Monday, November 11, 2013

A Christmas Prelude

I like Christmas, and so it starts appearing early around here.  When the air turns cold and the wind starts up, when the fires in the fireplace start, it starts feeling like Christmas. 

This year I started listening to Christmas music on November 1st

We’ve been watching Christmas movies on Netflix. 

And I bought some new twinkle lights to make the living room festive.  Only one strand worked, of course, so the room looks a little odd, but still cheery. 

Christmas m&m cookie baking with the kids. 

I think I enjoy the November prelude to Christmas almost as much as the actual season itself, because it comes in a month of peace.  As much as we try to keep Christmas simple and meaningful, December gets filled with extra events on the calendar, extra tasks, extra shopping, and extra church services.

November is filled with silent nights, perfect for a Christmas prelude.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All At Once

Today after her shower I wrapped Eden in her towel and all of a sudden realized how too-small it was.  She was shivering uncontrollably and exclaiming loudly how COLD she was, and I suddenly noticed how inadequate the baby towel was for her tall 5-year-old body.  

They grow in small increments, measured in peeking ankles and long-sleeved shirts turned to ¾ length.

Eden's first bath at home, at 4 days old.

And then, all of a sudden, they’ve grown.

And sometimes, what used to fit needs to be shed.  What used to soothe doesn't soothe anymore.  What used to be the favorite is left untouched.  What used to be feared is now exciting.   

Sometimes they grow so sticky molasses slow that it’s imperceptible.  Sometimes they stand up from a crouch and they’ve aged 2 years. 

It’s time for some big kid towels around here, new shoes for both, a new hat for the boy, solid “ssss”es instead of “shchth”es, homework for the girl. 

It’s shocking, and it’s slow.  All at once. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Upstairs and Downstairs Parents

The title of this post isn’t a reference to Downton Abbey, although that would be a fun post to write.  It’s a reference to our local library, where the children’s section is downstairs. 

The other day, my mom told me that a librarian friend of hers, who frequently is the one to check me and the kids out upstairs, commented on what a great mom I am. 

I’m fairly certain the downstairs librarians wouldn’t agree. 

You see, the last few (three?  four?  it all blurs together) times we’ve gone to the library, Isaac has had a complete meltdown of one kind or another right when we were leaving.  It’s involved things like running away from me, crying, and screaming…super fun stuff.  So I’ve been the one chasing him, strapping his flailing body into the stroller (which I still bring in to make our entrance and exit go more smoothly), and calmly telling him that we do not yell in the library. 

I’m “that” mom to the downstairs librarians.  You know, the one who can’t control my kid.  The one who must be doing something terribly wrong in order to make my kid behave that way.  The one who clearly did not prepare her child that the library is a quiet and calm place and that we would have to leave soon. 

I’ve seen the looks.  I’ve seen the judgments from the parents of innocent little 15-month-olds who swear that will never be them.  I’ve seen the looks from parents whose children have mastered impulse control and obedience at a younger age than my son.  The looks and the judgments sting. 

But then we go upstairs.  And by the time we go upstairs, Isaac has calmed down and is no longer screaming and appears to have been sitting calmly in his stroller for quite some time.  So the upstairs people see my smooth checkout and think that I’m the mom who’s got it all together, whose angelic children never disobey and wouldn’t even think about screaming until they were red in the face in the library. 

So, whose judgment is right?  Maybe both.  Maybe neither.

They are judgments made based on the briefest of interactions, the most limited amounts of information. 

They are judgments made with no context of relationship, no incentive to believe the best about someone, and no good intent.   

On the receiving end of these judgments, it’s far too easy to be overly pricked and pained by the negative ones and overly encouraged and validated by the positive ones.  It’s also far too easy to parent in public out of embarrassment, shame, and fear of what judgments will be made. 

I am the one who knows what kind of mother I am.  My kids know what kind of mother I am.  My God knows what kind of mother I am.  We are the ones who are fully aware of what goes on both downstairs and upstairs.  We see it all. 

And in the context of these safe, long-lasting, loving relationships, I will find my anchor and my hope and my guidance.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Other Words

Today is one of those days that I really shouldn’t blog.  I’m not in a good frame of mind to post something every day of my life, and some days private writing is more appropriate than public writing.  So to continue with NaBloPoMo, I’ll pass along 3 links to great articles I read today regarding parenting and families. 

The first, called “Why Kids Act Out at Bedtime,” by Dr. Kelly Flanagan, a dad who is also a psychologist.  I remember Glennon over at describing bedtime as one big game of whack-a-mole, where you get one kid settled and then the other has a request, and on and on and on…back and forth, in and out of the room, whacking those damn moles that keep popping up again.  It is fraying on even the most patient person’s nerves, and I’m not the most patient person.  Dr. Flanagan reveals how our response to bedtime has more to do with ourselves as parents and less to do with our kids. 

The second, called “Let your kids be mad at you,” by Janet Lansbury of Elevating Child Care.  She talks about the need as parents to be able to handle the full range of our kids’ emotions.  To be open to their anger at us, to not recoil or leave or defend or reproach when our kids express their anger at us.  Today Isaac said to me, “I want to be in our house but I don’t want to be anywhere near you” when he was mad at me.  I’m glad he feels comfortable saying it, although it is sometimes hard to hear.  I’m also glad that even when he’s most angry, he still wants to be “in our house.”  I take that to mean that he’s not running away anytime soon. 

The third, called “Marriage isn’t easy, but it’s beautiful, pope says,” reported by Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service.  Pope Francis spoke in Vatican City about marriage and family life.  He affirms that marriage is not an easy path, but that in “lov[ing] one other person forever…the trials, sacrifices and crises in the life of the couple or the family are stages for growth in goodness, truth and beauty.”  I read a comment once in which an older woman who had been married for 50+ years said that for about 5 years of her marriage, she hated her husband.  But over the course of their married life, she considered that loving him for 90% of their marriage made up for that 10% of their time together that was difficult.  What if she had given up during the 10%?  What if she would have walked away from that marriage and lost the 45 happy years together?  Marriage is hard but it is also beautiful.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


For a (horrible) while in college, I worked on paint crew from 6am-7:30am before my first class.  I was trying to squeeze in extra hours, I guess so I could have more fun money.  This sounds like supreme foolishness to me now. 

If I was lucky, I’d get to bed around midnight and “only” get 6 hours of sleep.  It really wasn’t enough, as my falling asleep in my first class attested to.  But I could always take a nap whenever I felt like it. 

Now, getting 6 hours of straight sleep sounds like an amazing indulgent luxurious blissful wonderful beyond-all-expectations gift. 

Isaac hasn’t been sleeping well lately.  For about the last 3 years and 4 ½ months.

Well, not really.  He actually slept fine for the 1st 2 years of his life, but then things went downhill. 

We’re working on it.  Trying things.  Giving up and doing what’s easiest, which still doesn’t mean good sleep.  Then trying things again. 

