Sometimes Mama needs a break from the nest. Mama and Papa Mallard were out walking late the Sunday afternoon I returned from a weekend away with my mister. Dewey was waiting for his walk, so off we went.
The ducks strolled near the nest, quacking and roaming. They took off for a brief flight when we approached. The eggs were safely covered. You would never know something was growing in the shade of the shrubbery.
I am grateful for an adult daughter who tended our nest so that Steve and I could get away for a marriage retreat. It was a gift to take time to learn more about our attachment styles, our story together, and all of the things that we know in our head but don’t have time to engage with our hearts.
We returned with a new sense of connection and direction, with more language to use. Refreshed by laughter and caught off guard by tears, we dove back into the life waiting for us. It is a forever dance, living in the tension. We continue to choose to dance together.
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.***
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes being a good friend to your spouse means holding down the fort so they get some time and space away. Holding Down the Fort is really hard for me. In my world of longings, one of the deep ones is longing for time to just be off.
I would love for space to not be in charge all most of the time. I have been in charge for all most of my life, and responsibility is wearing and wearisome.
I long for the day when my husband’s time away means my own time alone here in the quiet, not shouldering the weight of solo parenting. I long for the day when we can go away together without requiring what feels like an act of congressto make it happen.
I realize that many readers long for a spouse or for a child or to not be solo parenting all of the time due to death or divorce. We ALL have our longings, our hard stuff, the things we wish would pass, the do-over desires.
Since this is my blog, I am writing about my struggle to be a good friend to my husband. He needs time away with friends to be refreshed. And, really, this time away isn’t totally his, because it sweetly lined up with the weekend that our son is playing in the Virginia All-state band concert at George Mason University. He will be able to catch the concert tomorrow and spend quality time with his son on the ride home.
So while he hangs out, I hang on. That’s how we roll. He has done it for me more.
But it doesn’t make it easy. It’s always more fun being the one heading off in the car up or down the interstate, leaving on a jet plane. It’s always the most fun taking off together.
Left behind looks like agonizing over how much screen time is too much while trying to maintain sanity. It is having to stand hard ground alone. It’s breathing in the vapors and fumes in the air that seem to only be released when spending quality time around Mom. It’s negotiating the strife solo and dealing with the dog.
It also looks like making memories and learning to relax and being thankful for middle school lock-ins, reducing responsibility by one. It looks like being content with the space that I do have and resting in the fact that while tweens have needs, at least they sleep at night!
Sometimes an email comes through your box that brightens everything and lightens the load just a little. One of these came through for me last week, as a sweet sister in Christ, a fellow Stephen Leader, followed a prompting on her heart.
She encouraged me with kind words, reminding me that I am not alone on the path, and that my labor is not in vain. A reminder of her prayers for me and her desire for me to see God’s grace in many small ways throughout the week was followed by a statement and a question or two.
Some food is coming to your porch one afternoon that you could simply reheat in the oven. What would work for you? How many family members shall I prepare for?
We worked out a plan that involved the food being left in the church refrigerator for me to take after service that Sunday. I worked on that place inside of me that struggles to receive from others.
What a blessing it was to have a ready-made meal in the refrigerator to heat up this week! The meatballs and rice were perfect on a day that involved Steve and I dividing and conquering events with various children in various locations. Not having to worry about cooking that night was a blessing.
Thank you, kind friend, for your gift. Thank you for the work you do for others and the way that you love so well. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do in the secret and quiet places. May our Father who sees in secret, bless you many times over for your thoughtfulness and generosity.
A few weekends ago, Steve and I took some much-needed time away together, with the holiday season in full swing. The timing was not ideal, but is it ever? As I type this line, I am transported in my mind to twenty-four years ago when we were saying, I do, at a time that was less-than ideal.
Today is our twenty-fourth wedding anniversary and the twenty-ninth anniversary of the season when we met.
There is a backstory to our time away, and while I could post pictures of festive decorations and divine cheese platters and gush about the reflexology treatment and hot-stone massage that my darling booked for me in advance, there would be much missing. There would be a glaring omission of the reality that we had to fight hard for this time and were almost taken down for the count.
That, dear reader, is the part that I want to share with you. Reality.
