Tag Archives: remember

My Mama Final Exam

Another one has come and gone. Graduation of child 4 from high school took place last weekend. It was a full, emotional time and the chance to be filled with nostalgia, as my thirteen-year-old son was sure to articulate at every opportunity.

There were many finals.

Final concerts, final performances, final gatherings, final awards ceremonies.

There was also a Mama Final.

This is what I call the gathering and assembling of a memory board to display at the graduation party. I fantasize that some more organized mamas have it all together and have been working on the project gradually over the years, having only to add finishing touches here and there for the final display.

Remember those science fair projects and research reports that started with the best of intentions and ended with holding a blow dryer over a paper-mache dinosaur to get it to dry faster the night before it was due? Is it just me?

My process has been trial and error, fueled by pragmatic inspiration. Sadly, my firstborn was not the recipient of a properly-executed final exam. Her display took over most of the dining room, as school pictures of her were hung, illustrating her various awkward stages of growing up. I am grateful that she graded me on a curve for that.

I didn’t discover my method and groove until child number two graduated from high school. Because he was a pianist and giving a senior piano recital, I planned out a memory board to be displayed at the reception that followed.

Not wanting to waste my efforts, the thought struck that if I used a display board and attached decorated scrapbook pages to it, I could later remove the pages and insert them into an album. Armed with this inspiration, I chose to use green and gold, his chosen college’s colors as the backdrop colors and set to work planning out pages.

I did the same for the next graduate, a girl who planned to take a gap year. Her album was recently pulled out to remember and reminisce.

Enter the month of May. Busy and full, I felt grateful that my last day of work left me with two full weeks before everyone else was out of school. I began to focus on the task at hand.

Here is how it played out.

  • I pulled out the display board stored in my closet from the last graduate.
I started with a blank display board like the one used for school projects.

I started with a blank display board like the one used for school projects.

  • I collected the boxes of memories that I had saved over the years and began sorting, patchwork quilt style on my bed.
Choosing red and white as school colors and purple as an accent, I tied them together with tie-dye and rainbow pixel paper as a background.

Choosing red, blue, and white as school colors and purple as an accent, I pulled them together with tie-dye and rainbow pixel paper as a background.

  • I began committing by cutting and gluing pictures to the scrapbook paper as page themes emerged.
Here is an up-close look at the marching band page.

Here is an up-close look at the marching band page.

  • I set aside my perfectionistic tendencies and not good enough voices in my head and just did it. I made something.
After attaching the individual pages to the backboard, I stood the finished project on the table to view a new perspective.

After attaching the individual pages to the backboard, I stood the finished project on the table to view a new perspective.

  • The morning of the graduation brunch, it was fun to have this for people to enjoy.
We celebrated at a park under a shelter. I propped the display on a picnic table bench for all to see, using a potted succulent to hold it in place.

We celebrated at a park under a shelter. I propped the display on a picnic table bench for all to see, using a potted succulent to hold it in place. One of the other moms provided a journal for friends to write in, which was a wonderful touch!

  • Afterwards, I organized the pages into a photo album, scrapbook-style.
Afterwards, I removed all pages from the display and slid them into a scrapbook. Here is a sample page from that.

This is where I removed all pages from the display and slid them into a scrapbook. Here is a sample page from that.

There you have the process for a successful mama final exam. If this mother of eight can do it, you can, too! One of the biggest tips I have is to designate a bin for each child to collect their memories. I plan to write more on this topic soon, but that is a good place to start.

Choosing Texas

Would you rather go to Hell or Texas?

Little Mae asks me this very question during our ride to school one morning in May. She sneaks it in after we finish dropping her older brother off at middle school but before arriving at ours. We are rounding the traffic circle, if memory serves.

I am shocked, stunned, slightly panicked.

Where in the world did THIS question come from and WHERE is it going?

Masking my ability to jump to the worst possible conclusion to anything in a single bound, I respond with a question of my own.

Why do you want to know?

I am learning, slowly, but surely, to put into practice all of those good parent techniques that other parents seem to have a handle on. Like asking clarifying questions.

Well, in Sunday School we are learning about the Apostle’s Creed, and there was the question, “Would you rather go to Hell or Texas?”

Aha! Now I have a context and framework. Of Course! He was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into Hell. The third day, he arose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven. . .The words that I learned as a child flood back to my mind.

While some would say there is no difference, I definitely have my answer. . .

I would never want me or anyone to go to Hell, and I have been to Texas, so I definitely choose Texas.