Part of me says this is a small, insignificant challenge in the broader scheme of life.  Part of me says that this is a travesty and that sleep-deprivation is torturous. 

Sleep is one of those things, like health, that you don’t even think about when you have it.  But when it’s gone, it becomes the number one, can’t be ignored, problem of supreme importance.  Our bodies are strong until they are frail, and then we realize how vulnerable we are. 

When I went away last weekend, I slept for 7 hours straight that night.  I woke up in the same position I fell asleep in and checked my phone.  Yup, 7 hours.  I had that crusty stuff on my eyes because I didn’t open my eyes for 7 hours.  I forgot about that crusty stuff.  You don’t get that crusty stuff when your eyes are open off and on all night long. 

I’m just complaining.  I have no answers.  I am not learning any great lessons from this.  I don't overflow with grace and peace when I am woken up in the middle of the night, grateful for the chance to interact with my cherubs.  I try as hard as I can to keep my @#!*% together and be as kind as I can, while my body screams at me to lay down and go to sleep.

I empathize with all parents of small children out there who aren’t sleeping well, with the insomniacs, with those working 3rd shift, with anyone sleep-deprived anywhere.  May we all sleep again someday.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Voting Day

Today is voting day, and I didn’t vote. 

I value voting.  I know people have made and do make great sacrifices for the right to vote.  I usually vote.  I feel bad about not voting. 

Here’s what my not voting signifies:

~It’s hard taking two restless, active kids to vote with me, especially since the church that graciously sponsors our voting has a bake sale during voting day.  I either have to say “no” to constant requests for every imaginable cookie and treat, or say “yes” and give my kids loads of sugar and then ask them to remain quietly and politely in a line for an impossibly long (to a 3 and 5-year-old) time.  Today I didn’t feel up to it. 

~I have no idea who I’d vote for.  I read the pages in the local paper where they ask the candidates the same questions and have them respond, but I couldn’t differentiate anything from their responses to know who to vote for.  I couldn’t attend the informational meetings and debates and such that took place after my kids’ bedtimes.  Lawn signs and mailers and flyers and commercials are worthless propaganda.  Most local, small campaigners do not have good websites with good info. 

~I don’t vote along party lines.  It’d sure be easier to go in and check every box marked “R” or “D,” but that doesn’t sit well with me.  The parties are not uniform and neither party has it all right all the time.   

~There is too much to vote for.  I know that it’s a good thing to have the wishes of the populace represented in our elected government (whether or not that actually happens is another discussion, but let’s be optimistic here), but the list of judges and representatives and board members and on and on gets so long that it becomes impossible to make educated decisions about them, unless you make it your part-time job in the weeks leading up to the election.

So there’s my excuses and/or rationale, depending on how you look at it.  I hope you voted, and I plan to vote next time!  It’s not a perfect system but it’s a good one.  And even turning in a partially-filled out ballot (which I usually do) is better than nothing.  Maybe I’ll vote from home and mail it in next time, to take the cookies and kids out of the equation. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Annapolis: My (Formerly) Favorite Little East Coast City

I love Annapolis.  It has some old English city charm, with its brick roads and walks and roundabouts and street names like “Duke of Gloucester” and the like. 

Plus, it has docks and water and yachts and boats and Pussers (awesome seafood) and cool artsy shops. 

I stole away for a short visit to Annapolis Sunday morning, to go for a run and explore more of the city on foot.  I sort of expected the city to be quiet and calm on an early Sunday morning.  Um, no.  It was full of people and action…a hot rod car show, yachts in and out of ego alley, runners everywhere including a 5K race through downtown, Navy men and women in their dress uniforms walking around, and hipster students from St. John’s crashing every coffee shop. 

And every single person looked like they stepped out of a magazine.  The runners all looked like they run a quick 10 miler every morning to warm up for their Runner’s World photoshoot.  The residents and their dogs looked like they stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog.  The yachters (I’m sure there’s a proper name for them but I choose yachters) had their grey cable v-neck sweater and dark jeans uniform on, scarves tossed carefully carelessly around their necks.  The hipsters had perfectly imperfect scruff and the best plaids. 

And then there was me.  Have you seen this?  It's pretty apt.  

I didn’t have time to do my laundry before I left, so I chose the cleanest clothes I could find that looked okay.  So the running gear I was wearing in preppy Annapolis was my ten-year-old, unflattering but gets the job done running gear.  I felt a LITTLE like an outsider, a photobomber, if you can photobomb an entire city.  A city-crashing version of a wedding-crasher. 

But I did my thing anyway and enjoyed the brightly colored doors, the little patios hidden away, the red brick everywhere, the bright sunshine and cool wind. 

And I decided that Annapolis is a little too perfect to be my favorite little east coast city.  Perfect takes a little fun out of everything, adds a bit too much pressure. 

But Annapolis, you’ll always be number two.  

Why I Love The Liturgy

I got home from my trip at 11:45 last night and was nearly asleep already, so I didn’t post.  This post counts for Sunday.  J

My family became Lutherans a few years ago as a sort of theological compromise between the spouses.  Since then, we’ve been experiencing a more liturgical service than either Kasey or I had experienced up until then. 

The liturgy dictates certain parts of the service to be devoted to different things, like Confession and Absolution, the Scripture Readings, and the Eucharist.  The liturgical calendar sets out the feast days and celebration days for the year as well, along with the Scripture readings for each week. 

What I love about this is the sense of community it brings to the family of God.  Many branches of Christianity follow the same liturgical calendar, which means that around the world, church-goers are likely to be reading the same Scriptures each Sunday, praying similar prayers, and reciting the same creeds. 

This past Sunday I went to my brother and sister-in-law’s Catholic parish, and although some of the liturgy was unfamiliar to me, the overall structure and progression of the service was familiar.  Some of the prayers and creeds were the same.  The pastor and deacons were wearing green vestments just like my pastor was, marking this as a Sunday in Ordinary Time.  It felt like home.  And when the Pastor read that day’s Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, I remembered that Eden and Isaac were singing about that “wee little man” with the kids’ choir in front of the church back home that same morning. 

I felt connected to my brother’s church family, to my home church family, and to the whole family of God. 

There is comfort and grace and strength in millions of people around the world bearing witness to the same God through the same liturgy, and that is why I love it.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Trip Lists

I’m going to visit my brother and sister-in-law near Annapolis this weekend.  By myself.  I’ll say it again, so you can bask along with me.  By. Myself. 

I am an introvert and I crave time to myself.  I need it like food and water.  I’m serious, people.  And having two young kinds, I rarely get it.  So what happens is over time, I start coming a little undone…I get jittery, snappy, antsy, and extremely sensitive to the sounds of my family chewing food.  Seriously. 

So I sort of jumped at this chance to have a little getaway that includes 12 hours in the car by myself over the next 2 days.  To some people, this might sound annoying.  To me, it sounds glorious. 

