Happy Birthday, Maxwell Kent

Written almost three years ago, but still an appropriate homage to Max, a very special boy {excuse me, young man – 15 already?!} in my life!

I went to bed last Tuesday night, expecting the following day to go one way, only to wake up to a completely readjusted schedule. I had planned to take a loved one for a surgical procedure in the morning and then attend the semester’s first night of on-campus class that evening. Due to the snow, both events were canceled. Sometimes, life just has that remarkable way of working out. This change in schedule allowed for playing in the snow with the girls during the day, followed by the opportunity to be at home in the evening when Max arrived, to celebrate his twelfth birthday.

I have known Max for the majority of his life. I was present for his very first birthday, and have now spent the last six birthdays celebrating both the little boy he once was, and the young man he has more recently become.

Max has always been a very handsome boy, but his tender and loving heart is what sets him apart from the rest. I will never forget the first time I fell asleep with him cuddled up in my arms or how special I felt the first time he told me he loved me, giving me a beautiful hand drawn picture that I still have.

I imagine it must be difficult to have divorced parents. I know I have not always been the best at my step-mom role, but I have always tried hard and had the best intentions in mind. I’m thankful to both of Max’s parents for my opportunity to love, learn from, and grow with, their son. I remember my mom telling me on several occasions that there is not a manual that comes with new parents, teaching them how to successfully raise that particular child. Unfortunately, there is not a manual for step-parents, either (although there are a million people with a variety of opinions). Generally, you just do the best you can and hope that is good enough.

I have always been lucky to have Max, and his sister, Maci, in my life. We have done some incredible things together, making memories that I hope they will take with them into their adult lives.

We were all laughing the other day about our Wisconsin ski trip about six years ago. It was a complete disaster, from Max with an unstoppable nosebleed in the middle of the bunny hill to Maci flying down the same hill, somehow stopping gracefully at the bottom to catch herself on a picnic table that we were sure she was going to crash into.

More recently, we flew to Fort Myers Beach, Florida. We stayed right on the beach, went parasailing, and caught hundreds of live sand dollars. To highlight a few of my other favorite trips: We have canoed down Sugar Creek in Indiana, camped at Indiana beach, and stayed in St. Louis to watch the Cardinals play baseball. We have gone to concerts, taken the train to Chicago to the Shedd Aquarium – stopping to watch Frozen on Ice, and we spent a weekend for my last birthday in a cabin near Starved Rock. Closer to home, we have spent numerous times playing at Weldon Springs catching wooly worms, paddle-boating, going fishing, having cookouts, finding four-leaf clovers and watching the hummingbirds.

As a family, we have also stayed home and enjoyed the pleasure of each other’s company, spending quality time together doing nothing but just that. Our memories together are countless, and I know they will not remember them all, but I hope that at least one sticks out to each of them and they will forever hold it in a special place in their hearts.

So, to Max on his twelfth birthday:

Happy birthday, buddy. It has been a remarkable journey together so far. I have enjoyed watching you grow each year. I apologize for my shortcomings, but I have never had anything but love for you. I don’t say it enough, but I am very proud of you. You are the best big (and little) brother, you are a dedicated friend and athlete, you are an outstanding student and a loving son (and step-son). I hope this year brings you many new memories and experiences, but allows you to remember the old. Thank you for sharing your life with me, the good and the bad.

“I didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave me the gift of you.” – anonymous

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Today is the youngest you will ever be

“Well, I can cross THAT off my bucket list!” – 4-year-old Kendall as she finished her cherry Popsicle

You may already be familiar with bucket lists, and might even have one. For those of you who are not, a bucket list is a comprehensive collection of activities and/or achievements you would like to accomplish in your lifetime.

My mom always kept her bucket list current, constantly crossing off completed items and replacing them with new ones. One day, she handed me a canary yellow legal pad and pencil, and said “write your bucket list.” Put on the spot like that, I couldn’t come up with a full list on my own. She, Andrew and Maci helped me complete an entire page in a matter of minutes.