In fact, I would love to be in Texas, where I was almost five years ago when I met the woman who would prove to be instrumental in guiding me to the place that I am today!

As is the case any time Mae and I engage in conversation, there is more. Big things and deep thoughts happen in the space of ten minutes, and this time is no exception.

At least I have someone I already know there waiting for me. You know. Porter?

My heart catches in my throat as we enter this new conversation about her cousin born too soon. I never know when to expect them or what to expect from them. Some times are predictable, like kindergarten graduation when they would have graduated together. Others are not, like when we are driving to school.

Yes. Porter is already in Heaven waiting for you. It will be exciting to meet him one day. It’s nice to have someone you know already there before you. . .

We talk about him for awhile and remember together. Well, I remember, and share with her. Each year, she understands a little more. She always understands that he is the cousin her age that is not here.

Just like Kirk has Deacon, and Chloe and Kanah have Jude. She loves Hadassah, but Porter is the one who would have been her age. In her class.

Porter is the one who is missing. Waiting for us on the other side.

So this year on the day that we should be celebrating him turning eight, I honor him by remembering him and reminding us that his life mattered. It still matters. He matters.

We miss you, Porter Silas. We wonder what you would look like and what you would act like. I wonder what it would have been like to teach three second graders this year, with you as a role model to those first grade boys, balancing out that first and second grade table of five at lunch. I wonder what it would have been like to teach you. Thank you for all that you taught us during your short, meaningful life. Thank you for living out each day written for you with purpose and dignity, even when we didn’t, and still don’t, understand why you had to leave us so soon. We are honored to call you nephew and cousin. We remember and will choose Texas every time. We can’t wait to meet you one day in Heaven.

Easter Memories

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.

<b>Carob</b> solid Chuckle <b>Bunny</b> Shapes 120g 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?

Friendship Friday ~ Adult Daughter

Hi mama I miss you <3

The text comes through at 8:33pm, shortly after returning home from a failed shopping trip with one of her younger sisters. I am in tears, parenting solo this night, trying to get everyone what they need and where they need to be. I am up to my eyeballs in the thankless hard work of it all.

My partner on the journey is off on a well-deserved break, nurturing his creative outlet. Connecting with the adult daughters is a bonus he looks forward to. I encourage him in this endeavor, realizing he doesn’t get enough of it. Time for himself, that is.

The long day had morphed into a daunting evening. It is in the clothing store while experiencing deja-vu that I consider clarifying my life mission to Ruining the lives of young girls, one daughter at a time.

Pulling out my lifeline phone, I begin composing a text to an adult daughter who has already walked this same road with me as a tween/teen. Then I delete it, chiding myself for feeling a need to involve her in my struggle, having already survived the torture that was my mothering.

Tween daughter and I leave the store empty-handed, invectives and accusations searing my ears over the lack of clothing choices and my failure to mother well, every weakness noted and footnoted and trigger pushed. Tears sting my eyelids. Heart pounds in my chest. I cling to composure and arrive home to tuck the younger sister into bed and bid adieu to my shopping partner, whom I clearly fail by the minute.

Settling into my room, allowing tears sobs to flow freely, the text arrives.

Hi mama I miss you . . .

I respond with how I am feeling, and she reminds me that it is a phase. She shares her adult daughter perspective with me. She demonstrates love for the younger sister with her words and reminders to me about how it feels to be young with big feelings. She speaks words of kindness and truth about my writing and her thoughts on where it is headed and encourages me to keep on in the bigness and hard of it all.

She reminds me it is okay to rest, and when I text, Thanks. That’s what I need to do. Just. Go. To. Bed, she replies with Or a bath and bed. 🙂

That’s my girl. I feel so blessed.

Often, Steve and I comment to each other that it would be nice to say, Oh well, too bad we screwed up those four kids. At least we tried, and then go on with our life NOT having to keep up with parenting four more. It is hard to stay engaged and energized.

Then there are moments when a text comes through from an adult daughter turned friend that reminds you that this, too, shall pass. You are not alone.

In Which I Have a Dream

. . . about puppies!

It’s Leap Day, and before it ends, I want to write about something light-hearted and fun.

I blame my sweet friend, Davene, and her copious Facebook puppy pictures and posts filling my feed. I’d much rather focus on puppies than Presidential Primaries, which is saying something, because dogs aren’t even my favorite.

