All posts by kendycox

The Best-Laid Plans of (Mickey) Mice and Men

My previous post focused on the concept of vacation and the way we preserve family history through our memory of special vacation moments.  As I looked forward to our first family vacation, I described my excitement about the memories I was on the verge of making and reflected on stand-out vacations from my childhood.

We’re back from Disneyland and, in spite of my meticulous preparations, our family vacation didn’t quite go as planned.  On the positive side, friends and co-workers have asked the standard question of “Did you have a good vacation?” and my unequivocal answer each time is “Yes!”  I watched my kids delight in their first airplane ride.  My heart swelled as their little eyes registered awe of the phenomenon that is Disneyland.  I beamed as they gleefully met Mickey, Minnie, Peter Pan, Snow White and numerous princesses.  We explored Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica as only tourists from Oklahoma can do.  Knowing that I sometimes forget to take good pictures, I kept the camera ever-ready and took 150 pictures during the first 3 days of our trip.  Yep, I was proud of myself for diligently capturing these precious memories so that our family can share and revisit a special time in our lives.

But that’s only part of the story.  On day #3 while at the beach, something happened that I didn’t anticipate.  As we strolled obliviously along the picturesque beach and blissfully reflected on our vacation thus far, someone stole our camera.  In a split second, we said goodbye to the tangible connection to our vacation memories.   While I am an emotional person by nature, our misfortune evoked heavy-hearted tears from a place deep in my gut that only kicks into gear during rare moments of extreme helplessness and frustration. Continue reading The Best-Laid Plans of (Mickey) Mice and Men

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

The Cox family is on the countdown to our first official family vacation.  In the six years we’ve had children we’ve been on numerous trips to visit family and friends, but this trip is different.  Webster’s defines vacation as “a period of suspension of work, study, or other mandatory activity, usually used for rest or recreation.”  I personally equate vacation with traveling to a destination we’ve never been to pursue new adventures and spend quality time with my immediate family.   So, guess what, we’re going to Disneyland!  I’m not sure it will meet the criteria of being restful, but there is sure to be a good deal of quality time and recreation.

The anticipation and excitement of our upcoming adventure got me thinking about my childhood family vacations.  Like many working class families, I don’t think we took a vacation every year but a few travels stand out in my memory.  It is when I think about the funny, stressful or otherwise memorable experiences we shared through the years that I truly appreciate the unmatched bond of family.

There’s the time we took an RV and horse trailer across the country to Cheyenne, WY to watch my dad compete in a rodeo.  If you had any doubt about my “Red Dirt” roots, they can be put to rest, as I grew up turning calves out of the chute as my dad practiced his roping skills.  We traveled to many rodeos throughout my childhood, but the Wyoming trip carries special memories.  We parked the RV amidst many others and spent what seemed like weeks, although I’m sure it was just a few days, living in a temporary community of rodeo families.  Someone set up a dummy calf (bale of hay with a fake head on it) for the kids to practice their roping, and my daddy was so proud of my skills that he bought me my very own rope…..a huge deal to my six year old self.

We borrowed some cowboy’s Cadillac (funny in and of itself, right?!) to drive into town to go swimming at an indoor pool where I experienced my first truly embarrassing moment when I chickened out on the high dive and forced a bunch of kids to climb back down the ladder so I wouldn’t have to take the plunge. And, I think this trip was the beginning of our family tradition of spending hours on the road coming up with new verses to the ever popular “Diarrhea” song.  Once that got old, we could always count on dad to blast his favorite Platters album and sing at the top of his lungs.  Yes, I know all the words to “The Great Pretender” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”  In later years, I started singing the harmony just to change it up a bit.

In stark contrast, my parents took all six of us to Hawaii the summer before my junior year in high school.  This was long after my dad had abandoned the rodeo circuit due to the requirement that he enter senior rodeo and his subsequent refusal to recognize himself as a senior.  He decided golf was a wonderful substitute and began wearing shorts and tennis shoes, instead of boots and jeans, for the first time in his life.  The best place he could imagine to wear said clothing was Hawaii.

My parents had been to Hawaii several times and, knowing that our family wouldn’t all be together for too much longer given my age (I’m the oldest), they bit the bullet and used my college money (not bitter) to take us on a magnificent trip.  The great thing about this trip is that we have so many collective memories and continue to bond over them even now.  When Jason and I were dating, we’d always joke that every trip to my parent’s house would inevitably include at least one sentence that began with, “Remember in Hawaii when…?”

We still make this joke and have refined it to assert that the only certainties in life are death, taxes and repeated conversations about Hawaii.  We’ll talk about going parasailing, snorkeling and the undersea Nautilus tour.  We’ll laugh about eating at the super fancy restaurant where my brother Cooper looked at the menu full of things we couldn’t pronounce and subsequently ordered a cheeseburger (blank stare from the not-so-amused waiter).  This moment was followed by my brother Conner spitting out whatever fancy thing he ordered and my mom trying to discreetly clean the chewed lump off the floor before anyone noticed.  News alert: they noticed.  My dad will reminisce about driving to the top of the volcano on a one-lane road with no guard rails to prevent us from plummeting to our death, and that I was so convinced we were going to die that I curled up in the floorboard of the back seat and alternated between crying and praying.  We’ll sing a chorus of “Tiny Bubbles” at the top of our lungs like some gregarious drunk guy did at the luau we attended.  We’ll talk about the horrible one-way roads in Honolulu and how we were lost for hours in the middle of the night upon our initial arrival to the city.  And we’ll all agree that the Pizza Hut delivery we ate on the floor of our hotel room after we finally made it was hands down the best we’d ever had.

