When I started my family years ago, I just wanted to have happy, healthy kids and a strong family unit. While my goals seemed simple at the time, as I began to grow into my role as a wife and mother, I quickly realized that what seemed simple enough involved actual goal setting, an action plan and years of consistency.
Craig and I first laid eyes on each other in middle school, but actually found each other a few years later when we were 15 and 16 years old and faking our way through a high school Spanish class. We married a few years later while I was a college freshman at a local JC and Craig was a scholarship football player at a bigger college. I was 18 when we married, an insanely young age when I look back on it now, but not terribly unusual back then. We were bright-eyed, energetic, madly in love and naive enough not to know the odds of a successful marriage/family were stacked against us. We had each other, a good work ethic, an action plan and a “can do” mentality.
My husband and I were blessed with two sons, born only 11 months apart. They were great boys who with a little correction and direction became well behaved and remarkably well mannered.
Now I have two grandsons of my own, who I am blessed to see regularly and even better, get to have to myself all day at least once a week. This allows me my “Oma-time,” but also gives their busy “Mama” a day to work without interruption, catch up on some chores or hopefully now and then a day to do nothing but relax. Naturally, being in the presence of such busy, little fellas reminds me of their “Dada” and Uncle Ki-Ki quite a bit.
I often reflect back on their upbringing, my early parenting. Often much of what we taught them seemed like common sense to me, built in a time when parents were still in charge and kids relied on their folks for their sole sphere of influence. Within that family unit, we turned towards one another. The boys were each other's best friends and playmates, I was the ring master and disciplinarian and dad was part bounce-house, rough-house and the law all rolled into one. We didn't have much money and felt the pain of that profoundly at times. Paying bills, buying groceries, taking care of an aging car and tucking money away for a foothold into a brighter future was a battle we waged for years.
Because finances were tight, “play money” didn't exist. I had to be creative to keep the boys active and engaged with me. The three of us baked regularly. I made homemade play dough which the boys LOVED, but I cursed myself for putting green food coloring in it. It took months to get that stain off the cheap, white kitchen tile. I actually owned a library card and we'd check out piles of books for me to read to the boys or enjoy myself. In the summer
I bought a hard, plastic pool at the store and carried that cumbersome beast home 3 miles while pushing the toddler in the stroller with one hand. The car had died at this point, so I was hanging onto that pool – which insisted on trying to take flight in the wind – and making sure 3-year-old Nate never took his hand off the stroller with his brother in it. As I look back, I'm sure we were quite the spectical to passersby. I didn't care though, I was determined to give my boys some relief from the summer temps, even if I had to get heatstroke trying to make it happen. It was worth it in the end because our pool time became our daily post-nap activity. I'd pour myself a glass of sun tea, plop myself down in a cheap folding chair with my feet dangling in the water and the 3 of us played for hours.
I had no cell phone (what is this technology of which you speak?), no Instagram, no Facebook to check. I couldn't Google “fun things to do in the summer when you have no money.” That technology didn't exist then and because of that, I was present. I was engaged in their play. They were my You Tube videos. We walked to the park after breakfast just about everyday and we walked to the store when we needed groceries, so I had to plan well.
By this time we had a little red Radio Flyer wagon that Nana and Papa had bought the boys. Not only was this one of their toys, but it also allowed me to pull the boys to the grocery store and walk the aisle plunking groceries down around them. They thought it was hysterical. Then I'd pull them back home. Because the closest grocery store at that time was 4 miles away, it took most of the morning to get there and back. I didn't mind though, as we'd stop to kick rocks, play with bugs and pick flowers from an empty field. We'd sing songs and practice our alphabet while I pulled them over hill and dale. It was hard work, with lots of sweaty brows, but lovely memories.
To some, this probably seems like a sad, low income life. We were low income, no doubt about that. But sad? Not even close.
In the midst of our busyness, we would regularly stop and take stock. Were the boys happy? Did they experience things that stimulated their creativity? Did they get enough outdoor time playing in the dirt, soaking in the sun and breathing fresh air? Were they kind to others and knew how to share, doing so regularly without prompting? Did they demonstrate good manners and were they learning the things necessary to move them through their educational life? Some days were better than others and we checked off more boxes than not. We found the more we stayed in the moment with them, recognized the things they did well, touched them, laughed with them and had a conversation with them while making eye contact, the better they became at doing all these things independently.
A lot has changed since then. The technology of today is awesome! I love the things I can do in a matter of minutes from the comfort of my kitchen table. I can actually order that darn pool online. I can read an entire book on Kindle. I can pick out and have my groceries delivered to my door. As hard as those times were, though, if I were given the chance to do it all again, I would. It formed the very person I am today. It forged our family. We are a tenacious group. The word “can't” is not in our vocabulary. In fact, I love it when someone tells me I can't, because I know that is a surefire way to make sure I can! It lights a fire under me that nobody can put out. As a family we worked together – we had to. We worked hard, but we also played hard and we slept well.
It is said that hard times either draw you together or drive you apart. We had the tough times and some of them we laugh about now, others we'd like to forget. Then there are those that are a part of the highlight reel of our life. My little family grew up. My boys became men I love more than I could ever express, and people who I respect tremendously.
My high school sweetheart is still my “boyfriend.” A little older with a lot more gray hair, but he's still holding my hand as we walk along, setting goals together and forming our new action plan for this next phase of our life.