Monday, April 27, 2009
2: an act, process, or instance of joining in close association
Do you cry at weddings? I do. But it hasn't always been that way. In fact, when I think back to my own wedding, the emotion I remember is excitement. I had spent the summer living at home with my parents. J was living in Columbus, OH where I was scheduled to start grad school in the fall after our late July wedding. We had spent about two months apart leading up to the wedding and I was so excited when J arrived the week of the wedding, that I just quit worrying about anything at that point. Several little tasks on my to-do list were never marked off, but I couldn't even tell you what they were. All I cared about was that I was getting married!
At the weddings that we attended after we were married, J and I would smile through the ceremony and squeeze hands during parts that reminded us of our own nuptials. I didn't cry. He didn't cry. We just left feeling renewed and reminded of why we had married each other on that hot July day in southern Alabama.
But about nine years ago, weddings changed for me. Instead of relating to the bride, which brought huge smiles, but no tears, I began to focus on those words "give away." This little moment in the ceremony was not a big deal to me during my own wedding, but now it stood out in bas relief. I was one day going to have to stand in front of those I love and give my daughter away?! What was this craziness? Even worse, my daughters would be excited to be given away, just as I had been. This definitely brought some tears.
I know (logically) that I will be smiling through tears of joy when A, B and/or K walk down the aisle to wed. But (emotionally) I can't believe I'll ever be ready for this. I actually get a tad angry when I think about all of this giving away stuff because mothers and fathers of boys don't have to stand there and give up their sons. I'm sure there's some archaic reason that it's structured the way it is, but it still seems wrong that J and I have to foot the bill for a party celebrating giving our beautiful daughters away!
We attended a wedding this weekend. A sat between J and I, with B on J's right. I leaned over to A and told her to hold her daddy's hand because he was sure to cry when they started playing Jesu. She looked puzzled and asked "Why?" I tried to explain that when we watch a bride walk down the aisle, we see her. We look at those bridesmaids and see her sisters. That, of course, is not sad to her at all.
At the reception, K went outside to pick flowers and then gave them to "the princess who got married today." I know my little girls want to be princesses who get married one day and I hope they are as excited as I was nearly 13 years ago at my wedding. But I'm sure I'll still cry.
Friday, April 24, 2009
2 a: degree of hotness or coldness measured on a definite scale b: the degree of heat that is natural to the body of a living being
The air conditioner in our van is broken. It blows some cold air, but only through the defrost, not through any of the vents scattered around the van. We’ve known this for a few months, but there’s never an ideal time to be without our vehicle for a few days and it hasn’t been warm enough to make the lack of air conditioning a real issue. Until today. Today we took a seven hour road trip… to southern
If you’ve never been to southern
J, however, is another story. Since the air conditioner on the van only blows through the defrost, he’s been freezing for about 100 miles. While he has icebergs forming in his ears, A is so warm back in the third row of the van that she’s taken her shirt off. That’s right, my eldest daughter is topless and thanks to tinted windows and her small stature, I’m not even making an issue of it. I feel so bad about the balmy temperature of the van that I figure if taking her shirt off makes her more comfortable, so be it.
Never one to let an opportunity like this pass her by, K has removed her shirt as well. As Kate’s reasoning goes, if her sister gets to do it, so should she.
I am still fully clothed. My own personal solution has been to drape B’s blanket over the visor to the side of my window. It’s blocking the sun that beats down on me as we drive southward. We may look odd to passersby. In fact, I’m pretty sure we do. But tempers flare when the temperature gets off, so right now we’re doing whatever it takes to keep everyone cool.
Monday, April 20, 2009
WordGirl says: the place my children once sat
Last week, K and I walked to pick up A & B from school one day. I had allotted plenty of time, so we arrived early. I leaned against a tree and she sat in my lap while we waited (and talked, of course, this is K) before dismissal.
Today, I drove past a local store and saw another mom sitting with her two children in her lap. It was a beautiful image and it struck me that it's hard to fit two of my daughters in my lap and nearly impossible to fit all three. A is 9, B is 7 and K will be 5 next month. I have joked with K that she will be able to sit in my lap all of her life because she is so small and likely to stay that way. (J has always said he hopes our girls make it to 5'0", but I'm not sure that will happen with K.)
