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1998 Kindergarten Graduation

Graduation ceremonies are always a little surreal. They tend to go on too long, especially for those wearing hot robes, and yet they take very little time compared to how long it took to arrive at those ceremonies.

I’ve been through a couple of my own, watched Sherman at one, been present at a few more, and, just a week ago, saw my own two kids receive their high school diplomas. Even the most recent ceremony is already a little blurry in my mind.

Sure the mortar boards and tassels sit displayed on the table, along with the diplomas, but the whole thing makes no sense. Everything’s different now, but we just don’t know how yet.

Transitions are that way. All you know is that you’re not living in the world you knew, but the next step has yet to happen.

So here I sit, exhausted from all the preparations—both those last week and those from the whole 13 year school experience—and still a little stunned. I’m just happy to read a book, putter around with my plants, rest a little longer, and live in this moment. I’m not even overloaded with words or thoughts. In fact, I’m a little bit blank.

That isn’t the worst thing—after all the future’s a bit like a blank check for both kids and parents ready for the next phases of their journeys. And yes, I’m thinking of the check as one you receive, not one you write, even if we’re going to have to write a few of those checks as the kids embark on a much more expensive educational voyage.

What will any of us be when we grow up?

A bright future dawns—I’m wearing shades!

2010 Graduation


(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert, Lion High Five

It’s about the learning, stupid.

Sorry about using the terminology—for many years in our house, “stupid” was considered almost a swear word. Because, really, who is to define what stupid means? Does it mean someone who can’t understand something or does it mean someone who puts the focus on our definition of the wrong things? The first person may not have the capabilities or outside help to understand so we shouldn’t dump our contempt on him/her. And the other person, well, I imagine one person’s stupid is another person’s smart and vice versa.

Thirty years ago Mt. St. Helens dumped ash on the cars, even in my home state of Nebraska, right before I graduated from high school as number two—we try harder, you know. Or so the saying goes.

I won’t deny that I worked hard for that accolade and that in many ways I deserved it. In many other ways, it just doesn’t matter.

What going for the grade-point and the ranking didn’t teach me was how to learn for learning’s sake. That educational path made me less of a risk-taker and more of a bean-counter. How many points did I miss? Was everything turned in? Did I study things because I could understand them? Was I good enough if I didn’t get the exact answer even if I understood the concept and why it mattered?

Those in charge of the G/T council I sat on for the last four years will say I was lucky—I got my first B when I lived at home. I didn’t have to go off to college for my perfect record to be shot down.

That helped me to have a wee bit better attitude toward not seeking perfection in college. I figured I’d do OK if I got one B a quarter—which isn’t a bad philosophy if you factor in a lot of other factors. But if you’re thinking you have to get all A’s in the other classes regardless of what you’re studying or who is teaching it or anything, you’re still missing the point.

I had a creative writing professor who tried to get us out living the liberal arts. He said it wasn’t enough to study them—we needed to make them part of our outside lives—and we needed to make experiencing those non-academic things as important as we did our academic learning.

Was he crazy? I had homework to do!

So it was I found myself with unexplained stomach pains and a lack of energy that did not lift until I spent a semester studying in Spain—where I was in a program designed to be less work based so students could learn outside the classroom. Besides, in those classes I could see the benefit of studying a topic in depth versus moving through the breadth of the material at a whirlwind pace that allowed little time for deep thoughts.

Oh, I didn’t quite heal myself, but I understood why I might want to do so. I got that learning is all around us and it isn’t the person with the highest grade-point who wins or even the person who does the most activities—it’s the person who learns with a passion and who applies it to all aspects of life—more power if you can do that with a high grade-point and living as a human doing, but don’t rule out those for whom passionate learning doesn’t convert to achieving conventional accolades. They matter, too.

That’s why I didn’t set out to raise my children as mini-me’s. Not that that would have been possible as they live in a different time, have different genetics, and came with their own abilities and difficulties. Nonetheless, I didn’t think they needed to be pressured to have the top grades. I wanted them to love to learn.

I believe they have achieved that success—through their own life approaches, through how we’ve lived in this house, and through guidance from a few wise teachers.

There’s often no “loving to learn” medal given at many end-of-school awards’ ceremonies, unless you can do it with a high grade-point or other outstanding contribution, but there should be.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Just as there is no medal for helping kids through an educational system that challenges them to work too often in their areas of weaknesses when they have powerful strengths.

