Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trip Down Memory Lane

My youngest daughter's 10th birthday wish this year was to see her old friends and the neighborhood where she grew up (for at least the first 7 years).  Her siblings wouldn't be left behind but their father is still not ready to go back. "Too many memories," he says.  Since I was the one who really wanted to move away from Chicago in the first place, I didn't feel the emotional conflict as my husband does or the longing to see it again as my kids do.  I did feel however that it was important for me to make peace with the place where I spent some of the most important memories of my life yet somehow grew to detest over the years.

My first impression when the airplane broke out of the clouds was how monotone and depressing the general area looked.  No snow. No grass. No colors.  "Winter," I said under my breath, "I remember." My next impressions were far more mixed. The decor of Midway airport... how many times had we walked by the gates? Nuts on Clark... a good memory. Stepping out into the cold... a bad memory. Driving on I-55 with traffic... a bad memory. Portillo's for lunch... lots of good memories. And so the trip went. Every store, every restaurant, every road... all full of memories.  Probably most fun for me was hearing what the kids did and did not remember with Emily as the oldest remembering far more than her brother and sister.

The hardest thing for me to see was my in-law's old house and our old house.  So many conversations, celebrations, holiday's, and meals took place in those homes. I must admit a part of me wanted to go back to the way it was.  I wanted to walk in and see things exactly as I remembered them. You can go back to the structures and look at them, but without the people they are just buildings. I was happy to remember all the good times yet sad they are in the past and things will never again be as they were.  I spent my thirties in those homes, added a daughter to our family, and raised three kids during some of the hardest yet most joyful times of parenting. 

Catching up with old friends and neighbors remains the highlight of the trip. My dear friend Kathy and I chatted as if we were never apart. The kids got to see their old friends and they too seemed to fall right back into their friendships as if they had never left. This of course made me happy at first but then upon thinking about it, it made me sad that I was the one who insisted we move away.  They would never have left their friends if it wasn't for me.

Sunday morning arrived and brought with it what Chicago is most famous for.... bitter weather.  Due to an unfortunate food poisoning incident I had had the night before, we were unable to attend church that morning or the roller skating party Kat was so looking forward to that afternoon.  There would be no more eating out at favorite restaurants or drives by familiar places like the cousins' old house in Wheaton.  We were all physically and emotionally exhausted from lack of sleep and fear that it might be the stomach flu after all.  (Thankfully it was not and no one else got sick.)   We did manage a small birthday party for Kat later that evening and then tearfully said goodbye to those around us.  On the way back to the hotel I stopped to get gas. The temperature outside was 17 degrees which felt like 2 degrees with windchill. As I stood outside waiting for the tank to fill I uttered, "Geez it's so cold, how does anyone live here?"  And with that I remembered at least one of the reasons I'm happy not to live in Chicago anymore.

Our trip down memory lane was a good one.  I thought it was important for our kids to have some perspective. I didn't want them to idealize the place where they grew up any more than I wanted them to dislike it.  I wanted them to see it with more mature eyes noticing both the good and the bad. Of course that puts them in the position of liking some things better there and some things better here.  I grew up in the same house through my childhood and still return to it when visiting my parents.  In some ways I feel sorry for my kids that they will never have that kind of experience. On the other hand, they will have their own kind of experience that I hope they will grow to appreciate over the years. Who knows, maybe one day they will be glad they spent their teen years in Florida. Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure, time will keep marching on no matter where we live.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas... Alegbra???

Since my last post confessed that we made our kids do some algebra on Thanksgiving, I'm sure it's no surprise to you that we made them do math on Christmas too.  Could we be so heartless and cruel? Before you pass judgement... read on.

Christmas 2011 was a bit of a struggle for me. I have to admit between decorating and cleaning the house, shopping/wrapping/hiding gifts, shopping and preparing food, and playing hostess to both sets of parents, it was a bit too much for me. Piled on top of that was this underlying theme that the kids were focusing more and more on the gifts which they were about to receive and very little time pondering the reason for the season. Ugh!

