A daily...meh, weekly dose of babies, reality, and love.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

we labor for inches, we labor for glory.

The story of creation ends with a woman. God spins out light. Night and day separate. Mountains topple the horizon. Oceans deepen, roll with the movements of the newborn moon. Rain forest canopies awaken and stretch to the sky. Beetles scuttle across untouched desert canyons. Then comes Man, fresh and strong. He rules over the animals, most evolved of all, but still: not quite enough. Something is missing. Dust blows upward and out walks Woman. The pinnacle of all things made, all things lovely, all things good. And from Her will continue all life, forever and always after, life from that goodness, life from that dark unknown womb, the center of the human race. But in the fall from perfection came the mandate for pain; the demand for life to be birthed in harrowing battle. Forever and always after would Woman fight this battle for new life, bear the pain of the future, carry within her the life and continuity of every race and people on earth. Woman labors for her children, labors for her community, labors for the extraordinary and for justice. Woman fights the battles with grace and love, proof and proof again that God saved the best for last. 

Finally, as of this week, Clara is potty trained. I say finally because we tried earlier, a few months ago, and it did not go well. In fact, this whole spring has been a trying time with our almost 2 years old daughter. She's a geyser of emotions, with both a steady outpouring of opinions as well as the occasional and shocking burst of FEELINGS. All the feelings all the time, you know what I mean? Some days have felt dark, dark, dark. I just could not get ahead of her demands, could not find my bearings in her sea of emotional waves. Her screaming, thrashing, sobbing fights during that first round of toilet training were an apt picture of all the outbursts that peppered our days together. She fought everything so hard, with a ferocity that belied her slight frame. She looks like a baby but emotes like a teenager, and the balance between allowing her space and being consistent in discipline is a delicate one. Especially these last few months. Especially in this move towards toddler hood for my first born.

Clara was born in late August, my hospital room lit with afternoon sun and the dry heat of a high desert summer. She was born as the afternoon shone bright outside, her birth as blinding as the midday sun.

When my Clara was born, I needed noise. Her birth day was loud and violent and exciting. I threw pillows, I bit a couple of people; it was a hectic clamor of anticipation.

The pain of her birth lodged itself directly in my lower back, a piercing that did not stop. Ever. Since it was my first baby I didn't know any different, but now that I've had a "normal" birth with my second born, I can see that back labor is another beast altogether. It doesn't turn up and down, coming and going like contractions. It just stays and stays and stays and stays.

I needed a full room to birth Clara. My three sisters, my husband, three of my dear friends, and the most amazing nurse gathered around and held me up through those agonizing hours, literally and figuratively. At one point my sister Jamilyn was rolling an ice-cold diet coke up and down my back, while my cousin Jenna let me bite her arm as I writhed around, tilted over hospital bed in desperate cries of prayer.

When it came time to push, I closed my eyes, gripped the bed, and bearing down three times, my body released Clara Noelle into the world. She shrieked, her big eyes dark and furious. Everyone cried with joy, clapping even. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut when I turned to Sam and said, "We gotta do this again." The next days, weeks, and months were the best of my entire life. "Clara" means clear, bright, famous; and she has been all of those to me. She is a sharp light, her eyes a blue both cold and fierce. She is the sort of kid who gets noticed wherever she goes. She is difficult. She is lovely. She is small and incredibly loud. And that pushing, that insistent grip on my heart and body; it did not stop with her birth.

This is perhaps the part of parenthood that most surprised me. I think, from the outside, I assumed that children sort of roll through phases, transitioning seamlessly from baby to toddler to little kid and then one day they graduate high school and you repaint their bedroom after they move out. This has been anything but true for me and Clara. Some days it feels like I fight for every moment, for manners and obedience and creativity and independence and safety all at once, never one along with the other. The labor process that began on that summer afternoon was just that: a beginning. The genesis of a  process that may have ended in my uterus but has expanded on and on into my fingers and my heart and my home.

The longer I'm in this world of motherhood the more I understand that while some miles come quite easily, there are some inches that will nearly kill us.  And it's those inches that get me. It's those days and months when my labor with my children seems too exhausting to bear, those are the ones that leave me wrung out. Wondering why I try at all.

