit since the “steamier” stereo version was banned from the public airwaves.  Further research puts former Drifters vocalist Johnny Moore as the lead singer.  Moore was asked to do the main vocals after the then current Drifters frontman, Rudy Lewis, died of a suspected drug overdose.  The last-minute move resulted in a No. 4 spot on the Billboard Top 100 and earned the song a place in the Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

While this song has been revised dozens of times, the original Drifters song is the one that sweetly whispers “summertime” into my ear…and I can “almost taste the hot dogs and French fries they sell….”

Up Next:  Song 5…”Karen, I love you…!”

 

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 3

Don’t bother me, I’m on vacation.  –author unknown

“Drums, please.”

Summer is finally in full swing, but I’ve been listening to this jam continuously since April!  “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince was a chart-topper in 1991.  Back then, I was a self-involved high school student and summertime was my time 🙂

When you’re a teenager summer means staying up late, sleeping in, pajamas all day, and ice cream for lunch…behavior completely unacceptable for adults (?)  And what would summer be without friends?  Back then my BFF and I made a pact to go out every single night…and in our small town that meant cruising Main street.  Never mind that we were the only car out on a Tuesday night.  Never mind the miles we burned (or the gas we wasted.)  Never mind how crazy our parents thought we were.  We had each other AND our music…and one of those songs was this one.

A summer playlist staple, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince won a Grammy for Best Rap song that year.  The tune also topped out at No. 4 on the Billboard charts and was eventually re-released as a new remix in 2012.  (A little different from the original by fun nonetheless!)

Twenty-six years later, “Summertime” still represents all of the highlights of my teenage life between May and August.  Sunglasses, flip flops, no place to go and all day to get there.  There were cookouts, afternoons at the pool, backyard volleyball, water fights, cruising, river parties, friends and of course, boys.  And even when I managed to grow up a little and snag some part-time work…SUMMERTIME was always my full-time job.

 

Up next:  SONG 4…”we’ll be having some fun….”

KEEP CALM, Summer’s Coming (15 Days of Sunshine-Inspired Songs) SONG 2

The ocean is a mighty harmonist.  –William Wordsworth

Listening to “Beyond the Sea” is like starring in your own personal musical.   I imagine sand, surf, sunshine and fun!  I’m the lead (of course,) gracefully dancing alongside a dreamy surfer WHO CAN SING.  There’s an ensemble of dancers and extras moving melodically to the beat.  And in unison, the cast perfectly depicts life on the beach…all while belting out the oh-so-catchy chorus!

Long before I ever visited the ocean this song painted an amazing picture…one that didn’t disappoint.  In real life, the ocean is a force all it’s own and being near it provides some sort of “magical power” (I believe they call it positive ions.)  Whatever it is, it’s calming and peaceful.  It’s mesmerizing and energizing.  It’s blue perfection.

Bobby Darin’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea” made the song famous in 1959 when it reached no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100.   However, his version was one of several remakes of Jack Lawrence’s rendition of “Beyond the Sea.” And Lawrence’s adaptation was actually taken from the French song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet.  Trenet’s original melody was an ode to the ocean while Lawrence’s interpretation was rewritten to be that of a love song.  Quite a history for a little ditty that has been featured in countless movies and televisions series since it originated in the 1940s.  All that aside, it’s the perfect addition to my summer music playlist…taking me oceanside…even if it’s only in my imagination!

UP NEXT:  Song 3…drums, please!

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

 

Bing Crosby is Slowly Killing Me (Did I Say That Out Loud?)

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…just like the ones I used to know….”  Bing Crosby, singer & actor

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?  Exactly.

One of my favorite aspects of the Christmas season is the music.   Growing up, I recall the local radio station playing Christmas music solely on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  That meant that we had to get out our little boom box and cassette tapes and record as much of it as possible.  This served as “seed” music for the following Christmas.  And boy did we wear those cassette tapes out!  Today, it’s a different story.  Often times I hear Christmas music playing way before Thanksgiving…and I’m not the DJ orchestrating this holiday magic!  In shopping centers, restaurants, and even on the radio, the Christmas tunes are cranked up loud and proud early in the season.  I don’t mind really…and then again, maybe I do.

