I know it feels like fall. School is back in session. Football games have begun. Life has resumed routine. Morning drives to school find me facing a blinding low-rising sun in the eastern sky. Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back.
But it’s still summer for a little while longer.
Today I celebrated that truth by stepping off into the deep end of my daughter and son-in-law’s pool and swimming to the other side. It was my first time in the water this summer. The sensation was lovely.
My intention was to try to turn around the funk that seems to have settled around my shoulders, pressing into my heart. Surely water and sunshine would wash it away.
It was worth a try.
Several of my kids and my husband joined me. Others sat on the edge. We talked and laughed. We played games.
It was a relaxing space to regain perspective.
I wish I could say I left my troubles at the bottom of the pool with the leaves that have begun dropping, but it is not that easy. I wish I could say that I have leaned from Dewey to just live in the moment.
I am still practicing and being given plenty of opportunities to do so.
This afternoon brought laughter and connection and escape. It brought exercise and fresh air and a son-in-law who grilled hamburgers while we swam in his pool.
It brought goodness and kindness and another reminder that even when life is hard and unpredictable and wearisome, there is beauty and joy and love.
How am I the mother of the groom? How did this happen?
Tears streamed down my face and sobs filled my chest as I curled on the bed in the guest bedroom of my soon-to-be daughter-in-law’s childhood home. Her parents had graciously invited our family to stay with them for bridal shower weekend. Here we were.
It was late. I was tired.
We arrived Saturday evening in time for appetizers and dinner. Wine flowed freely into my glass. The large, gracious house was filled to the brim with family and bridesmaids, all converging to celebrate the beautiful bride-to-be at her shower the following day.
Experiencing Dana’s family space made me appreciate even more all of the times she had stayed in ours. There was a clear difference in size, decor, and number of people, yet she always was gracious about our accommodations when she visited us.
I did my best to avoid comparing and conjuring up stories of what everyone thought of us. This time was to celebrate the woman my son loves with his other family who loves him well. I was grateful to have a weekend of shared space together.
The 321 mile drive from Virginia to New Jersey was worth it, especially since all of my children can now tend their own rest area needs. In an act of brilliance my husband handed each passenger $5 at the beginning of the trip for any necessaries they may require along the way.
When we first met Dana, the not-so-little-anymores were 8, 6, 5, and 3. Now they are 15, 13, 12, and 10. They are all as tall as her or taller. I was struck by that reality as we emerged from the cramped mini van and crowded into the backyard. There were all of these big people. They were mine!
Gathering a plate of brisket, corn, and potato salad, I headed to the dining room where bridesmaids were seated around the table. Listening to their laughter and conversation took me to a young place inside. How could I be the mother of the groom when I felt younger than these women surrounding me? Where did time go?
This feeling is what followed me upstairs to bed that evening. It carried me into the space where my daughters were staying, Dana’s childhood room. A collection of Snowbabies lined a high shelf while her American Girl Dolls rested on another. A shelf of books caught my eye as did the bulletin board full of pictures, my son with her in many of them at various stages from ages 17-24.
All this is what primed my heart for the tears that began to flow, first in the presence of my teenage daughter standing beside me in the room, then with my husband comforting me in ours. Both offered kind space for my feelings that felt so big.*
I woke to coffee, quiche, and preparation for celebration. The bridal shower was beautiful. The joy was real. It followed my night of weeping.
I am here.
It happened because of grace.
*Edited to note that the flowing tears were only from me and not from said daughter and husband. They just kindly did not judge.
This morning was the final birthday celebration, breakfast with Dad. When the celebrating is over, it’s time to write the wrap-up post.
I was at a birthday lunch with a friend on Monday. When she asked how my actual birthday was I had to stop and think. I could not remember well, which is why I am trying to remember now. Even as I try to write, lethargy engulfs me. I am trying to push through.
I wrote a birthday list on the marker board in the kitchen at the beginning of the month. Little Mae printed hers in red pen and posted it to the refrigerator much earlier. Hers contained everything from Lego Ninjago to Black and Whilte Guinea Pig named Cookies and Cream.
Because we share the day, Little Mae and I planned a schedule of how to spend it, beginning with me attending a sixth grade awards assembly at school while she did morning screen time at home. This hanging basket greeted me upon return.
We took our birthday checks to the drive-thru window of the bank to cash them.
Then it was McDonald’s for lunch and Barnes and Noble for books and a birthday treat.
Rainbow came along.
While we were at Barnes and Noble a text came through that an adult sister was in town. She wanted to pick up the newly double-digit little and spend time with her. That meant I got free time!
It was such a surprise I almost cried.
