Differences......or not

It's been a while, a long while.  Shocking how life gets busy, or not really.  On the shocking front....   Every year is the fastest of my life, and that is painful for me.  I want things to slow down, focus on each milestone.  If parents think it ends at walking and talking, they are wrong.  There are adventures at every turn, and they go from physical to emotional, to something I can't even identify.  So I become the intern and hope for the best in raising in children that belong to me.  
     It does come upon us quite often that we  have 3 swimmers, and 1 non swimmer.  And we celebrate our non swimmer who is so accomplished in many other things....running, art, creativity.   Beyond anything the other kids can do.  But I wonder.... does it feel different??? I know the answer to this.  Of course it feels different, because it is.  And although it has its own stigma and recognition, its still not the same as the others.  And that is a big deal, especially for this kid.
    This kid just won the yearbook cover contest..... this kid can do any aerobatics on the trampoline...this kid has a million friends ready to play at any time.   BUT, this kid is not a swimmer, this kid is not in the gifted program at school, this kid is not an above average  math kid.  That's a lot to swallow among 3 others that all are.
    And this kid has the biggest heart, and seeks the most approval.  And darn, as a mom I am often exhausted and don't recognize this, darn.  This kid is beyond special, and she is my daughter.  And I need to be reminded that it is not about the things, but the time.  She was thrilled when I painted her nails today, but just her.  She needs, but more importantly deserves that one on one time.  Each of my kids would be thrilled with individual time.  I'm not trying to make this about Anna, but often my heart goes in that direction, because my actions do not.
    It was a swim meet day, so to give credit to my others, they had an amazing ride.  Super awesome improvements in swims today and I was so proud. That's an entirely different topic of the pressures of swimming and success.  I'll save that for another day.  I guess the message from a parenting perspective is that it's hard, but so rewarding.  I feel jubilee daily, frustration daily, confusion daily, happiness daily...... the most amazing thing I've ever done, and will continue to do.... with my heart all in.
I'm a mom, and this is the happiness I've ever been.   TRULY BLESSED!


Parent failure 101

Good grief, yet another parent fail.

But this is a big one.  No planned Ullery vacation this summer.  I'm not sure how this happened.  We talked about going to Colorado to visit friends.  Then plans changed and we talked about a stay cation.  Geez even that failed.  And now it's over.  Seriously, we didn't go to Six Flags, we didn't go to Botanical Gardens, we didn't go to City Museum.   Summer is officially over for us and I have never felt more guilty in my life.  I feel sick.

I wish I could blame it on swimming.  But guess what, I can't.  It's purely our fault.  And despite the fact I have a lot of homebodies in this house, myself included,  perfectly happy to never leave home, I'm not happy.  We all needed a family break and we didn't do it.  Well darn!

And high school, totally overwhelming and I'm the mom and not the kid.  And the kid, who most often could care less about leaving home, now says he wanted to go to Colorado.....great.  So I'll just go sit in my corner and cry.  Because summer is over and we failed.

Lesson learned, everybody needs a break.  Just a brief change of scenery.  Doesn't have to be a huge over the top trip.  Just a simple break.  Does a body good, like milk.  So I've pulled out the calendar, and I'm on a mission to figure out a trip, even if it's down the street.

And on that first day of school when everyone talks about the most awesome vacation, I hope my kids can say they hung out with their family and played board games, over and over and over.  Because  that is what this  family is about, endless board game time.....




