The tree stands in the living room, glowing with white and colored lights. Four ornament boxes brought up from the basement, one for each child still living at home, wait to be unpacked by their owners.
Each person puts their ornaments on as the spirit leads. There is no rhyme or reason and certainly no ceremony surrounding the process. In a few days I will carry the empty boxes back to the basement.
Checking in with my youngest, I ask about her decorating status.
Have you hung your ornaments on the tree, yet?
Yes! All except the stuffed animal ones. I am not hanging those up this year.
She has quite an assortment of Beanie Baby mini ornaments and other holiday stuffed animals that she hangs on the tree each year. I am surprised by this news.
What? But you always hang your stuffed ornaments on the tree! You play with them in the Christmas tree.
And just like that, Friends, is the end of yet another era. There is no more playing in the Christmas tree.
But the Hello Kitty ornaments made the cut and still hang in their row.
Time marches on, Mamas! One day those ornaments will stay put and the tree will no longer be a working document. It will remain static for the season. That day came for me today.
The pile of mail on the front entryway table grows daily. Periodically, I shuffle through making mental note of the contents. It would be better to sort it out and write things down. I resist better ways.
It’s the holiday season with advertising in full swing. Coupons and circulars and free offers intersperse with bank statements and bills and the occasional letter. Fantasy me thinks of all of the deals I could score, while reality me counts the actual cost and discards some of the unnecessary.
Rifling through slick, thick papers, coupons, and lustrous catalogs, I stop suddenly. What is this?
For the first year ever, the American Girl catalog is lost in the growing stack. It is not being pored over and circled through and dreamed about. It is left alone, untouched, abandoned.
This is it. The year.
I have known it was coming and saw it foreshadowed here. There have been small clues along the way. The last catalog that arrived close to birthday time (those sneaky marketers!) still held interest with the gaming accessories circled. It was still looked through and desirable.
By Christmas, no more.
The final daughter has left elementary school behind and stepped up to middle school. Still in love with Rainbow Bear and some of her other precious childhood toys, she no longer lugs out bins and boxes of accessories to set up dollplay circles.
This year I won’t set an alarm to wake with excitement at midnight on Cyber Monday to scope out greatAmerican Girlonline deals and try to score some. I won’t use Christmas money from relatives to buy a doll or outfit or some other desired accessory.
It’s bittersweet, like every other final milestone.
In the past there was always another. Another baby, another toddler, another preschooler, another elementary age, another, another.
But this is it. The last little girl.
Memory lane takes me back to a hug from heaven and to Christmases gone by where doll beds were set up around the tree on Christmas Eve, dolls tucked inside, waiting for their humans’ discovery. I allow myself space and time to remember, following the Christmas trail on the blog.
Such goodness. Such grief. All the feels spurred on by a glossy catalog, the milestone in the mail.
They are a taste of my childhood. Memories of a bag of Smarties candy rolls in a high cupboard ~ but not too high for me to reach them ~ are vivid, as is the sugary, slightly sour taste and chalky feel on the teeth as they dissolve.
I am sure I reached up often for a roll or two or a handful and ran upstairs to my room with a book. I am sure they were on hand as treats for younger siblings learning to use the toilet or behave in public.
It is a memory of Sunday church with small children and young motherhood, though not with me as the provider. I did not want or need to use candy bribes for my children. They must learn to obey just because.
That did not stop Grammy from slipping them from her purse and handing them out to fussy little ones or as a treat for an after service hug.
It’s amazing what you can do with that dumb candy! she would say.
I knew better. I was above carrying rolls of candy in my purse or diaper bag but tolerated an old lady’s handing them out, much to the delight of my young ones. I wish I had carried the candy.
I was reminded of Smarties several weekends ago with the visit of a dear childhood friend. We had not seen each other in person since fourth grade but had connected on social media several years ago. Finally a We really need to get together in person had worked out, and she made the three hour trek to visit.
It was a wonderful time of reconnecting and catching up, of remembering things together.
Until . . .
I have a memory of you giving me a roll of Smarties candy, but you crossed out the word Smarties and wrote Dummies on it, she said, laughing.
I was mortified and felt embarrassed by this memory. I did not recall it at all, though it made total sense due to the role (no pun intended) that particular candy played in my life at the time. We were also academic rivals (as much as could be in first through fourth grades) often coming in first and second with our grades.
