Monday, October 5, 2015

31 Days, Day 5: Home.


What it isn’t: always neat and tidy, no matter how much I wish it were. Not always quiet, either, or ever, really, except occasionally between the hours of 11pm and 5:30 am.

What it is: the center of everything these days.

Before we became homeschoolers, I couldn’t have fully appreciated what the decision to educate a child at home does to a home. With that decision, home becomes more than just his soft place to fall or his jumping-off point. It’s more than a base for exploration or a place to sleep. It’s his classroom, sometimes. It’s his lunchroom and his playground and his quiet space for reflection. It’s his library and his project space and his place to goof around and be as silly as possible. It’s the scene for tickle fights and spelling tests, for bubble baths and science experiments (sometimes at the same time). It’s the place for brownie baking and novel reading, Shakespeare memorizing and poetry reading, Lego building and aqueduct modeling. There is something going on all the time here.

It's kind of a mess, really, because when curiosity and discovery bubble up on their own, they don't often do it in an orderly fashion.

There are piles and piles and piles of books, too…and the UPS guy is on a first-name basis with us, because he’s always bringing more of them.

It is terribly tempting to try to control all this action- to funnel activities into certain periods. Now it is school time. Now it isn’t anymore. Time to play. Time to work. And while everything has its time, there is so much overlap here between school and life that I can’t tell where one stops and one begins. Some days, the distinctions feel forced and artificial. It’s not how I expected it would be at all. It’s not school at home. It’s just home, where we live and move and have our learning, too- at the kitchen table, in the backyard, in the bathtub, and everywhere in between…and I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I have to remind myself almost every day to unclench my hands and just let it happen.

Find the rest of my 31 days of Five-Minute Free Writes here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

31 Days, day 4: Embrace.

When I look back on this time in my life, one thing I will remember is the endless piles of clothes.

There's laundry, of course- there's always laundry, and I expected that. A person doesn't have four children without a fair amount of washing, drying and folding to do. What I didn't expect was the constant wardrobe changing. The twins each change clothes multiple times a day. Between sensory issues ("My sleeve is wet! I can't stand it! I have to chaaaaaange!") and the routine dramatization of fairy tales, Egyptian and Greek myths, and Star Wars ("I'm Princess Leia! Now I'm Cleopatra's mummy! Now I'm Terpsichore!"), there are a lot of shirts, pants, socks, skirts, dresses, togas, capes, and crowns being constantly taken on and off around here.

This past week, I did what I've come to call the hand-me-down shuffle...that intensive operation of moving the giant Rubbermaid bins in from the shed to go through all the clothes for the coming season while removing all the past season's clothes from the closets. Everything has to be tried on. Everything has to be washed. Things are sorted into piles- Will Happily Wear, Doesn't Want to Wear (but will have to wear anyway), Will Never Wear (even under pain of death). We stuff things into bags to donate and put clothes for younger siblings to grow into back into those big gray bins. We haul the bins back out to the shed. It feels endless and exhausting and like the whole world is temporarily turned upside down. I quietly grumble and roll my eyes about it. I repeatedly pull children out of the bins and prevent them from putting the lid on the bin with the baby inside ("Can't you see that picture on the lid? It clearly says not to put the lid on the box while a baby is in there!") and wish it were all over sooner.

As I finished putting away the last load of newly washed/dried/folded new (to us) fall clothes from the shed this weekend, I wondered what would happen if I just embraced this season? This process can be a pain in the neck, to be sure. When I think about the girls' excitement at pulling out the piles of tights, skirts, sweaters, and leggings from those bins, though, how they jump up and down and even fight over the clothes they discover, it brings a smile to my face. I'm sure a time will come where they'll be less thrilled about this hand-me-down process than I am.

Maybe instead of internally complaining, I should allow myself to catch some of their infectious enthusiasm...and maybe I will. (Next spring.) For now, I'm putting my feet up and taking a well-earned break from the clothing shuffle.

Find the rest of my 31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes here.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

31 Days, day 3: Capture.

I’m watching him splash with delight, smacking the water so hard that it sprays up and out of the tub, soaking my jeans. He chortles, studies my face to see if I’m going to tell him to stop.

I don’t.

Eyes bright, he seizes his yellow rubber duck and kisses it with gusto. “Mmmmmm-WAH!” he pronounces, smacking it down again so that the water sprays everywhere. More giggles.

As our fourth child, he has probably had fewer baths than any of his siblings by this point, but I’ve savored every single one. He is smaller than usual, all alone in the center of the big bathtub, wearing a washcloth as a hat as he sails a little plastic boat under the tap to see it quickly sink and bob up again as it passes under the spray. He raises his eyebrows at the boat, then holds it up triumphantly to the cheers of his small audience of siblings, all crowded into the bathroom to watch him.

“He’s the cutest baby in the entire universe,” my oldest says, and he means it.

One day, it won’t be like this, but today, it is…and while I can never seem to remember to take any video of this child, I can capture this image, right now, in my mind.

Find the rest of my 31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes here


Friday, October 2, 2015

31 days, Day 2: Family {five-minute Friday}

The house (the one her father built for her) isn’t tiny, but when everyone gets there and piles coats on the bed in the playroom, it’s full to bursting. There are eight pies on the sideboard in the dining room, and the table groans under the weight of all the food. One year, it even collapsed, spilling china from occupied Japan and an entire turkey onto the braided rug below.

She sat in her chair and laughed and laughed until tears ran from her eyes.
She’s always at the center of the laughter.

“I was an only child, and now look!” she loves to say, gesturing around the little house at her four children, their spouses, the fourteen grandchildren and their spouses and now their children, playing on the floor with the same toys their parents always used when they visited. When I look at my cousins’ children, they look like they belong to my tribe. Those Cecil genes are strong, people say. Sometimes my son looks like my cousin to me.