List-making is essential for any trip, from my detailed packing list to my unrealistic list of things to accomplish before leaving.  For some reason, my brain thinks that leaving for a trip is a great opportunity to do extra projects, like clean out the car so it’s pleasant to travel in!  And clean the whole house so it looks good when I get back!  And clean out my purse so there’s nothing extra in there!  Um, yeah, not gonna happen.  I’ll be lucky to pack clean clothes and not forget something essential like my phone.  So here’s my trip in non-stressful lists: 

Top 3 reasons why this is going to be the best trip ever, in no particular order:
  1.  Being alone for 12 hours in the car. 
  2.  Visiting my brother and sister-in-law and meeting my new nephew!!
  3.  Being ALONE for 12 hours in the car.  
My playlist: 
  1. A Clockwork Orange book on cd
  2. Once Upon a Time, There Was You by Elizabeth Berg on cd
  3. Some cheesy murder mystery on cd
  4. Maroon 5
  5. Ella Fitzgerald
  6. John Coltrane
  7. Dan In Real Life Soundtrack
  8. Bruno Mars
  9. Silence. 
Things I’m looking forward to:
  1. Being witness to my nephew’s baptism.
  2. Catching up with bro and sis-in-law.
  3. Sleeping all night long without interruption for the first time in, well, too long.  Let’s just say that no one’s told my 3 ½ year old that he should be sleeping through the night by now.  
  4. Being near the water. 
  5. Hopefully catching a glimpse of my favorite little east coast city, Annapolis. 

And finally, an unedited photo of the current contents of my bag:

What?  Doesn't everyone need a hole punch and trash in their bag?  

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tale Of The Cherry Princess

This month, I’ll be jumping on the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) bandwagon.  I’ll be linking up with BlogHer, where you can find tons of other bloggers who are crazy enough to attempt blogging every day for a month.  The theme for my writings this month will be “Messy Endings.”  Sometimes when I blog, I feel the need to make sure my endings are neat and tidy – problems solved, tricky situation navigated successfully, parenting challenge accomplished.  But that’s rarely how life is, and I’m looking forward to writing about more unfinished, in process, unresolved, confusing, and messy moments in my life.  The act of writing every day will, inevitably, entail messy endings.  No one writes brilliantly every day of their life, so in writing every day I am giving myself permission to write poorly sometimes.  I think I’m hoping that being a truth-teller, bearing witness to the messiness of life, will make me brave and maybe encourage a reader along the way.  Thanks for reading! 

A couple weeks before Halloween, Eden announced that she wanted to be a cherry for Halloween this year.  We were driving home from a friend’s ice cream birthday party, where Eden had ordered a cherry-vanilla cone and was reminded how much she loved cherries.  “They’re red, which is my favorite color, and they taste yummy, and I like when Auntie Jen shares them with us in the summer,” she explained. 

I was thrilled.  I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but inwardly I was so damn glad that my girl was creative and original and sheltered enough from marketers that she wanted to be a cherry.  A cherry.  How cool is that? 

So I waited the requisite amount of time to make sure she wasn’t going to change her mind, and then we figured out a plan for her costume.  She helped cut out her cherry pieces from the bright red posterboard, and then we fitted the green stem over her head.  She helped tape and staple and hole punch and tie and had the biggest smile on her face when she tried it on. 
The day of her school Halloween party came and when it was time, all the kids ran to their lockers to get their costumes.  They were told to put their costumes on and then sit on the mat.  I helped Eden with hers, and then she realized she couldn’t really sit down in it.  And then she started looking around…she saw Spidermen, Batmen, Ironmen, Luke Skywalker men, and princesses.  Of the five girls in her class, four were princesses.  And one was a cherry. 

A fire-breathing dragon near us asked Eden innocently, “what’s your costume made of?” as he reached over to touch it.  “Mine’s made of fabric.  Is yours paper?” 

Eden looked at her costume, and looked at her classmates.  She looked at me with, I think, fear in her eyes.  “Mine’s made of paper and theirs is made of fabric,” she whispered. 

I tried to smooth things over by being nonchalant.  It didn’t work.  Soon she was near tears.  Then she wanted her costume off, like, now.  Then she was terrified that she was going to have to walk in the parade and she did NOT want to walk in the parade.  Then she was sobbing, big gulping breaths and tears and tears.

I went back and forth between reassuring her, consoling her, encouraging her to wear her costume, telling her it didn’t matter if she wore her costume, fielding questions from her teachers, reassuring her confused classmates, and trying not to cry myself.  It was one of my superb mothering moments. 

The only thing I knew in that moment was that I was not going to put words in her mouth.  I had my suspicions as to what was going on, but I wasn’t going to ask leading questions and possibly add fuel to the fire. 

To help the students learn to pay attention to detail and identify things about themselves, Eden’s teacher asks kids who have certain characteristics to line up at the door.  So on Halloween she asked, “Will any friends in a superhero costume please line up?”  Every single boy, fire-breathing dragon and Luke Skywalker included, lined up.  It seems that every little boy considers himself a superhero.  I chuckled a little.  And then, “Will any friends in a princess costume please line up?”  And every girl except Eden lined up.  I winced a bit. 

My kid was different.  My kid felt different.  And it felt bad. 

To her, the difference was paper and fabric.  I was afraid she might have been embarrassed that she was the only girl not a princess, but she didn’t mention that.  I was afraid she might recognize that she was the only classmate not in a movie-character costume, but she didn’t mention that.  Later, on the way home, she said that she was afraid her classmates would laugh at her, because she was the only one with a costume made out of paper. 

Her costume was paper, and that was difference enough. 

It was so innocent.  No one was making fun of her, not in the slightest.  Her friends were asking her why she wasn’t wearing her cherry, telling her they liked it. 

She wanted to be like them, and she wasn’t, and she was afraid and embarrassed. 

I hate that.  I got mad at everybody that day.  First I was mad at the people who market movie character costumes to little kids, robbing them of their creativity and originality.  Then I was mad at “our entire culture” (you know you’re in trouble when you’re mad at something that vague and all-encompassing) for turning Halloween into just another consumerist junkyard.  I was even a little mad at Eden, that she lost her courage and spunk when she needed it most.  And I was mad at myself, for making her costume out of shabby paper.  I lashed myself with “shoulds” and “next-times.” 

And then I wasn’t mad anymore.  I was sad and mostly confused.  Because I understand wanting to be part of a community, wanting to be like everyone else.  I think that’s hardwired into us.  And as much as we talk about “embracing” and “celebrating” our uniqueness, sometimes at our core we just want to be the same.  It feels safer and easier, yes, but also comforting and homey and warm. 

As much as I want to encourage Eden’s creativity and originality, she’s now old enough and exposed enough to see that it’s not all sunshine and cherries to be different. 
She tried on her cherry costume to show a few family members, but then back in the corner it went.  She happily wore a “princess” dress to the rest of our Halloween festivities.  She’s a cherry.  And she’s a princess.  She’s my cherry princess.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Two Ways to Normalize Breastfeeding in Public

#1.  Do it as you normally would in private.

