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The Bookmark Thief

Sep

01

Posted by on Sep 1, 2015 | 4 comments

There were no greater treasures than her books - Robin Dance

It was likely birthed as a gentle correction to my inconsiderate transgression: I had dared to turn down the corner of a page in one of her books.

For one so young, she took good care of her special possessions, and there were no greater treasures than her books. These were no papery trophies staged on a shelf. They were stirrers of imagination, journeys of escape, introductions to new friends. It wasn’t hard to figure out those she loved most, loose bindings or passages lined and noted told on her.

You could read this child by studying her bookshelf, and even more so if you opened some of those books. For a season, she carefully applied Wite-Out to profanities, a discovery that made me shake my head in wonder and admiration. We were intentional parents who did our best to train a child in the way she should go, but this was beyond expectation. She was so much better than I ever hoped to be. In case you didn’t realize, “bad” words do show up in children’s books sometimes.

If memory serves me rightly, I was annoyed when she scolded me for folding a page corner to mark my place. She was making a mountain out of a molehill. I was disrespecting her property. Neither of us was particularly impressed with the other’s point of view.

I don’t think I fully understood the gravity of this breach to her until she handed me a present a few days later, a hand-stitched bookmark. Certainly, it served both of us, but it was no doubt a love offering. She paid for it with humanity’s most valuable currency – time – and to me it was priceless.

I was heartbroken years later when it was no where to be found.

 * * *

But this is a story with a happy ending, the kind punctuated with tears, heart-wrung but binding joy to sadness in the presence of good but hard things.

 

She found the bookmark she had sewn for me half her life ago.

She was in the process of turning her room into mountains, piles to sell, piles to give away, piles to throw away, piles to keep. The yuckiest pile was the one marked undecided; it held sentimental attachment but no practical good. Every thing was a symbol of something more, a memory or season worth holding onto. It wasn’t about the thing itself but the everything else of it that made these things so hard to get rid of. If you’ve got an old tee shirt in your drawer you haven’t worn in decades but won’t throw away, you know exactly what I mean.

Somewhere in the sorting and pile-making, she found my bookmark. Neither of us know why it was in her room but who cares? She found a treasured possession.

When I look at this bookmark, I see her then. I can sense her indignation over my scarring her precious book, and her satisfaction in figuring out a brilliant solution.

Uneven stitches…ragged edges…skewed alignment–the casual observer might see a mess of imperfection, but all I see is something perfectly beautiful.

 

The same could be said of all of us, I suppose.

* * *

When you’re raising your children it feels like it will last forever, doesn’t it?  The fridge is a revolving gallery, measuring time in footprints and thumbprints and handprints. Crooked letters and misspelled words. Construction paper and tissue paper, glitter and glue and gumption.

We save every masterpiece…

because we don’t quite know when the last one will be The Last One.

But make no mistake my friends, there is a Last One.

* * *

I find her sitting on the floor in her room surrounded by piles of things wanted and not, an undoing of the life she’s constructed for more than a dozen years. It will be the place she’ll remember as “home” when she’s grown and away, the house dreams about her childhood will travel back to.

The bookmark is on the floor next to her –  “The bookmark you made me…!” “Yeah, I’m not sure why it’s in here….” – and the sight of it slays me happy. It’s a prodigal, an old friend, treasure found, and surely it’s a good sign of some sort. The edges are a bit frayed and the ink escaped her lines, but those things only endear me further.

Sometimes you can love a thing so much it becomes an idol, but sometimes that thing is a just a placeholder for something else, and there’s no sin or shame in those affections.

 

Memories roll in like thunder. So do thoughts of her future.

In four days we’ll pack up the piles she decided to take and drive 1400 miles to go confidently in the direction of her dreams, to begin living the life she’s imagined.

The bookmark stays with me.

 

 

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Don’t I look different…? {Part II, a series on motherhood & empty nest}

Aug

18

Posted by on Aug 18, 2015 | 4 comments

Sometimes endings and beginnings are one in the same

ii

There’s this scene in the 1980s version of About Last Night where Demi Moore’s character, Debbie, is rebuffing her former lover’s (and boss’s) advances. Steve’s a persistent one, not believing her first “no” and reminding her of what they once shared. Her response is angry…indignant, not so much at his uninvited gesture but because he can’t see “it,” her feelings for her current boyfriend.

