Thursday, December 17, 2015

Theme Thursday: Advent, Week 3

This long blogging silence has been brought to you by copious list-making, cookie baking, crafting, reading, sewing, decorating and laundering. I've been really productive, just not in publishable ways. More on that some other time.

Today, I had the gift of time to spend a few minutes wrapping gifts with Nora. Of all my children, she's the most likely to be a successful present wrapper. I've been waiting for a moment when the other two big kids were busy and the littler one was sleeping, and today, I got it.

We knelt together on the kitchen floor. I showed her how to measure the paper, tape the box, fold and crease the ends neatly, just the way my Gram and my mother taught me. By the time we got to the second gift, she was flying solo except for the cutting. I was so proud- she measured, she trimmed, she folded and creased like a pro. Her tongue stuck out of the corner of her mouth just like mine does when I'm concentrating. Her cheeks flushed pink as she chose just the right bow and tag for each gift. Her enjoyment was all over her face.

On the fifth package, Nora cut before she was ready, and the paper was a bit too short. We turned it both ways and couldn't quite make it fit. Dismayed, she bit her nails, wondering what I would say about the waste of paper.

I hate that she has reason to wonder if I'll be upset about something like that.

I've always loved wrapping gifts, partly because it rewards perfectionism. My sister and I used to do all of them for Gram at family birthdays and Christmas. That feels so long ago- those hours we shared in Gram's back bedroom, piles of boxes and tape and rolls of paper scattered around the room, giggling as we worked together, setting up "assembly lines," feeling important to be the guardians of Big Important Secrets until Christmas Day.

Sharing this time with my daughter today was more than just a sweet reminder of days past. It felt like the handing on of a shared knowledge from generation to generation. "It's worth doing it right," Gram used to tell me as she held the end closed for me to place the tape. "Measure twice, cut once."

It is worth doing things right, but people's feelings are always more important than perfect packages. Because of Gram, I know just how to line up the paper to camouflage a seam if I forget her advice and cut before I've measured carefully enough.

Now Nora knows, too. As we piled the packages under the tree, she smoothed out some bows and breathed, "They look almost wonderful."

Squeezing her with both arms, I told her they were my favorite packages ever...and I meant it.

Linking up with Micaela at California to Korea for Advent, Week 3.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent: Unready.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
            Luke 1:78-79, NRSV

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

I woke up this morning to a sky streaked red and gold from the top to the bottom corners of my bedroom window, and I felt it…a dreadful, heavy sense of not being ready.

I’m not ready.

And because Advent is the new Christmas, the internet wants me to be ready. All my favorite bloggers have been discussing their Advent plans and what books they are reading and what prayers they are using and what crafts they are doing with their kids. There are recipes and book studies and so many wonderful options I can choose to make this our holiest Advent yet.

I could have already hurried up and finished my shopping, my Christmas cards, even have already made and frozen my cookies ahead of time. Today, I could have everything planned and packaged and ready to go so that I could just sit back and wait for the real miracle, the One who is the reason behind all the preparations, the baby Jesus, whose birth is still a month away.

But I haven’t. I haven’t done any of that yet.

All day today, as I continue the slow clean up and take down of our fall and Thanksgiving decorations, I keep telling myself I have a whole month to get ready for Christmas. That’s what Advent is for, right?

But getting ready for Advent? That’s another story. And for who I am, for the person God made me to be, feeling unready and unprepared and not-entirely-on-top-of-it doesn’t feel good. I’m crabby. I don’t handle my own unpreparedness with grace.

On some level, yes, we are ready. I know where the wreath is that we used last year, and I even ordered a box of appropriately-colored candles ahead of time. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I knew I’d be ready for a break after that was over (and not ready to launch into a new season of checklists and planning just yet).

Thanksgiving was wonderful. The food was delicious. The company was dear. The post-dinner football game was the first one of its kind ever played in our yard, and everyone had a great time tackling and laughing and enjoying one another. I loved our flowers and the candles and the place cards. It was a beautiful day. And it was fulfilling for me in my checklist-loving, INFJ way- I planned, I executed, and I enjoyed.

But I’m not ready for Advent.

Maybe for some of us, maybe for me, the call to living in rhythm with the Church’s seasons is not about being ready at all. Maybe it’s about being shaped and formed, gradually, into the image of Christ…the image of the One whose Light is coming into the world, the kind of Light we need so much more than all the most beautiful strings of twinkling ones we can imagine.

Maybe Advent is not about having everything prepared ahead of time so I can focus on being holy. Maybe Advent is a gift of days, of time given to focus on how un-ready and unholy we all are, perpetually, and how much in need of grace and Light and a salvation that can never be earned but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast. Whether I am actually boasting about my salvation or just about my exquisitely decorated front door doesn’t matter. It’s shifting the focus in my heart from the One on whom it should be focused.

It’s a good dose of humility for me to realize that I’m not the most prepared, most organized person this year.

My kids are ready to jump into Christmas, to put up our tree and start listening to Christmas music. And I’m not. I’m not expectant, hopeful, or filled with joy. Instead, I’m struggling this year. I miss my Gramp, and I know my Gram won’t be putting up her tree this year, that their house will be vacant, that she’ll be entirely unaware of Christmas at all except when we show up and tell her. I’m brokenhearted because people continue to be killed every day around the world, in bombings and shootings and accidents, and I feel powerless to help. I’m incredulous because people mustered all the moral outrage to freak out about corporate coffee cups but can’t find any compassion for poor ones wandering the earth without a country or a home or a place to lay their heads. I’m weary and worn and sad because our world needs something very powerful to save it. 

Unfortunately, twinkling lights and festive cocktail recipes are not going to improve our situation.

