The Joy of Giving

My mom called me last week to see what I want for Christmas.

When asked that question, I instinctively think, “What do I need?”

Then nothing comes to mind.

I don’t need anything.

But what do you want? Mom asked.

Doug’s Dad says you should never buy people what they need.

(Photo credit: top10things)

Instead, he believes you should give impractical, unexpected gifts.

(Note: This comes from a man who also believes you should fall asleep every night savoring a piece of milk chocolate because “There’s nothing like sleeping with your throat coated in chocolate.” He also has false teeth, so take that into consideration before following his advice.)

Chocolate Kiss
Chocolate Kiss (Photo credit: alykat)

So, what do I want for Christmas that I don’t need?

I couldn’t think of anything I wanted that could be presented to me in a box on Christmas morning.

I decided I wanted my Mom to buy a beautiful wreath and place it on my Dad’s grave with a note that said, “Merry Christmas, Dad. Thanks for teaching me the joy of giving.”

She resisted, saying that wasn’t a “real” gift for me.

But, today, when I talked to her, she told me she gave me my gift.
She went to the cemetery and displayed my wreath, and will go back tomorrow to attach my note.

And, I believe, somehow, my Dad will know it’s there, and he will appreciate it.

When I was a little girl, my Dad was the Jaycee president.

I thought he was famous because everybody in town knew him and he always seemed to have his picture in the paper.

He also managed to orchestrate the most amazing, magical arrival of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen.

He had him land in the middle of town in a helicopter!

Santa arrives in New Orleans
(Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

One night before Christmas, Dad came home and gathered our family around the kitchen table and told us about the Sub for Santa program.

He had a piece of paper with the name of a family on it and listed the gender and age of all the children and what they wanted for Christmas.

“We need to help Santa this year because this family can’t afford Christmas gifts.”

I will never forget the feeling I had that night as I listened to him tell us about that family.

I loved the idea that we could secretly help Santa Claus and make another family happy.

We all excitedly talked about how we could help.

I went into my room and found a brand new doll.

I wondered why I never played with her.

I decided it was because she needed to be saved for another little girl who might need her more than I did.

I ran back downstairs and showed her to my Dad. He agreed that maybe I’d saved her because someone else needed to have her more than me.

He showed me the little girl’s wish list and said she was my age.

He asked if I could go shopping with my mom to get the other gifts she wanted.

I couldn’t wait. The idea of helping Santa made me want to burst with excitement.

Sub for Santa became a tradition in our family, and one way or another; we always found ways of giving to others.

The first thing my Dad did on Christmas morning was make secret deliveries to people in town who said were “down on their luck.”

We waited for him to come home and then ran into the living room to see what Santa left for us.

My parents taught me that the best gifts are often the good feelings that come from our own giving and not just from the gifts we receive.

I’m happy my Mom agreed to my Christmas request and delivered the wreath and a note on my Dad’s grave.

That is a true gift to me.

And proof that the best gifts don’t always come in a box.

Change, Family, Parenting

Letting Go

As a mother of two college students – one of them only two weeks away from graduating –I am continually asking myself, “What would my mom do now?”

I want to be the kind of mother she’s been.

The area that needs the most improvement lately is trying to be a better listener.

Sometimes, I am more of a fixer than a listener.

When my daughters call and tell me their concerns and problems, I instantly, naturally want to fix everything.

I get worked up in my here’s-what-we-need-to-do speech, and then I think of my mom and an inner voice yells, “Shut up Laurie! They only want you to listen, not try to make everything all better! Think of Mom.”

Annie called a couple of weeks ago to tell me that she’s going to Uganda for a service mission with HELP International.

African child

It was an awkward conversation as I felt this rising, confusing objection, and wanted to say in a scolding mom voice: “Ah… no, you are not going to Africa. You are coming home, getting a job, sleeping in your bedroom down the hall from me. You are going to sing in the shower, bake cookies, have parties, and    scatter your clothes all over the floor, and play the piano for me. …just like you’ve always done.

I stammered a bit and kept thinking of my mom, and what she would do.

Just listen.