I found that list recently and really thought extensively about the irony of an unfinished bucket list. In fact, there was nothing on that particular list that I could cross off. I in no way feel like I’m not “living” and accomplishing things, but I want to make more of an effort to do some of the things specifically on my list.

This past weekend, we were able to cross off “Take the girls to Disney.” It was not a fully magical experience the entire time as there is a lot of waiting, walking and people; however, there were a lot of really happy and exciting moments and we created many memories we can always cherish. Ideally, we will go again when they are both older and spend more time than a long weekend, but if we never make it again – we have been there, we have done it, and we were together.

One of my favorite parts of trips like this one, is the unexpected. I may have been able to cross something off of my bucket list, but while constructing the list there is no way to prepare for the unknown. For example, Collins is very shy around strangers and sometimes even people she knows well. I did not expect her to get too excited about meeting princesses and riding rides. She really opened up on this trip. Ariel is her favorite Disney Princess and you could literally see the excitement in her eyes when she first saw her. She hugged Ariel three times, and later even sat on Merida’s lap! She was still a little shy at the end of the trip when she and Kendall met Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in the airport, but she got close enough for a picture with him, too (I had to throw that in there, I was more excited for them than they were – meeting Ariel trumped meeting Shaq in their eyes, of course).

I was inspired by our trip to update my bucket list and found some interesting resources to do so. I still have my paper copy, right on top of my legal pad, but technology offers some interesting options for creating bucket lists as well. I created a “Bucket List” board on Pinterest, allowing me to add ideas as I come across them (especially since I rarely carry my legal pad with me).

Additionally, there are already prepared bucket lists available online. If you’re not really sure where to start in creating one, or you want to add to an existing one, this could be a helpful tool. I like the prepared lists for a more short-term approach. I searched for “Winter Bucket List” online, and found an abundance of fun, new ideas to do with our family.

Whether or not you actually have a bucket list written down, there are always goals you’re working towards and things you would like to do. Life is short (relatively speaking) and time is valuable. Now is as good a time as any, start crossing off your bucket list!

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” – Diane Ackerman

© 2018 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Summer days

It’s 85 degrees today (which doesn’t sound too bad), but it’s a hot and humid Midwest heat so it feels like a solid 200 degrees. I get off of work early throughout the week now so that I can spend more time with my kiddos for the summer. Owning my own business has its perks; I can take the girls with me to work and I can customize my hours.

I never went to daycare when I was younger, and none of our children ever have either. My mom stayed at home with me and I feel like spending my days with her exclusively, benefitted me in countless ways. I was able to read and write by the age of four; I had plenty of one-on-one time with the smartest, most beautiful woman I knew (my biggest supporter – my greatest fan); and always had a best friend.

Having one income, my mom always did an amazing job of budgeting for special outings, but most of the time, she was creative and modest with our activities. I feel like a lot of that is lost in families today – it is no longer difficult to drive to a local pool or water park, museum or trampoline park. We don’t have to be creative as parents, someone else has already taken care of that for us.

I asked the girls (before we even left for work this morning), what should we do this afternoon? My youngest said “the museum,” my oldest said “the pool,” I said “fishing.” In the last couple of weeks, we have done the splash park twice; the local movie theater for a free morning showing of “Despicable Me 3,” our local library for Summer Reading Club and a mini-horse presentation; Lunchables and popsicles atop a blanket on the beach at a nearby lake; several special swimming days with my step-daughter, step-son and their mom; and an evening movie date to see “The Incredibles 2.” Yesterday, we played at the park located near our home. I realized, today, that we needed to be more creative with our afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, we have had an amazing couple of weeks, but we all needed something “different” today.