This, this is the world into which Christ came to save us.
We don’t need that grace any less today than we did then.
And that’s what Advent is for, actually.

So, I won’t apologize for the late start over here this year, nor for the much-needed silence while I worked this stuff out in my brain. I’m just going to start Advent on Sunday. And I’m going to use Advent to get ready for Christmas.

Tomorrow, gather up in the dark. Notice how early it comes, how it fills the corners of the room, how it coats everything quietly. Sit there a while. Then, light a candle in the dark. Push it back a little if you can with your tiny ring of light. Sit some more around the light and feel how much we need Christ. And then wait for Him to show up.

Come, Emmanuel. We’re not ready, but we’re waiting.

Ready or not, Advent is here, and I’m going to be posting photo prompts on Instagram again for #HolyLens this year. I’d love it if you joined us. The little community of intrepid photographers seeking the sacred in the everyday as we prepare for Christ’s coming has been such a blessing to me each year. Look for the prompts posted here on the blog on Saturdays during Advent, and join us on Instagram and Facebook. We’re excited to be sharing prompts with the Blessed is She community this year using the hashtag #projectblessed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I'm aware of my lack of perspective.

For someone who processes things in writing, I know I've been awfully quiet lately. I've written lots of words, but none of them were polished enough to share. Most of my recent writing has been on a phone screen, tapped out with my thumb while rocking a nursing baby that is working on six new teeth at the same time. (One of the molars finally came in, so we're down to six now.)

I had the wonderful opportunity last weekend to attend the Wild + Free conference in Williamsburg, where rows of women poured life-giving words, hugs, and understanding into each other's hearts. Some of us were tired when we got there. All of us had our reasons for needing to be there, I know.

For me, it was the end of a couple of rough weeks of homeschooling and mothering and life in general. It has felt hard to recover after the loss of my grandfather last month...hard to come back and pick up our routine after being gone for almost two weeks, hard to motivate and encourage my kids when all I've really wanted to do is crawl back into bed, hard to choose joy when I've been overwhelmed with a sense of grouchy foreboding and a general sense that someone is standing on top of my chest.

When I arrived Friday night, the first person I saw was Sarah Mackenzie, who is one of my favorite bloggers and the force behind the amazing Read Aloud Revival. The words she shared were the kind of grace-filled truth that only comes from having done hard things. She talked about Jesus and the wedding at Cana, how He told the servants to fill the jars with water instead of just producing wine out of thin air. He did this, she said, because He always starts with what we have to offer. We are responsible for filling up the jars, but we aren't responsible for the miracle that results from faithfully doing what He asks of us. I listened to her words, and I wept as I realized anew that crazy contradiction of parenting: in the same way that I can never be enough to live up to the calling of mothering and educating my children, I am already enough.

After Sarah came The Hunts, a band of homeschooled brothers and sisters who played for us, lighting up the room with their songs and smiles. I watched them and wondered how chaotic life must have been at their home when they were all children. Now all grown up, they fill a stage and play their instruments together without any visible urges to hit each other with them. It's amazing to think this was achieved through the work of their parents and the passing of time.

Both The Hunts and Sarah got me thinking about perspective, something I generally lack. I tend to get hung up on little things, blowing them out of proportion and spiraling down until I am predicting the end of the world before lunch. As doomsday prophets go, I'm pretty boring- mostly staying in the territory of messy rooms and lost socks- but my general lack of perspective about relatively unimportant things makes me less than fun to be around sometimes.

There are all these little blog posts and articles floating around lecturing us about how we are supposed to have perspective, how we should be treasuring every moment with our little kids because before we know it, they'll grow up and be gone and we'll wish more than anything that we could step on some Legos or clean up some vomit the way we do now.

I refuse to feel guilty about my lack of perspective.

It is totally okay that I don't have the long range view here. I am so stuck in the middle of it all that I cannot. Perspective is one of those hard-earned, long-fought things. You don't get wise by rising above. You get wise by slogging through the hard stuff, the worst parts- the knock-down, drag-out sibling fights and what feels like endless waking hours and crying jags that last days.

You get it by surviving (which is exactly what we are doing, by the way).

So regardless of what the internet says, I'm going to keep on keeping on. I'll try to smile. I'll try to enjoy the moment. But if there's poop involved, or if someone falls on her face and knocks out her tooth and bleeds all over her dress and I feel grumpy about it, I'm going to be okay with that, too.

I know I don't have perspective this week, but I decided to write anyway. What I didn't do was think of asking Sarah Mackenzie to take a picture with me. You'll have to take my word for it- meeting her was a real treat, but in my typical INFJ way, I fumbled through the small talk and thought of all the things I really wanted to say to her after she had already left.

Do you do that? I love to talk to people, but chit chat is just not my thing...and there isn't often time for big, thoughtful conversations when you're meeting someone for the first time (especially at a conference). I think it would work better if when I met someone new, I just pretended it was our third meeting instead of our first.

Would that be weird?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Surviving our first lost tooth {#ThemeThursday}

Well, she survived.

I survived.

My little girl is down one tooth, but after the anesthesia wore off, she gradually eased back to her spunky, indomitable self. She even put her princess dress on again.

Her dad says she did a brilliant job at the dentist today, aided by some "silly juice" to help calm her. I was really anxious about the anesthesia, but she did great, and she's fine.

Micaela at California to Korea has resurrected Theme Thursday. For today's theme, "Portrait," I asked Lucy if she'd be my subject with her new, gap-toothed smile.

Sam, ever the helpful older brother, asked if the theme was "Jack O'Lantern."

This was her response.

Fortunately, I did get treated to her new smile after you can see it, too.

Thanks for praying us through this morning. All's well that ends well. I'd say we are going to be more careful in the future, but I honestly don't know how we could have avoided this one!

