Category Archives: Life

The argument for SAHMs, and against Amy Glass

SAHM1

This week, the blogging world exploded when Amy Glass blatantly put down stay at home moms (SAHMs) when she wrote a blog titled “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry“.

Here are a few token quotes:

“Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself? There’s no way those two things are the same. It’s hard for me to believe it’s not just verbally placating these people so they don’t get in trouble with the mommy bloggers.”

“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.”

What can I say about Amy Glass?

Well, first, what can I say about my own experience?

I am one of the lucky moms who have experienced both SAHM-dom and being a working mom. Both have their perks. Both also have their downfalls. As a working mom, I look with envy at SAHMs. I’m envious that they have time to make their kids lunches every day before school, and are home to help them with homework when the kids get home. I’m jealous that they get to join the PTA, or volunteer in the classroom, or have the time to really investigate what’s going on when Johnny’s grades start slipping. Some of the SAHMs I know are the ones whose kids look the most put together, and have socks that actually match, while you can see my kid’s socks peeking through his holey sneakers because I haven’t actually found the time to take him shoe shopping.

I feel like I’d have so much more time as a SAHM. But then I remember what the reality was.

I did the stay-at-home mom thing in the first year of my daughter’s life, and in the first several months of my son’s. We moved to a new city and I had no friends. I spent my whole day being mom, talking to babies, cleaning up messes, keeping the kids entertained…. I was jealous of my husband who got to go out and make a living and talk to other adults while I stayed home in sweats and smelling of spit-up. I had dreams, too. But those got put on the back burner while my husband became the breadwinner, and I kept the home straight. My expertise became vested in keeping the household running and the kids thriving. But my self-worth? It mistakenly plummeted. I felt like I a big fat nobody. I mean, how do you incorporate your homemaker skills onto a resume? How do you keep up with the world when the majority of your news media exists on PBS, Disney, and Nickelodeon? How do you not feel jealous when you see attractive women exiting their cars to walk towards their big office jobs, wearing pencil skirts and carrying briefcases, when I’m juggling a baby on my hip and breakfast remnants in my hair?

It was our meager finances that finally dictated my need for a job. But honestly, I was relieved to get back to the work force and take a break from the littles. My new job became my vacation from my real job. And whenever I get a little jealous over a few of my friends who are lucky to be able to stay home with their kids, I remember how much I suck at keeping a stay-at-home schedule, and how hard it was to get time off from a job that was pretty much around the clock.

Mom kidsAs I reflect on this opinion that Ms. Glass has, I can’t help but feel like she wrote it simply to attract a ton of attention to her blog, and nothing else. I mean, if you look now, there are more than 10,000 comments both applauding her stance and blasting her words. However, I feel sorry for her too, because it’s apparent she feels the need to bring herself attention by slamming a whole group of people for a significant choice in their life – a choice that means the world to their family.

And I can also only guess that she doesn’t have children. If she did, she’d understand the miracle that exists in their very first breath, and the way it feels to see the world through their eyes, and the Jekyll and Hyde emotions of wanting to strangle said kid when they’re being total buttheads while simultaneously willing to give them her very last breath if it meant they could keep on living. She’d understand the sacrifice that goes into being a SAHM, of sometimes feeling like the world is on one realm while she’s stuck in the land of tikes, even while understanding that this is where it is most important for her to be. She’d understand what it’s like to give up a career and a paycheck, throwing herself into her child’s future instead. She’d understand that fine balance of devoting time to the family while keeping her self-worth, and the daily struggle of not putting her whole entire identity into being the mom of her child.

I guess I can’t be mad at her, either, though I do feel a little judgey about her writing such an obvious ploy piece to gather hits for her blog. I can’t fault her. I clicked. I read. I’m responding.

Truthfully, no person – mom, or not – should be looked down upon for their life choice if that is what their calling is meant to be. If you are meant to backpack Asia, awesome! If you’re meant to work full time while also raising a family, good job! And if you devote your time to your kids as a stay at home mom, fantastic!

We all would do better to pull each other up instead of putting each other down.

Note: I became aware of this post by Amy Glass when my cousin posted her own rebuttal. She is much more eloquent than I am, and definitely more forgiving. Read what she has to say HERE.