Memories are made each and every day, but I’m ready to make some that are just ours to talk about for years to come.  With a first-time airplane ride and a trip to Disneyland in our near future, I’m pretty confident I can accomplish this goal.  And, even if we don’t have anything spectacular happen to us while we’re there, I’m eager to eat some pizza that, regardless of its quality and taste, will be the new “best I’ve ever had.”

[kendy]

Editor’s note: Visit HERE for Kendy’s post over how their family vacation held a surprise they certainly didn’t expect.

I Hope My DIDs Exceed My DIDN’Ts

On the heels of Mother’s Day, I have been reflecting on my journey as a mother.  Before I had children I thought I knew what sort of mother I would be. There was no question that I’d do everything exactly right, using both book knowledge and God-given intuition to raise perfect little angels.

Then I gave birth.

Most of us who’ve traveled down the motherhood road would agree that it’s the hardest job there is.  The confident and easy decisions are few compared to the mountain of “I’m not sure” moments which leave you questioning both your abilities and the likelihood your offspring might end up on an episode of “Intervention” talking about where the dysfunction began.

I haven’t been a perfect mom, this I know for certain.  But, I’ve been me and that means my kids get a little bad with hopefully a lot of good.  I will not bore you with ALL my thoughts on the subject, but I wanted to share a few points about how hopefully the bad isn’t so bad and the good is really great.

On one hand….

I did not avoid soft cheeses and diet coke when you were in my tummy.  I had faith that my vices wouldn’t lead to the growth of a third hand…..and I sure am glad I was right.

I did not boil the binky every time you dropped it.  It would have been your lucky day if I even ran it under the faucet or wiped it off with my own shirt.

I did not nurse you for one year, but barely made it a couple of months.  I will admit I’ve never felt more like a failure than the day I called it quits.  In other news, you did not care one way or another.

I did not choose to forgo a career to stay at home with you full time.  I struggle with this daily, but I’m also proud of my accomplishments at work AND at home. Continue reading I Hope My DIDs Exceed My DIDN’Ts

The Righteous Nest

With the experience of Easter 2011 fresh in my mind, I decided it was fitting to share a story about my daughter’s ability to inspire those around her with her insight into God’s word.  I originally documented this story back in 2009, so she would have been 4 years old.  Enjoy!
Bailey has always had big thoughts and a big attitude.  These attributes serve her well in many situations, and contribute to her downfall in an equal number of others.  On the positive side, her big thoughts also apply to things of a spiritual nature.  From an early age, she was always asking questions, and regularly offered simple yet poignant interpretations of favorite Bible stories.  In fact, we loved to engage her in deep conversation about any and all things as, if nothing else, her theories provided a new perspective on “old” ideas.
Out of the blue one day, she came to her grandmother (my MIL Jeanne) and asked, “What is a righteous nest?” While questions were not uncommon, even ones that required a good deal of head scratching before a response could be summoned, this particular question seemed quite odd.

“What do you mean, a righteous nest? Where did you hear it?”

Bailey, as she was known to do, sighed with exasperation.

“It’s in that song. The one where God has a righteous nest.” Continue reading The Righteous Nest

Best Friends and Bullies Make Strange Bedfellows

“Bullying” has always been a buzzword to me, not entirely unlike “life skills” or “at risk.”  The similarity lies in the fact that I know the definitions of these words and I even use them occasionally, but they seem more like fodder for grant proposals or annual reports than concepts which exist in real life….or at least in MY life.

However, this year I’ve learned more than I want to know about real life bullying.  I can say in earnest that my quick education on the subject has been different and more painful than I expected because it involves my child.  I never thought I’d use the words “my 6 year old” and “bully” in the same sentence, but the reality is that these very sentences have consumed much of our recent dinner conversation as we’ve attempted to help our daughter solve some very real problems.

My child has a bully.  An interesting and complicating factor is that her bully is also her best friend.

As background, like many kids her age, Bailey tends to form friendships of convenience. She has played with her current BFF more than others in her classroom because they have a similar after-school situation.  This is not to say that the girls don’t have a good deal in common or share mutual affection, but being readily accessible is just as important to little developing minds.

At first, I was pleased to see Bailey buddied up with another strong personality.  The moment I discovered my child’s stubborn nature during the toddler years I developed a fear that she would choose friends based on ease of ability to control or manipulate.  I certainly don’t want my child to be the dictator in the room and have been relieved that this hasn’t been the case with most of her friendships thus far.  She and this little girl seemed to be a good match and played together well initially despite some run-of-the-mill little girl arguments.

Then, we started hearing stories about the friend’s antics at school. Continue reading Best Friends and Bullies Make Strange Bedfellows

Yep, That Really Happened!

Those closest to me know that I could probably be the poster child for all “Type A” personalities. I am innately driven and responsible.  I also take myself a little too seriously at times. I occasionally try to be funny, with mixed results. You get the picture.