What's the going rate for the tooth fairy? I think I got a quarter per tooth, but it seems like the rate might have gone up since then. Lucy has already informed me that she knows the Tooth Fairy is not real, but she'd like a visit from her, anyway.

Friday, November 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Halloween, The Art Department, and the Quotable Nora Edition

In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the final dressing up choices of everyone this Halloween, here is the official Halloween photo dump:

Felix as Bacchus, the Roman god who knows how to party

Lucy as A Princess, But Not A Disney One

Sam as Scipio Africanus: "Carthago Delenda Est!"

Nora as Laura Ingalls (without braids)

Obligatory Group Photo

I've been overcoming my inborn fear of art-related mess for years now, but finger paint still gives me pause. It seems like just asking for trouble. This week, when the girls asked to finger paint, I took a deep breath and said "yes." Here are the results:

"Felix thinks it's a bird, but it is NOT." by Lucy, age 4
"It's a dragon. But it doesn't eat people." by Nora, age 4

They moved on quickly to watercolor. Turns out part of the allure of finger paint is that mama usually tries to talk them out of it.

Also art-related: Nora drew a real face! With eyes and everything! It was a first.

She's been drawing people's bodies with arms, legs and torsos for quite a while now, but their heads never had faces. I'm not used to that progression- most kids I know do the big heads with smiles and then start adding arms and legs coming directly out of the heads. Nora is on her own track, art-wise, as she is with most other things.

Speaking of Nora, she's been so quotable lately that I often find myself turning my head so she won't catch me laughing. It's worse when George is here- I have to tell myself not to look at him because I know we'll both dissolve into laughter, which would definitely hurt Nora's feelings. She's a serious girl, that one, and she does not mean to be so funny.

This morning, she turned up at my side in her Laura Ingalls costume (her uniform since the middle of last week). I greeted her with a little hug and she tossed her baby doll onto the counter, saying casually, "Well, I've got my kids today. My wife's a ninja, but she doesn't stay here."

Then, over her cheesy grits at breakfast, she announced, "Hey, I guess you're in charge, Mama, 'cuz Pater Noster's at work."

I die. I just hope it doesn't show on my face. (I know. I know it does. I can't help it.)

My first-ever retraction...I've written lots of contractions, some against the better advice of my inner English teacher, Ms. Raines, who always stands inside my head and dispenses advice in her red Reebok hightops. She's never wrong, and yet I persist in my wayward writing ways. Contractions are friendly space savers. I like them.

As far as retractions, though, I haven't had to write one before (that I remember). This is a first.
I must tell you that my reporting of the Time Change-Induced Behavior Episode Involving K'nex and a Certain Boys' Bedroom Ceiling was apparently inaccurate. The child in question did not actually put holes in the ceiling. He removed all the sticky putty from the backs of his posters, smooshed it onto the ceiling in tiny bits, and used it to suspend said K'nex pieces so that they looked like they had been poked into the if some crazy multi-colored porcupine had moved into the attic and fallen asleep with his poky side down.

Let the record stand corrected.

Because some children are harder to live with than others (ahem), there's this amazing reflection by Susan Barico on her blog. You should read it. If not now, later. Say you will- then we can talk about it, okay? I have lots of thoughts.

I have the self-imposed deadline of Martinmas (November 11) in my head as the time by which closets should be ready for fall. That's partially because of Molly at Molly Makes Do (who gives hand-knit things to her family for Martinmas gifts) and partially because of something Kendra at Catholic All Year wrote about extra coats and St. Basil. Basically, it comes down to this- some people don't have enough. We almost always have more than enough. We especially have more than enough size 3T snow pants- they seem to have been procreating in our closet since last winter. It's time to pass some things on.

In my cleaning out, I noticed that my favorite long red coat has once again been a snack for a new crop of carpet beetles. I am beyond sad about this. Those guys were in that closet when we moved into the house, and I've eradicated them four times. They just keep coming back.

I hate carpet beetles. I don't know why God created them. I do not wish for them to be the recipients of our Martinmas sharing of coats. Any ideas?

To wrap things up, here's a picture of the most amazing Friday afternoon surprise from the most amazing mother-in-law I've ever had. Sandra, you really put a big smile on my face!

It's been a pretty difficult week, but how can anyone be frowny with a basket like that on the table?

Happy weekending, all. Now you're all caught up.
For more Quick Takes, go visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's not you. It's the time change.

For the third day in a row, my daughter has come out of her room more than ten times during what is supposed to be "quiet rest time." I finally gave up and put the baby gate up in front of her door. She's sprawled out behind it on her floor, singing at the top of her lungs, "UBI CARITAAAAS EST VERAAAAAA...DEUS IBI EST!"

Despite her very noisy serenade, my smallest son is asleep right now. The others seem unable to get back to the place of quiet rest. I hear vocal explosions and projectiles hitting the wall from inside one room, and another voice is alternately telling herself a story about hunting Care Bears and yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LA" in time to the banging of her heels on the wall.

It is anything but quiet. And I'm not sure about "Ubi Caritas" - certainly not from me, not here, not today.

Yesterday, my oldest son spent his nap time boring small holes into his ceiling with parts from his K'nex set. We found them after dinner.

The oldest three crushed up chalk and made it into "paint" with old rainwater that had collected in our fire pit. When that wasn't enough, they supplemented with (unauthorized) water from the garden hose. They wiped their hands on the walls, the couch cushions and the bathroom rugs.

Sam stabbed Lucy in the eye with a stick because she wouldn't give him the shovel she was holding.

Nora bit Lucy in the back because they wanted the same dress-up costume.

Lucy pierced Nora's ear with a pencil because Nora wanted to use that color and Lucy didn't want her to have it.