I mind because it seems that every year (without fail) one song seems to capture the season for me.  A Christmas song brain worm if you will.  On good years the song is something fun and light-hearted…a sweet ditty sung by Michael Buble, Mariah Carey or even that little cutie, Justin Beiber.  Other years, though, the song is something that stirs up a completely different (less cheery) feeling.  I don’t necessarily want to call it darker or deeper or even more soulful (yes, I know I’m talking about music and not coffee!) There’s just something about that one song that touches the most tender part of my heart…a melody that evokes such profound emotion that it almost always manifests itself in near tears (ok, occasionally one leaks out.)

In the past, these “other” songs were always familiar Christmas tunes…but for whatever reason, they took on a new flavor.  For example, a few years ago Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” could completely kill my yuletide joy.  Still, that makes sense, although I love, love Elvis, the title is “Blue Christmas.”  Other songs on this glum list include “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Josh Groban with its added military personnel audio (oh, the tears,) Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” with its resounding sad tale of lost love (more tears,) and need I say ANYTHING about those stupid “Christmas Shoes” by New Song?  Boo hoo hoo.  And then there’s the overwhelming “whoa” of “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown…just to name a few. During these years, I can’t decide whether to avoid the song completely or just play it on repeat until the feelings subside (which doesn’t work by the way.)

Today, with the onset of digital music streaming, we can customize our own playlists in a matter of minutes.  This is awesome because who doesn’t like personalized stuff?  A “just-for-me” anything speaks to the most narcissistic part of our brains and makes us feel important and special.  I’m all down for that…I have a zillion custom playlists.  So basically, my game plan is to just avoid the song altogether.  (Avoidance is one of my favorite psychological strategies.)  Still, there are algorithms. And try as we might, people, we cannot escape them!  Now that Pandora (such a fitting name by the way) knows ALL of my Christmas music favorites (thanks to the thumbs-up-thumbs-down buttons) I am at her mercy and this year’s song has been a doozy!  A Christmas classic, a favorite among favorites, such a BASIC Christmas song that it is altogether inescapable…no matter where I turn.  I’m talking about the beloved holiday staple, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  Yes, that’s the one breaking my heart this year (can I say that out loud?)

Who doesn’t love “White Christmas?”  I mean, I absolutely adore it!  It’s the best-selling Christmas song of all time!  But this year, whenever I hear it a sadness ensues.  It’s like I’m hearing this familiar tune with new ears.  I remember the song from childhood, fell in love with it AND Bing Crosby while watching the old black & white version of Holiday Inn…and the song was further impressed upon my heart when I discovered the movie of the same title a few years later.  Bing sings the song so effortlessly.  As I write this I can picture him at his piano…the debonair crooner drawing us in with this perfect song.  His voice so melodic and rich…all the casual sophistication of an American icon just pouring out of every single note.  Did I mention that I adore this song?  One can only imagine how surprised I was to find that this song, this tried and true favorite could cause me such grief.  It was like walking into a door…and I never saw it coming!

Turns out that I shouldn’t be surprised at all with the heartbreaking aspect of “White Christmas.”  It’s nostalgic.  Wistful.  There’s a sense of longing…and hope.  A wartime favorite, “White Christmas” was the song American soldiers clung to following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was a staple on Armed Forces Radio as soldiers tuned in while stationed overseas during World War II.  For many, on the war front and at home, the lyrics told of bygone days and easier times…a reminder of a “normal” that they hoped to reclaim.  For the songwriter, Irving Berlin, the lyrics were much deeper as many believe he wrote the song during a bout of extreme homesickness.  Still, other music historians claim the song was actually written to memorialize Berlin’s infant son who is said to have died on Christmas Day. Given this history, the song certainly takes on a different significance and gains a depth that I wasn’t aware of before.