I calmed down as the conversation went on, and I told her she had to be patient with me as I got my head around her new, exotic, and oh-so-foreign-to-me plan.

In a moment of weakness, I blurted out, “Annie, I am just not ready for you to be this grown up. I know you have an adventurous spirit and I am trying to be supportive, but I am fighting some powerful mom instincts here that make me want to fling my arms around you and keep you close to me forever. I still see you as a little girl, not as a world traveler and humanitarian!”

I reminded myself of Steve Martin in “Father of the Bride” when his daughter, also named Annie, told him she was in love and wanted to get married. He looked across the kitchen table and saw those grown up words coming out of a little girl’s mouth.

While it’s a hilarious scene, it’s also painful to realize I’m Steve Martin.

I’m not transitioning well from seeing my daughters as my little girls to seeing them as independent, adventurous women whose passions are taking them in directions that feel further and further away from me.

Cover of "Father of the Bride (15th Anniv...
Cover via Amazon

And, I know they need me to listen more than advise.

They need me to support more than protect.

Yet my adviser and protector instincts are not easily tamed.

In my conversation about Africa with Annie, I vacillated between being supportive and curious and treating her like she was 10 years old, when I would have said, “Well, you certainly are not going to Africa. Now, finish your homework so we can get you bathed and ready for bed.”

As I navigate the new waters of parenting adult children, I think of my mom constantly and wonder how she did it.

I call her often and say, “Mom, really, how did you do it?”

I’m still trying to figure it out.

I think the real answer is that she did it a day, and a conversation at a time just like I am.

I hope my daughters can understand that this “letting go” part of parenting is not easy.

help letter annie

But, of course, like me, they will only really learn it when they become parents.

Then,  I hope they’ll call me for advice and say, “Mom, how did you do it?”


Goodbye Summer

Summer 2012.

It’s officially over.

My girls have returned to college.

The house is quiet.

The bedrooms are clean.

The junk food is tossed.

Tonight will just be dinner for two.

My house feels like one of those deflated Snowman decorations at Christmas time.

You know, the ones that stand all puffy and bright at night, and then collapse into a big heap at the end of the night?

It’s not a bad thing.

It just takes some getting used to.

So to cheer myself up today, I’m going to list some of the things I won’t miss…

(Brace yourselves girls.)

  1. “Dance Moms” blaring from the TV.  Who invented this show and what is wrong with them? Who wants to watch a loudmouthed dance teacher yell at pretty little ballerinas and make them cry? And who cares about all the melodramatic mothers that like to fight with each other?  The minute I hear those screeching voices in my house, I cringe, complain and ask, “Why do you watch this show?” Well, now that you’re away at college, watch away girls. Fill your minds with that uplifting, educational program all you want.  I will thoroughly enjoy never hearing those carping voices again…until Christmas, at least.
  2.  “Criminal Minds” marathons. I admit I’m fascinated by crime solvers, and enamored with Hotchner, Derek, Reid and Garcia, but watching shows about sick, twisted murderers for hours on end can be disturbing. And you know the addiction has gone too far when you accidentally come across a quiz online that says, “Find out which Criminal Minds character you’re most like,” and you take it. Just for the record, I’m most like Spencer Reid, who is a genius, just saying.
  3. Sweet Frog frozen yogurt runs. Okay, I really will miss these little outings but it’s time to stay away from that place. A woman my age can only have so much pomegranate or strawberry yogurt with bits of fruit and even bigger bits of candy.

Now that I’ve reminded myself of what I won’t miss, I’m feeling a bit more cheery.

So, now, I think I’ll erase all the programs from the DVR that I don’t like.

I’ll gaze at the carpet in the bedrooms that I haven’t seen all summer.

And, I’ll dream of going to the beach in a few weeks while both of them are hitting the books.

Ah, Carolina Beach Retreat is waiting…

I’ll get by just fine, you’ll see.

Being an empty nester has its good points.

I loved summer 2012, and I’ll miss having a full, busy house.

But when I have those lonely moments, I’ll reread this list and make myself feel better.

Community, From the News

Proud to be an American

Happy Fourth of July!

photo credit

What better place to be on Independence Day than in Washington, D.C. at Nat’s Stadium with your family and best friends?