Debbie: There’s somebody else now.

Steve: I don’t see a ring.

Debbie: I don’t need a ring…. Look at me. Don’t I look different? I’m in love, can’t you tell? This has never happened to me before. I want to have ten kids with this guy…doesn’t it show?

The scene strongly resonates with me though under different circumstances. I’ve felt a similar emotional tension, markers of something significant.

After I got married…

After giving birth to my first child…

The shock of learning I was post-menopausal when my body told a very different story

And now.

When we’re young, we think there’s a point at which we’re grown. What I’ve come to realize is as long as we’re alive, we never stop growing, at least not in the ways that matter most.  In the beginning, we celebrate a series of Firsts. Somewhere beyond the crest of the Hill we celebrate lasts.

Sometimes endings and beginnings are one in the same, the point of view and beauty therein lies in their beholder.

 

My youngest and I shared a dual ending/beginning, and it hit me he’s not the only one coming of age. So am I.

His departure ushers in a new season for me and I find myself wanting to scream

Look at me! Don’t I look different? This has never happened to me before!

I didn’t expect to feel different, but I do. Nothing has changed and yet everything has changed.

Everything that happens
    has happened before,
and all that will be
    has already been—
God does everything
    over and over again.

~ Ecclesiastes 3:15 CEV

Sometimes all I need to talk me off the ledge are Ancient Words.

* * * * *

PLEASE check back as I continue this series, as I process this new and precious life season. Though I feel it deeply, and at times, painfully so, there is too much good about it I don’t want you to miss!   It’s easy to subscribe for free, so if you haven’t yet, consider this my personal invitation.  (Also, if you haven’t yet, please read the first post in this series.)

Robin Heart Signature - Green

 

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Facing giants {a series on motherhood & empty nest}

Aug

17

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 | 13 comments

A good thing to file away about empty nest

i.

I’ve been pulling this Band-aid off for so long, I’ve become accustomed to the sting. It still hurts but the pain is a dull one just below the surface.

Until it isn’t.

But then once it’s off, that means the healing has taken place and the wound is restored to health.

Isn’t that the way it goes?

Last Wednesday we took our youngest to college, to the big university that happens also to be in my hometown. Athens, Georgia was a wonderful place to grow up in the 60s and 70s – living in Five Points was a citified Mayberry – but I went away to school and never returned except to visit. Reasons are many, mostly tied to job, but I’ve arrived at a definitive peace with my hometown, and it feels so good to be there now, like all the unpredictability, challenge, and change over the last four years was leading to this: setting the stage for my baby to go to college in a familiar-to-me place.

Home. Through him, in an odd sense, I’m able to be at home when I go home. Family is still there – family has always been there – but I think I appreciate being closer in proximity in a way I haven’t in a long, long time.

So we moved my boy in to the 9th floor of a 960-student high-rise, and we left him and a chunk of my heart right there on Baxter Drive, 1.4 miles from the apartment we were living in when Mama died, down the road from my high school and middle school and around the corner from Barrow Elementary….within a few minutes and miles of where I spent my entire first 18 years.

It’s easy to drift into memories – they’re a flood – but I’m anchoring myself to today.

We came home to begin a new season, and lordy, our house was screaming quiet.

And here’s the thing, a good thing for you to file away if you’re years from where I am: 

You can “prepare” for Empty Nest all you want, you can steady your heart for the letting go, and you can even believe it’s good, well done, that this is what your parenting goal has been; but that doesn’t insulate you from the impact of this major change. 

So…I’ve given myself permission to feel it.

 

Thursday, my husband went to work like normal, and I went to work like normal. No, not normal, I threw myself into my work and barely stopped all day. Not to eat or use the bathroom, just go go go so I wouldn’t have to listen to the damned silence.

But then late in the day I had a conversation with a work colleague and she asked about taking Stephen to UGA the day before…and I stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t speak. And she spoke simple, liberating words over me, He’s your baby. This IS a big deal. It’s okay to be sad.

Which of course made me cry, which of course made me feel better.

Sometimes tears are a means of escape for all the feelings pounding your heart.

 

I AM a half-full glass girl. I DO see silver linings in stormy clouds. But sometimes it’s fine, even better, and certainly more honest, to absorb the impact of life and to recoil; eventually you’ll spring back.

