It all started with an innocent glass jar filled with heavy cream.
I watched as my 9-year-old daughter shook and shook with excitement until … ta-da! Real butter! She even made a batch of toast so the whole family could try her succulent creation.
“It has no chemicals, no fake ingredients. This is not processed food; this is called REAL food,” she declared as if taping an infomercial for “The Butter Shaker 5000.”
My 6-year-old daughter needed no persuasion; her small hand, which happened to fit perfectly inside the jar, went in for another heaping spoonful. Toast was completely unnecessary.
As I watched my children enjoy the natural goodness of this simple culinary treat, I felt a tinge of discomfort. However, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why I felt such unease.
A few hours later, I discovered my open lap top computer. Posted on the screen was a PowerPoint slide show the kids had created. The title was: “How to Make Halloween Costumes For Kids.” With each click, I watched my youngest child transform from a fairy to a witch, from a “cheer girl” to a scary monster—all with a few stitches of fabric and a whole lot of creativity.
There it was again—that uncomfortable feeling. When I should have been marveling, I felt like crying.
Shouldn’t I be the one making homemade butter?
Shouldn’t I be the one making handmade costumes?
I know, I know. It is so wrong. I’m the one who just weeks ago was declaring the fabulous freedom to raise a child.
But I am human. And I live in the same world you live in—the one where afternoon snacks can resemble palm trees if you arrange the apple slices and carrot sticks just so on the colorful plate … the world where back-to-school means coordinated outfits in earthy tones with unsmudged eye glasses sitting perfectly on bright, shiny faces … the world where organizational cork boards align kitchen walls so you don’t forget the easily forgettable letter sack containing an object that starts with “C.” (Which consequently, I have discovered is an object that is virtually impossible to find at seven o’clock in the morning.)
For some reason, these unnecessary comparisons and unrealistic pressures I was learning to let go of have suddenly been voicing themselves again. See, I had a “Hands Free” Summer. With the help of a “Hands Free Summer Contract” and two little girls who hold PhDs in fun and spontaneity, I let a lot of stuff “go.” While this lovely freedom made for an incredibly memorable summer, it made for a lot of catching up to do once school resumed. The productivity monster that I managed to keep at bay for two months has been breathing down my neck, insisting it’s time to get back down to business.
So in the past 25 days, I have written three chapters of a book I have dreamed about writing for a very long time. But in order to make 19,247 words appear on paper, other things must slide.
As the saying goes, “Something's gotta give.”
My hair has been in a ponytail for 25 consecutive days and the number of times it has been washed … well, let’s just not even go there. Thank goodness daily temperatures remain warm because this has allowed our family to continue rotating our favorite summer t-shirts and shorts. Breakfast involves the tipping of a box, and lunch is a good old-fashioned PB & J. I do break out the crock-pot for dinner but only if the recipe has less than two ingredients. As the porches in my neighborhood are being adorned with potted orange mums and festive autumn décor, I am lucky if I get the wet stack of advertisements peeled off the driveway.
And as I walk past my empty flowerpots that look pretty darn pathetic, I’m left wondering.
And feeling a little inadequate.
But I have discovered that along this journey, there are periods of rain—when thoughts of uncertainty and doubt creep in. But if you keep going, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are bound to bump into a rainbow. And once in awhile, if you keep your eyes wide open, these unexpected rainbows bear a pot of gold. And what you are about to read, my friends, is gold.
“What I do remember was that she could curse like a truck driver sometimes, that she fed me some frozen turkey covered in a purple sauce that was definitely not for human consumption, that she ate a bowl of chips in front of the TV in her bathrobe almost every night, and that she let me watch Dallas when I was in Kindergarten. Let’s face it people – it was Dallas – that’s no Nick, Jr. She wasn’t perfect and I loved that about her. She was real and in my memories she makes it okay for me to be that real with my own children. Because I think about how much I loved her and our time together, and realize it’s not about any of those things. It’s about who she was, not what she did on any one day. She was a lifetime of love and compassion and good humor and kindness. She was in it for the long haul. As parents, we all are. So stop judging and love yourself. Because today was just today. And really by most standards including mine, really not a very bad one at all.” -JennM, “Keeping It Real”
Seriously. If you could hug words, wouldn’t you want to hug them? Actually, if I could, I would carry these words to bed with me every night—and I would hold them next to my cheek like the most comforting worn-out blanket that smells just like home. And soon all the weird dreams I have been having lately would be replaced with sunshine and Oreo truffles.