But my time of having my girls sit in my lap is limited, if not already at an end. For the most part, I am glad my children are growing up. Many of my friends do not share this sentiment. They love having preschoolers and are more than a tad sad to see them leave infancy and head towards toddlerhood and all that awaits. But I love having children who are school age. I love talking with them about books I read that they are reading. I love hearing them share random science facts I had long forgotten. I love seeing them make connections I never made and invent games I never played.
But every now and then, I realize I will someday miss the little girls they once were. I will miss A curling up beside me to listen to a book. I will miss B striding into the room to show me her latest art work. I will miss K jumping into my lap to tell me her latest observation at full volume.
I know I'll love who they become as well. I already love seeing A use her gifts and talents and wonder how B will ever find a job that utilizes her many, diverse talents.
Hopefully they will one day give me grandchildren to fill my lap again, but in the meantime, I want to soak up those little moments together while we have them. I know they will be gone far too soon.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
2: the writer of a literary work (as a book)
Recently, J and I separately described me as a stay-at-home-mom. Shortly after I did this (in a work context, no less), I thought to myself - wait a minute, I work - I'm working right now! When J did it, I didn't correct him, but it was interesting to hear him describe me that way. As it happened, J described me as a SAHM at a dinner where I didn't know the woman sitting beside me very well. Over the course of the evening, she and I started chatting and found out we are both writers. She's at work on a novel that her daughter is editing along the way and I'm trying slowly but surely to explore a fiction character. As we talked, we touched briefly on what constitutes being a writer.
Am I a writer? Am I an author? What is the difference between the two? A song we sing at church describes God as the Author of Salvation, which always prompts me to think about what, if anything, I am author of. If God writes to save, why do I write?
I write for many reasons: because I enjoy it, in order to communicate my thoughts, to stretch myself, to leave something behind, because I feel compelled to do so.
Another question I've spent some time asking myself is what I have to say as a writer. So many people write, for such varied reasons, that I sometimes wonder whether I have anything unique to say or anything worthwhile to say. But when I look back at the reasons I write, the first one is that I write because I enjoy it. That in and of itself should be enough reason to keep doing it.
I'm not sure I'll really consider myself an author until (if ever) I have something published. In the meantime, I'm going to settle for being "one that originates or creates."
Saturday, April 18, 2009
2 a: to honor (as a holiday) especially by solemn ceremonies or by refraining from ordinary business b: to mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine
A sweet woman (T, for our purposes) passed away a few weeks ago. In about an hour, we will gather to celebrate her life. I have mixed emotions about calling this ceremony a celebration, but I'll admit that reading celebrate as "honoring by solemn ceremony" changes my thoughts on that a bit. It's been difficult in the days since T's passing to find an acceptable way to express sorrow in losing her and joy that her prayers were answered and she was able to lead a normal life right up until she died.
I am not sad for T. It was a blessing that she was spared more pain from cancer and that her family was spared seeing her become not herself, but a vessel for a raging disease. Throughout her illness, T had a sweet spirit and peace about her. So I am not sad for her.
I am sad for her daughters, her husband and the rest of us left here without her. I am sad that when her daughters experience joyful times later in their lives like graduations, marriages, the births of children, these events will be tinged with sadness. Because at the highest points in their life, there will be a missing shadow that is not their mother watching them with glowing eyes. I know these sweet girls are secure in their mother's love for them, but I do not feel ashamed to cry for them and their loss.
Yet I have felt a quickness to move past grief to acceptance and celebration from many, many people at our church, especially those close to this family. And while I am thankful to have known T, I am sad for myself that she is gone. Her daughters are older than mine and she is someone whose parenting style I respected and admired. I would have asked her for advice on how to live life with daughters. I would have had her family over for dinner to let my girls see that whatever stage they are in, it will pass. I would have sought her wisdom and learned from her experience. But she is gone, so I can't do these things. And while I will go publicly honor her in a short while, I will also mourn her loss.