I’m the oldest of my cousins, and I learned my little kid skills from babysitting these people, now adults, who sit around the room with slices of pie and cups of coffee, chatting about medical school and theology and philosophies of education and parenting. We don’t play hide and seek in the backyard any more, counting to 60 at the giant sycamore tree before running off to find each other.

Instead, we sit together a few times a year and rediscover all we have in common. We join hands in a large circle that lines the walls- tall and short, old and young, babies in arms and on the floor. These people have known me my entire life, and I have known many of them since before they were born.

We thank God for the food and for each other.

Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Maybe this is close as we will get this side of heaven.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

31 Days, Day 1: Calling.

Sam is still outside.

I stand at the back door, blocking the opening with one leg to keep the baby from crawling out, and yell again into the drizzle.

He’s not coming in.

I call again, louder, knowing he’s probably hiding under the swing set and pretending not to hear me despite the five minute warning I gave him ten minutes ago. Even lunch doesn’t motivate him when he’s in the middle of something. It’s cold and wet out there, the baby is cranky, and I don’t feel like finding my own shoes to go drag a protesting seven-year-old inside against his will.

I wonder sometimes if this is just how calling is…if my own calling might be standing at some imaginary back door, figuratively hollering at me and waiting for me to come to my senses and go to it. I call myself a writer, but I only write on the margins, in the places where I can squeeze words in the way I shove the chopsticks into the silverware drawer on either side of the silverware holder, because there’s no room for them where we keep the everyday stuff, the knives and forks and spoons of our lives.

Will it always be this way?

I’m not sure, but I admit that I get uncomfortable thinking about not writing, thinking about ignoring the calling and going off to do something else. Whether it ever turns into something I do more often almost doesn’t matter. If I don’t do it now when I can, my head will explode.

So, as a way to test that out, and because I need a jump start back into writing in this space, I’m connecting with the other brave, crazy people who have pledged to write every day for the month of October. All the posts will be here on this page. And because I need every spare minute right now, I’m following the prompts over on Kate’s blog, Heading Home (the same place where you can find Five-Minute Friday every week).

Here’s to callings and following them, even if we have to squeeze them into the tiny spaces on the sides.

See you tomorrow.

Find the rest of my 31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes here


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Telling God "yes" when you really mean "no"

I bet you've been there before. Maybe you're there now...staring down some big thing that's being asked of you, feeling a gentle nudge in your spirit to step forward into something scary and unknown.

Or maybe God doesn't do nudges with you. Maybe God repeatedly hits you over the head with things until you agree to them.

Either way, have you been in that place where you stand in front of the thing you don't want to do, and you take a deep breath, and you fully intend to say "no, God, not this time..." but "yes" comes out instead?

Or have you gathered all of your courage up and faced the thing you want most to avoid, squared your shoulders, opened your mouth, and all you could manage was a tiny, squeaky "ok, I'll try" ?

The thing is? There's grace for those kinds of yesses, too. Not all of us are going to break into song after we get some angelic message notifying us of what's ahead. Not all of us are going to confidently reply, "Let it be done to me according to your word."

But God knows that.

God can work through the shakiest yes. Even a tiny, hesitant whispered yes is enough for Him. He can take it and run with it and work mighty things through it. Through you. Because when you say "yes," no matter how small a yes it is, you become His partner- His co-creator. You become part of the way God is working in the world.

We don't have any guarantee that Mary's voice was strong and clear as she gave her assent to the angel. Maybe her voice quavered. Maybe her knees shook. Maybe her hands felt sweaty or her head light. We don't know how much she had to set aside to tell God yes. What we do know is that she did it.

And that's what it comes down to. It isn't about how we feel. We're human, and we are not perfectly in tune with the will of God every day. But God knows that! Who knows it better than God? He created us, we let Him down, and He still gives us chances to be part of His story. He still welcomes our participation in showering love on the world. He still wants us to be in this with him.

All we need to say is "yes."
Even if our voices shake.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why I love the...(on writing, interrupted)

If I could only finish a sentence.

Sometimes, I think my thoughts don't come out in linear ways anymore. It feels like maybe there isn't a coherent thought (that begins with a beginning and has a middle and an end) in my head at all. Has having young children around all day given me a form of conversational ADHD? Is writing with dashes all over the place just part of having little folks interrupting me constantly?

Maybe I can't even think from point A to point B without interrupting myself.

I read recently that writers should never interrupt their own thoughts. Good writing starts, progresses, and finishes. It doesn't interject with other ideas in the middle of ideas already in progress.

I know I have a bad habit of interrupting myself. I wonder sometimes if I interrupt myself to avoid having others interrupt me. The worst feeling in the world is being talked over, and it happens to me a lot. I can't finish a sentence without someone asking for more water or to be wiped or to have her ponytail tightened or her velcro on her knight costume adjusted or to have the duct tape torn into smaller strips.

Maybe this is at the root of my love affair with the ellipsis.

I use it liberally, I know. I don't always end my sentences...sometimes I just leave them hanging while I talk about something else for a minute. It's not clean and tidy, but neither is my brain. Its inner chambers are littered with bits of colored paper and pencil shavings and paper doll shoes and Legos. Getting from here to there without an interruption isn't happening very often, so maybe I choose to embrace it? Maybe stream-of-consciousness is just my thing these days.

There's some freedom in accepting that where we are is where we are. There's joy in deciding to embrace what's before us. Maybe this extends to punctuation, too- deciding to go with the flow and use dashes and ellipses with joyful abandon might signify that I'm coming to a peaceful place with my vocation and how it looks right now.

Interruptions abound. Maybe it's okay that my punctuating reflects that.