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Taking control of your finances

I few months ago, I did Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey through my church. As a former single mom, I thought I knew pretty much everything I could about stretching my dollar. And I had a good start, but I was far from knowing everything (and I still have a lot of new-to-me ideas to hone in on).

My husband and I took this course at the urging of several friends and my own sister. When my parents decided they wanted to take it, we decided it was as good a time as any to sign up, just to get everyone off our backs. But it didn’t take long for us to realize we’d just made the best decision we could.

Whether you decide to follow suit and find a FPU course of your own to join (and yes, it’s Christian based. But there are real life habits the course teaches that every person, regardless of faith, should learn), here are the three biggest take-aways I want to share with you about gaining control of your finances.

1. Tell your money where to go. This is also known as the “envelope system.” Every month, I take my paycheck and split it up into categories of where it will be spent. Dave Ramsey suggests going to a cash only system (putting money in pre-labeled envelopes) so you can actually feel yourself spending money. When you use your debit card, it’s easy to be immune to what you’re spending. Actually taking the money out of your wallet and giving it to someone else for a service or product keeps the awareness on how much you are actually spending. Personally, I use a hybrid of using cash and debit. For things like gas and bills, I use my debit card (as even DR does). For things like groceries, our family only uses cash. We have managed to shave $400 off our family’s food budget just by doing this alone! I also plan for large expenses like summer camp, my son’s braces, vacations, birthdays, etc. Each month I set aside a small amount for each item, and over time it builds up.

This first rule is, in my opinion, the most important of all financial decisions you can make. I am never caught with an empty wallet when it comes time to pay the piper, and I’m always prompt with my payments. It’s a really good feeling to be able to give my kids’ summer camp $300 of my hard-earned money and not feel pinched by it because I’d planned for it ahead of time.

2. Cut up your credit cards. I know. You want to build your credit up so you can have a nice credit score so you can buy big things. But how about, instead, saving money to buy those big things? There’s a more in-depth description at FPU detailing how you can even buy cars and houses without credit, but I’m not going to go there. But I will tackle the smaller topic of using a credit card for things like groceries, electronics, gifts, “emergencies”… When you pay off those things you used credit for, you are also paying up to 22% more in interest. That’s such a waste. If you follow the first step of planning out your money’s path, step two will be easier. And if you don’t have the money for something, DON’T BUY IT.

Note on emergencies: We’ve all been there. The car breaks down. The roof has a leak. The kids need new clothes. The dog falls and breaks his leg (true story). FPU’s true first step is to save $1000 and put it away for EMERGENCIES ONLY. In the case of the broken dog, we had to shell out $400 for x-rays (before the $3200 surgery bill….yikes). Thanks to our emergency fund, we were able to pay that first $400 right away.

3. Snowball your debt payments. Gather up all your debt and become clear what you owe on them, and what the minimum payments are. Pay the minimum on each one except the smallest one. On that smallest one, pay the most you can each month until you’ve paid it off. Then apply that amount to the next debt. And so on. With each debt that’s zeroed out, momentum starts to increase. And soon it will actually feel possible to get out from under all that debt.

Further money making/saving ideas:

If you’re in a bind right now, look through your things and see where you can save. Are there areas you can trim in your food budget? Are you paying too much in the entertainment department? Are there things you can live without for the time being (like a data plan on the cell phone, or cable/internet, or…..)? Search your house for things you can sell on Craigslist. Consider taking up an odd job or two for a little while, like cleaning houses or baby/pet sitting.

Do you have some tried and true methods you’ve used to keep your budget low? Share them in the comments!

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The one where I’m unable to accept HELP.

My husband and I take part in a cooking team that makes meals for the Sunday service at our church. We only do it once a month, and it’s admittedly a lot of fun. But it’s also 4+ hours of hard work prepping, cooking, cleaning, setting up, serving, tearing down, cleaning more… You get the picture.

Our team consists of four members with random help on the side. But mostly, our group of four is responsible for seeing things through. We each took on a job to get the meal – nachos – done. I decided to take on the cheese sauce. And since I would be at the stove anyway, I’d take on browning the turkey too.

