Kari’s website: www.Karikampakis.com
Love & marriage
When my friend Greta got engaged many years ago, a man she knew from work shared a story that I’ll always remember.
In essence, he told her that the key to marriage is to love your spouse even when you don’t feel like it. Using his own life to explain, he described a period in which he and his wife hit a wall. They were fighting constantly and very disconnected. Their marriage hung by a thread.
Her birthday was coming up, and though he wasn’t in the mood to act kindly, he planned a surprise party. He forced himself to show love that he didn’t feel, and it took every bone in his body to follow through.
As you can imagine, a surprise party was the last gift his wife expected. When she walked in the room and saw what he’d done, she looked at him dumbfounded. She’d been thrown for a major loop.
This man went on to tell Greta that the party turned his marriage around. By treating his wife differently, she treated him differently in return, and with every inch one of them gave, the other gave an inch back. Before long they set in motion a new dynamic that helped rebuild their marriage.
No matter how happily married you are, or whether you’ve experienced your own rough patch, you probably can relate to this story. Every relationship has ups and downs, and when you consider all the things married couples share—money, bills, kids, duties, decisions, a bed and bedroom—it’s clear how much room there is for conflict.
Even the best marriages have healthy debates, and while that’s normal, trouble can arise when unresolved issues dig under our skin and fester. Over time, they can do real damage.
Marriage takes effort, but just as important as effort is a long-term commitment to each other. When we meet our soul mate, it’s all passion and fireworks. Our emotions take over, creating an intoxicating high. We start riding on cloud nine, a fanciful place we never want to leave.
But sooner or later reality kicks in, and as we gravitate down to earth, we realize that passion and fireworks can ignite love but they can’t sustain it. What starts as an emotion becomes a decision because we can’t always rely on our feelings. Some days we don’t feel like loving our spouse. We feel like wringing their neck, or shaking sense into them, and they feel like doing the same thing back.
And this is where love becomes a choice. This is where we put our head over our heart and choose to love our spouse, hoping our emotions might follow. As C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” In regards to marriage, this means putting our spouse’s needs before our own. When both parties do this, a beautiful love manifests.
Marriage is a sacrament that often gets taken lightly in today’s culture. While some marriages aren’t meant to endure—or be saved by a surprise party—we all can learn a lesson from the olive branch Greta’s friend extended. Doing the right thing can lead to miraculous surprises sometimes, even with the people closest and most familiar to us. But in order to find out, we must take the first step.
In closing, I’d like to wish my husband—Harry Kampakis—a happy Valentine’s Day. Harry is my best friend, and when I think of his love, the word “agape” comes to mind. Agape is a Greek word that describes the selfless, unconditional love described in the Bible, the highest level of love known to humanity. To experience this kind of love is a blessing I wish for everyone, and I thank God for bringing Harry into my life. Thanks to him, I’ve learned that love and marriage can indeed go hand in hand.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing and photography. Read her blog at http://www.karikampakis.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bloom where you are planted
What’s your resolution for 2012?
Perhaps your plan is to turn a new leaf, to take advantage of the blank slate a new year represents. Eating better…working out…praising more and criticizing less…these are just a few lifestyle changes we often implement to become healthier, happier, better functioning adults.
And while I believe in New Year’s resolutions—and applaud anyone who manages to keep them—I think it’s important to remember that being a happier, healthier, better functioning adult also means making the most of current circumstances. Some things we can’t change—at least not now. Life throws curve balls, interrupts plans, gives our dreams on a silver platter to the last person we think deserves them. Nothing we do can budge our situation.
We are stuck.
Stuck in a job we hate.
Stuck at home with small kids.
Stuck with an illness or disability.
Stuck in a bad relationship.
Stuck in a body we don’t like.
There’s an old Irish proverb to “Bloom where you are planted,” and ever since Labor Day night—when a storm caused a massive oak tree to fall on my family’s new home, which we’d been in only 10 days—these words have resonated with me. The tree caused extensive damage, forcing us to move back out. We had to find a rental, live with my brother and my mother-in-law until the rental was ready, and begin major reconstruction on the backside of our home.
Ironically enough, we’d spent all summer renovating the front of the house. For six months we lived in a rental, dreaming of the day we’d be settled and finished with projects. Never again did I want to repeat that scenario.
In the 10 days I enjoyed my home, I felt a huge relief because our house situation has hung over my head for years. At last my family of six had the room we needed. We could host parties we’d long put off. We could check “Find new digs” off our to-do list and move on with life.
And then the tree fell.
Life uproots us when we least expect it. We’d barely dug our roots in new soil when it happened to us. At first, I wondered what lesson I should take. Over time, however, I’ve realized it’s not one lesson I should take, but many. I’ve learned what a blessing it is to have our own home—regardless of size. I’ve learned that God equips us to handle any circumstances. And—here’s the newsflash— I’ve learned my kids can be happy anywhere. Nothing stops them from making memories, and it’s adults—not children—who believe families need a perfect environment to thrive.
To my surprise, we’ve been happy in this rental. We’re a minute away from our neighborhood yet in a private location that’s allowed us to bond as a family and has enabled my writing.
And while our current situation is a pain, good things have happened, too. Two weeks after the tree fell, I heard from a New York agent I met at a conference last summer. She’d read my entire manuscript and loved it, but she thought parts needed work. She offered fantastic feedback—a gift in itself—and offered to reread it if I made edits. While there’s no guarantee she’ll represent me, I know my novel will be better because of her. I also see this as one step forward in my dreams to be published.
So no matter where you are in 2012, try to shine. Don’t wilt in place and make excuses with half-hearted attempts. Maximize on the good in your life. Be the teller at the bank whose line everyone is drawn to because you smile, the FedEx courier who holds doors open and says, “Hello,” the mom who gives motherhood a good name. Dig your roots deep, stand tall and proud, and produce a bloom so exquisite people stop in their tracks and think, “Wow.”
After all, someone always takes notice of a beautiful flower. There are too many weeds in this world not to.
So keep your resolutions, but add a plan to bloom where you are planted. Start a garden if you wish, and let the fruits of your labor be evident for all to enjoy.
It’s a boy!
Several years ago, in the midst of Christmas holidays, I saw a church sign that caught my eye. The marquis read, “It’s a Boy,” and on top there was a big blue bow.
Never before had I seen baby Jesus celebrated this way, and all I could think as I turned into my neighborhood was what a statement it’d make if everyone decorated their mailboxes with blue bows during the month of December. As much as I love the festive and beautiful décor of Christmas, it’s easy to forget what this season is really about: the birth of one very important baby.
And does anything evoke a smile—or better announce the arrival of a baby boy—like the sight of a blue bow?
This time of year, we hear a lot about scaling back and simplifying to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Sometimes we stick to our guns; other times we give in, unable to resist the urge to create lavish and unforgettable memories. Increasingly I hear of more families giving just three gifts per child—the number Jesus received—and reading Bible verses on Christmas Eve. Many also host “Happy Birthday, Jesus” parties to help children focus, at least temporarily, on something besides presents.
But one thing I’ve never been asked to do is to reflect on Jesus’s birth as I would the birth of my own children. Their birth days were the best days of my life, the ultimate happiness. A rush of emotions overwhelmed me as my heart flooded with love, gratitude, awe and amazement. In those moments, I felt a purpose and unwavering joy toward life. Time stood still, and all the world made sense.
It seems to me that the feelings I experienced when meeting my children are the same feelings I should work toward on Christmas. My love for baby Jesus should, in fact, surpass those for my family, for He is my Savior. All babies are miracles, but what happened in Nazareth 2,011 years ago is the mother of all miracles, with life-changing consequences for mankind.
Jesus entered this world under the humblest circumstances. There was no hospital, no physician, no heart monitor or luxury suite. His arrival came without fanfare, beneath a starry night and among animals. This simple beginning—hardly befitting for a King—is full of lessons. Above all, it reminds us that it’s not the circumstances we’re born into, but what we do with our life that matters.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christ like I believe in the sun, not because I see it, but because by it I see all things.” Maybe we weren’t witnesses to the birth of Jesus, but we can be witnesses to the faith, celebrating Him with the same enthusiasm that we celebrate other babies: with hope, love and gratitude. Let us take pride in His birth as if it happened to us because in many ways it did.
Happy Birthday, Jesus, and welcome to our world.
An attitude of gratitude
What if you woke up tomorrow with only the blessings you gave thanks for today?
This question was posed on Facebook by a former roommate of mine, and it really got me thinking. Like many people, I tend to think of blessings on a general scale, citing ones commonly named: family, friends, good health, a roof over my head. But imagine how long my list and yours would grow if the slate could be wiped clean tomorrow.
Things we take for granted–eyes to see, legs to run, ears to hear, hands to feel–would suddenly seem paramount if we thought we’d lose them. I suspect we’d rack our brains to make sure we left nothing out.
And it is this attitude–an appreciation for fine details that make our lives better, easier or more beautiful–that I believe leads to fulfillment. In fact, when I look at people who seem genuinely happy, accepting of whatever cards they’ve been dealt, I notice a distinct ability to see the silver lining. Regardless of their situation, they understand there’s always someone worse off. They compare themselves to those who have less, not more, thus realizing how fortunate they are.