#2.  Be normal when others do it in your vicinity. 

Whenever I see a mom breastfeeding in public, I cheer on the inside.  I do a little mental cartwheel and think of encouraging things I can say to her, like “Good for you for nursing in public!” or “I did that, too!” or “You’re doing such a great thing nursing your child!”

See, I believe breastfeeding in public takes a bit of courage in our culture, and I applaud moms who do it.  Because even though breastfeeding is normal and really no big deal, our culture often says otherwise.

And I feel quite passionate about supporting moms who want to breastfeed and about supporting women’s rights to breastfeed anywhere their babies need to eat (which is anywhere they happen to be at the moment).  I don’t think nursing moms should be relegated to “nursing rooms” or nurseries at church or any other designated space, unless the mom herself feels more comfortable there.

But, I’ve yet to say one of my “go breastfeeding in public!” encouragements to a mom that I’ve seen in the act.  It just feels a little awkward and intrusive, I guess.  Because to me, what she’s doing is normal.  And normally I don’t comment on things that are normal.  I just go about my normal business. 

Today at the gym, a mom was breastfeeding her baby near the play area.  She wasn’t being particularly discreet; neither was she being indiscreet, and who cares?  I don’t.  Apparently another mom near me did, as evidenced by her staring a little too long and then turning to me to give me a disapproving, conspiratorial look. 

What to do, what to do?  Should I go along with Disapproving Mom to not rock the boat?  Should I make a pro-breastfeeding comment to make my stance known and support Breastfeeding Mom? 

I chose the “be normal” route.  I anticipated Disapproving Mom’s glance and diverted my eyes so as not to participate in it.  I sat near Breastfeeding Mom and interacted with her as I normally would – a little chit chat here and there, eye contact. 

Sometimes normalizing breastfeeding calls for political action, nurse-ins, letters to managers, and encouraging comments. 

And sometimes normalizing breastfeeding calls for not turning every normal act into a political opportunity or a chance to declare sides in the mommy wars. 

Sometimes the best way to make something normal is to acknowledge that it already is normal by just acting normal. 

Eden was playing near Breastfeeding Mom and I, and at one point noticed the baby nursing.  She watched for two seconds while climbing down a ladder, and then went on her way playing.  She didn’t need to comment or ask questions; she didn’t need to do anything.  She saw a mom nursing her baby, and in her world there is nothing in particular to comment on when she sees this. 

And I hoped that maybe Breastfeeding Mom was encouraged by the fact that as she fed her child, life went on as normal around her.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Faith Of A Child

I’ve taken a laid-back approach to my kids’ spiritual education so far, letting them lead by questions and observations.

They do go to Sunday School and do their share of Old Testament Bible story worksheets and crafts, and I tell stories about Jesus and parables at bedtime, so they’re not totally bereft of any God knowledge.  But we don’t push them to pray or do devotions or that kind of thing. 

Part of the reason for my approach is that I have a hard time finding religious materials that I like…I’ve looked at many children’s Bibles and it just bugs me so much that Jesus is white.  I’m no historian, but people, Jesus was not a whiter-than-white man.  WASPs weren’t created yet.  I can’t buy something designed for kids that depicts a white Jesus. 

Also, clich├ęs and spiritual oversimplifications are pet peeves of mine.  Many religious children’s materials boil things down to such a degree that they become at best, warm and fluffy sentimentality, and at worst, inaccurate and misleading. 

So, we keep things simple in our own way.  And yet, my kids have an amazingly pure and inspiring faith. 

Eden occasionally prays at bedtime, and boldly includes herself in her list of people she loves:  “Dear God, thank you for mama, and dada, and Isaac, and me.” 

Last week, she held her hands out about a foot wide and said, “This is how much I love you.”  Then she held her hands out as wide as she could and said, “and this is how much I love God.”  She’s got her loves ordered in a way that would make Aquinas and C.S. Lewis proud. 

Last night, our conversation question at dinner was:  “When you think of God, how do you picture him?” 

Eden said, “He has a white jacket on, with a blue thing tied around him.”  I’m thinking, darn, it’s the old flannelgraph Sunday School Jesus.  But she went on, staring off into the middle distance, “I can’t really describe the rest.”  “Does he have a head?”  I prompted.  “What does his face look like?”  She replied, “It’s just…I can’t really describe it…it’s real God.” 

And while I have no way of knowing what she is picturing, I swear that her imaginings of God are more real God than mine, and than most any adult. 

And then it was Isaac’s turn, so I repeated the question to him and reminded Eden that we let Isaac talk for himself and we don’t interrupt during conversation questions.  “Isaac, when you think of God, how do you picture him?”  Isaac said, “A lion.” 

Goosebumps, people, I got goosebumps.  We haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia yet; he hasn’t heard of The Lion of Judah.  But what does my boy picture God as?  A lion, the king of all beasts. 

I’ve heard lots of opinions and interpretations about what Jesus meant when he admonished his hearers to have faith like a child.  Some people say it means having a simple, trusting faith and not asking questions or doubting.  (I never liked that interpretation.)  Some people focus on the utter dependence of children and say we need to have that dependence on God.  Some say it means we need to submit ourselves to the spiritual authorities in our lives. 

I don’t know what it means.  I like elements of most of those interpretations.  And I recognize that what I like is irrelevant to what it actually means. 

But in watching my children, I see a delight in God that I am missing.  Eden truly seems to LOVE God, as she flings her arms out wide to show how much.  Honestly, it’s hard for me to access those emotions related to God.  It seems to come naturally to her. 

Isaac has translated some central characteristics of God -- power, rawness, bigness -- into an image that he can relate to.  On his own. 

My children's faith is bold, and heart-felt, and pure.  I have a lot to learn from them. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

One Room School House

If parents of school-aged kids got graded, I’m pretty sure I’d be getting a D right now. 

So far, we’ve had Open House Night, Meet and Greet Night, Room Parent Tea and holiday party sign-ups, about 20 forms in various colors due, Market Day fundraiser, Fun Run fundraiser, Pizza Night fundraiser, a PTA meeting, and send-in-three-different-but-very-specific-types-of-apples-to-class-tomorrow day.  (To be fair on that last one, I’m pretty sure I’d have had 3-4 days notice to get the apples if I was an A+ parent and checked the backpack every day.  But it’s Kindergarten for crying out loud.)

I’m exhausted. 

I just filled out and turned in my last form today, after two reminder phone calls from the school nurse.  I didn’t get my PTA membership form and money turned in during the big incentive time, so my kid didn’t get a gumball in the picture on the wall and her class didn’t win the most memberships in the first week and didn’t get the pizza party.  I didn’t hit up 25 of my family members and friends for money for the Fun Run so my kid didn’t get ice cream that day. (We were encouraged to send the letters to everyone on our holiday card list.  You’re welcome.)  We ran into the school secretary at the park one day and she recognized Eden and asked my name, and then remarked, “Oh, you haven’t turned in the Field Trip Permission form yet.”  They are keeping special tabs on us D parents. 