However, not everything that happens TO me is of a serious nature.  In fact, I’ve had numerous OMG! and giggle-worthy experiences in my lifetime which I think are worthy of sharing with loyal RDC readers.

Before I jump right in, let me just say that time and perspective are very powerful.  Not only were these experiences NOT funny at the time, at least one of them was downright scary.  But, today I grant permission to laugh at my misfortune!  Without further ado, here are a few of my favorite stories.

The Time I Fought a Homeless Guy

Many moons ago, I traveled with a co-worker to Minneapolis for a conference.   Unfamiliar with the area but with some free time on our hands, we asked our concierge about the best way to get to the Mall of America and were directed to use the bus system.  I had never been on a city bus nor had I witnessed what goes on in big-city downtown areas, so I was excited for some new experiences.  Boy was I in for a new experience!

As we waited in frigid temperature, I noticed a group of individuals clustered down the block.  One man, dressed in very old and dirty clothing, looked to be “preaching” to the others while the rest were waving their arms in the air.  I heard broken phrases but otherwise paid little attention to their behavior.  A moment later, as I was telling my friend that I could no longer feel my fingers, I heard heavy footsteps coming in my direction.  I quickly realized someone was addressing me.  I turned around to face the man, who asked me for a cigarette.  I responded casually that I did not smoke and he immediately retreated.  With my encounter over, I began to make a funny comment about the odds of ME being confronted by the Minneapolis homeless.  Pretty soon, however, I heard footsteps again only this time they were moving much more quickly. Prepared to reiterate the fact that I did not possess a cigarette, I turned to see him running at full speed with his eyes locked on me.  I can only describe the next few moments as the strangest of my life – and, yes, everything happened in slow motion. Continue reading Yep, That Really Happened!

Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Target Zone

“…maybe I’ll take over for Jennifer Hudson!” ~ Kendy Cox

A year ago, the thought of joining Weight Watchers© was laughable to me.  My ignorant opinion was that Weight Watchers© and similar programs are for obese people who don’t know how to work hard in the gym and simply need someone to pry the Oreos out of their hands while they work through their deep dark emotional eating issues.

I most definitely did not need THAT.  However, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the state of my physique.  I looked in the mirror and saw a mother of two who was destined to spend her life on an ongoing quest to get back into the beautiful, pre-baby clothes that longingly called my name every time I chose my outfit from the two-sizes-bigger section of my closet.  I’ve never been technically overweight, but the bottom line for me was that I wasn’t where I used to be and felt most comfortable.  Yes, I was younger then.  No, I hadn’t birthed two children then.  None of those facts made me feel any better, however.

I was frustrated…frustrated that I was doing what I’ve always done (eating what I thought was relatively healthy meals and going to the gym) and that simply wasn’t cutting it.  I told myself that I just needed to prioritize going to the gym more frequently, jog faster and work out for longer periods of time.  I felt like I was living out that old adage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Fast forward to today. Continue reading Out of the Comfort Zone and Into the Target Zone

Motherhood and Creativity With a Side of Jeff Foxworthy

A recent Parenting Magazine article explored moms’ self perceptions in a number of categories.  On the topic of creativity, a majority of moms said they wouldn’t describe themselves as particularly innovative or creative.  Excuse me?  In my opinion, creativity is a pre-requisite for motherhood.  Heck the act of becoming a mother is fundamentally indicative of our ability to create, and great minds would argue that life is art and art is life.

This brings me to Jeff Foxworthy.  What connection could creativity possibly have to comedian Jeff Foxworth?  When I began thinking of all the ways moms are creative even when they don’t necessarily see themselves in that light, my thoughts inexplicably came together in the form of Foxworthy’s infamous “You might be a redneck” jokes.  These one-liners of 90’s fame hit home with a large segment of the population because the reality is that we all know deep down that we’re a little bit country but don’t really want to wave that freak flag in public.  Foxworthy did his best to “out” everyone for their redneck tendencies.  Similarly, I think most women are extremely creative but just need someone to give them the one-liners they need to recognize it!

I aim to please, folks.

Ahem.

If you’ve ever put together a last-minute Halloween costume using only a few discarded paper towel rolls, some sweat bands you found in your husband’s 80’s memorabilia box labeled “don’t touch this,” the fishnet pantyhose you bought but have been too afraid to wear, and some pipe cleaners…you just might be a creative mom.

If you’ve ever dragged yourself out of bed 20 minutes early to carve your finicky eater’s lunch sandwich into the shape of Mickey Mouse  and cut up vegetables into “trees” and “swords” instead of plain old broccoli and carrots in an attempt to get him to actually put food in his mouth… you just might be a creative mom.

If you’ve ever drug out every blanket from the hall closet and used hair clips and trash bag ties to build a massive fort in order to entertain your child on a rainy Saturday afternoon… you just might be a creative mom.

If you’ve ever pulled off a delicious dinner in under 30 minutes with no advance planning and with only ground turkey, frozen vegetables and chicken broth because you haven’t been to the grocery store in over a week….you just might be a creative mom.

If you’ve ever “MacGyvered” a broken shoe with a stapler and some gum or fashioned a bib out of a panty liner, a bobby pin and a hair elastic, you just might be a REALLY creative mom! Continue reading Motherhood and Creativity With a Side of Jeff Foxworthy

The Road to Uncool is Paved With Good Parenting

Australian drama, "Mortified," starring Marny Kennedy as Taylor Fry, an 11-year-old constantly embarrassed by her unpredictable family...a good example of the "Uncool Parenting Road" metaphor.

