THE CHRYSALIS

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Eyeing a monarch butterfly flutter about colorful blooms is a majestic sight.  The butterfly is a symbol of our Creator’s handiwork and His mysterious attention to detail. Their humble origin, as a tiny, hidden egg is forgotten as they morph from unsightly caterpillar into one of the most gorgeous creatures on earth. Their life cycle also draws a parallel to parenting.  Parenting involves A LOT of the following: resources, patience, and restraint. Those are also vital for the survival and maturation of a butterfly. Once the life cycle is complete, the adult monarch launches off to find its own way in the world exactly like our children.

Being a parent to four young adults, I have had my share of struggles.  I was once told that being a parent was only difficult if you cared. Maybe at times I overly cared.  It’s the marathon race you never finish.  The paycheck you never cash in.  The prize you (at times) wish to return.  If Michaelangelo painted “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” I am living it out in human form. Can I get an amen?

The butterfly’s life cycle, like parenting, goes through stages.  Its first stage, the egg, is our children during the elementary years.  It is easy to define and execute your role as parent and you have relative control over the life of your child.  By the second stage, or the caterpillar phase, your child gets heavily involved in sports or activities. You provide all the resources and assistance available to give your child as much opportunity as possible. By the pupae or “chrysalis” phase, your child is an adolescent or young adult being influenced moreso by peers and developing their own ideas.  This is where things get tricky for parents.  How much to intervene?  When to and how?  How much advice do I give/ withold/ force?  Do I respect my children’s privacy or invade like a Nordic Viking?  This is the crucial phase when helping can actually hinder.  Just as a chrysalis must be left alone so it can work its wings to push the pupae open and gain strength, our young adults need room to work their “wings” to gain strength.  Sadly, helping a chrysalis open cripples their ability to fly.  Watching an adolescent struggle is physically painful for a parent, however, not intervening may be the best parenting we can provide.

Observing my own child struggle, manage difficulties only later to realize success is the sweetest of parenting victories.  Too bad for the mama monarch- she doesn’t get that satisfaction.  She’s gone as soon as she lays the egg.

 

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I’m Sorry. We Don’t Have Time to Be Nice.

The title of this comes from a story an author shared about herself in a Bible Study. She was mortified at her young child’s response to an elderly neighbor. The child reflected her concern for another while the mom did not. The mom wasn’t being mean, she just was in a hurry. What trait did she lack her daughter acted on? It was integrity. Why was it integrity and not hospitality? Because the daughter knew they needed to be somewhere and still cared enough about the relationship to explain.

Integrity is defined as being honest and having strong moral principles. I laughingly shared with someone recently about how years ago I read the simple statement, “You can tell a lot about someone by what they do with their shopping cart.” To this day, I cannot leave a cart somewhere random. A silly little statement has stuck with me. Am I acting ridiculous? Maybe, but I like to think I am doing the right thing. Why does it even matter to me? Because I believe a higher power is watching.

When I was married only a few years I decided to put a symbol on my car. It was the Christian sign of the fish. My husband asked me to please take it off. When I asked him why he said, “Because what if I get road rage? Then I’ll be a bad Christian example.” It’s funny he said that but he was spot on honest. Embarassingly, I often feel like the dog in the pic above if I get cut off in traffic or someone drives extra slow in the left lane. It’s human of me, but still something I have to keep in check. I don’t want to respond to that person’s behavior and get ugly. It’s so much more satisfying to end up right behind them at a red light and watch as they strain to appear busy and not notice me directly behind them. Just kidding! (Not really.)

Most people have no idea they are being rude and careless when they serve just themselves and ignore others. I’m not talking about the buffet line either. I’m talking about in all things. I’ve done it. We all have. It’s whenever we focus 100% on our wants/needs and ignore everyone else’s. Ironically, the outcome is usually not positive or rewarding anyway.

The news is chock full of people that have sold all their integrity for power and money. I recently read about a very wealthy, powerful man reduced to begging for leniency from a judge. He was no longer wealthy due to owing paybacks and certainly no longer on a power trip. But sadly, his integrity was already long gone. He was reaping what he sowed. What did that leave him to ponder in the dark at 3 a.m.? I’d prefer modest means, zero notoriety and personal peace myself.