More than once, I was asked if I needed help. And every time I insisted I was fine. I was determined to get it done, to prove I could do it all.

I set about the kitchen, running back and forth to get the meat into the pan while the butter melted for the cheese sauce. I got the rue going, and then began adding milk. Then I rushed back to the meat to make sure it wasn’t burning. I finished adding the milk to the rue and stirred it.

And then I smelled it. Burnt.

Thing is, if I had asked for help, none of that would have happened. I had to bite back my pride and admit that the sauce was ruined. There was no more butter, so one of the guys had to go to the store to get some more. And when he came back, I asked him if he could be in charge of the sauce while I focused on the meat.

The story would be fine ending there. But it doesn’t.

After handing off the cheese sauce, my only job was to stir the two pans of meat in front of me. I could handle this, I got this. My pride was terribly wounded from the cheese sauce fiasco, but I was determined to get the meat cooking right. So when one of the girls came up to see if I could use some help, I told her NO. She started stirring one of the pans anyway.

“But this is my job,” I protested, as if I were a 5 year old guarding my mountain of blocks.

“But my job is done,” she cheerfully replied. So we stood together, all three of us surrounding this stove to finish cooking everything up.  At first I was terribly bothered. It was too crowded. And she was probably stepping in so I couldn’t screw this up too. I felt tied up in knots inside. But then, I decided to let it go. I took a deep breath and let it out. And then we all chatted the rest of the time. It was actually fun.

The meal was done, and we set it out to serve it. I stayed with the turkey while my husband poured the cheese sauce. The other guy offered to take over for me so I could eat, but I told him I was fine. When the line dispersed, I got my own plate. Then I served the stragglers in between bites.

Once everyone had eaten, it was time to start bagging things up. We all started putting things away. The cheese sauce had a ton leftover, so I started pouring it in bags so people could take some home. It was a messy job, and by the fifth bag I was beginning to wonder if it would ever be over.

“Here, I’ll hold this for you,” the girl said to me.

“I got it,” I said.

This time she didn’t fight me. And I saw myself in her eyes as she gave up and walked away.

grumpy girlI was selfish. I was unfriendly. I was a snob. I couldn’t find it in me to step down off my pedestal and accept that I NEEDED HELP.

What is wrong with me? I hate that I do this! The truth is, I can always use some help! I can’t do it on my own! And there’s nothing wrong with working together to get things done.

It might just be my single-mother syndrome. I spent all those years actually doing things on my own, and taking pride in that. Before that, I hadn’t been able to do anything on my own at all. I depended on everyone. But when I got on my feet and was able to provide for my kids without a husband, without my parents, without state money…it just felt good.

But now? Now I’ve got this chip in my shoulder that has me believing that accepting help is a sign of weakness, when it’s totally the opposite of that. There are strength in numbers. And we are here on this planet to build each other up.

I didn’t like that person I was on Sunday. I’m embarrassed at the way I acted. But maybe it needed to happen to drive the lesson home that it’s okay to receive help. We can all use help. It gets things done faster, and it builds connections.

I think this is going to be a hard lesson to forget.

Want more? Download “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows” – our Wine Country Mom stories about our former single-parent family life.

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Battling the baby bulge (excerpt)

I’m getting close to finishing my first round of edits on my WineCountryMom eBook.  It’s been kind of cool to read through those old entries and see where we’ve traveled from – all the things I struggled through and overcame, and how much the kids have grown since then.  It’s also pretty eye-opening to see the things I struggled with then – and still struggle with now.

Weight issues being one of them.

Granted, I’m not fat.  I’d like to get a little slimmer and a bit more firm, of course.  But we’re only talking 15 pounds, not 150 pounds.  However, I think weight will always be my issue, whether I’m big or small.

The one thing I’ve discovered differently over the years, though, is how important it is to love yourself no matter what size you are.  Our bodies are just our shells.  Whether we’re fat or thin, who we are on the inside doesn’t change.  You can lose all that weight on the outside, and still be that fat girl on the inside.  If you can’t love yourself with a few extra pounds, you won’t magically love yourself when they’re gone.

I’m working on my next article for the newspaper, and think I’ll touch on this. But for now, here’s an excerpted peek into retro WineCountryMom, and one of the chapters of the upcoming blog eBook.

