The Strawberry Patch

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I have been trying to make more of an effort to expose our two year-old and four month-old to new experiences – regardless of their young age, the weather, my mood or any other excuse I make up to avoid the chaos that results from a public appearance with unpredictable sidekicks. I figure if we don’t go now, chances are we will instead spend countless hours staring at Dora the Explorer feeling like lethargic zombies all day.

It’s the beginning of summer at our house which means the sun is out and the heat is on. It also means fresh strawberries are ready for picking a few miles down the road from us. I know the idea of voluntarily picking fruit in the middle of a field under the hot sun with a toddler and infant may seem like a recipe for disaster, but I decided to give it a try anyway.

After applying many globs of sunscreen (or “sour cream” as my two-year-old calls it), we loaded up and were on our way. We arrived at the patch and it appeared only a few others decided to brave the morning sun with us. Hats were strapped on and the baby was nestled tightly in a carrier on my chest. Our toddler ran up to a mound of white baskets and decided which one was suited best for us before following one of the employees to our row.

Whew, we made it.

And then it hit me: do they accept debit cards? After asking, the answer was “cash or check only.”

I convinced my daughter we must turn around, leave our basket at the stand and load back into the car. This is more difficult than it sounds. The two women working at the patch offered to watch my girls while I went to find an ATM. It was a very kind gesture, but the thought of staying with a stranger, understandably, didn’t sit well with my daughter.

We loaded back into the car; out of the carrier and into the car seat. Hats off, seatbelts on.

After finding an ATM and making a withdrawl, we ventured back for round two.

The nice ladies smiled as we returned and prepared, again, to enjoy our first strawberry patch together.

My daughter identified what she believed to be the white plastic basket she had claimed as ours moments before, and we were on our way. The nice women, again, showed us to our row and explained that only berries red to the tip were ripe for picking, and with the grin on her face being shadowed by a pink baseball cap she was wearing, my daughter did it. She picked her first strawberry. And her second, and third, as I took it all in. She then did a little dance and uttered a few short, but moment-halting words.

“Mommy I need to go potty.”

I smiled.

We quickly turned back to the path we arrived on and skipped our way to the front of the patch. On the way, I noticed the only restrooms in sight were those housed in a warm and sticky vertically standing structure – a portable toilet.

One of the employees kindly asked if she could hold my youngest daughter while I went into the cramped space with our potty training toddler. I obliged and we began our walk over to the toilet.

As I took a step up to confidently show my daughter how to use the plastic tower, my sandal caught on the front of it and I tripped, taking my daughter down with me into the door. I quickly stood up and attempted to act as though I had everything together while my two year-old stared at me with confusion.

I smiled.

My “pull it all together” act must not have been very convincing, as my daughter expressed concern for me while using the bathroom.

“Mommy, make sure you don’t fall in.”

Yes, dear.

After returning, the woman holding my four month-old baby half-jokingly said she would love to curb her “baby fever” by continuing to keep her up front while my toddler and I went back and finished picking.

I smiled.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe two of us made it back to our row, spending time together just the two of us for the first time since our newest daughter was born. We spent the next 15 minutes picking the reddest of the strawberries, eating a few along the way.

We returned filthy and hot, but happy.

While I wasn’t sure how the morning might turn out, we ended up experiencing much more than a strawberry patch. My daughter learned how to use a remote, public bathroom and I received a lesson in patience and flexibility.

The best part, though, wasn’t the strawberries; it was my daughter’s bright red and juicy smile at the end of the morning.

Sweet.

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Sharing life’s cinnamon rolls

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Are you an innie or an outie?

This is the question a middle-aged woman posed to her friend as they sat down together at a local coffee shop. Noticeably pregnant and well into my third trimester, I couldn’t help buty wonder if she was directing the question toward me, talking about the belly button emerging from under my shirt.

I then noticed the woman point to a freshly baked cinnamon roll sitting on the table in-between them.

“Do you like to eat it from the inside or the outside?”

They were sharing the treat and it was clear from the excited look on the woman’s face that her friend answered with the preferred answer.

“Outside.”

