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The Amazing Repository of Ridiculous Advice

The first time one of our kids left home for a few days without us, I was a bit of a wreck. I worried about the travel. Would roads be icy and would the other drivers be idiots? It didn’t matter that it was summer and she flew. Worries and irrationality are great dancers when they partner up. They spin around mommy brains at 3am and those stilettos irrationality wears really, really hurt. Since that first separation, we’ve waved goodbye to kids who have climbed aboard planes, charter busses, and cars driven by people who I trust aren’t idiots.

It gets easier. I trust them more. But that doesn’t stop me from giving or at the very least thinking ridiculous advice.

One of my kids is out of town right now. The kid is off on a school-related trip many mountains away. Before leaving, I had to bite my tongue numerous times because advice can quickly slip to insult.

Wear your seatbelt! This kid has been an avid seatbelt clicker since graduating from a carseat. I’ve never had to argue, ask, or stress over seatbelt use with this child, so why would I suddenly have to worry now? I wasn’t going to treat my near-adult as a young child. So, I let it go and I trusted the example we’ve set and the 100% compliance record would suffice.

Here is ridiculous advice I’ve actually given to various kids upon the occasion of their suitcase rolling away and I’m not:

~ If there are icicles, don’t stand under them. Don’t look up at them and don’t knock them down.

~ Check your boots for scorpions every morning!

~ If you have to lean over the boat to throw up, take off your sunglasses.

~ But don’t lean over too far!

~ Let your feet breathe at night! Take off your socks!

~ If there’s a hot tub at the hotel, don’t stay in it for too long. You’ll get a headache.

~ Hang up your swimsuit to dry in the bathroom. Do not leave it balled up! Unfurl!

~ Don’t mix your dirty clothes with the clean. Pack a kitchen trash bag and use it!

~ Just because we’re giving you $X.XX doesn’t mean you have to spend it all!

~ Make good choices at the gift shop.

~ If you touch anything on the subway, wash your hands as soon as possible!

~ Don’t clog toilets.

~ If there are bunkbeds, try to get a top bunk. You don’t know how strong they are and you don’t want to be sleeping on the bottom and find out.

~ Take pictures of things and places, not just people.

~ But don’t hold your camera over the side of the boat.

~ I see there’s a mixer planned on the schedule. Brush your hair before you go.

~ If you’re at a restaurant and have your own check, don’t forget to tip! Do 20%, even if service isn’t that great because restaurant work is hard! ***THIS IS WHERE I LAUNCH INTO ALL MY BORING FOOD SERVICE WORK STORIES*** Back on track: To figure out 20%, first determine 10%. Like, if your bill is $10.48, 10% is $1.05 because you round up. Then, double that! (I told this to a child who has taken Pre-Calculus and is currently in Statistics.)

~ Use the bathroom before you get on the big bus/airplane. I know it has one, but you want to avoid it if you can. What if you go over a bump/hit turbulence or something?

~ Don’t be that guy who doesn’t wear a coat. They have a very different kind of winter there. It’s more humid and the cold feels colder.

Much nonsense!

Much nonsense!

I’m sure there are many more golden tidbits of unwelcome advice spawned by motherly over-thinking. These are just a few I can remember uttering, to my horror. Yes, some of it is solid advice, but most are redundantly common sense. My hope is by the time they are grown I will stop anticipating what could go wrong and trust in their capability.

George Washington’s Turtleneck

I helped Archie dress in a George Washington costume this morning for Day of the Notables at school. He is wearing a layer of regular clothes, including grey sweatpants and a grey turtleneck. Over the base outfit he’s wearing a white lacy vintage shirt that once belonged to my mom in college, a black vest, and a black coat. He is wearing long white socks and has the ankle elastic pulled to his knees to complete the colonial look.

The dawn light was soft pink in his room when I tickled him awake. I told him his grey turtleneck and sweats were on his bed. The more fussy elements of the costume could wait until just before we left for school. He sat up and reached for them. Half asleep, he attempted to wrangle the turtleneck onto his legs. “What kinda pants are these?”

“That’s the shirt.”

“Can you help me? It’s weird.”

We aren’t big turtleneck people. I’m not even sure how the one in his drawer got there. I find them constricting and old-fashioned. They are a perfect example of 1980s instant coffee commercial styling: Fluffy-haired people deeply inhaling from clutched cups, smiling at a distant sunrise, ready for a hot-necked day of snowmobiling.