I decide that we can fill up the blow up kiddie pool on the backyard (man, I miss our full-size pool – algae took over last year while on vacation and we had to throw it away. Sigh.), mommy can get some sun, the girls can stay cool. I get in my swimsuit and head outside to get this pool party started, only to discover a hole in the side (it’s an inflatable pool, approximately 6’ in diameter). I head back inside to find the repair kit I recently tucked away in the junk drawer. I repair said hole. I search, extensively and thoroughly, for that handy air compressor pump my husband just purchased. It’s not in the garage, or the shed, or on the deck, or in the driveway, or under the deck, or in the back of my car. Defeatedly, I determine that the pool is NOT going to happen. What now?

*Cue a flashback to jumping through a sprinkler in my childhood backyard. *

I hook it up, wondering if the girls will even find it exciting in comparison, and watch in amazement as the girls instantly ran through the water, giggling and laughing uncontrollably at themselves and each other. Both of them hugging me with their cold, wet little bodies before running back through the water. I joined in, adding to the endless giggles, all of us running and jumping hand-in-hand across the yard.

These moments are the ones I live for, the ones that make every day worth getting up for. The giggles and the smiles, holding hands and a having a genuinely great time. I often consider how my mom felt staying home with me; I imagine those days were some of the best days of both of our lives. I’m extremely grateful to spend these summer days with all four of our kiddos as I desperately hold on to the present, fearing the future, and envying the past.

© 2018 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

Our love is like…

I saw this long-winded post circulating on Facebook, describing love as “not always being a fairy tale,” how it’s not always “breakfast in bed” – it’s also fighting with each other and excruciatingly difficult at times (and about a half a dozen other negative descriptions ending with some positive attributes as well). I wish I could find it again to quote it directly, however, I instantly dismissed it as I read it (and I read it many times as many people shared it over and over). I guess that’s where I got lucky, my love IS a fairy tale.

My now-husband approached me on a whim, on a hot summer day nine years ago. He told me he was head-over-heels in love with me. I always knew I loved him, too, but I had no idea how much love I could have for another human being. That day could easily be marked as one of the best days of my life – the beginning of adventures, children, marriage and unfaltering love.

Did we fight? Sometimes in the beginning, as we found our balance – but it never defined our relationship. Do we fight now? No. In fact, I cannot even remember the last time we argued about anything at all – it’s certainly been years. I can’t say whether fighting is a healthy part of relationships, maybe in some cases it is. But, I just can’t think of a single thing we would fight about. I despise confrontation, especially with my significant other – why would I want to fight with the person I love the most?

In losing my mother, I realized that the old cliché saying, “life is short,” is a mantra to live by. Why dwell on the petty, mundane day-to-day? I have a life to live, and so does my husband, and so do our children, and fighting with each other is not how I want to spend it – it’s not how I want any of us to remember our time together.

I admire my husband. He still opens doors for me; still tells me I’m beautiful (despite my recent weight gain that often leaves me feeling less-than-desirable); he still kisses me goodbye; he still sends me a daily “good morning” text. I still get butterflies every time I see him; I still think he’s the most handsome man in the world; I still wonder why he chose me, why I’m so lucky and possibly so undeserving of this man and his love for me.

I don’t remember a time we ever had breakfast in bed, but we have had room service bring us creme brûlée and carrot cake (our favorites); he still woos me from time-to-time with a surprise bacon, egg and cheese biscuit; he knows that a fountain Diet Pepsi is sometimes exactly what I need; he takes me to my favorite restaurant for special occasions and often “just because”; we have eaten pastries in Paris before a visit to the Eiffel Tower; we have toasted s’mores over too many fires to count (and he doesn’t even eat them).

The excruciatingly difficult times we have endured were not BECAUSE of each other, but rather standing beside each other, hand-in-hand. There has not been a single time that my husband has not shown love and compassion; held me close, as my protector and my true love; he has never given up on me. I can only hope that he thinks the same way of me, as I do of him – I truly believe us to be soulmates.

So, as we celebrate nine years together, I look back on a million good times – choosing always to focus on them. I cannot say a bad thing about this man, the one that I have chosen, the one that graciously chose me. I know, without a doubt, that I will always see our love as a real-life fairy tale. He will remain my Prince Charming for the rest of our days, and I sure hope there will be thousands more!