Suffice it to say, Jackson isn’t the only one who felt the sting of last night’s awards ceremony. Even his sister, Christiana, who received the top visual arts award and was rewarded for her grade-point, knows that at a school with so many “above average” students, it’s hard to feel your contribution is ever enough.

I’ve got a secret for you—I bet many of those people at the very top don’t know if it will ever be enough. I promise you that a lot of them don’t even know what compels them to push themselves so hard. Parents, peers, teachers, society, habit—so many factors beyond the student’s own urge to learn.

But without knowledge of why learning for learning’s sake matters, it really isn’t enough.

Until a student learns to explore to fulfill a burning curiosity—regardless of the grade or the tangible societal reward—learning is like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. It is so much less than it could be—in fact, in many ways it isn’t even true learning.

I’d prefer not to pack off another generation to college carrying stomach aches in their backpacks—and I’ve tried to start with my own family.

So don’t forget to congratulate the other kids, too: those who fell in love with a topic and pursued it, who figured out how to work around their difficulties, who didn’t give up when the traditional awards were few, who learned outside the classroom, who applied what they studied in the classroom to their outside world, who were kind, who got scholarships despite not having high grade-points, who have passionate work awaiting them, who are still learning who they are.

As a former conventionally high-achieving student, I can tell you that I finally know what matters. To you I may be an at-home parent whose house is messy more amount of time than it is clean—but I take care of what matters first. I never stop learning, only now I do more than try to find the answers someone else determined were the right ones.

I pray my kids do not let a few slights—major or minor—detract them from being the learners they are meant to be—with or without the rewards. Life is the real education—and despite what many want to tell them, there really are few set answers. Thank goodness there are many versions of the real world.

My kids are far braver than I ever was at their age—they already know what matters and they live that way, regardless of the consequences. I couldn’t be prouder.

To Jackson and Christiana, go forth and continue to learn. That’s how you really prosper.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

The general rule of the green thumb in Colorado is that it’s OK to plant once Mother’s Day has arrived. I am so glad I didn’t follow that advice—I’ve learned enough to know it’s even better to wait until the third week in May. Still, we really did have off and on bouts of snow on the 11th and 12th of May here in Colorado and the cold rain that fell yesterday wasn’t exactly warm either. Frost you kind of expect, but snow?

However, it wasn’t just the moisture that turned cold. A couple days this week I just froze. Despite having lots of extra tasks for getting ready for a graduation party, I couldn’t get myself to do much, not even much of the usual laundry. Bad time for my disorganized brain to put on the brakes.

The weird thing is that those kinds of days don’t usually happen one after another. The hallmark of ADD is inconsistency, so I’ve come to understand that after a day of great productivity, it’s not so unusual to spend a lot of time spinning with little results.

But this was anxiety, a sense of adrenaline rushing through my system. And I couldn’t push the feeling back for very long, even with my usual techniques: do something minor that’s productive, exercise, change what I’m doing, take time out to do something that feeds my soul, eat some protein, you name it. I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t whatever I tried. It seemed like a really good time for deus ex machina. (Don’t worry, dear reader, you do not have to suspend your belief to accept the resolution of the problem because there didn’t appear to be one.)

And today, I’m better. In that typical ADD way, there is no good reason, I think, for feeling better unless deep down I’m just so happy that the BS (sorry again, dear readers, but I’m not sure how else to phrase that) of primary and secondary school is ending. Sort of a good news, bad news thing.

No doubt I have been anxious about this big change in our lives at a time when I have to keep a strong eye on what is happening with my mother. There were new worries, as well as tasks for me, thanks to her emergency room visit on Saturday. The incident reminded me that Mother’s Day just isn’t as happy for me in this season as I watch my mom lose her way. Even if she’s a heck of a lot happier now that she’s moved, she’s still not going to get better.

The anxiety is about not dropping any of the balls—for my mom, for my family members, for myself in these busy days. I want my house to be nice for the party—not just for guests, but for myself. Yet I haven’t been able to make myself do the tasks to get there—I am just getting through each day, trying to do what urgent tasks I need to do and still find time for activities that fill my pond fast enough at a time when the water is seeping out from its boundaries. Just looking for a little stasis in a personal world in flux. (Side note: I am not doing a good job of accessing my brain retention of what I learned in college biology, but a preliminary search on the Internet tells me that stasis in a pond is not necessarily a good thing . . . hm.)