The family name used to be a quick detection of someone’s character. Now, it’s a whole lot harder to figure someone’s true colors (or integrity.) I have always believed that my word needed to mean something. The Bible tells us that we should “let our no be no and our yes be yes.” I am assuming that’s because we shouldn’t need additional adjectives to prove our point if we are truly being honest. I also care about my reputation. I don’t care about it so people will like me, however. I’d rather be honest and hated than dishonest and loved. That way I can stand myself and tolerate my own existence.

Someone doesn’t have to look a certain way or be part of a certain pedigree or social class to have integrity. Some privileged people have the least. It’s either in you or it’s not. It can be taught but it’s within someone to choose it or not. I’d rather spend all my time with a person of integrity than someone without. You come away without all the questioning. It’s so much more rewarding and easier too.

The world offers prestige, fame and honor. It celebrates youth, success, pedigree and money. Somewhere along the way, all that has lost its luster for me. I’d rather just hang out with the authentically unique, the older, the wiser and the decidedly honest. I especially love a combo of any or all of these. These relationships are much more meaningful. I get to see a whole lot more integrity too. Who knows, maybe some of theirs will rub off on me.

Fluffy Ate the Easter Bunny!

Easter is coming soon after Lenten season and celebration of our risen Savior will be at last. It also brings with it plenty of interesting family memories. We have accrued a few that will surely be passed down through the family annals.

The tradition of dying real, hard boiled eggs is a mystery to me. I’ve never escaped the ritual nor come away with anything but discolored fingertips every Easter morning. However, it’s a tradition and the Turners don’t ask questions, we just do. On one Easter eve many years ago, my husband hid all the colored eggs INSIDE our house. There were almost three dozen and I was a bit upset to find dye on way more than the eggs. Plus, someone needs to REMEMBER where they were hidden, right? A belated found egg could result in an unwelcome stench. The following year I begged, pleaded, and nearly cried to have them hidden outside in the childrens’ play-yard instead. Their dad reluctantly agreed and all were hidden safely outside the night before. Unforeseen circumstances had it that a raccoon must have been watching and grinning nearby because on Easter morning, only two eggs could be found and many shells laid scattered. No one sided with mama after that so all future eggs were hidden back INSIDE our house once again.

On another Easter occasion, we had a parent’s nightmare. The family dog, Fluffy, was big, fat and named after the three headed Rottweiler off Harry Potter. He was loving and tolerant of childrens’ antics but a demon when it came to small rodents or cats. So, luck would have it that bright and early on Easter morning, Fluffy had just so happened to chase, catch, and kill a bunny RIGHT OUTSIDE our home. Neither us parents noticed until too late and the boys saw the evidence. One then cried, “Fluffy ate the Easter Bunny!!!” It was a gruesome sight and difficult to explain it wasn’t THE Easter Bunny but just happened to be a rabbit he caught. Those four young, sad, quizzical faces will be imprinted in our minds forever.

Easter morning pictures were somehow mandatory and I want to cold cock whoever said it had to be done. I’d force dress up the boys and our daughter would dutifully don her new Easter outfit. Then I’d attempt to stage a photo before we left for church. This was a necessity because it also became a tradition for our sons to roll down the green knoll outside the church in a pile each Sunday.

Somehow, we got through all the traditions and now we just attempt at dying eggs as there are less takers. I try to avoid the “duty of dye” and have relaxed all my Easter expectations. A little dye, unmatched outfits and the dreaded family pic are all in the past. Now I just wish to have all four home on Easter. A colorful jewel-toned egg would even be a welcome site peeking out behind a pillow.

REDNECK RIVIERA

I often refer to my children’s’ father as the Pied Piper. He’s the Huck Finn type and proved it when he relocated our family outside city limits to the river. He said this way we’d avoid HOA violations because we weren’t “neighborhood people.”

