Christmas came. It brought beauty, comfort, joy. It brought love. The hope I held in the waiting grew, and light broke through my darkness.
From early morning presents while live-video streaming with a man-child on the other side of the world, to sitting down for our traditional breakfast at a beautifully bedecked table, to napping and waking to the sound of laughter around the table, Christmas brought comfort and joy to my weary heart.
It brought tears.
There’s something about listening to adult children share life plans and goals around the breakfast table that touched a chord deep in my heart. How redemptive to have dreamers who can voice their dreams freely. What a gift!
My parents joined us for dinner at 4:00.
They played a game with the grand kids while Steve and I cleaned the kitchen. Redemptive grace.
Christmas is hard for me. I am learning to understand and find more words as to why that is. I am learning to be kind to the places that hurt. I am growing.
I took two naps.
I showered using my adult daughter’s Lush bath products, massaging a seasonal body wash over my skin, turning it a grinchy shade of green. I breathed deeply and grinned a grinchy grin. I am the grinch, and it is okay.
I laughed twice today. Real laughter. Deep laughter.
My son who was video streaming from Bali, Indonesia, as we opened gifts, later commented on my first laugh. It was fun hearing you laugh so much when you were opening your present.
Eleven-year old daughter had wrapped thirteen-year old son’s gift to me for him. A bag of peppermint-cookie Lindor truffles was wrapped in layer upon layer of paper. Each layer that I tore off revealed another. It was so funny to me, peeling back paper only to find more. Real laughter erupted from my innermost being.
I really do love my kids and their sense of humor. Mostly. Usually. When I slow down and have time to appreciate it.
The second laugh was as Steve and I were walking the grand-furs. I held Wren’s leash. He had Dewey. Steve and Dewey were ahead of us. I wondered what would happen if Wren and I passed them, so we ran ahead.
Dewey was not happy with this, and his short legs moved double-time to pull Steve along. I hadn’t told Steve my thoughts or motive for running ahead. He commented, Dewey doesn’t like having Wren ahead of him.
I started laughing. I laughed more. Wren and I let them pass us and then ran ahead again, laughter bubbling up from inside of me over how funny Dewey looked trying to catch up to and pass us. Laughter felt so good. So freeing.
It has been a good Christmas. It has been a hard Christmas. It has been a good, hard Christmas.
We can’t control another’s experience of how we show up in their life.
This is a difficult truth, because I want to believe that everyone is experiencing me at my well-intended best self. My intentions are good. They are. I want you to remember my intention towards you, even if you have no idea what that is, seeing as it is inside of me.
I care. Really, I do.
But you will remember your experience of me. There are times when even at our best-intentioned self, we miss the mark completely. We harm or disappoint not only by things we do but also by those things we don’t. The older I get, the more stories people (including my adult children) share of how they have experienced me, the more real this becomes.
How better-intentioned can it be than to send out Christmas cards to beloved friends? I sat down Monday morning, the first day of break, and diligently began hand-addressing envelopes. I was determined to do better than years gone by and not wait until Christmas Eve.
I did it. I got those envelopes addressed, stuffed, and stamped.
Two hours later, a quick walk with the dog to the post office, and I had most of the Christmas cards mailed. A few needed address double-checks or a little something extra added to the envelope. The rest were stragglers or hand-deliverables.
It felt good to have a Christmas task crossed off of the list while spending time with one of my favorite littles.
A few days later, a friend posted a Facebook status and photo of an empty Christmas card envelope she received.
Someone sent me an empty Christmas card envelope.
Immediately I knew it was mine. It’s clear by that silver foil lining and the handwriting showing through. Can’t everybody tell? Is all of cyberspace looking at me right now? I sent an empty envelope to the very friend whose beautiful card I received today.
Seeing the picture and skimming the comments below it brought a feeling of deep personal shame. Thankfully, I was able to recognize that lie and stop the downward emotional spiral before anger and self-contempt took over. I spoke truth to my heart.
There is no shame in not being perfect. It is okay to make a mistake. You don’t have to justify or explain. It was an inadvertent omission. Not. Intentional. You are not defined by a Christmas card, and yes, you will continue to send cards.
I stepped up in the comments, owned my mistake and my feelings, and was immediately surrounded by love, care, and understanding. Stories were shared and my friend told me it actually brought her a lot of joy.