For now, my outlook has thawed again, just as May in Colorado has and I am moving onward, excited that this milestone for my kids is approaching, even if I am still not ready for the celebrations—nor this change in our lives. I’ve left this desk several times, not because I can’t get anything done, but because I am responding to the washer—better day that this is, any day this week will probably not be that good for the Zen of writing, doing laundry, or anything else.

I promise I will continue to make it a priority to search for those moments that ground me, but for now the order of the day is multitasking—with both purpose and expectations of tiny successful activities.

My writing friends mention that I can write as if I am an observer of my own life at the same time I am living it. While that analytical approach to my life has value—it keeps me from the wholesale sweeping under the rug of what blocks me or pains me—but I admit sometimes it misleads me into thinking I can control that which is not mine to control.

That’s why a little deus ex machina isn’t the worst thing to have in your tool kit—sometimes, inexplicably and improbably, things just seem better. If it’s only improved brain chemistry functioning versus a true event that changes the direction of the story, it can be enough.

Here comes the sun.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010, Christiana Lambert

Jackson’s tutor always says something to the effect that if Nature gives great abilities in one area, it’s going to take it away in another area. In other words, people don’t tend to be good at everything. His tutor even goes so far to say that Nature tends to try to kill off those who really are good at everything. Hey, I can’t quote his scientific references—I’m just putting out his theory.

I guess I should be glad I’m flawed!

But that doesn’t mean that being reminded of those flaws doesn’t cut me to my core—especially when they have been a lifelong struggle. Our true areas of weakness begin adding to our baggage from our earliest days. The sentences and phrases spoken to me about this weakness replay in my brain. I see pictures of how often I failed—at different ages in different rooms in different houses.

I don’t know where to put things. I know now that’s part of my ADD and also part of how I was raised. My mother, who had a brain injury and who most likely also had ADD, was not able to model for me or train me.

It’s a good thing I was good in school, just as she was. She and I are a perfect example of the tutor’s theory. We were at the top of our classes in learning and most likely near the bottom of our classes in putting things away and other various domestic arts.

Knowledge can set you free, so I’ve been learning about ADD for almost a decade now. I’ve studied techniques for how to work well with my kind of brain. I feel better in control of how I approach organizing, thanks to realizing I have to do things in a way that makes sense to my brain, not in ways that make sense to the naturally organized person.

However, the truth is I can only work with my brain, not control it completely. Sometimes I just have to cut myself a little slack. And I definitely cannot control other people’s actions or some of the events in my life that have added to the quantity of “stuff” in my home.

One of the gifts of ADD is that I can punt when I have to do so. When faced with my mother’s needs and my kids’ needs, I can figure out how to do what’s most necessary: be there for them to help them deal with their difficult times, find resources for them, and get them to outside help when necessary.

There is no denying that taking care of others in their crises changes priorities. Time available does not increase just because more tasks are added into a day. Care-giving has pushed me squarely into areas of my weaknesses. I have had to turn my focus to time and detail management. I have been the one to schedule appointments and see that everyone gets to those appointments. I have been the one to contact providers, insurance companies, financial companies, etc. to make sure all the pieces fall into place—especially when those who are supposed manage those details do not.

But while the time spent managing details is quantifiable, how much time does it take to console others in pain and to confront your own emotional responses to conflict and loss?

When life is hard, it becomes even harder to do those things that are difficult on a good day.

In addition to all the extra paperwork, appointments, and phone calls that have been part of my life over the past two years, add four moves for my mother—two of them with no more than a few days’ notice. Moving and figuring out what to do with things are pretty much at the bottom of my competency scale—note I haven’t moved myself for almost 22 years.

The best way to handle my lack of competency is not to move and not to bring extra items into my home. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a say in those areas recently.

So what I don’t need right now is criticism. What I’ve needed for a long time now is help. With all the unpaid work I’ve done over the past few years, I have lost my own sources of income—I can’t afford to pay someone else to help me—especially with burdens that are not entirely my own creation.

I have done the hard work of not abandoning my loved ones, even when they weren’t at their most lovable. I have kept up with the needed appointments and payments. I have not lost my faith, mind, or ability to treat people well.