A free afternoon offered a chance to grab the shower I had missed that morning, getting everyone to school solo. It was Steve’s first week at the new job, and we were all adjusting. I had to adjust my attitude with a phone call to a sister when my birthday morning was not going according to plan!
First on my free time list was a plant rescue at Lowes. A cart filled with clearance flowers cost $18 of birthday money. Coming home alone to plant and hang them, priceless.
I showered and rested and picked up the girls from middle school. We did our afternoon routine, and I worked on the birthday dinner planned in advance when planning the cake. It was a simple meal of ham, herb dinner rolls, and vegetables. I put ingredients in the bread machine and a ham in the oven.
Then it was time to make a side dish for my son’s band picnic. Since ham is not his favorite it was a good night for him to have an alternate plan. My adult daughter rode with me to the park to drop the food off and then to Starbucks for my birthday drink, another thing I had missed along with my shower that morning.
Birthday dinner was relaxing and fun with adult daughter and significant other, adult son, and phone calls from those adults not in attendance. Everyone wanted me to know that they had helped with the gift that would be delivered the next day.
Those around the table presented me with gifts of a new tea kettle and journal. We watched Little Mae open her gifts and ate cake. It was an enjoyable ending to a kind day.
On Friday a package arrived. I messaged my daughter to tell her that she had a delivery. She said it was my gift and that she would come over and open it and give it to me. I had some errands to run. When I returned she handed me a slim wrapped box, telling me it was from all of the adults and their significant others.
I was speechless after opening it. I am still learning to use it. Best feature so far is the voice text, though I have had some faux pas with the text still recording when I thought I was finished. Oops! My younger generation thinks technology is being wasted on an old person.
I am so grateful for another year, thankful for life, humbled by lavishly generous gifts and by the love so freely given by all in my family. I look forward to 47 with anticipation.
And yes, I got the Lora Kelley download that was on my list. You can get it here.
A family with an old person has a living treasure of gold. ~ Chinese Proverb
Recently I tended living treasure while my parents went out of town. I am blessed to still have three of my grandparents! That itself is worth its weight in gold. One of them lives with my parents, and she is the one I spent time with.
I tease that she is what keeps me at the peak of middle age, since doubling my current age equals hers. She was my age when I was born. We have a long history. Our time together added to our memories.
It is a sacred space, tending the elderly. Recovery from a recent broken hip and fractured pelvis means her mobility is not what it was. We did everything slowly and carefully. When I was looking.
The tricky part came when I was not looking. That is when I would hear movement and footsteps and know that she had gotten up using only her walker without following our carefully choreographed wheelchair routine. I would run to where she was and be met with the words, Don’t let me fall!
She had me there. I was figured out. My plan foiled. That was exactly my intention!
I’m right here. You won’t fall. Maybe we can get the wheelchair? Should we try that?
Our days followed a rhythm of eating, drinking, tending to physical needs, watching Hallmark Channel movies, conversing with visiting friends, playing cards, talking, remembering, trying to remember, repeating the cycle.
I slept on the couch downstairs so as not to miss anything in the night. Even with a radio monitor to alert me, I feared not hearing. After the first night I remembered why I never used a monitor when my kids were little. There were lots of sounds. Then when there were none there was anxiety about why there were no sounds.
On Sunday we dressed a bit fancier. She added sparkly necklaces to accent her pink top. I gingerly ran a comb through her hair, but she would have none of it. Don’t be so careful. Do a good job! So I wet the comb again and brought the more stubborn strands to order vigorously.
Our time together was sweet. It was hard. It was exhausting. We took a lot of naps.
There were things that I brought that I did not need. Yoga mat, computer for blogging, art journal supplies, and coloring items all went unused. My Bible and journal were the only items I opened briefly.
Tending treasure requires attentiveness in any stage of life, for isn’t all life a treasure? Whoever you are tending to, old or young, healthy or sick, hold onto the moments. Be present. There are no guarantees that we will all make it to old person status. So let’s seize our time together now.
And while we are at it, let’s practice being who we want to become.
Last evening my luvvvah and I took flight from the house and walked down to Pale Fire Brewing. I was reminded of why I love living downtown as we wandered by the stream to look at the ducks tucking in for the night before making our way to the Pale Fire patio.
After making my choices, I walked out to a freshly-dried table to enjoy the twilight.
My handsome date carried out the goods.
We prepared to enjoy some good beer and good conversation. I was not disappointed.
After all of the rain, it was such a beautiful night.
I’m not usually a beer kind of girl, but I’m learning. I enjoy savoring new tastes and flavors. Mostly, though, I enjoy the company of my man and the moments we get to take flight together and remembering the goodness that is being married to each other.