It’s September.  I’m exhausted.  I seriously can’t imagine having several children in several different grades or schools to keep track of at the same time.  It’s ridiculous.  I think I’d homeschool just so I didn’t have to deal with the paperwork.  Our own little one room school house. 

Thankfully my kid didn’t seem to notice her lack of paper gumballs or pizza or ice cream.  And I understand the need for fundraisers, I really do.  It’s just that I wish there was an option to pay a certain amount of cash up front and then have those fundraising papers and forms and events magically disappear.  I promise, I’d have my cash in by May, at the absolute latest. 

At least we’re on time for drop off, usually.  And Isaac’s wearing shoes, usually.  And Eden’s clothes are clean, except for the days last week where she wanted to wear the same cleanish clothes several days in a row and I couldn’t really think of a good enough reason not to, so off she went. 

I’m exhausted.  It's hard work getting a D.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

Making Emends

I’m three days into this ten day challenge and am finding it to be too much.  In aiming for creating meaning and simplicity, making a list of nine changes to incorporate into my life all at once is proving to be too much.  Surprise. 

And there is so much I didn’t account for when making my goals…like, how am I supposed to go to bed at 10pm when Kasey and I recently got hooked on Downton Abbey?  And how am I supposed to keep my time online to 30 minutes per day when I have to do research for teaching and place orders for my art and look up recipes and check the weather so we know what kind of clothes to wear?  And most importantly, how can I possibly add “give up sugar” to any list, since just giving up sugar requires all of the willpower and emotional energy I have in a ten day span? 

So.  I’m making emends.  I’m not making amends, because there is no harm in making a goal and realizing it to be ridiculous.  I’m making emends; because this list-text needs serious revising. 

I picked two goals that have proven to be important and rewarding so far. 
~ Go for a run or walk every day.
~ Keep daily gratitude journal with family. 

I’m loving my walks and runs.  They’re turning into something more – river wading and wet pants, new running goals. 

I’m loving keeping a gratitude journal.  Writing down a couple things I’m thankful for first thing in the day brings my priorities into focus.  And I love hearing what my kids are thankful for…

Eden: “That God is mine and everybody else’s.” 
Isaac: “For the fish in our house.” 
Eden: “That you (Mama) are with me and Daddy is with me and Isaac is with me.  That I live with you guys.” 

That last one was especially meaningful to me, since Eden has been declaring as of late that she wants to live with her friends, or her cousin, or whoever’s house we’re leaving at that moment.  I’m glad she likes living with us sometimes too. 

Now that I’ve decluttered my list, I think I can continue this declutter your world challenge for the remaining 7 days.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Day One Report: Surprisingly Hard and Surprisingly Easy

I’m halfway through Day One of the 10 Day Declutter challenge, and I’m taking notes. 

What’s surprisingly hard?  Being online for only 15 minutes, 2 times per day. 

Did you know 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye when you’re online?  I thought this might be true, and boy is it.  I actually took a minute to plan my time online so I’d be sure to check in on things I needed and wanted to.  I’ve used 8 of my 15 rest time minutes so far and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do everything I want to do in the remaining 7. 

I’m noticing myself gravitating towards surfing online when I’m avoiding other things, such as the jolt of waking up and getting going in the morning, or my to-do list in the afternoon.  I’d rather sit down and zone out in the mornings, or sit down and click through pages rapidly in the afternoons to give myself the illusion of accomplishment.  But neither of these times are really good for long surfing sessions. 

What’s surprisingly easy?  Taking a walk. 

The hardest thing about going for a walk or run is the planning.  Once it’s planned in my day, it’s as good as done.  I’m thankful to have a beautiful bike and hike trail right near Eden’s school.  I pushed Isaac in the stroller for a long walk and then we waded in the river for awhile.  It was gorgeous and fun and I love how the planned outing led to unplanned adventure. 

He said, "I love you Mama" right after I snapped this pic.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

10 Day Declutter Your World Challenge

Welcome to my blog!  If you're interested in reading more about my quest for a simple life, check out this post on Tips for NOT Living Simply, this post on Creativity and Consumerism, this post on True Poverty, or this post on Creating White Space in your home. Or, click on the "simple living" tag.  Thanks for reading and I hope you'll stick around! 

I’m making an impulse decision at 11pm to join in with and the “Declutter Your World in 10 Days” challenge.  Here’s to refocusing and reenergizing at the start of a new (and my favorite!) season.  I’ll write at least one update at the end of the challenge to report back on how it went. 

Basically, the gist is to pick a few goals to work on for the next 10 days within the categories of “Shape Up,” “Pare Down,” and “Tune In.”  I’m feeling a pull to do these things right now, as our new school and work routines get underway and we settle in for the fall.  I hope this 10 day challenge will help me establish new routines with purpose and intentionality. 

Shape Up
~ No sugar.  Yikes!  I can do anything for 10 days, right!?!
~ Go for a run or walk every day. 
~ Start Fall Hiking Spree with the kids and do 2 hikes in the next 10 days. 
~ Go to bed at 10pm and read for a short while, then sleep. 

Pare Down
~ Sort kids’ clothes for size and season.  Donate or sell whatever we’re not keeping.  Store properly whatever we are keeping. 
~ Limit time online to 30 minutes daily…15 minutes during nap/rest time and 15 minutes after kids are in bed.  Set a timer.  For realz.  Other than that internet is used only for music. 

Tune In
~ Write morning pages at least 5 of the next 10 days.
~ Keep daily gratitude journal with family. 
~ Make cookies or care packages for 2 people. 

My goals are lofty (for me) and numerically defined, which I normally avoid like poison.  But I was instructed to “get extreme and a little uncomfortable” by Courtney over at bemorewithless.  And though I’ve never met her, I’m trusting her and throwing this out there. 

Wanna get crazy and make some New Year’s Resolutions in September?  Let Courtney and I know and we can encourage each other for the next 10 days.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three Things I'm Learning From Sending My Kid To Kindergarten

This has been Eden’s first week of Kindergarten.  She’s had 3 half-days, and I’ve learned a lot.  I can’t really think about it without getting a sinking feeling in my stomach and tearing up a bit, if that tells you anything.  Here’s 3 things I’m learning and my pro tips for coping, since having my kid 3 days into Kindergarten makes me a pro. 

#1:  Be prepared to be surprised.
You can work hard as a parent to prepare yourself and your child for the next step, and you can still end up unprepared.  Things happen that are out of your control and didn’t appear in the “what-if” scenarios you played in your head for months.  I had two priorities for setting Eden up for success this year.  Firstly, I wanted to find a half-day program, because I feel like that’s enough school for a 5-year-old.  Open-enrollment to a nearby district with half-day Kindergarten accepted – check!  Secondly, I wanted (okay, more like wished) to find a school with teacher-student ratios better than 1:25.  Teacher-student ratio of 1:15 – check! 

