It’s after 10:00 on Saturday night, and I’m picking up American Girl dolls and accessories from an elaborate set up in the TV room. They have been there for over a week.
I remember the intricacy involved and time it takes to set up and orchestrate proper play, and I want my youngest to have that freedom for as long as possible. As a result, we have all been navigating over and around tiny dishes and clothing and furniture and dolls, so many dolls. It is time to clean them up.
There are bins to contain everything, but Little Mae is clearly avoiding the task.
I warn her that if she doesn’t pick up, then I will do it for her.
Ok, Fine! She calls over her shoulder as she runs upstairs to play in her room with a sister before bed.
This is how I find myself here, and I do not even take a picture, though the thought crossed my mind. What if this is the last time?
It really could be now, unlike times before when there was always another sister or sibling next in line.
I allow myself to hold the memory of the scene in my heart as I sit in the midst of the play circle, paralyzed. I am transported back to my young self who desired to keep her world ordered, a seemingly impossible task with six younger siblings coming behind and messing things up.
I understand now Little Mae’s avoidance. It is overwhelming. In my overwhelm, I release perfectionism and just place things where they fit. Like with like, mostly. There is fun in unpacking surprises when the bins are brought back out.
Whenever that may be.
My husband works on his own late-night project in the kitchen, just off of the room where I sit. I gain momentum and snap tops on full bins, stacking them, preparing to move them back out to the kitchen set.
Music plays from the speaker in the kitchen. . . Changes . . .and the tears well in my eyes. My heart already feels fragile, and now I am packing and stacking and storing away toys that are nearing their expiration date.
Doubt creeps in and over and around my heart as I question my choice to allow the girls to spend so much birthday and Christmas money over the years on dolls and tiny dresses and miniature shoes and furniture.
I remember and question my own rush of anticipation, stalking Cyber Monday deals and trolling secondhand shops for unique tiny things.
I find a paper rolled and taped into a tiny cone shape with pompoms glued on it for cotton candy and ice cream sandwiches cut from craft foam and the tiny empty plastic bottles that held beads from a recent craft kit and smile.
My daughter faithfully rises early each weekday morning to walk and care for her dog. She is often up before me, pulling on a coat and slipping on headphones before grabbing the leash. I remain in my room, doing my morning routine, preparing to engage another day.
One morning, I heard unusual scrambling and barking from Dewey upon returning from his walk. Run-in with Zephyr, I conjectured. She’s the boss of us all. I wonder what is up with them this morning. He must have crossed her.
I stepped out of my room to find a ball of white scampering around and under the dining room table with Dewey following closely behind, barking and snapping at it. It was another terrier.
I found Louie this morning on the walk. He was loose, so I brought him here to call his owner.
Sure enough, the name on his tag read Louie, which was kind of funny considering we have Dewey. We wondered aloud if they had been at the SPCA together, and if there was a Huey out there, also.
The morning routine continued as Dewey and Louie dashed around underfoot, reminding me of why I was hesitant to get a dog in the first place and why we have only one. Steve called the number on the tag which went directly to voicemail. He then offered the following words while preparing to drive Kirk to school:
I’m going to walk Louie around the block to see if someone is looking for him while Kirk finishes getting ready.
I got in my car to wait for the girls to come out for their ride to school. They exited the house as Steve returned from his walk around the block with another little dog under his arm.
I think they belong together, because this little one came running up. I had to grab him quickly before he got away.
Then there were three! I was laughing out loud in disbelief. The little brown dog had no tag. Of course we called him Huey.
Please don’t call the SPCA until I get home. The little brown dog is SOOOOO cute! Can we keep him?
I was beyond my comfort zone as Steve deposited the dogs in the backyard while I assured my daughter that I would make no sudden moves without her. We left for school.
I am not exaggerating when I say that at the top of our street there was a large white dog off-leash doing his business. No human in sight.
We are not even stopping for Donald! We have GOT to get to school.
I returned home to the sight of two dogs looking longingly at me through the fence.