Woman cannot escape her call to labor forth life. Whether she birthed a child or has taken on the children of a mother who could not raise them herself, or she labors for her valued and worthwhile work, or she engages in the act of art or of business or of friendship: She is the seat of humanity, the thread of peace that holds our world together. I truly believe that. I truly believe in the innate power that lies in my daughter, in my mother, in my sisters, in myself; the power to struggle for what is good and to regard the wonders which our anguish produce.

Woman. We continue to labor long after our children gasp their first breath. We continue to suffer the pains, to ride the waves, to beg for mercy, to fear the unknown, to long for the other side and then wonder why we worried in the first place. We wear the scars of growing hard and fast, the scars of emergency decisions, the scars of a stretched and torn heart, made to expand but not without pain. We labor our children through these times of change, from diapers to toilets, from reading groups to locker rooms, from crushes to broken hearts, through scathing friendships and rumors and our precious childrens' own breathtaking, horrifying mistakes. We struggle to breathe evenly, we hunker down inside ourselves when the pain overwhelms, we cry out when it's just too much and the end will never come. And even if we choose not to feel it, to administer some form of delusional epidural, we will feel it all later.

We cannot escape the agony of parenthood.
We cannot escape the habitual act of guiding our children from one world to another.
We cannot escape the strain,

or the glory.

The glory.
The glory that is ours to witness.

For when the birth is over, when the smoke clears and the sweat is wiped off foreheads; there is new life. Glorious, precious new life. And as ridiculous as you might think I sound, that is how potty training felt this week. That is how my entire spring felt. I labored for Clara. I fought with her and beside her. I will always labor for her; because I am her mother. I will push and breathe deeply and let go when it is time to let go because I am mother.

I stand on the other side of this enduring battle of our long spring months with tears in my eyes because I see the pride in hers. I see the light of accomplishment on her face, sense the steps of maturation that gave her such growing pains. I beam with a love born on a hospital bed and expanded with each beat of my wrecked and humbled heart.

I am Woman. And when these moments of glory arise, when they cut like a welcome spring through a parched land after rainfall; when they appear like that moment when you stare long and hard enough at the night heavens and the stars suddenly multiply into millions; when that glory comes, I will pause. I will stop and sit and say thank you to the heavens for delivering yet another jolt of surprising, iridescent, starry skied glory after a night full of blinding, wondrous labor.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Dear Summer, I owe you an apology.

Last year around this time I wrote this bitter diatribe concerning the summer months. To be fair, I was 16 weeks pregnant and m-i-s-e-r-a-b-l-e, but I wasn't talking about the pregnancy yet so I didn't mention it in the post. I was hot, nauseated, and tired all the time. Trying to keep my 11 month old out of the sun while also trying not to throw up all day was, in a word, terrible. I used to love summer. The season of church camp and crushes and freezing lake swims, snow cones and sleep overs and cousins, and then when you're a grown up there's fun every night! Barbecues! Margaritas! Bikinis! Every day is open for a few drinks and laughs, short dresses and tan lines. Summer is party time and it was good.

Then I had kids and now I'm like, yeah, I don't get it. This isn't fun anymore. And the more I talk to parents who have young children, the better I feel about my attitude towards summer. Most of them agree with me: If you have little kids, summer is hard. We live in the high desert of Idaho and while our heat is dry, not humid, most days stretch into the 100 degree range and honestly, you just can't have a baby outside in that for very long. Especially ghost babies like my pale friend who is napping in the room next door, probably sun burned from the park this morning despite her double application of SPF 50 waste of money organic baby sunscreen that makes me feel like a better mom. (Next up: almond milk and kale chips.) Then you have to work around nap times and bed times and potty training and anyways, honestly, it's a lot. It is.

However, you also can't stay inside all day every day. You gotta make concessions. You gotta make it work. Just like every part of parenting, you must take the ingredients you are given and get creative, become a wizard of time and space and make the day worthwhile. No matter what. Lately Sam and I have had a few hard lessons in that very idea; even when everything is falling apart, we have to laugh and keep moving. For one, because there's no time to wish for what could have gone better. This is happening, we always say to each other, and we have to go with it. Getting mad or sad or annoyed isn't helpful in the moment, and it doesn't move us any closer to our goal, whatever that might be.