But, this first week revealed that I’ve been concerned about all the wrong things.  Or maybe, that there will be a never-ending list of things to be concerned about in this lifelong process of “letting go” of my child.  @#!*% . 

You see, I should have been worrying about her permanent teacher being on maternity leave for the first two months while a fresh-out-of-college sub fills in.  Or, her class being comprised of 2/3rds wild boys and 1/3rd too-scared-to-speak girls. 

Don’t get me wrong…I am probably the most supportive person you will ever find of maternity leave and women taking as long as they possibly can or want to.  And I absolutely love wild boys, especially since I have one.  But brand new subs don’t always have the best classroom management skills, and wild boys will take full advantage of this by “wrestling, fighting, punching, and poking” while said teacher “tried all kinds of things but nothing worked and they didn’t stop.”  (It’s awesome having a very verbal child who gives me a full report of her day.  Well, awesome and sometimes nerve-wracking.)  And the thing that killed me?  My girl telling me she “didn’t talk to any of the kids because those boys made me nervous.” 

Pro tip #1:  When you find yourself approaching a massive event and feel like you’ve checked off everything on your list, write in big, fat letters at the bottom of your list: “THE THING I AM NOT AWARE OF THAT IS ACTUALLY THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.”  Try to embrace a meta-narrative that reminds you that you are not in control of your universe, that people and things around you are constantly in play, and that surprises will come.  And then just breathe.  In.  Out.  In.  Out. 

#2:  Overreacting is a skill. 
When my child tells me that her classroom resembles an underage mosh pit with no bouncer, I have a tendency to overreact.  I want to go in the school and drop in the principal’s office to casually ask if she’s thought about mentoring this new sub.  And then meander into Eden’s teacher’s room and casually ask if she’d like me to hang around tomorrow to help.  And I really want to go home and pin all kinds of homeschooling curriculum on pinterest while crafting a letter withdrawing her from public schools. 

I am not even-keeled when it comes to my kids’ safety and happiness and learning.  Most parents aren’t, and that’s okay.  It means we care about our kids.  It’s normal to freak out and overreact. 

Pro tip#2:  Allow yourself to overreact mentally and emotionally, but don’t act on it yet.  Talk it out with safe people (and talk, and talk, and talk – thank you dear friends and patient husband for listening to me this week), run through all the hypothetical scenarios in your head that make you feel worse or better about the current problem, and then do nothing, for now. 

When you’re able, see the situation from everyone else’s perspective.  Imagine those boys who are so excited to be at school and have been picking up on the nervous energy around them for the last week.  Imagine that poor teacher who is on her second bottle of wine while crying into her pillow.  This may help you see new solutions or at least engender compassion and patience. 

#3:  Kids are not as resilient as people say they are. 
Eden told me over lunch today that she was nervous about going to school today.  She was thinking of those boys and her teacher and worried about being in a situation where it felt like no one was in control.

People often say that “kids are resilient,” meaning I guess that they will adapt to a difficult or new situation and find ways to cope with it.  I think this is true, but as with everything, there are degrees.  Some healthy adaptation and coping skills are great.  But coping mechanisms that translate into lifelong struggles are also possible.  Some of my most vivid memories of my elementary school years are the emotionally charged, traumatic ones. 

Kids are easily dismissed in the adult world.  It is often inconvenient to take them seriously.  But I think most adults are walking around with wounds that result from not being taken seriously as children. 

Pro tip #3:  Respect your child’s personhood.  Tell them that their feelings matter and show them you take them seriously.  This is not the same as being a helicopter parent and hovering and becoming codependent.  It means allowing your child to express their feelings openly.  It means teaching your child strategies for dealing with the situation and their feelings.  It means reassuring them that you will help them find a solution, that they will not be left to deal with this by themselves.  And it means dealing with your own emotions separately so that you can be prepared to receive your child’s emotions. 

So this morning, I listened to Eden talk about her nervousness.  I told her I understood.  We talked about how her teacher has had a day to come up with a plan for how to help these boys settle down.  We talked about how the boys might be a little less wild today and make better decisions because they’re getting used to school.  We put on her chewy necklace so she could chew on it when she feels nervous.  We touched her bravery bracelet and talked about how it reminds her that I love her.  I told her she can always tell me what is bothering her and we will find a solution to this problem if it doesn’t get better (and soon!). 

And then off she went.  And I spent the afternoon thinking of nothing else and making “I hope your Kindergarten class sucks less today” cookies for after school. 

And thankfully, today was better than yesterday.  The boys "followed the rules a little bit better" and they got to go outside for recess, too.  I’m slightly encouraged, with a healthy dose of skepticism/wait-and-see thrown in.

And, I'm learning...oh, how educational Kindergarten is for a parent!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


It's midnight, the first minute of my 34th birthday.  

I sit on the front porch, the orange glow of streetlights and the gray glow of my computer screen my lights.  

I hear the creak, crick, creak, crick of my neighbor's swing and think how my kids would love to be on their schedule.  And I hear cicadas, trilling their layered rhythms.  
Today is the first day of my 35th year.  That sounds significant, and old.  I hope this year brings a settledness in my soul.  I still feel like a child much of the time, like my childhood hurts and fears and longings are constantly bubbling to the surface in my snips and snaps and unsettledness.  I hope that this midpoint of my life brings some wearing in...cushions that are not too hard and not too soft, but worn and shaped and contoured just right.  

I wonder if I will still feel like a child when I'm 40, 50, 65.  I came across some old journals last week and was disturbed to see fears, complaints, and conflicts scrawled in my 22 year-old handwriting that I could have just as easily written last week.  Clearly I am in a spiral with these things, but am I heading down, or up?  Am I a tornado, bent towards the ground, destruction, dust?  Or am I a vapor rising from a hot mug, reaching up, cooling, gaining perspective?  

Maybe that answer will come this year, or maybe not until I'm 70.  

I'll spiral on anyway, trusting that I'm held together by Someone who knows who I am, where I'm headed.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dear Ernest Hemingway

Dear Ernest Hemingway,

I really wish I could meet you.  I’m fascinated by the fact that you wrote only 500 words per day.  I say “only” 500, but in reality those were probably the most precise, carefully-chosen 500 words that any writer could put down on paper on any given day.  You wrote 500 words per day, while Stephen King writes 10 pages per day, and it shows in your style. 

I just finished To Have And Have Not, where your economy of style is very apparent.  I thought it was interesting how you shifted perspectives, from a first-person narrator, to a third-person omniscient, to a third-person limited, and back again.  I found myself confused sometimes because I didn’t understand the vernacular or the dialogue, and there wasn’t any help or interpretation from the narrator.  I felt like I was being put in an outsider’s perspective, where I was left to figure out for myself what I could about these people and this culture.

