A Tale of Two Jennifers

When we had been in California just a few weeks I surprised Rob by sobbing myself to sleep. I have had many wonderful friends in my life, but I was particularly missing my great friend Jennifer. She’s the kind of friend who takes you just how you are. The kind of friend who invited me over for giant salads for lunch while the kids play and we chatted on the couch and folded laundry together. She was the woman I was doing the business of motherhood with. We traded piano lessons for my kids for doula support during her fourth daughter’s birth. My 6 year old stood on her porch in a temper tantrum and refused to take lessons from her. I almost had to catch her baby girl because she was birthing so fast the midwife nearly missed it. We have been in the trenches of life together.

brunch:jenniferI was lonely for her company and the comfort of knowing she was just 5 blocks down the road and I could meet her in the park at any time. I was sad that her sweet children would be growing up and I would only see it on facebook.

We grew close after years of hanging out with a wonderful group of ladies for regular brunches. We both lived in the same neighborhood so we had set up a weekly lunch on Wednesdays so we could have consistent babysitting for doctor appointments and such, and on the weeks we didn’t need a sitter we just enjoyed our time together. We took zoo trips and saw children’s theater performances. We canned tomato sauce and peaches. I loved all the women from our brunch group, but losing Jennifer’s company was like moving away from family.

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It was quite a surprise to me when, after moving to California, I met another Jennifer who became like family. We met at a homeschool park day and we were both new to the area. I invited her family over to dinner because we were desperate to make new connections and I thought maybe they’d be lonely for friendships too. That first dinner together we became fast friends. We joked comfortably. Her husband Ben and Rob had a great time as well, and the kids trampled all through the patio playing like long-time friends.

beach:jenniferOver the course of the year and half I have known my California Jennifer our friendship has grown dear. Our kids are like cousins. She’s seen my kitchen loaded with dishes. I’ve seen her floor scattered with orphan socks. I can call her when I’m stuck in a horrible mood, and she can stop over for impromptu dinner on a week night. We have been in the trenches of life together. She’s not my only friend here in California, but she’s grown to be like a sister. Just like my Ohio Jennifer.

And just like my Ohio Jennifer, my California Jennifer and I will be living our friendship at a distance. Jennifer and her family will be relocating back to their beloved Pennsylvania. Though I am happy for them that they are going home, I am sad because they are taking a large piece of my sense of home with them.

So this post is an ode to the two Jennifers of my heart. Ohio Jennifer and California Jennifer. O.J. and C.J. My life is sweeter because you are in it, even if I will have to count on social media and phone calls to stay close.

Risk and Vulnerability

Our family generally rewards risk taking. We climb high things and say “yes” to opportunities. We watch YouTube videos of extreme skiing and sky diving. We homeschool and camp and drive cross country.

This week at our homeschool park day one of our daughters, E, was climbing a tree with a friend. She was about 3 stories high in a sappy pine tree and going higher. This is the child that fell 8 feet out of a tree onto her head last fall. This is the child that more than anyone else in the family needs to “save face” when disciplined in public.

I told her I was uncomfortable with how high she was in the tree and said she needed to come down. Her friend began to climb down, grumbling about how her dad would have let her climb the tree. E stayed in the tree. She wasn’t budging. I was trying as hard as possible not to lose my temper as she blatantly told me she wasn’t coming down out of the tree. I didn’t want to yell at her or threaten to take away her privileges, but she was not coming out of the tree and I was running out of patience. There was quite a bit of back and forth about getting out of the tree as my blood pressure started rising.

Finally, my daughter forced herself to say, “I can’t come down. There is something keeping me up here but I don’t want to tell you unless I can tell you in private.” I wasn’t going to climb a sappy pine tree, so we were still at a stalemate.

“Come down out of the tree so you can tell me in private.” I called.

“I can’t come down. I can’t tell you why.”

Finally, I asked her friend if we could have some privacy and she trotted away.  E immediately began to climb down out of the tree. She was really angry with me and was crying. “I couldn’t climb down because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying,” she said as I hugged her. “You have to let me take risks mom. I was being very safe up there and it felt really good to try to get that high.” I understood what she was saying, but I was just not comfortable with her climbing so high in a public park.

“I know, but if you had made a mistake and fallen it would have been really bad, and I didn’t want to let you take that risk.” I said. I stood my ground like a good parent should. I had said, “climb down” and I didn’t relent until she had climbed down.