So ok, it takes me 45 minutes of prep time to go to the splash pad for an hour. That's just how it is this summer. So ok, Clara has incredibly fair skin and Sammy is too young to be out in the sun at all. Let's put on our baseball caps and eat our Popsicles in the shade. So ok, my body isn't exactly in tip top shape, and I've been pregnant the last two summers so I don't own any shorts or dresses that aren't stretched out. I'll run after the kids are asleep, race myself in the lengthening shade of suburban sunsets, and buy new clothes this fall. So ok, it's all different. It's harder to pretend that life is all about me and my happiness; I no longer stare into the face of a new day and imagine all the ways I will take care of ME and my wants. Summer isn't about me anymore. It's not. It never really was, it's just harder to fake it now. Now I

The more open I am to the fact that we have to live this life together, live it taking care of each other no matter what the season, the more fun I'm having. So I decided to make a little list of reasons I currently enjoy summer. For my soul's sake, for reminders' sake, for encouragement's sake.

1. Clara in her ruffle bikini. Her loud sassy mouth makes me forget just how young and delicate she really is, but that tiny porcelain body in a tiny green and blue floral bikini is a shot of happy from across our soaking wet lawn. She's so. damn. cute.

2. Drinks on the front porch with Sam. Sometimes after the kids go to sleep we'll fast forward to our retirement years and set ourselves up at the little bistro table on our front porch. My chilled wine and Sam's cold beer sweat onto the glass-top table as we laugh and talk and share our Instagram feeds with each other, waving at passing neighbors and poking our heads inside every once in awhile to see if anyone is awake or crying. Suddenly it will be 10 p.m. and those nights together are good ones.

3. Sammy's thighs. And arms. And chins. Summer babies equal naked babies, and that boy has rolls on his rolls. All these months of breastfeeding, of sitting up in the dark of night while everyone else slept and he dream nursed in my arms, of attaching baby to mommy every 2 hours for 6 months: the pay off is in the roll on the back of his neck and the chub of his elbow crook. My bony 4lb 7oz newborn is now a healthy happy 6 month old who smiles so hard his eyes disappear. And if you think he ever wears clothes at home, you are as mistaken as the person who thinks it's rude to chew on babies.

4. My girlfriends and their kids. This cannot be understated. To have two of my sisters and so many dear friends a phone call away from coffee visits or picnics in the park or an afternoon of trading kids so we can run errands alone (pure heaven) is a blessing that I will never take for granted. As we all sort of fight our way through this battle of woman/mother/person hood, we need each other more than ever. It's important therapy to gather around a kiddie pool and ignore our kids together; it's life saving work. I love them so.

5. I'm not in summer school. For the last three summers, I've been enrolled in intense summer courses, pushing hard to finish as soon as possible. Not having hours of homework every night is a new kind of wonderful. Having my degree on the desk in our guestroom is a new weird reality; I just can't believe that I'm done. I think because Sam was born two weeks after I graduated, I haven't had time to appreciate the accomplishment. But this summer my heart has a lightness to it that I didn't even know I'd been missing, and even though sometimes I miss school (I'll definitely go back for a masters someday) I can't believe I get to spend every day with my kids instead of stodgy literature professors. Can't think of a worse summer pal than a guy who asks you to dissect and respond to a thirty page Thoreau essay about walking.

6. Summer bounty. That picture on the top of this post is of my kitchen table. Not styled, not just for the picture; just of my summer table. Fruit, flowers, and more fruit. You can basically live like a fairy in the summer and not think twice about it. Yes, please.

Dear Summer,
I'm trying. Thanks for the sunshine and thanks for the cheaper fruit. (And Lord, thank you for knowing that some of us needed all four seasons.)

And thank you most of all for my son's fat arms.

Sammy and his beautiful cousin Elsie Mae

Monday, June 30, 2014

Captain Horney

Sometimes when things are tipping towards chaotic over here, especially when Sam is gone and I'm alone with these kids (fine MY kids) I find myself thinking like a Civil War officer sending for help.Which is obviously weird but also, it just feels right. Like when it's past dinner time and Clara is hollering because there are not enough raspberries in her bowl and the baby needs to nurse and I'm trying not to burn the chicken on the stove and for some inexplicable reason I'm still wearing large leopard print earrings which are now clinking around and bothering me, and in my head I'm going all kinds of Western Union:

Is not going well stop Send reinforcements stop Troops advancing stop All is in despair stop Tell my loved ones goodbye stop Heading west stop Really far west stop Will be on the beach stop Drinking rum and pineapples stop Many many rum and pineapples.