I smiled at their shared logic, and also felt relieved not having to engage awkward dialogue about my bulging abdomen.

The conversation between these two friends reminded me of a quote I have posted in my office as a daily level-setting prompt: “Find yourself in everyone you meet.” I wish I remembered where I heard this for the first time, but regardless of its origin, the statement has continued to impact the way I look at the world. I’ve found that the more we can find ourselves in others, the easier it is to be understanding, kind and empathetic when it seems most difficult.

The two women found themselves in each other, but also celebrated their differences as complements – even if in a very small way.

On a separate occasion, I sat near an elderly couple who were a fine example of teamwork, friendship and love. The two sat close to each other, sharing one cup of coffee with a table full of large books in front of them. The wife read, while he pretended to be engaged in the words she was mumbling. Their actions were the true definition of marriage – laughing together one minute and bickering the next.

He held up a shiny iPhone in his hand with a seemingly defeated look on his face before turning toward his wife and handing her the device.

“It says you go ‘bink bink’ and you’re on your way, but I can’t figure it out.”

photoAfter speaking into the bottom of the phone, the wife stubbornly held up the phone as if trying to take a photo. Her husband held his hand up to stop her and then removed his glasses and smiled. Nothing happened.

The couple continued reading the books in front of them, all with titles aiming to help beginners navigate use of Apple products. Every new “trick” they stumble upon called for a minor celebration.

After burying his nose in a small, white paperback manual the size of a worn-out novel, the husband jumped up excitedly.

“Wallpaper!”

The wife seemed more frustrated than impressed, asking her husband how he found the new tool. He leaned over, taking on the role of teacher, while she eagerly watched him navigate to the wallpaper feature. An earlier scene began to play out again, as the wife snapped a photo of her husband with intentions of using it as ‘wallpaper’ on her new gadget. As the wife fumbled with the phone, her husband stood up and began heading to the restroom – but not without sharing newfound wisdom with his wife.

“Don’t forget wallpaper means it will be behind everything on your phone.”

She rolled her eyes. The two continued to work with their new mobile devices for more than an hour, together celebrating and secretly competing to be the first to find reach a new milestone.

“Oh, look here! I found the messages,” the wife said. The husband was silent and seemed to be avoiding the fact that his wife had beat him at his own game. He decided it was time to leave.

“We need to get going. We’ve been here too long.”

While attempting to navigate chaos during the holidays, we sometimes take for granted those closest to us, forgetting how they reflect a piece of who we are. Finding others as complements is not always easy, but it is necessary. This holiday season; remember to take time to think of how those in your life play a part in making a better you. After all, it doesn’t matter how you choose to consume your cinnamon roll, it’s finding a way to share the frosting that makes experiences most memorable.

Why we should live more like Gumby

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A few years ago, I received invaluable advice from a respected business leader: when in life you are presented with the opportunity to stretch yourself, take advantage of it. In other words, she was saying live like Gumby and embrace vulnerable situations.

After hearing these words, I began noticing something; these opportunities appear for all of us, and more than we recognize. Nearly every day, we are faced with decisions – personal, professional; large, small; easy and difficult. Those that seem more difficult are that way because they are unfamiliar, and therefore, will force us to experience something new.

Have you ever noticed it seems easier to take on a task or enter a new situation once you’ve already had a similar experience? That’s not a coincidence.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has studied the topic of vulnerability for more than 10 years. Her work has been featured on national television, major publications and in multiple TED talks.

 

She says when people are vulnerable, they are willing to let go of who they thought they should be to be who they are and fully embrace vulnerability, believing it is what makes them beautiful.

I think she’s on to something.

When thinking about her definition and my own vulnerability, a few recent experiences immediately come to mind.

  • Signing up for a co-ed kickball team, not knowing there was such a thing and without knowing anyone playing, only months after moving to a new city. Did I mention sign-up was at a bar in a college town on a night my husband worked? Or that I realized on my way there that I didn’t know what the team captain (or anyone else for that matter) looked like? Yes, that awkward woman standing near the pinball machine scoping out the packed establishment with baby in tow was yours truly.
  • Meeting someone for coffee for the first time and not knowing what they look like. Asking other seemingly lost customers if they too are looking for their coffee date until the fourth person finally says yes.
  • Taking our two-year-old daughter to her first friend birthday party for a classmate at a local kid play zone, only to realize we were relying on her memory to help us navigate bouncy houses, slides and tunnels to find the little girl.