Inside, Dewey was waiting by the back door. I opened it for him to join his friends in the back yard.
There was an incredible amount of cuteness.
Then it was time for me to go to breakfast with my son. This meant bringing Dewey inside but leaving the others out in case their owner should come looking for them. Can you guess the dynamic here? Which dog is supposed to be coming inside?
Please can I come in, too?
After a leisurely breakfast downtown, my son and I returned home to an empty yard. The dogs had been picked up. At least I hoped so!
The call came later. The dogs had, indeed, made it home, and we had made a fun family memory. I’m grateful for caring hearts, bounding dogs, and healing laughter.
It was one word written in green marker on a piece of paper in tidy handwriting.
The paper, crumpled and left on the middle of the table was answer enough. Clearly no.
Bedtime had arrived. Time to put the game and tea cups and ice cream dishes away and head upstairs for teeth brushing and cuddle. The younger first, then the older. Hence, the note.
If the younger leveraged her cards right, she would get some coveted Lego time with the older. Things were not looking hopeful, according to the crumpled paper I cleared from the table.
I gathered it up, released my need to save it for posterity, and carried it to my bathroom to throw it in the trash can. That is when the tears, then sobs, began. I collapsed onto the toilet seat and cried.
They come easily, lately, the tears, at all the wrong times.
These were for approaching endings. For this particular ending that felt so close. The ending of Legos.
Three years ago another older sister bought a large Lego set for her birthday. It now sits in a bin in the basement. I know it won’t be long before this older sister will lose interest, if she has not already.
Time is short. It is so long.
I weep for final endings. There was always another on the horizon. I weep for missed opportunities. I weep for a little girl inside who does not know why she is crying but cannot seem to stop.
I need to go upstairs to read, but the piano calls me to sit and calm my heart. I begin to play.
Footsteps run down the stairs, and before I can begin to lecture, words fly from an excited little sister’s mouth.
We’re going to play Legos for cuddle!
Feet run up the steps and a bedroom door slams shut. I hear laughter and excited voices behind it.
Playing Legos for cuddle means a few minutes for me to write instead of read, though somehow I think an older sister will finagle a few pages of the Hobbit from me anyway, and I will concede because of Legos and the gift of a little more time.
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.
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.
Yesterday was a special day. It had been written on a calendar block, cleared of all else. We spent all day with the Boston little boy cousins and their amazing parents.
My anxiety about having little people around for the day was alleviated quickly when this little one walked in, grabbed a recorder, and began playing while his brother accompanied him on the piano.
Uncle B patiently listened to Little Mae tell all about King’s Dominion adventures using her map of the park.
My baby and my sister’s baby smiled at each other a lot, which was a huge milestone for anyone who knows my baby and her thoughts about babies.
Baby B won her over.
Meanwhile, lots of creating happened. The cry of Guys, Guys! Look over here! caught my attention. I looked to see this little one with his airplane.
My much younger sister was caught wearing my perpetual mothering face in this picture. I so know the feeling.
With everything happening at once, there were problems to solve, like the one of figuring out how to find all of the pieces and get this track to stick to the green board. Daddy to the rescue on that one! Problem solved.
It was sweet for my littles to get an opportunity to experience the life of their big siblings. Here Coco gets to feel like her big sisters when the littles were being born, holding a babe in arms.
And these eyes and little chewing mouth. I could not get enough of them.
And this snuggly sleeper. I might have cried a little.
Of course, a day with littles (or bigs for that matter) is not complete without some down time with a screen and a cuddly blanket.
This day was so full, pictures don’t do it justice. I finally had to put down the phone and just be in it, because everything was so much to take in.
I want to remember the moments of sweetness like a two-and-a-half-year-old cousin wandering into the TV room with his bowl of shredded cheese and climbing up next to Kirk and asking questions about Minecraft. My thirteen-year-old’s patient response and offer of letting him play reminded me of how Caleb treated his little brother, and my heart swelled.