That 's how my world has felt the past couple of days.  I've been trying to sit quietly, reflect, keep it in perspective.  But death and loss is hard to put into perspective.
My 101 year old aunt died Tuesday.  If this would have happened 5 years ago, I would have felt bad for my mom and uncle, and gone on about my crazy life.  Because 5 years ago my aunt lived at home, drove around, had her own life and was only a part of mine on holidays when we all gathered together.  But a couple of years ago after a bad fall, she moved into a nursing home and I became a part of her life.  Or rather, she became a part of mine.  I honestly don't even know how it happened, how I became a weekly visitor.  My mom, my aunt and uncle, and myself rotated days weekly and it just became a part of my routine.  And I'm a routine gal.  I've written about this before, how sometimes I was feeling like it was a chore, taking up my time when I had so much to get done.  But I would never leave her feeling resentful, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute and often looked forward to my day or days of the week with her.
  In the same way my preschool students always keep me on my toes every Sunday, my aunt did the same thing.  Without being cliche, I have been a part of the true circle of life the past couple of years. Preschoolers have a certain way of looking at things, and so do 100 year old women.  We all get embedded in our lives, our chores, our responsibilities, our families.  And my mindset was set on autopilot most of the time.  But on Sunday mornings I'm blessed with teaching these little ones, and what they say and what they think makes me shift gears.  In the same way my time telling stories but more importantly listening to stories from my aunt also completely expanded my mind, and my heart.    I've gone on an amazing historical journey, learning about her life, her family, her personality, her spirituality, her laughter, and her tears.  And all of it makes me smile.  She made me happy, every single visit.  Somehow she could always take something I thought was not a big deal, and turn it into something wonderful.  And we quickly and easily fell into our routine, because she was a routine gal too.  I never worried about what we were going talk about.  I knew how the visit would start, how it would end, the topics that would be covered, and anything beyond that would just be for me like a little kid sitting on the edge of their seat listening to an amazing tale being told.
  My aunt loved birds.  She had a bird feeder right outside her glass sliding door and trust me those birds were the most well fed birds in town.  I knew nothing about birds but I can identify many a species now.  Last summer she added a hummingbird feeder to her window.  There was one almost every time I was there and I always, always had to stop and watch.  We had endless discussions about hummingbirds.  She said to me once no matter who you were or how old you were or what you were doing, people stopped in amazement to watch hummingbirds.  People are attracted to watching these amazing creatures and try to comprehend the wing speed and their delicate nature.  And she's right, they are fascinating.  I told her one visit that fall after the feeder had been taken down for the season that she was my hummingbird, and most likely a hummingbird for lots of people around her.  Because she was fascinating and people were attracted to her and her amazing ways.  Her smile, her radiance, her  love and positivity.  She loved that, she loved me.
  The past week of her life was hard.  She was done, she was tired, her tiny 101 year old body was ready.  I saw her Monday and our visit was like any other.  We easily slipped into our routine, then chatted.  She talked about being so tired, nothing I haven't heard at different times.  The week before I had come in a pink shirt and she said I looked so much better in color then  the grey colors I mod often wore in the winter.  She was an honest woman.  Monday I had on pink again, not hard for me as I have a lot of pink clothes.  She loved it and again, I thought how simple to make someone so happy with the color of a shirt.  I left Monday and said I would be back Wednesday.  When shopping at Sams later that day I bought a bright multicolored tank top specifically to wear Wednesday because I knew she would love it, and that would make me smile.  I got a call Tuesday that she had slipped into unconsciousness and it would be mere hours.  I quickly jumped in the car and headed to the nursing home.  We were actually under a tornado watch and storms were coming.  I made it there before the storm hit.  My aunt did pass away hours later.  And it rained all night and all the next day.  Which seemed fitting in a way.  Because although I know this woman wanted to be done and and had been asking to be with Jesus for so long, loss is loss.  And life felt grey and colorless.  Colorblind.
  The sun was out today and it was the most beautiful day, perfect.  And I didn't feel colorblind anymore.  In fact I felt like my aunt was giving me this glorious day as a reminder that she was  happier than she had ever been, and I needed to remember that.  I wore that bright colored tank top today, and I know she saw me, and that makes me smile.


Thanks NFL..... we tried, you failed

This was the first year my kids were actually geared up to watch the Superbowl.  We planned, each kid  got to choose a snack to add to the mix, we grilled hamburgers, we were in cozy pajamas by 4:30 with sleeping bags on the living room floor ready to go.
This was mainly fueled by my oldest daughter.  Brian was at work, little kids just followed along, Jack was just it for the queso, and I would have been happy to switch to HGTV and crawl in a nice warm sleeping bag on the couch.  But kids were excited and ready to go.  So we dug into our nachos and started the game.  Within the first 5-10 minutes was a commercial, certainly for a rated R horror movie and I had kids crying.  Wonderful.  So no HGTV for me, and clearly no sleeping the rest of the night either.  And I have to say, that stinks.  Considering Jack's and my 4:30 am wake up call tomorrow morning for swim practice this was not a positive start to the night.  But we hung on, and moved on into our totally heart healthy food courses (hamburgers with a side of mint chocolate chip and caramel ice cream) and held on for half time.  In the meantime, Callie fell asleep but begged to not go to bed so she could  watch the half time show.  The littles were nearly asleep.  And commercials, not really entertaining, totally disappointed.
Halftime.... what???? Do you know what my daughter said when asked about doing hip hop like Beyonce.  She said " I wouldn't want to be be inappropriate like that."  Amen sister.  
And that was it, and I mean that was it.  I put kids to bed, at least temporarily.  There's a 90% chance I will have friends in my bed tonight, and normally I would be resentful of my lost sleep.  But tonight I will put the blame on you NFL, Thanks......
And just FYI, it's 8:25 and I just watched the cutest  Honda commercial with singing sheep.  My kids would have loved that.  But it's way past their bedtime, and they are already trying to go to sleep with visions of monsters and who knows what else in their heads.  And gosh darn... another adorable "Super Bowl Babies"  commercial by the NFL just happened.

