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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Full of Wonder

A rare event occurred yesterday. Actually, a never-before event occurred yesterday. Our Kramer core of Papa, Mama, Daughter, and Son walked out of a movie theater with eyes afloat. ALL of us, meaning, the tough dad who never cries was shedding tears.

You might've guessed we saw the movie Wonder – that must-see flick of the season to forget that holiday to-do list and remind yourself of the heart beating inside you. (Some people, I've heard, find this with the Hallmark Channel or actually by listening in church. All good too.)

Last week marked the beginning of the holiday sprint. Planning family get-togethers. Preparing feasts. Shopping in the fourth circle of hell, to quote my husband. I seem to be chewing through a healthy amount of heartburn medicine lately. I would tell you that my stress comes from a number of things. It was my turn to host Thanksgiving. Work is piling up with budgets and reviews to be done.  But here's the truth: it's really neither of those things. I could've served tuna casserole at our Thanksgiving and no one would've really cared as long as we had pumpkin pie. And December is always busy at the bank. In the past 20 years, I've always gotten through it just fine.

This is what I worry about most: my kids. Sure, I'm always concerned about their grades and their health. But here's the thing – I'm mostly worried if they feel loved and aren't lonely.

Thus, Niagara Falls as I watched the tale of ostracism in the most cruelest of venues: Middle School. While the performances of the kids were truly admirable, I was affected most by the authenticity of the parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson). Every time they felt hurt, I felt that hurt. And when they felt the joy of their kids making new friends, I felt that joy. So I pretty much cried for the entire movie, except for the short intermission when I sprinted to the bathroom to avoid what appeared to be a heart-wrenching dog scene.

In no way am I saying either of our kids have experienced anything as cruel as being targeted because of a physical deformity. But they've certainly been left out. They've certainly been made fun of. Most of us have. And those memories don't just evaporate.

It's no revelation that people can be cruel. Wonder reminds us that we're all looking for love and acceptance. We might not be able to change the cards we're dealt. We can't control the actions of others. But we can respond. We can respond in a way that makes a difference. If we teach our kids to look beyond the surface and set aside judgement, we can spread goodness. This doesn't just apply to the kids who appear different than us – it applies to the bullies as well. Chances are, they are harboring some deep pain. It's an easy formula, really. Spreading goodness = happiness. All we need is the courage to do the right thing.

As we walked through the lobby of the movie theater, I turned to my family and said, "Talk about getting perspective." Cole put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Mom! That's a great way of thinking of it." Ah! The power of a story. Remember those Kramer tears I spoke of earlier? Well, to clarify, the tears were of joy, triumph, and wonder.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Day in the Life

Here's how today went. Up and down. Up and down. Up and down.
  • Walked into work and reveled over sports: Hawkeye's crushing over Ohio State, the Cyclone's winning streak and bid for the state championship, the Husker loss...
  • Excited! Booked recommended cleaner to de-grime the house before Thanksgiving.
  • Most delighted  to read Cole's weekly grade report today: all A's!
  • Less than delighted when aforementioned Cole confessed he had lost his wallet this weekend.
  • Sad! Recommended cleaner realized she had overbooked herself. De-griming will be up to me and the boys. Me, I guess.
  • A million little things blew up at work today.
  • A few really good things happened at work today.
  • Connected with daughter who is ready to come home for holidays!

I took off at 4:30 to drive the boys to one of their final soccer practices of the season. It was was scheduled at Creighton's indoor practice facility. I would have no time to waste. So I dropped them off only to receive a call a few minutes later. Their team wasn't there. So, as I drove around in DT Omaha, I combed through my email to find an update about practice. There it was. The practice had been moved to Lewis Central. So I picked the boys up and sped my way back to Council Bluffs, meeting every red light possible. Just as I broke free of traffic stops, I see the sign on the Interstate. I-29 South closed. Bugger. So, I navigated my way around Council Bluffs using my Jedi senses until I amazingly found myself driving by the AMC.

"Cole!" I said. "You're going to run into the theater to see if you left your wallet there. We're already late."


The wallet was found! Sans a debit card. Argh. (Luckily, I work at a bank.)