This morning, while everyone was getting dressed for the library, Lucy lost her shirt. She had already taken off her pajama top, so she was wandering the house, yelling, "Where is my shirrrrrrt? Who took my shirrrrt? I lost my shirrrrrrt!" When we got her another shirt, she couldn't find her shoes. She couldn't find ANY of her shoes. We finally left ten minutes late for story time with Lucy wearing pink rain boots...on the wrong feet.

The levels of irritability, rudeness, hyperactivity and destructive behavior in this household right now are amazing. I've never seen the like. I spent yesterday near tears, wondering where I had gone wrong in my parenting, wondering what business I have homeschooling, wondering if I should do everyone a favor and put them in school or preschool or child care and go back to work, like maybe I don't have any right to be doing this stay at home parent thing if I can't even get them to do something simple, like wash their hands for lunch. I even googled "family counselors" in our area, thinking we were so dysfunctional that we probably needed professional help immediately to avoid a total breakdown.

Today, I asked my friend, "Do you ever think about just quitting?" And she said, "Well, yes, but not right now. You can't judge anything by this week. We just turned the clocks back, so everything is nuts."

I stared at her.

She proceeded to tell me stories from her own life this week, stories of offspring gone haywire just like mine, stories of tantrums and tears and "I hate yous" and sibling fights that made all my chaos and angst this week seem...well, normal.

Thumbs up. All the weirdness you are seeing is happening to everyone else, too.

She's had a terrible week so far.
I have, too.
Maybe you are in the middle of your own terrible week- are you?

If so, please know you are not the only one who feels like rolling this overly-full trash can to the curb and leaving it there. We're all in this together. I don't know why it helps me so much to hear that other people are struggling, but it does.

So in case you, too, are struggling, please know this: It's not that we have suddenly lost all ability to parent to our own standards. It's not that our children have suddenly forgotten everything we ever taught them about how to behave. It's not that we have completely failed at parenting and our children will turn out to be delinquent, angry human beings who burn down buildings and destroy things and hunt Care Bears for fun.

It's the time change!

Standing at the Prime Meridian. Feeling very balanced.
Time is elemental. It might also be totally made up, but it matters. You can't go messing about with clocks without expecting children's finely-tuned, sensitive systems to get a bit out of whack. What we're seeing this week? It's just fallout. It's timey-wimey. It's a side effect. It's to be expected.

Next year, we can even plan ahead for it, if we remember.

Take a deep breath. Everything will settle down again. You'll see. Our children will stop swinging from ceiling fans and crashing into walls when they walk down the hall to the bathroom. They'll go back to normal, and we'll stop holding our heads with both hands and leaning exhaustedly against the refrigerator and staring at them with our mouths hanging open in shock and making extra coffee at 4pm just to get through the evening.

It's going to be okay.

Until it is, please help yourself to the leftover Halloween candy, focus on surviving, and know that you're not alone.

Y'all hang in there. All will be well.

This has been a public service announcement for concerned parents everywhere.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 Days, day 27: Perhaps.

Mostly, the word "perhaps" just makes this song start playing in my head:

It will probably be there all day now.
Maybe you'd prefer it in Spanish? This one's really good:

You're welcome.

Now that we have a soundtrack, I have a thought.
Maybe the problem with me is not that I'm not good enough at managing my time, as I have suspected. I keep thinking if I can be more efficient, more streamlined, more productive, more...something...I'll be able to cram it all in. I'll somehow find myself with enough hours in the day and enough mental space to tackle all the things I want to do.

Today, though, I wonder if perhaps this is never going to be true.

Today, I think that if I found myself with an extra hour every day, I would fill it with something. I'd read another book or learn another language (I'm learning French on Duolingo, and it's great- if you're on there, I'd love to follow you!). I'd take up another instrument or start making rosaries fast enough to open an Etsy shop. I'd write that book that's been floating around in my head for three years now,  or polish up some articles and submit them to magazines. I'd mop the kitchen floor more often. I'd edit my photos and learn more about how to take my camera off auto and run more miles.

Perhaps the issue is not a lack of time. I have the same number of hours in my day as you do, as anyone does. Perhaps the issue is my expectations of myself- so high! always aim high! no, a little higher! Perhaps I just don't know how to sit still.

Or perhaps I'm afraid to sit still.
Being busy and productive is the hallmark of mental health, right? As long as I'm moving forward with pep and vigor, I'm not sliding backward into a mire of yucky feelings. I'm not giving anyone a reason to think I'm lazy- least of all myself.


Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days, day 26: Whisper

At what developmental age do children figure out how to whisper? Is there an age at which it suddenly dawns on them that they can control the volume of their voice? Do they subsequently start to exercise that control in response to parental requests to be quieter? (Maybe in church, for instance, during the consecration or the homily...maybe, for example, when announcing the need to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW?)

I'm parenting some sound-sensitive kids, people for whom automatically flushing toilets are the pinnacle of terror and electric hand dryers equivalent to torture. The high volume of organ music in some churches and of fireworks from five miles away has reduced them to tears. They cover their ears when we push the grocery cart across the parking lot to the car.

Everything is just so loud.

I understand that part. I'm sensitive to sounds, too.

What I don't understand is how people who are so sensitive to sound can create so much of it.

When everyone else is napping, one child has taken to singing at top volume into a toy microphone with an echo effect. We talked about it. I explained that she was being too loud and that it was disturbing the rest of us at quiet time. She responded, "I like the way it rattles my ear drums!"

Do these two things go together? Do kids who loathe loud noises also love to make as much noise as possible? Or are we dealing with an anomaly, here?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days, day 25: Crash.

It wasn't just a crash. It was kind of a crashspringinnginng tumble crash bam, followed by an awful silence.