She assured me that it was more playful than hurtful, though I still struggled that I could not remember the incident. What else have I done that I don’t remember in another person’s life? How do others remember me?
I allowed myself permission to have been a child that did silly, immature things. I am sure it was around the time of this incident.
One of my children immediately latched onto the story and commented, Here you are saying, “Oh I was so traumatized as a child” when really you were just a bully!
That’s the thing. We all have been harmed and harmed others, either inadvertently or intentionally. My friend was incredibly gracious to frame the story with humor, but I am sure others have stories of me that are not as funny or playful.
Those people most likely lived in my home with me, but I am sure also crossed my path in classrooms or dorm rooms or work rooms.
It was a sweet time together, and I ended up being thankful for the memory and subsequent wrestling with it. It was fun to see myself as a child and to find eyes of kindness rather than shame for that young person.
If I could go back, though, these are the candies I would give her instead.
This Labor Day holiday morning is unusual as I prepare coffee for one. My husband is away with the teen girls visiting adult siblings in Richmond. I am home with a sick child and teen son who had to work. We are divided.
Instead of brewing a full pot, I take down the red single-serve coffee press, purchased the summer of ’89 to take with me to college that fall. I was inspired recently to forage through my parents’ china cabinet to see if it was still there. And it was.
This summer has been nostalgic in ways both good and hard. Mostly hard. The coffee press is good, bringing memories of preparing to leave home for the first time, albeit to a very controlled environment.
I remember wondering how I would make my necessary coffee and choosing to purchase a hot pot and this coffee maker. It bears witness to the importance of coffee to me, even then, much like this post does.
I grind beans and dump them in, boil water and pour, wait several minutes and press, transfer to a favorite mug and savor.
There is goodness and sadness. I miss my coffee friend. Slow mornings are a rarity in this season. I wish we were together in the slowness. I choose to enjoy my coffee for one as I read and write.
Grateful for a witness-bearer in vintage coffee pot form, I give thanks that it didn’t go the way of the Gucci bag. Protected from me to be found at just the right time, it now lives in safety on top of the Hoosier.
On the heels of my post about order and how I experience the show Tidying Up, I stand in the kitchen set staring into an open metal cabinet full of games. A mashup of titles from Honeybee Tree to Stratego fill the shelves.
Paralyzed, I stand motionless. This is a familiar feeling when entering a place of downsizing and decluttering. Theory enters my mind. Idealism. Memories.
In theory, I can pull out a game a day, week, or another set time with the family to decide if we really enjoy it, or even play it. In fact, on this unexpected snow day, I could gather everyone around for a fun downsizing activity.
Let’s try playing these board games together and see what we want to keep and what we want to get rid of!
Reality quickly enters the equation, and the energy that would take drains me before I mention the idea. How often do we actually play board games together, anyway?
Idealism jumps in with its voice. It might not be long before another generation of littles is running around here. They might like playing Honeybee Tree, and you might have more patience threading the branches through the little holes with them than you did with your own children.
Memories flood as past, present, and future collide. Art Lotto was a favorite of the first generation of littles.Memory was a game I hoped I could enjoy with my littles as much as I enjoyed my mom playing it with me. I know that missing Stratego piece is out here somewhere. If we get more clay then Cranium could be fun to play again like it was around the table of the Green Street house.
Caught in the undertow, trying to swim parallel to the shore, I pick up an item that is clearly to declutter. It is not a game but a dinosaur kit. I am certain we do not need it anymore. Opening it, I remember that my youngest has an overdue dinosaur project. These plaster of paris pieces will fit the bill perfectly.
I pick up a shallow cardboard box being saved to organize things in a drawer (ala Konmarie Method) and call my daughter to the table to assemble the dinosaur.
The process reminds her of another project, a diorama, also due. She runs to her room and brings down something she has saved since first grade.
I’m glad I saved this. It will work perfectly.
The theme is frontier, and she asks about the Lincoln Logs. I find the bin and bring them to the table. It is like Christmas.
Can I take these up to my room when I finish making the log cabin?
Two projects are checked off of the list, courtesy of items we saved for way too long. It is a good thing we did not get rid of that dinosaur kit, the cardboard box, the old school project, and the Lincoln Logs . . . right?
Hence the bind.