But, no, my patio is not cleared. And trust me, I really do want it cleared, both for our upcoming graduation celebration and so I can enjoy sitting there—if I ever have time to do so. I want to be able to relax enough to enjoy our company and to have the beauty of our recent home improvements show through when our guests arrive.

Without a little help, it’s highly likely I won’t even get enough of the “stuff” put away to make it to the middle of the class in home organization. Rather than focus on that area where I remain at the bottom of the class, I need to turn my focus to what matters most: that we are all still here together.

Please, welcome to my home, and for God’s sake, stop minding the dust.

Jackson & Christiana, May 2010

May 2010

Sometimes you just have to do things to please yourselves. The interior design people talk about creating good first impressions when people visit your home. I am a fan of that plan, although I do better with it in the theoretical versus the practical. Still I do save the worst clutter for the lower level!

However, this time it’s our turn. We have a detached garage and driveway which means we enter from the back of our home. When I first came to this home after I met Sherman, I noted a lot of the “good bones” in the house. But, that’s not what I thought about the stairwell.

May 2010

No, it was painted with flat, dingy pseudo-white paint that trended toward depressing gray. In all fairness, the whole house had been painted that way as a result of the pipes bursting before Sherman and his brother bought the house. It’s just that in the stairwell that paint was at its worst. The typical late 40s, early 50s tiles showed dirt easily, but had no style. The wall in the middle got in the way of everything anyone tried to move into the house—up or down—but it was a weight-bearing wall and had to remain.

Sherman and Michael had begun remodeling the 1940s home bit by bit from the time they bought it, but it needed a lot of work after forty years of housing one family. Frankly, the stairwell was not a big priority.

Fast forward our marriage and buying out Michael. We continued the work—or you can say the work continued us. Once my brother Scott was visiting and wanted to find “This Old House” to watch on the TV. We just laughed and told him to look around—with what project would he like to help?

Each time we made an update, we covered the depressing flat paint. Updates have been part of the process for almost twenty-five years.

May 2010

Closets added to bedrooms in the basement. New master bedroom and walk-in closet—a luxury in a house of that era—combined from two rooms. Redone kitchen with wood cabinets replacing the metal ones and new flooring installed. Upstairs bathtub converted into shower and all components replaced, with the addition of a tile floor. Rusting metal porch replaced with stucco and flagstone to match home. Downstairs bathroom partitioned out and laundry room carved from previous mother-in-law-style second kitchen. Fencing added that matched the stucco and flagstone. Flooring replaced in family room and two bedrooms downstairs.

And, most recently, we replaced the flooring in the stairwell and finally repaired those walls so beat-up by the years of moving items in and out of the tight landing. Then we finally covered the paint so easily made grimy by three English Springer Spaniels over the years and the hands of small children who grew tall, as well as by one well-defined shoeprint left on the high ceiling by an overly energetic adolescent son.

May 2010

What a project it has been. First we paid a contractor to do all the major work. Oh, the details he covered: removing old tiles, rebuilding steps, adding new flooring, stair-treads, baseboards, and other finishing pieces, adding new handrails, repairing major damage to the wall, and creating new coat hanging stations for our home that has no coat closets. Then Sherman needed to add texture as well as continue making numerous minor patches—including spending time on the flexible ladder to reach the highest and most difficult spots—a big part of why we hadn’t done this work previously.

Finally, this past weekend the walls were prepped enough so that we could apply the pre-painting tape. We started with a primer coat, necessary due to how flat the other paint was, so much so that a person could hardly tell we had spent time scrubbing down the walls. It’s bad when the primer makes a place look infinitely better than the decorative paint applied previously! The next day we added the colorful paint (like butter, as our friend Dawn pointed out) even though it took us until 11:00 p.m.

Sherman had to spend more time on that crazy ladder the next day to install the new light fixture. I painted the interior doors outside during the daylight hours—which worked well except for the fact our current English Springer Spaniel walked through my paint pan—thank goodness that happened outside.

May 2010

What a lot of work for a back door entryway—still, I can’t begin to say how much better it feels returning to something clean, cheerful, and beautiful. We deserve it, even if it took a quarter of a century to get here.

The place is such a work of art to me, especially in comparison to its former incarnation, that I almost hate to add back all the components of our daily life. Then again, daily life is what that space is all about—I am sure our coats and shoes will be decoration enough every day when we open our door and know we have finally made it back to our home, sweet home.

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some coats to hang.

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