For these reasons (and so many more) Bing Crosby is slowly killing me…at least he is this Christmas.  And while at first this slow, figurative death was limited to “White Christmas” it has moved far beyond.  Now, it’s EVERY Bing Crosby Christmas song…and there’s no way to avoid it.  I immediately recognize his voice and something just gets caught in my throat.  My heart sinks a little.  My eyes get damp in the corners.  I can’t explain it.  I’ve been jokingly (and seriously) blaming everything on hormones lately, but really I know it’s something more.  It’s me.  It’s today.  It’s nostalgia.  It’s dreaming.  It’s gratitude.  It’s a brokenness.  It’s hope.  It’s this present time and place.  It’s perfect and imperfect all at the same time.  It’s Christmas…just listen.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15

 

 

 

Parents are Perpetual LOSERS (Looking for the Win Column)

“The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest” – Unknown

I guess it’s fair to say that we’ve hit the “rocky stage.”  It’s the craggy valley where your kids try your patience, serve up dozens of complaints, defy you at every turn, accuse you of the most outlandish things (like purposefully ruining their lives!) and all before Cheerios.  I believe the marketing industry categorizes this phase of adolescence as “tween,” but that sounds a little too benign for this particular stage of development.  And while I’m not sure how we got here, (as far as I can tell) there are no posted signs for the nearest exit.  The most baffling part (at least for me) is that just when I think things can’t get any crazier and I start wondering who these children REALLY belong to, I find myself the recipient of a hug and a warm smile.

04-ecardSo what’s up?  It’s the same old story.  Only it seems all the more confusing since I’m the Mom actually living through it.  I feel like the victim of some kind of psychological warfare, thus making it hard to balance what I know is age appropriate behavior with these outrageous episodes.  I know enough to realize that I wasn’t the perfect child.  Yet, I still seem to think that on so many levels I had to be a little easier than my two kiddos.  “Can I have this?  Can you get me that?  If I do this, then will you…” (fill in the blank with some outlandish request), followed by, “Do I have to?” and “You CAN’T make me!” It’s like we stepped back in time and I’m the mother of toddlers again.  Suddenly, the automatic kid response to everything is “No” accompanied with eye rolling (that’s new) and foot stomping.  I shudder to think of what might happen if the two actually got along long enough to conspire against my husband and I.  My sweet, darling daughter often takes her cues from her older brother which only seems to compound the problem.  And whoever said that boys were easier than girls doesn’t know squat about my household.  So what’s a Mom to do?

Basically, I pray a lot.  I try to understand where they’re coming from and channel my own tween years.  I take a deep breath and sometimes I actually have to ESCAPE to my happy place.  I remind myself that parenting is not easy.    In fact, it’s pretty much a thankless job.  And I think that’s the part that bothers me the most.  That’s the part that hurts so much.  The lack of gratitude.  These children have EVERYTHING.  I’m not just talking about material things, these children absolutely have the whole, wide world laid out before them!  My brain knows that their lack of gratitude isn’t something I should take personally, but still my heartstrings can’t help but feel heavy and pulled and sometimes even FRAYED at the end of the day.  It’s tiresome, worrying and basically not much fun.

On bad days…well, it’s bad.  Good days (as in 24 continuous hours of bliss) are hard to come by.  That’s why I’m trying to hang on (and find hope in) the little things.  I’ve secretly started calling these rare occurrences “Mom-tastic Moments.”  They’re the small victories that I tuck into my heart and hold on to for dear life.  They stack up like this….

win column

Like with anything, the good times are unpredictable and unscheduled.  The outrageous moments seem to happen at the most inconvenient times.  And since this parenting thing doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to call upon my own life experiences to get by…and sometimes that makes for a parent-child disconnect.  For example, I remember how much my husband laughed when he overheard me telling our newborn, “If this breastfeeding thing is going to work out, you’re going to have to learn to FOCUS.”  Needless to say, my baby didn’t choose to listen to me (even at two days old) and we had to move on to bottle feeding.  Short-term loss, long-term gain (the kid had to eat right?)  And many years later, my rational approach to life still gets trumped by these two irrational beings.  I’ve read all the books, researched and googled every problem, and (in desperation) I’ve even tried to reason with them!  Most of which has gotten me nowhere.  So while I’m still neck-deep in this motherhood thing, here’s What I Now Know (WINK) about parenting:

  • THERE’S POWER IN NUMBERS.  Don’t go at this parenting thing alone.  I know the two parent household isn’t the norm for everyone, and that’s okay.  As much as you can, involve the other parent, both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles and even trusted friends.  Role models do not have to be blood related.  Many times things that I have harped on my kids about become an “aha” experience when the same advice comes out of the mouth of an adult other than myself.  I’m way over feeding any sort of parenting ego…if there’s someone else who can aid my efforts and serve as a voice of reason, then by all means 🙂
  • MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS KNOWN.  Not all things go as planned, but I’m slowly finding that if I speak up about what I expect from my kiddos then at least we’re all on the same page (if only for a brief second.)  No–this doesn’t mean everything will go perfectly, but it’s better than having that horrible conversation after everything has gone wrong only to hear your child say to you, “Well, why didn’t you tell me that’s what you wanted in the beginning” or “I didn’t know that’s how it was supposed to go down.”  Although they sometimes act like three-year olds, I find that things go a lot smoother when I approach them with clear “big kid” expectations.
  • DON’T TAKE EVERYTHING PERSONALLY.  This is probably the hardest one.  I really try to live by the golden rule.  I’m not sure this is a priority for my kids…and I have to remind myself to cut them some slack.  Science reminds us of all the growth and development that takes place in a child’s mind.  Researchers have proven that a “mature,” functioning brain (complete with a rationale for risk taking) doesn’t exist until one’s early 20s.  Obviously, they’re not going to be perfect.  I often remind myself (and them) that we all have feelings, words and actions both speak volumes, and that we’re a family that LOVES each other.  Some days are better than others.
  • IT’S OKAY TO BE A LOSER.  This one is going to need some clarification.  Remember how I mentioned short-term loss, long-term gain?  That’s parenting in a nut shell.  We lose a lot in this exchange:  sleep, control, time, energy, money, arguments…and the list could go on and on.  The gains don’t typically take place in the parenting trenches.  Often times they come much (much) later.  It’s a miracle to me that any of us signed up to do this! But then I think about the gains:  smiles, hugs, love, and eventually…appreciation, respect, and wisdom 🙂  This is big picture stuff, and the big stuff never is (and maybe shouldn’t be) easy.
  • CALL YOUR MOM (a lot.)  She has a way of putting things into focus.  My mom reminds me that I’m not the first mother to go through this and that it’s all NORMAL.  I need to hear it and you probably do, too!  Mothers who have graduated into “grandmotherhood” have an insight and a perspective that just cannot be matched.  Besides, acknowledging your mother’s hard-earned wisdom is a heartwarming way of showing your mother how much you love and appreciate her…even if it took you decades to get there!  No one person has had more influence on my life than my mom…and she deserves to know that!

I am far from the perfect parent.  There are still days when I’m as far away from the win column as any one person can get.  I lose my cool more often that I like.  But, like most of us, I’m in it for the long haul–these kids have my whole heart 🙂  For some crazy reason, (as irrational as it sounds) I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  And when my children are 40…well, maybe (just maybe) I’ll get that win column tally mark I’ve been waiting for….  Hope you get yours, too!

😉 What I Now Know (W.I.N.K.) is a recurring entry on this blog.  The idea of WINK as an acronym popped into my head the other day while I was doing laundry.  You see, aside from being a slave to housework I actually have quite a bit of knowledge filed away in my overworked brain.  While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, I know something about a few subjects that just might be worth sharing.  And just like that this new blog idea was born–WINK (What I Now Know).  I hope to share a little bit of what I’ve learned as a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother and all-around regular, ordinary girl.  Look for ongoing posts, but What I Now Know (as a busy wife and mother) is not to promise weekly entries because life happens– and it usually happens when I want to blog!  (Here’s where if I could wink at you, I WOULD.)