Poppy

Over Memorial Weekend, I remember my grandfather.  He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force.  It has been just over 11 years since my beloved Poppy suddenly left this earth after silently battling colon cancer and a broken heart.  My mom’s dad who was known as Grandpa by me until my little ginger-haired brother at probably two years old changed that forever.  He renamed him Poppy because he couldn’t say the full word Grandpa.  Strangely, everyone started calling him Poppy, even my Gramma.

I can still feel Poppy’s hugs.  He stood at over six feet tall so my arms were parallel to the ground as  I wrapped them around his waist.  He was so slim that I could grip my wrists as if I never wanted to let him go.  My head came to just below his shoulders, and his chin’s white stubble felt like sand paper against my forehead.  In my mind, the he would only wear a button-down collar shirt or a Lacoste short sleeve polo shirt.  Actually, I didn’t know it was Lacoste until years later.  I just remember he always had an alligator over his shirt pocket.  I never saw him in a t-shirt.  I also remember this brown ball cap with the orange letters SD, since he was from San Diego.  And he had a newsboy cap, which made him look so dapper.

If I came over after he had eaten, he’d sit with me and have another meal, not letting me, or anyone else eat alone.  A very gracious, social eater he was.  At noon every weekday, his Bose radio would flicker to life automatically, and Rush Limbaugh would always be right.  The afternoons would be time to sit on the couch with his leg crossed over his knee, and he would be reading either the newspaper or some new historical fiction or biographical book.  Those long legs.  As a small kid, I can remember he would be sitting with his legs crossed, I’d climb on to his size 13 foot and he would bounce his crossed leg up and down, giving me the feeling of riding a horse.  He would hum a classical tune that I still sing to this day, and haven’t the slightest idea what it’s called.

In the span of ten years, he and my Gramma had eight kids.  He had one daughter before he met my gramma, from his late first wife.  He then had five boys and three girls with my gramma.  Since I was the first grandchild, I was alive when six of them still lived at home.  I accepted the fact that his first daughter lived in California with her grandmother, Poppy’s mom, my great-grandmother.  Now that I’m much older, I find it sad that she was rarely a part of his new family.  As a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force, he was assigned to Korea when he wasn’t conceiving or delivering a baby.  At least, that’s how it seemed.  Maybe because my mom was so young, in her mind, her dad was gone all the time.  Poppy didn’t hug his sons.  They shook hands.  That generation just wasn’t touchy feely.  Then once grandkids came around, hugs were introduced.  Poppy always hugged us grandkids, my mom and her sisters, and of course my gramma, but never his sons.  Even for me as the oldest grandchild, I can remember the awkward hugs as my uncles tried to get used to the affection.

Gramma and Poppy always had a black Labrador retriever, and Banjo was the first one I remember, followed by Josie, and finally Winston.  He and Gramma had the best dogs.  They all had such sweet temperaments, and they loved being on a schedule as much as Poppy did.  The dog always ate when Poppy ate, and that included morsels of whatever Poppy ate, too, much to Gramma’s chagrin.  Their house will always be the one on Anderson Street in Dale City.  When my mom was born, they lived in Rapid City, SD, then lived in Bellevue, NE for a few years.  When my mom was about to start 5th grade, Poppy was transferred to the Pentagon and that’s when they moved to the house I remember.  It was a brick house with a white two-story column on either side of the porch.  There was always an American flag at attention and a bronze bald eagle mounted over the front door.  We’d walk in, climb up the shag green carpet, and the warmth and smells of the kitchen would waft down.  And then you would hear the sound of the Braves on television.  Full blast.  It took him decades before he finally acknowledged he needed to wear hearing aides.  He had been a pilot and then a pilot trainer for many years he was in the Air Force, which obviously affected his hearing.  Until he broke down to get hearing aides, the sound of the tv was deafening and Gramma was constantly irritated that she had to repeat everything she said.  At night, he would take the dog out for his last walk before bed.  This was my favorite time with Poppy.  On a clear night, we would walk the sidewalks while the lab happily sauntered along, sniffing everything and randomly lifting his leg as we paused to look up.  Poppy knew every star and every constellation.  He would point at whichever ones he noticed, I would lean in and follow his long arm and finger out in the darkness, and he would tell me their names.  Cassiopeia, the “W” in the sky, and Sirius, the brightest star, always make me think of him.  He had a saucer magnolia tree outside the front bay window of their house.   He would unfailingly yell at that silly tree every year for blooming just in time for a big frost or a snowstorm to hit.  We would enjoy those gorgeous purply pink flowers for about a week before they fell off and stayed off for the next 50 weeks.  I never heard Poppy swear.  Maybe he did, but my ears never bore witness.  Apparently, he was called “Gramaw” as a young man in the military.  Maybe because he didn’t swear, which reminds me of Captain America. I did hear him say, “Fiddlesticks!” in frustration.  That makes me laugh, and makes me realize I should adopt that word since it dissipates any trace of anger.