Eventually we made it to practice, an hour late.

I called my hubby up in arms about the screwy day. I won't lie. I ranted a bit. That's when he told me his mother had a bit of a scare this afternoon. Her blood pressure blew up. My mother-in-law is 85 years-old and has already had two heart surgeries.

What was I complaining about?

As it turns out, she needs to have some medication adjusted and is better tonight. But still. It was a swift shift of perspective. What does a soccer practice or lost wallet matter? Really?

So, actually my day was mostly up. We're all here and very soon will get to curl into a warm, cozy bed.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Death Stars and #Girlbosses

We are a Star Wars family. One of our favorite Star War-themed movies is Fan Boys. The story follows four young adults in the early 1990's making a pilgrimage to the George Lucas Ranch at a time in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are. It's a desperately underrated film; I highly recommend it for its humor and life messages. There's a scene when one of the characters is expressing frustration over his current job at his father's car dealership. Deep down, he knows it's not for him. That's when his goofy friend "Hutch" states the best line of the movie: "You gotta find your Death Star."

For those unfortunate few who know not what I speak: the Death Star is Darth Vader's weapon to rule the galaxy. It's a complex weapon and is usually in development. It's the job of the Rebel Alliance to destroy it before it becomes operational. (This plot occurs a few times throughout the saga.) But in the Star Wars world, no matter what side you're on, the Death Star pretty much defines your purpose.

In the same vein of purpose, I just finished reading #Girlboss. Some of you might recognize it as a Netflix series, but it's also the true story of Sophia Amorusa who started a vintage clothing Ebay store and eventually grew it into a multi-billion dollar business called Nasty Gal. I have followed a lot of business success stories, but this one fascinates me, and I know exactly why. This girl, who started with $50 in her pocket, never blinked as she gave up the security of a job and plunged into a clothing venture. Just like Darth Vader and Princess Leia, Sophia Amorusa was strong and true to her purpose.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm meant to be a banker, a writer, or a teacher. I even wonder at times if I am meant to be a mother or a wife. Not that I don't want to be any of those things, but I question my abilities. I'm sure we all do this to an extent – second guess ourselves. Perhaps that's why so many people struggle to find purpose. We see characters like Darth and Sophia who are so good at what they do and are so sure of themselves! What am I doing with my life! Spinning in circles trying to figure it all out!

That's okay, really. Something occurred to me today. Not everyone in this world is struggling to find their purpose. Lots of people, folks, are struggling to survive. Their purpose is to find some water. Some nourishment to see the sunset at the end of the day. What a gift to those of us who get to explore. A gift. Not a struggle. The trick is having the courage to take action. And be thankful about it.

Perhaps life isn't about finding your one true Death Star. Sure, creating a destructive weapon might be one of your purposes. But so is training young Jedi's. Or joining the Rebel Alliance to defeat the Empire. Or transporting Wookies across the universe in the Millennium Falcon. You get it.

I get to serve many purposes. I'm lucky that way. And it's not really about understanding who I am, but exploring who I want to be. As George Bernard Shaw said it best:

"Life isn't about finding yourself. It's about creating yourself."

Monday, September 18, 2017

School Daze

Ah! Autumn!
I love school. To this day, I love stepping on to a campus – any campus. Grade schools. High schools. Colleges! The aromas of autumn and cafeteria spin me back to those days of learning. Armed with a new batch of pencils, it was a time to reunite with classmates after summer break and show off my new roller skating jeans. Not everyone had roller-skating jeans.

My parents had a sneaky way of instilling my love of learning. They loved to quiz me on news and topics I was oblivious to. Eventually, I grew tired of being dumb. So I convinced myself to study harder and read stuff beyond my Nancy Drew mysteries. Learning paid off of me. And there's one thing I know for sure: I want it to pay off for my kids.

This has not been a problem for my daughter who is naturally-inquisitive. I've never had to push her to study. As a matter of fact, she found my homework assistance detrimental to her grades. (I offered to help with a TAG English assignment once. Apparently, it was one of the worst grades she got that semester.)

My son is a different story. Not only would he prefer to be doing just about anything else in the world than study, but he believes there's absolutely nothing wrong with a B. And I agree. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a B, as long is it's someone else's grade. I'm only kidding. Sort of.