I told him it was a turtleneck.

“Just like George Washington wore?”

I bunched up the shirt and stretched it over his messy bedhead.

“Yes.”

He finished dressing. He ate a bowl of chocolate Cheerios, just like George ate. He tilted a green Tupperware cereal bowl and drank the flavored milk like a Washington. He brushed his teeth with minty toothpaste spread on a neon green brush, as George would have done had he natural teeth to scrub.

When it was time to go to school, Archie was transported in a heated vehicle through the snow to the doors of a heated building, George-style. There, he will enjoy a day of kindergarten listening to the speeches of his classmates who will be Lincolns, Armstrongs, Elways, various Queens and Princesses, and Taylor Swifts. They’ll share what they learned about their chosen subject, most importantly focusing on what makes them Notable with a capital N.

george

It starts early with small moments doing small things. George Washington left school at age 11 because his father died. From that point, he was self-taught, wise beyond his years, and on a trajectory that would lead him to a permanent place in history’s roll call. The truth is he wore a lot of wool and it itched. His teeth were made of ivory. He ate bowls of porridge sweetened with raw honey and straight-from-a-cow milk, perhaps. George’s hair was probably a fright upon waking, though. Some threads run through years and never, ever change.

Little boys in the distance would think of him and decide he would be a pretty nice guy to be for a day, here and now, notably inspired.

Love is a Choice

For two years, I was proud to be a contributor at A Deeper Story. I wrote alongside many amazing authors, writers, and poets, often wondering how on earth I got so lucky. I often felt unworthy. They were the Alice Coopers to my Wayne.

Nish Wiseth, the founder and chief editor, has decided the time has come to move on, so she is closing up shop. I’ve decided to re-post my work from there here. Every Saturday, a new-to-Lifenut post I wrote for A Deeper Story will appear here (with Nish’s blessing and encouragement). These posts often focus on issues of faith, culture, church, and how they intersect through story. I am very fond of these posts and don’t want them disappearing. Folding them into Lifenut is like folding chocolate chips into cookie dough.

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Love is a Choice
(originally published May 17, 2013)

We were young, cute, and fit. We were much less hairy and unburdened from major responsibilities when we began flirting with each other in a college film class. From “Do you want to go out sometime?” to “Will you marry me?” to “I do” to “I’m late” was less than a year.

My husband and I have been married for 17 years. Swaggering hormones coupled with caring friendship: That was us in a nutshell. The dumb move would be to not get married. For example, our foreheads fit together when we faced each other. Skull compatibility! It was no small thing, right?

Thankfully, we had a wise pastor who required pre-marital counseling before he’d perform ceremonies. In one of the first sessions, he asked if we knew how to love. He explained: Every morning, it was our job to wake up and make the choice to love each other. Day after day after day, love is a full-on, diving-in, wrestling-it-to-the-ground choice to make. Somedays, it’s effortless. Sometimes, E.F.F.O.R.T. But it’s always worth it. I thought about his advice many times in our first year of marriage and beyond, thankful my worth doesn’t depend on my husband’s emotional whims. I’m not loved because I’m doing something right. There is no security in that approach to marriage. Given the freedom to know I am unconditionally loved allows me to make that choice as well.

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Do we always choose love? No. We are far from perfect.

Recently, we learned the venue where we were married is being torn down. A few years ago, the interior was gutted by fire. From the outside, it looked like a grand old church, with strong white columns and a red brick facade.

Before it was torn down.

Before it was torn down.

But the inside was rotten and unusable. The outer shell was demolished first so the inside can be scooped away. Eventually, the rubble will be cleared. It will be a bare slab of land again.

How easily a marriage can be blazed away, too. From the outside, it appears solid but on the inside it reeks of smoke, ash, chemicals, mold. Romance can’t swoop in to repair a single beam. The impossibility of a self-repair seems deeply unfair. The only solution is to strip away everything until it’s bare.

I don’t know who owns the building or who owns the future empty lot, but I do know what happens to it next is a choice. They can rebuild something more grand and beautiful, or abandon the whole idea and walk away. I’m hoping they rebuild. I hope they move into a place of optimism and rebirth.

I love what Madeleine L’Engle said about marriage:

“If we commit ourselves to one person for life, this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather, it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession but participation.”
(Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season)

Participation is just another word for choice. It’s picking the front row seat and raising your hand. I’m going to love. I’m going to get dirty. I choose to choose.