BATTLING THE BABY BULGE

babybulgeI’ve been fighting the baby bulge. No, not the kind that you have when you are newly pregnant and possess a cute little bump that later turns into an adorable basketball on your tiny frame (uh, yeah, unless you’re me and even your ankles get a baby bump). I’m talking about the baby bulge you battle once the baby is already out. To be fair, I did just have a baby (eight years ago), so I can’t claim a Heidi Klum body anymore (stop laughing). But for the past year I have been trying different diets and exercises to lose the weight once and for all. And in one year I have lost (drumroll please)…..

Ten pounds.

Yes, that’s right. Only ten pounds. And do you know why? Because of yo-yo dieting. It’s getting ridiculous. I have pretty much lost and gained the same ten pounds more times that I can keep track of…

End of excerpt. Read the rest in the eBook “Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows“.

 

This is why.

“I want to come home.”

These are the words my daughter, DQ, spoke to me a month after she moved out of my house to live with her father. They were the words I had hoped to hear from her every day since she left, and yet, they felt so sad as she said them out loud. As her mother, I wanted to scoop her up and tell her of course she could come home. But both of us knew it wasn’t going to be that easy.  After all, I still had to convince her dad this was a good idea.

“I feel like I’m giving in too soon,” she confided in me, citing the rule both her father and I had come up with that dictated she would have to live in her dad’s house until the end of the school year, at least. But after she described the drastic differences her life over there had been from her life in my home, I told her it was okay and we would figure this out.

A whole other lifetime ago, life was very different in our family. We didn’t have a lot of money, and things were really tight. When money is tight, so is patience, as well as everyday common decency. DQ’s father and I thought nothing of our verbal sparring matches we held way back then. There were some nights when we screamed at each other through to the early hours of the morning. Eventually, those screaming fights escalated into something more physical.

Abuse was not something that just popped up out of the blue back then. It had first appeared many years before, when we were first dating. The first time it happened, a guy I knew had looked at me suggestively when we were at a party. The guy had obviously been drinking too much, and likely wasn’t even seeing straight. But that one look sent the Ex over the edge, and he challenged him to a fight. Naturally, we were told to leave the party. But when I defended my friend to the Ex, he reached his hand up and came down hard on my leg next to him. He immediately apologized at his action, breaking into tears as he repeated, “I’m sorry,” over and over. I was so shocked over the action that I didn’t know what to do. And I was disgusted in myself as I reassured him that it was okay, placing all sympathy on him over what he had “accidentally” done to me, forgetting that I was the one who had been wronged. The next day, where he had hit me developed into the blackest bruise I had ever seen, taking up my entire thigh.

I often look back at that moment and wonder how things would have been different had I done what many women swear they would do – LEAVE AFTER THE FIRST HIT. It’s so easy to say. But trust me, the grooming from an abuser begins long before that first strike. First, the abuser chooses a girl who lacks self-esteem. In the beginning of that relationship, he puts her on a pedestal – telling her how pretty she is, how much of a better man he is with her, and spoils her with affection. Sometimes, the guy will come to her damaged, and let her help put the pieces together. For the Ex, he came to me only days after I met him to tell me that one of his friends had been killed. He was devastated, sharing real tears as I comforted him in his sadness.

“I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as you do,” he told me.

An abuser will also look for anything they can use to hold over their girlfriend, further chaining her to him. This opportunity didn’t take long to arise. When the Ex and I first started dating, I was also seeing someone else. The Ex wasn’t my boyfriend, and neither was this other guy. So I didn’t think anything of it on Valentine’s Day of that year when the Ex presented me with a rose earlier that afternoon, and I went on a date with the other guy that evening. Yet, at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t go over well with the Ex. Sure enough, the Ex found out and spent the next day screaming at me over the phone. As I tried to plead my case and apologize to him, he wouldn’t hear anything of it. I found myself on the defensive with him, trying to earn his forgiveness.

While the first hit was the beginning of the physical abuse, this should have been my first and last red flag that something was wrong. I had known the Ex for less than a week, and was trying to hold onto him over this mistake. But I felt horrible for hurting him. I had added to his pain so soon after his friend had died. I had betrayed him. I owed him.