Our new home was actually an old fishing cabin on a sandy creek. It had been added onto multiple times and I’d swear there wasn’t one square angle in the house. Gold speck counter tops, a blue toilet and matching cast iron tub weren’t exactly swoon worthy. I also noticed Elvis -era red linoleum in corners, painted paneling and SEVEN sliding glass doors. It wasn’t my dream house by any stretch. The property, however, was beautiful and offered a sandy bank along a creek for the children to explore, swim and play. He’d always wanted to live by the water and assured me that the children would benefit. Longer rides to town, a fixer upper, and multiple safety fences had me thinking otherwise. Somehow he convinced me we’d one day fix it up and we made the move.

Adventures were weekly conquests and the children ate them up. An example was the “wave pool.” Their dad put layers of visqueen in the back of his truck and filled it with water. Then he put all the kids in the back and drove them up and down our bumpy, dirt road to simulate waves. We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies but the kids got a wave pool, by gosh.

Another method of his childcare containment was the boat. It became our playpen during winter. We’d bundle the kids up and put life jackets on and go on long boat rides. This was nearly every Saturday. This kept them contained and happy (as long as nobody pushed anybody off their seat.)

One of their favorite water activities was the slip and slide. This was created by 50 yards of visqueen and a quart of Dawn dish liquid. My husband would lay the plastic sheeting down a sloping hill and run water to it with an extension hose. Our kids, their friends and a few parents would run, dive, and howl with laughter flying down the hill. Occasionally, he’d add hay bales to avoid people sliding into trees. This ritual became a yearly event.

Trips to “the chards” were another pastime. Unique to our creek were clay potters a century ago. That left pottery shards and jugs discarded along banks and submerged under water. My husband would pile kids in the canoe and paddle them way up the creek. He’d tell them he’d give $50 to whoever found an intact jug. LOTS of pottery pieces, or shards, have been discovered over the years and maybe two full jugs. Those are some of his prized possessions proudly displayed in our home today.

River life has been great raising our brood. Lots of fun memories and yes, we did eventually remodel. I don’t miss the blue toilet and got rid of every sliding glass door. Elvis no longer reigns in decor either.

MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE

I imagined it like a mini vacation- a blissful dose of much needed freedom. I planned to do several, long delayed projects and enjoy some desperately needed solitude. This newfound time wasn’t a special trip. It wasn’t a fabulous, new job either. My triplets were starting Kindergarten and I was the single, dry-eyed mama exiting the school.

Since our boys were identical, we chose to separate them into different classrooms, affording them personal attention and a chance to be their own person. Never in a million years would I have anticipated the opening of Pandora’s box. Unbeknownst to me, my boys’ schooling would become “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

It began with notes home, then extra practice work, then on to the dreaded phone calls from teachers. I decided I held what would be the record in Guinness’ Book of World Records for teacher conferences. By second grade, I had 9 in one school year. This so called “break” became my new job: speech therapy, psychometry testing, additional homework, dealing with school discipline for talking, and inadvertently, my feeling like some kind of parental failure.

Embarrassed by all the attention they got for being talkers and highly energetic, I seemed to begin each year apologizing to the teacher before anything happened. I became so engrossed with “fixing” them to match (even perceived) expectations that I lost being their advocate. To this day I regret it. However, they weathered it much better than I would have in their shoes.

Finally, by 6th grade, we had a group of teachers that decided the Turner Triplets weren’t going to have a bad year as their last at the school. This special group of teachers banded together to create a supportive team approach to managing the entire grade’s testosterone and energetic demands. I thanked God profusely for that year of support, love and good-hearted teaching they received. I’m forever grateful for that last year in elementary school because middle school proved to be a beast of its own (but that’s another story).

The Highway

Picture this- You are driving down an unknown road and there aren’t any signs posted along the way. Potholes aren’t blocked, there’s barely highway lines and you can’t tell where you are. You have no idea if you’re driving to your destination because there aren’t any town markers. It’s pitch black because there is no light other than your dim headlights. You are creeping slowly along, wary of an animal potentially darting in front of you. There’s no indicated speed limit so you are constantly afraid of getting pulled over. There are no directions, no safety measures and you don’t know your way.

