Thursday, September 19, 2013

Raw edges

I've been wondering a lot lately.

Does writing a blog like this mean that I'm pretending things in my life are polished nicely or finished, somehow?

I hope not. I don't think it has to be that way, not necessarily...I know I have let you all in on some piles of dirty laundry and lapses in parenting and less-than-perfect celebrations here. Our life is just our life. It's not particularly polished, but our philosophy has always been to just invite the people that matter to join us in the middle of it, even if it's not tidy.

Does writing a blog like this mean that I am tempted not to write when things seem very open-ended, unresolved and unraveled around the edges? 

Probably. Most stories are better with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I'm in the middle of living this life, but I'm also curating it. If I'm being honest with myself (and with you), when I feel like things are especially unfinished, I'm likely to save those stories for a time when they are better developed.

So why haven't I been writing lately?

I've been busy. Reading. Running. Printing out sets of animal sorting cards for SuperSam to classify and laminating them with clear contact paper. Looking for new ways to cook lentils. Listening to the Twinkle Variations on repeat with my aspiring violinist. Playing with math manipulatives. Helping The Sisters take off and put on their baby dolls' clothes over and over again. Making rosaries.

The thing is, I'm always busy. I started this blog when my twins were not yet four months old. It's not as if I have ever had uninterrupted time to write here.

I think the real reason I haven't been writing is because writing is naturally reflective. It holds a mirror up in front of my life, showing me just what I look like there in the middle of it...and right now, it's a mess.

When any family has its first Kindergartner, there is always a transition, a shift in intention. I'm not sure why I expected it would be any different for our family. Homeschooling has required a shift in my attention. We are in transition, all of us, as we work out what it means for our family to do school at home and in our community instead of in a school building. We don't know what it looks like yet. It's a new creation, something we're birthing...and just as in birth, there's a period of transition as we try to figure out how to make it work.

Transition. Great new things coming, but not without some pain. Also piles of laundry and a chronically unswept floor.

Any time I find myself at one of these crossroads where something entirely new is taking shape out of the previously comfortable things that came before, I'm discontent, restless, and irritable. Transition forces me to confront the less-than-perfect parts of my life. The raw seams. The unfinished, in-process, frustrating, keep-behind-closed-doors things that I'm not ready for anyone to see yet.

And I have been writing. A little. Scrawling, really- little ideas and phrases that leak out of my brain and onto the pages of a tiny blue notebook, one which I can safely shut and fasten with an elastic band for extra security, making sure those thoughts won't escape to see the light of day until I'm ready to deal with them. 

I can't see them in there, and neither can you.

And until today, I thought that was for the best.

But see, I've told you now. Now you know about the notebook and the thoughts and the mess. Now you know that I've been grumpy and tired and frustrated. Now you can imagine a whole bunch of other things I haven't told you, like how my kitchen looks with dishes stacked up on the counter and how we ran out of milk more than a day ago and how SuperSam rewore his soccer shirt this week without it having been washed and how I forgot to pay the water bill. Because that's how it is sometimes.

I hope you know what I'm talking about.

Maybe you don't know. Maybe you can't relate to the feeling that you are too close to the edge of spinning out of control and dropping not just the laundry but every single important thing you're responsible for holding. Maybe you haven't ever laid in bed in the morning and wished you could fast forward to the end of the day and fall asleep again because you were just that tired. Maybe you haven't felt like avoiding phone calls and social encounters because you weren't sure you had the energy to appear pulled together when you felt just the opposite. 

But maybe you have. Maybe you do know how it feels to be in a less-than-composed place. Maybe you're even there now.

If you are, you're not alone. I hold up my mess to you as evidence of your not-aloneness. I'm smack in the middle of it, but it won't last forever. I'm going to work my way through and come out stronger for it.

I know you will, too.

And while blogging is a pretty public way to work my stuff out, maybe it's not the kind of public where I must have every thought perfectly pinned down before I share it. Maybe I don't have to smooth out every rough spot before I let you in on the process.

This blog is about practice, after all.

It's about gratitude and struggle and family and faith and community and survival, yes- all those things- but mostly about practice. Process. How we're all working out our salvation with fear and trembling.

So with more than a little fear and trembling, I'm letting you in on the mess. I don't have a way to connect all the dots yet. I don't know what the meaning of it all is, and I can't see the bigger picture, but I know there is one. All will be well. It will, truly, even if it isn't yet, even if today I can't see a way forward.

You can expect to hear from me a bit more regularly in the near future. I can't promise it will be polished or insightful or inspiring, but I can promise it will be honest. And polished or not, it is always a privilege and a blessing to be able to share my thoughts with you.

Thanks for keeping me company on the journey.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thoughts on hand-me-downs and the passing of time

This weekend, my twin girls will be two years old. Not two years old adjusted for their arrival date, which was about three and a half weeks early, but two years old...with all the glories and frustrations that come along with that milestone.

They talk in sentences now, copying each other, trying to outdo each other with their words just as they do with their climbing, their swinging, their jumping. They try to be the first to make their brother laugh. They fight with teeth and nails over the dinosaur plate at dinner and the whale bib at snack time. Identical toys don't pacify them- they both want the same one at the same time. Tears and screams and pushes and shoves dominate our days.