Sincerest apologies,
Captain Horney
1st Division
The Trenches

Sunday, June 29, 2014

some days i suck at parenting.

Some days I suck at parenting.
Actually, a lot of days I suck at parenting.
And it makes me cry.
It makes me hurt.
I want to crawl in bed and come out when I know what I'm doing, when I stop making mistakes, both private and public. A small part of me believes that a million other people could be doing this job so much better than I am doing it. Surely I was not meant to be the mother of these children. Surely my voice will be the one that leads the wrong way, becomes the fodder for their disrupted maturity and happiness, becomes the record playing in their head as they make their own big dumb mistakes later in life. There's no way I should be raising these people.

Surely I am not the one.
Someone else would do this SO MUCH BETTER. 

I feel this way more often than I could ever admit.
I felt this way when I was struggling to write plays and musicals. I am not the one. 
I felt this way when I was running a summer camp. I am not the one. 
I felt this way whenever I spoke too soon or too passionately or too foolishly in school or church or to my friends. Someone must be better at this than I am, I thought. Surely I am not the one.

But I am.
I am the one.
I am the one who wanted these babies. I am the one whose body was their home for so long, and I am the one who gave birth to their warm, beating hearts. I am the one they call Mama.

I am so bad at this sometimes. Painfully unaware of my mistakes until they grip me with an ache in the middle of the night, I sit up and panic over the things I've said, haven't said, haven't disciplined, haven't fixed, have done and regretted or not done and regretted and my LORD it's exhausting inside the head of a parent.

But God gave these babies to me.

Their mama. 

Clara and Sammy are mine to hold, mine to screw up, mine to raise and love and celebrate. So beyond a good nights sleep and perhaps an ice cold beer, that truth from the Lord is most what I need in my life.

To know that no matter what, no matter the foolish words and the anger and the frustration, the needless worries and the ignorance (but honestly, I cannot remember what a 6 month old should be doing. Should he be sitting up on his own by now? I need to buy one of those development books), these kids were always meant to be mine. Meant to be ours, you know, mine and Sam's. I'm just refraining from writing on Sam's behalf because he is actually a lot better at this than I am.

We are the ones. The imperfect parents.
They are the ones. The children we prayed and longed for.
This is our growing family and it was always supposed to be like this. God knew that when He lent us these little lives to watch over. He knew that I would hit Clara in the head with hand weight (ON ACCIDENT settle down). He knew that I would forget about Sammy's immunization appointment last month. He knew that we would be really good at having family dinners every night and really bad at not watching Beyonce music videos with Clara. And still, still, He sent these people to us.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for them. Thank you for being bigger than my everlasting mistakes. Thank you for not asking me to be a perfect mother: just a faithful one.
Who gets out of bed.
Who tries again.
Who loves and loves and loves because I have been
loved and loved and loved and because
for goodness sakes,
sometimes my kids suck just as much as I do.

You never asked me to be a perfect mother. Or even a great one. Or even an ok one.
Just a faithful one.
So ok.

I can get out of bed again tomorrow.
And faithfully, together with the rest of all the parents of all the world,
try to suck a little bit less,
and laugh a little bit more.

'Cause that's a good day for anybody, yes and yes.

My children, on their way to Burning Man and Sturgis, respectively. 


Sunday, June 22, 2014

to samuel at 5 months

My sweet Samuel,

Well, ok, let's just gather 'round the elephant in the room and say, yes, son, you are getting ripped off. I wrote these every month for your sister, at least for awhile, and this - 5 months in- is your first.

Have we stared at that big dumb elephant long enough? I'm staring, staring... ok. It's gone.

Let me begin by saying that you have given me a new answer to the question,

"How's the baby?"

People ask that all the time. It happened twice just today, when I had you wrapped tight to my torso in your favorite place in the world, heartbeat to heartbeat, my lips to your head. I 'wear' you all the time,
1. because you are happy there, with me, and
2. because I like to have you close.