Finally, you spy a gas station ahead that has bright lights, and a stocked store. You feel relieved and a sense of normalcy. You are sure that you can get help finding your way. But when you ask the clerk about directions, they end up giving you directions to the wrong place and you end up even more lost than before.

Continuing on, you travel to another exit that has a run down old store, poor lighting and a dozen animals loitering around. You feel like there’s no way this place can help you but you stop anyway. The old gentleman is kind and scrawls down directions for you. You decide he can’t possibly be right because he seemed like he might not really have known what he was talking about (based on his surroundings and appearance). You toss the directions in the back seat and drive down a different winding road instead. This time you notice your gas gauge is low and realize you have the more immediate problem of fuel. Not finding a station, and getting very concerned, you let out a tiny desperation prayer to find a gas station because you are officially scared.

Finally! There’s a huge, well lit truck stop with everything a traveler could possibly need. You go in, take a break, get something to eat and ask someone where you are. They happily tell you your location and you are shocked because you never anticipated being there. You thought all along you were going somewhere else. But, you feel relieved to finally have fuel, rest and food. You have everything you truly need for your journey. You ask directions and the person gladly hands you a map and draws clear directions for you to follow.

This is what life can be like. The unmarked road is life. The first gas station is the attractive, seemingly good resource you look to in difficulty but get misdirected because they also don’t know the way. The second is the godly person you are too wary of to trust because you don’t identify with him. The gas gauge is your soul in a troubled situation. Your small prayer is your last resort. The mega gas station is the church where you found good people and refuge to help you and the map is the Bible. Jesus is the attendant at the mega gas station that welcomed you immediately and gave you clear directions.

IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

Recently I was in the middle of chaos- literally.  I looked around and my house was overrun by 5 indoor, rescue animals and 4, college-aged children (including extra friends) on holiday break. I couldn’t decide what drove me more crazy, the animals or the people. I finally decided it was the people because the animals didn’t argue and could be put outside.

Around the same time, our family attended our daughter’s college graduation out of town, completed an 11 hour family road trip in a van (mostly peaceful) and had Christmas (also mostly peaceful). Unfortunately, I also got really sick. This contributed to my bleak outlook.

I felt everything going awry and prayed, “Lord, this is too much. I just can’t do anymore.” Then I found out a friend’s child had a complicated surgery and a close, older friend fell and dislocated her shoulder. It seemed things were going from bad to worse. I kept doing my devotionals, however, and felt a message forming. It said to quit looking AROUND at circumstances and instead to LOOK UP to HIM for peace. I was accustomed to circumstances dictating my emotional state. I knew emotions were a terrible barometer, but was nonetheless bombarded by them. I kept telling myself, “It’s only a holiday break, I can do it.” But when week 3 of the holidays became week 5, I started begging God for relief.  Instead, a son decided to have oral surgery and another son invited guests over for a football party but wasn’t even home. That’s when my hinges came unglued.

The saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  Some sage was spot on with that statement. That night, I cried to my husband that being in my home made me miserable. I couldn’t clean up, pick up, or put up with one more minute of disrespect. It didn’t help that on New Year’s my sons and friends decided to light fireworks on our deck leaving scorched marks and burned holes into cushion seats. It was time for this holiday to end!

Clinging to fragile hope and force disciplining myself to read the Bible kept me from storming off.  I felt like God was saying, “Stop looking around at circumstances.  You know they will change.  You have to have HOPE in ME and not in how things appear.” The reason I felt the message so clearly was because it came at me from multiple sources. (When repetitious messages come, I have learned to listen.)

Our sons are all back to their respective schools and we got our daughter off to her first post college job. We are down one animal and I can keep the cat out. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s more tidy. I feel more sane. In this quiet moment I am still reminding myself to look up and not around.

TRIPLE THREAT

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The cordless phone lies in pieces on the floor. Another broken item, I thought silently. One more example of a lack of self control, an immature temper tantrum. I couldn’t get on to the perpetrator or lecture anyone, however. I couldn’t punish them either.  Why? Because it was me, the mom.

