Category Archives: mothering

Christmas Cards

It is Christmas Eve, 2017, and Christmas cards have not been sent. There are no Christmas cards in the mail this year. No New Year’s cards. None. If you have not received a card and you sent one, thank you for the joy that you brought to us. Thank you for extending grace and understanding this year.

It does not mean we will never send out cards again. The tradition may resume next year. It is just that this year Christmas cards were a thing we could say no to, and it is nobody’s fault, in spite of any rumors you may hear.

If there is any fault, I am the one to blame. The decision was made for sure after Thanksgiving, though the thought had been rolling around in my head a bit before then. Thanksgiving brought confirmation that I was trying to hold onto something that is not here right now, and the tighter I tried to grasp, the faster and messier it slipped from my hand.

Last Thanksgiving, all eight children sat around the table. It was a rare moment, and I thought, This could be the last time this happens in this way ~ no spouses or significant others ~ just the siblings. After our 4:00 meal, we dashed outside so that the grandparents could snap a picture of us, which became our Christmas Card.

That is how I remember it, dashing outside to snap a quick picture.

So this year, even though some were missing, I thought, We will do the same thing. Eat at 4, then head outside for a picture, and that will be what I use for Christmas.

Only we did not eat at 4, and with each passing moment, as the sun lowered in the sky, the photo-op slipped away. Still I grasped, and worse, I did not communicate my thoughts or desires to the family. That is what did me in and where the fault lies, if we are finding it.

I am not the only person in this family.

It was after 5:00. The sun was setting. People were being summoned from all corners of the house to come to the table, and I threw out, But first, let’s run outside and take a picture.

It did not go over well. Understandably. Each person has feelings and experiences tied to having a family picture taken, and just because some were more vocal does not mean others did not feel similarly. I realized immediately the many errors of my ways and retracted the request.

It’s okay. Really. We do not need to take a picture. I think I was trying to hold onto something that has passed, and I did not even prepare you for the moment. It’s nobody’s fault (because we often move to blame), it’s just what it is this year.

So Merry Christmas, Dear Readers and Friends! May you honor what is real while holding hope for what is to come as you celebrate!

 

Advent Candles

I decided to get more candles. Rather, I requested that my husband pick some up last Saturday while running errands with a daughter. I knew exactly where I had seen the boxes of pre-packaged, advent-colored, purple and pink candles.

They were sold out.

Instead a text image came through with the image of bulk candles and a question, Is the indigo color okay? I missed the message.

He bought three indigo and one white candle. I like the indigo color much better in person.

The following day, I used the seasonal snowflake paperbag that the candles were packaged in to cover a small cardboard box. I glued the words Get ready on one side and Celebrate on the other. I pressed the five candles into floral foam, lining them with pinecones and berries.

It was my adult son’s idea to move it from the living room mantel to the lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Each night we light the candles during dinner and put up the felt tree piece afterwards. It has been the most chill Advent to date.

If you look closely, you can see some scatter I added this week in honor of Hanukkah.

I love all things miniature and could not resist them!

Speaking of felt tree, this is how ours looks today, December 16, 2017. There are 15 objects placed, and the wall hanging makes 16. Since this particular activity begins December 1, we are actually on track. This is a momentous occasion for us.

Usually we miss several days and spend much time catching up. The candles on the table have been the game changer for us this year.

I chose to persist, in keeping with my word for a few more days. It has not been easy, but it has been good.

All the Books

I am grateful that my kids are readers. I remember when the final child learned to read. It was as if I could let out a giant sigh.

Mission Accomplished!

I have always loved books. As a little girl, I remember being excited about trips to the library or school book club fliers. Caddie Woodlawn came from a school book club flier in fourth grade, I think.

I needed a reminder of the goodness, and my love, of books tonight when I walked up to tuck my youngest in bed and found her digging around underneath it. Just looking for Pony-wa. That was fine until I decided to actually look at what she was doing and realized there were tons of books stuffed under there, too.

What?! I like to read!

Fishing book after book out from under the stuffed animals piled in the crack of her bed, I tried loosely sorting them into stacks in the hall to reshelve. You can see just a few of her very favorites still on the bed.