I could fill many pages with the profound truths of the parenting experience.  The second I held my newborn daughter in my arms on August 23, 2004, I felt both empowered and daunted by the task at hand.  Most of us would agree that we are not adequately prepared for the role of PARENT and we sometimes question our decisions along the way.  The first lesson the new parent learns is that few issues are of the clear-cut, black or white variety and raising a child is not as easy as expected.  However, children are precious gifts from God and we pour into them our love, time, resources and occasionally a little wisdom.  In turn, they love us unconditionally and embrace us as both Superman and Mother Teresa.

And then they turn on us.  Regardless of the relationship we have with our children, at some point they will become utterly and wholly embarrassed by us and we will begin a dreaded free-fall from our esteemed perch.  We will be relegated to a category of “uncool” which will encompass our words, appearance, music choices, wardrobe, the way we walk, the way we breathe….you get the picture.

When I was a teenager, my mother’s crimes against humanity involved her use of odd or slightly “off” words for common items or acts.  For example, instead of “throw up” she would use the not-so-easy-on-the-ears term “urp.”  There was nothing that made me red in the face more than hearing this word roll off her tongue in all its onomatopoeia glory.  As I write this, I’m struck by the question of why my mother would ever need to refer to the act of regurgitation in front of others outside our family but c’est la vie.

I also remember the devastation of seeing her in a bright yellow blazer which taunted me with its humiliating, well, yellowness.  I remember getting reprimanded by my father for criticizing my mother’s clothing choices (although I secretly think he hated that blazer as much as I did).  I, however, thought I was advancing her fashion aptitude by picking her apart each morning.

Of course, I blame my temporary rudeness on a not-yet-developed frontal lobe.  I wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood and have long since pardoned my mom and dad for offenses that existed largely in my own insecure head.  Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I can only imagine the ridicule I will face in the years to come.  And, trust me, I already feel like I live with a 15 year old so I’ve given up hope that we will be spared tumultuous teenage years.

In fact, Bailey is developing a critical eye which seems to be largely focused on me.  About a year ago, Bailey told me she didn’t like one of my outfits as it made me look too much like a boy.  While I scoffed at the idea of a 6 year old telling me what not to wear, I’ll admit I’ve never worn it since. Continue reading The Road to Uncool is Paved With Good Parenting

I Am Wife, Mother, Working Girl….and Monster Slayer?

The Monster Fighter!

My three year old son is in a “fighting monsters” stage. He has several toy swords and we’ve spent many a dreary Saturday creeping through the house on a hunt for big, mean monsters hiding in various nooks and crannies.

Sometimes our nemesis is black, scaly and breathes fire. Other times our target is an alien from outer space that has come to kidnap us. Regardless of the monster’s characteristics and the outcome of our hunt, I inevitably end up reminding him at bedtime that monsters are only imaginary and can’t hurt us.

But is that really true?

Nolan claims to be the resident monster slayer, but little does he know that his momma has faced some very real monsters through the years. In fact, my experience slaying monsters is vast and I am always on the lookout for one to show up in an attempt to throw my perfectly balanced life off kilter.

The monsters I face are freakishly intelligent, know how to weaken my defenses and attack me where and when I’m most vulnerable. They are cunning and show no mercy. And they all have the same eyes…..piercing and green. Very green.

If you aren’t exactly following my Shakespearean references, I’m talking about envy. Continue reading I Am Wife, Mother, Working Girl….and Monster Slayer?

Livin’ On A Prayer and the Sage Advice of Garth Brooks

When I’m old and gray (ahem, grayer, that is), I hope to look back on my life and reflect on an abundance of incredible experiences and accomplishments.  I’ve prayed my way through 33 1/2 years and God has been faithful to bless me with far more than I deserve.  However, this same life has included and will include many more prayers that go unanswered, at least in the way I desire or expect.

If you’re an Okie, you probably remember a time when Garth Brooks was on everyone’s radar.  I was never a huge country music fan, but I can sing along with a few little ditties when I hear them.  One song that I remember vividly is “Unanswered Prayers.”  If you’re not familiar with the song, Garth sings about running into his old high school flame and recalls how hard he prayed for this girl to be his forever.  While he is filled with nostalgia at seeing her again, he has gained enough perspective to know that his life worked out in the best way possible despite his one-time efforts to convince God otherwise.  He goes on to express his thankfulness for the gifts in his life, including the woman who eventually stole his heart, became his wife and showed him the importance of trusting God at all times.

By the way, when I started writing this blog, I did not remember the controversy with Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.  So do me a favor and put that bit of information aside so I don’t have to go back to the drawing board on this post, mmmkay?  Geez, what is it with people and their inability to stay faithful?  But that’s an essay for a different day.

Where was I?  Oh yes, the inspirational song.  I was touched by the song and have always admired people who are able to easily put issues and events into perspective.  I am not one of them.  I can remember many times when I didn’t get what I was clearly the most important thing I’d ever asked for in my entire life.  Time and time again, I responded with anger and disbelief.  In not so many words I said to God, “You said ‘Ask and you shall receive,’ right?  Well?????”  I shed tears over a great many “must haves” that did not become my reality…..boys, leadership positions, jobs, etc.