As I think about gratitude and how healing it is to be specific, I’m reminded of an article I read in which Maya Angelou recounted a dark period early in her career. Severely depressed, she went to see her mentor and told him she was going crazy.
“Here is a yellow notepad and a ballpoint pen,” he said. “Write down your blessings.”
“I don’t want to talk about that,” she replied. “I’m telling you I’m going crazy.”
Her mentor replied, “Think of the millions of people who cannot hear a choir, or a symphony, or their own babies crying. Write down, I can hear – Thank God. Write down that you can see this yellow notepad, and think of all the millions of people who cannot see a waterfall, or a flower blooming, or their lover’s face. Write down, I can see – Thank God.”
As Maya filled the pad with blessings, she realized how much she had. That was more than 50 years ago, and since then she’s written every book, poem and speech on yellow notepads, saying, “As I approach the clean page, I think of how blessed I am.”
As you count your blessings this Thanksgiving season, go beyond the obvious. Imagine things you couldn’t fathom losing tomorrow, and write them down.
If you’re really ambitious, follow Maya Angelou’s lead and compile a list on a yellow notepad. I have no doubt that, given enough time and thought, any of us could fill an entire pad–perhaps even two or three.
As for me, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you, my readers. You are a tremendous blessing to me. I’m grateful for everyone who takes the time to read my column, stops me to say they enjoyed a particular piece or encourages me to keep writing. Thank you for sharing your stories and inspiring me to share mine. We’re all in this world together, figuring life out one blessing at a time.
Grounded girl, crazy world
Whenever someone learns that I have four daughters, the response is typically the same.
“Four weddings?!” Big gasp. “Oh, bless you!”
Granted, it’s hard to think about raising girls without seeing dollar signs. While boys have their own expenses—especially in this age of sports trainers and such—the running tally usually isn’t as high. Take clothes shopping, for instance. Whereas boys can be set for the year with a simple trip to Gap or Old Navy, girls require variety. Good luck meeting any of their needs with a simple trip anywhere.
But more intimidating to me than the expense and maintenance of girls is the challenge of keeping their heads on straight. Society wants them to grow up fast. They’re encouraged to be divas, to obsess over their appearance, to bow down to fashion. And while shopping and dressing up are two great joys of being a woman, it’s easy to cross the line. And once a girl starts focusing on the wrong things, trusting labels and trends over instincts and inner beauty, it’s hard to keep her feet on the ground.
So my question is this: How do we keep our girls from losing themselves to superficial pressures? Is it possible to enjoy the thrills of this sisterhood without overdoing it?
I’m no expert on the subject, but I can say that girls have been a common theme in my life. Besides my daughters, I have three sisters, three sister-in-laws, eight nieces, and a wonderful mother and mother-in-law. I also have amazing friends I’ve met in various stages of life. By reflecting on some of these relationships, I’ve compiled a few lessons to share with my girls. Maybe they can spark dialogue between you and your daughter, too.
Remember it’s just stuff. When my husband and I were dating, I dropped a crystal pitcher and started crying because it was expensive. He hugged me and said, “Don’t cry over anything you can replace.” Whatever material goods you’re attached to—your house, an iPod, a favorite pair of jeans—remember it’s just stuff. And in the grand scheme of things, stuff doesn’t matter.
Find the yin to your yang. Friendships should be based on chemistry, not opportunity. You can’t force them, and trying to befriend the popular crowd when it’s not a natural fit will only suppress the real you that’s dying to get out. Seek instead friends who “get” your quirks and bring out the best in you. Above all, keep in mind that to have a good friend, you must be a good friend.
See the good. We live in a pessimistic world, and snarky is in. While it’s easier to be an Eeyore than a Piglet, it’ll inevitably drag you down. I once heard a priest say, “Happiness is holding a magnifying glass up to the good traits of others.” Since then, I’ve found that treating someone based on their good qualities—rather than the annoying ones—brings out a different, more likeable person.
Trust your gut. You know the funny feeling that arises when something’s not right? That’s your gut talking. The more you listen, the louder it speaks. Maybe the crowd you’re hanging with is sending up red flags. They’re lots of fun, but not the best influence. Perhaps it’s a crossroads triggering that voice, nudging you a certain way. Whatever the case, your gut looks out for you. It’s a voice of reason you can tune out or tune into when there’s a choice to be made.
Trust your God. God has a plan for you, and while you may not feel special compared to other girls, you’re a masterpiece in His eyes. Use your God-given gifts now, and don’t worry about whether you’re good enough, or if you’ll be a star one day. By shining a light on your corner of the universe, you make it better, inspiring those you know. As Henry Van Dyke once said, “Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.”
Finding gravity in the world of females isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t trade this world for anything. Dance parties, skits, pinkie promises and sleepovers—these are the perks of raising girls, silly joys that bond us forever. People can bless my heart all day long, but I know I’m lucky. My girls bring me the greatest joy on earth, and there’s no putting a price tag on that.
It was a gorgeous spring day, and I was happy. I had the sun on my face, love in my heart and overwhelming gratitude for the family my husband and I had started.
Life was good.
As Harry and I sat in the grass outside our home, watching baby Ella crawl around with an explorer’s curiosity, a sense of peace washed over me. Everything I needed was here. My only agenda was to enjoy the scene before me.
Then all of a sudden, I saw something that threatened to ruin our perfect family moment. Ella was crawling on the sidewalk now, closing in on a new target: a massive pile of ants that, on her level, probably looked like fun.
I knew what had to be done, but I dreaded it. Never in a million years would Ella understand that I had her best interest in mind. The temper tantrum sure to follow would sour all our moods.
Nevertheless, I pushed off the ground, ran over and swept her up in the nick of time. From my perspective the timing was perfect, but naturally Ella disagreed. She wailed and kicked and screamed in my arms, angry at me, angry at the injustice. I could hear her protest in my head: I wasn’t bothering anyone, Mommy. Why’d you have to pick on me?
It occurred to me shortly after this event that maybe God feels this way as our guardian. Whereas we see life at eye level, He takes an aerial view. What looks like a good thing to us is often a danger zone, and though it pains him to jerk us off our chosen course, He does it out of love. In the meantime, we wail and kick and scream, mad at the disruption. We miss our old comfort zone, resent the new course we’re on, and wonder why God would pull a fast one on us.
Sometimes, we can look back and see clearly the bed of ants we narrowly avoided. We thank God for His wisdom, protection and perfect timing. Other times, the reason’s not so obvious. We believe we’d be better off trucking along as we were, not stuck in a foreign territory. We must rely on faith to trust that God does, indeed, have a plan for us.
Several months ago, a friend of mine shared a Bible verse that helped her through a difficult divorce. Reflecting back on her marriage now, she can see how toxic the relationship had become, but at the time she wanted to fight for it. The marriage ended by no choice of her own, and today she’s thankful it did. She’s finally in a better place, and she credits Jeremiah 29:11 for building her strength:
“For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We all have plans for our lives, courses we’ve mapped out, destinations we want to reach. Sometimes our plans pan out; sometimes they get overridden. No matter how small and insignificant we may feel, God has a plan for each of us. He watches us closely, imposes detours when necessary and protects us always. Though we don’t always understand His ways, we can rely on His promise of hope and a future, trusting that no matter what happens, He is with us.
Just a Minute
“Just a minute.”
“I’ll do it when I can.”
“I’m busy—not now.”
“Give me a second, will you?”
How many of these parenting clichés ring a bell with you? Do they spill from your mouth automatically, buy you extra time to finish the task at hand? If you’re anything like me, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”.
And while I’m not particularly proud of this, I do cut myself some slack. Waiting is a part of life, and the sooner my kids learn they’re not the center of the universe, the better off they’ll be. Even if I could be at their beck and call, drop everything whenever they needed me, that’s not how the real world operates. We all know adults who grew up so catered to that they expect attention at the snap of their fingers. They don’t understand why people get put out—and often struggle to sustain healthy relationships.
Who wants to create that monster, right?
In all seriousness, I’ve never thought much about how often I ask my kids to bide their time. After all the hours I log on the mothering wheel, I feel entitled to jump off periodically. But an email I received from a father I know opened my eyes wider to the holes in my logic. I’d put a post on Facebook asking for column ideas, and within minutes he sent me a message. His story was brief yet compelling.
“I was putting my five-year-old daughter to bed,” he wrote, “and trying to hug her. She kept pushing my arm away. I asked what she was doing, and she replied, ‘You can hug me in a minute.’ I started laughing—until she said, ‘That’s what you tell me all the time when I ask you something. ’ ”
“Now every time I start to say that,” this father’s email continued, “I think about what’s important.”
The first time I read his message, I felt a little pang in my heart. After a moment I realized it was because I, too, was guilty. That scene could easily play out in my house, and the fact that it hadn’t surprised me. I imagined this father to be more patient and attentive than me. If his daughter said it to him, what were my girls thinking?
I didn’t want to know. Then again, I did. So I asked Ella, my eight year old, and a friend she had over how often they heard the words “Just a minute.”