The story began last fall, summer, even, when my dearest asked our firstborn and her husband if they could spend Labor Day weekend with the kids so that we could go away together. Three nights alone seemed an incredible luxury. I was looking forward to it desperately.
When back-to-school life got full and pressures started bearing down, a voice inside reminded me that it would be worth it all when we were away. I could work really hard to get the school year going and then relax into the long weekend, emerging refreshed and re-connected with my partner in the midst of all of the madness.
We were both so caught up in our duties and responsibilities that a glaring omission happened. We failed to book a destination. This reality struck the week before we were to go away, when a painful conversation took place, leaving me feeling let-down, hurt, and angry.
Festering heart wounds that I thought had been dealt with, broke open and began to ooze painfully. I spent time trying to figure out a kind, yet honest, way to express my deep disappointment.
Too often I have offered a quick, That’s okay! or It’s no big deal! to things that were NOT okay and WERE big deals. It was a new path for me to sit in the hard place of feeling my feelings without minimizing them and of hurting without accusing my partner in anger. It was a struggle not to lash out at the one I love while in pain.
After these honest conversations, Labor Day weekend found us dog-sitting so that our daughter and son-in-law could go camping. We stayed at the house laboring, as usual. It was not the weekend I had envisioned, and I felt hurt and disappointed.
Steve quickly arranged for the next available time that the married adult couple could come and stay for a weekend. It was months away in December, but just having a date on the calendar was encouraging.
Things were rolling along smoothly. A non-refundable, non-transferable location was booked in Williamsburg, and Christmas Town tickets were purchased. Planning was enjoyable, and we were communicating. I had requested an entire Friday off to have a leisurely morning to myself before stealing away together.
I was picturing it in my head, and it was BEAUTIFUL!
Then things started to happen. Plans began to shift and change for honest reasons. Human error in communication caused the wrong weekend to be booked. We could still go away, but the child-care factor became much more labor-intensive and complicated.
I did not like the revised plan I was hearing. It felt forced and overwhelming and exhausting. Much complicated planning needed to happen just to arrive at our destination. It was not as I had envisioned. To top it off, the night before our planned departure, Steve became ill. He took to bed in a manner unusual for him unless it is serious. It was serious.
I was left in the nebulous unknown of wondering if I should continue to pack children to take to their siblings instead of having siblings come to them. I wondered if we would be able to go away at all.
Frankly, I was finished. Tired. Done.
My day off dawned, not as I had planned. It found me driving kids to school instead of rolling over for a little more sleep. After the drop off, I checked in with Steve who was not sure how he felt and did not look great.
Our revised plan had been to drive two cars to drop the kids with their adult siblings in Richmond on our way to Williamsburg. That would leave a vehicle for them to drive back to Harrisonburg that would fit everyone. Steve didn’t look up to the driving challenge. I was already less-than-thrilled with that idea BEFORE sickness crept in.
Let’s just not go. This is getting ridiculous. When are we going to read the sign that says this is not a good idea? What else has to happen?
We had until 11:00 to cancel the massage appointment he had booked. He wanted a little more rest, leaving me to make a teary call to my sister to help me process. She helped me sort out my heart, and when we hung up I realized that I needed to try.
Trying looked like seeing if there was any way to have the kids cared for here in town overnight instead of having to drive them to Richmond. The Richmond connection could drive themselves here the next day and hang out until we got home.
I reached out to friends and family who were able to say yes. While Steve slept, I arranged and drove around and packed up and picked up and dropped off. When he woke, I presented the new plan, which I think was plan d by this point. The kids were accounted for, he could sleep in the car while I drove, and we would at least be away, alone together.
If he felt better, great. If not, he could sleep while I read, addressed Christmas cards, wrote, did yoga, got a massage. We could watch movies or listen to podcasts together. It actually wasn’t looking too bad!
The bottom line is that we were able to go away, but it wasn’t easy.
We listened to podcasts together in the car. After a night of rest, Steve felt well enough to walk in the woods while I experienced a restorative massage. We ate at The Cheese Shop in downtown Williamsburg and walked around Merchant’s Square. We napped and relaxed. I didn’t write any Christmas cards. We didn’t make it to Christmas Town.
Our time together was too short. It always is. But it happened.