Thursday, September 12, 2013

Volleyball Season Salute

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”   ~George Bernard Shaw
I was beginning to feel quite drained from the monotony of the long winter coupled with how serious I had become as a mother. It’s nearly impossible, really, to keep from worrying and over thinking when you have your first child, for fear of the vast unknown. It was for me anyway. But I have always been one to mull an issue over and over. Since I was young, I would evaluate nearly every choice presented to me and debate with myself how making this choice or that would or possibly could affect me or those I love in the future. It’s responsible. Although, when you’re too riddled with worry over making the “wrong” decision and don’t have the forte of exceptional problem solving skills, it becomes responsible, but exhausting. Tie in a lack of sleep, and that’s where you had me.
Being a stay at home mom of a six month old baby girl is delightful on so many fronts, but there are also challenges that we face. When you are at home alone with your child all day long, from the 15 minutes before the sun rises until daddy turns that door knob, it can be difficult to find child appropriate and stimulating activities interesting enough for you as the adult to fill your day. In short: you get bored at times. 
So, that being said, I was again mulling over the obvious pros and cons of the upcoming volleyball season that my husband enjoyed being a part of. I, of course wanted him to have that outlet but also knew I needed it too. And to be honest, at that moment, I didn’t want any more alone time with my baby than we already had. I looked forward everyday to daddy coming home so the weight of the boredom could be shared. Either that, or maybe he could help me spend the rest of our day together in a more captivating way. I had mentioned months earlier wanting to play on the team, since there was an opening this year, but me being me, needed to first find a babysitter every week for two hours at a time. The way I naturally think, that responsibility comes first, signing up follows and since I hadn’t come up with a steady caregiver, there was no more talk of such things. 
You can imagine my shock and instant worry over how it will work out when my husband informed me that he signed us up for volleyball. He is a genius really, because I never would have had that kind of foresight. Within a couple hours of him telling me the news, I had found our caregiver for those nights. Problem solved. As we embark on our last game of volleyball for the season tonight, I want to take a moment to reflect on the team I’ve loved being a part of. 
First of all, having the team we do has made for a plethora of emotions emerging on any given night. Let me paint the picture, starting with our men. An atheist, a christian, and Quagmire walk into a bar. Wait...a hunter, a fisherman, and a vegan walk into a bar. What else...three somewhat narcissistic, comedic, good hearted guys all bigger in size (in their minds) than their five foot something frames would suggest (with exception of one who is six foot something) believe week in week out that they are trying out for the olympic team and really share an underlying belief that without the women getting in their way, they three, or each alone could carry the team. 
It’s impressive really, how these three literally rise to the occasion. The six footer plus is our go to guy who covers the net like no ones business. He arrogantly tips the ball over the net, into a spot no one expects or sees coming, as he’s got his back turned and does this so nonchalantly. It actually seems like this feat is no more difficult for him than taking a breath of air or letting out a “giggity”. His superiority sometimes casts a stifling heat over the ladies on the team.
Then there’s the bruiser. He’s all over the court, nearly running over the girls to save the game from total ruin as he forcefully sends the ball back over the net at whoever is so unlucky. This one also has been our savior at the net, just not as stealth. Like I said, he’s the bruiser. He literally once ran his own teammate over, resulting in a knee surgery. Also, not the most reliable when it comes to calling the ball in or out. In such cases of hearing his voice shout those words, I have come to trust my own judgement. He is very passionate on the court and lives to have fun with the game! 
Finally, theres the one who dives everywhere. Always eating sand, digging it out of parts unknown, he dives for the impossible, landing his body in a host of uncomfortable looking positions. Yet miraculously, he manages to hit the ball in such a way, that it so gracefully lands in bounds on the opposite side where ANYONE else who attempted such would find the ball soaring with outrageous speed in the worst of wrong directions. He is so controlled and precise, always aware of everyone’s position on the court, somewhat the patriarch of the team. 