That is the thing, Dear Readers. I fully intended for my friend to open that envelope and receive Christmas Blessings from me in the form of a beautiful card. Sometimes we do show up just as we thought we would and are received as such. The card is there and gets put up around the mirror and the day moves on.
But other times.
Sometimes we think we showed up when we didn’t. And we don’t even know it. We didn’t check social media. We weren’t on social media. Our friend wasn’t on social media. There just wasn’t a card. And life goes on and maybe drifts apart, and we didn’t know and didn’t see and didn’t intend.
Sometimes we find out about it in time and are able to resend a card. We saw the post, recognized the envelope and handwriting, dealt with our feelings, shared honestly from the heart.
Sometimes we show up in our absence. In giving others space to feel their own feelings about the void.
We can’t control another’s experience of how we show up. We can only keep trying. I will walk to the post office in a bit with card number two and try again.
This question, posed by eight-year-old Little Mae is not unusual. Having just finished second grade and loving to write stories in her journal, she often asks how to spell words.
My mind tries filling in the blanks of what she might be writing about. Has she thought of a new story? Are she and her sister playing an imaginative game involving a restaurant and creating order pads? Is she drawing up a form where people could order items they are creating together?
Stepping into the dining room, I ask, What are you writing? On the table is a single sheet of white copy paper with the words Out and of printed largely and well-spaced down the page. Her question makes sense now, as the pieces fall into place.
What is out of order?
Without saying a word, she solemnly and silently points the eraser end of her pencil at the downstairs bathroom, already one of my least favorite places in the house these days, for various reasons.
The toilet is clogged.
My freak-out meter ramps up a bit, though I know she is just trying to help. Don’t we want our children to feel safe asking for help when they have a problem? Don’t we want them to try to problem solve, also? Logically, my brain says, Just calm down and create a safe space for her.
But that space is a clogged toilet with a roll of paper towels on the back of it!
Child eight does not know that her dad bought a new case of toilet paper at Costco on the way home from work yesterday. She only knows that she is bathroom chore this week, and that yesterday there was not a roll of extra toilet paper to be found in the house.
Even though I have been going to one store or another daily, it seems!!!! My organization skills are sorely lacking as of late. Remind me that I need butter if I go out today.
As I survey the scene and realize the damage is not great, I use the moment to practice mindful breathing and explain that if a toilet is clogged the best thing to do is to find a grown-up to help use the plunger to unclog it. This I do as she looks on, and we both watch the water swirl down as I push the handle.
If you go out to the kitchen set, you will see that there is toilet paper now. Go ahead and grab a roll for this bathroom.
She does just that, and I once again affirm her desire to help and to problem solve. I remind her that I am always here for times just like this. When the poop piles up.
I don’t use those exact words, but I think them, as I save this memory to reference later when the phone rings or the text comes, and someone else needs help with order.
Offer to do a chore and then do it so horribly that your kid can’t stand to watch anymore and just does it for you.
Hmmm. That wasn’t the strategy when I offered to mow the backyard, but I’ll take it. Parenting Tip 99, it is.
The lawn mowing adventure started this morning with cool temperatures, overgrown grass, and several able-bodied people home together for summer break. Knowing that it would not be an easy task, I summoned middle-school girl-child and asked if she wanted to mow front or back yard.
Offer choices. I’m doing great!
She chose front yard.
I went to find middle-school boy child to break the news that he would be mowing the back yard and received news of my own.
What! I always weed whack! No. That’s not my job.
Ah. Classic response AND mother snafu.
Know your plan and people’s regular jobs before announcing changes.
Since I mow better than weed whack, I offered to mow the back yard.
Let me clarify. Since I have mowed a lawn once and weed whacked never, I figured I would practice my mowing skills.
Ok. Then I will mow the back yard.
I’ll mow it, Mom, girl-child replied upon hearing the news. I usually do.
No, I said I would do it, and I need the practice.
I promise that I wasn’t being passive-aggressive.
Walking around the mower a few times and fiddling with this and that, I realized that I needed to ask for help. Back inside I went to ask eleven-year-old daughter to help with starting the mower.
That might have been when she realized I needed some supervision and direction. She began instructing me in the backyard mowing techniques and patterns that her father taught her.
Do you want me to go around the edges like Dad did for me the first times I mowed the grass?
Sure, that would be helpful.