Grief is hard for me because I do not like to feel things intensely and I can not think about this and not feel. A part of me wants to be like the others in my community who are moving past (or just skipping over) the pain of loss, but when I think about who T was, I think she would want me to go ahead and feel what I am feeling in remembering her. I remember a friend saying on the Sunday after T's passing, "Why am I so sad?" And I thought to myself, "Because it is sad." It is a tragedy that T is gone, that a disease took her from us and that we have to go on without her.
So I'll close now and go get dressed to solemnly celebrate T's life. But I am left with questions that will go unanswered, many of them that start with the word "why."
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I recently read a book called Prague that was set in Budapest. This bothered me for part of the book, until I realized how much of the book was about longing to be elsewhere - in another city, another country, even another time. It made me think about how much our place in life has to do with our contentment.
I know people who are convinced they would be happier if they lived somewhere else. Sometimes this is justified (i.e. moving somewhere sunnier when you suffer from seasonal affective disorder), but mostly, I think discontent with place is about a deeper sense of dissatisfaction that has very little to do with our surroundings and everything to do with our inner well-being.
As I've mentioned in some recent posts, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to really live. I see our desires to move, to change jobs, to buy a new house as symptomatic of not really choosing to live wherever you are. Instead, we wait until the next phase, place or stage to really start living.
Not long ago, I read a blog post about someone's lush green grass in their suburban home. I don't really care about our grass and I certainly don't want to live in a suburb, but I was momentarily dissatisfied after reading the post. Our home isn't perfect, but I like it. It's not too big, it's not too small. I can walk the girls to school when we get up early enough in the mornings (which admittedly is not very often). I can even walk to the grocery store when I only need to pick up a few things. I am happy with my place, as long as I don't spend too much time comparing it to others' places.
As I've aged - or perhaps I should say as I've matured - I have found so much dissatisfaction in my life stems from comparison. Whether comparing bodies, abilities or homes, wherever we are or whatever we have pales slightly in comparison to others. So I am trying to stay mentally and emotionally in my physical place. I don't want to wish away my time, but enjoy it for what it is and for where it is spent. I find this is a hard lesson to teach myself.
A few years ago, when A & B were about 4 & 3, they were standing naked side-by-side about to get in to the bathtub. Their bodies are shaped so differently and I realized at their young ages that their body shapes had nothing to do with the amount of exercise they were doing or the foods they were eating. These are simply the bodies God gave them. So why am I constantly trying to change my body's shape? In a very real sense, our bodies are the places we spend the most time in, so I must find a certain degree of contentment there if I am to be content anywhere else.
I hope I'll persevere in learning the lesson of loving my place in life and that I can help my daughters learn this lesson at a much younger age. I love thinking about all they can accomplish and who they can be if they know who they are before they are in their thirties!
Monday, April 13, 2009
Once upon a time, there was a woman. This woman was terrible at some things, so-so at other things and very good at a few things. These things became balls in her life and she found she could juggle the few things she was very good at quite easily.
She held the large ball of her job lightly on her fingertips, tossed it high in the air while she cradled the soft ball of her marriage and occasionally held the squishy ball of friendship. She was happy with each of these balls and even had time to read books when the balls were all in the air.
The woman decided she could add some balls to her life, since she was so good at juggling the ones she had.
In quick succession, she threw in three balls and named them A, B and K. Before she knew it, the three balls had become six, then nine, then twelve. How did these balls multiply unlike any others before?
The woman didn't realize it, but the three new balls each came with their own balls to juggle and until they were old enough, she had to juggle her own balls and theirs. To her astonishment and dismay, the woman was overwhelmed. She was astonished at her own incompetence, dismayed because she loved those three balls dearly and did not want to disappoint and overwhelmed because... well, you would be overwhelmed too if you were trying to juggle 15 balls when you once juggled only three.
She had gone from being very good at a few things to being very bad at many things, but the balls just would not go away and they kept coming at her faster and faster.
The woman tried to get rid of some balls. This worked for a time, but the balls would just come bouncing back, waiting for her to take them up again. And really, she wanted some of those balls. She had once found her job a light burden, but now it felt like lead in her hands. How could she lighten it enough to still hold it?