I want to remember the conversations with my brother and sister that felt natural and relaxed and made us forget that we live hundreds of miles apart and that this doesn’t happen every day. Moments of falling asleep on the couch or walking out into the yard or playing UNO Attack (thanks, B!!!!) felt like they happen every day.
And dinner time. Oh, the dinner table.
I want to remember shopping with my sister and planning our meal like it’s the most normal thing in the world, all while talking about everything. I want to remember cooking and being together and living life.
I want to remember what it was like to have a full dinner table and the littles getting to be the bigs and experiencing the noise and cries and trauma of food touching other food or too much ketchup coming out of the bottle or corn on the cob rolling onto the wrong place on the plate. Our table was full and loud and fun.
Our day was full and loud and fun.
My body, mind, and soul felt full and tired and happy and sad and grateful, so very grateful.
At the end of the day when, Sister Selfie! was called, here is what we got. Sister selfie, plus one. I am old enough to be this girl’s mom, so I could technically be a grandma. Technically. Not yet.
For now I relish being auntie to this precious little one and his brothers and will hold so many special memories close to my heart.
This past week was a dear friend’s birthday. We share the same birth month, and several weeks ago went for coffee together. She gave me a card with a gift card to the coffee shop that we often frequent. She also gave me a box.
The box was significant and special, because it was handmade by her. What was inside the box was even more significant, especially at this time in my life.
While reading and preparing for my certificate work this coming school year, much is made about memory and story and processing and trauma. This month was all about the reading. Next month comes the first writing assignment.
Stirring around inside are memories to be curious about and stories to process. Launching another big while continuing to parent four littles middles stirs different feelings now that there are no more babies. I see more of myself in the life stages of my five girls ~ wherever they are.
And also my three boys.
With that background, I was curious about the box. I opened it to reveal this. . .
Can you guess the significance? Anyone? Need another clue?
She passed her childhood set along to me for safe-keeping, knowing my love for the dolls and their place in my story.
Playing with Sunshine Family dolls is a HUGE childhood memory. This was my alternative to playing with Barbies ~ modestly proportioned, flat-footed mom, solid, hard-working dad, baby, and even a big sister in one of the sets, this family provided me hours of creative fun.
I only remember having the dolls and some of the baby accessories. Mine were yellow ~ cradle, bathtub, high chair. There was even a tiny bottle. I don’t think I had any of the store-bought big accessories, but that certainly didn’t stop me from creating multi-level houses out of cardboard boxes, filled with hand-crafted furniture.
My dolls had yellow shoes. It’s funny the memories that stick.
Among my Sunshine Family memories are the pantry shelves that my mom created out of a Velveeta box, cardboard squares, and tape. The dining room table was cut from the bottom of a plastic gallon milk jug with chairs made from paper cups. One was turned upside-down, the other cut in half. The bottoms were glued or taped together, forming a chair with a back. Fancy.
Plates were the flat tops of milk jugs, cups were toothpaste caps, and baskets were egg carton sections cut and woven with yarn. The humble shoebox was a treasure trove of possibilities, most obviously, a bed, but also a closet or stove or counter.
To this day, my sister and I have an inside joke where we say, “It can be a bed, or a dresser, or a table, etc. . .” whenever we see something with multifunctional potential.
In my mind, I spent hours armed with fabric and scissors and wallpaper samples, creating and designing beautifully furnished housing for my dolls. I remember learning a pattern for a tiny bonnet for baby and diapers, as well.
I know that my sister played Sunshine Family with me, and I think some friends did, as well. Did any of you play with or remember these dolls from the 70’s? Did any of your children play with them? I am curious and curiouser!
What about you, Dear Readers? What are some of YOUR significant memories of play? Do share in the comments!
You broke the mold, Son. So many molds of mine, actually.
You broke my birthing mold.
You broke my parenting mold.
You broke my teaching mold.
You were born with a free spirit, to the beat of a different drum.
I didn’t know it.
I had a lot to learn that only you could teach me.