I’ve heard stories that Poppy was a horribly impatient math teacher to his kids due to his probable genius.  He couldn’t understand why math was so difficult for some of his kids to grasp.  I am sad to say that, my mom included, she and many of her siblings are literally afraid of any arithmetic beyond addition and subtraction.  Thankfully, he must have softened with age, because I can remember him quizzing me on my multiplication tables in the morning before school.  I have them memorized because of him, and no tears were shed in the process.  The morning my brother was born, I can remember waking up to Poppy downstairs in the kitchen making breakfast.  He told me that my mom and dad were at the hospital because my mom had just had a baby boy- the one who would convert us all to using the name Poppy.  My brother had to write a report for school with the source being an in-person interview, and he chose to interview Poppy to ask about his war stories.  My brother’s paper about Poppy’s plane engine catching fire was the only story I ever heard of his adventures in the Air Force.  He just never talked about his time in the service, and I didn’t know enough to ask.  He was always intensely interested in politics, but in my youth, it put me to sleep to hear him get so worked up over Gorbachev, the guy with a port wine stain on his forehead.  It wasn’t until Poppy’s funeral that we found out he had been working at the Pentagon doing classified work.  I wish I could ask him now.  I would listen all night if I could.  Often when he spoke, his sentences trailed off at the end.  When I was in my twenties, I traveled quite a bit for my job.  One day when I was telling him about all of my travels and social adventures, he looked at me quite seriously and said, “You’re about as busy as a one-armed paper hanger in a windstorm.”  I’d never heard that expression before, and it struck me as so funny and such a true picture of my life at the time.

In the last year of Poppy’s life, first my uncle Mark and then my uncle Greg died.  I think that broke him.  I remember him repeating that a father should not have to bury his children.  Poppy could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but he chose to be cremated and have his ashes scattered along with Mark’s around the hunting cabin Mark loved so much.  It could have been because I was so wrapped up in myself around the time after Mark died, that I didn’t know Poppy had cancer.  On the last day of his life, he kissed my gramma on the forehead and said, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”  He knew, but nobody else knew that would be the last words he’d ever say to her.  He know that would be the last time he slept in their bed.  He knew Winston wouldn’t get to go on another walk with him.  He knew he would never hear us call him Poppy again.  But his pain and heartache obscured those seemingly small comforts.

Of course we usually only remember the good qualities of someone, especially after he or she is gone.  And hopefully we’ve forgiven him, even if “I’m sorry,” was never spoken.  Several years ago, I visited my uncle Tim with his family shortly after Christmas.  Unlike all the rest of the Erickson children, he was short and stout.   The other Erickson kids were tall, long-legged, and skinny (at least until age 30 or so).  Along with impatience with math ineptitude, Poppy was not the most gracious with people being overweight.  I think poor Tim got the brunt of those two character flaws. We sat outside on his deck amidst the trees that night and he told me how he’d made peace with his dad.  For years, Tim struggled to quit smoking.  One night shortly after Poppy passed away, Tim looked up at the stars in the sky and shouted, “Help me, Father!”  He told me he didn’t know if he was talking to God or to his dad, but after that night, he never touched another cigarette again.  I told him that I think they both heard his cry.

We all love and miss you, Poppy.  Thank you for your service to this country.

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Five Minute Friday: Sing

Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord your God in your midst

The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness,

He will quiet you with his love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.

Sometimes, when you are in a different stage of life, you can read or hear something for a second time and it has a totally different meaning from the first time.  I have always loved this verse, but now that I am a momma, I see it through different eyes.  When I was young and single, this verse gave me comfort that the Lord loved me and would fill me with peace no matter what was going on around me.  I imagined sitting in His lap while he sang over me, and a wave of calm and joy filled my soul.

Now that I am a momma, I sing to my baby girl all the time.  She’s now learned to clap and so we sing and clap and laugh together multiple times throughout the day.  But when I hold her in my arms with her head on my shoulder, and that sweet breath of hers heats my neck, I sing over her. And I am filled with joy that I get to hold my precious child, that she stops squirming, and she rests in me.  This must be how the Heavenly Father feels about us.