We all have the opportunity to place ourselves in vulnerable situations, to spark uncomfortable feelings and potentially embarrassing moments. However, instead of taking the plunge or enjoying the splash of a new experience, we continue repeating only those experiences we know and then wonder why we feel bored.

Now that I’ve embraced these situations, I want to have a few words with what used to be feelings of vulnerability. Sign me up for another kickball team. Schedule a meeting over coffee with a stranger. Invite my daughter to a birthday party at the local kid zone. Been there, done that.

The next time you have a chance to move your muscles and gain new experiences, give it a try. You don’t have to turn green; just wiggle your arms and get ready to stretch.

Raise your hand if you’ve had a miscarriage

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Almost 25 percent of all pregnancies are lost to miscarriage and chances are if you’ve been part of this statistic, you’re not raising your hand. Not because you don’t remember the experience or because it happened many years ago. Instead, it’s likely your hand is staying down because you have feelings of failure, guilt and embarrassment caused by the experience. Not because it’s right or makes sense, but because it’s a natural reaction caused by stigma associated with miscarriage in our society. Those who have not experienced a miscarriage likely know of someone who has and begin to feel uncomfortable at the very mention of the word.

After visiting my doctor alone during my second pregnancy, I was delivered devastating news that our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The news hit me like a ton of bricks and from that moment, I started on a long and lonely road many women quietly travel.  Rather than face the issue head-on, I found myself attempting to hop back on the fast train in life as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t continue thinking about what was happening, but at the time, it was the only way I knew how to cope.

Four days after the news, I hopped on a plane like “super mom” to embark on a week-long business trip I had committed to many months prior. Leaving my two dogs, husband and one-year old at home, I traveled a few states away, secretly hoping the hole I was feeling would no longer be there when I returned.

It was.

The painting we had made, now hanging in our playroom in memory of our “firecracker”

I continued living in a fog for a few months until it eventually began to dissipate and I started searching for books on the topic. The selection was surprisingly limited; a first indication to me that there is something odd about the way our society approaches miscarriage. In short, we don’t. We duck, hide, whisper and ignore the topic to shield the pain, misunderstanding and confusion from our lives.

After browsing numerous bookshelves, I read I Never Held You, by Ellen M. DuBois. The book is personal, real and was exactly what I needed – confirmation I was not alone. Just as an article in the Huffington Post reveals, miscarriage does not discriminate. The article shares news of television anchor Lisa Ling’s recent pregnancy announcement and includes details about the feelings of failure she experienced after suffering a miscarriage in 2010.

If miscarriage happens to so many women every year, why did it take so long to find a book? Why is the topic of miscarriage off limits to talk about? Why must we stifle our voices to a whisper?

In the weeks following my completion of the book, I decided to break the rules, finding ways to share my experience with others – both men and women –when appropriate. Initiating a conversation appeared to relieve others of weight they had been carrying after they themselves or someone they knew had also suffered a loss in miscarriage.

This is the part I find fascinating. Here is an experience many women and men are faced with in life, but at some point are made keenly aware it is not a topic to talk about; at least not publically.

So here I am, 25 weeks into my third pregnancy, raising my hand and sharing this journey with you. If you’re still sitting on your hands, don’t worry; moving them is the first step. For those of you with a hand in the air, try this – keep your hand up, move from behind the computer screen and begin waving, even if only to one other person.

Finding faith in unexpected places

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Sometimes faith can be found in places we least expect. A church or place of spirituality seems to make sense, but what about a coffee shop? Before this past week, I might have sided with the thinking that witnessing faith in a coffee shop may seem a bit bizarre or unlikely, but after a few recent encounters, I’m finding the aroma-filled establishments to actually bring out a soft spot in all of us. It’s a person’s willingness to share the said soft spot that sheds the light on faith.