Reaching a boiling point was an ongoing issue for me rearing my brood. Somehow, it seemed the extreme would occur and I’d be past my limit and explode.  My triplet sons seemed to make a sport of it too.  The only proof I have is that a large smile would erupt on their faces when I’d charge like a mad bull or start “raging” as they like to call it. Because then I became the problem, not them.  It was an interesting tactic on their part and it took me years to adapt.

When the boys were 3 year old preschoolers, I was barely done feeding and dressing them and their sister when it happened. Three sopping wet, muddy bodies appeared when it was time to load up. I burst into tears, undressed them, and began the laborious process all over again.  I also called their dad to come get them because mommy was losing it (again).  Why did I not send them wet and muddy to preschool? Because I believed it would reflect poorly on my parenting.

Occasionally I’d take all 4 children shopping.  BIG mistake! I somehow repeatedly forgot they couldn’t be captive that long.  Wanting so desperately to lead a “normal” life, I’d set myself up for failure. Thinking I could handle it, I’d get two grocery carts and put two children in one and two in the other.  I’d push one while pulling the other.  I’d also restrain the child from standing in the lower part of the cart by using a belt from a life preserver or by adding piles of groceries on top of him. (One goes to extreme measures when determined.)  This tactic did not stop Houdini-like escapes or hair pulling, however.

Once a sitter had them during nap time.  I use the term “nap time” loosely because it was more for me.  However, we knew they needed a break from each other, so we had them go in their rooms to play or read quietly. Inevitably, they were like magnets being pulled towards one another. Their doors would open slowly and they’d creep towards another’s rooms. One afternoon, a sitter was unaware and found all three boys in one room with a mattress barricaded against the door.  The boys were 4 years old and incredulous at times.

I prayed for patience a lot back then which I found out was one of my biggest problems. I was gaining patience alright but it was because of the inevitable, “can’t make this stuff up” incidents which occurred on a daily basis. So maybe it’s true you have to be careful of what you pray for. They are adult children now (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and I pray for their safety instead since I don’t want anymore patience.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION REDO

New year’s resolutions have always perplexed me. I understand why we make them but don’t understand how they seemed doomed and poorly adopted by most (including myself). Hearing about them on the radio, social media and in ads on TV, I’ve come to regard them mostly as holiday rebound. Pondering over mine for a week, I’ve gathered a few good ideas worth sharing.

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Melinda Gates has an original idea- not adopting a resolution- but focusing on a special WORD to center her thoughts and behaviors towards throughout the year. That’s a reasonable, and possibly attainable goal. A recent devotional challenged me to ask GOD what my resolution should be, rather than choose myself. I think that’s an excellent place to start. I dare not ask my family for input as I’d likely end up with a long list.

Our church has adopted the book of Proverbs from the Bible for us to study as a congregation for the new year. This has aided in getting my mind oriented towards a better ATTITUDE. Attitudes are the center of where our actions form so it’s also an excellent place to start.

Attending an event recently, I met an interesting person who discussed her PASSION and that she “couldn’t NOT do it” referring to her horse hobby. It got me to think about my passions and if those might need to be included in my resolutions? One did, but two seem in line. When I refer to “in line” I’m referring to God given passions. How does one know when it’s a God-given passion? It’s when it benefits you and others. Therefore, I realized one passion I have needs to go. (I’m not going to bore you here with details.)

What about CIRCUMSTANCES? Those may be beyond our control and quite taxing. When someone’s struggling, it’s nearly impossible to adopt new behaviors or set higher standards. So, going back to the second idea, asking the Great Creator above for input seems prudent. Resolutions are great ideals but don’t need to make us feel worse about ourselves if we fall short (and we ALL come up short).

Finally, there’s that “F” word- FORGIVENESS. It keeps popping up randomly. I’m wondering if I need to do that and/or if I will need to when I try to avoid my prior passion…..

George Bailey & Me

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“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”