Start each day with breakfast. As you came downstairs each morning, your first words were “Need bekkis”
Ask for what you need. “Need kiss” as you took your paci out of your mouth to kiss me with your toddler mouth
Laugh in the funny moments. like when a new mattress was delivered, and it looked like my bed had grown two feet taller, and I stood with four year old you as we spontaneously laughed
Sing your own song. As I’m changing your diaper and singing your nigh-nigh bed song and you chime in with a “Play toys” descant. At 18 months.
Weigh your options. When reading blends and words wasn’t really worth it and made you cough until mini marshmallows were on the line. Then you were a reading pro!
Be helpful. As four year old you carried newborn Kirk down the stairs to me because “He was going to cry.”
Use your voice. Yours was loud and insistent and challenging, but it got my attention. And that of anyone within hearing range in a parking lot or grocery store as you threw one of those tantrums that “my child would never throw.” And that of the neighbor when you were yelling out of the window with your friends.
Love people and make friends. Like you do so well.
I wish I could go back to that 27-year-old mama of four and give her one of the hugs that infant and toddler you so lavishly bestowed on me.
I would tell her that it really is worth it and really is a blessing amidst the tantrums and struggles over raincoats and putting away sandals and clipping into car seats.
I would ask her what she was afraid of and stop to listen to her answer. I would show her the very things she feared she was creating if she didn’t slow down and live in the moment. I miss the moments. I’m sorry that it took me so long to recognize them. I’m sorry that I thought I could control what I feared.
I’ve always said that I wanted things to be what they really are, even when it is painful.
I remember how painful it was to make the decision to enroll you at THMS. That was really hard in many ways due to my background and story, but I knew that it was the right thing for you. Even though the middle school years were messy, it was worth it that day as we were riding to or from high school when you spontaneously thanked me.
Thanks, Mom, for sending me to THMS so that I could meet my friends.
You have always loved to be with people and to have lots of people around, except maybe at the dinner table if they were under three feet tall and in high chairs. The conversation we had that day in the car confirmed in my heart that the right decision was made for you.
And now here you are.
That’s the question of the season. Friends ask me. They ask you. Everyone has an idea. A suggestion.
It’s okay not to know. It’s okay to be real and unsure and to march to the beat of your own drum. It’s okay to live life and be present in the moment and be open to the future and to not have all of the answers, yet.
Whatever is next, know that you are loved. I am proud of you for who you are. Congratulations on reaching this milestone!
I love you, Drummer Boy.
Remember this feeling. Keep following your dreams and your gifting! You are a rock solid drummer.
I seize a moment when the clouds part and sun shines to run outside to the strawberry patch. The ground, softened by days of rain, offers up its weeds with no resistance, though an occasional tiny berry is mixed in and sacrificed to their twisted, choking growth.
Extracting myself from the tasks at hand inside is a challenge, but sunshine, fresh air, and moist soil draw me to the present, and white flowers beckon me to notice them. I stop and breathe, accepting the invitation to a bit of productive stillness.
This is where it started, the inspiration to write for a blog outside of my own, in the strawberry patch. Each year reminds me of that. That, and a number of other things, like the fact that the strawberries were planted by my firstborn when she was still a teenager at home, and the first plants came from my dear friend’s yard before her life took a traumatic turn, exiling her from that home and yard.
There is a fence around the strawberries now. It is a nod to trying to keep the dog from trampling them, but it’s not working very well. Dewey has no problem in leaping with excitement over the low barrier if one of his doggie friends happens to be passing by or if he feels a need to defend his turf.
It is so imperfect, the place that calls me back each year, rising from the ashes, defying proper gardening techniques. Each year I think, I’ll do better at tending this patch and putting it to bed when the season ends. Then I don’t do better. Each year strawberry grace meets me again.
I don’t know what this year’s yield will be or when we will eat our first shortcake or if there will be an attempt at jam. That remains to be seen. What I do know is that today I was met in the strawberry patch with kindness and grace and hope.