“My mom says it all the time,” her friend replied.
Ella nodded. “Yeah, and when adults say ‘Just a minute,’ they really mean an hour.”
I wish I had a magic solution on how to balance the demands of dependents with a million other obligations. The challenge has eluded parents for generations, and while it’s easy to say we should simplify, only so much scaling back is possible. As my dad says, these are our “working years,” and in addition to raising kids we must pay for them. The financial burden requires a dedication to work that takes time and energy—two valuable resources that, ideally, we’d like to reserve for our families.
There are times I have four kids crying for me at once. It becomes a competition, a test of whom I love most. As I sputter, “Just a minute…Mommy’s not an octopus!” I silently discern who needs me first. Should I clean the baby’s blow-out, listen to the daughter who has “something important to say,” or administer Tylenol to the one with a fever? How quickly can I do all three and get back to the column I’m writing? It’s a helpless feeling to have my dearest passions pulling me in opposite directions.
I’m attuned to the advice dispensed by parents older and wiser than me: Treasure their childhood, they grow up fast. One day they won’t need you, and you’ll be sad. Savor small moments. These, too, are parenting clichés, words that will gradually replace the “Just a minute” phrases I now throw out. I doubt I could go a day without telling someone to hold their horses. I could, however, stop what I’m doing more often and tend to my kids. Sometimes, all they really want is proof that they’re important.
When I look at it that way, can I even blame them?
Sea & Suds
I’ve always been a beach girl, an avid fan of flip-flops, tank tops, shorts and shades. When my feet hit the sand, I become a different person—a person I’d like to bottle up and bring home.
What is it about the beach that transforms me, draws me in like gravity? I sat down recently to ponder my love for the world’s best vacation hole. Here are some reasons that came to mind.
The colors: I find it great fun to drive down the road and see rows of houses painted like Easter eggs. Happy hues are everywhere, from funky art in gift stores to hot pink Adirondack chairs outside every gas station. Living in suburbia, I’m used to monochromatic palettes, and it’s a refreshing break to see people getting gutsy with color.
The consistency: The beach looks the same now as it did when I was young. Unlike most things, it doesn’t age. There’s comfort in that because it makes it feel like home.
An easygoing attitude: Technology is out, Jimmy Buffet is in. Anyone working a BlackBerry or planning a conference call is likely to endure ridicule. Cocktails are in vogue any time of day, justified by the saying, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”
Unconditional acceptance: The beach welcomes everyone, regardless of circumstance or appearance. Whether I shave my legs, paint my toenails or pack on a few pounds is irrelevant. I can go with a party or alone, comfortable either way in the hospitable environment.
Unlimited resources: An endless supply of water, shells and sand can entertain my kids for hours. Buckets and shovels—combined with imagination—create a pleasant batch of memories. Watching my kids look for sand dollars, build forts under the pier and bury each other in the sand is like reliving my childhood, only this time I’m wise enough to cherish it.
The space: There are no walls at the beach, and that makes it impossible to keep a guard up. The mix of fresh air, sunshine and ocean breeze tears down defenses, creating a confessional of sorts. Sometimes the conversation is internal, an inner monologue held on a long walk down the seashore. Other times the conversation includes loved ones, people who care about the particulars of my life. However my thoughts unleash, the result is always therapeutic.
The restoration: The beach recharges my battery by unplugging me from the world. Disconnecting from reality calms my nerves, clears my head and zaps my worries all at once. Free of responsibility and distractions, I can enjoy my family, focus on simple blessings. One of my favorite writing holes is under a beach umbrella, listening to the waves crash and scribbling on a notepad I keep in my beach bag.
What about you? Is there anything you’d add to this list? Perhaps your happy place isn’t as much the beach as it is the lake, the mountains or another nook of nature. Whatever the case, the reasons are probably similar. We all have an escape of choice, a place we go to relieve stress and catch a much-needed breath.
Wherever you vacation this summer, I hope you embrace the social code. I hope you walk around barefoot, catnap on a hammock, eat lunch at two o’clock and dinner at eight. Most of all, I hope you let the change of scenery work its magic on you. Summer’s the perfect excuse to break rules, and whatever peace you find away from home, try and bring some back.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing and photography. Learn about her blog and fiction writing at http://www.karikampakis.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter. Email her at email@example.com.
A time to cry
When I was 15, a close friend of mine died in a car accident. We’d been together that night as a group, making the event more surreal.
For weeks after Rod’s death, the halls at school were quiet. Everyone mourned, even those who didn’t know him. When I got home, I stayed on the phone for hours, rehashing events with friends and trading stories about Rod. When we ran out of things to say, we sat in silence, phones pressed to our ears and crying.
My first brush with death forced me to realize that life has an expiration date. We can’t see our own, much less anyone else’s. We can be laughing with someone one minute, getting a phone call hours later that stops the world cold. We don’t believe how instantly things can change until a tragedy hits home.
My family and I spent Easter Sunday in Tuscaloosa. At the time, I had no idea that merely three days later a tornado would rip through. Looking back, I wish I’d soaked up the experience, noticed every tree and person in town. I wish I’d snapped photos of Taco Casa and Krispy Kreme, two of my favorite places growing up, and visited the soon-to-be-destroyed homes that I used to frequent.
Most of all, I wish I’d told Tuscaloosa how much I loved it. It gave me a wonderful childhood, one I took for granted. I assumed it’d always be my rock, the Giving Tree that welcomed me back no matter how long the absence.
But now my tree’s been uprooted, my relationship with Tuscaloosa reversed. It’s my turn to give, yet I’m not sure where to start. Aerial shots and wide-angle lenses can’t capture the depth of disaster. Half the town looks like a wasteland, and though I’m thankful my family and friends are okay, my heart breaks for those who weren’t so lucky. These are sad, overwhelming times.
The tornado of April 27 changed all of us somehow. Like Rod’s death, it’s all anyone around me can think or talk about. But this dark cloud looms larger than a high school. It has swallowed communities whole, swelled to epic proportions. The stories of death, missing people, and destruction are haunting, and while my focus has been Tuscaloosa, I’m aware of similar pain in places like Pleasant Grove, Cullman and Pratt City.
Yet with each devastating story I hear, a miracle crosses my radar. A church group from Birmingham found nine people alive in Tuscaloosa’s rubble four days post-storm. A seven-week-old baby in Pleasant Grove lived because her mother hovered over her, sacrificing her life. A Coaling family watched their son get sucked into the tornado— and later walk back to them. The boy told NPR he was tossed around before floating back to the ground. He found his family by following the beam of his father’s flashlight.
I also see a miracle in how the strong are helping the weak. While affected areas look like third world countries, completely disconnected from the world, capable neighbors are employing technology to the hilt. Those of us who watched the tornado on TV felt helpless and desperate to help. Before the twister even finished, relief efforts started springing to life on Facebook and Twitter. People jumped on board in droves, allowing instant mobilization of volunteers to meet immediate needs.
I’d never seen technology put to better use.
As I write this, death and destruction are on everyone’s mind. We are passionately moved to action, communicating ways to help. But over time, the newness will die. We’ll return to the lives we put on hold, remembering the tragedy in a back burner way. My plea is that we make a point to keep the fire burning, to remember these cities have a long road ahead. Years from now, they’ll still need help.
Life has an expiration date, and tragedies remind us that no one escapes mortality. Let us aspire to do better and be better, to hug those we love and voice kindness. Life holds no guarantees beyond this moment. Let us use it wisely.
I have a watch, and even though it no longer tells time, it means the world to me.
This watch, you see, was given to me one Christmas by my mother. I was in high school at the time, and I spotted it while shopping with her one day. Made by Gucci, it came with colorful rings that screwed on and off the face, allowing me to color-coordinate with every wardrobe change.
I remember standing at Parisian’s jewelry counter, coveting the watch with my teenage hands but never expecting to get it. One, it was pricey. Two, I understood that my mom had four other children with needs and desires. Although Christmas was coming up—and Mom always went overboard—this watch seemed too extravagant to request.
So I walked away from the counter trying to forget about the coolest watch I’d ever seen. And imagine my surprise Christmas morning when I opened a package and recognized the Gucci box.
I stared at Mom in astonishment. She blushed—and then smiled meekly. The look on her face clearly conveyed her love for me.
“You better appreciate that, Kari,” she said with a small, nervous laugh, “because I wrote ten résumés to pay for it.”
As it turned out, Mom had begun writing résumés for students at Shelton State Community College—her workplace—to pay for this one gift. I felt so special being singled out. When you come from a large family, you spend half your life being clumped together, defined as a unit. Discovering that Mom had devoted herself to something just for me left no doubt of my importance.
Now every time I see the watch, I remember that.
I should clarify that I’m not advocating the purchase of fancy possessions to win your children over. Truth be told, I would have chunked that watch long ago if it weren’t for the story behind it. I’m constantly de-cluttering, and unless something has a use in my life, it gets discarded or donated. The fact that this watch has made the “cut” and remained in my memory box for several decades is simple: I don’t want to forget it.