It was a cool morning in October and on this particular day; I was head down at a local coffee shop, eyes glued to the computer screen in front of me. Only peering up every once in a while to check the time, I hardly noticed others sitting around me. I was working to meet a deadline and having a rough morning, questioning my parenting skills after arguing with my toddler about wearing a jacket to daycare.

An elderly lady sat down at the table located next to mine and was quick to strike up a conversation. After complimenting me on my typing skills, she saw a little girl with her father at the counter and began sharing stories with me about her four children – three girls and one boy. There was one story in particular that nudged my faith.

Her youngest boy, 18-months-old at the time and wearing nothing but a diaper, was outside in their family backyard helping his mother in the garden. She ran inside the house for a brief minute to fetch something she had forgotten and just after stepping foot inside the door, heard a noise no mother wants to hear – a child screaming. After rushing back out the door, she found her son next to a beehive, covered in black and yellow bodies. She grabbed the little boy and brushed off the bees, removing the stingers as quickly as possible before taking him inside the house.

“I couldn’t get ahold of his father or any of our neighbors, so I did all that I knew to do and prayed harder than ever before,” she said. “That little boy was so special to us.”

The lady, now probably in her upper eighties, went on to tell me how, after an hour passed since the horrific bee sting incident, her young son did not have one single mark on his body. She also said, to her knowledge, he has never been stung again since that day.

Faith.

That same week, I was engaged in small talk with a young woman who seemed to be having a morning similar to mine a few days before. Her hair was in a pony-tail high on her head, complementing the white collared shirt half-tucked into a pair of wrinkly tan dress pants she was wearing.

After exchanging a friendly greeting, we were both signaled by the barista to step aside while they brewed a new batch of fresh coffee. I asked the woman, about my age, if she was at the coffee shop to work, too. Her posture became more relaxed, eyes looking down at the floor.

“I am going through a rough time right now,” she said. “I was my way to work this morning but decided after crying nearlyhalf of the trip that it would be better for me to take the day for me. I ended up here.”

Showing empathy, I told her we all have bad days and then our drinks were ready.

The woman sat at a table to the left of mine and we each went on to finish what it was we came there to do. I was finishing up a writing piece, she was reading a Bible.

About a half hour later, a middle-aged woman passed by but then began backpedaling, stopping in front of the young woman’s table. I was close enough to hear their exchange.

“I don’t know you or what you are going through, but here is a card I just found that I got at a Bible study. Hopefully it will help and you will get through this,” the older woman said before leaving with her coffee in hand.

As the young woman opened the large piece of paper, I peeked over to read as if trying to cheat during an intense game of Poker.

I’ve never been good at Poker – or cheating for that matter – and this was no different. During my five-second peek show, I was only able to make out the first line on the index card. It read:

He will not allow your foot to slip; your…

Regardless of what the remaining text said, this message was coming at a perfect time and seemed to cause some relief for the young woman. Although we never said another word to each other, her willingness to share a moment of vulnerability with me was important in helping confirm something I know is true, but often forget.

Faith, in various forms, appears when we are willing to look for it – in ourselves and also in each other.

Blowing out quarter-century candles

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Birthdays are a good reminder of time and the realization of how fast hours, days and years pass by without warning. The saying “time flies” is not anything new, but it’s the truth.

I recently celebrated my 25th birthday. During a phone call with my Dad that morning, he made sure to remind me that any day after my birthday would be “sliding down the hill to thirty.” What happened to a fatherly rendition of singing happy birthday in front of a well-lit cake?

You know what though? He’s right. I’m no longer in the twenty fifth year of my life. I’ve shut the door on childhood, teenage rebellion and college living and have entered the next quarter-century of experiences, pitfalls, challenges, friendships and celebrations. As I sat down that evening feeling more exhausted than at any previous birthdays, my mind swirled with memories of the past year.

My daughter and I almost a year ago

Since becoming a parent, I’ve promised myself to jot down stories, frustrations and insightful memories to share with my children when they are older. This was no exception. On the back of my daughter’s daycare newsletter, I began scribbling – in no particular order – the lessons I have learned during the past year leading up to turning twenty-five.