From the first day
I saw your face
I hoped that we would be
More than friends
I wanted you to see
That I found you special
And in your eyes
And in your smile
I saw that you were kind
You brought such joy
Into my life
Such laughter and such fun
And deep inside
I wanted you
To be the only one
That I would walk next to
To have and to hold
And I believed
With all my heart
Our love was strong and bold
But fragile was
The seed of love
We wanted it to grow
Impatient and impetuous
We simply did not know
That you cannot force love
Demand it be strong
And after many lonely years
We found where we went wrong
We’re standing now
We’re facing each new day
With boldness and integrity
We’re learning how to play
It’s knowing what we’ve lost
That helps us be found
Our hearts are drawing close again
We’re coming back around.
Happy Valentine’s Day ’18 to the Love of My Life who has made me laugh and feel safe from day one. You are a gift, Steve McClay. Thank you for becoming more real with me through all the seasons, especially those winter ones. Something beautiful is growing from all of this compost. I just know it! Something beautiful already has. Our love.
This image created with Wikki Sticks was stuck to my car window by Steve in 1987. I saved it in my scrapbook for posterity.
***The header image is from a helium balloon that I deflated and saved to remember the playful love of my then boyfriend, now husband. Thank you for your steadfastness, Babe. You’ve always been the best Valentine.***
Today the love of my life celebrates another birthday. I have shared 30 of his special days with him. This feels momentous. He might say I feel that way about everything.
Thirty years ago my boyfriend turned 18. It was a year to the month that I first met him and six months after we began dating. My baby sister had been born two days before, and I was packing my things in preparation for a major move that would take place three weeks later.
Here we are together with the first newborn we shared. There is a lot going on behind the eyes of that sixteen-year-old girl.
There was excitement in celebrating that first birthday together, the last we would celebrate in person before marrying four years later. His birthday became a conundrum for me as I tried to choose the right gifts. I remember mailing packages those years before we married, feeling close to my boyfriend while shopping and selecting things I thought he would enjoy.
It was difficult not being together in person, because much is missed in the day to day sharing of life. Much was built up in my mind and the future was idealized. I thought it would be easier after we married. Please do not laugh. I am having a hard enough time being kind to that young woman inside. It was not easier.
Last night, Steve lovingly reminded me of the delicious coconut cream pie I tried to make for his 22nd birthday when we were newlyweds. It was more like coconut soup, but he ate it like a champ. I have not always had the stellar cooking and baking skills of today.
His contentment made it difficult for me to find “just the right” gift, because I could not tell what he would really enjoy, I don’t know if he knew, either, indicated by vague or practical responses when asked. I groped along, hoping to hit the mark.
I think I hit it this year. Number 30 just might be a charm. I don’t want to say more in the rare event that he has an opportunity to read this before tonight when he opens his gifts, but I am excited, and that is a good feeling.
This week began with a dream, one of those vivid ones that you remember upon waking and that stays with you all day. In it I was leading a story group. My husband was a participant. I thought it odd that the leaders would put us together but figured, Oh well, they know what they are doing.
One theme of the dream was distraction. As Steve began to share his story a rushing river roared noisily past, other group members were taking facetime calls, and a tiny elephant went walking by. I was trying hard to hear what he was saying, but even leaning in with great focus, I couldn’t.
I finally stopped everything and addressed the situation, naming the great distractions and the need to focus on Steve and his story.
Awww. Thank you for speaking up for me was his response when I shared my dream yesterday morning.
As I celebrate the amazing man I saw in those eighteen year old eyes, that is my desire for him this year, to focus on his story and on that tiny elephant walking by, inviting him to more laughter, creativity, and growth.
I almost missed the message of the license plate in front on me while waiting at a stoplight. Having just dropped off the girls at middle school, I was lost in my own thoughts, preparing for the next pick up and drop off. Looking up, the letters caught my eye.
You are loved.
I needed to be reminded of this today. Thank you, Owner of the Personalized License Plate Car. I did not get to see who you were before you turned right, and I went left, but the message touched my heart. Or maybe someone got that plate for you, so that you would always remember. If so, the love trickled down. Either way, I am grateful.
The thing is, my head knows I am loved, but my heart does not always feel it. It’s a difficult dichotomy to bear. It can be frustrating to those who love me when I cannot see what is right in front of my face.
Like the license plate.
So I keep looking and trusting that I really am loved. And I keep seeing the signs that are all around. And even though I can not always feel it, I believe it is there. And sometimes I get to feel it, and it overwhelms me.
This time when I arrive home, my nine-year-old boss, not Zephyr, is waiting on the porch for me. Just as insistent that I get inside and on with the day, I try to appreciate her eagerness to be with me and only snap a little bit. Then apologize. She loves me, and I love her back.