Dear NFL,
Please put the cute and appropriate commercials in the first half of the Super Bowl.  It would mean a lot to families with children.

A mom trying her best


Post -op And family

My husband had major surgery today, on his spinal cord....lots of room for error.  By the grace of God no error happened and he is home safe and sound.  But it's been a long day, with so much to reflect on and be thankful.
I will admit, the past week I have questioned this surgery.  Wondered if we were jumping to this too quickly.  That is the silliest thing ever considering he is the most brilliant Doctor out there and surrounded by other brilliant doctors, including the neurosurgeon who made this choice.  But I was a skeptic, because I certainly know more ( I watched every episode of ER, named my kid after my fav character), so certainly that makes me educated in medicine, right?  But we went in today, he headed to surgery, and it was all real.  I sat unphased all day, neurosurgeon came out and talked to me, and I was relived and thought "how soon can I get out of here?"
   Because of all days, today we had a snow day and I was worried about the kids.  This is where family and friends come in.  Brian's dad came in town yesterday, my mom arrived at 5:00am this morning, my friend took over at lunchtime and texted me pics of the kids and what they were all doing.  A friend brought dinner last night and breakfast this morning, my best friend brought dinner tonight while her husband, Brian's BFF was at the hospital the entire time. Another friend is brnging dinner tomorrow...... We are blessed.  And I know I talk about swimming all the time but we have been on this team for 7 years, our kids swim everyday, and our coaches are our friends and family too.  So they were texting today and checking in and offering help.  These are swim coaches!!! But they are all our family too, and so are our friends, and we are so grateful.  So yes I wanted to get home, but not because I was worried about the kids, but just wanted to be with them.
   The rest of the night I cried....tons.  Relief mostly, the outpouring of anxiety from the past week.  Tears of "I'm not sure why I'm crying, it's done, he's fine....." Tears of joy and gratefulness for my family, dear friends, coaches, that all genuinely care.  And I'm humbled.  The line between friends and family is often clear... But not today.  And that's OK, even wonderful.  Because it extends our relationships far and wide and we are thankful for everyone.  So tonight I will sleep peacefully, first knowing Brian is OK and on the road to recovery, and feeling blessed by the outpouring of kindness our family and friends bring our way.
So to end on a funny note, my father in law brought with him the notion of the game show network.   We all watched American Ninja Warrior last night for the first time.  Tonight after Brian was home and settled,  we watched Deal or no Deal.  I love those blasts from the past, so entertaining.  Kids thought they were awesome!  Looks like our new favorite channel,   Thanks Papaw.  So I have no pictures of my kids having fun in the snow today (they played out there a ton) but I took  one of them together, wanting to be with their dad, watching their new show.


