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 to...it'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