Saturday, January 21, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect

I've made it a general rule not to lean too closely to the mirror. It's a good rule, really, because there is something rather scary that happens as the distance between my noses starts shortening... something that has the effect of turning my content, oblivious expression into one that might be better described as 'horror', 'disgust', 'disbelief'. It might have something to do with the thick layer of peach-fuzz that is threatening to turn into a manly beard and mustache, or maybe it's those dark veins that run so prominently along either side of the bridge of my nose. It could be the blemishes and freckles, or the wayward hairs that try valiantly to give me a uni-brow, or the unsymmetrical smile that looks vaguely like I've had a minor stroke... but whatever the reason, my slightly fuzzy vision makes me much happier with the girl standing a few feet away from the mirror.

But I had a date last Friday night, you see.

A date with a tall, handsome, funny guy that I happen to be falling madly in love with. A grown-up date at a real restaurant where they served steamed asparagus and gently smashed potatoes - there wasn't a chicken nugget, finger, tender, or crisp in sight - and the anticipation of the date turned me a bit giddy. I curled my hair, folks. And... I got uncomfortably close to the mirror.

I wanted to look ... nice. Date nice. Close-up nice. So I leaned in close and tried not to be disappointed when I saw, first hand, what every-day living for almost 30 years has done to me. I trimmed and plucked, scraped away dead skin and covered up discolored skin; using eyeliner, I tried to create an illusion that would turn my round eyes into a more appealing almond shape; I pulled out the lipstick and experimented a bit on how to use it in conjunction with the lip liner and lip gloss that had almost never been opened. And then I reached for the eyelash curler.

Eyelashes are always the last thing I do when I'm getting ready. My mom passed to me a set of long, thick, low maintenance eyelashes... but leaning into the mirror as I set my lashes in the curler, I noticed with a rather disappointing feeling that I could count each and every eyelash coming out of the (apparently) balding tip of my eyelid. Great, I thought. Now my eyelashes have made it to the list of reasons I don't get close to the mirror.

My mind flashed back 15 years and I was climbing up into the passenger seat of our red Dodge Durango. I put the shopping bags from our mall trip at my feet and clicked my seatbelt into place. My mom shifted the SUV into reverse and smiled after she stole a quick glance at me from across the car. My eyebrows furrowed into a questioning glare. "What?" I asked.
"Nothing," she responded.
"Mom, you can't do that. What? What did you just smile at?"
Still smiling but saying nothing, she slowly started backing out of her parking space. And then, as if thinking better of her silence, she took a deep breath, "I was just thinking that I hope you enjoy those while you have them." I swept my eyes around my area to see what she could be talking about and came up with nothing probable. "Enjoy what?" I asked.
"Your eyelashes. They might not always look like that, you know." I remembered the compliment the cashier at Claires had given that day for my eyelashes and wondered if Mom had been thinking about it ever since.
"Really? Why?"
"I don't know... sometimes when you get older they start falling out. Mine used to be just like yours."

I was confused and let the conversation turn stale as my mind tried to make sense of the new information it had received. It's true that I hadn't realized that my eyelashes might, one day, become thinner... but the thing I was most confused about was why I had detected a little longing through that last sentence. Did my mom care about what her eyelashes looked like? That made no sense to my teenage brain. She was my mom. My best friend, my therapist. Loving, accepting and generous towards all of my friends... even the ones that maybe weren't so deserving of it... and smiled lovingly each time one of them called her Mom. She had her finger on my emotional pulse at all times and wouldn't hesitate to excuse me from class, or start up a conversation, or let me shut myself in my room if she felt it was best for me. She often made nachos or banana chocolate milkshakes in the evenings just to make us happy. She was selfless - so selfless - and fun and spunky and happy. Completely understanding of my mistakes and tirelessly cheering me on and encouraging me in my talents... To me, all of these things made her the very definition of beautiful.

Why would she care about her eyelashes?

Of course now, feeling the disappointment of holding the eyelash curler to my own balding eyelashes, I understand. I understand that seeing inside your own heart is so much harder than seeing your reflection in the mirror. And, when you focus on the reflection in the mirror, I understand that the voice of the world - shouting it's messages of beauty - is deafeningly loud and can so easily drown out the still, gentle voice reminding you of your own, unique beauty. And, like a two-edged sword, when you are able to focus on your heart, I understand that seeing the good in yourself - the deep down, soul emitting good - is painfully hard to see when the flaws and mistakes keep getting in the way.

I put down my eyelash curler and smiled at my reflection. My hair is neither blonde nor brown, my face is not symmetrical, my teeth are not perfectly straight, my skin is not blemish-free and my neck has wrinkles. But harnessing that unconditional love I have for my mom, that love that somehow separates the things that matter from the things that don't, I worked on turning it toward myself. I tried to remember that there is so much more to me than my eyelashes. Or my waistline. Or my grandma-hands. Or my fill-in-the-blank.

Instead of feeling down on myself, I tried to find strength in those that love me. Who don't care about trivial imperfections and who love me for the good of who I am. Those friends who have stuck with me through tough times and who offer sincere and kind words to build me up. Those sweet kids that call me mom and cuddle up next to me even when I haven't showered in three days. Those in-laws who feel comfortable in my home and make me feel comfortable in theirs. Those parents who listen to my irrational frustrations and sprinkle advice and wisdom to taste. And, most of all, to that tall, handsome, funny guy that I happen to be falling madly in love with. I have no doubt that we could have happily gone on our date with my hair in it's signature ponytail and all my make-up still sitting in my make-up bag. That man unquestionably loves me for my heart.

