Losing My Fire

I’ve always run a little hot.

I remember sweating through the armpits of my red satin shirt on picture day my freshman year of high school. I squeezed my arms tight to my sides as the photographer instructed me to tilt my giant, pixie-cut head to the side. I kept my shoulders back to keep my black suspenders attached to my plaid school girl skirt in place. You can’t see the sweat stains in the photo, but I know they’re as there as the giant golden glasses on my face, silver braces on my teeth.

I managed to sweat through another red shirt just last weekend, the heat beneath my choir robe growing hotter and hotter by the second. I don’t sweat in church because I fear God. I sweat in church because I’m one of two sopranos in the choir and it feels like a lot to handle right now. I sweat in church because I can see the doorway and I fear not who but what might come through those doors on any given Sunday. I sweat because hormones don’t stop on Sunday from ten thirty until the last words of the benediction are uttered, the first notes of the pianist’s postlude lilting through the spacious sanctuary. 

But I lost my heat a few weeks ago. 

In the midst of October, as we maneuvered our first full month after the loss of my father-in-law, I found myself sitting in my office, freezing cold. Sometimes this happens when I’m getting sick. I’ll spike a fever and the rest of my body will shiver and shake. However, I wasn’t sick. I was just cold. Both physically and emotionally frozen.

It’s odd when your heat leaves you, physically or otherwise. I’m not used to layering multiple tops and sweaters, covering up with a blanket, actually wearing socks. I know the tricks to cool down when I’m hot, when I’m overheating, when I’m darn near woozy due to outdoor or inner-soul temperatures. I don’t know how to warm back up it seems. 

It was during this loss of my physical heat that I realized my inner heat also seeped out somewhere along the way. I spent years close to the fire, easily able to go from placid and cool to firey rage. If you wanted to argue a point, I was there for it, ready to dig in my heels and prove my rightness above all else. 

That’s just gone. 

While I’ve physically warmed up again over the past month, too hot to wear my cute new sweaters, I still have no desire to argue, fight, or attend a debate of any kind. If you want to be right, have at it. If you need to be right, I am here for you in that as well. I have no fight left, no burning need to prove someone else wrong just to stoke my personal flames of self-righteousness. I’ve lost the desire to put relationships at risk simply to be right. It just doesn’t seem all that important anymore. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m still competitive and I’m gonna win that moon game more often than not. If we’re playing UNO, I’m throwing a Draw 4 at you with a grin on my face. And I have a Clue Title to uphold after all. 

But I’ve lost my fire, my fight. Somewhere between seeing the moon that night two months ago and my husband taking my hand and leading me to the couch, my entire world changed. In place of that fire and fight is a heaviness, a brokenness. They say time will heal it, though I do not believe that to be true as I know a thing about those broken places, those heavy things. To hold my husband in his own brokenness, to help my sons navigate their unimaginable loss, to walk this tricky trail myself, I just don’t have it in me to rise to any other occasion than to love people where they are. 

Life is too short. I have second-guessed almost everything in the past two months, and I just keep coming back to that truth: Life is too short. Love your people as best you can and tell them as often as possible. 

In this cooling off period of my life, I am thankful for those who stand with us. I’m not who I was even in that immediate aftermath of his sudden, tragic death. Maybe it’s because I know all too well what it’s like to be in that dark place and now I see the fallout of that decision. Whatever the case, I feel my charge this cold November is to love my people in and through their sadness and grief, to wrap my love around their broken places and hold them up when it feels like too much weight to stand.

Yes, broken and cold and hurting, I wrap my arms around them and whisper, “You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” over and over until they are warm again, until they believe it. 

Fire

Lone Wolf

For ten years, I shared photos on this blog of two boys in Halloween costumes. For a majority of those years, I chose the costumes and those two boys happily wore whatever I chose.

Then those years came during which they chose their costumes. They didn’t match. They didn’t show their faces. But they were happy, so I was happy.

And now it’s 2018. They’re just a couple of weeks away from turning 13 and 11. We’ve entered a new phase. 

The near-teenager decided he didn’t want to trick-or-treat. It was not forced upon him as I am fully in the Teenagers Trick-or-Treating Is A-Okay camp. Extending childhood in an age in which we force so much on our children feels like a good choice to me. Plus, if they’re asking me for candy, they’re not engaging in any number of other bad choices Generation X made on Halloween. So yes, I was for him heading out on Halloween in some kind of costume.

He just didn’t want to.