The girls scampered down the hall to their room, barely needing to be told to clear the area, and your dad marched straight down the hall to your room, his jaw set.

The dulcimer lay still, face down after its tumble from the wall. My hand shook a little as I turned it over, but there was only a tiny chip missing from one side. The strings were all still attached, none of the pegs broken.

How hard does a boy have to slam a door to make a dulcimer fall from the wall in the next room? There's probably a way to calculate the necessary force, and maybe one day, you will do the math. Until then, I'll be holding my breath every time you stomp off to your room, waiting to see if this explosion will register high enough on the scale to knock things from the wall.

There's nothing quite like confronting my own shortcomings in my children. When I see you standing there, your anger rising until your hair stands on end, I can almost measure the electric air that roots you to the spot. I brace for the outburst (though sometimes I'm not sure if yours or mine will come first).

Mine shouldn't ever come. Not first. Not at all. I'm the grownup, after all. And I'm sorry you've received a double dose of the bubbly, lava-hot temper from me...there's definitely a genetic part there on my side of the family, but you've certainly seen it in action, too.

Tonight, the sound of a dulcimer crashing to the floor was the sound of generational sin in action, and it scared me. I've got to do a better job helping you get a handle on anger...but first, I need to figure out how to get a handle on it myself.

Lord, have mercy. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

31 Days, day 24: Silence.



I could have almost laughed out loud at this prompt, but since we've established that I carry my joy down deep instead of just below the surface where it can splash people, I didn't.

I did smile wryly.

Silence is hard to come by around here.

I stay up way too late sometimes, just because it's quiet...and because my kids have that ultra-radar hearing that enables them to wake up just before I do on mornings when I try to sneak out early.

Even at night, when everyone's asleep, we don't have silence. They're all light sleepers, so they sleep with white noise in their rooms. Even at its quietest, our house really does produce a low roar.

I'm not sure how to reconcile the lack of silence with my deep need for it. There are at least a handful of someones talking almost all the time here, and sometimes I want to just cover my ears and say, "Ssssssshhhh!"

I don't really want them to stop talking to me altogether. I know it's important for me to listen now to the little stuff (which isn't little at all, of course) so that they'll want to tell me things later, when there is Big Stuff to be discussed.

I know that. I want them to talk. I really do.

I just wish they would talk a little more quietly.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Joy (day 23/31)

I'm seven years old, and I've got joy like a fountain.

At least, I'm supposed's supposed to bubble up, making me light and bright and filled with giddy thoughts about how much Jesus loves me.

I should skip and feel the rays of sunshine on my face, and I should smile all the time and be filled with All.The.Joy! of my life in Christ, because that is how Christians are supposed to be.

The trouble is, I'm not like that. I try to be- I try so hard!- but when I ask my mother, "Am I lighthearted and lively, Mom?" she kind of puts her lips together in a funny way that might mean she's trying not to laugh at me and says, "Well, I think if you want to be lighthearted and lively, you could try to work on that."

It's bad when even your mom knows you don't have joy like a fountain, isn't it?

Maybe it's the early loss of my dad.
Maybe it's growing up in a family of funeral directors.
Maybe it's just that melancholic temperament of mine.

Whatever it is, I have accepted it.

I'm thirty-six, and I've got joy like a fountain.

I might not ever bubble over with the joy of my salvation, y'all. My joy might not ever spill over and splash passers-by. It might not ever light up my face and brighten the dark corners of my closets. I'm probably not going to open my kitchen window and burst into song and have bluebirds come light on my arms, either.

But that doesn't mean I don't have joy like a fountain.

Maybe my fountain is just a way down deep one, one that sits at the very core of who I am, running quietly below the surface. Maybe my joy is in the dark, hidden places inside me that run on calmly when the world up here is falling apart. Maybe my joy is the silent assurance that no matter how bad things look today, there is hope that they're going to get better.


For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to visit Kate at Heading Home.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

31 Days, Day 22: Value.

This is a confession, of sorts, where I tell you (out loud! in writing!) that I am guilty of valuing my to-do list over my people, the ones for whom I do all the things.

This is where I tell you that all too often, I am more concerned about how much I can get done and how many baskets of laundry I still have to fold than I am about how anyone else is feeling.

This is where I tell you that I came home from the funeral and spending time with family and dove headfirst back into school, my long-and-lengthening to-do list, all the things that happened while I was away, and all the things that didn't happen but should have.

I've said, "Sssh!" and "Just a minute, okay?" and "I'll be right with you," and "One moment, please!" and "Oh, for heaven's sake, can't you give me just a second to finish this?!" and "JUST GO OUTSIDE!!!" way too many times in the last few days.

Also, no one is sleeping.

These things together have made for a climate around here that is grumpy (at best) and toxic (at worst).

After my third consecutive night of seeing every hour on the clock while tending to one waking child or another (but usually just the one...I'm looking at you, Felix!), I've decided that today needs to be different.

It's a matter of survival...and survival is my responsibility. I'm the only one who can do something to fix this.

So, in the interest of surviving, today I am scrapping my list. I'm canceling our plans. I'm frying bacon in my pajamas, making extra coffee, and letting the kids do all the things I usually say "no" to when I'm trying to get something else done.

Today, I'm only going to do the fun stuff. We're probably using paper plates. They might stay in their jammies all day long.

I'm not going to get anything done.

It's still going to be a good day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

31 Days, Day 21: Wave.

The ladies at the grocery store and the old men at church do not like it when you withhold the wave.

It seems like such a simple thing, doesn't it? The lady waved at you. She said "bye-bye!" All you have to do is waggle your fingers at her, and it will make her day. Her weekend, even. It's so little to ask of you.

Although I can't explain it, I feel like you know this. You know that waving would make everyone happy. The lady would smile and say how cute you are. I would smile and feel pleased and proud, even though any baby can wave, even though it's not like you invented waving or have any special skill at it.