Just yesterday there was a video of the puppies venturing outside for the first time, and I watched it. Then there was the blog post about it. Then the dream.

I am fascinated by these puppies, seeing as I first heard that they were on the way on the eve of the big snow. Davene and I ran into each other at the library, and I asked about Willow and found out that she was great with puppies. Turns out, she gave birth to them during the storm.

I have followed their progress, often thinking, At least I don’t have 10 puppies to care for! in the midst of my overwhelm. We all have our own stuff, you know. Some people have puppies. There is lots of love to go around in the Fisher household and lots of schooling going on and lots of learning. It is pretty incredible.

Davene is pretty incredible!

On to the dream. It was one of those that comes in the night and just sticks. I still remember it, even after writing it down this morning in my Dream Journal.

We went to the Fishers’ house to see Willow’s puppies, finally, after talking about it for some time. As usual, there was attitude from a certain child or children who shall remain unnamed. Not unusual.

We were still driving our big white van, parked it, and got out.

We went into the house, and puppies were EVERYWHERE. They were anywhere you looked. Puppies. Crawling into this and out of that. The children noticed two that they wanted. In true dream form, they looked nothing like any of Willow’s ACTUAL puppies. They were more cocker-spanielish in appearance.

The Fishers were more than happy for us to take them, so we began making plans for that. I noticed an unusual-looking black puppy that seemed to have a collie-like appearance around the face and ruff around the neck. It also had stripes on its sides and a bushier tail. I noted to myself that it seemed to have gotten all of the recessive genes, and looked rather skunk-like.

That is when we noticed that it really WAS a skunk. It jumped onto my back and began clawing at me as I ran around, freaking out, in true Christmas Vacation form. THERE IS A SKUNK ON MY BACK!!!!!

I ran outside where it was somehow removed.

We loaded up and headed home with two new puppies to add to our menagerie. The dream ended with them being introduced to Dewey, Zephyr, and Buddy.

There you have my latest dream. It’s not big or life-changing or risky, unless I choose to analyze it. Then, maybe, I had better look out! Because, you know, there was that skunk and all of those puppies.

All of the Cuddles I Did Not Read

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 read all 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.

Ew Gooooody!

Resisting Redemption

I picked up my fourth-grader from school yesterday. Excitement radiated from her as she shared about her purchases at the Knight Bucks Store, a shopping venue set up with donated items. Students used their incentive dollars, Knight Bucks, to buy gifts for friends and family and then maybe select an item or two for themselves.

There were even people wrapping presents, and they were professionals. They didn’t just tie a plain ribbon around the present, but they used scissors to actually curl the ribbon and make it all fancy.

I don’t know what that says about the wrapping skills in this house, but I was grateful for the teachers and parents who took time to man the store and the wrapping station. I was thankful for the fancy, because through the eyes of my child, it was exquisite.

I got a present for Collie.

Now, Collie is her sister’s stuffed dog who has a personality and a voice all his own. In fact, there is a whole subculture in this house revolving around Collie and Bessie. It made complete sense that when the gift was opened, it was a cow.

Collie and Bessie

From what I gather, Collie was nourished on Bessie milk as a pup.

To be honest, I always felt uncomfortable to hear them talking about Bessie milk, because it sounded like breast milk in their high-pitched, slow-talking animal voices. I realize as I admit this, that breast milk is what all of my children were nourished on, and that the crunchiness-level in our house should make phrases like Bessie milk a non-issue, but triggers abound, and awkwardly using the correct words for body parts and functions continues to remain one of mine.

It’s redemptive that I can push through and allow my children to use correct words for body parts and functions, even though I inwardly cringe.

The excitement that younger sister felt about bringing a gift home to older sister’s treasured stuffed animal was sweet to behold. The joyful playfulness they shared by the light of the Christmas tree, acting out voices of each animal was quietly witnessed by me as I prepared food in the kitchen.

My heart wanted to expand, and at the same time shut down. Hence, the resistance.

I don’t have fond memories of myself at the age of my girls. I don’t look back and feel sweet or fun or generous. When I think of myself at ten and beyond, it’s not with kindness, especially in relationships with my siblings. To witness and focus on the kindness of my girls and the friendship they share at this age offers an invitation to taste redemption.

Sometimes I taste it, and it’s sweet. Other times, it’s a bitter pill of grief that I struggle to swallow. This redemption that shows up in strange places is an invitation to participate in the process. It is an offering of light brought to scatter the darkness.

It is a gift I will choose not to resist.