On the court, early in the season, fighting for the point halfway through the final game, I duck out of the way last minute to avoid The Bruiser who I was fairly certain didn’t even see my body readied to hit the ball. It’s always my ears that hear his heavy step first, then I feel my personal body space shrinking at an incredible rate. I feel a shadow cast over my head and duck just in time to avoid an arm, possible head injury too, as his hand, raised like a bat, thick and sturdy, makes contact with the ball. He sends it soaring back over at the unsuspecting woman with furious force. As she attempts to bump it, her reaction is too late and not properly in place and it blows into her chest, bouncing off in a way that sounds entirely painful. But they have a guy who’s been studying as he plays, knowing the tricks, the weak points in our game, and he anticipates this enough to save the ball just before it hits the ground, popping it right up into the air. Geared up at the net for his big move is their go to net guy, who sees his moment to shine, falling right into place and certain of his strike. He hits the ball, sending it all of two feet to where our six footer genius has popped out of nowhere, sending it back, gently over the net. A quick arm in the right place and it’s flying with force back in our direction. Not having expected the ball to return, one of my female team mates isn’t readied for it, but looking out over everyone, the patriarch flies out of nowhere, hands out like a bear about to claw his next meal to death. Before she can let out a squeak, he makes contact with what would have been her ball. There’s such force and a loud pop at the same time the sphere is sent soaring back at the opposing team. They return it to our side. “Dang, is this point ever going to be had,” I wonder. Stepping up is the redhead on our team, always on and not afraid of the guys plowing into her like me and the other girl on the team. She’s certain, and casts it over the net, in a hole that no one there saw open. The sand explodes beneath the ball, sealing our point! 
Dodging the three musketeers, hitting a few of our glorious own over or to one of the guys, we women survive, mostly unscathed. Our patriarch points out how his finger hurts after that loud pop we heard but we all keep on. And after we play seven more exciting points worth, we see victory! Receiving an adrenaline fueled slap on my butt, my husband proceeds to wrap his arms around me, lifting me off the ground. It was all good fun! 
As we begin to wash our sandy feet in the lake that Buzz & Mac’s (the bar we play for) and their volleyball courts reside on, we excitedly hash through the play by play of the games that night. Discussing the play where we heard the pop, one of us asks how his finger is feeling, he starts to respond, lifting his hand up, but suddenly comes to a halt, and we all see his finger hanging limp. “Oh my god!” he says in disbelief! We all burst out in laughter and horror. Being the comedian he is, we thought he was joking, but it became apparent quite quickly how serious he was. He looked worried, which was a rarity. It obviously hurt, but not enough to be broken. He tries with all his might to lift it straight, but that’s not happening. His face, one of shock and disbelief, burns clear in my mind even today, causing laughter to erupt out of me. Turns out he had tendons tear in  his finger that night, and to this day, still haven’t healed. 
This summer, playing volleyball, getting my short weekly break from my little love and offering a lightness and ability to play with my man and some friends was exactly what I needed. It’s a funny irony how before we have our children, we enjoy life, those around us, are easy breezy, but when that baby arrives, the seriousness of everything increases. It changes you. It leaves you with a baby who wants to play, a husband who misses the wife that played with him, and a mama and wife who doesn’t remember how to play day in day out. It’s sad really. Being with my teammates, I’ve laughed a lot, gotten irritated (by the narcissists), gotten bruises for good measure, made great memories and after all was said and done, gone to bed wiped out, yet refreshed! It has reminded me that it’s okay for me to have fun and not worry about my beautiful baby all the time. She will be okay when in good care. And it’s shown me how much better I feel as a result of it! Grateful for this season of refreshing & learning and my teammates (subs included with their own personalities I love) who each with their own personalities different from the other, make up a great group of friends I wouldn’t exchange for the world!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Fix