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Five Minute Friday: Enough

This week’s Five Minute Friday word is Enough.

In our lives, we constantly battle with “Am I enough?”  As a single, I would wish that some boy would notice me or like me.  A few times, I was told by some boy that if it weren’t for someone else, he’d be dating me.  Now, if that isn’t a total jerk thing to say, but at the time, I was so desperate for love, that I actually bought it as a compliment.  But it would leave me hollow, wondering what those other girls had that I didn’t.  Why wasn’t I enough for that boy?

As a new mother, figuring out how to juggle feedings every two hours, diaper changes, managing to get something on the table for dinner and not running out of clean underwear, and still having some semblance of a relationship with my husband absolutely left me feeling like I could never be enough.  If I allowed too much quality time with my baby, my husband would feel left out.  If I spent too much time with my husband, my new-momma guilt would rush in.

But we ARE ENOUGH.  We are all we are meant to be to the people who love us whole heartedly and know our worth.FiveMinFri

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Five Minute Friday: Define

This week’s Five Minute Friday word is Define.

I think I’ve always struggled to define who I am.  The word define to me means identity.  I remember as a kid in elementary school, and at the beginning of each school year, I had to write one interesting fact about myself.  At that time, my most interesting fact was that I was 25% French, 25% Hispanic, 25% Irish, and 25% Swedish.  We all want an identity.  Something to cling to in order to present ourselves and say, “This is who I am.”  In college, I was so unsure of myself that I was like a chameleon, absorbing the most fun and interesting personalities of my friends and taking them on as my own.  And that got exhausting.  After I moved away for my first job, I had the opportunity to start over.  Completely new faces to either embrace or ignore me.  Gradually, I realized that my own personality was all I needed.  I am enough because God created me.  Others do not define me, but the Great I AM defines me.  FiveMinFri

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Real life on purpose

A few months ago I started becoming less than content with my life.  It starts with scrolling frenetically through Facebook, reading everyone’s posts about great vacations they’re on, new babies, new relationships, who’s selling what, down to angry political rants and shocking headlines and videos of things nobody wants to see, but you can’t take your eyes away because of morbid curiosity.  Emotions take a roller coaster ride ranging from happy tears to jealousy to anger to frustration to nostalgia to horror.  I shut off my phone feeling sick and anxious over what I can’t control, and then angry with myself for wasting so much precious time focusing on what other people have written.  I’m left feeling torn for wanting to shut down my account so that I simply cut out that temptation, but wanting to keep it alive so that I can keep in touch with my family and friends from afar.  Why do I allow myself to get so sucked in?  I put so much pressure on myself to be more creative, to write more, to read more, to sew more, to bake more, and sell more simply to present it to the world and say, “Look what I did!”

We all want a purpose.  We all want affirmation that our lives mean something to someone.  Yet social media IS NOT going to give that to us.  We will never have meaning and contentment without real human interaction.  I found a fantastic quote out of a really unlikely source.  A few weeks ago, my husband and I were watching something on tv, and a bizarre commercial came on.  A robot was speaking about creating food for people because she loved us.  I was both intrigued and confused.  The commercial was for a meal replacement powder called Soylent.  So, I googled it, and came across an article in The Hustle from September 8, 2015 titled “Soylent: What Happened When I Went 30 Days Without Food.”  The author, Josh Helton, went surprisingly philosophical after Day 22 when he realized that meal times were when he connected with his wife.  He had stopped making meals and eating real food with his wife during this experiment, and their relationship suffered.  This paragraph really hit me as truth:

So much of our culture pressures us to live a life of legend. I’ve felt it myself time and time again. I want to be remembered. But by whom? I think our underlying motivation for our ceaseless work effort is to be remembered for something great, but typically it’s centered on being great to people we aren’t that close to. In my opinion, what matters in the end is not if we are famous to the world but with our families.