How is it that you've already figured out that the withheld wave has much more power than the one freely bestowed? You, in your not-yet-two years, have somehow discovered your power in this equation of supply and demand. You can make adults smile by waving, but you can make them beg and plead and cajole by not waving.

Some children are happy just to make the adults smile. But you- you seem like the kind of kid who would rather see how far people will go to get you to do what they want.

I'm not sure what to think about that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

31 Days, Day 20: Temporary.

Somehow, until now, we have avoided all those things that parents of highly energetic children must endure: stitches, concussions, ER visits, broken bones, crutches. Somehow, until now, we have escaped. Do our kids' guardian angels work overtime? Are our dead fathers (the grandfathers of our children) peering down and keeping watch over them?

I doubt it. Particularly the second one. If they are, then they fell down on the job on Tuesday, when the big, long-avoided emergency finally happened.

We were walking sedately down the street. George was holding Lucy's hand. We strolled along, almost lazily, in a post-funeral haze, talking quietly and admiring the lovely weather.

Suddenly, Lucy was screaming. Blood filled her mouth and ran down her chin. It took us a minute to realize that her sprawl onto the pavement had cut her lip and chipped her front tooth.

After the blood was wiped away and the tears had stopped, we called the dentist. The tooth is not only chipped, but cracked all the way up. The hygenist (whose 15 month old apparently sports a similarly injured tooth) simply said, "They won't do anything. It's a baby tooth."

A baby tooth. A baby tooth that I loved. A previously perfect, tiny, shiny white baby tooth, now with a missing corner and a crack running up the center. A previously lovely little tooth that will one day be replaced with a big-kid tooth. Until then, I will wince every single time I look at it, I think, and I'll wonder if the crack hasn't gotten just a little longer or wider. Should I give her that carrot stick? Oh, no, she's crunching ice again! 

I'm practically counting the days until she's old enough to lose that tooth, and it makes me sad. Her little Lucy smile will never be quite the same again.

When we finished the call with the dentist, Lucy raised a tear-stained face from the princess book she'd been reading. "You know, you're supposed to be keeping me safe," she lisped, then returned to her book.

It's Temporary. All of it- the perfect little baby teeth, the peace of a mid-afternoon stroll, and the illusion of security when we hold our children's hands.

Monday, October 19, 2015

31 Days, Day 19: Honor.

At the funeral home, someone murmured that she couldn't tell whose children were whose because they all looked so much alike, scrambling around on the floor after Matchbox cars and tin tea cups as the adults wiped their eyes and hugged one another. "Those Cecil genes are strong," I heard, more than once, as old family friends and acquaintances surveyed the second and third and fourth generation and tried to sort us out.

One man. Four children. Fourteen grandchildren. Thirteen great-grandchildren, with two more on the way and at least one in heaven already, waiting to greet him. I guess she'll have all his attention until the rest of us get there. Will he teach her to roller skate, the way he did me? Do people roller skate in heaven? The thought makes my mouth smile and my chest ache at the same time.

His life was a simple one, and he worried that it hadn't mattered much, always saying that my grandmother was the one we really loved. Surrounded by my uncles and cousins and sisters and nephews and nieces, though, I saw his mark everywhere. My cousins and I talked memories: bike rides, trips in his '65 Mustang convertible for ice cream, fishing trips and camping trips and lessons in carpentry. He taught us to clean fish, to whittle and whistle. He rode us on the handlebars of his bicycle. He always had a pocketful of chewing gum for us, slightly warm from being carried next to his body.

He might not have done big, important things with his life that would be noticed by most adults, but to his grandchildren, he was Number One Gramp, present in all the most important ways. When six of my cousins stepped forward to carry his casket as pallbearers, his legacy was unmistakable.

We honor him, each of us, just by being here to walk the earth after he is gone, just by carrying those Cecil genes forward into the future, just by being his family.

Rest in peace, John David Josiah Cecil. We'll always remember and miss you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What happened Wednesday? (writing, interrupted)

I didn't mean to drop off the face of the earth in the middle of a writing streak. I'll resist the temptation to make a joke about how this is the kind of thing that happens when I plan to write for 31 days in a row.

On Wednesday, I got a call from my mom that my grandpa, the dear, grumpy, lovable old grouch that has simply always been around, was dying. I had enough time to throw some clothes in a bag and some kids in the car and drive down to my hometown to see him before he was gone. I remembered all of the kids, but not all of the clothes.

He died on Saturday night. My mom, sister, and I were able to be there with some of our other close family. It was a peaceful, spirit-filled and holy moment.

It's been a whirlwind of visits with family, runs to Target and the grocery store for random items we forgot, nearly-daily playground adventures, and lots of coffee to make up for all the sleep I haven't been getting. I miss home and George. My kids are hanging in there pretty well, all things considered, but it's hard to be away from home and routine.

My brain is clogged with words, sentences and thoughts I haven't yet put into words, all tangling together and straining to get out. I have much to write but not much time to write it. My plan is to pick back up with the 31 days when we get back home, and I hope to write the posts I missed, too...but right now, I need to figure out how to entertain my kids at the visitation this evening and help my sister find the right camisole for the funeral. Oh, and we're going to the playground again.

Priorities, you know.

Thanks for yor prayers. I'll be back here with you again soon.

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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Doubt (and getting poem-ish for Pope Francis)

For his seventh birthday, Sam asked for an R2D2 cake. Although I am not a great cake decorator, I agreed to try, and after looking around at some pictures, I had an idea of how to do it.

The night before his birthday, my plan literally fell apart. The cake I was baking cracked in three pieces when I was removing it from the pan. I turned to Google for help- surely someone had put together an R2D2 cake I could copy, somehow?