That thought has been in my head from the minute I got up this morning.

Highlights of my Fourth of July:

  • Watching all the families dressed in their Nats fan gear pile on the metro
  • Two little boys sliding together on their seat, and saying, “Do you want to sit down?” With mitts in hand and autographed ball caps on their heads, they told me they were hoping to get Bryce Harper’s autograph at today’s game.  I loved their excitement. “How many more stops?” they kept asking their parents. “Why is this thing so slow?” they asked as they bounced up and down in their seats. Their enthusiasm was contagious.
  • A huge American flag draped between two fire truck cranes at the entrance to the stadium
photo credit Washington Examiner
  • Four home runs!
  • Standing up to sing America the Beautiful with a stadium full of proud Americans. I loved the patriotism that surged through the crowd.
  • Thanking our military with a packed house of fans
  • Sharing stories about last week’s storm but not letting it affect a great game, a beautiful city, and resilient group of people.
  • Heat wave? What heat wave? We had a breeze that kept us comfortable all afternoon in the sweltering heat.
  • Fireworks
  • Homemade Strawberry gelato
  • Feeling proud to be an American and celebrating freedom in the greatest nation on earth with the people I love most.

Left in the Dark

On Saturday afternoon I sat alone in our house surrounded by an eerie, totally unfamiliar kind of quiet.

The only sound I heard was Nikki breathing as he sat near my feet.

No hum of computers, no fans or air conditioning, music or television, no ringing phones or ice plinking into the freezer bin. No microwave beeps, no doorbell, and no air moving anywhere.

A surprise storm blew through Northern Virginia Friday night that brought at least 80 mph winds, lightening, thunder, and a deluge of rain.

credit: Leslie Perales

We watched the trees bend almost in half and gasped every time we heard a new roar of thunder or saw the house light up with lightning.

Trees were uprooted and dropped on decks, garages, porches, fences, cars, and lawns. Trees were split by either winds or lightening.

Our electricity flashed off and on, and then stayed off. As of now, it still hasn’t been restored.

Nearly 100-degree heat, high humidity, and no air conditioning.

We migrated to the basement until we couldn’t take it anymore.

Today we cleaned out the freezer and the fridge and got rid of all our perishable food.

When my sister told my mom about the storm and our loss of electricity, Mom said, “Just what I need. Another thing to worry about!” (Remember my mom is the world’s finest worrier.)

My sister said, “Mom, you don’t need to worry about her. She’s hot. That’s it.”


We’re not like the people we see on the news who have lost everything to fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and floods.

We’ve just lost electricity.

And, it will come back on.

Clearly we are uncomfortable, out of touch, and out of sorts without our cool houses and our cool technology. But, really, it’s nothing to worry about.

My sister is right. I’m fine. I’m just hot.

I also can’t blow my hair dry, cook dinner or keep food cold, but still, these are relatively minor things.

As I moved from one place to the next last night trying to find a reasonably cool place to sleep, I thought about how much I rely on the luxurious infrastructures of my life.

I have an interior support system with my faith, beliefs, values, people, and a positive mindset that keeps me personally propped up.

Then, I have the exterior scaffolding of my life like my home, car, food, water, and all my stuff, like my phone and laptop, washer and dryer, and everything that makes the chores of life easier.

When these infrastructures are disrupted, it’s like a major support beam of my life is knocked out.

Right now, my exterior infrastructure is down.

My family’s infrastructure is down.

So we’re dipping deeper into our interior support systems and relying on gifts of perspective and happy dispositions to keep us going.

We’re trying to make a mini-vacation out of this mini-disaster. We’ve played a few games, had some good conversations, laughed a lot, and had a slumber party in the basement.

We’ve also spent a lot of time in the car trying to get cool while we charge our phones for when we have a brief signal.

Life without electricity is less than fun, but it’s made me wonder — is the real disaster that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when the world goes quiet and the lights go out? Or is it that we are so reliant on our luxuries that we forget how much we appreciate them?

Or is it as simple as what my sister said? I’m fine. I’m just hot.