The Balance Bird

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In a fortunate twist of events that involves some beloved family and friends who seek inspiring adventures and a universe that sometimes delivers just the experiences we need, I found myself on a primitive island boat pulling up to an ashram in the Bahamas late Friday afternoon.

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A courtyard packed with tents and a serious daily itinerary that included mandatory meditation and “yoga church” participation quickly revealed this was the real deal, not the occasional Saturday morning class I’ve attended at our posh Naples studio with infused water and a curated boutique of “Spiritual Gangster” shirts and sports bras with elaborate webs of back straps.

A few minutes after arrival, I signed my name, committing to respecting ashram policies and held out my right hand for my bead string bracelet. “Now make an intention for the weekend,” the beautiful yogi instructed while she tied a knot at my wrist.

I whispered my intention to myself, thanked her, and then made a very purposeful decision before taking my bags to our room. I reached up and fumbled for the clasp on my necklace–the one I always wear when I travel without my kids, the one that holds their fingerprint charms close to my heart so I’m never without them–and I removed it.

If I was going to really listen to my own heartbeat over the weekend, I was going to need to remember that my heartbeat existed before the kids and that the foundation of my commitment to them is rooted in discipline and strength and love for myself. Because lately when I’m running and feel like stopping, I push myself to keep going by imagining I’m running for my kids–that somehow the proof of my love for them exists in another block of sprinting. And when I need willpower in its greatest form for anything in life, my first resort is to tap in to how much I love them and mold that love into some weird mind game incentive because it’s the strongest force I know. I don’t think that’s the healthiest way to find my own strength.

My friend texted me a few weeks ago after her yoga class. She has four kids and like so many of us spends her days making them breakfast, getting them off to school, e-mailing teachers, driving them to dance practice and hockey games and play dates. Worrying about how they’re absorbing the world, if she’s doing her job right, equipping them with life tools. Ever so slowly pushing them out of the nest while tickling their backs, kissing their foreheads and whispering life wishes for them as they fall asleep under sheets she had so much fun picking out for them. We text pictures and videos of our kids back and forth to each other and have built so much of our friendship on how similarly we mother…on how much alike we love.

“I just had the worst metaphor jump into my head for my life and what I feel like is happening. I was lying on my yoga mat and I thought”…

I waited for the end of her thought that arrived in a separate text a few seconds later.

…”I’m being erased.”

“There, now you have to deal with it,” she wrote. “Like the brother and sister in the photograph from ‘Back to the Future’, remember?”

Yes.

“With every day…I’m just going going going…gone,” she wrote. “How can we feel so invisible while making so many marks a day? I write all their shit in permanent marker,” she ended…

“…and I write mine in pencil.”

“We fight the eraser,” I texted back.

She didn’t need advice, and I had nothing to offer because I know how this works–like everything else in motherhood. Nobody has the balance game down pat. The weight of everything in life is constantly shifting; scales tip. There’s always either a little too much to the left or too much to the right, and we make it work. When they’re tipped too far, we’ll know–a cup of spilled milk puts us over the edge during the witching hour, a little voice speaks up in yoga class. We reevaluate our schedules, make room for date nights, get up early to meditate, run, read. We write in journals, plan a girl’s weekend, eat better, drink less. We feel good, clear, balanced, able to see our own stuff written in permanent marker…until we realize the demands of life slowly faded it to pencil again and we begin another cycle of weight redistribution.

I think moms are a lot like that magic balance bird toy. Have you seen it? It’s a plastic bird with a weighted body that magically balances on the tip of your finger from the point of its tiny beak. Dash has one and always laughs, positioning himself to catch the bird, waiting for it to fall…but it never does. Unlike objects of uniform shape, the center of gravity isn’t in the middle, and the wings are specifically designed–heavy enough and extended far enough–to withstand the weight of its back. Motherhood is as far from uniform shape as you can get–our unique situations and schedules and family circumstances in constant motion and the love we feel for everyone, an overpowering force. You know how the law of physics works for finding the center of gravity in non-uniform objects? Trial and error. Every day.