And when people stop to chat with me, or they notice the baby strapped to my front, they always ask some form of the question,

"How's the baby?"
And all I can say, in complete honesty, almost apologetically, is that you are a slice of heaven. A golden slice of heaven, set gently in my arms and into our family. Oh my GOSH it's so cheesy, it's absolutely disgusting, but SAM! You are the nicest baby I've ever met. From the moment I laid eyes on you, from the moment I felt your tiny body against my chest, I have known a new kind of peace. A new kind of quiet. And let me tell you, my son, my boy-
it is good.
Your spirit is a good kind of quiet. Not serious, no, not the stern quiet of libraries. Not scary, not the tense quiet after a fight. It's a smile instead of a laugh. It's that far away hum and thrill of swinging alone in the park. It's tea, not coffee. It's bourbon, not rum. It's a blade of grass bending towards the sunrise.

It's different from your sister. It's so different from me.
It's a lot like your dad.

In fact, the two of us are constantly just sort of exclaiming over you,
"He's so wonderful! Isn't he so wonderful? Can you believe this guy? Can you believe he's our son?"

You sleep on your stomach, and you always have. You're not really supposed to do that, you know, they all say not to let a baby sleep on their stomach, but you always have. Even the nurses in the NICU let you sleep like that, which is sort of unheard of. Gosh, even they loved you, buddy. They would all come through your little curtained off cube and smile at your head of dark hair, your tan skin, and say

"He's so calm."
I never want to forget that.
Or these things:

-Your smile is THE BEST. You make people feel like they made your day, the way you light up whenever they make eye contact. I can tell you are smiling even if I'm holding you outward, because you smile with your entire body. Oh, my baby, how that smile makes us laugh and laugh. You are sunshine.

-You fall asleep so easily. No fussing. I'll just be holding you, chatting with someone, and suddenly you're asleep in my arms. Or I lay you down in your bed and maybe you'll fuss for a minute? And then I'll look up from working and realize you've been asleep for an hour. I didn't know babies could do that.

-You lay your head on our shoulder when you are upset. Sometimes your daddy will hear you crying and ask me what you need, and I'll say 'he probably just needs a hug.' And it's true. You just need a big hug and a kiss and you settle right down. I mean, what the hell, man. It's amazing.

-You are a ninja. You can wiggle and force your way out of anything I strap you into. How terrifying. Your sister never climbed, never crawled, she waited to move until she could walk. And we have strong feelings that you will give us no such break.

-You don't like to talk unless no one else is talking, usually. Unlike other children I've birthed (ahem), you can go an entire day without making a sound. It's like you're saving it all up for when the aforementioned dolly goes to bed and then game on mom and dad because you've been waiting to babble and now is your chance! And it is happy, happy, happy gurgling and we really like it.

-Your sister, the way you watch her when she plays, it's pretty fun to see. You smile at her, you laugh at her antics, and my gosh does she adore you. Every morning when she wakes up, the first thing she asks for is "brudder mama? brudder?" She kisses you a thousand times a day and you let her. She kisses your hands, she kisses your head, she kisses your stomach, she kisses your mouth, and you lay there with a welcoming smile on your happy face. You two are a joy to watch. I pray it's always this way. Minus the open mouth kissing, I mean. That's only cute for a short window of time, let's be honest.

Buddy. You're a dream. A sleep through the night, smile all the time, drool all over your shirt, make my day kind of a dream.

We love you so, Samuel. We love you so.

Monday, June 16, 2014

10 reasons toddlers are terrorists.

This is not necessarily a direct reflection of the toddler I live with; more a conglomeration of every toddler in the history of the world. 

10 Reasons Proving that Toddlers are Terrorists. 

1. They usually need a translator. 
Because no one but a toddler's parents knows that "Nack, up, totes. Et a go mama! " means "I would like a snack up in my high chair, a snack which includes toast, while I watch the music video of Let it Go on youtube."

2. They will self-destruct to make a point. 
You want me to sit down in this chair while I drink my cup of milk? Well how about I throw the cup of milk and scream so you have to put me in time out and THEN maybe you'll understand that I wanted to drink my milk while I walked down the stairs backwards and drew on the wall with this broken pencil, MOTHER.

3. They will hold you hostage for an outrageous ransom. 
Holding their breath until they pass out. Throwing a fit so big that you have to leave a party. Falling asleep in their carseat the second you reach your destination. Refusing to eat. Taking off their shoes right before you leave the house. Peeing their pants in the church bathroom. Sitting down in the dairy aisle until you open that pack of string cheese, or drag them out by their overall straps.
Their tactics are endless.