“Life is special. Enjoy it one step at a time.”

After this long drawn out draining day, deprived of any personal space, I know exactly what I need. I listen, cringing as I hear N crying for the n'teenth time today. This time though, it’s not because I’ve set her down to make my mad dash to the bathroom to relieve my poor abused bladder. It’s also not because I attempted to deliver her to her crib for a much needed nap. I mean, how dare I peel this beautiful sleeping babe from my breast that has become her makeshift pacifier today to put her in her own space? No, this time, her crying is because her daddy took her from mama once he came home from work to change her diaper and give Mama a quick two minute break. This momentary break has come to be treasured, especially on days like this where it’s more akin to a mini vacation. I hear the decibels of her voice increase as her crying gets more dramatic, the moment I know he sets her down for the dreaded diaper change. “Breathe,” I remind myself, “you’re on break”. I finally close my eyes and exhale much of the weight and edginess out of me. I feel better, I do, but...there’s still a part of me I can feel vibrating with annoyance. I know it’s time for the big guns. I decide it’s the only reasonable thing to do in this dire moment. 

I walk to the pantry, pause and listen for their distant conversation and interaction. I hear it and it is distant. I open the doors and instantly spot the canister with the white lid. I immediately feel the underside of my tongue begin to salivate. I snatch it up and without delay open the silverware drawer to retrieve a spoon for the occasion. Oh my, there’s options! Little spoon or big spoon? After mulling it over for what seems like too long, I decide that when you are on vacation, you enjoy it to the fullest. Big spoon it is. I love everything about what’s about to happen here, down to the shape of the container, so perfect for my hand to hold and the turn and a half it takes to remove the cap and release the sweet aroma of chocolatey nutty goodness. I dive the spoon to the center of the smooth concoction and dig about halfway in before pulling it out and bringing it to my lips! The gratification is instant and I feel my body temperature suddenly cool down. I do my best to savor this blissful moment and I finally don’t need to remind myself to breathe, I just do. My body and my mind are reconnected and I feel nothing short of relieved. Holding the canister, feeling there’s time to spare, I look over the label. “Hazelnut Spread with Skim Milk & Cocoa”. I quickly reason in my head, “well, it is made with SKIM milk,” before diving my spoon in for one more, slightly smaller glorious scoop. It is glorious. I begin to feel more and more like me. I again look at the label, turning to the backside. the Nutrition Facts catch my eye and I look at the protein, something I’ve been trained to look at first when searching for foods since becoming pregnant. “Not bad,” I think. Then I start to scan the entire label....Total Fat..... “eek!” One last lick of my spoon and I remind myself that it was TOTALLY worth it! Cheaper than any mood stabilizing drug and way better for my body! I return everything to it’s place, and barely lick my lips before I hear the distant footsteps and a babbling happy little baby approaching. I turn around, smiling widely and sincerely. I suddenly have this joy returned to me upon seeing her smiley face and I bend down to kiss her little toes and ask her if she wants to be my little monkey before daddy places her on my back. Attached, bouncing up and down and making her monkey sounds, my little love and I go skipping down the hall. In the mirror at the end of the hall, I see her reflection and mine; Smiles for miles. I think to myself, “two minutes and Nutella can change the world”.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


"When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love."     ~Marcus Aurelius

We’d spent the early evening at the farmers market in Green Bay and I was in a foul mood for most of it. It was one of those stupid unnecessary conversations, turned arguments on our way that triggered it all. Well, by the time we left to head home, I was feeling much more relaxed.  

Fifteen minutes into our hour drive, my neighbor calls informing us that we are to head to the basement immediately, there’s been a tornado spotted in our area. Now, she’s been a little worried about our crazy, unpredictable weather since she moved from Colorado two months prior. So part of me brushes it off. I let her know we’re about 45 minutes from home anyway. Once we hang up, my husband asks what that was all about. So I relay the information and mostly shrug it off. The sky is light grey, looks like rain coming maybe. 

Five minutes pass and I get a little worried as I think about her warning. Thankful for modern technology in this moment, driving on a highway past farms, I check out on my cell phone. This is my reliable source when the weather gets sketchy! It says by our house, SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING. I want to know more than that if the area between where we are and home is safe to continue traveling. So I have it check out my current location. TORNADO WARNING. Eek! Except, I’m not seeing anything too terribly scary yet. So I let my husband know and begin checking out the sky everywhere. Within a matter of a few very short minutes, the sky goes from light grey to dark cloudy grey to dark green/grey. 