Continue reading Livin’ On A Prayer and the Sage Advice of Garth Brooks

Hot Diggity Dog, It’s Time For Some New Year’s Resolutions

Our little Scout, at 12 weeks

I’ve never been that crazy about dogs.  But you’d never know this by listening to my parents run through the seemingly endless list of pets my brothers and I had growing up .  I don’t remember what happened to most of them, so clearly I wasn’t attached enough to have traumatic memories of their demises.  While I have an appreciation for cute little critters, for most of my life I could say that I’d never been head over heels in love with something furry (I could make a joke here about my husband’s back, but…..whoopsie, I guess I just did!).

When Jason and I decided to get a puppy together at about the time we were engaged, my “dog hating” streak ended.  Scout, a black and white Springer Spaniel, was the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen but we learned quickly how hard it is to train a puppy.  In fact, our puppy experience was more like training for the impending trials of marriage and parenthood.  We joke that our marriage preparation course was administered by a 50 pound slobbering baby.

Scout was difficult from the beginning.  He scaled the puppy gate, ate Christmas bulbs like candy, and bloodied his paws trying to claw his way out of his kennel.  But he was ours and we loved him.

We had Scout for 9 years, during which we welcomed a new home and two new babies.  He played with the kids and delighted in daily runs with Jason.  Even though he was annoying at times and added a lot of “stink” to our lives, he was a beautiful and loving dog.  When he started having seizures and eventually passed away 2 summers ago, Jason and I realized how tied he was to virtually all of our early marriage and new parent memories.

Once we got over the loss, however, we quickly began enjoying the freedom of not having a dog in the house.  If we were gone for 15 hours straight, who cares?  There were no doggy considerations or repercussions.  Frankly, it was great. Continue reading Hot Diggity Dog, It’s Time For Some New Year’s Resolutions

Everything I Know About Kindness I Learned From Four Inch Blue Creatures

It all started with a plastic Smurfs purse.

On my 7th or 8th birthday, a sweet little girl named Amy giggled with excitement as my mom announced that it was time for the birthday girl to open gifts.  Everyone gathered, tired from what seemed like hours of pony rides across my dad’s farm land, but Amy eagerly planted herself at the front of the pack and requested that I open her gift first.  What I wouldn’t know until later was that she had already told my mother all about the gift, and my mother’s anxiety was growing by the second.  You see, I already had this particular Smurfs purse, which was carefully tucked away in my dresser at home.  Although it was my favorite new treasure, my mom was anticipating a less than stellar reaction to receiving a duplicate.  This feeling was tempered only by her hope that I would pull through the awkward moment with a gracious response.

Just for fun, let’s turn this into a multiple choice question.  How do you think I responded?

a.)    I smiled, thanked Amy for such a thoughtful gift and later discussed exchange options with my mom.

b.)    I congratulated Amy on her great taste since I had recently picked out the very same purse.

c.)    I absently said, “I already have this” and moved on to the next gift unaware that my friend, deflated, had moved to the back of the pack.

Continue reading Everything I Know About Kindness I Learned From Four Inch Blue Creatures

Time of My Life: A Top 10 List Inspired By The Black Eyed Peas

I may not be eligible for an AARP membership yet, but my aching knees recently served as a reminder that I am perched at the top of the proverbial hill just waiting to make my descent down the other side.

My recent awareness of the nuances of getting older has me thinking about the interesting dichotomy of spending our early years desperately wishing to be older and the rest of it longing for time to stop moving so darn quickly.

As a kid, I thought turning 18 meant I was an adult. The reality, however, was that I was still dependent on my parents, didn’t know how to do my own laundry and had to sit at the kid table at Thanksgiving.

At 22, I graduated college and felt like I had the world at my fingertips…until I realized that having a degree doesn’t mean much unless you also have a job. I spent the next year reminding myself to have fun now because I would have the rest of my life to be pinned down to a demanding career. And when I did get that first job, I was referred to as “the young one” for several years before a new “young one” came on board and relieved me of the title.

Continue reading Time of My Life: A Top 10 List Inspired By The Black Eyed Peas

Who Inspires You?

In today’s society where phrases like “fear of commitment” and “starter marriage” are all too normative, I am inspired by married couples who have persevered through difficult circumstances or otherwise made the deliberate decision to be committed to their spouse and their family.

As you may know, my days are spent overseeing relationship education services and supports to couples and individuals through The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.  As a part of that project, we partner with Oklahoma Publishing Company to make a commitment of our own….to recognize couples across Oklahoma who have beat the odds by sticking together for better and worse.

Last year, we searched for Oklahoma’s most inspiring couples through a statewide nomination process and produced an amazing calendar honoring these couples.  Now, we are actively seeking nominations for 2011’s most inspiring couples.

Do you know a couple who exhibits extraordinary traits such as team work, commitment, or has lived a life of infectious fun?  Perhaps they have impacted their family, neighborhood or community in an exceptional way or have braved sickness or other hardships as a team?

Please nominate these couples so their stories can be shared!  In addition to the calendar, The Oklahoman will publish feature stories on the couples throughout the year.