I’ve read ALL of them, too.

A redeeming factor maybe is that the lost library book that I finally broke down and paid for yesterday was not among the stacks. Also, I found something else in the process.

Those of you who follow the blog know this significance, and I smiled inside while tucking it into my pocket and proceeding to shelve the books in the hall.

New Thing

There is another new thing in this season. After many years of having children participate in the Shenandoah Valley Children’s Choir, I am finally a participant as a Parent Assistant to the Preparatory Choir.

Little Mae joined choir this year. Since I no longer have infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, I decided to use the time to help out during rehearsals by assisting with check-in and helping the director (restroom breaks, room transitions, Band-Aid passing out, tissue patrol, etc. . .). There are other moms helping, as well, so it is a team effort.

I am not a newcomer to the choir. My adult children sang for years. I traveled to Hawaii as a chaperone with them when my twelve-year-old was an infant in a sling. Her singing siblings were eleven and twelve. Her aunt was also a chorister at the time! There have been many years of sparkling since then. The eleven-year-old grew into a choir director.

There have also been years off.

I am enjoying this new thing in this new season. It is fun to bring my skill set of connecting with children to this space and to spend time with Little Mae in the process. For years I was the mom wrangling lots of littles and frantically trying to sign homework and work out all the schedules.

Now I am the older mom reminding them that to everything there is a season. This is my season to give back.

Sharing Space

Irritation mounts as I survey the kitchen. I was the one who asked that a milkshake be made after school. But this? Really?

It looks as if ice cream and milk were slopped into the blender and then the blender was haphazardly turned on with the top off. Yes, that must be what happened. There is a glob of melted ice cream on the floor and a puddle of it on the counter. It is hardening into a solid, sticky mess.

Clearly, someone is in the wrong, and it is not me. I am fuming inside, every ounce of irritation seeping through my pores. It feels as if my skin is on inside out. I am trying to find a way to express frustration appropriately which only has me feeling more inappropriate.

A sibling stands nearby, emptying the trash. A blanket statement is made about a family rule. The undertone is why are you surprised by this? It’s how it is. This incites me more. Really? Who made said rule and why? That is not the case! This mess is not okay.

It is hard to share space with so many other people. Even though I am one of the adults, co-partner, co-creator, co-supporter of our family structure, I can easily slip into feeling like just another one of the kids. These people who live with me, who have come from my body, who I am responsible for, are growing up and getting bigger and taking more ownership of their worlds.

This is a good thing. I am grateful for their growing independence. There are so many good things about them being able to fix their own food and pack their own lunches. Still, when I open the refrigerator to get the milk, and a misplaced jar of strawberry jam falls to the ground, and containers of leftover food totter, packed and stuffed into the wrong places, I feel smothered.

Smothered and alone. The space closes in on me physically, and I can’t find a means of escape. I can’t hide the fury. It won’t stuff back down to its usual place. Escape. Hide. Stuff. These survival strategies are familiar.

I pace to the TV room, just off of the kitchen, trying to sort out all that is stirring inside, trying to justify my anger. The deep breaths I take begin to calm me. I do not need to offload on my children. They do not need to pay for or contain my strong feelings. We can sort through what I am experiencing without me assigning blame.

It takes courage to re-enter and re-engage the sticky scene in a different way, to name and own my strong feelings. It is unfamiliar and feels clumsy. I risk stepping into our shared space and naming how it feels. I choose to let my child really see me own my uncertainty. Grace and hope pour down on the room. Spirits lift. Hope returns, and the moment is redeemed.

Hiking and Heart Connection

It was a good day of hiking and heart connection.

Mamas, it’s hard. Mothering is just hard. Maybe not all of the time, and maybe never for you, but it was really hard for me. And in my story, something being difficult to do was not a reason to pause and question it. There was no room for exploring other options or making changes, only soldiering on with the choice that had already been made.

Nineteen years ago I was 27 and had just birthed a 10lb 4oz boy. He was welcomed by his three older siblings, ages 5,4, and 3. Steve and I had been married six years. That is a lot of living and people to fit into a short period of time.