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But I could see she was disappointed in me and confused about the whole situation. I’ve let her climb boulders that high on Mount Diablo and given her permission to ride a really high zipline. I always tell her to be brave enough to make big loud mistakes so she can learn. And now I’m making her climb down out of a measly tree?

I remembered when I was a kid we’d climb this enormous pine tree in the back yard. There were 4 or 5 kids all at the very top. We’d all hold onto different branches and take turns leaning back so the tree would bend at the top, and we would try to make the tree top spin around. We were at least 50 or 60 feet high. We were 7 or 8 years old. Our parents yelled. They grounded us from playing outside. We would try to pretend we hadn’t been in the tree but the sap smeared on our hands gave us up. We felt free. We were alive. When we were forced to climb down we were being crushed by tyranny and oppression, held back by uncomprehending parents. I had become that tyranny.

E wouldn’t look at me. She was really mad. She wanted to take risks. We value risks. Why wouldn’t I let her take this risk? Couldn’t she prove what she could do? I discovered something very true about myself in that moment and I decided to take the risk of being vulnerable with my kid.

“Hey!” I called to her as she walked away from me with a big pout on her face. “Come here. I wanted to tell you something else. I just wanted you to know that if we were in our own yard, and this was our tree I would have let you climb it. I really think you could do it. But the real reason I was uncomfortable and made you climb down is because I’m worried that the other moms at the park will think I’m a bad mom for letting you climb the tree. I probably shouldn’t care what they think, but I do. I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK, Mom. I understand.” She hugged me. She ran off and played. I don’t know if that was the “right” thing to do in this situation. But it seemed to me that taking the risk of honesty was probably a better choice than playing the tough guy when my kid was hurting.

What do you think? Have you ever been totally vulnerable with your kids like that? What happened when you did?

How to Decorate for Christmas

Last year we put up our tree in our new house for the first time and I felt a little bit like tossing the whole thing out the window and starting fresh. I didn’t feel very cheerful last year, so that was probably clouding my vision a bit. I wanted to get a set of matching bulbs and all white lights. I wanted a big bright glowing star instead of the cheap, unlit one we’ve had since our first Christmas tree as a family. But I kept our traditional tree anyways, and this year I’m so glad I did.

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This year I’ve decided that we have the absolute best Christmas decor on Earth. “Laziness” is my decorating style in general, as is “Using Stuff We Already Have.” The later is represented with the garland I have hanging in the window. The faux evergreen is the exact same one I have hung every year, always in a different place. At times I have twisted it up around itself and used it as a wreath. I have hung it from the fireplace mantle. I’ve strung it on nails from our front porch. I spent $1 on it at the Dollar Tree the year Rob and I got married. The bow is from a gift basket we received from Rob’s previous job. And the glass bulbs I’ve hung from every different place you can think of in years past. I bought them the second year of our marriage for $8 at World Market. Looking good, cheap stuff.

We have a fake tree because I’m allergic to pine. My husband has come to terms with it, though he was a real tree purist when we met. The tree decorating is great fun no matter how real it is when you’re a little girl, so I put it up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and let the kids go to town. There are many color coordinated trees which I covet in other families’ homes. But our tree is what I’d like to call “eclectic.” See below for an example:

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Here we have a plastic bulb which came from the same Dollar Tree purchase as the aforementioned garland; an irreplaceable glass ornament passed down from Rob’s grandparents, which I believe came from Morocco; a pipe cleaner with Borax crystals on it in the shape of a star; a paper origami star gifted to us by a friend; and a piece of paper colored with marker and cut into a circle.

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And here we have a bulb I made out of apple packaging from Costco; a button covered bulb I made 7 years ago; three of the glass nativity themed ornaments Rob’s mom gave us a few years back; a cinnamon salt dough ornament; a glass bulb I bought at the thrift store; yarn I wound up and hung in the tree; and a cardboard horse cut out by one of the girls.

 

 

 

Basically, I let the kids hang whatever the heck they want to in the tree. If it gets hung in the tree, I put it lovingly into the decorations bin at the end of the season and the next year it becomes a treasured ornament lovingly placed with care on the tree for the rest of our lives. The result is a very full tree. It doesn’t even match itself, but I love it.