Like many daughters, I often give my mom a hard time, jokingly pointing out her slip-ups and imperfections. What I forget to acknowledge is her commitment to our family, the selfless acts of love I once took for granted. Mom drove carpool for 25 years, clocked thousands of hours as a short-order cook and laundered clothes for seven people. My siblings and I used to throw dirty garments down the basement stairs and laugh at the smelly avalanche. Days later these garments would reappear in our rooms, fresh and neatly stacked. Yet again, the laundry fairy had come.
My mom is also a writer, and thanks to her I developed an early love for words and poems. I’m forever grateful that she helped me find my passion. She is kind, creative and generous beyond measure. She’d do anything for her kids, hand us the shirt off her back before we even thought to ask.
This Mother’s Day, I wish to celebrate my mother, my mother-in-law, and all the other amazing women who helped raise today’s moms. As my Gucci watch attests, your sacrifices didn’t go unnoticed. You may have said “I love you” daily, but it was your actions that convinced us. Thank you for teaching us the transcending power and beauty of a mother’s love and intuition.
The way you make me feel
My daughter Ella has a new morning routine.
Instead of waking up and heading straight to the den, she now stops at her sister’s nursery. If Camille is awake, Ella takes her from the crib and carries her into the den with her. If Camille is asleep, Ella rustles around until her eyes open. Then she rescues her baby sister from behind the iron bars.
It’s very sweet, and for a while I thought Ella was trying to be helpful. She calls herself Camille’s “second mommy” and takes the job very seriously. At eight years old, Ella loves babies. She even dreams of having an orphanage one day.
I didn’t realize how important this morning ritual was to Ella until the day I interrupted it. I heard Camille crying in her crib, and as Ella lay sound-asleep in a nearby bedroom, I took the baby and fed her breakfast. Soon after, Ella woke up. I heard her pitter-patter to the nursery, pause, and then rush to the den. When she saw Camille in the highchair, happily eating Cheerios, her face fell.
“Mommy! Why’d you get Camille out of the crib? I like to do that.”
Ella was upset—and on the verge on tears. I tried to reason with her, explain that she’d have many more mornings to play hero, but she wouldn’t hear it. The way she saw it, her day was ruined. I’d stolen her thunder.
I asked Ella a few days later why, exactly, she liked to get the baby. She thought a moment and then said, “Well, when I walk in her room, Camille looks sad. But as soon as she sees me, she’s happy. She gets all smiley and bounces up and down. It makes me feel good.”
I told Ella I could relate to that. I’ve always loved the rush of walking into a nursery and seeing my baby light up at the sight of me. What struck me about her answer was not the observation but her awareness of it. Even at a young age, Ella understands the powerful draw of someone who makes her feel good. It makes her gravitate toward Camille’s nursery every morning. It induces tears on the days she doesn’t get her “fix.”
I learn a lot about human nature through my kids. In this case, I realized that what I thought was a lesson I’d tapped into over time—to seek the company of uplifting people—is actually intuitive wisdom. In other words, we’re all wired to find love. When we meet someone who radiates it, we naturally crave their company.
Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” After coming across this quote recently, I thought about people I hadn’t seen in ten to twenty years. I immediately realized how true the statement is. Despite the time gap, I can remember who made me laugh, who made me cringe, who built me up, who dragged me down. Imagining some people brought a smile to my face. Imagining others put a pit in my stomach.
People do, indeed, remember how you made them feel.
Of course, it only seemed fair for me to consider the flip side, too: How have I made other people feel? Whose feelings have I hurt, inadvertently or not? Just because I’m not a bully or cold-hearted person doesn’t mean I’ve never deflated someone’s spirit. Maybe I ignored someone in a time of need. Maybe I shot down someone’s self-esteem. Maybe I mistreated someone providing me a service. Whatever the case, I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’ve evoked nothing but happiness in others.
There’s a reason why Ella longs to see her youngest sister each morning. It’s the same reason we all flock to babies: Because they’re heavenly, as pure and innocent as a person gets. They see our beauty through a magnifying glass, listen without judging, warm our hearts by their presence. In essence, babies are love. The way we feel as a result of that is something we can all take to heart.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Visit her website at www.karikampakis.com, find her on Facebook and Twitter, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashes to Ashes
There is one day a year that I wear my faith on my forehead. Yes, on Ash Wednesday anyone who crosses my path can see that I am a Christian.
And while I’ve been wearing the ashen cross since I was a child, it wasn’t until college that I truly grasped the meaning behind it. It took a major disappointment for me to learn a lesson that impacts me still today.
I was eighteen at the time, a freshman at the University of Alabama. I’d just tried out for Capstone Men and Women, a prestigious organization of university ambassadors. As most Alabama alums know, making Capstone Men and Women is a big deal. It’s a competitive, two-interview process made more daunting by the overall caliber of applicants.
With just a few slots open, the odds were against me, but I figured I had a shot. My grades and leadership experience had always opened doors for me, so why should this be different?
Unfortunately, my first interview was a flop. I was so nervous going in, and within the formal atmosphere—where half a dozen people took turns asking questions—I grew increasingly self-conscious and tongue-tied. It was an embarrassing experience I couldn’t escape fast enough.
Nevertheless, I held out hope. Ever the optimist, I convinced myself it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Maybe they hadn’t noticed the tremor in my voice, the fragmented answers. Maybe they could see a diamond in the rough—and would grant me a second interview to redeem myself.
Suffice it to say my name was not on the list posted two days later at the Ferguson Center. Everyone I knew made the cut—everyone but me. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t even a finalist, and the reality that I had, indeed, bombed something very important to me was crushing.
It was Ash Wednesday, and trying to keep my priorities straight I attended Mass that evening. Throughout the service, I dwelled on the day’s events until I felt much worse. Needing affirmation, I drove to my parents’ house—fifteen minutes from campus—immediately after church.
And as I poured my heart out to Dad, waxed on about being a loser and embarrassment of a daughter, he started shaking his head. His pointed to the ashes on my forehead.
“Kari, what does it matter?” His voice was firm and compelling. “Look at your face—what does that cross mean? We all started as dust, and we’ll all end as dust. Anything that burns in this world—your body, your clothes, this house—none of it matters. That interview doesn’t matter. What matters is your soul, and how you live your life.”
It was as if a window of clarity had opened, expanding the world before my eyes. I saw then the spiritual short-sightedness of getting worked up over something that was pretty inconsequential in the long run. Yes, I would have loved to have been a Capstone Woman, but had it worked out, my dad may never have shared this wise nugget. What I thought was the life-changing event—not making the cut—actually led to a bigger moment, a soulful awakening to things that don’t burn.
This Lenten season, I’ll join millions of Christians on a 40-day journey of spiritual cleansing and renewal. It will remind me of the truths I tend to forget the rest of the year: that there’s life beyond the here-and-now; that this seemingly permanent world is a temporary home. My flesh is a casing, made to expire. I should use it wisely, focusing less on earthly pursuits and more on the Savior who died on the cross.
I’ve always been proud to be Catholic, proud of the ashen cross I receive on Ash Wednesday. It’s the ultimate symbol of love, sacrifice, and eternal life. As a mortal, I started as ashes, and I will end the same. Staying mindful of this puts in perspective everything that occurs in between.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Find her blog on her website, www.karikampakis.com, or contact her at email@example.com.
Happy Birthday, Katie!
Do you have a friend who makes you feel like a rock star? Someone who’d join your fan club whether it had three members or three thousand?
That’s the kind of friend Katie Woychak Houser is to me. And in honor of her fortieth birthday, I’m dedicating this piece to her.
I met Katie shortly after college graduation—and at the insistence of our two younger sisters. From the Kappa house in Tuscaloosa, Krissie called me one night to say, “Allison and I have been talking, and we decided you and Katie are exactly alike. She just broke up with her boyfriend and needs to get out. Why don’t you call her?”
I told Krissie I would but never got around to it. A week later, she called to pester me. “Okay, okay, I’ll do it,” I said, annoyed. So what if Katie and I both lived in Birmingham, worked in PR, and started Christmas shopping in August. Did the fact that we shared a Type-A gene that drove our sisters nuts mean we’d hit it off? Not necessarily. Still, I kept my word to Krissie, if only to get her off my back.
I reached out to Katie, and we agreed to dinner at Bottega Café. It felt like a blind date, only instead of romance, a friendship blossomed.
That was sixteen years ago, and boy have things changed. Our old Thursday night ritual of drinking wine, cooking Success Rice, and watching Friends and ER before heading to Otey’s for girls’ night out has been replaced by carpools, Happy Meals, and bedtime stories. We’ve replaced paychecks and power suits with husbands and kids. And though we’d never wish our current lives away, it sure is fun to remember the younger, carefree versions of ourselves.
Today, Katie is a fellow Mountain Brook mom. She has three girls—Anna Lauren, Emmie, and Addison—and lives five minutes from me. Despite this proximity, our paths rarely cross. But she’s there when I need her. If there’s any trait that defines Katie, it is loyalty.
This is the girl who starts planning my baby shower once I pass the first trimester. She talks up my birthday weeks in advance. When I’m sick with the stomach bug, she drops off Gatorade and chicken noodle soup. The day she receives my Christmas card, she sends a raving e-mail. She remembers my kids’ birthdays and checks in when my parents have a health scare or are awaiting the result of medical tests.