Child number four was not at all like the others. He did not fit any sort of mold, and contrary to what people always said to me, I hear it gets easier after three, nothing could have been further from the truth. Please refrain from offering things that you have heard about situations that you have not experienced to the one struggling in the midst of them. It is truly not helpful.

It did not get easier for me.

There were a lot of hard things to push through and four more babies to follow. I wondered if I would make it. I wondered how something so excruciatingly difficult for me could ever be worth it.

Today happened.

I made it.

It was worth it.

My son and I hiked High Knob together to celebrate his 19th birthday.

He has been there often. Today was my first time. We parked and entered the trail and walked and talked. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue. The leaves were beginning to change. We had the trail to ourselves.

We climbed to the top of the lookout and sat, enjoying the gentle breeze and the stunning view. We shared conversation.

We hiked back to the car, mindfully aware of our surroundings, noticing little things like this wooly bear on the path.

Somewhere along the way, my phone received a wave of service, and several texts dropped into it. One was from my mom, inviting us for coffee to celebrate Kieran and Grammy who share a birthday. We stopped there on our way back to town and captured this picture of the birthday buddies born 75 years apart.

Please don’t give up hope in your hard, whatever that hard may be. I know that it seems easy for me to say, because I am not in your situation. All I know is that today was a glimpse of such sweet goodness and such great reward as my son and I took time together to extract ourselves from the couches and get out into nature together.

It was so worth it. I am grateful for the gift I received on this day nineteen years ago and for the gift I received today.

Don’t miss yours!

Holding and Trusting

In the midst of all that feels overwhelming these days, I have been gifted with grace upon grace. From messages from and conversations with heart friends to stumbling upon an old photo album that brought much-needed tears, I feel loved and seen.

Yesterday morning my heart was clenched by a fist of fear. It happens when I carry too much on my shoulders. When the over-responsibility beast rears its ugly head. 

I was fearfully checking into something parental, fully expecting a negative outcome. Instead I was surprised by the positive. I know this sounds incredibly vague, but you have to trust me here. 

The bottom line is that the discovery felt like a huge hug for my heart. It reminded me that even though the days are long and full, there is goodness happening all around, much of which I don’t even see (or hear!). 

I am holding this as a reminder to the catestrophic thinker in me to continue trusting that God is always at work completing the goodness begun in us all. There is much goodness. 

I can hold onto and trust in that. I can practice seeing the positive. I can release the over-responsibility and wait to see what will happen. 

Midweek Musings

It is day three of my new normal. The kids are in school for a few more hours. The house is silent. I am shifting and settling into something that might eventually resemble a routine, just not yet.

When I was teaching, I would give myself three weeks to a month before making a judgment on whether the year was working or not. It always ended up working just the way it was supposed to. Adjusting takes time.

I am adjusting.

Rising early to get the day started with the family, without the added pressure of getting myself somewhere on time has been a pleasant adjustment. Learning the new kitchen dance of school mornings, without the demand of getting everyone out the door like a well-oiled machine, has made things more calm and less chaotic.

This year we are in three different schools, down from our record of five. We drop off and pick up this batch of kids, the ones who were babies when their elder siblings were riding buses. While you cannot do over, you can choose to do differently. You can also have conversations about how others were affected by the choices you made.

Lots of those hard conversations are happening now that I have more unstructured time. No two, or eight, children grow up in the same family. I am adjusting to hearing truth and experiences shared with me from all of the perspectives, as the next generation steps up into the shoes of the first, and the first navigates adulthood. It looks a lot different this go around, especially as there are no infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in the equation.

The first two hours of my day focus on getting people fed and where they belong. When I arrive home after the final drop-off, Dewey eagerly runs to his leash, ready for a morning walk. This has become the beginning of a routine for us, as I walk him and think about the day. Sometimes a sister calls, or I call a sister (or daughter).

I am working out the time at home between drop-off and pick-up. I still have a brain racing to think of all of the things, when it really needs to slow down. I am practicing slow. I am not getting to all of the things. I get to some. I am learning things about myself that cannot be learned at breakneck speed.