As a stay at home momma now for over ten months, I do start getting restless and wonder what more I can do with my life.  I want to write a book (or five).  I want to open a bakery.  I want to make clothes.  I want to be as creative as Joanna Gaines.  I want to become a physician’s assistant and work in oncology.  I want to be a speaker like Beth Moore.  I want to draw and paint.  I become so overwhelmed by how much I want to accomplish that I don’t know where to start and then nothing gets done.  Getting sucked into watching what others are doing is both counter-productive and deflating.  It’s so easy to talk yourself out of doing something because you feel like someone else can do it better.  This irrational jealousy of other peoples’ talents and/or good fortune robs us of our own creativity and joy.  Those dreams and gifts bubbling up inside you are meant to be used.  These gifts WILL be recognized.  Most likely not with the populous at large, but with the people in your life that actually matter.  Trust that each season of life has a purpose, and the platform you have currently is enough.  Right now, my purpose is to raise our baby girl in a home full of peace, love, and joy and to use my gifts and talents for my family and friends with whom we are physically sharing life.

I wish I could say I feel completely content with where I am now.  I know my identity is found in the arms of my Father, and not based on what I do.  That I am His child and His love is deeper than any love I can fathom.   We are on this earth for the singular purpose of being God’s love incarnate, the light in this world.  We don’t have to be everything to everyone.  We just have to be physically and emotionally present for the people in our lives.  As in the story of the little boy on the beach making a difference in the life of each starfish he throws back into the ocean, I need to take my focus off of what I’m not accomplishing or who I’m not impressing, and focus on the people in front of me, live and in person.

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Fear and Strangers

Often, we don’t know we are in a dark cloud until we come out of it and are able to look back.  Fifteen years ago, I was on Accutaine for my cystic acne.  It was the only thing that cleared up my skin at the time, after trying dozens of useless topical creams.  I was told that I may experience symptoms of depression and or fatigue while on the medication.  I didn’t notice any changes in me while I was it, but after I ended the treatment, I couldn’t believe how much energy I had.  I felt like I could have run forever- and I did run my one and only half marathon afterwards.  Clearly, I had been sapped of my energy for those several months, but didn’t realize it until I got my energy back.

Eight months ago, I gave birth to my baby girl.  I KNEW I was in a dark cloud.  The fog of fear rolled in thick like bales of cotton.  It was almost paralyzing.  I didn’t want to leave the house, but we had to get groceries.  If it weren’t for my husband and a dear friend and mother of three, I probably would have become an agoraphobe.  How could I trust my tiny girl in that humongous carseat on I-95 among the crazy impatient Connecticut drivers?  Road trips and excursions longer than two hours meant we’d have to stop somewhere so I could nurse her, and that made me anxious to have to feed her in the car or have to find a somewhat secluded area if we were out and about.  If she napped longer than an hour, I’d sneak upstairs to check to make sure her chest was still rising and falling.  Bath time was not relaxing for me between getting the water temperature perfect, keeping her upright, wrestling her slippery little body out of the tub and into a towel, drying her sufficiently enough so that she didn’t scream from the cold air blast when exiting the bathroom, and ensuring that the post-bath “baby massage” time was something we both could find relaxing.  I constantly worried whether I was nursing her enough or too much, and whether cluster feedings were normal.  If she slept longer than 4 hours at night, I’d wake up in a panic that she was starving and I’d kick myself for not waking up to feed her.

Despite my fears, she has grown over these last eight months.  We’ve become more social.   I’ve been blessed with a few more momma friends.  People that would never have spoken to me before I had her, now stop me just to see this ginger-haired baby with the big blue eyes and long lashes.  Right after Halloween, Noelle and I were at the closest drug store near us, although the check-out line is notoriously long.  We got in line, and Noelle was in her stroller facing me.  There were two people ahead of us, and three ladies behind us.  I felt a presence at my back, and I realized that the lady behind me was leaning in for a closer look at Noelle.  The lady had a stuffed Snoopy wearing a purple witch hat in her hand, and was dancing him around to Noelle’s giggly delight.  Those giggles made her and the other two lades behind her laugh and break the tension of waiting in line.  After I got to the register and was paying for my purchases, the lady who was behind me stopped me before I walked outside.  “Can I give your baby this Snoopy?” she asked with pleading eyes.  “She has just made my day, and I would love to give this to her,” she said now between happy tears.  “Of course, thank you so much,” I replied.  Noelle excitedly snatched the Snoopy from her hands and thanked her with a big toothless grin.  I wanted to hug her, but I was battling a nasty sinus funk.  I wonder what was going on in her life.  Did she have kids and grandchildren who lived far away?  Every time I go back to that store, I hope I see her again.  I’m reminded with every day that passes, Noelle is a gift.  Before we leave the house for a walk or an errand or a swim class, I want to remember to pray and ask that we have the opportunity to meet someone new.  I am so blessed to call Noelle my daughter, and to witness the joy she spreads.  The Lord didn’t give her to us for own enjoyment.  He gave her to us to spread His love and His joy.  We aren’t called to live in fear nor to live apart from others.  Fear can make us hide away and push others out, and that is exactly the antithesis of what the cure is.