We get ready to go, and I disappear into the bathroom. When I emerge, her dad is standing there, an unexpected change in routine which throws me all the way off.
Why are you here? I ask curtly.
I had to get something and thought I would pick up Mae and drive her in.
Softening, I recognize what I almost missed in my irritation. This act of love frees up a chunk of morning time that will help me launch the day. It gives me a head start on later, when I have a dentist appointment.
This is love, and I see and feel it with gratefulness.
Twenty-five anniversaries, holding on and holding hope.
I want to have big silver anniversary words, but I don’t. And that is okay. It has to be.
I have the words that a friend offered at the end of his congratulatory Facebook comment on Steve’s wall.
. . . a great example of a rugged marriage.
Thank you, Alvin. Those are exactly the words that affirm the beautiful hard that is found in celebrating 25 years of becoming one while growing up together and having three of our eight children before our brains were fully formed!
This day has felt rugged. It certainly hasn’t been the stuff of which silver anniversary dreams are made. As a final blow, we had to cancel the sitter for our evening out due to uncertain stomachs. We had to engage disappointment and pain.
This season feels rugged as I find more words for my own story and style of relating and engaging and how that has affected those closest to me. As Steve and I struggle to find more words for our story together, we recognize the help that we need. It is okay to need help.
A dear sister heard my heart and affirmed my words as I processed with her via text.
A silver star with a 25 on it doesn’t negate the hurt and disappointment. Or the joy. There is joy underneath, but right now it is being eclipsed by the ache. And marriage is about more than just how I feel today.
Climbing out of the valley and learning to walk on level ground isn’t as easy as it sounds!
One of the significant assaults of evil in this period is to try to triumph through regret. It is easy to survey all that might have been and grieve that it has taken so long to savor and delight in life. Add to this the desire to remove all the debris we have brought into the lives of our children, friends, and family, and it is easy to feel terrible and to work frantically to restore all that is broken. We must resist this seduction. Grief is freeing, but regret is the cul-de-sac of despair. (Dan Allender, Healing the Wounded Heart, 233).
So tonight we will have our regularly scheduled date night and not the fancy dinner out gifted us by our kids. Rather than circling the cul-de-sac again and again, I will try to feel the disappointment and grieve what is not, and then move on to the goodness that is an evening together with the hope of a future ahead of us.
We will persist. We will toast our twenty-five years of beautiful, rugged marriage with chicken soup and ginger-ale!
I am away with my love this weekend. We are relaxing at Lake Anna in the midst of a season of difficult challenges. Maybe it should be seasons. The seasons have rolled into years.
The years have been hard.
It is difficult for me to be in the early morning quiet. I recognize this, as anxiety begins to mount at the prospect of an unstructured day ahead. I do not have words to give the man sitting at the opposite end of the sofa as I stare out the window at the sun rising over the water.
Pulling a creamy-soft throw from the back of the sofa and tucking it around me, I curl into a fetal position, resting my head on a square pillow. A tear falls. I feel it slip out of the corner of my eye, roll down my cheek and drip off of my face. More threaten to fall, betraying that all is not well.
I am not fine, and I have thirty-six hours to figure it out, before I have to go back. That is how it has always felt.
This is your chance. You had better not waste it or squander it or use it unwisely, because another one won’t be coming around any time soon! Redeem that time, Sister. You have been given much, and of you much is required.
Mustering every ounce of courage to make any sound come out of my mouth, I use my voice to share what is inside. It feels terrifying. There is a battle raging in my head. I want to stay behind the wall.
I don’t know how to be me by myself, and I sure don’t know how to be me and you by ourselves, and I am going to just ruin all of this!
Tears explode and fall in full-force sobs. I am sobbing on our first of two mornings together without parental and adult responsibilities before we have to go back. I feel self-contempt mounting and fight it fiercely.
Why can’t I just be carefree and fun?
Love pulls my feet into his lap and offers me comfort. He lets me ugly-cry and sob and leans over to rub my scalp and hug me. I feel so much resistance and try to stay present. I try to receive care without gauging what it will cost me.
Care comes at a cost, you know. Will this be worth it?
I fight against resistance to share with and be real with this life-partner who sits with me on the other side of the wall. Coming out from behind it is so scary and so hard and so risky for me.
I am met with safety and kindness. There is no judgment or expectation.
Love shares his feelings about sitting on the same side of the wall with me. I try not to twist them into something they are not.
They are only love and gratitude. I can choose to receive, which I do.
Grateful for the kindness offered to me to just be and process, I pull out a journal and begin to write. Thoughts come. Curiosities. More tears. I reach for tissues that begin to pile up. I consider taking a picture of them. That just seems wrong. I resist the urge.
Love gives me the space that I need. Little do I know I am being watched from above.