He had his hooks in me.

Over the next couple years, I stopped attending many regular teen functions so I could be with him. I stopped hanging being around my friends because they couldn’t stand my boyfriend. I skipped my Senior Project Grad party because he told me he was going to go out and get drunk if I went. And the day after I graduated high school, I moved into a tiny one-bedroom apartment with him. He was homeless at the time, so I felt like I had to just so he had a roof over his head.

We lived in this apartment for one year. That year was the worst year of my entire life. I have actually blocked out so much of that time. Every now and then, pieces of that year will come back to me in flashes, surprising me out of the blue. Abuse does that – it creates holes in your memory. I heard that this happens with young children when there is abuse in the home, affecting their growing brains in those first 5 years of life so that they develop issues later in life. I often wonder if this is why the Taz is the way he is, if it’s because he spent those first several years of his life tuning out his dad beating up his mom.

In that hellish year, I gave up college in favor of working full time. He worked sporadically, usually losing his job because he was stealing from the register or he mouthed off to the boss. I faithfully kept my job, handing my paycheck over to him so that he could pay the bills. We had no car, and never had money to pay for even a simple bus ride. So I walked three miles to work, and three miles back. We also had no money for food. I lived on a Top Raman diet and got down to 98 pounds.

He, on the other hand, was living high on the hog. Somehow he made friends with money. He would come home with new clothes his friends would apparently buy him (as he told me). Sometimes he’d be gone for several days at a time, and I’d have no idea where he was because he’d ignore me when I paged him (those were the days of pagers). When he came back, he’d always have some excuse as to why he was gone – he was helping a friend in need, he was trying to secure a job, he was stranded and couldn’t make it home.

We would get into awful fights over everything. He would choke me, hit me, use his body to push me against a wall. He would lunge at me, and I would instinctively fight back before he even threw the first hit, giving him the open to beat the shit out of me. One time he hit me in the nose causing me to cry out in pain next to an open window. That time, the cops were called. I lied to them, saying it was nothing. They knew I was lying. But in those days, they couldn’t do anything unless the victim pressed charges. Now it’s better because the police can press charges even when the victim doesn’t. But if I pressed charges, two things would happen – he would come back and hurt me, and even scarier to me, he would break up with me.

One of these instances of abuse caused me to hold an empty beer bottle above my head as if I were going to bash it against his head. He had just finished saying something so incredibly mean to me, I couldn’t think of anything else to do. He took the bottle, threw me on the ground, and proceeded to kick me all over my body. Then he left, and I was left alone to cry in the middle of my living room floor. The bruises remained on my body for a week, and I covered them with turtlenecks and long sleeves. But when I involuntarily winced upon being hugged by my sister, my family knew something was up.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to leave. Or rather, we were being kicked out because the rent wasn’t being paid. But I moved out and was back in my parents’ home knowing that I would soon be breaking up with the Ex.

That’s when I discovered I was pregnant.

Long story long, we stayed together, and the abuse stopped – for a while. But once we were married and had a couple of kids, it all started back up again. I don’t know what started it – the stress over lacking funds, the fact that we had just lost our third child to stillbirth, the needs of the kids we did have, the depression that was threatening both of us… All I know is that soon we were screaming at each other, he was drinking more, I was being accused of cheating on him, and the hitting began again. Another year of that, and I finally said enough was enough and moved out – for good.

So when DQ asked to move in with her father, the past was the biggest memory that made me want to say no. What if she made him angry? Would he hit her?  If he could hit someone he claimed to love romantically, what would stop him from hitting his own daughter?

This was also on the memories of all those closest to us. When I decided to let DQ go, I had to answer to multiple people who thought I had gone off my rocker. But something told me that I needed to let her go. He was her dad. In all the years she had visited him, nothing had ever gone awry. I needed to trust that it would be okay.

I mention all of the abuse and our past life together because it’s relevant. I have slowly moved past this reality. It took some time, but I am no longer that girl who feels responsible for picking up the pieces. Being a punching bag is no longer normal. Even being called a mean name is not normal.