I fear this may be genetically my fault. While I did trick-or-treat as a seventh grader, I lack a certain amount of whimsy. Or basically, I lack any amount of whimsy. I am anti-whimsical. It’s a fault of mine that I acknowledge. So maybe he gets it from me. 

Whatever the case, he didn’t want to don a costume and hit the neighborhood. Fine. He wanted to hand out candy with my husband as it was his year to stand on the porch and my year to walk. This felt like an okay transition. Our older son is amazing with kids, especially young kids. It turns out he had a blast handing out candy—or, in our case, chips—to the kiddos. This makes my heart happy.

But I had a couple of hard moments walking through our neighborhood with my mother-in-law and just one of my sons. What do you mean that we’re down to one trick-or-treater? That older kid was just born yesterday or at least very recently and was a lion and a pumpkin in the same year because I couldn’t choose and then a firefighter and Sebastian and Buzz Lightyear and Waldo and Mario and some kind of Star Wars bad guy and freaking CALVIN and Spiderman and a ninja and some other kind of something I couldn’t see his face and now he’s nearly 13 leaving me to walk our candy route with a lone wolf.

That statement is funnier if you know the story of how my husband and I met as well as his username in 2001. 

Anyway, it was a lovely Halloween, 2018. The rain stopped just in time to head out for candy and stayed away until after we finished the chili and cornbread I made for dinner. My trick-or-treater had a great time even if he couldn’t really see where he was going and truly struggled at houses that wanted him to “pick his own candy.” I soft yelled, “He can’t see,” from my spot at the end of each driveway. Another memory, another heart pocket.

I am thankful that we were able to share a fun evening with my mother-in-law, for a safe place to beg neighbors for candy, for these people whom I love so very, very much. But so many giggles at the lone wolf concept.

All the Forms

School started earlier this week. We made various trips for school supplies and shoes a full size larger than just a few months ago. We filled up bags with binders and Clorox wipes, pencils and tissues. We carried them into the school, placed them in lockers and desks and met the boys’ teachers.

My job this week in addition to chef, chauffeur, cheerleader, counselor, organizer, and employee has been to fill out all the paperwork. All of it. Double time. Our address, approximately eighty times. Their birthdays, written wrong on at least three forms; it gets confusing as they were born two years and one week apart. Whose form is this? What year were you born? Which day? I always get November right. 

My favorite forms are the ones that ask for information about the two of them. Their likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, motivations. I love these forms. 

But I don’t always know what to say. 

One form even told me it was okay to brag. But doesn’t every mom think their kid is smart. (They are.) But smart comes with its own challenges.

I once attempted to discuss these challenges in a public setting. I learned quickly not to do so. But my two smart kiddos deal with perfectionism, fear of failure, test anxiety, and organizational problems are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Last year, my younger son was singled out in a class because he is a known reader of a particular series. Every time the series was mentioned, kids would look at him and tease him. Harmless? Perhaps. Except he’s the introvert of the two and doesn’t enjoy being put on the spot, feels anxious when everyone turns to look at him. Both boys are sensitive to this despite our older son having more extroverted tendencies. I love being on a stage, but if you call me out in a small setting—like that of a classroom—I will shut down. Apples don’t fall far from their tree, it seems.

Our older son attempted to pick at, not on as the intent was to engage, not chastise, his younger brother earlier this month. Our younger son doesn’t want to play football while our older son took on seventh-grade football with extreme gusto. I took the older boy aside and explained many things; about how we’re allowed to have different interests in this family, how we support one another in those interests. I went on to say how he wouldn’t be playing football at all if we didn’t act in this regard as football scares the heebie-jeebies out of me. There is space for each of us, even and especially in this family. I push them to understand this so they can realize there is space for each of their classmates, friends, and teachers, too. 

All of this is to say that I want the boys’ teachers to know that we care most about how they feel at the end of the day. We want for them to try their hardest, yes, but we also want them to come away from their educational day with a good feeling in their stomach. Part of that revolves around the way they treat others, teachers, staff, and students included. Part of that revolves around giving their best effort in all opportunities. And part of that revolves around being treated with kindness, grace, and compassion as well. 

We have been very lucky to have amazing teachers thus far, and thanks to an amazing school, I don’t doubt they’ll continue in this regard. I do hope that my sons find their place this year. I will do my part to make sure they arrive home, now at separate times due to extracurricular activities, to a mother who loves and supports them in their journey. 

I wrote on two of the forms that I feel lucky to be their mom.

But that doesn’t even scratch the surface.