This is where I am. I am grateful for the space to figure out what is next and the gift of learning to be more present in what is now.

How about you, Dear Readers? Where does this start of the new school season find you?

Easy Tears

We were in the kitchen, adult son and I.

I was fixing lunch, quesadillas. Easy.

We were talking about the day and about feelings and life. I told him about an upcoming trip that had me feeling nostalgic. He told me about an incident he had witnessed over the weekend that turned on my tears.

Instantly.

He began to apologize. There was no need. He had done nothing wrong. I was feeling my reality. The tears were inviting me into more of it.

Last week we were on vacation. We had a beach day. Every year we take the same lunch in the cooler.

  • Ritz crackers
  • Polska kielbasa cut into slices
  • Easy cheese in cheddar and American styles
  • sodas and water
  • some kind of fruit

When I am well-prepared there are also paper plates and napkins. This year was a not-well-prepared year. We had to live dangerously, risking dropping the can of cheese in the sand or the cracker in the sand, or the meat into the sand.

All to be coated in sand.

There is always a lot of sand. Some people like the added texture. It is a lunch not for the faint of heart. It is the beach.

This year I noticed a can of Cheese Wow! mixed in with the name brand cheeses. My husband had offered to do the grocery run when we arrived in town to start our vacation. For a good $3 less, it was quite comparable.

But you have to say Cheese Wow!

So in the kitchen today, as my tears began to squeeze out of my eyes, I couldn’t hold them back. No matter how hard I tried to keep them in, they came squirting out.

Easy Tears just like the Easy Cheese at the beach. Just as salty, too.

Tears Wow!

I have a lot of them inside, crashing like the ocean’s waves.

That is all.

Double Portion

Goodnight! Happy Mother’s Day Eve.

A smiling face wished me well at the very end of a particularly long day. It had been a particularly long week that led to a moment where I felt tired and not too fond of mothering. I received both the smile and the words in the spirit offered, though I struggle with Mother’s Day every year.

I’m never having kids! They’re brats, and they don’t listen to you!

My teenage self made this vow that obviously did not stick. Of course kids didn’t listen to their eldest sister, even when she is supposed to be in charge. Especially then. My adult self gave birth to eight children, four of whom have reached adulthood, and four who are still on their way.

I remember being 27, having just birthed my fourth child. It was a ten-pound, four-ounce boy who shocked and surprised us all. Where were you hiding him? asked the midwife. I was not unusually large and had not gained excess weight. I was in love once I regained consciousness and energy.

Baby number four rounded out the bunch, giving us two boys and two girls. I thought it was the perfect number of children and remember thinking I would be content to be finished. People wouldn’t ask if I was trying for a particular sex or if I was disappointed to not have a particular gender or any number of the rude things they feel entitled to chime in about when you have a family of a certain size.

There was one technical difficulty. I didn’t have a voice to express this, nor did my husband have the ears to hear me even if I could. So there was a bind that is still being processed and sorted. We are still finding words for the story of us.

In my 30’s more children came. Four more, to be exact. When all was said and done, eight children were grown in and birthed from my body, one at a time. People ask. That is a lot of pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, diapering, hormones, mothering. A lot.

Eight children is a lot and my hard thing.

Four children was my perfect family size, and I would tell you if you asked. I would even joke that it was so perfect that I did it twice, including baby bunching when I had four kids under the age of five. Twice. It brought goodness, and it brought grief.

I have struggled with my story of mothering. I have cringed at the assumptions made about me by people who have no idea. I have grieved my departure from the lives of my bigs when caring for the littles was all-consuming. I have wept over what I have tried to, but could ultimately not, control.

Then God, in incredible, generous kindness, brought healing to this place in my heart during the final weekend of my certificate training in Seattle.

Rachael Clinton was teaching from Isaiah 61. As she read the passage, I heard these words

Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; Instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. Isaiah 61:7 (ESV)

My heart was touched in the deepest of places, as I felt a shift from duty to delight, from obligation to honor, from fear to freedom. In that moment I heard God say, I have given you a double portion.

What a terrifying gift! What truth.

Yes, I have a good inheritance. Psalm 16:6 (ESV)

I am blessed.