Whatever I’m pursuing, Katie cheers me on. When I started dabbling in photography, she hired me to take Anna Lauren’s picture. She told her other friends, and within days they called to schedule sittings, too. When I finished my first novel, Katie begged to read it. Handing over that first manuscript was painful. I hadn’t toughened up to criticism yet, and I knew that too much negativity might provoke me to throw in the towel.
Luckily, I trusted the right person. Katie praised it high and low, and though I now see it for what it was—a first draft—I’m eternally grateful for her reaction. I can vividly recall standing in her kitchen, my stomach in knots because she’d invited me over to discuss my book. As she took a deep breath and paused, I braced for a bad blow. But the first words out of her mouth were, “I loved it. I couldn’t put it down.”
In that moment, I was a rock star.
If you, too, have the privilege of friendship with Katie Woychak Houser, you know what I mean when I say she’d stand in your stadium whether it was pitifully empty or crammed to capacity. She doesn’t seek the stage, or limelight, or even fifteen minutes of fame. No, in a world of attention mongers, she’s refreshingly content to hang back, to stand in the crowd while rooting others on.
Katie, you deserve a shout-out. I wish I had a microphone for the job, but these words will have to do. I hope you realize the ripple effect of your subtle, thoughtful ways. Most of all, I hope your fourth decade of life is your best one yet.
Make New Friends, But Keep the Old
It was 1982—the year rabbit fur jackets were all the rage.
I’d gotten mine for Christmas, and like every girl in my fifth grade class, I wore it to Michelle’s birthday party. The fact that it was January and freezing-cold outside didn’t deter Michelle from hosting an indoor swim party.
Inside the YMCA ladies lounge, my friends and I changed into swimsuits. We stuffed our winter clothes into lockers and hit the pool.
An hour later, we returned to the lounge, shivering and dripping wet. Desperate to warm up, we ripped open our lockers and found…nothing. Someone had stolen everything: our clothes, our shoes, even socks and panties.
Even our beloved rabbit jackets.
We all stared at each other in shock—then burst into tears. Mass hysteria kicked in as the police arrived and our moms picked us up early. Michelle’s mother—looking out for her daughter, naturally—lit the birthday cake. In between gasping sobs, we sang a pitiful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to my sad friend.
Yes, it was a party to remember. And for the rest of that school year, we prayed fervently at Holy Spirit Elementary, asking God to please “find our stuff.”
Almost three decades have passed since that cold winter day. And what once seemed tragic in my young, impressionable mind has grown comical with time. To be honest, I now reflect fondly on the experience. Not many people can say they once had all their clothes stolen at a YMCA birthday party. There’s something special about a memory like that.
There’s also something special about old friends, isn’t there? I met Michelle in fourth grade, and though our daily lives don’t intersect anymore, we shared enough memories growing up to seal her importance in my heart. As my oldest friend, Michelle doesn’t need cliff notes to my past, explanations of family dynamics, or insight into the formative events that shaped me. She witnessed these things firsthand—even risking her life on occasion when my sisters and I declared war in her presence.
The older I get, the more affection I feel toward friends like Michelle, people who knew me “way back when.” Why, exactly, is that? And why are stories from my adolescence—ridiculous tales like the one above—funnier than anything that happens now? Is it simply the bond of youth, riding life’s roller coaster together for the first time? Never again will the highs seem so high—or the lows so low. Those who experienced the test run with me are hard to forget.
Or maybe the draw of old friends has more to do with ease and familiarity. There’s no need to impress, or put up airs, or feign sophistication. Those who knew the early version of me—Kari 1.0—expect nothing but my company when we’re together. Hanging out is comfortable, like spending Saturday in my favorite pair of jeans.
And then there’s the sense of self I get from old friends. Like many people, I believe what brought me joy as a child—when I wasn’t trying to be happy—feeds my soul as an adult. Around friends like Michelle, I’m reminded of central themes in my life, consistencies that have always kept me grounded. Whenever I stray too far from these roots, things seem to fall apart.
It’s interesting to think the friends I make today—mostly moms I meet through my kids—will qualify as “old friends” twenty years from now. At the same juncture, Michelle and I will celebrate a half-century of friendship. That’s a milestone I never considered when we were prank-calling strangers on Friday nights, giving each other makeovers, and practicing dance moves in front of a mirror.
I may have lost a rabbit jacket because of Michelle, but she’s given me plenty to keep. Our good times can never be taken away. And though we only meet up a few times a year, I don’t worry about outgrowing each other. The beauty of an old friend, after all, is the classic fit of the relationship.
There’s something special about that.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four girls with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Check out her website at http://www.karikampakis.com or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a ONEderful Life
My baby, Camille, turns one on December 23. When I consider where I am now versus this time last year, I’m a little bit ashamed.
The thing is, I never dreamed of having a fourth child. Although I was the fourth in my family, I decided long ago that three was my chaos threshold. Like a fish needs water, I need order, and playing Chief Organization Officer to a family of five—while squeezing in time to write—already had me running on fumes.
Besides, I was just starting to see the light beyond the tunnel of toddlerhood. With Marie Claire—my baby at the time—nearly two and a half, I’d reached a milestone. I’d graduated from Fischer-Price toys and written off the baby stage. Yes, after six years of paying motherhood’s initiation dues, I was enjoying my kids as little people. I was getting my life—and my groove—back at last.
Then I got pregnant.
I didn’t cry when I found out, but I certainly wasn’t happy. It felt weird not to be excited. Upon news of my other three pregnancies, my heart soared, but this time was different. My emotions ranged from shock to denial to guilt. God had granted me the three babies I prayed for; who was I to complain about one more? How many thousands of women would have taken my pregnancy and run with it?
The biggest irony was that my two oldest daughters were the result of fertility treatments. I’d known the fear of never being able to have a child—and the disappointment of two early miscarriages. So why couldn’t I wrap my head and heart around a fourth baby?
I’ll tell you why: Because it seemed like a major setback. All the dreams I’d put on the back burner now had to simmer longer. In the meantime, I had to learn how to handle four kids when I could barely manage three.
With that said, it was a stressful pregnancy. Although my attitude improved, I had several meltdowns regarding the future. How would we swing four weddings, four college tuitions, four ongoing soap operas? Who would be scarred by a lack of attention? Would I ever be free again?
I’ve always loved the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and though I think everyone has some George Bailey in them, I really related to him during this time. Instead of coming home and seeing my beautiful kids, I’d see the flaws of my house, the mess of too many toys. No, I wasn’t ready to jump off a bridge like George, but I was slightly disillusioned about my life—and the blessings under my nose.
As Camille’s birth day approached, I kept my expectations low. I braced for a seismic shift and plastered a smile on my face for my kids—who were, by the way, elated. From the moment they first saw Camille’s pea-sized body in a sonogram, they talked about it non-stop.
Ella, Sophie, and Marie Claire met their new sister shortly after delivery. From my hospital bed, I watched Ella start crying. The pride and joy on her face and Sophie’s as the nurse enlisted help for Camille’s first bath was priceless. I grabbed my camera and snapped away.
As I reflect on this past year—and coming home Christmas day with a new baby—I remember the moment in It’s a Wonderful Life when Clarence the Angel tells George Bailey, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many others. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole.” When I think about life without Camille—and the happiness I would have missed because I didn’t have the foresight to pray for her—I want to cry.
I tend to think of pregnancy from a selfish standpoint—how will this impact my life?—but through Camille, I’m reminded that a baby redefines an entire family. Camille’s birth was a bonding experience, because one thing we all have in common is love and awe for her. I thought our club was complete before. Little did I know, we needed a mascot to rally around, an adhesive force to strengthen the unit.
This holiday season, as you count your blessings—or perhaps the unanswered prayers of a tough year—I hope you’ll remember the “Camilles” in your life, the unexpected gifts that fell on your doorstep as you awaited other packages. In twelve short months, my baby has changed my heart. She’s also inspired my belief that what’s left off a wish list is often the present we wind up most grateful for.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four girls with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Contact her at email@example.com.
Where on Earth is Heaven?
I try to see the good in this world, but sometimes that’s just not possible.
For example, what benefit is served when a child passes away? Or when a freak accident disfigures someone for life? How about a diagnosis that turns a family’s world upside down? I know God has a plan, and I understand that faith means accepting life’s mysteries. Still, I can’t help but question the Man upstairs whenever a sad story crosses my radar—and I realize it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.
Several years ago, I picked up the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People after a close friend of mine experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage. After years of fertility treatments—plus one removed ovary—she’d relinquished the dream of carrying a child. And then one day she got pregnant—only to lose the baby weeks later. As her elation spiraled into heartache, I wondered about the senselessness of this event.
Why would God pour salt on an old wound? What was the point?
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People based on his experience as a spiritual leader and a personal journey through grief. Due to a fatal disease, he lost his son Aaron at age fourteen. After counseling countless people on why a loving God would allow pain and suffering in His universe, Kushner finally understood what it felt like to be the one asking, “Why me?”