To nominate, simply submit 250 words about the couple, sharing why you feel they deserve to be recognized, along with a picture.  You can do this quickly and easily at www.newsok.com/inspiringcouples or by mail:

Oklahoma’s Most Inspiring Couples
The Oklahoman
P.O. Box 25125
Oklahoma City, OK  73125

You may also view pictures, stories and video of last year’s Inspiring Couples on the nomination site.

Reading through the nominations was truly the highlight of my last year and I look forward to again hearing about the wonderful couples across our great state!  Nominations are due soon, November 22nd, so please submit your nominations now!  We will notify selected couples the first part of December and move forward with capturing their stories and producing the calendar.

Chicken Soup for the Blogaholic’s Soul

In casual conversation, I am likely to mention treatment options for Kate, Bowen, or Jessie, or how the Stone family is doing these days.  What you won’t know, however, is that I don’t actually KNOW these people, at least in the traditional sense.  You see, I follow blogs…lots of them.

Most of my favorite blogs were created in times of tragedy or in response to a medical crisis. I often have to steel myself to click the links, as these posts certainly aren’t mindless reads.  My heart seizes at the news of an agonizing decision to be made and I regularly shed tears over the unfathomable experiences of these families.  They are desperately reaching out for help and support, and I find myself magnetically drawn to them.

Some find my hobby a bit morbid and wonder why I torture myself by actively taking on the pain and grief of strangers.  While the subject matter is indeed difficult, the rewards are many.  First, however, I have to get past being a selfish human.  Just like many children create imaginary friends who have problems – fear of the dark, aggression, etc. – as a safe way to talk about newfound issues, I think reading about the sad and tragic side of life helps me process emotions about my own worst fears.  However, in acknowledging the really hard realities of life, I sometimes develop the “I’m glad it’s them and not me” syndrome.  I have to squelch those thoughts so that I can focus on the people and their needs, and not just the fears their stories evoke.

As a result, I can attest to the tremendous beauty and inspiration that often rises from the ashes of tragedy and helplessness.  I am refreshed by the way in which I can touch and be touched by people’s hearts across so much distance.  The written word is incredibly honest, heartfelt, and the authors are completely transparent.  In a world where the truth is often buried beneath layers of you know what, reading something so raw and heartfelt is meaningful.

When I stop the whirlwind of life to catch up on these families, I feel a renewed sense of faith in humanity.  I admire the strength that resonates from their words and I deeply hope that I would have equal fortitude in their shoes.  As strong as they are, they are also at their most vulnerable, and this allows them to put on paper the thoughts that most people could never speak.  I think this is a strong connection point for me personally given that I’ve always been better at expressing myself in writing than in face-to-face conversations.

Part of that ability is simply dissociating from what the world expects me to be or say, and simply writing what I feel without the risk of immediate and sometimes awkward reactions.  I love real, but being entirely real is usually the exception and not the rule.

Finally, in addition to the gift of inspiration I receive from these blogs, they also provide me the opportunity to give back in a profound way.  I’m not a doctor, so I can’t heal the sick.  I’m not a millionaire, so I can’t offer riches to fund medical treatments.  However, as a woman of faith, I can add my voice to those interceding on behalf of precious families who need guidance, hope, and strength beyond what they can muster on their own.  I believe firmly in the power of prayer and that giving away my heart and prayers, whether to close friends or virtual strangers, simply expands my capacity to do so over and over again.

It’s only fitting that I include information on a few of my favorite blogs, and I encourage you to post a comment with additional links.  There’s nothing like a shared bowl of chicken soup to warm us all up!

http://renziandleeannestone.blogspot.com/ – Oklahoma City couple Lee Anne and Renzi Stone lost their almost one year old son to a sudden epileptic seizure.  They honor little Isaiah by sharing their daily challenges and joys.

http://www.audreycaroline.blogspot.com/ – Angie is the wife of Selah singer Todd Smith.  While expecting, Todd and Angie were told their daughter had many life threatening conditions and would not survive outside the womb.  Her book, “I Will Carry You,” details their experience and utter reliance on God to make it through to the other side.

http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mcraekate – Kate McRae is a six-year-old Arizona girl living with a very rare form of brain cancer.  Her mother writes regularly about treatment options, highs and lows, and specific prayer requests.

http://www.carepages.com/carepages/JessicaBoone – Oklahoma teenager Jessie Boone suffered massive head trauma during a ski accident last year.  Her mother chronicles the numerous touch-and-go moments, months in hospitals and Jessie’s current journey.

http://www.kellyskornerblog.com/ – Kelly is an Arkansas gal who began writing when doctors said her newborn wasn’t expected to live.  After a difficult beginning, she now has a healthy and happy daughter and another on the way.  Having also suffered infertility for many years, she is an inspiration to those women desperately hoping for a baby.

http://bowensheart.com/ – Matt Hammett is the lead singer of the Christian band Sanctus Real.  Their son, Bowen, has a severely underdeveloped heart.  They are journaling their experience and sharing the love of God through their words and stories.

The Mother of All Catch-22s

My name is Kendy and I’m a working mother.

This relatively innocuous statement actually has the power to evoke pride, guilt, judgment and even jealousy depending upon who’s in the conversation and their bias about what’s “right” for children, and society.  But what’s right for the moms?