Reading Jennifer’s hopeful words unleashed the same feelings I had when I read Erin Kurt’s “Top 10 Things Kids Really Want Their Parents To Do With Them.” First, there was a burst of hope—then, an inspirational splash of “Hands Free” reality. And from there, I was back in the game. I got my head on straight. For goodness sake, I know what really matters to me! Heck, I’ve been writing about it every day of my life for two years now. I had simply lost my focus. I took my eye off the ball—that glowing ball of what really matters.
And let’s face it, getting distracted from what truly matters is an easy thing to do in this high-resolution, high-standard, high-pressured, picture-perfect world we live in. And with each new season, we are bombarded with a whole new gaggle of fabulous ideas that we gotta try … a whole new slew of gorgeous images of what our home, our children, and our waistline could look like if we do these easy steps. And right now, pretty pumpkins and foliage trimmed doors, succulent chili with thick slices of cornbread, award-winning tailgate parties, and super cute boots paired with super skinny jeans are crowding our line of vision. And while there is nothing wrong with any of these things, they are not the necessary ingredients of a happy life.
So in order to maintain my focus, I will be making another contract. After all, I have the power to determine what a “Hands Free” fall will look like in my family’s life based on the choices I make. And my theme for Fall 2012 is simple … Happiness.
‘Tis the season of gathering. So I am gathering me some Happy.
What a “Hands Free” Fall looks like:
Less guilt, more guts
Fewer hurried moments, more do-nothing moments
Less retail chains, more Mom and Pop
Less consumerism, more giving
Less grumbling about minor inconveniences, more gratitude for life’s simple joys
Less feeding the inner critic, more feeding the soul
Less close quarters, more open air
Less effort spent decorating the mantel, and more time spent warming by the fire
Less getting lost on the Internet, more discovering uncharted paths
And as I create the fall season I want to see in my life, not the one social media air-brushes for me, I can’t help but think this “Hands Free” approach will reflect in my daughters’ future lives—in the way they connect, love, and create their own family traditions. Part of me hopes that one crisp fall night, my daughters will call their children to the porch where a big fat pumpkin will sit waiting to be carved. As everyone ponders what expression this pumpkin shall wear, my oldest daughter will say, “I think the pumpkin should be happy. Mom always said fall is about gathering as much happiness as you can.”
And then, I pray, she will smile and continue with something like this:
“My mom let me cook a lot—mostly so she wouldn’t have to. She always wore her hair in a ponytail and went days without showering—but somehow she managed to smell good when she cuddled up next to me, and we talked each night. Mom didn’t have time to decorate the house or make cutesy foods, but she always had time to listen. She wasn’t much into Monopoly or puzzles, but she’d get really excited about taking bike rides and going for walks. She’d always beg me to do my British accent, and then she would laugh until she had to run to the bathroom. When Dad wasn’t home, Mom sat on the couch between my sister and me, and we’d watch recordings of ‘Glee.' She’d make us close our eyes as she’d fast forward through the inappropriate parts, and then we’d watch the musical performances. Mom wasn’t the most punctual at signing and returning school papers, but she often placed sticky notes in our lunch box and love notes on our pillow. One fall, Mom wrote a book about living a present and joy-filled life. I remember her saying, ‘I don’t care if anyone buys the book. I wrote this for you and your sister. You are the ones teaching me how to grasp what really matters in life.’ And when she said it, her eyes got all teary, but she still managed to smile. My mom definitely wasn’t perfect, but she sure did smile a lot. ‘Happiness trumps perfection’—that was Mom’s motto for life.”
And this, my friends, is where I thought today’s post would end. But like I said, this journey has unexpected rainbows if you just keep your eyes open.
As I headed out for my weekly fetching of the advertisements that littered the drive, I walked by an empty flowerpot.
The same flowerpot that once represented an inadequacy in me was now a beautiful confirmation … a divine sign that I am on the right path towards grasping what matters … even if I stumble along the way.
The pot that once looked so glum because it boasted no colorful mums suddenly had become a priceless pot of gold.
Fall 2012. We didn’t grow brilliant orange mums, but we grew love.
And by the grace of God, we gathered as much happiness as we could to sustain us in the days and years ahead.
What will Fall 2012 look like in your life? What a momentous day it is when you recognize that you have the power to determine what your life will look like based on where you place your time, energy, focus, and heart. Thank you, friends of The Hands Free Revolution, for sharing your thoughts about the ways you are striving to create a life based on what really matters to you. Through your supportive and insightful comments, we can learn so much from each other!