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The love we feel for our families is so deep, so complex, so intense, it’s only natural for it to tip us off balance sometimes. And then when you add the other things we think about–our work, our hurts, our future, our finances, our parents, our friends, our community, our world–it’s no wonder we’re able to get off the ground at all. But we’ve got wings that stretch far–farther than we can ever comprehend–to withstand the love and weight on our backs. So we fly.

Coincidentally, my mom instincts had me running after Dash the other day to keep him from walking into a parking lot, and I lost my balance. My foot snapped at the edge of a curb, and I fell and broke it. I’m off-kilter now for the next 6 weeks, finding new strength in my right side, learning ways to slow down.

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Trial and error–the very definition of motherhood. And yet still, we fly. Or clomp in a moon boot air cast.

A Great Grandma is to Love

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It was the first resolution I conquered last month–choose one of those dreams I keep saying “One day soon, I’m going to…” and make it happen. Or else it never will.

So I pick up the phone and call my 87-year-old grandma–the only grandparent I still have.

“Grandma, are you still able to travel? If we found a direct flight, would you be able to make the trip down to us?”

“Oh honey,” she says, “I might be tired when it’s over, but when I leave this life, God’s going to have to take me out on a stretcher. I don’t say no to being with my grand kids or adventure.”

So we book a flight. Make some arrangements. Exchange calls about what to pack. “Comfy clothes,” I tell her.

She arrives while the girls are at school, so Dash and I wait in the airport, his little sign held high above his head.

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“Keep watching,” I tell him. “She has white hair. She’ll be in a wheelchair. I’ll tell you when I see her.”

…and then…my heart skips a beat as I see her appear.

“There she is. There she is, Dash!”

And a hug to erase all time.

I once again explain the order of birth of a great grandma to the kids, and the number of years and stories and sequence of love it took to get there feels so grand, I almost can’t grasp it myself.

“Remember, she’s my mama’s mama,” I say. “All those memories you’re making your grandpas and grandmas–I made them with her when I was little like you.”

It takes Dash all of a millisecond before he falls into her lap, taking her hand and rubbing it on his cheek. “Grandma, look!” he yells as he does a funny dance. “Grandma, come here,” he says as he leads her to his room to show her his garbage truck. “Grandma, don’t go,” he cries six days later as we pull back into the airport to say goodbye. It’s like he’s known her forever, like she’s been here every day of our lives…because in a way, she has.

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“Kel,” she says as we drive to get breakfast one morning. “I watch you–all my grandkids–and your lives, and I just feel so proud. I’m a part of this. I’m a part of all of you. I suppose that’s not very humble,” she laughs, “but I get to own some of it too, right? Because I see myself in you.”

“Grandma, if you only knew,” I tell her. “I watch you, and I feel so lucky that you are a part of me. You are the coolest grandma I know.”

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I ask her if she wants to come to a baby shower with me over the weekend. “Doll me up!” she instructs. So I run to my closet and pick out my favorite skirt, a sweater, some pearls.

“She needs a hat,” Brett adds.

“And red lipstick,” Heidi says.

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Grandma whispers, “Now no one’s going to know this is your skirt, right?” as we walk into the baby shower. Two seconds later, my friend hugs her with “So nice to meet you!” followed by, “Oh my gosh, that skirt! I borrowed it from Kelle too.” We all laugh.

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We eat lunch by the ocean, trade stories over coffee at the kitchen counter every morning, watch Property Brothers next to the fire on one of Florida’s rare cold nights. We flip through photo albums together, drop the kids off at school, pick them up, run errands. “I want to see it all,” Grandma says. “I want to meet your friends, see the kids’ school, hang out with the neighbors–so I can picture it all when I go home.”

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I wake up one morning to find a large bowl with a few popcorn kernels left in it. “Your grandma woke up at midnight,” Brett explains, “so we watched T.V. and had a little popcorn party together.”

It feels like the love we have in our home just tapped a new source, and it’s flowing so fast now, I can’t ladle it up quick enough.

Dash borrows her walker to practice roller skating.