Some days, the woman wanted to just throw her hands over her head and hide from the bouncing balls. But that didn't really work and she felt worse than ever when she tried that.
The woman finally decided that balls were meant to bounce and stopped trying to juggle every ball every day. Some days she still felt bombarded by the balls and had bruises from dropping them on herself. But she reminded herself that the balls were not made of glass and would not break if she sometimes let them bounce for a while unattended.
If you see this woman walking around with her hands, arms and the air around her full of balls, please stop to offer her a kind word of encouragement.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
2 : of, relating to, or being an idyll: 1 a: a simple descriptive work in poetry or prose that deals with rustic life or pastoral scenes or suggests a mood of peace and contentment
K and I had a nice day today: It's been a beautiful spring day, with blue skies, warm sun and a light breeze. A left something in the car this morning, so I put K in the stroller and we walked over to the school and took the long way home. After lunch, K wanted to watch a movie and asked me to join her. Surprisingly, I did. It wasn't my favorite movie fare, but as a bonus we watched it in bed and K let me snooze for 15 minutes alongside her. Later in the day, she wanted to ride her bike and wanted me to watch her. She waited patiently, sitting on her bike on the sidewalk, while I finished loading the dishwasher. Then I sat on the porch and watched her pedal her way back and forth.
When I relayed all of this to J, he said it sounded idyllic. I laughed and replied, "Well, I've also swept and mopped all of the downstairs floors and the stairs, while doing three loads of laundry. I think an idyllic day would involve less work!" But after reading the definition of idyllic, I must admit that he may be right. It certainly was a day "pleasing ... in natural simplicity."
A few nights ago, I went out with some friends. During our time together, we discussed, in part, what our standards are as mothers for time spent with our children. Specifically, time spent playing with our children. One friend talked about how her children deserved more of her time than they get, while another brought up how our expectations surrounding this issue have changed dramatically in recent decades. When moms got together 50 or 60 years ago, I seriously doubt they discussed whether they spent enough time playing board games or Barbies with their children. Instead, their days probably looked a lot like my day today: time spent with my daughter, but interspersed and alongside work.
There is a natural simplicity to children playing alongside mothers as they accomplish their work. This type of activity allows mothers to interact naturally with their children and seize teachable moments like counting the eggs that go into the cake. It also allows children autonomy to play in a childlike way without adult direction or interference.
I sound fairly confident of this, don't I? Yet I question my need to nourish myself and wonder whether I cross the line from self-care to selfishness. There is a cultural perception that mothers are meant to be mothers first and women second. But I'm not sure that is healthy or helpful.
When J said my day was idyllic, I instantly pictured a day where K and I played together, took a walk together, picnicked together, etc. Of course, in my mental picture, the house was clean, the laundry was folded and the dishes were done. This idyllic picture will never be reality. If I wait until I have everything done to snatch moments with my daughters, it will never happen. So instead, I'll enjoy the moments with them alongside me and remind myself of the natural simplicity of mother and child side-by-side, living life together. That gives me a peace and contentment that I can have every day.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
If you've read much of this blog, you know I've been in a season of what I'll call pre-growth. I know a change is coming in the fall when K starts Kindergarten and I'll have all of my daughters in school. What I haven't known is what awaits me after that bend in the road. I still don't know, but I have noticed lately that I feel encouraged to stretch my own limits. At one time, this would have been terrifying, and, let's be honest, it still is slightly terrifying. But I'm finding that it's slightly exhilarating as well.
I find I'm more willing to listen to my Spirit when it tells me to do something outside of my comfort zone and that the results when I do are mostly encouraging. If nothing else, I am finding I can do things I would never have believed myself capable of. In the last few weeks, I've offered to lead a women's retreat, I've created a collage about what feeds my soul and I've actually taken time to feed my soul.