She arranged the picnic table up on end to begin the first section, started the mower, and began to walk. I watched.
When it was my turn, I clumsily began pushing. It was harder than it appeared until my instructor showed me the lever that would activate the self-propelling feature. Then it was too fast.
Here, let me show you. Wait! MOM! Are you using Parenting Tip 99 on me?
That’s when I learned about Parenting Tip 99. It’s also when I remembered how hilarious all of my kids are when they are not driving me crazy!
I promised that I wasn’t. I really wanted to learn how to mow the lawn, and she was being a great teacher. We were making some amazing memories, as well.
The lawn is now mowed. Teamwork during the morning means one less thing for Dad to have to supervise in the evening. We are trying to navigate this summer.
With Mom at the lawn mower’s helm, anything can happen!
It’s a question asked and replied to the days following Mother’s Day, and now, a week later, I have some space and time to think about it and respond. How was it?
It was a different sort of day this year.
My husband, father of the ones who call me Mother, rose early to drive two hours to Richmond to meet up with a daughter for breakfast. After breakfasting with and seeing her off to work, he met up with another daughter and her husband who had kept our two youngest for the weekend. They went to church together and spent the afternoon before he drove home with the little girls, arriving in the early evening.
I woke to a quiet house and an apple fritter on the table to eat with my coffee before church. There was also a jar of homemade bath salts from my youngest and some lavender bath soak from my husband. Obviously, that is a theme for me and one way that I relax. The donuts left for the three at home with me were a thoughtful touch.
Heading to church with only two children was usual, but good. It’s amazing how the dynamic changes when the mix of people is rearranged. The text from my son’s girlfriend was lovely.
After church, I took my twins to Taco Bell for lunch. Much laughter and silliness and spilling of drinks occurred. Much staring and feeling like I was in the center ring while trying to exercise patience in the moment made for a memorable time with my middle schoolers.
I was thankful to my son for cleaning this spill cheerfully and didn’t feel at all bad that my daughter had gotten a medium, rather than a large, drink.
Moments of laughter and happy children made lunchtime special.
There were kittens at my parents’ house, and since I plant a planter for my mother each year, I decided to go over there and kill two birds. My twins, born two years apart, enjoyed the babies while I enjoyed the soil and sunshine. Win-win.
After quick drive to drop some potted flowers to Steve’s mom, we headed home to rest.
I had high hopes for my quiet time that wasn’t exactly quiet. I tend to build things up in my head and think that there will be SO MUCH TIME to do ALL THE THINGS. I took a quick snooze, and then time was up.
No writing. No finishing reading a book. No soak in the tub or painting of nails. Lots of middle school engagement.
After quiet time my firstborn called and asked if I had seen the gift from her and her husband. They had contributed to my counseling certificate fund. Earlier in the day, I had noticed it shared on Facebook and thought THAT was their gift. A shout out of encouragement. Noticing a financial gift and their words of affirmation made my heart feel full.
Later, another child surprised me with a gift towards my goal, as well. I felt loved that he didn’t just tell me to get a job to earn some extra money, which, by the way, I am also doing in the form of not spending, finding things to sell, and looking for ways to pick up some extra work.
Husband returned with my little girls bearing gifts of chocolate and a gift that my adult daughter gave him for me at breakfast. It was two bottles of purple OPI polish. This was a HUGE surprise and so meaningful. I love having a fun new summer color or two and ALMOST broke down and bought myself a bottle the weekend before. But then I remembered I am saving for my certificate and refrained.
I love being known so well by my kids and appreciated each one’s individual bit of thoughtfulness.
There was one more surprise that came to me on Mother’s Day, but it needs its own post. I am still sorting where it fits in and the magnitude of its meaning to me.
So there’s the long answer to a short question. Mother’s Day was full of love and people and meaning and laughter. All of the good things that it should be enveloped my heart this year, leaving me so very grateful and feeling so very loved.
One Thursday afternoon in April,I finally had some time to intentionally connect with my youngest son. In the mix of my children, the boys are all 4 years apart, meaning that I have had a teen boy in the house since 2007 and will until 2023 when this one enters his 20’s. That is 16 years of teenage boy.
Without further ado, here are my tips for hanging with a teen boy.
Go somewhere where food and drink can be purchased. Allow teen to peruse the menu. Use the word peruse. Take a discreet picture of the back of his head for future blog or social media post.