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And later bends over naked and yells, “Grandma, look at my butt.”

“Oh dear, Grandma! I’m so sorry. He likes that potty talk.”

She laughs hard. “Redeemable garbage!” she calls it. “The things we carry around in us that we’re not proud of.”

We talk about redeemable garbage a lot more over the week, but in that moment, I grab my phone and text my sister. “Dude. Dash just bent over naked and told Grandma to look at his butt. I’m dying.”

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Mostly, I feel proud of where I come from. And though I constantly lament over how fast these days are going by–how big our kids are, how quickly things change, how the world so unforgivingly reminds us how old we’re all getting–I am reminded this is exactly how it’s supposed to go, and it’s beautiful.

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I ask Grandma one morning if she slept well. “Well, I woke up in the middle of the night and started walking around your house looking at all your things–Dash’s art on the walls, the pictures on the fridge, all these cute little trinkets you have. I have to tell you Kel, it was making me so happy, my kite started to fly away.” I laugh, familiar with all these phrases she’s made up over the years. “I think my blood pressure was getting high just from the excitement. I swear I’m going to end up in the ER someday, and when they ask what happened, you all are going to have to tell them my kite flew too high. I just get too excited!” To delight in the world so much at 87 that you fear it might the end of you? I hope that’s where I’m headed.

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We talk a lot about politics, women’s roles, religion, raising kids and what absolute truth means to both of us. She’s conservative, I’m liberal. We differ on a lot of things and lovingly get fiery over the ones that are close to our hearts. We listen and smile and admit we love each other’s fire.

We sing a lot over the week, sitting side by side on the piano bench, flipping through an old hymnal to find the songs we both grew up with–For the Beauty of the Earth, And Can It Be, Amazing Grace. I can only play the treble clef, so she plays the bass and together we make music, sometimes overlapping fingers to create the harmonies. We FaceTime my mom to give her a concert. We call my sister and put her on speaker phone so she can sing with us. I text a video to Brett’s dad, so he can see my grandma playing his grandma’s piano.

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Over the week, I sharpen my explanation to the kids on who a great grandma is.

There’s a tiny page I tore out of the children’s book  A Hole is to Dig (I regret ripping it out) and one of Maurice Sendak’s illustrations from it framed in my office. A simple sketch of a group children sitting under the stars is accompanied by the words, “A dream is to look at the night and see things.”

A great grandma is to anchor who you are becoming. 

A great grandma is to love.

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A great grandma is to never forget.

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Grateful for heritage, stories and the unshakable source of love from which ours flows…how ever far we may go. To kites flying high.

 

 

“Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees”: Talking About Money with Little Ones

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This post is sponsored by Regions Bank.

“Mom, can I have some money?”

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“I don’t have any money,” I answer.

“Yeah you do. Just use your card.”

Oh, of course. The card. The one that’s hooked up to the endless money supply that funds anything our heart’s desire. Or so they think. And you know what? I thought that too when I signed up for my first $500 limit credit card after it was offered to me from a table in the student center on my first day of college. Without a thought to where the money was coming from or how it would be paid back (wait, we have to pay it back?!), I was swiping that baby every morning at the Dunkin Donuts drive-through and piling up my Target cart every weekend because I’M RICH! I have a tiny plastic card that magically pays for everything, so I’m rich!

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You want to know what two words will teach you a lesson about money real quick? CARD DECLINED.
Here’s another two: WITH INTEREST.
Oh wait, there’s more: LATE FEE.
Or how about some nice two word answers to your friend’s invite for a fun weekend away: CAN’T GO. I’M BROKE. DEBT COLLECTORS.

Thankfully, it was only a $500 limit. And I wish I could say that was the last lesson I needed to teach me to spend responsibly and to respect money. but I’m constantly learning. The thing is, my family didn’t talk about money when I was a kid. In fact, for a good portion of my childhood after my parents divorced, our church taught us that money was “the root of all evil” and that the rapture was coming soon, so saving for the future was pointless. Pshaw! We don’t need any money in heaven, so why does it matter? We took a pretty literal interpretation of that whole “invest in heaven, not earth” thing, and in the process, money got shoved into enemy territory. That’s fine and dandy when you’re a kid and your parents pay for everything, but goodness, adults deal with money a lot! And navigating through money issues in adulthood would be easier if kids had a good foundation of how money works.