To be fair, Cole is doing well in school this year. (So far!) Some of this has to do with the fact that he's beginning to realize college is around the corner. Some of this has to do with the development of his teenage brain. Mostly, I think, it's because he's not obsessed with any particular girl right now.

There's been a learning curve for me on this whole business of "raising your son to take school seriously." But here are two actions I have found to be somewhat helpful:

  • I never assume he has studied for a test, even if he says he did. 
  • I push and push and push him to explain concepts to me. Within 30 seconds I can tell whether he understands what he's talking about. It's not just about memorization anymore.

A few years ago Cole told that he received an A on a test. My response was, "See Cole! Doesn't it feel  great to get that good grade? It's kind of like when you get a goal in soccer!" He quickly retorted with a snort. "No, Mom. It's nothing like getting a goal in soccer." He went on to explain that the first thing he thinks about when he gets a good grade is how it will make his mother happy.

Professor Steffie
But I'm sensing a change in Cole. He texted me the other day about getting an A on a science test. And that night? He went on to talk about what he was learning. With great interest, I listened intensely as he droned on about anatomy. I wasn't so intrigued with the content. But I was excited to detect a bit of pride. It might not have been as exhilarating as a soccer goal, but he certainly seemed to feel a sense of achievement. I think a love of learning might be starting to percolate.

I'm teaching Principles of Management at Iowa Western this semester. I didn't decide to do this because I've been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I decided to do this because I value learning. And as many of you have probably guessed, I like to share my experiences. Maybe, just maybe, I'll help a few others to percolate a love of learning.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pulling off the Band-Aid

The other night I was walking a track around a soccer complex filled with intense youngsters wearing colorful uniforms and the most adorable, tiny cleats. As I watched pure exuberance chase soccer balls, my heart sang and stung just a little. Weren't those my kids just only a few short years ago?
watching them play is still fun

Last weekend we traversed (in our Traverse!) to Iowa City to enjoy the first football game of the season. The plans were to meet up with our good friends and catch a glimpse of our college-aged daughter. And a glimpse is all we got. She's a busy girl with a full course load, a job, and friends who do't go out until after 10 PM. Crazy kids.

I'm so proud of our kids who are focused and have goals. Alex will become a journalist tackling social issues. Cole will either be an MLS soccer player or something else. (He really is talking about the "something else" possibilities.) 

Sometimes it just hits me. My usefulness as a parent is waning fast.

I was expressing this sentiment to a recently-retired friend of my parents. This is how he responded:

I remember when we took Michael to Luther College in 2001. Everything I had read said to not prolong the "tearing" apart by lingering at college after getting him settled into his dorm. They told us that parents weekend was just six weeks away and a good time to linger. So, with an abruptness we took him, moved his stuff in said our good byes and departed. It was rough on me and I was full of tears in the car pulling away. It was not that I was first experiencing his independence that we trained him to have but the finality of it all that the corner actually turned. Since that date our times together are richer and better with time. A beer or glass of wine are not required to make this so but they are a compliment for part of the times we are now together.

Beautifully-worded, Chris Hoffmann.

an Iowa City party sans the daughter
Last night I was completely sacked out when my son came home after midnight. He had driven a carload of kids to Council Bluffs to see the movie. The kid just turned sixteen, and I don't even remember saying goodnight to him! According to Doug I said, "Home so early, Cole?" Bad mom? Nah. I'm a good mom who has a proclivity for deep sleep. As most mothers understand, deep sleep is typically not an option as your kids grow up. Maybe, just maybe I'm pulling off the band-aid. And you know what? I'm going to enjoy that deep sleep – and every other moment as it comes.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Tale of the Generous Spirit

One summer during college I worked at Mickel’s – that landmark restaurant of Shelby County with the cheery orange and yellow facade on the corner of 12th and Chatburn. Decadent fried rolls. Homemade sweet salad dressing which was clearly the best condiment in the house. Mickels (may it rest-in-peace) was a local treasure. I still think fondly of my time there, remembering the fun environment and, of course, the fried rolls.