But I don’t believe the Ex has moved past this reality. I have spent the past couple of years being nice about him, not talking about the abuse – especially here – because he or the kids might read it. I pretend to the public that we had a normal divorce and get along now for the benefit for the kids. And truthfully, we do get along for the kids’ sake. I have forgiven him for all those years of torture, and even own my own part of the puzzle for the times I messed up, as well as when I allowed the abuse to continue by not walking away. But I have also forgiven myself for not walking away, because abuse is so much darker than the black and white of it. Walking away sometimes just doesn’t feel like an option.

In case you were wondering, he never did hit her. He never abused her. They hardly even fought. But life in his home was very different. The depression was still very thick in the air there. Her dad was suffering from it, and spent all his time either working or in his room watching TV. DQ was left to her own devices 90% of the time. There was no food, and she relied on the free breakfast and lunch program at school. In the evenings, she would have to make her own dinner. Often it was frozen pizza or the like.

But more than that, the Ex and his girlfriend were continuing the cycle of screaming matches at night that would last well into the early morning. DQ would lie awake at night as they screamed at each other. And there’s reason to believe that her father was still abusive.

There were other reasons, too, why DQ needed to leave. But those were the biggest. And somehow we needed to convince her father that she needed to move home. We blamed her depression, which was true, and how she was homesick, also true. We failed to mention that we knew anything about the abuse. And last weekend DQ came home with me.

“What happened? “ the counselor asked DQ when we re-enrolled her into school the following Monday. Neither of us wanted to talk about it. DQ looked at me for help, and I stepped in.

“It just wasn’t what she expected,” I explained.

“Not much greener on the other side,” the counselor chuckled.

She has no idea.

I am trying to figure out how to write an article for the newspaper on the fact that DQ came home, and why. I want to give hope to parents who have children that want to try moving out – that they may just come back when they’ve discovered the “grass isn’t greener on the other side”. I still don’t know what to write. I can’t write all this. But I needed to include the truth somewhere. So here it is.

This is why.

Confession: I hate school projects

This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, Feb. 22.

I hate school projects. There. I’ve said it. I’ve often felt like it was more homework for the parents than it is for the kids. Yes, I understand that school projects are meant to be for the kids. But please tell that to the students who bring in the projects they worked on all by themselves only to be shown up by the child whose architect father built an exact replica of the Golden Gate Bridge out of toothpicks.

True story.

At any rate, I am not a parent who does my child’s project for them. But I do have to sit and hold my child’s hand from start to finish on these projects just to get them done, feeding him ideas because he just can’t come up with them on his own. I suppose these projects are meant to help kids learn in a more fun way. However, forcing a child to sit for hours during the weekend as I suffer through glue gun burns while talking him off the ledge is anything but fun.

Recently my son, Taz, brought home a packet of papers detailing the upcoming science fair. He had a choice to either do homework during this time or create an elaborate project. Of course, he chose the project because it’s “more fun” than homework. In the meantime, I suffered flashbacks of every project we’d done in his 12 years of life.

One year, Taz had to create a report on different leaves he found. He was to collect about twenty leaves, dry them, and then tell a story about where he found them. Sounds like a sweet project, doesn’t it? Wrong. Between his tears and whining and my threats that he’d never see the light of day again until this project was done, I don’t think either one of us wanted to see a leaf ever again. Even now I shudder a little when autumn comes around.

In 4th grade, Taz was given the infamous Mission project. For kids with parents who know how to build, this must have been a blast. For me, it was a really bad joke. The book he brought home from the library with the instructions on how to build a California Mission from scratch was totally wrong in all the measurements. I had to stretch my brain to capacity to figure out what the measurements were supposed to be so that the building would actually stay intact. Then I used way too much hot glue, both on my fingers and on the house, because I just couldn’t trust him with the tool.

mission

This year, my son was given a month of lead-time before the project was due. Taz had chosen an experiment that compared the growth of sugar and salt crystals, which he assured me was very quick and promised we had plenty of time to finish it. Since he is now in sixth grade, I took him at his word.

A week passed by, and then another. The science fair project was pushed to the back of my mind as it slipped off my radar. But when I received the teacher’s reminder that the project was due in five days, I began to hyperventilate. She happily noted that we were probably already done with the experiment, and just needed to finish the poster over the weekend. But we hadn’t even started. Even worse, through research we learned that sugar and salt crystals take 7-10 days to properly grow.