4. In-fighting is their weakness. 
You can go ahead and buy two or three of every toy you own. Go ahead. But as soon as another toddler arrives on the scene, you can bet your life that nothing looks quite as enticing as the toy someone else is already thoroughly enjoying. 

5. There are masterminds and there are soldiers. 
Look for the loud ones to be manipulating and giving directions, and quiet ones to be climbing into your washing machine with your wallet and an old bottle of lube that they found in your secret 'mommy' drawer.

6. Sleep deprivation: a battle that wins the war. 
The more tired the prisoner, the more likely they'll give in. Everyone knows that. See you at two a.m., mom and dad!

7. An inclination for short-sighted ideology. 
Because like a terrorist, the only idea a toddler believes in, is his own idiotic idea.

8. Engaging in warfare is a futile measure.
You can't fight an enemy that you can't see. Don't try to understand why this almond will taste better than that almond. Don't try explaining why we don't walk through fields of thorny bushes. Just say no and keep up the good fight.

9. They fight to be a sovereign nation, yet can't govern themselves worth a crap. 
Everybody wants to brag about how 'verbal' their child is, until that child learns the phrase "No, ME! I do it!" Insert: shoes on the wrong feet. One underwear leg hole, two legs. Bowls of applesauce spilled under the fridge. Hands stuck under door cracks. 45 minutes to climb into the car and buckle their own car seat. Some awful mommy or daddy at the park is going to tell you that it's important to let your child explore their own world and express their own desires. It's ok if you want to slap that parent and then shove your kid in the carseat and get to your meeting before you're late. Remember: you live with a terrorist. You are the hero, not them.

10. Every battle is worth fighting to the death. 
Paul Bloom says it best:
"Young children are highly aggressive; indeed, if you measure the rate of physical violence through  the life span, it peaks at about age 2. Families survive the Terrible Twos because toddlers aren’t strong enough to kill with their hands and aren’t capable of using lethal weapons. A 2-year-old with the physical capacities of an adult would be terrifying." This Slate article 

Parents, Unite. It's us versus them. Thank God they only weigh 25 pounds and will eventually take a nap today.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

a prayer for today.

Heavenly Father,

Some weeks, you know, they feel like such a slope. And I'm climbing, clawing, misstepping my way up this hill, up this matted down grass that seems almost slick with failures. By the time the sunrise slips through my bedroom windows I already feel behind, already feel like I've lost some grip on my day. I hate that, Lord. I want to conquer my day. I want to own my day. I want to set forth and accomplish and be rewarded, even in the smallest of ways, for my diligence and my successes. I want the world to look in on my efforts and say, look at her go. Look at that woman who can't be stopped. Look at that mother doing it right. Look at all the things she is doing with steady hands and in perfectly straight lines and with many moments to spare.

But instead, Father, instead I am grasping. I am doggie-paddling up this river of my life, getting slapped in the face by waving errant branches, getting pulled under by hidden currents. These branches and currents, I tell you, they are starting to get a girl down. They are so small, too, I know, these things like broken jars of jam on my floor and sick kids and missed deadlines and too much time on a screen but not enough time in running shoes, and all these unspoken letters and messages floating out there because I can't seem to get my shit together and just respond to anything on time, at all, ever.

Doggie-paddling. It's a useless way to swim, I tell you.

So here I am, Lord. In a world filled with people and problems like refugee camps and women who are abused and kids who are not loved; here I am swimming and climbing up and through my own stupid little struggles. Here I am in my humble home with my humble failures and my humble defeat. It's not much of an offering. I know that. But-

You said that You want this offering. That you want my struggles. Because in these kinds of grasping days, you are making me, ME. These moments in my home with my children, these hours with my words and my ideas, these misstepped days of never quite catching up to where I think I ought to be:
You are here.
And You, the Judge, the King, what an eye you seem to have for what is holy and what is not. On your scales, success and defeat are assigned no varying values. Today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow and I hear you whispering it, Lord, on this cloudy morning in the quiet of my home; I hear your whisper to "look for the sacred." In friendships. In duties. In work. In marriage. In sex. In parenting. In sleeping. In loving. In my lukewarm coffee and my bowl of blueberries, the sacred can be discovered. The sacred can be cultivated. The sacred is found and believed.