As a kid, growing up in Wisconsin, I always knew to fear that ucky green grey tinted dark sky. So pretty instantaneously, I get a little knot in my stomach. As I’m sitting in the second row behind my husband and next to my little one in her car seat, I try to lighten the tense mood in the car now as she looks at me with an almost knowing look.   I start singing and I am rewarded with a smile. I keep singing but am scanning the sky wildly. “Maybe we should pull over. Get off the road, find a farm house to go to,” I offer questioningly. “I don’t see anything,” he responds like many men would. Within moments, the wind picks up, but unlike a windy day, where you hear it whistle by you, it sounds as though we are IN the wind. It roars and we notice things flying all over, at us, and I begin to shake. Our vehicle seems a little out of control, like we’re gonna get carried away at any second. I look over at my daughter, who is nine months, see her just watching me intently, and I realize my hand that was resting across her lap, is now firmly covering her and my hand is gripping her little thigh. 

“I’m sorry we fought,” I blurt out. “It was stupid. I said some mean things and I’m sorry baby.” 
“I’m sorry too. We just both got worked up over nothing. I love you,” my husband told me sweetly. 

I wondered if this is what people do moments before they know they’re gonna die because they aren’t sure if they’ll ever get a chance to right their wrongs. Or if they worry that when they face their creator, he will be mad that they treated another person disrespectfully. So much unknown, but something about confession felt right in that moment. It felt innate.

He asks me if I think he should just pull us over under an overpass and I suddenly see a gas station less than a mile ahead, just off of the road. Try to get there, I urge him, terrified. I look to the left and see a tower that’s normally lit with red blinking lights, is blaring WHITE blinking lights. This only serves to confirm the real danger and increase my anxiety at the moment. It feels like forever as we’re trying to keep driving safely and get to a safer location, one with more stability than my vehicle. Things flying past us, the loud roar of the wind, the wobbly feel to the car, my sweet baby girl next to me unaware of the severity of this moment. Enough to make anyone sick. As we pull off the highway, I lunge into the front seat to grab her Ergo carrier and strap it to me as quickly as I can maneuver with these clumsy hands tripping me up. The moment we pull in, I try to break her free of her car seat, but am shaking so badly, that it takes much longer than I want it to. I finally get her unhinged and pull her to me, wasting no time getting out of the vehicle and into the building. Upon walking in, seeing others who’d done the same, their unease, uncertainty at what was about to come, I felt the choke in my throat and I noticed just how severely I was shaking. My stomach clenched, baby snug up to me, we headed towards the bathroom. 

Eight women and four men, aged somewhere from thirty to eighty are standing near the bathroom, many people on their phones, either texting or talking with someone who they obviously care for. Everyone is getting updates on where the tornado is. Are we gonna be safe? Or are we gonna face the scariest moment of all of our lives (with exception of the eldest man who looks seasoned with the balance of a man who’s made quick and certain decisions without the luxury of being able to question them. He looks as though at one time, he lived in circumstances that caused him to face fear day in and day out, though when he was a much younger man, possibly in World War II).

“It’s coming right to where we are?”
“Another tornado is hitting in Krakow?”
“How many are there?”

As I eavesdrop on these strangers conversations, my eyes get wide and show their fear only to my husband, or so I think.

“You must be related to my wife!” the old man observes out loud. 
“Excuse me?” I ask confused once I realize he’s talking to me. At a time like this, what could be final minutes with my husband and baby, this man is making physical comparisons? It seems absurd and a I’m not sure why I’m feeling a bit annoyed that he’s intruding on “our” time. 
“You both have the same frightened look,” he says with a smile. 
It dawns on me that he too is trying to bring comfort and a lightness to a tense moment, just as I was minutes earlier with my little girl. I’m instantly ashamed of my self centeredness. It was the same me I’ve noticed emerge occasionally when a stranger at the grocery store strikes up a conversation. I sometimes wonder what their ulterior motive is. I know the answer before I ask it. I know they’re simply friendly people, ones who love creating connections with fellow beings. But for one reason or another, I have found myself annoyed at them or doing what I can to “shake them” as quickly as possible. Not every time, but at least half of the time this happens. And it’s as low as half because I’m aware of this flaw and dislike what it must mean about me. As of recent, I’ve started trying to combat this flaw by being proactive when this fear or annoyance presents itself. I’ll expound on my answers to their questions or ask many of my own. In a couple instances, I’ve been the one to initiate the conversations altogether. And you know what? It’s pleasant for the most part, these strangers willing to share their time and personal lives with me. Suddenly I’m reminiscent of a different era, a time when each person was not their own island, but rather a part of the greater community at hand. It almost makes me want to cry because I didn’t know how much I missed people caring about each other, for no other reason than that they are people. It’s a beautiful thing that makes me sad because it’s so lost. And this sweet old man just reminded me of all that. 