I don't plan to change my rule... I will still get ready a few feet away from the mirror... but whenever I start to get down on myself I will remember to find strength in those who think:

"You are amazing. Why do you care about your eyelashes?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Oh Miles. Thank you for trying so hard to do your own hair this afternoon. Twice. I'm not sure why I didn't put the gel up after the first offense - so I guess I have only myself to blame for this one.

You know, I must say this was 100 times better than the Vaseline your sister put in her hair when she was about your age:

(PS - This picture was taken after the first washing...)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

January Schmanuary

I looked at my calendar yesterday. It said it was January 4th... I'm confused.

Generally, I'm excited for the new year to start. I'm prepared with my resolutions list, sharp pencils, a crisp new 5-Star notebook to help me keep track of my life, and filled to the brim with a fresh energy to do exactly what I've resolved to do. The last day or two of December I feel like a racehorse locked behind his gate - chomping at the bit - eager for the door to swing open so I can test my legs on those new resolutions and see how far I can carry them.

So how, I wonder, did we jump halfway into the first week in January without me so much as turning a brain cell to this new year? Weird.

I guess, my heart is still a bit stuck on Christmas. Yes, I know it's been 11 days, but... have you ever bought a new kind of shampoo, one with a different smell than usual, and then at random moments during the day - maybe when the wind blows, or when you turn your head quickly - catch a whiff of it that makes you smile? That's kind of like what's happening with me and Christmas this year. It felt different than usual, and at random moments during the days I keep catching whiffs of it that make me smile... It feels good, and I kind of like it lingering.

There were two main things that added to the greatness of the year. One was that we added new traditions that helped us focus solely (is that really how you spell solely? I had to Google it after spellcheck fixed it because I didn't believe it! Are you technically supposed to put two 'l' sounds in it? Oh, wait... I get it. Sole, meaning one, and then 'ly' making it an adverb. Wow... never thought of that one before. Sorry - random tangent) on Christ. My new favorite book is A Christ-Centered Christmas by Emily Freeman. You should read it. And buy it. We took several traditions right from her words, and modified another several to fit our own family. I'm already filled with ideas on how to make next year even better.

The other thing that made Christmastime so wonderful were these people:

The more time I spend with Brian's parents, Con and Jean, the more in love I fall with them. After a rather homesick Thanksgiving, they brought a bit of home to us and cheered the dreariness right out of my heart. They came into our home and merged into our lives for 8 days... they expected nothing, loved everything, played 537 games of Phase Ten and Uno, built Lego towers, chatted, helped with dishes, tossed compliments, and made the kids feel like 'Grandma and Grandpa live for nothing more than to play with you.'

Grandpa took Carson fishing...

He also read Happy Feet Two to Miles over and over and over again. I thought the first movie was T.E.R.R.I.B.L.E. I can't imagine the patience he must have had to read the second book that many times... But... you can see that Miles is enjoying it.

And he proudly wore his dollar store tie all day on Christmas. After the kids had gone to bed that night, his wife said, "You know, you can take that off now." Not many Grandpas can pull off a singing tie...but Con did it well. Too bad we opened it after church.

Grandma taught Miles how to twirl a swirly ribbon, but then sat and laughed at him while he tried it out himself... poor Miles might have low-ribbon-twirling-self-esteem from now on.

She also was one of the most active audience members for the kids' puppet show. After asking several questions that remained unanswered she said with a laugh, "Oh, I guess you're not really supposed to be asking questions in the middle of the performance, are you." I don't know why you were confused, Jean - - - The Three Little Pigs being performed by a frog, a bear, a tiger and a duck - - - what's confusing about that?

One of my favorite memories is of Jean laying on the floor with the kids, all lights off but for the Christmas tree, to tell a new Christmas story every night. Originally I think it was meant to be just for the kids, but the peaceful atmosphere and her energetic story-telling drew every member into the room with her.

I was also super impressed with their crafty-skills. They helped make candy-cane cookies,

(This may have been one of Miles's favorite activities...)

and helped make 21 graham cracker houses which then led to supervising 17 kids (and the missionaries) while they decorated them. Before the crowd arrived, Con said, "after we get through this, we'll all deserve two cans of Cherry Pepsi. I will have three." We all laughed, but he unsurprisingly handled the chaos true to the calm, laid-back personality that defines him. I was quite impressed with Jean, however. She's one to be found raking leaves in the wind, so to speak, to keep on top of the mess - and knowing this might very well kill her, I gave her permission to sneak away to her room to read a book if the chaos and mess got to be too much. :) But she stayed till the bitter end and, dare I say, maybe even had as much fun as the rest of us.

We sang Christmas carols and drank hot chocolate,

and thoroughly enjoyed watching the kids open their presents on Christmas morning. McKenzie had one recycled emotion for each present: Awe. In the first picture, Is this really what I think it is? I cannot believe I got a calculator. And the second, Is this really what I think it is? I cannot believe these are real Break-Your-Own-Geodes. Looks like Santa scored with the $.99 calculator, and Nana scored with a box of rocks.

Carson was funny too. After he opened the wooden car in the first picture he said, "Hey! I think Santa's elves weally made dis!" And the second picture just seems to be Carson. That present doesn't stand a chance against your opening skills, Dude.

But, if Carson had to choose one gift he loved the most, he would probably choose his pack of orange gum. He devoured the whole pack in one day. At one point in the day he had so many pieces in his mouth he had to remove the wad before he could say anything.

At the end of the vacation, Jean summed it all up nicely. "Whenever I smell orange gum, I will forever remember Carson and the Christmas of 2011."