Based on the title of the novel alone, I expected to come across more of a range of economic status in the characters.  Most of the characters that fill the story are the Have Nots…there are the poor revolutionaries, the poor who are doing honest work, the poor who are doing whatever they can, legal or not, to pay the bills, and the poor who are drinking in bars.  It seems like you are showing how the poor cannot be painted in large, monochromatic strokes.  Each of the characters had a different motivation, different strategies, and different loves, although most of them ended up the same:  dead. 

The Haves were mostly relegated to short descriptions towards the end of the story, as they slept in oblivion in their yachts while the Have Nots mourned the deaths of their own.  It was almost like you were reversing the space and time that is usually afforded to the poor and wealthy.  The wealthy, who typically dominate the headlines and magazine covers and radio waves and pages, are shelved until twenty or so pages at the end.  The poor, who are typically overlooked and stereotyped, are allowed to live fully dimensional lives in your story. 

The best 382 words (yes, I counted them) are in the brilliant Chapter Nineteen.  The entire theme of the novel lies in Chapter Nineteen in seed form.  I know I don’t need to summarize it for you because you wrote it, but it really is amazing.  The wealthy writer and tourist, Richard Gordon, sees a woman and instantly comes to all kinds of conclusions about her…she is unattractive, she has no sexual desire, her husband cheats on her because she has let herself go, she is unsupportive of her husband’s struggles.  Gordon hurries home to include her in the novel he is writing about a poor man working in a textile factory.  He thinks of what he wrote: “It was good.  It was, it could be easily, terrific, and it was true.  He had seen, in a flash of perception, the whole inner life of that type of woman.” 

In reality, she is Marie Morgan, Harry’s wife…she is beautiful in Harry’s eyes, she has great sexual desire for him, he is faithful to her, he loves her bleached hair and strength in size, and she wants her husband alive more than she wants the income he can get from his risky jobs, despite their poverty.  In reality, she is one half of a happy, vibrant, and loving marriage. 

My first reaction to Chapter Nineteen is that Gordon is a pompous ass.  He just flattened that woman and doesn’t even know her.  He is judging her based on his upper-class, oversexualized, white sensibilities and tastes.  He doesn’t know the first thing about appreciating a woman, so how would he know what kind of man would appreciate this particular woman?  And yet he claims that his perspective is true. 

I want to align myself with Marie, to feel fierce against those who misjudge and destroy.  And then I remember how you, Mr. Hemingway, left me on the outside during much of this novel.  I may understand some things about the poor, and you let me understand some things about the poor characters in your novel, but can I claim to truly understand the “whole inner life of that type of” person?  Aren’t we all guilty of judging each other based on our own sensibilities and tastes, our inherited prejudices and beliefs that we may not even be aware of? 

I was struck by how vulnerable writers are to this kind of (mis)judgment…we try to pay attention to detail, to understand how people’s minds work, to practice empathy, to bring insight or epiphany to our readers.  But how often are our “flash[es] of perception” merely an outsider’s murky view?  The writer’s pen has the power to both enlighten and slander.  Although Gordon, I hope, is not a good example of a good writer.  He vacations to Key West to view the natives from a comfortable distance, and doesn’t bother speaking to the woman he believes to understand completely.  He writes about a class struggle that he doesn’t participate in.  I guess the lesson to writers is to write what you know, and if you don’t know, then either experience it firsthand or talk to a bunch of people who have.  

Thank you for giving this novel to the world, Mr. Hemingway.  Thank you for the reminder to be a ruthless editor and to make each word count.  And thank you for proving that just a few words each day can create something meaningful. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

What Happened To My Summer Reading Program

What happened is, I got summer brain.  I tend to be a bit perfectionistic about writing book reviews, and so after doing my one and only review of The Great Gatsby, which entailed taking notes while reading and spending a couple hours doing research and writing it, I got summer brain and didn’t feel like doing any more.  But I have been reading.  And I would like to have some record of what I read this summer and my thoughts about those books, so I’ve devised a reader-response method that takes the pressure off and is a little more personal. 

Dear Sherman Alexie,

I loved your novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  I just finished it five minutes ago and you had me laughing and crying there at the end.  I’ll admit, I’m not usually that excited about books that put me in an adolescent boy’s brain space, but I would happily live in Junior’s head for hundreds more pages if you’d care to write them. 

Thank you for giving us your character’s insider perspective on life on a reservation in America.  Towards the end of the book, Junior comments that reservations were designed to be death camps, that Native Americans were supposed to go there and live until they died off.  And how many of them are now complying with that plan through pervasive alcoholism.  I’ve never thought of it like that.  I never realized how torn someone would feel who wanted to be a part of their Indian community and yet also wanted to have opportunities beyond what the reservation affords. 

I was surprised by how much I could relate to Junior, even though I’ve never been the only one of my race, anywhere.  But I’ve been in the tribe of the outsider in other ways.  Junior reminded me that there are all kinds of tribes, and that I have connections with most people in ways I would never expect. 

I felt a little stung by the character of the wealthy white man who showed up at Junior’s Grandmother’s funeral to return the pow-wow costume.  I see in him the ways that (possibly well-meaning) white people love Native American culture to the point of objectifying it and making it something it isn’t.  Maybe that’s not love; maybe it’s fascination, or guilt, or shame, manifested as a love for the external objects associated with Native culture, but lacking any real knowledge of any real people.  I guess you can’t love Native Americans without actually knowing a Native American. 

As a white person, I feel tentative and nervous around Native American culture.  I don’t want to offend; I don’t know if it’s okay but I feel a little guilty about living in a city called Cuyahoga Falls that contains no Iroquois population.  A quick glance at my city’s Wikipedia page makes no mention of the First Americans who lived where I do now…I guess they were long gone by the time the white people settled here.  Junior’s perspective tells me that Native Americans don’t want to be saved by white people, they don’t want to be flattered by white people, they don’t want to be objects of fascination.  I'm not sure what they do want, if anything.  And as I write "they," I think to myself, "they probably don't all want the same thing."

What I come away with most from this book is the realization of how similar I am to Junior.  We are all sloppily finding our tribes, hurting people along the way, losing people and relationships we love, forgiving people even though they will never change, and learning new things about ourselves that surprise us.  Junior and I are not the same, and our differences are vast.  But Mr. Alexie, if I’m reading you right, it seems that we are more alike than different. 

I’m looking forward to reading more of what you wrote.  Thanks for giving this book to the world. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

On Broadway

Confession:  Sometimes I imagine a life for myself as a Broadway singer.  Not the star of the musical, because even my imagined self doesn’t have that good of a voice, but making my living singing and dancing. 

In fact, right now as I’m supposed to be preparing dinner, I’m listening to my spotify playlist of SMASH and Broadway show tunes and checking my favorite performers’ twitter feeds. 

I’m having an early-adult-life-crisis.