Christmas 2012 was different. The kids gave me their Christmas lists in November and were not allowed to talk about what they wanted (or expected) to receive for the whole month of December. This cracked down on the 'self-focused' attitude and turned it into 'others-focused' as they worked on gifts for other people.  I also purchased many things online this year and didn't have to worry about hiding everything because my youngest is now in on the Santa secret.  I chose to serve fewer different kinds of food on Christmas Eve requiring far less shopping and planning on my part.  And finally, we had one set of parents here for the actual holiday while we celebrated with the other after the holiday.  Things were simpler all the way around.  Now it was time to add in some fun!

I knew the kids were expecting one particular "big-ticket" item. I knew they would be able to figure out the package just on size alone, and even if I put it in a different sized box, they still would know they have one more present coming. Fooling my son James is next to impossible so it had to be something he'd never expect.  What if I send them on a treasure hunt for their last present.... and I left clues in hidden places... and to find the next clue they would have to figure something out.... wait I know... how about algebra!  Wicked homeschooling mama that I am, I set up the clues so each child would have to answer a question based on the lessons we had recently studied.  Algebra, chemistry, history, spelling...  it was all there. 

After a wonderful Christmas Eve service and a fantastic (although reduced) spread of food, we headed into the living room to open presents. As expected, James knew where every present - that had his name on it - was located.  We started with some small gifts, then gifts for grandparents, then parents, and then back to kids again until all the presents under the tree were opened. All that was left was a card for each of the kids hidden in the tree.  I didn't know until after Christmas, but this is when James was sweating it out. No more presents under the tree and only a card left which he assumed had something to do with the trampoline we had already told them they were getting from their grandparents.  Instead, a cryptic note was inside the card sending the kids to different locations to get the next clue.  Once the next clue was retrieved the real fun began.

Kat was the first to break down. I gave her what I thought was an easy math question [How do you find the area of a rectangle?] but for some reason she was so thrown by it that her brain shut down and she began to cry. "I don't know!", she whimpered disgusted by the thought of doing 'school' on Christmas.  With some help she moved on. Emily struggled as well but only because I hid her question in a slightly different place than I told her to check. My bad. James was already onto clue 3 or 4. I had to slow him down so the others could catch up. Then the algebra question showed up.  "We don't really have to do this?" inquired Emily with a scrunched-up disgusted look on her face.  Meanwhile James was already at the counter hard at work finishing the problem quickly only to find out that he came up with the wrong answer.  Those pesky integers!  So there they both sat, on Christmas Eve, working hard on an algebra problem. Kat on the other hand was catching up as she got all the right answers to her history and spelling questions. Surprisingly all three kids finished at the same time and were in the living room searching for that one package missing under the tree. I think James got there first, unwrapping the parcel and shouting with glee. Then Emily found hers with matched elation. And finally Kat, who struggled the most in the end, finally found her prize.  I think all three were beyond overjoyed and not just because of the item itself. Something that seemed lost, maybe forgotten and perhaps hopeless, was now found and right there in their hands to enjoy. 

I've thought about this Christmas a lot. I thought about how I had bought my children's presents a month before Christmas.  They were getting exactly what they asked for; however I couldn't tell them that... yet. The time had not come. Asking me all month for the same thing would have been difficult to hear knowing they would receive it eventually. It made me wonder what God thinks of me when I ask Him over and over for the same thing. I know He hears me the first time. I know I am loved deeply and He has good plans for me. Am I like that child who must make their wishes incessantly known?  And what if I don't see that item under the tree? Do I doubt that it exists or do I trust that all will be provided in due time?  What a gracious and patient God we have!   I think about how much I love my children. I think about how - in my small flawed human way - I'm working in their lives for their good in ways they may not even understand for years to come.  I can't help but think of how God works in my life each and every day for His good purpose. I can't help but get excited - as a child on Christmas - knowing He has shopped, wrapped, and hidden gifts for me along the way. And most importantly, he has already purchased the biggest gift of all - eternity with Him - through His son Jesus. And that is the reason why I think every day should feel just like Christmas, even if it does happen to include a little algebra along the way.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!