Because on your scales, success and failure are assigned no varying values. It is in obedience to do right and an awareness of what is good that I find my place beside you. And in my rightful place, I don't have to swim so damn hard. I don't have to climb up that hill, back aching and eyes squinted into the wind. I can rest. In the purposeful sacred, I find rest.

In the cultivation of the sacred, I find my rest.

Thank you, Lord.

And by golly, amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

we're raising ambassadors.

My sisters Becca and Jamilyn and my best friend Amanda and I took our 11 kids to the park for a picnic the other day. Towards the end of our afternoon we saw all of the big kids in this play boat structure with an Asian man and his son. Ella, Jamilyn's 3 year old, was talking the poor guy's ear off. We heard her telling him every single one of their names, their mother's names, which dress is her favorite, etc etc more useless three year old information. (It's a good thing she doesn't know her parents' social security numbers. Or her address.)

Anyways, this guy is either one of the special grown ups who are at the park having lunch or he is incredibly patient, because he lets all of our loud children chatter at him for a long time, listening intently without saying anything at all. They're all clearly enamored with an adult who cares about their meandering, pointless stories. When there's finally a break in the barrage, we hear him saying emphatically,

"No English. Just Chinese."

The kids stared at him blankly.
Amelia, Becca's 3 year old, got up right in his face and said with her arms crossed,

"So... you speak Spanish, or what?"

from a different park day. but you get the idea. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

you gotta be like a grandma.

 Clara was never the kind of baby who smiled at strangers. Or really anyone, for that matter. She liked a small handful of trusted family members and no one else, and she wasn't afraid to advertise her disdain for the rest of the human population. She snubbed her grandfathers, her aunts, her uncles, unruly children, strangers and friends who stopped to coo over her, and occasionally even her own father. Even now she is a hard egg to crack, hurting lots of feelings and balking at any hug that wasn't her idea first. Basically, you're gonna have to earn your place in her heart. And the process is a long one.

This personality trait of my daughter's, this reluctance to be friendly or welcoming, is difficult for me. Because to be honest, although I know she is really still so young and has a million miles to go in her development-

sometimes she just seems rude.
And I use that word, too. I tell her not to be rude. I probably shouldn't, I'm probably speaking that into her psyche or something, but for goodness sakes. When she shrieks at her cousins and shoves their arms away after they run across the lawn to give her a welcoming hug? Well. It's kind of rude. I'm outgoing and I hug everyone, so her attitude, completely opposite of mine, is both foreign and upsetting. I feel like I have to constantly apologize for her, especially to family members she snubs. Again, I REALIZE SHE IS A ONE YEAR OLD. I get it. But she can walk and talk and relate and this thing she does, this rude business- it bothers me.

There is one person who Clara has always been nice to, and that's Sam's mom Debbie. We call her Nona, the Italian word for grandmother, and Clara would follow her to the moon. My parents are wonderful and I wish my kids knew them better, but they moved to Boston shortly after Clara turned one, so she spends a lot more time with Sam's mom and dad. And let me tell you, Debbie looks at Clara with a smile that goes all the way to her heart. When we stay at their house or they at ours, she gladly gets up with Clara and lets me sleep. They laugh together, they eat together, and genuinely enjoy their time together. I love their relationship, but there are times it baffles me.

Listen: Not only do I love her, but I like my daughter a lot. She is hilarious and spunky, full of love and so smart. I kiss those small hands of hers and just cannot believe that I get to be her mother.

But also, sometimes she drives me crazy.

She whines, she asks for the same thing in a louder and louder and louder voice again and again and again...and she is not very nice to new people, ever. What is it that prevents her Nona from seeing these traits? What is it that allows grandparents such a freedom in their love? I've watched my mom and dad in the same kind of relationship with all of their grandkids. My dad is way better grandpa than he ever was a dad. To me he was more teacher, pastor, authority figure. But to our kids, he is Papa. Papa who tosses them onto the couch cushions, Papa who will clap for their awful singing, Papa who will picnic with them on the grass. 'Who is this man,' I wondered during his last visit, when he happily sat through an entire episode of Bubble Guppies with Clara on his lap and baby Sam in his arms. I couldn't quite put my finger on the difference I saw, and then I noticed it was the look on his face. He looked, unhurried. Like he could have sat and held my two small children as long as he needed. There was a peace in his movements with them that I didn't recognize from my childhood, and to be honest, that I didn't recognize in my own mothering. 