If you don’t, you need to get help.

Two things are helpful, important and maybe even necessary when you’re approaching or in the season of Empty Nesting.

 

1. Give yourself permission to grieve. Your identity has been wrapped up in being a mother for a lot of years; while that will never change, your role will. Transitions can be tricky…. Remember that while there may be loss of young humans under your roof, their departure is one measure of success as a parent. You’ve been raising children to be independent young adults, not grown children who need you to survive. Their leaving might not be your only end-goal but it certainly should be one of them.

2. Collect friends in this same stage of life, and even a few years ahead of you. When you’re a new mother, it’s vital to be in community with other young moms; whether to encourage or advise or just listen, having others going through this same life stage is sanity-saving. It’s equally important, if not more so, to have women who can speak life and experience into this new season of Empty Nesting. What you’ll learn soon enough is, at this age, it’s not one thing going on (kids all leaving), it’s many things (aging parents, health issues, sickness among friends, marriages falling apart, career issues, financial pressures, etc. etc. ETC.) and you NEED others who understand from living it that you CAN get through it. It makes a huge difference and I’m so thankful for those in my life who continue to encourage, champion and challenge me…and even let me be sad.

To be continued…this is at all what I intended to write about when I started. Oh, the mind of my fingers sometimes… :) 

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Tears, Technology and Halcyon Days

Aug

06

Posted by on Aug 6, 2015 | 9 comments

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tears speak volumes if we are listening - robin dance

 

I’m not a cry-er.

 

I chalk it up to using a lot of my Lifetime Tear Quota when my mom died the spring of ’72 and my beloved grandmother the summer after. Nothing hurts more than losing the ones you love most. Scraping my little girl’s heart something fierce, both left me with a decades-long oozing wound. Recovery comes slowly, and even if they fade to silver, scars remain. Though no one else can see them, you know they’re there.

While I used to find not crying as some indicator of strength or emotional stability, I don’t so much these days. Sometimes I even find myself envying those for whom tears fall easily.

With age, my tears have gotten conspicuously louder and I’m more attuned to the sorts of things that manage to siphon these tiny, magical waters from my eyes.

Tears speak volumes if we’re listening.

 

Hallmark commercials are notorious for yanking heartstrings but it was a surprise when a granola bar commercial made me cry. Watch —

Nature Valley asked the same question of three generations, “What did you like to do for fun as a kid?”

It was all well and good when the over-40 set answered the question – blueberry picking, gardening, sledding, fishing, baseball, fort building, going door-to-door to find friends – and then it panned to a series of today’s kids…

It wasn’t just their answers that bothered me; it was their enthusiasm, the way their faces illuminated when they spoke.

Watching videos, gaming, texting — each child was passionate in answering. The admitted to spending hours…days…committed to their “play.”

It made me sad-sick.

I thought about my own childhood, what I did for fun–

Visits with my cousins in small-town, Georgia, where we’d play Kick the Can with neighbors until the moon was high in the sky, dirt bike rides without helmets where you may not have gotten burned but you could feel the heat of the motor, playing Mumblety Peg and shooting firecrackers and swimming in the Blue Hole–knives and matches for heaven’s sake. Amazingly, we never were injured.

Playing board games, building card houses and dining room forts, dress-up and make-believe, lemonade stands, water balloon fights, riding bikes and walking to 5 Points to buy a chocolate cone at Hodgson’s Drugs….

Reading behind the wing chair in our living room, sitting wrapped in a blanket by the heater vent, bowl of chocolate ice cream in one hand and Nancy Drew in the other.

Or that time it snowed then iced then snowed again, and no one had power for days, and we became prowling wolves, somehow still finding our people.

Boredom was a gift, a birthplace for imagination.

 

What a disservice to our children, that they never have to be bored.

And it’s not that I’m judging kids for their choices; it’s a by-product of our culture.  Following a path of least resistance is human nature. Even as a mama, when I was desperate for a break, I’d pop in a Barney video to babysit.

It concerns me for our collective future, mine and yours and ours, that we medicate on technology, how we suckle the internet like a babe to mother’s milk. We’re tempted to point at the addictions because we’re blind or maybe just numb to our own.