I found his book insightful, and of all the points that resonated with me, one image stood out. Comparing the world to a tapestry, Kushner said that all we see is the backside: a random, disjointed clump of threads that form no pattern or design. Turn the tapestry around, however, and we glimpse God’s view. From this angle, we understand how arbitrary events can connect to create a larger, more beautiful picture.
Although I realize this simple analogy may not comfort anyone knee-deep in suffering, it’s a powerful reminder of how inexplicably linked we are to one another. It also illustrates how good things can emerge from tragedy, spinning new threads that allow sufferers to heal their wounds by helping others they never would’ve met otherwise.
This raises my next point: How do these people do it, how do they claw their way out of a dark abyss and pour energy into a new purpose? Consider John Walsh, who created America’s Most Wanted in response to his son Adam’s abduction and murder. Or Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen Foundation after her sister died of breast cancer. Or Siran Stacy, who lost his wife and four of his five kids in a tragic car wreck but now shares his faith as an inspirational speaker. And then there’s Michael J. Fox, whose celebrity status has helped raise $196 million for Parkinson’s research.
When I look at these survivors, I see role models in how to handle a tragedy. Although I hope and pray I’m never, ever in their shoes, I feel a slight peace of mind watching them cope. Like many people, I often fear that I’m “due” for misfortune. After all, with four kids and many loved ones, isn’t it fathomable that some terrible circumstance could be lurking around the corner? This fear consumes me when I let it, and the only way I can quell my anxiety is by remembering God’s presence. Through Him, I can take any trial and somehow produce a by-product that leaves this world better off.
No scales of justice exist in God’s distribution of hardships. Though miracles occur every day, He won’t always intervene when we’re on our knees. I wish I could curry favor by being good, insure my family against disaster, but that’s not how it works. As we all know, no one’s immune from enrollment in the school of hard knocks.
This world is a messy, unpredictable, oftentimes ugly place. At the same time, I believe there’s an upside to the tapestry that makes sense and beauty of life’s loose ends. God’s needle is always at work, and as bewildering as His handiwork seems, my faith requires me to trust that somehow, in some way, he’s creating a masterpiece my eyes have yet to see.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four girls with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s Behind Your Storefront Window?
Have you ever met someone who puts up a great front, but back behind the grandiose curtain, there’s a lot of empty space?
My friend calls this “putting it all in the storefront window.”
This friend—I’ll call him Dan—works at a private equity firm that invests in start-up companies aiming to go public. Back when Dan was young and green, he was impressed at face value. He started work during the dot-com boom, and for hours on end, he watched presentations from new businesses courting his firm for seed money.
As a rookie, Dan’s instinct was to allocate funds to the most polished entrepreneur, the dynamo in a power suit. “We’ve GOT to invest in this guy!” he’d declare, wowed by a killer sales pitch or charming demeanor. As for the soft-spoken old man with a ho-hum presentation, his gut reaction was typically, “No way.”
What Dan didn’t realize, of course, was that bells and whistles don’t necessarily equate to substance.
“Did you know,” the founding partners of his equity firm would then inform him, “that quiet old man is worth tens of millions of dollars? In the past five years, he’s started and sold two companies.” The dynamo, on the other hand, often had a sketchier track record, businesses gone bust and no assets to boot. Once you dug into his business model, the holes appeared.
I’ve long been fascinated by the insight and perspective Dan has gleaned through his job. He’s learned to look beyond the surface in judging a business, to separate presentation from performance. And of all the themes he’s noticed among truly remarkable businessmen, one thing stands out: humility.
I think about Dan’s experience when I look around at our image-driven society, a worldwide bazaar where everyone is selling something. Even I, as a writer, am selling words, my unique filter on this world. It’s a competitive marketplace, and with so much stuff competing for our attention, we skim storefront windows to narrow down points of interest.
A catchy display….clever words….captivating colors…these things draw us closer, suggest that someone is worth our precious time. We approach the most beautiful store with heart palpitations, eager to see what lies inside. By all appearances, it must be good.
We open the door, cross the threshold, and….and what? What next?
Well, sometimes the interior is even better than we imagined. It’s so gorgeous, in fact, we forget about the shell that caught our eye to begin with. Other times, we enter the store with a sinking disappointment. The room is cold, barren, and neglected. The best merchandise is in the storefront window, and the stylish storeowner—freshening up her display for today’s passersby—ignores our presence. We pass her as we exit, saddened by her misdirection. If only she exerted that energy inward, maybe we’d stay.
Meanwhile, there’s another store nearby—one we’ve never noticed before. The window display is bland, but as we glance through the glass and lock eyes with the owner, we’re taken by her friendly face. We stumble in curiously…and are blown away by the inventory. The layers! The richness! The depth! It’s a soulful atmosphere we never expected, and as the coziness envelops us, we breathe in fresh air. This, we decide, feels like home.
Only one thing stumps us: There’s not much traffic. Do people not realize what they’re missing out on?
Consciously or not, we all put up a storefront display. We can make it bold and glamorous or humble and understated. It can cry out for attention or wait to be discovered. We can obsess over it daily, ignoring needs in our backroom, or strike a healthy balance.
The choice is ours.
One other choice we have relates to how we window shop. We can do it like we always have—mindlessly forming fast impressions—or look beyond visual cues. After all, rarely does a person’s exterior reflect their true interior.
My daughter Ella recently grasped this point in her profound, seven-year-old way. Breaking away from my computer, I explained that mommy was writing a column about not judging a person based on their “storefront appearance.” As I rambled on, Ella started to nod. She knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Yeah,” she said, her eyes wide and sparkly, “it’s just like the bank. Looking at it from the outside, you’d never know they have lollipops inside!”
Lollipops and banks, I thought. Why didn’t I think of that?
Sometimes it takes a child’s X-ray vision to glimpse the colorful candy inside a boring brick façade. Other times, it takes a peek behind the curtain to realize all that glitters is not gold. Either way, a person’s storefront window is merely a starting point in discovering who they are. It’s the area out of eyeshot that really counts in this world.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four girls with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Contact her at email@example.com.
Daddies Be Good To Your Daughters
I saw an old friend recently and asked about his little girl.
He immediately turned to mush.
The transformation advanced like this: His head tilted. He smiled. He body softened as if he’d been microwaved five seconds. In a final gesture, he rapped on his heart…one, two, three times. He never did speak, however.
He didn’t have to.
I know it sounds sappy, but the relationship between daddies and daughters turns me into putty, too. In fact, if you ever see me driving down the road with tear goggles on, I’m probably listening to some country tearjerker like “Butterfly Kisses,” “I Loved Her First,” or Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl.” Any lyrics that remind me of my girls as babies—then fast-forward my imagination to their wedding days, where they’re waiting to be given away—pull my heartstrings in every direction.
Given this, is it any surprise that I have a soft spot for doting dads? I can spot them in crowds and, fortunately, see plenty in our community. Many are guys I knew in college, cool daddies who rocked the house at band parties—always with a beer in hand. I run into them at birthday celebrations, the ball field, even the Tot Lot, and smile at the evolution. Sixteen years ago, I never would’ve believed they’d wind up pushing strollers, wearing Baby Björns, talking proficiently about Disney princesses and potty training. But here they are, taking parenting by the horns.
I love it.
Today’s dads are hands-on, and as my mom jokingly notes, this wasn’t the case in her day. Her point hit home years back when my dad asked his four son-in-laws to help assemble a bed. With the bed intact, it came time to add linens. My dad held up the fitted sheet and glanced around in puzzlement. “What do I do with this?” he asked. His son-in-laws burst out laughing. As one wryly remarked, Mom’s assumption of all domestic duties was a lesson she did not pass on to her daughters.
But while Dad never changed my diaper, or cleaned up after me, he did provide everything a young girl needs: love, faith, and security. I grew up with one brother and three sisters, but I still felt like Daddy’s girl. My dad has this uncanny ability to embrace our differences in a way that makes each child feel like his favorite.
Looking back, I recognize the comfort zone Dad created. He set the standard for how the opposite sex should treat me, and though it didn’t save me from dating some not-so-fabulous guys, it did attune me to warning signs. Whenever someone strayed outside the parameters, an inner alarm went off. Of course, like many girls I learned to tune the alarm out, press snooze when I wanted more time, but eventually the feeling that something just wasn’t right prevailed. After a certain number of strikes, I wouldn’t like the person anymore.
Fortunately, I married the sweetest guy possible. And in silent calculation, I sized him up to my dad and my brother—another father figure to me—while we dated. Would he move heaven and earth to protect me? Does he have God in his heart and make me a better person? Does he love the “real” me, quirks and all? When no buzzers sounded on my laundry list of questions, I knew I could trust my instincts. I now rely on Harry to instill similar yardsticks in our daughters.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that girls who know better will do better—or that those whose fathers fall short will settle later on. People disprove this theory every day. It is fair to suggest, however, that daughters of devoted dads have a leg up in future relationships. If nothing else, they won’t waste years of their life wondering why they can’t trust those of the XY chromosome.