2. Allow him to purchase real food, even if supper is only an hour and a half away. Add a bottle of real coke to the deal. You won’t miss the $11.00, and if you support a local business, it’s a bonus. Once you are settled at the table begin some sort of awkward conversation like, Now that you are a teenager, you may notice more of your friends beginning to brag about their escapades. Add a few of your own extra words like I did but won’t print here. Then respect the Ew, Mom, no! I’m eating. At least he knows you are aware and then bring it up later.
3. Have a device readily accessible. Don’t get offended when he plays something on it. Pull out your phone and check out the way it is blowing up with emojis.
4. Don’t react to, in fact, encourage the sprawl by joining in and sprawling on the bench yourself! Snap an under-the-table picture.
5. Remind him often of how cute he was as a little boy and make connections to current day. Laugh about memories and about how he still knows how to push your buttons as he scrolls on his device.
6. End the time together by allowing a final sprawl and gathering of energy before sending him off to his next activity. In this case, piano lesson.
7. Take a selfie to document the moment. Use it as the header for the blog post that you write later with the hopes that teen boy will authorize publication. Oh, the power.
Dragging the basket bin from the basement and trying to remember whose is whose as I prepare to fill them brings many of my own Easter memories to mind.
Growing up we celebrated Easter mostly, meaning, usually celebration happened unless we were in a time or season when it didn’t. There are things that I remember happening around the holiday and things that I remember wishing would happen and then things that actually happened.
Things that I remember happening are dying eggs, having them hidden, and getting Easter baskets. Things that remember wishing would happen are that I would get one of those amazing ready-made, cellophane-wrapped baskets with a chocolate bunny in it and tons of novelties, candy, and toys. Things that actually happened were whatever my parents could pull off in whatever season of life they were trying to survive.
Dying Eggs There was this rule about eggs akin to the one about swimming after eating lunch. After the eggs were boiled, they had to rest in the refrigerator at least overnight. So asking to dye eggs meant that we would get to do it, just not that day. The large pot was hauled out to boil the eggs, and they sat in the refrigerator overnight or longer if there was a special circumstance.
Egg-dying took place in Mom’s wedding china pattern tea cups. That is what they were used for ~ the egg-dying cups. It is the only time I remember getting them out, those white china with the wide black pattered stripe around the top and the silver edging cups. What else would you use to drop the colored tablet and add vinegar and water to?
I don’t remember the actual process other than sometimes using a crayon to write on the eggs. I can only filter how stressful it must have been through my own mothering experience as I am the firstborn of seven. When I was ten, there were five younger than me. That is a lot of littles trying to color eggs.
Egg Hiding There was not such thing as hiding plastic eggs back in my day. Maybe there was, and we just didn’t use them. What happened in our house was that the real eggs that we colored would be hidden around the living room to be found when we woke in the morning. I have only one vivid memory of finding real eggs, and that is of my dad seeming stressed that there was still an egg at large that hadn’t been found. At the time, I didn’t understand the big deal.
Maybe we only did that real egg hiding thing one time.
Easter Baskets We got Easter baskets on Easter morning. I wonder how my parents worked that out? I have a vivid memory of my brother, Nick, getting an upside-down cowboy hat as a basket when he was a preschooler. That seemed so special. As a parent I can also see the pragmatic side of panic when the realization that another kid needs a basket hits, and something useful is found.
I can also see it as being different, hence, memorable.
Chocolate Bunnies This really happened ~ once. One time there was a foil- wrapped bunny in my Easter basket along with a sticker book, little packets of snacks, and other non-candy treats. It was the basket of my dreams for about five minutes.
Upon closer examination, those little snack packets were sesame stick snacks. They were a twig-like texture covered with bumpy seeds. The wrapped bunny was not chocolate, but carob, and sucked the moisture out of my mouth completely as I bit into an ear with gusto. I am sure there are things are more disappointing to a child than thinking a foil-wrapped carob bunny is real chocolate, but none come quickly to my mind.
Of COURSE they are chuckling!
As a parent, I totally get alternative treat ideas. I understand trying to limit sugar for a number of reasons. I am the one who says that you know you have crossed to adulthood when the candy aisle becomes about behavior issues and dental bills rather than fun. But on Easter morning, That just ain’t right!