There was an elderly couple that came in fairly frequently. Okay, there were a lot of elderly couples who came there frequently. But this particular couple was iconic to the waiting staff. The man was a dear, gentle soul with an adorable smile. And his wife? Oh my goodness. I’m not sure there are words. Maybe the best way to describe her would be this: a fire-breathing dragon lady.

As he would try to make friendly small-talk, she would interrupt with a spitting, “I want a cheeseburger.” Then she would tell him to shut up and order. As she growled, he continued to chuckle in a polite way. She never liked her food. He always complimented. And when it came time to pay the bill, she made darn sure he wasn’t going to leave a tip. Somehow, he always managed to hide a little something under the placemat.

You know what I think about when I remember that old couple? The kind soul of the old man. It easily eclipses the fire of the dragon lady.

Here’s the thing. Kindness is powerful. I loved waiting on that couple – we all did. Because Mr. Kindsoul was inspiring. The poor guy lived in hell, but you’d never know it. His response to his situation seemed to be patience and generosity.

In our household lives a soon-to-be 16-year-old boy. I’m not sure if any of you have experience with teenage boys, but they don’t always think. As a matter of fact, it’s been proven scientifically that teenager brains are not fully developed. But, when Cole forgets to shut off a hydrant and lets water run all night, our knee-jerk is not to remember that he can’t help his folly. We are ready to chew some ass. 

“Cole! What kind of dumb-ass move was that? You gonna pay the water bill next month?”

Cole feels terrible. I feel terrible. I’m thinking Doug feels kind of bad too, but I’m not sure fathers experience mom-guilt like we do.

Maybe patience and kindness is the answer. What would be so wrong with this?

“Cole. The weirdest thing happened – the hydrant was left on overnight. Any thoughts on how that might’ve happened? Ha ha!” 

Okay. Maybe no ha ha. Cole would still feel horrible, but I’m thinking he’d appreciate our gentle approach. And we all would move on to the next thing. Unless, it happened again. Then I’d probably emerge into Mrs. Dragonlady.

Friday, August 11, 2017

This one goes out to the one I love

This is the weekend of Doug as he flips to minus one year and counting before…a big decade birthday. This also happens to be the same month we celebrate 23 years of wedded bliss. It all feels like a major milestones for us. (Maybe it has something to do with seeing his ex last weekend at the class reunion.) I’m just so happy I married someone I still like. As a matter of fact, I made a list.

Why I like my husband:
He will even selfie with me.
·         He makes me laugh even when I don’t want to. (Case in point: whenever something good happens, he shouts out with glee, “Tits!” I hate this exclamation, but I laugh every time.)
·         He is as cute as ever and kills it with his thinning tresses. Yessiree, Alex and Cole Kramer. The chemistry between us is still there. So, suck it up and watch us kiss.
·         He loves his kids in a way so different than me that without his influence, we might have raised horrible children who would’ve never learned anything about baseball.
·         He convinces me to relax. That is exactly why my house is a disaster most of the time. And I rarely throw a tantrum about it.
·         He’s entirely handy, not be confused with handsy. (He’s that too, but I wouldn’t think of adding that on this list.)
·         His favorite outfit is a gray t-shirt and sweat shorts, which happens to be my favorite outfit to wear as well. I love being a couple who wears comfy threads to the bar on a Saturday night.
·         He feeds our cat potato chips off the counter.
·         He’s annoyingly modest. (He actually makes me feel like a show off. But the quality is so endearing. I try really hard to be more like him in this respect.)
·         He takes the dog for rides on the four-wheeler.
·         He will take me to Natalie Merchant and hardly complain if they run out of beer.
·         He thinks Tom Hanks is the best actor of all time. I don’t happen to agree with this, but I love it that he has an opinion about acting. (Mr. Hanks—if you’re reading this blog, you would be in my top ten.)
·         He calls me beautiful every day no matter how depraved I look.

And those are the main reasons I like my husband. Oh yes. I love him as well. Why you ask? It can be summed up as this:

Douglas Mark Kramer is something better than great—he’s good. (Yeah. I totally ripped this off a movie. But it’s true.)

Happy Birthday, Love.