It’s not that I don’t love my life, or that I actually want to pack up my family and move to New York.  It’s more that sometimes I feel like there are things that I enjoy, things that I am somewhat good at, that I don’t get to do much anymore.  High schoolers have it pretty good, at least in my thinking.  They get to participate in numerous sports, sing and dance and perform in musicals and choirs, play whatever instruments they choose, join debate teams and language clubs and chess tournaments and everyone bends over backwards to get them to those rehearsals and performances and games and meetings. 

Not so much once you become an adult.  Playtime is over and you better be damn sure that the vocation you’ve chosen will fulfill you all the livelong days. 

We Americans are encouraged to specialize – to become experts and professionals in one narrow field, so that we can beat out the competition, land the prized job, become respected, and pay the bills.  Even within these narrow fields, we are encouraged to focus even narrower, to the point where only three people in the world will have enough knowledge and expertise to recognize how damn good you really are at your job. 

In grad school, it wasn’t enough to declare that I was in the M.A. in English program, in the Literature and Writing track.  The next question would be, “what are you going to specialize in?”  Dude, I dunno.  I thought I was doing pretty good to figure out by the ripe old age of 25 that no, I did not want to be a theologian, or teach elementary school, or teach high school, or be a professional musician, or five other things that I either tried out or had been educated for. 

And then I learned what specializing really means…it means that you choose a small field within the field, and write articles about those works or authors for an obscure academic journal that 25 people read, all in the attempt to get publication credits on your CV so that when you’re one applicant out of 250 vying for that one tenure track position, you stand a chance at getting the job.  

Well, that’s a bit of a cynical take, and I do actually enjoy writing nerdy academic articles.  But the point is, it’s all very pragmatic.  Why specialize?  Why are we encouraging kids to choose one degree, one emphasis, one job as their target, from increasingly younger and younger ages? 

To compete, to land the job, to be successful. 

None of those things are fulfilling, necessarily.  Any one thing is not fulfilling, necessarily. 

I am not fulfilled by motherhood, alone.  I am not fulfilled by my chosen profession of teaching, alone.  I am not fulfilled by having a good marriage, alone. 

And this is not the truth we are told by Disney movies and romantic comedies and our high school and college guidance counselors and a culture that has turned babies into a commodity. 

What fulfills me is the moments in my day when I am connecting with the immaterial within the material.  When I have eyes to see and ears to hear, and my soul is fed by something spiritual in the midst of the very physical world I live in, of potty training and muddy footprints in the dining room and crumbs everywhere.

Fulfillment is soul nourishment, and sometimes it means receiving and sometimes it means giving. 

When my husband and I share a joke that is only funny to us because of our 12 year history of a sometimes difficult and sometimes happy marriage.  When I have a craving to paint something and I sit down with my kids and the watercolors and experiment and make something that looks beautiful to me.  When my body tells me to run and I listen to it and am rewarded with more energy for the rest of the afternoon.  When I see my students’ eyes light up just a little as we discuss an article we read about Mother Teresa serving the poor.  When I just can’t stand how cute my boy is and I curl him up in a ball in my lap and eat his face until he’s laughing “stop, Mama!”.   When I’m inspired by my Broadway longing to sing a song at church and it feels good to contribute to worship.  When I take an extra deep breath and don’t snap at my daughter at bedtime and am grateful for connection instead of conflict in the moments before sleep.  When I sit down and write and write and something finally comes out of me that’s been stuck inside for too long. 

I’m not going to specialize.  I’m going to persist in pursuing a life as a Renaissance woman.  I may not ever make it on Broadway, but I’ll be singing show tunes in my shower for the rest of my life.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Eden In Her Fifth Year

My sweet pea made me a Mama five years ago today.  We’ve been learning together ever since.  One of the things I learned early on was that being a parent was going to change me.  Eden hadn’t read the same books about parenting that I had, and in her infancy taught me that listening to her and listening to my intuition was more important than what any book said. 

I sometimes regret that Eden gets the rough draft version of my parenting, while Isaac and any future children get a more polished version.  But thankfully she has a sweet heart, and just enough grace and spunk to deal with my imperfections. 

Her fifth year has been big…she has grown to be shockingly independent compared to her toddler self.  I should have seen it coming when she learned to swim on the first day of her fifth year, at her fourth birthday party.  It’s been a year of big firsts.  She entered preschool bravely last fall, a little bit nervous and a little bit excited. 

She walked into her classroom with a heart drawn on her hand and my love in her cells and she thrived.  She had the best preschool teachers on the planet and I’m not biased at all. 

She made fast and strong friends, painted tons of pictures, and learned through playing and singing and reading and touching things and looking and listening and experimenting.  I couldn’t be happier with her first school experience, and neither could she. 

At home, she learned to pump herself on her swing, to pedal strong on her two wheel bike with training wheels, to paint a rainbow, to make herself a bowl of cereal and milk, to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using a half jar of each, to sing Mumford and Sons, to read simple words, to write her family’s names, to be patient, and to ask for help when she needs it.  She taught herself to whistle after practicing and practicing for the last month.  She is so proud of herself for that and I am so proud of her for not giving up when all she heard was air. 

She loves language.  When she hears a new word she picks it out and asks what it means, and then it becomes part of her vocabulary.  Yesterday she was explaining to Isaac that “quarrel” is another word for “fight.”  She has taught me to be careful what I say because she will be saying it tomorrow. 

She loves her brother and helps take care of him.  She crouches down to be at eye level with him, talks in an excited voice to him, explains things to him in the way she thinks he’ll understand, reassures him, and loves to make him laugh with her silly faces.  She makes up games to play with him and gets upset if he doesn’t want to play with her.  She also sometimes makes him upset because she thinks “it’s funny,” which assures me that she is a normal child.    

She loves her friends.  A far cry from her toddler years when we had to carefully measure out the amount of stimulation and social time she could have before she was overloaded, she now can’t get enough of time with friends and family and activity.  She often asks “how many places are we going today?” and 4 or 5 is her ideal answer.  Every friend is her best friend and she is always sad to leave them. 

She loves to dance.  She took dance lessons for a couple months this year and enjoyed it, but wasn’t begging for more.  She’s more of a freestyler and could not wait for the dance floor to be opened at the several weddings we attended this year.  We have dance parties in our living room to all sorts of music and she has the best moves.  She and Isaac love having dance parties with house music and strobe lights in the basement with Daddy. 

She is growing, changing, learning, and sometimes I see glimpses of her teenage self, her mother self, her working self.  She is a five-year-old who carries the seeds in her of the rest of her life.  She is teaching me to water her well. 

As much as she grows and changes, she will always be my sweet Eden girl, the one who made me a Mama.  We have a rhyme that is just hers and mine, and her eyes still light up when we say it.  Tonight she said “I love you even more” when I said “I love you so, so, so much my sweet Eden girl.” 

How much does Mama love you?  Sooooo much
More than you can count.
More than you can measure.
Enough to last forever.

Love you sweet pea,