My son asks the question, What did you do with it? after I let him preview the post. It’s like tofu for meat, he comments.
I don’t remember. Do any of my siblings remember the Healthy Crunchy Co-op Easter Basket fiasco? What did you do with your bunny?
This is the part where I give a shout out to my parents for the effort they made to make Easter fun. Sitting on the other side of the equation, I understand the struggle to keep proper focus, to limit sugar intake, to want to make memories.
Thanks for the memories! I know my kids have a pile of their own that will be a topic for another time!
And, Sibbies, does any of this ring true for you? What was YOUR Easter experience growing up?
I’m pretty sure that if we lived in a time where vocation was based solely on family heritage and calling, maybe by castes or clans, then ours would be that of the creatives ~ the musicians, writers, jesters; those and the teachers.
Today was the last for picking up my daughter of ten from school. Tomorrow eleven arrives with all of its angst and disappointment over the laptop, chromebook, iphone or at least POD, that will not be wrapped as birthday gifts (though I have promised to keep receipts to return the disappointments in exchange for cash to build her stash to purchase the desired electronics).
My girl is creative. She is a writer as demonstrated by the big stack of booksthat she was checking out of the middle school library as I waited for her out in the car. It only took one mistake of going in to fetch her over the loudspeaker that time to learn that when she is in the library she will come out when she gets all of her books. Today I got that part right.
My girl is a comedian. This is demonstrated by two things in these pictures. First, the Rules for Writers book on the top of the stack above is sub-titled A Brief Handbook. She found that hilarious, which is why it is on top. Second, the version of A Wrinkle in Time that she chose to finally read because we rave about it so much, but no matter how she tries it’s just hard to get into is. . .
. . . the graphic novel version, in case you can’t read the fine print.
I love my funny writer girl.
I also have a bloggy girl and a college girl who sent me this in a message today, Yesterday someone told me that I stress too much over grammar that normal people don’t understand. Simple sentence and word structure-type things they said college seniors learn in high English classes. I credit you. Haha! It was a funny thing to hear.
As the littles grow bigger and grow up and outgrow, it is finally time to downsize and de-clutter certain items. Children’s books are at the forefront, lately. We have piles and shelves of them.
It is a standing joke between my almost-teen and me that he never liked any children’s books. He will throw out titles laughingly, The Little House, The Biggest Bear, The Fat Cat, If I Ran the Circus. His standard line is, And that piece of crap book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I NEVER wanted you to read THAT.
Translated, You spent hours reading me Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel AND The Little House.
I read a lot of books, but I’m not the only one. My husband, and adult children, also spent hours reading to littles.
Make Way for Ducklings, The Polite Elephant, Fireman Small, All of the ORIGINAL Curious Georges. Goodnight Moon. Little Critter anything and Richard Scarry, too. Tinker and Tanker and the Pirates. Choo Choo, the story of a little train that got away, and speaking of trains, the little boxed set of Thomas pop-up books, and Blue’s Clues lift-the-flap books. Green Eggs and Ham. Wacky Wednesday. Anything by Dr. Seuss or Theo LeSieg 😉
Big stacks of books.
And cuddle. Always cuddle. In our family culture that is bedtime story reading. You didn’t read me cuddle! or lately, May I do extra media for my cuddle?
There are all of these precious books with special memories. There are also lots of bookshelf fillers. These books are extras that hang out to be read once or twice, but they aren’t loved. They don’t hold special meaning. As I am going through them the question now becomes, Would I want to read this over and over to a grandchild one day? Does it hold a special memory with me and a little?
Sorting into save and give-away piles, I realized that I should ask Steve if he had any special memories with the books I was sorting. One by one I held up some obvious keepers. Of course! he laughed.
Then I showed him some that, to me, were obvious give-aways. Mostly. He surprised me with wanting to keep one or two. He reacted strongly to the last one. Are you crazy? Are you being serious? OF COURSE that is a keeper!
That’s when I realized that the other cuddle-reader, in fact, the one who probably shouldered MOST of the reading, if I am completely honest, the one who still spends a good chunk of the evening reading chapters of books to tweens, has memories and feelings about the books, as well.
He readall of the cuddles I did not read.
So we are going through this process together in small steps, reminiscing, laughing, wondering how we EVER survived the hours and hours and hours of reading. How we are STILL surviving them! We have been, and will continue to be, reading to children for a long time.