We settle for imaginary friends on Facebook. We crumble under the weight of comparison wielded by social sharing. We’re more connected than ever before, and paradoxically more isolated. It’s crazy.

My children are older now so I can’t fully control their influences or their choices about what to do for fun. What I can do is listen to my tears and pay attention to what moves me.

The truth is, I’ve been sitting here for too long trying to tidy my words and end with a neatly tied bow. I’m an optimist and idealist. I see bright sides and silver linings. I’m fighting the feeling of becoming a cliche, one who sees days gone by as halcyon; better, maybe, than they ever really were.

Sometimes having more questions than answers is the most honest place to land.


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Mama’s Way (15 Things To Teach Your Children)

May

05

Posted by on May 5, 2015 | 3 comments

15 Things To Teach Your Children

 

To say this is a big month for me is to call Everest a molehill. My first born will graduate college and my last born will bid adieu to high school.

 

I’m fine, really…. Introspective. Contemplative. Prayer-filled. But good.

This season has me missing my parents something awful, wishing so badly they were here to celebrate with us. Daddy at least got to meet and spend time with his grands; but maybe because Mother’s Day is coming up, I’m lamenting not having more time with Mama. If given three wishes, my first would be to have time with my her, to talk as adults and friends and for Mama to meet my babies and husband.

To honor her memory and celebrate her legacy, today I’m sharing the text for my Listen to Your Mother reading. It’s a lovely thing to hear, but quite another to read. I suppose this is mostly for me but I hope it will bless and encourage you, too.

Motherhood extends the special privilege of shaping lives, impacting the future and changing the world.

Listen-to-Your-Mother-Atlanta-2014-Mamas-Way-by-Robin-Dance.jpg-700x700

 

Mama had just nine years to teach me everything she knew about being a mother.  Thing is, I don’t think she realized she was teaching any more than I understood I was learning.

Like when I would sit on the floor next to her bed and she would dream out loud with me.  She told me I was going to be Miss America 1984.  I believed her.  My older sister would win first, and when I was crowned two years later, we’d be the first sisters ever to share the title.

This was back in the early 70s before Disney princesses were born and when beauty pageants were the end-all, be-all for every little girl.

This was mama’s way of teaching me my own daughter would need to be told she was talented and beautiful and of immeasurable value; that part of my role would be to encourage her,  to believe in her,and to help her see in herself what was yet to be seen.  In those bedside chats she taught me to be present and positive and to mine deep potential and possibilities.

Or the time she explained the birds and the bees.

Now remember, this was a thousand years ago when TV couples had just been allowed to be seen sharing the same bed, and today’s PG-rated movies would have been slapped with an R.

My little eight-year-old mind couldn’t wrap itself around how THAT could go THERE and WHY IN THE WORLD anyone would want it to.

Naturally, I had a lot of questions.

Probably regretting her decision to make sure it was she who first taught us about sex, the conversation abruptly ended when, exasperated, she declared, “I am not going to sit here and draw pictures!”

This was mama’s way of teaching me it is a parent’s privilege and responsibility to initiate important conversations, even if they can get a little uncomfortable; and there are just some things a child needs to hear from her parent first, before the world gets a hold of them and tells a distorted version of a beautiful truth.

And then there was the way she’d respond when we’d ask, “What’s for dinner?”  Now, it’s important for you to know before I tell you her response, that Mama was a woman of deeeep, deep faith. And it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I understood.  They were picky, horrible eaters who preferred a PB&J over the wonderful meals I’d cook–

Then, I not only understood her response but I’d have to exercise extreme restraint not to screech it every time they asked What’s for dinner?

Chicken Shit on a Shingle.

Some of you know what I’m talking about….

This was Mama’s way of teaching me that some things about motherhood never change, and sometimes a right-timed expletive isn’t just appropriate, it’s necessary.

And then there was what Mama taught me when it rained.

She’d round the traffic circle at Barrow Elementary to pick us up after school, but she wouldn’t leave it at that, she just couldn’t.  Our apartment was a mile or two past our town’s housing projects and when she’d spot a group of children walking home, she’d stop in traffic, make us open our doors on the sidewalk side and invite them to ride the rest of the way.

She couldn’t have cared less that their skin wasn’t the same color as ours–to her, they were just children whose mamas couldn’t pick them up.  She wasn’t about to let them walk home in the rain!  I didn’t like it because we were cramped in our car two or three laps deep and why did it always have to be us who gave rides?