  1. Traveling 13 hours with a tired husband, two dogs and baby to see family, even if in a few hours notice, is well worth the trip.
  2. The southern translation of passing gas is “poot”.
  3. Kickball is more than just a game played in gym class. There are leagues of teams playing eight-week seasons, complete with playoffs and concession stands.
  4. Being a parent is the most rewarding, complicated and fun profession out there.
  5. It is possible to make edible hard-boiled eggs in the oven.
  6. Spending Christmas without family (or snow!) is as difficult as it sounds.
  7. Some farmer’s markets sell “throw away” peaches at a discount; all you have to do is ask.
  8. Potty training is more difficult than it sounds.
  9. Andy Griffith grew up in Mt. Airy, N.C.
  10. Every pregnancy is different.
  11. Contrary to the way I was raised, many children will never known what it’s like to eat food out of your own garden.
  12. Ponytails can be fashionable.
  13. Babies grow way too fast.
  14. Meeting new friends without comparing them to others is impossible.
  15. There are never enough photos.
  16. Growing grass is similar to spending your paycheck on clothes without bringing anything home.
  17. It’s important to donate – anything.
  18. A routine drive to work and daycare can be a good opportunity for a toddler to learn colors of cars.
  19. If accidentally locked in a pantry, my Border Collie will make a mess.
  20. It’s possible to lose sleep excited for someone else.
  21. Two-year olds are smarter than people give them credit for.
  22. My husband needs to throw away fraying shirts he still has from high school.
  23. Waking up thirty minutes early to sit in peace before the day begins makes a world of difference.
  24. There is nothing like Michigan in the Fall.
  25. Strangers will surprise you, in more ways than one.

Reflecting on the last year of life has helped me appreciate the knowledge we learn from each other. I’m ready to start the next quarter-century full of experiences and lessons, but think it’s best I light the candles before cutting into the cake.

Don’t worry; we all lose our glasses

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Have you ever had a day (or year) like this? Does it sound all too familiar?

A middle-aged woman frantically ran into the coffee shop, her clutch purse hanging on her wrist and swaying with each step she took. She stood behind two other customers in line, tapping her foot and checking the time on her phone. Once she reached the counter, the barista politely asked her how she could assist her in ordering her morning dose of caffeine. The woman, not trying to be rude, cut her off.

“I was just in here an hour ago and think I left my glasses. Has anyone turned in a pair of brown-framed glasses?”

The barista looked below the woman’s chin, smiled and leaned in before softly saying, “Are those your glasses, ma’am?”.

The now relaxed customer laughed and shrugged her shoulders before turning around to leave. Then, her purse caught the corner of the table behind her, knocking down a tower of water bottles on display. She scrambled to pick them up best she could before heading out the door to start her day.

After briefly witnessing this woman’s frustration and embarrassment, it helped me feel more at ease. Maybe I’m not the only one. While I may not always lose my glasses (or marbles for that matter), it’s comforting to know this woman’s morning was somehow just as chaotic as mine usually is. And, with a bit of humor and a cup of coffee, the end result is a good laugh and a funny story to tell.

In my family, we have a name for these moments — they are called “foozles”. Sometimes used in the game of golf, a “foozle” means to manage clumsily or the act of bungling. We often share these humorous encounters with each other to lighten the mood and usually share in a mutual feeling of public humiliation.

I’ve had many – almost too many to share – situations of which could be classified as a “foozle”. But, one of my husband’s encounters still has me laughing. (Don’t worry, he gave me permission to share).

While enrolled at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, my husband and his fellow classmates learned Osteopathic Manipulation – a fancy term meaning the skill of adjusting spines. To hone the skills they were being taught, they often would practice on each other; one person laying on a soft table, the other leaning over to adjust.

One particular day, my husband was the one on the table. As his classmate leaned over, properly moving him into position, he pushed down to relieve tension in his back and my husband unintentionally and loudly passed gas. With those around him roaring with laughter, he looked up and said, “well, I guess you did it right.”

So, the next time you encounter a “foozle”, find comfort in knowing you’re not the only one. Oh, and don’t forget to share.

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