Last month we took a family trip across the country. We packed a suitcase for our kids and a suitcase for ourselves, bought a new double stroller, and flew to the North Carolina sea shore. Sam's brother Michah was getting married and asked Clara to be the flower girl. Oh, boy, we all said. She's kind of young for that, but sure. If anything else, she'll look cute in her little white dress and we can laugh about her bad behavior later. We spent the wedding week in a gorgeous beach house with all of our Horney family. True to form, Clara wouldn't speak to or look at most of them, unless they ignored her or had a snack to offer. The ignoring trick works pretty well with that girl. She would love to do a song and dance and bat her eyelashes to make you like her, yes indeed. That's fun. But if you're her Uncle Josh and you love her with your whole heart and treat her like a princess? She will scream and cry at you like you might be a mass murderer.
(Oh, and by the way? My parents say I was exactly like this as a child. My uncles tell stories of me crying whenever they walked in a room, and I used to have grown ups doing anything it took to win my affection. What goest around cometh around, I suppose the sages would say?)

When it came time for the wedding rehearsal, I introduced Clara to the ring bearer, a little boy named Jake. I was nervous about how she was going to act around him. Would she be snobby? Would she yell at him? Would she throw a fit about walking down the aisle beside him? And he was a rowdy kid, too, so I hoped they wouldn't fight or hit or... I don't know. I was nervous. But lo and behold: Clara found Jake infatuating. She held his hand during most of the rehearsal, and they played together like happy kittens. And then- and then- the day of the wedding arrived. I stood in the back of the chapel with the wild ring bearer and my mischievous daughter, praying hard that they would do their jobs, or at least not break down in front of the whole crowd. They got the cue to walk down the aisle, and well well. What do you know. Clara Noelle held Jake's hand and pranced towards the front of that church like a pint-sized angel, grinning and offering a sweet "Hi!" to everyone she passed. She was a sunbeam. And although I had absolutely nothing to do with that small moment of success, I was so proud my heart almost burst. She was nice to her new friend, she did her job, and she lit up the chapel with her blue eyes and cheeky greetings. I was so glad that her Uncle Michah and her new Aunt Kristan asked her to participate, and that they were so relaxed about what could or would happen with a 19 month old flower girl. I didn't need to be nervous. I didn't need to protect everyone from Clara and her moods. Because even if it hadn't gone well, she wasn't going to ruin a wedding by being a surly toddler.

What I began to understand on that wedding day, I think, is a gift that I can give myself as a mother. Because although I am barely ankle deep in this parenting thing, and although I am many moons away from having grandchildren, I can still give myself this gift: to see through the lens of a grandparent. To behold the peace that comes from many years of reflection. The calm of knowing this too shall pass. And you will all be better for it. 
I see that peace in my father as he hugs my daughter close.
I hear that calm in the advice from my mother whenever I call her in a panic.
I watch the utter joy in Sam's mom and dad when they talk to my kids, in the delight they take in our children's every move.
They have all watched as the layers of pain and goodness in their own families built and built upon one another, and they know the end result. To a certain extent, they know what is to come for my children. And they are at peace.

I imagine what is best about being a grandparent is the distance you are afforded when looking at a child. No longer bound by the day to day minutia of their raising and their development, to a grandparent a child is just that. A child. A child who will eventually have all of their teeth. Who will make their own decisions. Who will stop yelling "mine" all the time, or being rude to strangers, or throwing fits in the park. A child who will fail classes and pass classes and excel in one area while forgetting another. And when a grandparent looks at their grandchildren, they not only see the joy of now, of these quickly passing moments of being little and needy, moments soaked in the intense hero-worship of mommy and daddy; they can also see the later. They know how fast the years will go. They know how hard the nights can seem. And they know that through the pain of child rearing, through the days when it's too hard to remember that there will be a tomorrow; they know that through that pain comes a family. A family forged together by newborn cries and toddler emotions, elementary adventures and middle school misery, high school discoveries and then the foray into adulthood.

A family is being born here. A family is being made. And it is a lovely thing to watch.

A grandparent knows that.
What a gift.

a few pics from the rehearsal and the wedding, by our good friend and talented photographer, Bekah. 
thank you for these, Bekah!