Yes, it is a grace to have those things appear when we need them, but can I trust my needs to be met without having to account and project for every possible option and outcome? Can I release feelings of fear and scarcity to make room for possibility and provision?
Can I let things go?
On the way to school the following day, teenage brother sits in the passenger front seat, headphones on. Noticing the dinosaur in his sister’s lap, he recalls when he got the kit on a family vacation one year. He is the one who cast the pieces when he was ten or eleven years old.
I have no memory of this. None. We laugh and remember more of the story together. I express gratitude for the help he provided these many years later. I think of him at the time he got the kit, older brother of three younger sisters and little guy to four teenage siblings.
No one has an easy place in this family!
The projects are back home and sit on the dining room table. I look at them as I write, allowing myself space for things to be out of place while ordering my thoughts. I do not resolve the game cabinet situation.
Honeybee Tree and Stratego are keepers, for now. Memory is not in the cabinet when I go out to take a picture for the post. I must have let that one go already. The others will hold the space as I work through feelings, practice, and grow in my ability to let go.
It is not raining which is what makes the rainbow over the lake even more surprising. Calling to me while grilling lunch, my husband of 27 years and I share the moment. We laugh and take pictures.
It has been an anniversary weekend of surprises, both good and hard, and in these last hours I try to hold it in all that was good while remaining curious about what still feels hard.
Returning to reality is always challenging, but there is something in our story that makes it feel moreso. Our long-distance start and breakneck continuation hold clues to the longing to step out of the whirlwind.
I do not take this space away lightly. So much came together to bring us here. I almost thought it would not happen and held the idea and plan loosely.
Adult sons worked together to hold down the home front while the people still living there pulled together to keep things rolling. Grandparents and extended family filled the gaps. Christmas gifts of food, drink, and sweets were brought along to sustain us.
Friends generously offered a place to land, one of our favorites. We stayed in a different room of the house this year, changing things up. It had everything we needed to enjoy time together, our greatest need of all.
It is a gift to be married to someone who you just want to be with. While we both enjoy adventures, we also love slow days and sharing space and reading and cuddling on the couch with no agenda.
We like to take walks and eat snacks and one of us saves all of the paper bits to paste into a travel art journal. We found a musty antique store and walked through it laughing over memories but not buying any of them.
We stayed off of screens mostly. I posted some links to looks back at anniversaries of days gone by in Facebook and felt gratitude for where this one found us.
Twenty-seven years is not a traditional milestone anniversary. When looking it up, all eyes are on 30, the next big one. While it is good to look ahead, it is even better to be here now. Every year we say, I still do is a big one.
This year’s celebration was one to savor and revel in. While acknowledging that difficulties and disappointments may arise during our time away, we also felt the joy of hard work and honesty, and its resulting rest together.
Mere hours remain until our return to reality. There is clean up and packing and ending the time well. I smell breakfast cooking and realize that I have skipped yoga time to write, and I am okay with that.
There is deep gratitude for the goodness we shared here. There is joy of anticipating seeing the faces we love and beginning the first full week of the new year with them.
They hang from a curtain rod in the laundry room. They have been hanging there for over a week. Left to dry after being carefully washed, they have been dry for days. They have come to represent a symbolic hanging on to all that happened over wedding weekend.
There is still much to process.
I say this out loud, and my husband asks for specifics. What do you still have to process?
Isn’t all of life a process? Will I ever be finished? I answer lightheartedly, because though I feel the weight of feelings, specific words evade me.
Folding laundry, I look up at the hanging dresses, grateful for what they symbolize. Just as I was clothed for my daughter’s wedding in an outfit carefully curated, so I was for my son’s, in a different way.
My metallic-colored, sheath-style Mother of the Groom dress was a Ross find over the summer. I knew it was the dress, and that by fall it would look even better on me as I tended to healthier eating and exercise habits.
A girl can dream, right?
Jewelry was found at a local consignment shop for under $15. A sparkly $6 scarf from TJ Maxx, a $10 purse from another consignment shop, and free sandals from my closet brought the entire look in at under $75.
I consider this a kindness for a season that found us in the midst of a major life change. When our son proposed to his beautiful wife in 2017, things looked a lot different in our world. Maybe the hanging dresses are continuing to remind me of the faithfulness of God in every change. Especially then.
There is enough.