There are some pretty important things I’ve learned about money as an adult that I want my kids to know–mainly, that money in no way equals happiness, but earning it, saving it and responsibly allotting it absolutely contributes to aspects of happiness–things like education, family vacations, wellness resources, comforts of home, security for the future and reduced stress in marriage.

So how do we include our kids in lessons we learn about money and help prepare them for making good decisions in the future?

As the new year begins, our friends at Regions Bank have a wealth (ha ha–no pun intended) of resources available for families to help them achieve long term goals and set up a financial game plan for every month of the year. Raising kids who think responsibly about money begins with parents who think responsibly about money.

As for our kids, we have conversations about money a lot–how much things cost, how we earn it, how we save it, why we spend the way we do, and how buying something affects other choices we make.

Five important things about money we want our kids to know:

1. Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees
As much as it may seem that way when we pull out a magic card and swipe for groceries, we talk to our kids about the fact that every dollar we spend–in stores, online, to pay for our mortgage, our cars, our doctors appointments, ballet lessons, tutors, to fill our gas tanks, have fun, etc.–is earned from hard work and sacrifices. We talk about our jobs and what we do to make money and why it’s important.  And we give our kids opportunities to earn money–even if it’s just a dollar here and there–to introduce the concept of work and rewards.

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2. Prioritize Spending
Every dollar we spend is a dollar away from something else we might want. So when our kids ask for things or want to spend their own money on something, we have conversations about what that means: “Okay, you can buy this lipgloss set, but remember that means you’ll have six less dollars to spend when we go shopping this weekend.” If I’m thinking about buying something in a store and decide I don’t really need it, I verbalize the decision to my kids so they are familiar with that kind of thinking. “I really like these shoes, but you know what? I have something kind of like them at home, and I don’t really need them. I’d rather save that money for something we really need.”

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3. Save Money
Whether it’s a piggy bank on a dresser or a “Family Vacation Fund” jar on the counter, initiating the “save for later” concept of money is an important way to teach kids how a few self-restraint decisions can accumulate to great rewards. I know families that have paid for entire Disney weekends from daily pocket change being dumped in a jar. Saving is also a great way to show that big dreams really can come true…with a lot of little sacrifices to get there.

4. Role Play
Have some play board game money tucked away in a closet? Some loose change in the junk drawer? That’s all you need for some fun money lessons from real life role play. Our kids love playing store and are learning basic money concepts–comparative shopping, adding things up, exchanging money for goods, using coupons, etc.–from reenacting what they see in real life.

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5. Spend Money You Have, Not Money You Don’t Have
Ah, those credit cards! It took only one “Just use your card” suggestion from Lainey to begin talking about what credit cards are and how they work, and how dangerous it can be to think “I’ll pay you back later.” If there’s one thing I want my kids to know as they become adults, it’s BEWARE OF “I OWE YOUS”. Be free! Pay now!

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6. Include Kids in Your Giving
When we are rewarded for our work and are able to live comfortably and take care of our family, it’s important that our kids know how lucky we are. We talk a lot about how making a good living isn’t something everyone has the opportunity to do, and that finding ways to give to others is an important part of enjoying our rewards. When we give to others–whether it’s a few dollar donation we add on to our grocery bill at checkout or an online contribution to organizations we are passionate in supporting, we talk to our kids about why we give and how good it feels to support things we believe in.

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Money is not the root of all evil–it’s a powerful tool in helping families and communities grow. Learning more about managing money and making good decisions for our financial future is a challenge I continue to embrace, and teaching my kids about how to think and talk about money inspires me because it’s not something I did as a kid.

As you have these conversations and make decisions about your family’s money, Regions Bank is there to help. Check out their tools for financial planning in 2017 here.