I smile and feel his wisdom and humor ease over me a bit! I let him know that it IS really scary out there, as I glance at his wife standing between him and the bathroom doors looking prepared for the worst. But I know that he’s not shaken. I’m grateful for this wonderful soul in a moment like this, comforted by his presence and glad to have simply met him.

Over my shoulder, someone on their phone says something about tornado coming RIGHT for us, very near, and urges everyone to the bathroom. As we shuffle to the bathroom, my husband, who I know doesn’t want to or feel a need to go in but will because he knows I want him to, pauses wondering aloud if he should really be heading into the women's bathroom with us. A woman ahead of us on her way in remarks with a wink, “It’s fine! Pretend we’re at a concert”. We all laugh and head on in.  The elderly man remains outside the doors, as though he’s our guardian. 

The level of anxiety in my heart, growing by the second, as I stand beside my husband, my baby girl attached to me, quiet and face to face with strangers, waiting...just waiting is a miserable feeling. The minutes pass and as my sweet girl has been patient for a good long time, that time has ended. She’s hungry and lucky for me, my body still provides the main source of her food. So, as I turn toward my husband, with my daughter still in the carrier, I raise my shirt and she dives full speed two inches ahead. She is completely satisfied and I’m proud that I can bring her comfort in what may be final moments before the unknown happens. Normally, I would find a more private place or have a blanket on hand (for one reason or another I wish not to debate), but...desperate times call for desperate measures (though I know feeding her so publicly isn’t anything near desperate or obscene). With these women all older than me by a couple years or more, I know that most of them are probably mothers and understand this need and bond without hesitation. 

In the nervous quiet of this place and this moment, I keep looking at my husband, feeling the choke in my throat that you feel when you think you might get sick or cry. As the minutes pass and the alerts from friends, family and trusted weather sources roll in, we begin to get the sense that we’re likely going to be just fine! And as my little one finishes up eating and everyone’s feeling relief, I get many smiles from the other women. With color returning to normal on so many faces, one by one, people staggering out of the women's bathroom, we follow suit as the last to leave. As we enter the main part of the gas station, I immediately see the old man, just where we left him, standing guard. He sends me a smile and I exhale with ease. For some reason, seeing him, his years, his steadiness, seems to infuse me with an air of confidence that everything, not just in this moment, but weathered by time and life will be okay. 

Still nervous, I agree to face the elements, getting back on the road to head home. Hoping we still have a home that’s standing, my mind begins to race towards thought of all that I have and am grateful for in this moment. Suddenly realizing how for granted I take this gift of family, the comfort of home, or the clothes in my closet, I feel ashamed. The choke in my throat is back and threatens to expose my emotions. I look out the window to steel away for a moment. I look at the black and fiery orange sky and marvel at the vibrancy and contrast of it all. I see trees, some stripped of a few branches and am grateful for their beauty and strength. As we drive down the winding road with the still fully in tact cornfield rising up on one side and the open grassy plain on the other, I’m more and more convinced that everything will be alright upon arriving home.  As we pass the lakes by our house, I notice how calm and glassy they are, reflecting the beautiful sky above. Feeling so grateful to see such a sight, knowing things could have turned out much differently and have for so many people, I begin to weep. I weep for the ones who’ve lost so much in other storms this summer. I weep for those who’ve lost loved ones or precious belongings documenting a life together. I weep for those who won’t get to see the sun low in the sky in the morning, the promise of another faithful day, full of hope and goodness ahead! I’m grateful that I can count on that after a long night of darkness, the light will come and if I’m so lucky, I will have breath to breathe, people to love, a purpose to fulfill and hopefully coffee to drink. My heart is exploding, so I finally release the choke in my throat, let the excess overflow, tears pouring out of my eyes, dripping down my cheeks. I am humbled on this stormy night.

*Written from events of August 21, 2013