Two months ago, my friend who is the mother of three looked at me and told me that I seem better and back to my former state of calm and sense of humor.  The statement took me by surprise.  I guess I didn’t realize how long it took for me to come out of that dark cloud.  And when it starts to roll in again, that’s when I know it’s time for Noelle and I to get outside and go talk to strangers.

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Critical Times

Last month, when I brought my two-month-old baby girl to her doctor’s appointment, I knew she was going to have a few shots to kick-start her immunizations. Thankfully, my sister Erin was in town so she was able to come with me. Mike texted me while he was at work and asked when the appointment was scheduled, and I told him 11am. To my surprise, he walked in while we were still in the waiting room. We met with a pediatrician who reminded us of George McFly from Back to the Future; the George McFly of the past who was insecure and wanted to fold in on himself whenever he was around Biff or Elaine. A slight man, I thought he was going to fall off his stool he was trying so hard to make himself even smaller while he spoke to us. Regardless, Noelle gave him lots of smiles as he listened to her heart and checked her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. After he left us, a nurse came in with a tray of three needles and one medicine dropper. Mike held Noelle while she willingly lapped up the sweetened liquid vaccine. Then she inhaled and nearly choked, not coughing enough to my satisfaction that it was cleared from her lungs. We then had to lay her down on the exam paper-covered table for the three injections. I’m not sure if the nurse was so slow and talked between each injection because our three sets of eyes made her nervous, but I couldn’t even watch. One needle at a time was stuck into my baby’s chubby thighs while she screamed. I wanted to yank her up off the table, so she (we) wouldn’t have to endure any more. My sister looked at me with a “Hurry up, Lady!” look and finally the nurse dispensed the last needle. I picked up my screaming baby and then lost it. I couldn’t stop crying, even after comforting hugs from both Mike and my sister. It was so traumatic seeing Noelle purposely have pain inflicted on her, even though I absolutely know it was for her benefit. She quieted down almost immediately once I had her in my arms to feed, but I still streamed tears. For the next few days, I was hypersensitive to my wounded little cub. She was more clingy and fussy, and to be honest, so was I.

Now at three months old, Noelle is smiling in response to us, but still doesn’t quite get the novelty of Daddy play. She’ll often cry after soaring over Mike’s head, much to his disappointment she doesn’t yet want to be “Daddy’s hat,” or “Superbaby.” When she is too broken for him to console, he hands her over “to see Momma,” and passes her off to me.  Almost immediately, she stops crying. I know it hurts his feelings, but I’m maybe just a little bit pleased, and then immediately chide myself. She needs her daddy just as much as she needs her momma. Even though she may not realize it yet, she is so lucky to have Mike as her daddy. It’s so easy to critique rather than encourage. Why do I need to check after he changes her, to make sure the diaper’s ruffles are out? Why must I hover while he gives her a bath, and cringe when he dumps water over her head? She is perfectly content. Why do I have to stick my wrist in the water he has prepared for her bath to check the temperature? Why do I need to argue about which is the best method of determining whether she has a fever? The biggest reason is probably because I’m hypercritical of myself. I prepared for motherhood with all of the What to Expect books, Baby Wise, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and several books on what is going on with baby each week. A few books contradict each other, which makes me sit in frustration wondering how and when and IF I should put my baby on a feed-wake-sleep schedule or simply feed at will. If she sleeps through the night, should I worry she isn’t napping enough during the day? Bumpers inside the crib are a suffocation hazard, but isn’t it also hazardous for her to knock her head on one of the poles or get a limb stuck? Do I put her in a sleep sack for nap time? How many baths a week should she have? Are massages really helpful, even though they don’t seem to calm her down? If she needs a “bedtime routine,” is putting on her jammies enough? Am I inhibiting her bone growth by only giving her the Vitamin D drops when I remember, which may only be two or three times a week?

It’s so easy to fall into the trap in thinking I’m failing her as a mother. Some days if she cries more than smiles, I feel utterly defeated. She’s growing, learning, eating, and sleeping (at least at night) all really well, so I guess I’m not failing. I just wish I could hear from her that we are both doing okay. She can’t talk yet to tell me, so I’ll settle for those belly giggles as she falls asleep on her way to Neverland.

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