A few weeks from now, their big brother will turn five. Five years old...a big kid. He's no toddler any more. He's the one refereeing his sisters, setting the timer on the microwave to help them with their disputes over toys. He reads to them and pours his own milk from a small glass pitcher. He washes his hands now without being told.

This is the part where I'm supposed to say that it's going by so fast, that I can't believe they are this old, that I don't know how it happened so quickly...but I'm not going to say that.

I don't think it is going by fast.

It seems to be taking exactly the right amount of time.

Some days are longer than others, of course, but I always knew I'd be the kind of parent who would have more and more fun as the days and months and years went on. I enjoyed my children as babies, but they just get more interesting as they grow. They can play games. They can make jokes. They can sing and request songs they like (over and over and over again). They can say, "I love you, Mama." They can express empathy to each other and help unload the dishwasher. They can sit unsupported in the bathtub.

SuperSam, in particular, is amazing to me. He dresses himself and reads his own books and leads his sisters in long games of pretending they are baby otters trying to save the universe from flying crocodiles. He thinks critically about things and asks big questions, some of which I defer to his dad with his degree in philosophy. He's fascinating and sometimes maddening.

It's getting better all the time.

No, it doesn't seem to me that I blinked and suddenly they were nearly two and nearly five. It seems to me that we laid the bricks of the path that brought us here paintstakingly, one by one, bending low over our work, making our way an inch at a time until our backs ached and our fingers were raw from scraping over the rough parts. Parenting little kids is difficult, messy work. When people tell me it flies by or that I should appreciate every single blessed little moment, I think they've forgotten what it really feels like. 

What it feels like is a long, slow, uphill climb, where you only get tiny glimpses of the summit every now and then. Most of the time, I feel like we can't see the mountain for the trees.

I can, however, see the mountain of hand-me-downs, because it is always in front of me.

We are one of the younger families in our circle, so we are at the end of the hand-me-down line. I've been so grateful for the big bags of clothing that show up periodically, things I sort through and repair and put into bins for the future. We stack them in the shed out back: Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015...and then the ones I can barely imagine them wearing, put away in the bins marked Big Kid Clothes and Shoes to be saved for some far-off time.

When I look at the stacks of clothes SuperSam will wear next year, the year after, even the one after that...the size 7 jeans and size 8-10 coat and size 9 bathing suits, I can't believe he will ever be that big. The pant legs are so long...the arms that will fill those sleeves seem double his current wingspan. How will his feet ever take up enough space to occupy those shoes?

This has always been true for me, even back at the very beginning, with the piles of brand new, tags-still-on baby clothes that I lovingly stacked in empty drawers as we waited for Sam's arrival. Even the newborn sizes seemed hard to imagine on an actual baby (was he really going to be that big just after birth?), and when I held up the 6 month or 12-18 month sleepers, I couldn't comprehend how he'd ever be large enough to wear them.

When I sort his outgrown things to pass them down, it's different. I don't feel especially awed at how big he is now or at how much he's grown. Somehow, he still seems to be the size he once was. I hold up onesies, little footed jammies, tiny socks, and I clearly remember his squishiness, his scrunched up face laughing, the way he fit perfectly into the curve of my left arm when I balanced him on my hip. He was mine then- I knew him. I pressed my nose into the side of his cheek and made a buzzing sound that always made him giggle. 

He has always been the right size, in the right time.

Now, he somehow seems to be all of his former sizes at once.

The side of his cheek still feels the same against my nose. The top of his leg is still the most reliably ticklish place on his whole body, and squeezing it still sends him into fits of giggles and squeals, just as it always has. Yellow is still his favorite color, and he still always chooses the most wildly patterned socks available.

But he's even more himself now than he has ever been. He accompanies his perpetual ping-pong-ball motion with beatbox-style drumbeats as he bounces through life. He notices every detail of everything, yet forgets to answer when we ask him a question if he's lost in thought about something else. He always, always has a book (or three) in his bed or in his car seat. He loves puns, outer space, dinosaurs, undersea creatures, math and science and music and poetry and knowledge for its own sake. He's endlessly curious, exhilarating and exhausting.

I know him still, even better than I did back when he was a squishable gigglebox in a onesie...and the best part is that there is always more to know. With every year that passes, he's more complex, more fascinating, and more infuriating.

It's not going too fast. It is unfolding at precisely the rate it is meant to unfold, and I'm along for the ride.

I'm just running out of room to keep the clothes. And it is hard to get rid of them, because they still seem to be his things. They fit a version of him that's been swallowed up inside the increasingly long-legged, soccer-playing, violin-toting, pencil-chewing almost five-year-old. Every previous version of him is still in there someplace.

So as I sort the big clothes for Future SuperSam, I'm hanging onto a few of his smaller things. Maybe I'm not big on the overly sentimental practice of talking about how fast time is flying by, but looking at the tiny overalls he once wore does bring a certain amount of perspective...and that's almost always a good thing.