If you are ever planning to make an R2D2 cake, don't Google it. The images that came back were soul-crushing for this humble baker. I could never make something that looked like those cakes...all the dowel rods and wooden bases with bolts and carved rice krispie fondant layers made me feel like my task was impossible.

After a little meltdown, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a way to modify a design that would work for the cake I had left. I resisted the temptation to try for the first time to make fondant icing when I should really be going to bed. I frosted the cake in my regular old buttercream, white and a little bit of blue. After I outlined it with a little black gel, it actually looked like R2D2.

Then, because I had almost allowed my self-doubt to overcome me, I posted a picture of the cake on Facebook- not because I needed or wanted congratulations, but because I wanted to remind myself of a truth I'd almost forgotten.

We are each enough. I am, and you are. In the age of digital photos and Instagram and Pinterest, it's much too easy to think we have to be practically perfect in every way. It's a lie. God made each of us with unique gifts, and all we have to do is to use those gifts in His service and in service to the vocations to which we've each been called. I will never be a professional cake decorator, but I can bake a cake for my son, and it will be good enough.

* * * * *

A week or so ago, a writer friend who was pulling together some work from our region on the Pope's visit to the US asked if I would write a poem for the occasion. I quickly said "no." I wasn't sure I'd be able to come up with anything to say, and with all the kids' birthdays and traveling and everything, I was afraid to commit.

Besides, I wanted to tell her, I'm not really a poet. I just write poems sometimes, and they almost never see the light of day. I like to keep them safely between the covers of my journal where no one can see them.

Then, one night, I felt inspiration hit, and I scribbled down a flurry of words that came out in a rush. I sent my friend a message and said, "Hey, guess what? I'm inspired, and I can do it."

I've spent every day since then second-guessing and questioning and worrying that what I wrote wasn't good enough for the importance of the occasion and wishing I hadn't told her "yes" after all.

In the spirit of embracing grace in the good enough (and with the much-loved R2D2 cake fresh in my mind), I'm sharing what I wrote for Pope Francis. Although I'll never be Mary Oliver or T.S. Eliot, I am grateful to be a writer and to be able to share my words with you.

We all have gifts. Any voice that tries to tell us otherwise is not from God. Let's not be afraid to use what we have received to build each other up.

* * * *

I’m missing the Big Important Catholic Gathering.

Is it an excused absence?
Not really.
No Big Important Crisis prevents me-
just hundreds of little fires, all in a row,
lining the path from here to there,
waiting for me to extinguish them.

My hands are full, people say-
busy slicing grapes in half
strategically placing Band-aids
peeling the pink crayon to make it last a bit longer
busy steadying a wobbly bike
rebraiding flyaway hair
washing wiggly feet.

His hands were full, too-
busy breaking bread (somehow stretched to plenty)
busy drawing in the dirt
touching ears, heads, foreheads
busy not casting stones
grasping a hand and pulling it back to life
flipping over tables when necessary
washing reluctant feet.

I examine my hands and wish they were more like His-
less afraid to touch a stranger
more willing to reach across a fence or a language barrier
less concerned with my own comfort.

They're full, yes, but they're lacking.
I could always hold a little more.

Papa, you walk into our country holding out His hands to us.
They're your open arms, but they're His open hands.

You hold them out in the poor places, on the sidelines, in the margins.
You hold out the Host-
       The Body of Christ.

We line up to receive it
offering unceasing commentary on what you're doing with your hands
even as we receive you as one among us.

I won’t be in your line for Eucharist.
My aching hands are full of the weight of small things.
How your hands must ache- do they?- with the weight of the cup you've accepted!

Perhaps we aren't so different.                                                                                       

Each of us touches Christ’s face, His body, His feet.
We each hold the Christ-light for someone, for many someones.
And if I were in your line?
Or if I had a minute to place my hand in yours,
to lean my head on your shoulder and tell you my life?

I expect you’d tell me I’m right where I ought to be,                                                                      
among the least of these,
and that Jesus is right here, too.

For more reports and reflections on the Pope’s visit from members of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network (CWBN), please visit “A Walk In Words With Pope Francis.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Here, part 2: this place, right now.

Here is the front porch of a little country store up the road, the one that sells the donuts on Saturday mornings. Only now, it's deep in the middle of a summer afternoon, complete with humidity and hot breeze and bluebottles buzzing all around the wrought iron table where we sit, sweaty but satisfied, drinking Snapple Apple and eating Moon Pies.

Sam is getting older.
This seems like an obvious thing, one not worth writing out loud here, but for some reason, today, it hits me hard and unexpectedly.

He's just ridden his bike, his two-wheeled bike with no training wheels, a mile up the road to this store while I ran behind him with the stroller. This very same stroller once held him, all bare feet and chubby cheeks, as we pushed it through the streets of London and carried it up and down the steps in the Paris Metro. Now, it is full of his baby brother, and I have to run to keep up with the bike.

Teaching my child to ride a bike is not teaching my child to go away from me, exactly...but the speed at which he is traveling makes me painfully aware that this is, indeed, what's happening. Not now, maybe, not next month when we begin school again, not even next spring when he's old enough for First Communion...but someday.

There's going to come a moment when he won't want me to hold his hand or ruffle his hair. I might do it anyway, but I'll know he'd rather I didn't. Already, there's a different distance in our hugs, and I notice he no longer wraps his entire body around me like he used to. I remember cradling him on my side, balanced on my left hip, and how his little head nestled perfectly in the recess of my shoulder where it meets my neck. Now I cradle his baby brother and watch as he deftly presses Lego pieces together, humming the theme from Star Wars. His legs seem impossibly long.

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow...