If you have a little girl, remember that she craves more than the obvious “I love you.” Like her larger counterparts, she picks up on every subliminal cue. So before she loses her baby fat, or fixes her buck teeth with braces, assure her she’s beautiful. State it as a fact, not opinion. When she sits by you in church, hold her hand protectively, squeeze it from time to time. Tell her you’re proud of her just because—before she brings home straight A’s, or declares a new achievement. And as you watch her dance routine for the fifteenth time, plant a smile on your face. When she’s up on stage, peering into a dark audience, that smile is what she’ll see.
The older she gets, the more she’ll roll her eyes, tell you you’re overprotective, complain that you embarrass her. Deep down, however, she’ll be grateful someone cares so much. Your attention will make her feel worthy.
And isn’t that what we all want, daughters who feel worthy? Who have a core of confidence in place for when the world starts chipping away? It saddens me to think not all girls find early validation at home. On the other hand, there are plenty of daddies knocking the ball out of the park. And to them I’d like to say, keep up the good work.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mountain Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shiny Happy People
A picture says a thousand words, but what it doesn’t tell is backstory.
With kids, this means all the begging, bribing, crying, cajoling, blaming, and threatening parents employ in quest of a perfect shot.
There are 32 million seconds in a year, and all I want is one moment where my children shine in unison. My vain attempt to immortalize them in their finest form also serves to prove they can co-exist in peace, love, and happiness. It’s a simple request, right?
As a former children’s photographer, I recognize how most parents long for the same Kodak moments I do. Photos are, after all, priceless possessions. They’re a memory bank of time, reminders of things we think we’ll never forget but do. The irony, of course, is our kids could care less. Flippant and unenthused, they endure photo shoots with moans, fake smiles, and tantrums. We have to wonder: Are they scheming against us?
It often seems so—causing the most even-keeled parents to unravel as a result. People think other people’s kids behave better, but the true anomaly is a child who can take pictures for an hour in perfect spirits. As wonderful as it is, it’s not typical. And it doesn’t guarantee great pictures. Some of my favorite shots emerge in the wake of a meltdown. I always used to point this out to moms on the verge.
Right after I assured them my kids unglued me, too.
It’s true. Despite my patience with other children, portraits of my crew stir the monster in me. Our last Christmas card shoot sounded like this:
“Enough with the fake smiles, y’all look constipated…Quit gritting your teeth, Sophie…Marie Claire, put your tongue in your mouth…Ella, quit jabbing your sister…Okay, nobody’s listening, no ICEEs afterward…Y’all are driving me nuts…Next year I’m hiring a photographer…!”
Year after year, it’s an excruciating process, but I tough it out. Why? Because persistence pays off. Taking pictures is like childbirth, and once a shoot “delivers,” the pain fades away. With a pretty picture in hand, I can laugh at the day’s follies, admit I’d do it again (only next time with anesthesia).
I share my experience behind the lens to encourage others to step there. Thanks to digital, it’s easier than ever to pick up the hobby. When I first started seven years ago, everything was film, and it took days to see my mistakes. Now, through instant feedback, I make corrections on the spot. I click away without fear of lab fees. By cutting time and money from the learning curve, digital has broken down age barriers, allowing teens and even preteens to learn the ropes early.
I find this wonderful. As crucial as professional photographers are—the good ones deserve every penny—we can’t hire them for everything. One, it’s costly, and two, there’s no reason. Every family has someone interested in photography, and with a little practice, they can meet your needs just fine. Following are a few pointers to get started:
- Invest in a good camera. Two user-friendly options are the Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D90. To buy locally, visit Cameras Brookwood, known for its wide range of equipment and knowledgeable sales staff. For an online source, check out www.b&hphotovideo.com.
- Find inspiration on the Internet. Join www.ilovephotography.com for a one-stop shop of photographer websites. The work, you’ll see, is breathtaking. Another creative source for ideas is www.whispersphotography.com.
- When photographing siblings or a group, go for “relationships.” Position people close together and capture how they relate—the way one child looks at another, a funny expression, a flash of personality. When a moment tugs your heart, snap away.
- Turn your camera. People tend to keep their camera horizontal, but turning it vertical—especially for close-ups—can yield big improvements.
- Fill the frame. Zoom in on your subject; the closer the better. If your camera has a lens—28-108 mm, for example—turn it to 108 for a flattering close-up.
- Watch your light. The best light is in the morning (before 10 a.m.) or afternoon (after 4 p.m.). Avoid outdoor photos in the blazing sun unless you’re in the shade.
- If all else fails, go for funny. Pictures that provoke laughter are often the most unforgettable.
Above all, remember it’s better to snap something than nothing. When I look back on photos of my kids, the ones that thrilled me at the time aren’t what captivate me now. No, in hindsight I appreciate the quirky shots I hardly remember capturing: Sophie’s spiky baby hair, Marie’s Claire’s scoot, Ella’s pout, all three of them wrestling in the sand like cartoon characters.
As much as I cherish my Kodak moments, these ordinary photos are what launch me back in time. They fill in the blanks of an era come and gone.
And while they may not be as idyllic as a portrait, they’re every bit as special.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing, and photography. Contact her at email@example.com.
Shoot Outside Your Box
Summer’s an ideal time to capture fleeting, care-free moments of your family. At the lake or the beach, keep your camera handy in your bag and sneak it out when no one’s looking. According to Catherine Pittman Smith, a local portrait, fine art and wedding photographer, the key is to watch kids through the lens…think and act like a child…and get down on their level—literally.
“Keep your body in motion,” Catherine says. “Squat down, lie on your tummy, lean sideways, get on stairs above the kids and shoot down—or vice versa. Move your camera up, down, shoot from every angle. And use your zoom lens. Zoom, zoom, zoom.”
Catherine also offers this sage advice:
Act crazy; act stupid. Don’t be shy about making kids laugh. They love it and will respond.
Be creative. To get a “real smile,” ask about their favorite thing they did that day, what their most magical dream is, what they want for dessert.
1, 2, 3. Another tip to overcome the fake smile: Ask the child to look down while you count to 3. Have them look up on 3—and click quickly.
The good, the bad, the ugly. Show them what you’ve shot—and ask if they can tell the difference in a good smile and a bad one. They’ll straighten up.
Leave your comfort zone. Take your camera off “program mode” and shoot in aperture-priority mode. Shoot with a low F-stop (i.e. F5.6, F4, or lower) and purposefully throw some of your subject out of focus. This produces a more photojournalistic edge.
Eliminate blur. When the kids are running or swimming, shoot in shutter-priority. This captures motion without blur.
Reduce glare. Use a polarizer when photographing near or on the water. It reduces glare and sun flare. It isn’t an expensive investment.
Be spontaneous. Set your camera on continuous shooting mode. This enables you to press the shutter continually (without releasing) to get more spontaneous movement/expressions. You’d be surprised at how fun the results are.
Tell a story. Weave photos of your kids together to tell the story of a trip to the lake or beach. Even if they aren’t picture-perfect, you’ve captured a time you can’t get back. Your children will thank you one day.
Remove all expectations. Have fun; see what you get.
Be decisive. Delete what you don’t like on the camera, download to the computer, and edit. Jettisoning bad ones upfront eliminates work on the back end.
Catherine Pittman Smith’s studio and gallery is located at 31 Church Street. E-mail Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at http://www.catherinepittmansmith.com.
Dreams: Cracking the Shell of Secrecy
By Kari Kampakis
It seems to me dreams and addictions have one thing in common: The first step is admitting them.
In all seriousness, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? This question is tacked to a corkboard in my cousin’s mudroom, alongside Christmas cards and special mementoes. Every time I visit her house, I read it.
We all know it takes GUTS to admit a dream. None of us want to embarrass ourselves—much less our kids or spouse. Once an ambition escapes its secret hiding place inside us, a skeptic snaps to attention: What if I’m not good enough? What if no one buys? What if I post on Facebook and don’t even get a thumb’s up?
What if, what if, what if? These words are machine guns in our head, shooting down ideas before we can see if they have two legs to stand on. Whenever they cripple me, I try to remember a point made by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.”
A number of people have asked me how I came to be involved with Village Living. After telling the story a few times, I realized the opportunity arose because I shared my dream with friends. Had I not, this column would belong to someone else.
Unlike many hobbies, writing is a quiet passion, done behind closed doors and easy to keep under wraps. Four years ago, I decided to parlay my experience as a corporate writer into fiction. Shortly into my first novel, I got hooked. I knew then I eventually wanted to spin stories for a living.
Only two hitches stood in my way: one, it’s very hard to break into publishing (especially for a “non-celebrity”), and two, my timing stunk. Small children are not conducive to the art of writing!
Nevertheless, I made up my mind. Even if it took five, seven, or ten years—oftentimes the case to get the learning curve down—I wanted to be a published author.
At first only my husband knew of this goal, which I pursued at night and in stolen moments. Over time, I opened up to friends and family—confessed the real reason why I couldn’t meet for lunch, or go on a trip. I’m working on a novel, and it sucks up all my free time! Laying the cards on the table was a relief, and the instant cheer team boosted my confidence.