I wore the black dress to the rehearsal dinner with shoes and a sweater from my closet. It was found, along with a sparkly necklace and silver purse, on a seasonal clearance sale at a consignment shop for $18, total.
I write of costs and consignment shops and looks, because I want to remember. I want to remember that even in seasons of uncertainty there are reasons to celebrate. Maybe especially then.
I want to remember that there is room for creativity and expression and for thinking outside of the box when finances are tight. I do not need to worry about what to wear. I can consider the lilies.
My son and daughter had a beautiful wedding weekend. There is more to share slowly as it unfolds in my heart, and I find more words. I am thankful for those of you who have been with me behind the scenes as life returns to what has never been normal. Part of this return should probably include taking down the dresses and putting them away.
Here is a peek at the wedding day. There is a bit more sparkle to my hair than there was 4 1/2 years ago at my daughter’s wedding. I love it.
This update graced my Facebook status Saturday morning. With a full heart I continued to wrestle and sort out all the feelings surrounding the Externship program and not stepping into it this year. Among hugs and sympathetic remarks, a dear friend commented, Give it three more years.
Though an inside joke for us, in that moment I realized that I had grown, am growing, will continue to grow through this process! My ability to read and hear her words as a statement of hope and not despair was a huge indicator that good work is happening in my heart.
The last time she mentioned three years, I was not hopeful. I was angry, stuck, and lost. I felt forgotten and left behind. Now I believe that I am right where I belong, and that it is a good place. I know that three years will look both better and worse, and that I can plan and dream but there are no guarantees surrounding outcomes.
Earlier this week another friend texted a picture that she took during my first weekend in Seattle. We were at the market downtown enjoying Sunday afternoon together before my flight home.
I was caught off guard by how well the image depicted exactly how I was feeling the moment it came through. Wistful, longing, ponderous, contemplative. All of the above. I remembered how I felt in that moment as I let settle all that had stirred in me after that first weekend.
I remembered her kindness to offer space while showing me all of the best downtown places and sharing her beautiful heart with mine. It was such a kind time. Neither of us knew what we were stepping into at the beginning or how it would look in the end.
I only know that she and her husband were the first I told I was considering the program. I was curious to see if they would be willing to host me. They enthusiastically cheered me on, welcoming me into their home and life on the realest of real terms. This family became mine as they graciously opened their home and hearts each of the four weekends.
We sat together on Tuesday, separated by thousands of miles, joined by technology for a brief time of texting as I responded to the picture. I expressed gratitude for her following the prompt to send it to me. It was perfect. She jumped in as we caught up on life and shared heart space in the midst of mothering.
Three years. I will be 50 then. Another son will be 18 and my youngest will all be teenagers. Things will look very different. That intention sounds promising. It allows space for presence, not wishing away the time but fully engaging it.
None of us knows what the future holds, but I will hold to the hope of three (more) years.
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.
When the front entryway looks like this, it can only mean one thing. It’s move out day. Well, either that or there is/was a gig. In this case it is move out day (week?).
After a year together, the drummeris moving out and on. This is bittersweet for my mama heart.
I am grateful for this year we had together. I am thankful he was able to finally live in a finished room ~ the one he began tearing out his freshman year of high school and was completed during his season of post-high school overseas travel.
I am thankful for his grace over the painting fiasco. (And I just re-read that as parenting fiasco in my head and had to laugh, because it fits, as well.) We still have to fix the paint in the room. And some of our parenting techniques.
This past year I jokingly referred to as my gap year. Having Child 4 around gave me a chance to catch up on life with him we had missed together. He fell through a gap in our family as the older siblings were leaving and the youngers were arriving.
We had many conversations over breakfasts and coffees. We went hiking together and shared stories and laughter and tears. We grew. This year brought much growth for us both.
Having a nineteen-year-old in the house helped me to reconnect with my nineteen-year-old self. It helped me with the Certificate 2work that I completed in May. It helped me to name the moments when the story of my nineteen year old self was struggling with my current parenting role.
This year brought much healing. I never dreamed at the beginning that we would be here at the end. We are here.
It is time. It is time for number four to launch. I look forward to impromptu drop-ins (his, not mine) for last-minute breakfasts, coffees, laundry, conversations. I look forward to showing up for local shows to watch my favorite drummer play.
Most of all, I look forward to what the future holds for this amazing man I am proud to call Son.