Of all discussion topics, working vs. staying home gets the most play among my group of friends.  Some of us have full-time jobs and some have forgone a career to raise children.  Some need two incomes to get by, while others simply can’t imagine life without a career.  Some who stay home have realized that working is actually more expensive than not, given the high cost of childcare.  Regardless of the situation and our level of satisfaction with it, we all agree that there is no single “right” answer, as we are all faced with a different set of circumstances that impact our decisions on the issue.  However, no matter how satisfied we are with those decisions, we sometimes find ourselves peering over the fence to see if the grass truly is a deeper shade of green.

Even moms who count their blessings about being able to stay home with their children sometimes long for the adult conversations they remember having when they were working.  As one friend says, “When you start to discuss your problems with a toddler-sized plush SpongeBob doll, you know you need some time with grown-ups!”  I’ve had moms admire my shoes and comment longingly that they could never justify the purchase given the few places they would have to wear something so dressy.  Others feel they have no break from their children – as precious as they are – and battle conflicting expectations when their husband arrives home from his own long day at the office.  But these may very well be good tradeoffs for the ability to share all of life’s important and teachable moments.

On the flip side, working moms are often overwhelmed with guilt about the time they spend away from their kids.  I’ve always been career-minded and relatively confident in my ability to have it all in life.  But, even though I often don a super hero cape, I also have some pretty powerful kryptonite.  Looking down at those little people in my life makes everything go just a bit hazy.

At work, I find myself drawn to various pictures of my smiling kids.  I wonder if they’ve had a healthy lunch, whether they’re watching Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel, if Nolan’s had a good “pee pee in the potty” day, and whether Bailey’s loose tooth is still hanging on by a thread.  I feel anxious.  I guiltily remind my mother-in-law about the soccer practice that begins before I’m even supposed to clock out for the day.  And I miss them.

All that would be fine if the culmination of my day wasn’t hearing Nolan burst into tears and state emphatically that he doesn’t want to leave grandma’s house with me.  Bailey sends her own message by ignoring me altogether.  In these moments, when I’m kidnapping my own children from their grandparents’ house, I feel unsettled, disconnected, and a little like I’m watching my life go by from behind a pane of glass rather than out living it.  I’m jealous…jealous of my friends who don’t HAVE to work and surely aren’t subject to the sadness I feel at this repeat, albeit momentary, rejection.  I’m jealous that they get all day to reinforce bonds, while I’m trying to force that into the 60 minutes between dance class and bedtime.

These are the moments when the fantasies of quitting my job and becoming an at-home mom take over.  I imagine myself going on all kinds of daily adventures – to the zoo, the park, and museums – while organizing play dates, catching up on scrapbooks, teaching the kids a foreign language, and sewing their winter wardrobe.  We won’t go into the holes in my fantasy, but let’s just say the likelihood of me actually doing all these things is iffy at best and I stopped just short of adding to the list “make my own soap.”  Hey, it’s my fantasy and I’m sticking to it.

...and I stopped just short of adding to the list “make my own soap.” - Click photo for Making Soap article.

But it’s not all bad.  In fact, when I stop to remember that life isn’t all about me (what??), there are some really great benefits to my kids of being a working mom.

First and foremost, they have an amazing relationship with their grandparents that they likely wouldn’t have if I stayed home.  Having more than just mom and dad to teach, reinforce, and love is an incredible blessing.  In rational moments, I’m glad to endure some hard mommy moments in exchange for the wealth of experiences and memories made with their grandparents.

As much as I enjoy the work I do, my kids are really proud of me, too.  When we’re having our “what happened today” conversations, I get to tell Bailey about all the babies and children who have the benefit of two loving parents in their lives because of the work my company does.  The pride she feels and the fact that I’m modeling for her what I preach – that she can do anything and be anything – is enough to give guilt a high-heeled kick in the pants!

So, do these benefits outweigh the disadvantages?  I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, nor would my answer be the same tomorrow as it is today.  What I DO know is that I have two great kids who will never want for love, guidance, or the discipline and boundaries they need to grow into the kind of adults I want them to become.  And that makes my heart happier than any amount of time with them could.

But, just in case I happen to win the lottery one day, I bookmarked some You Tube videos on making soap at home.  I’m just sayin’….

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like Me!

If you’ve never heard of Stuart Smalley, you were either living under a rock in the early 90’s or are too young to be using the Internet without adult supervision.  As a teenager, nothing could trigger hysterical laughter like the hapless yet hopeful SNL character.  Every skit ended with emotionally vulnerable Stuart speaking affirmations into a mirror in efforts to make it through another day breakdown-free.

 

Stuart Smalley - SNL hit character for many years. Photo retrieved from: http://randomroger.blogspot.com/2010/09/man-versus-machine.html

 

Stuart struggled with poor self-esteem, an issue I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.  With the ongoing debate over too-skinny models in the fashion industry and movies and television depicting unattainable images as the standard of womanhood, it’s no wonder many women feel they can’t quite measure up.  What I learned recently, however, is how early these messages start chiseling away at us.  My daughter is six and, like many children, has always possessed the kind of confidence that seems to burst forth from her in every word and action.  Take a look at this video that’s been making the rounds and you’ll see just what I’m talking about!   (click photo to activate video)

Like little Jessica, my daughter has never hesitated to claim being the smartest in her grade and insists on tackling tasks far outside her skill set.  Recently, though, I’ve noticed some changes in the way she views herself.  When she can’t read a word, she reacts as though she might as well kiss her higher education hopes goodbye.  She has even started comparing her body with others, often telling me that she’s “fatter” than the other girls.  While this is uncharted parent territory, I do remember my own struggles with self-esteem as a child and teenager and I know how hard it was.  Just ask my mom about the year I ate only Ramen noodles and my hair started falling out as a result of my quest to be skinny (and no, I never got skinny ENOUGH, whatever that means).  Simply put, we tend to make unwise decisions when we start to devalue ourselves and this can have potentially devastating consequences, particularly for young girls.