I have never felt sad about his growing up- he has always seemed to be exactly the right age to me, with time passing at just the rate it should. Lately, though, I feel it whizzing by like the breeze through my hair on a really good downhill, one where I would take my feet off the pedals and stick my legs out to the sides and just hold on for the ride.

I guess I will just hold on. I'm not sure what else to do. Are there other options?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Celebrate

There is still a pile of laundry on the couch, half-folded, and more in the basket waiting by the piano.

There are toys stacked in the hallway that need to be put away.

An empty suitcase stands ready to pack, eager to hold the not-yet-folded clothes that will carry us through our weekend trip to celebrate three birthdays. Our September clump of children all have wanderlust. They’d rather travel than party at home. To be fair, they inherited it from us. They’re seasoned travelers- we’ve always taken them everywhere. They love to see and experience the world outside our little valley, and I love to do it with them.

I don’t always love all the steps that come before we climb into the van, buckle everyone in, and back out of the driveway.

There’s so much to do, and I’m the one to do it today…listmaking, list checking, packlisting, and packing. Stacking, cleaning, sorting, piling, loading and arranging. All of it aggravates my Type A tendencies and makes me likely to grouch at anyone who approaches too closely. None of it feels like much fun on a sunny afternoon when I’d rather be outside with a book on the porch or working in the garden.

Sighing, I contemplate the piles, temporarily paralyzed by the number of tasks before me.

Suddenly, there’s a pull on the leg of my jeans. Lucy’s eyes are dancing up at me…and so, I realize, is the background music. A rousing fiddle tune is floating from the iPod dock through the living room, and her toes are tapping time.

“Dance, Mama!” she shrieks, and begins spinning madly through my piles.

I could grab her and stop her, or holler at her that she’s ruining my plan. I could gasp and rescue the clean clothes before they’re stepped on by her muddy purple sneakers. I could send her outside, or to the playroom, or sit her down at the table with some paper and crayons for a more appropriate “inside activity.”

Today, I don’t do any of those things. I grin at her, shake my head, grab her hands, and join her dance.

For more Five-Minute Friday and to join the celebration, head over to Kate's blog, heading home.

Five Minute Friday - 4

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Twins at Four {happy birthday, girls}

The alarm cuts through the dark, jerking my soul out of its reverie. I was dreaming that I was asleep.

What kind of person dreams that she is sleeping? Probably only a really tired one, right? Struggling to sit up without waking the baby beside me, I think the last time I felt well-rested was probably before the twins were born.

Today, they are four years old.

I stare out the window at the silhouette of the mulberry tree against the barely light sky, remembering how the window of our hospital room overlooked a flat roof and a bare brick wall.

Four years ago today, they broke upon the world before the sun did, making their entrances at 5:15 and 5:55 AM, respectively. The mere forty minutes between their births gave us no hint of the gulf between their personalities. There is love between them, of course…but sweet tea parties and sisterly hand-holding are often overshadowed by screaming matches and sisterly pinches over the imaginary line on the sofa.

The gradual coloring of the sky this morning reminds me of their birthday. I watch the grey outside the kitchen window get lighter and eventually turn to a yellowish pink as I put the finishing touches on packages and cupcakes (pink and yellow frosted with gold sprinkles). It’s critical that there are an equal number of yellow and pink cupcake wrappers, as they’ve taken to counting such things and accusing me of loving one more than the other. One requested pumpkin pancakes, and one requested toaster strudel from the freezer case at the grocery store for breakfast. I make sure their favorite skirts are clean to wear with their self-selected birthday t-shirts- one grey with a heart and one kind of a neon cantaloupe with sparkly cupcakes. The skirts were requested ahead of time, also, and if I mix them up, the girls will definitely let me know. “This is one of those important things, Mama, so please remember,” Nora told me last night. It’s funny, because I know they’ll only wear them until after breakfast, when they go to change into their dress up costumes like they do every day right now.

Maybe it seems like a long list of arrangements for such little girls. I labored a full day and a half to bring them into the world, though- what’s a few requests between a mother and her daughters?

I put the packages on the table and set out two princess hats, embellished with initials and sparkly rick rack trim.

Princess hats.

How far we have fallen, we forward-thinking parents whose daughters would be mighty and strong, who would have no use for such pink, such sparkle, such over-the-top girly stuff!

The irony almost drips from the rosy-colored hat as I hold it up to adjust the streamers.

But these girls are no run of the mill Disney princesses. These are wild-haired, wide-open, sword-wielding, blaster-toting, space-exploring archaeologist princesses who happen to like pink and yellow. These princesses will rescue a baby bird and chop to bits any monster who tries to hurt it. They will tease each other without mercy, but if you mess with one of them, the other one will bite you. They'll share their toys with friends and even brothers sometimes, but they'll fight anyone to the death over their favorite spot on the swing set.

And the fighting...oh, it is epic. They battle ferociously for the right to wear the pink fairytale dress, the knight helmet, the cherry nightgown. Instead of celebrating their birth, I sometimes think we should be celebrating their survival. They are surviving each other.

On the other hand, they are never more united than when they're making mischief- defeating a childproof lock to ransack a bathroom cabinet, painting the bathtub with shaving cream, climbing out of their cribs and emptying every drawer and cabinet in their room, unrolling all the toilet paper down the hall, drawing all over the freshly painted deck railing with a red colored pencil, sneaking out of bed on the eve of their fourth birthday to play dress up in the playroom.

They are no cliche. They are a force with which we must all reckon. And today, we celebrate both their strength and our own.

Happy birthday, girls. Here's to many more princess battles, tea parties and kite flying afternoons. I love being your mom, even though I sometimes wonder if I will survive it. Thank you for the sunshine, the music, the color and the sparkle you bring to our family...and for ensuring that none of us will ever be bored.