Fast-forward several years, and one of my friends—Jennifer Gray—is named editor of Village Living. Aware of my writing pursuits and background, she calls me out of the blue to explain a new community paper and offer me a column. Immediately sold on the concept, I jump at the chance. I’ve always wanted a forum like this, and the instant gratification helps fill a void as I work on a lengthy novel with no guarantee of publication.
My point is this: Good things can fall in your lap when you make yourself vulnerable. By cracking the shell of secrecy, you start a chain reaction that can lead to unexpected opportunities down the road. Hone your skills now and you’ll be ready.
Mountain Brook is chock-full of women with talent—many already pursuing a dream or innovative idea. A few examples I’d like to applaud:
- Katie Crommelin and Betsy Byars, designers of Charles and Alice children’s loungewear, carried in over 200 boutiques nationwide—from Marguerite’s in Mountain Brook village to Kitson in Los Angeles. The line’s custom fabric is designed by Jane Timberlake Cooper, and all items are made in the USA.
- Betsy Pennington, currently in pre-requisite classes for Nursing School; and Mindi Keller, pursuing a Masters of Education to teach math.
- Allie Black, founder of Wholesome by Allie, a new service that helps families eat and live more healthfully. Based on years of research, Wholesome empowers busy moms to make smart, affordable changes at home, in the grocery, and on the go. Check out www.wholesomebyallie.com.
- Shannon Riley, who turned a chemistry background into One Stop Environmental, an environmental clean-up company that serves federal agencies. Recently named Birmingham’s 10th largest woman-owned business and the city’s third fastest growing company, One Stop started as a way for Shannon to have the flexibility she wanted to raise a family.
What about you? Are you harboring a specific interest? Perhaps you’d like to lead a Bible study, teach Pilates, or break into photography. Maybe now is not the season, but your day will come, and in the meantime I hope you’ll tell a trusted friend or two. After all, you never know where word of mouth may lead you.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing, and photography. If you have feedback of story/column ideas, contact her at email@example.com.
Angels Among Us
By Kari Kampakis
It’s easy to see heaven in a baby. I gaze into the eyes of Camille…my adoring four-month-old who flashes a gummy smile every time I glance her way…and the radiance blinds me.
Finding a halo on a toddler who just hosted a tea party with toilet water, on the other hand, takes concerted effort. Likewise for the daughter who throws cut-up chicken in her little sister’s milk and accuses her of being “evil.”
I had a tough time deciding on an angle for this piece. Determined to focus on Mother’s Day, I debated how to celebrate the world’s deepest love without glossing over the hair-pulling frustration that threatens to leave me bald. Every time I sat down at the computer, the kids did something to annoy me—making it impossible to create pleasant commentary.
Write when they’re asleep, I told myself. When their eyes are closed, and chests are rising and falling in a sweet rhythm, they look like cherubs again.
“Children are a gift from God”—with this I wholeheartedly agree. Never have I felt as close to the Man upstairs as I have in the delivery room, holding for the first time a slimy, seven-pound miracle pure and unblemished by a dirty world. “Euphoric” hardly describes the emotions triggered when a newborn baby crosses the line between heaven and Earth.
But in the months that follow, things inevitably change. Dinners stop streaming in, my starry eyes blur into bleary eyes, expectations and responsibilities reappear. Adrenaline rushes turn into mad rushes. I’m forced to give up guilty pleasures like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and emerge from hibernation.
More drastic than changes in my life are changes in the baby. She starts cooing, crawling, and cruising. She learns to talk…and talk back. Even at an early age, she shows a gift for throwing tantrums in public. Red-faced and flustered, I endure stares from shell-shocked onlookers and silently vow to never again take a baby to Target, or Old Navy, or anywhere else for that matter.
The halo is fading.
Or is it? Could it be I’m just not looking hard enough?
I had an experience last year that reminded me of God’s presence in my children—even as they age and misbehave. I was lying down with Marie Claire, then two, for naptime. With her back molded against my chest, she began to suck her thumb. Gradually her eyes grew heavy. They closed. She looked so peaceful and content I stroked her milky arm until her breathing hit a slow, deep stride.
By every indication, she was asleep. Mission accomplished.
I started to slip out, but an instinct held me back. The chance to hold one child without others tearing at me like a Rotisserie chicken was too rare to let pass. With Marie Claire’s warm body in my arms, a flood of sudden gratitude swept through me. I am so blessed, I thought. Why can’t I appreciate that every minute of every day? Why do I lose it when things don’t go my way?
Vaguely aware of my mouth opening, I said, “Thank you, God.”
Two seconds later, Marie Claire’s thumb popped out of her mouth. She looked over her shoulder and, in that melodic voice I love, whispered, “You’re welcome.”
Well, suffice it to say that I gaped at my child as if Lazarus had risen from the dead. Some may consider this a funny coincidence, but to me it was a testament of God’s sense of humor. Somewhere above the clouds, He had to be laughing.
And it is in that spirit that I wish every mother a calamity-free Mother’s Day. The angels God gives us are not the serene, harp-playing kind we see in collectible stores. Our angels have dirty faces, runny noses, impossible-to-fix hair. They generate more comedy than harmony and infuse our lives with absurdity. As imperfect as they are, however, they are perfect for us, and perfect reflections of their marvelous Creator.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, photography, and writing. If you have feedback or a story/column idea to share, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caption: Marie Claire, Sophie, Ella, and Camille Kampakis.
Several years ago, I asked my oldest daughter—five at the time—to name her best memories. Without pause she said, “The day I was born, Disneyworld and making chocolate strawberries with Miss Melissa.”
Wait a minute…what? I understood Ella’s first two answers, but the third one stumped me. Obviously, she didn’t remember her actual birth day, but she realized its significance. And Disneyworld—well, that goes without saying. But it’d been almost a year since Ella visited her friend Dewitt’s house and made chocolate-covered strawberries with his mom for Valentine’s. And until now, she’d never mentioned it.
I’d forgotten all about that day. How could it be a top-three memory?
To this day, that story reminds me that a happy childhood can’t be orchestrated. As a planner, I’d like to map it out, and like many parents I readily fork out money on birthday parties, plays, concerts and other concrete events I think might make a positive, lasting impression. Every so often, however, I have to remind myself that kids are creative enough to entertain themselves. They don’t need tickets, plans or money to have fun. Chances are, the spontaneous free play that happens at home will sustain longer value in their memory banks than any off-site experience.
It’s an old-fashioned mindset that seems to be making a comeback in today’s economy, where every dollar counts.
I have a dear friend—also my neighbor—named Mary Carson who I’ve always admired for her ability to keep things simple. She truly enjoys the moment, takes time to stop and smell the gardenias. I mean this literally…shortly after she moved in, I saw her with her daughter near the bushes in my front yard. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but Annie and I wanted to smell your gardenias.” With a blush I replied, “I didn’t even know I had gardenias!”
I find Mary Carson unique in the way she incorporates many wholesome joys from our childhood in Annie’s life. Annie comes over talking about things I haven’t thought about in forever—Shrinky Dinks, Raggedy Ann, “Little House on the Prairie,” “The Secret Garden”—and it always makes me smile. It’s so refreshing, stepping back in time like that.
I was at Mary Carson’s house one day with some other neighbors and kids. A child started a pillow fight, and suddenly six little bodies were taking shots at each other. The kids were having a blast, of course, but all I could think about was reining in my wild bucks. Before I could stop them, Mary Carson turned to me and grinned.
“Isn’t this great?” she beamed. “We’re making memories!”
I stopped and stared at her. She was right; we were making memories. I just never thought of it that way.
Writing this column, I had to reflect on my childhood. What are my best memories? I asked. My dilapidated mommy brain pulled some crazy things from the hat. After all these years, the things that stuck are random, uneventful flashbacks with no rhyme or reason. On the surface they seem meaningless, but somehow, they shaped who I am.
Here’s a wild sampling:
*Reenacting The Brady Bunch and Grease with my sister and making her play Marcia and Danny Zuko because I was older and made the rules;
*Rolling up Mom’s pink Oriental rug to practice moonwalking in white socks on the hardwoods;
*Watching my big brother and his cute friends, all of whom I had crushes on, play basketball in our driveway and then crowd into the kitchen to eat;
*Counting coins from a big glass jar with my father;
*Giddily anticipating the grand opening of Tuscaloosa’s University Mall with my sisters and picking out what we’d wear the night before;
*Learning to French braid on a big Barbie head;
*Bursting into Pizza Hut with my gregarious family of seven and feeling all eyes on us and we pulled together tables and took the place by storm;
*Feeling my mom’s hands wake me up before school; hearing her ask if I wanted French toast or scrambled eggs for breakfast; knowing this meant I was loved.
If you haven’t already, I challenge you to dig into your childhood, connect the dots between now and then. Are your best memories arbitrary like mine? Would your parents have any recollection of them?
It is amazing what kids teach us. I’d known all my life about the magic of the circus, Disneyworld, Disney on Ice, but it wasn’t until a five-year-old pointed it out that I realized magic is just as likely to exist in chocolate and strawberries.
Kari Kubiszyn Kampakis is a Mtn. Brook mom of four with a background in PR, writing and photography. You may contact her at email@example.com.