Faith under fire

     I was listening to a radio broadcast the other day titled "Faith under Fire."  I was actually on my way to my weekly visit with  my aunt, who will be 101 next week.....yes, 101 years old.  And often while I am driving there, I am distracted by the list of things I need to get done.  And sometimes, since I am being brutally honest, I wish I could skip this little visit.  But little it is never.  And I always leave feeling enlightened and so grateful for my time with her. And on the honest train, I want to go back the next day.  Spending time with someone you love who is 100 years old is unique, and special.  And every single time she provides a perspective on the most mondane things in my life, and makes them wonderful and interesting and new.  She gives me a new spirit, a new hope, and a positive edge I most certainly did not walk in with.  I call this "faith."
   We all get caught up in the muck.  This week has particularly been full of it for me.  My husband is struggling, my relationship with my daughters is tenuous, we are trying to make big decisions about high school,  I can tell my body is worn down and it's so easy to jump on the self pity train.  But then I listen to this sermon "Faith under fire."  It challenges me to think about this.  Where is my faith?  Because this might be a time I'm under fire.  And driving to the nursing home I listened intently and concentrated and thought about it.  But after 90 minutes with the most faithful woman I know with endless wisdom and prayer, I choose faith, over fire.  Because really what is so bad?
   Nothing..... I am healthy, amazing family, comfortable, love and am loved.
And here are concrete examples of faith in my life....
After lots of arguing and not nice words between my daughter and I about going to a swim   practice at the end of a long week, we were in the car, both grumpy and mad.  Not sure what impelled me but but for the first time ever I reached over and held her hand, and in an instant everything melted away and we were both at peace, and happy. The love literally transferred between us and she was good, and I knew she would be OK.
While laying with my son in bed, I can inhale and smell his scent, and I couldn't love anything more.  He always flops on his stomach  and waits for a back rub which I love giving.  And he can go to bed happily, and sound and secure in about 60 seconds.
And days can be hard with my little girl.   A daily battle it seems sometimes.  But I have taught her key words.  It's hard for her to use them but this weekend she did, so in the midst of anger and frustration on both our parts she said them.  "I need some loving."  Everything drops and I rock her and all is forgiven.
Jack.... just navigating life, and grateful for it all (most of the time.)

So guess what?  I choose Faith.  I always have, yet age and life provides a clearer view.  And tomorrow when I am teaching my adorable preschool sunday school class I will again be reminded of my choice, and be grateful to even have this choice.  I choose "Faith under fire."


Christmas reflections

Merry Christmas!

We had the most glorious Christmas day and then December 26th hit.  And we went from celebrating the birth of Jesus to building Noah's Arc.  But seriously, given the non stop rain the past 48 hours, I've had some time to reflect.
   When Jack was born, Christmas was full of tons of toys, not only from "Santa" but all relatives and honestly we could have opened a toy store after Christmas.  We were so excited to watch each and every present opened, completely satisfied in the rip of each paper and smile and happiness.  Then somehow our 1000 square foot house got cramped, and we noticed that truly only some toys really mattered and we had to re evaluate.
  It's a hard thing for a parent.  I distinctly remember coming downstairs on Christmas day to a million presents under the tree and the wonderment of it all.  Yet I also remember certain gifts and not others.  There is no doubt magic to all of those presents under the tree.   But we felt it was all a bit off, and we decided we wanted to try something else.  While we have set endless rules in our house that last a minute and chore charts and consequences that come and go, we settled on a Christmas plan and it might be the one thing that had lasted, and we feel good about it, and it is what our kids know and love and appreciate.  The possibly only perfect combination in the Ullery house.
We have always told our children that there were 3 wise men who visited Jesus and each brought a gift, thus Santa brings 3 gifts as well.  Mom and Dad also buy a gift so our children get 4 gifts on Christmas morning.  That's it.  So not a huge stack of gifts under the tree, just 16.  And honestly its more like 12, because often one or 2 is something big that won't be under the tree.
And I'll be the first to say that my kids aren't perfect, they complain all the time, "I'm bored, there's nothing to do, why are you so mean...."  but this is the one thing they don't blink about.  And they are as excited and giddy as any child on Christmas morning and honestly grateful for what they receive and so happy.  And Brian and I in turn are happy about  how we decided to do this so long ago, because again, we question every little parenting decision on a minute by minute basis and most often feel like we don't have a clue.
     So 4 gifts, we really have to think about it, no room for nonsense.  But also no need to be crazy, they are kids.  She here's an example of the the breakdown.  Jack: ping pong table was big gift, paddles and balls, a new swim suit, and a pokemon DS cartridge.  He was thrilled.  Callie:  horseback riding lessons was big gift, bungee chair, monopoly game (we are obsessed, our family owns 6 different versions), clothes.... not a lot but they were genuinely so happy.
     Obviously not all families do gifts this way.  Like I said, I clearly remember getting stacks and stacks of presents.  And this is NOT a judgement call on doing things different.  It's merely a testimony on possibly the only parenting thing each year Brian and I feel good about.  The rest of the year is a total guess and we paddle along this thing called parenting.

So back to the rain..... what the heck do we do with 72 hours of downpour.  This is it.....

And lots and lots of playdates.