But this was Mama’s way of teaching me that some things are just right, that those who have give to those who don’t, and red and yellow, black and white, are precious in His sight.

Mama taught me manners by always using “please” and “thank you” herself, and because she sang “You are My Sunshine” to me a thousand times, it was the lullaby to which my own babies fell asleep.

She died too damn young at 38, but even following her death, she continued to teach me.

She taught me that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t scared, it just means you keep fighting for hope and praying for miracles, and it’s not the number of years you have that matter most but the life in those years.  She taught me depth over breadth and that children are listening more than you’ll ever know.

Her death was my first lesson in what doesn’t kill you in life can make you stronger.

When I turned 34, I was aware that was the age my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

When I turned 38, I was aware that was the age she died.

At 39 and every year since, I realized I’ve outlived my mother.

Mama’s most profound lesson came as a result of her life and death:

To age gracefully.

Now, I don’t always get this right–last year was the BIG 5-0, and for just a little while I was sinking loooow.

But, age is the price we pay for life and it’s a privilege not everyone has.

The gray hair, crow’s feet, wrinkles; the memory we lose, the weight we gain, and arms too short to read a restaurant menu; the blasted eyebrows that forget where they live and move south…

The chance to know my children as young adults, and Lord willing, one day, to meet their future mates and my precious grand babies.

Mama died when I was nine and though she flat missed the Miss America prediction, I think she’d be happy to know I finally figured out the sex thing…

As far as my children know, three whole times.

 

 :::::::::::::::::::::

Looking for GREAT graduation gift ideas? Look no further!

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The sweet reminder

Jan

30

Posted by on Jan 30, 2015 | 3 comments

A sweet reminder of motherhood - by Robin Dance

When things go according to the way they should, your children will leave you.

It’s a sobering thought if you’re lightyears away from that day, but time can be a jerk, stretching days impossibly long but shriveling years tiny, so when the time comes you shake your head in disbelief wondering how in the world did you get from there to here. I know, it’s befuddling.

Your home will grow quiet. Your days will find more hours. And nights will return to lovers who needn’t lock doors.

Memories will surface through rose-colored glasses and you’ll forget all the mental weariness and physical exhaustion. You’ll romanticize what it means to be up all night with a sick baby, and having to read a dozen books before bed, and your kid praying for every person they’ve ever known just to stay up seconds longer. You’ll think it sweet, the constant wiping of noses and behinds and highchair trays covered in smashed banana and peas. You’ll forget about running out of wipes and the streaks of crusty dried snot on everything you own.

You’ll only remember that kissing a boo boo brings healing and a Disney Band-aid brings happiness.

On special occasions you’ll receive a call, unexpected but welcome from one of them. He or she will need to know things they know you know, and your spirit will strum joy and your heart will beat happy, answering each question with all the right answers.

Families write stories, and sometimes a child needs help remembering earlier chapters their Mama wrote.

It will be a call full of news and new things, and you’ll hear a tone so light and lovely it will quench a thirst you didn’t realize you had. Even mamas not prone to worry have a spot in their heart that never stops thinking about their children, willing and pleading and praying that all be well.

We’d gladly take a bullet for our babies; but since that isn’t likely to happen, we just wish we could insulate them from any harm, every harm, because we know the world is full of ’em.

We hear all the things our children tell us but the loudest are the ones spoken without words.

And so you hang up the call happy and full, lips smacking their satisfaction when the phone rings again. There’s a problem. Keys locked in a car, at night, away from home, the spare long lost…and you’re hours away and can’t do a blasted thing. Sure, and thankfully, a roommate is on the way, but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration, so you do what you’re wired to do, the only thing you can do at a time like this, and offer the counsel of who to call and what to do next.

The tremble in her voice breaks your heart the same way her skinned knees and hurt feelings did a thousand years ago.

Then you realize the gift in all of it, that you’ve never stopped being her mama and sometimes you’re the only one who knows the things she needs to know or can fix a thing or at least make it better, and that sometimes kissing a boo boo looks like a phone glued to your wide open ear, listening for words spoken and not.

Yes, your babies will one day leave you house but they’ll never leave your heart.

And perhaps the sweetest thing is you never leave theirs.

 

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