Many of you probably remember being as bold as Jessica as a child, declaring your many talents to anyone who would listen.  But as you got older, “bragging” became less acceptable and was replaced with the daunting task of being humble.  Don’t get me wrong, humility is important and I certainly want to instill that value in my children.  I also feel that there’s a fine line between being confident and being self absorbed.  However, in the journey down the well-intentioned path of humility, I think some of us missed a turn and ended up on a detour of self loathing.  And we’ve stayed there under the false pretense of modesty.

My wish is for my daughter to feel MORE THAN good enough and to know that it’s okay to cheer for herself at the same time she’s cheering for others.  I want her to celebrate all the traits that make her unique and special.  Otherwise, the opinions or unkind words of others may become her measure of success, beauty and worth.  While I don’t have all the parenting answers, I have chosen to spend more time lately dialoguing about what she likes about herself and what makes her feel special.

More than anything through pondering this issue, I’ve realized that the way I feel about myself today will have a profound impact on how she feels about herself in the future.  As much as I say and do all the right things where she is concerned, many days I don’t speak to or about myself very well.  How can my daughter learn to believe in and love herself if her mother doesn’t practice what she preaches?

Knowing that she’s watching and listening is the strongest motivator for change. Just don’t expect a reenactment of Jessica’s video to be up on You Tube any time soon, as the bathroom cabinet probably can’t hold my weight.

Dangit.

Change is hard.  There’s always tomorrow, right?!

Me Do It Myself: The Toddler Syndrome

Thank you for all the positive feedback on my first post.  Here we go again, folks!

“ME DO IT MYSELF, MOMMA!”

"Me do it myself, momma..." Even as a baby, Nolan loved to try and brush his own teeth!

I hear this statement from my 2 year old multiple times every day.  Whatever the activity – wrestling with his shoes as we’re hurrying out the door, opening a carton of applesauce at dinner, or brushing his pearly whites before bed – it’s the same old song and dance.When I’m in a hurry and desperately trying to meet whatever deadline is looming, I am frustrated by the seemingly silly process of letting him attempt a task that I know good and well will end in tears of frustration.  Why doesn’t he just let me help?

Even though this independence comes with the toddler territory, I’m just as guilty of possessing the “Me do it myself!” mentality.  I don’t need anyone’s help because I can handle it. In fact, I will reject every offer of help – politely, of course – even if I truly desire the support.  An example:

Some really thoughtful person says, “I’ll watch the kids if you guys wanna go to a movie sometime.”

I think, Awesome, we sooooo need it!  When are you free? There’s a movie I’ve been dying to see that’s playing this weekend. Oh, and maybe we could even grab a bite to eat beforehand!

But I actually say, “Oh, that’s so sweet.  We’re usually so busy during the week that we just like to do stuff around the house on weekends.  Plus, ya know, we have Netflix.  Soooo, how’s that project you’ve been working on?”

And, scene.

In contrast to my own actions, I know quite a bit about the importance of establishing a personal community to support someone during both good and bad times.  Further, we’ve all heard that African proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child.

To my knowledge, there’s no proverb that warns against accepting an outstretched hand or advises braving the journey alone at all costs.  If assistance from others is a necessary piece of life’s puzzle, why is it so difficult to accept goodwill?  This is an especially intriguing question when compared to how easily most of us reach out to others when we know THEY need something we can easily provide.  So, why the paradox?

Maybe receiving assistance is perceived as weakness.  Perhaps we worry that the offer is not genuine and acceptance will be met with awkwardness or hardship.  Or maybe we are simply unsure how to adequately show our appreciation, so avoidance seems far easier.  I don’t know about you, but I claim all of the above.

I recently heard someone equate acts of service to gifts received at a birthday party.  A gift is a gift, regardless of its form.   And, it is almost always given with love and careful thought behind it.

When the package is opened, the only acceptable response is “thank you.”  The recipient wouldn’t return the present with an eloquent speech about not needing the item for this reason or that, so how is it any better to decline the gift of support when it is offered with the very same sentiment?  This way of viewing the issue makes me feel badly about all those times I’ve said no to others.  In reality, I deprived them of an important opportunity to share something meaningful with me.  In fact, they probably thought the very same thing I do when my son displays his stubbornness…..why won’t she just let me help, for goodness sake?

So, I know what I have to do.  I have to start saying YES.

Need help with the kids?  YES!  Can I carry that box for you?  Sure!

Will you join me?  Just Say Yes.  Actually, it feels kind of good.

Mrs. Reagan, I do believe there’s a new motto in town.

Thanks, Nolan, for helping me learn not to act like a toddler...Just Say Yes!