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.
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.
This may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me it is. For me it is saying, I really care about spending time together, I know Steve will enjoy this, I know I will enjoy this. Even though there are 1,001 reasons to not make it happen and then feel disappointed, I am going to TRY.
When I saw that Second Citywas returning to JMU, I wanted to go again with Steve. We attended a show a few years ago with No Strings Attached, and it was fun. I participated in a Second City workshop in Chicago while chaperoning a school trip for my son and learned a lot.
I desired to do this together.
Several weeks ago, I checked out the tickets and pricing. Seats were going fast. There were a few left scattered here and there, mostly in the balcony. Asking Steve what he thought about going, and not hearing clear Let’s do it! in his voice, I let it go.
Several weeks ago there was also great letdown as a failed communication between us resulted in an anticipated longing falling by the wayside, unmet. I struggled through deep disappointment and wrestled with how to let go of past hurts while communicating present ones honestly.
It was difficult to admit to myself and my husband that I stuff pain and quickly say, It’s okay, or It’s no big deal, when it’s not and it is. I had to acknowledge my hurt, disappointment, and true feelings without accusing, blaming, and attacking. It was a difficult time. We are still learning to communicate honestly and to hear one another in a safe space.
Steve can’t read my mind.
I minimize desire. I long for more together time but don’t take action. I wish for connection but grow busy with distraction.
It was time to make something happen.
Last night, out of curiosity, I logged onto the theater website to see what, if any, seats were left.
The seat map showed two yellow squares at the edge of a sea of x‘s. And by sea, I mean every other seat was marked taken.
Two seats at the end of a row! A countdown timer at the top of the laptop screen ticked away the minutes I had to make a decision while Steve was out walking Dewey. Two seats. At the end of a row! (Can you tell that part in itself was HUGE for me?) The last two seats. My favorite spot in any row.
I took them.
Almost immediately, contempt and sabotage began to creep in.
What did you just do? That was stupid. You don’t even know if you can get a babysitter at this late notice. Steve didn’t act as if he wanted to go when you mentioned it before. You just spent money on something that you don’t know will work out.
And on and on.
I began my usual pattern of faux-not-caring. He can always take a friend if we don’t get a sitter. I can be here with the kids. It doesn’t matter if I go or not.
I told Steve when he returned and was met with a positive response. He helped me begin looking for a sitter, which in the end I secured.
So tonight is a real date night, not that popcorn and Parenthood at 9:30pm doesn’t count. It’s the fighting forward for fun together that doesn’t just magically happen because I wish it would. It’s being in the moment in our marriage, knowing that it is worth it.
Sometimes I get home from school before my children. Today was not one of those times, but last Friday was. If you follow the blog, you might recall that it was the day of the first bus ride.
I arrived to a quiet house, well, quiet except for a puppy who was ready to get out of his crate and play. I let him out, and we headed to the back yard together.
When Dewey was new to us, I began working with him on fetch! Chloe joined in, and it became a team effort. One of us would throw the ball and say fetch! He would run to it, look proudly back at us, and occasionally return it for a treat or tummy rubs.
Sometimes he would miss the ball completely, distracted by a car, or an itch, or another dog, or cat.
Last Friday, I picked up a multicolored ball and tossed it. Dewey, Fetch!
Bounding to the ball, he picked it up and ran back to me, dropping it at my feet for tummy rubs and another turn.
I threw it again. Several times. We played together there in the yard waiting for his girl to get home. Each time he expertly returned the ball to me, basking in praise and my occasional laughter. And, of course, tummy rubs.