We were so in trouble.

Actually, the Taz was the one who was in trouble. But as his parent, I couldn’t help feeling responsible that I hadn’t pushed harder for him to get this done much sooner. I dragged him to the store to gather up all the materials he needed to finish the project and make a beautiful poster to go with it. Then the two of us went to work setting up jars of water, one with salt and one with sugar, and a stick for them to grow on in each.

The first day, the salt one began to crystallize on the stick while the sugar one did nothing. The second day, the salt one grew a tiny bit more. The sugar one did nothing. The third day, the salt one was still slowly growing while the sugar one was asleep at the wheel.

The science fair was two days away and the experiment had failed. There wasn’t enough time to start over. We were forced to make a choice – keep going and hope that something would happen in the nick of time, or scrap the whole experiment and do something completely different.

That was how we discovered which household item cleans pennies the best.

The completed poster
The completed poster

Have I mentioned how much I hate school projects?

How to make the first move

I went out to lunch with a coworker today. She’s someone I have known for years, and have always thought she was just a wonderful person. As long as I’ve known her, she’s been bubbly and upbeat, cheering others on around her in their endeavors, and just an inspiration on how to be a decent person. But being a natural introvert, I’ve never been one to make the first move to get to know her better – or anyone at work, for that matter. I’ve always left it up to others to try and get to know me better because it’s just easier that way, you know? There’s less risk involved. Naturally that must mean I have tons of friends, right?

You’d think, huh.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way. But regardless, this coworker and I connected recently and came to the mutual decision that we should really have lunch. We ended up having over an hour of fantastic conversation as we discussed everything from our kids to our faith, and everything in between. When we got back to our desks, she emailed me the kindest note. In it, she mentioned that while it might not seem like it, she’s actually a very shy person.

“I’m not one to socialize much,” she wrote, “but you make it very easy. Let’s do it again!”

When it’s hard to make friends, maybe we just need a reminder we’re not the only ones who are shy. Somewhere out there is another human being who is longing for a friend and not sure how to go about it. It’s not just us who are afraid to make the first move. Others are too. But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

This truth is currently being illustrated by my stepson, Frizz, as he agonizes how to ask out the girl he has liked for the better part of the school year. As a senior, he is closing in on the end of his high school years. He is also closing in on the last chance he has to even talk to the girl he likes – let alone ask her out on a date, and perhaps even ask her to be his girlfriend. But just making that first step is terrifying enough, let alone any of the steps that follow after that.

Not sure how to advise my stepson, I asked my daughter, DQ, how she has been asked out in the past. She shared her most recent experience with me. The boy got to know her by asking a lot of questions about her, keeping his attention focused on her. The attraction proved to be mutual, and both of them dropped hints about their interest in each other. And when this boy was able to see that DQ was into him, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“I guess what Frizz should do is just really try to get to know this girl better, then get her number, and when the moment seems right, tell her how he feels and see if she feels the same way,” DQ advised. “If he does it right, he might even know that she likes him back when he gets to that point.”

Of course, she makes it sound so easy. And truthfully, if you put your nerves aside, it really is that easy. But for someone as shy as Frizz, as shy as my coworker, as shy as ME, taking that first step can feel like preparing to jump off a cliff.

But if no one makes the first move, then no one will go forward.

I guess this could be a lesson in anything. We never know what will happen unless we make that first move – whether it be making a new friend, expressing a feeling of adoration, publishing a book, taking a stand for yourself, risking it all…. If we live a life so full of caution that it keeps us from living life to the fullest, we can’t claim we know the bad that will happen. We also will never know the good that will happen.

Being social for an introvert might feel totally unnatural. But while painful at first, barreling through that shyness isn’t lethal. It might seem that way, but taking that first step won’t strike you down dead. The worst that can happen is that you might get turned down. Sucky, sure. But you’ll be able to move beyond it rather than getting stuck in the unknown. And the best that can happen? You’ll get exactly what you wanted in the first place. A new friend. That special someone who likes you just as much as you like her. Or a published book (only a few more weeks left until A Symphony of Cicadas is officially published).

We’ll never know until we’ve made the first move.