These may not seem like large steps, but surely you would agree that they are steps. In fact, I think the last step I named may be the most important one. I was out with friends last night and we talked, in part, about what our children need and want from our time. I know my children desire more of my time and attention than I give them, but I also believe they are self-sufficient, independent, free thinkers because I do not lead them with a heavy hand. I try to give them ownership of their time and try to find ways to interact with them without stifling their creativity. I could do a better job of engaging with them individually and making time to just sit with them. But I also have come to realize that it's OK for me to sit alone and just be.
In fact, if I take time to feed myself first - by reading while I drink my morning coffee, or blogging before I pick them up from school - then I can extend myself further for them and to them.
This newfound focus on nurturing myself is, in large part, what I want to talk about when I speak at the women's retreat. I think women in general, and mothers in particular, are easily swept along in the day to day. We don't even know what we're missing by failing to take quiet moments to look for and look into the face of God. We don't realize how nourished we would be by what we will see there. By stretching my limits, I hope I can communicate just a small fraction of that to other women.
So, spring is here and I am blooming right along with the trees... right before your very eyes!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I've re-arranged my work schedule for the month of April to try to have more time for myself on Fridays, with no children around. I worked for a few hours yesterday and then went to the Frist to see their Medieval Treasures exhibit. I was really looking forward to this exhibit, especially the illuminated manuscripts. I love the way the illuminators interwove classical imagery, elements from nature and vivid colors to heighten the impact of the text itself. The word "book" just doesn't seem to fully capture these objects. They are so much more than "a set of written sheets of skin or paper."
One of my favorites from the exhibit was a Book of Hours that belonged to Queen Isabella of Spain. It was created in 1500 and I found it not only striking how beautiful this 500 year old book was, but that the Queen who financed Columbus' trip to the Americas once held it in her hands. What an amazing link to history, right there under the glass case. It's hard for me to decide where to start looking at an object as beautiful as this one. The flowers in the border, the illuminations or the ornate script. I can not fathom owning a book this gorgeous, but I do wonder how it would impact my experience of the text.
We own a lot of books. We don't keep an exact inventory, but an estimate would be that there are probably 1,000 books in our house right now. Some of them are lovely, especially the words in them, but they aren't hand-made, they aren't hand-illustrated, they aren't works of visual art. Does this make them any less valuable? Yes and no. Quite literally, they are far less expensive than Isabella's Hours. But they hold valuable knowledge, they offer countless inspirations and innumerable moments of pleasure.
I found myself thinking as I looked at medieval art about the trade-offs that progress brings. Isabella owned this book because she was a queen. She could read this book because she was a queen. Had one of her servants happened upon it, she might have paused to look at the glowing images, but the words would have been meaningless to her. Until books could be mass produced, everyday people like me couldn't read.
I'll be honest. As I looked at the illuminated books, I felt the weight of the shabbiness of the books we hold in our hands every day. They are dull, lifeless items compared to these gems. But I would gladly trade the ability to read, the ever-presence of words and accessibility of books for the beauty of those pages. What good would it do me to have a book this beautiful and not be able to read the words?
This is not a small trade off. I found myself longing to read Greek and Latin today so that I could not only ponder the images surrounding the text, but the text itself. It seems to me that it would have been such a rich experience to read calligraphic words surrounded by acanthus leaves, classical columns and budding flowers. I think the illustrations of the text would enhance my experience of the words.
But I may not ever get to have that experience. Instead, I'll pick up my simply bound book with more than 300 pages of fiction inside, and be thankful for the plentiful supply of books today.
Friday, April 3, 2009
Even more so than usual, it's been a week for thinking. This week has brought more than its share of heartache, sadness and questions for me. I noticed a few weeks ago how much I enjoy just sitting and thinking. While it might be seen as daydreaming, it feeds my soul to have quiet, contemplative time. The problem is that "quiet, contemplative time" can be hard to come by as a mom of three young girls who works part-time. But I have found this time is essential for me. It may be hard to come by, but it is worth the effort.
My lesson this week in Waking Up Grey is about self-care and our assignment is to create a collage that shows the things that nourish us. Part of the reason we do this is "If you want to do good for others, you must not be a stranger to what good feels like." I believe women have an especially difficult time nourishing our souls. This is ironic, since many of us spend countless hours nourishing the bodies and souls of our families. How can I offer my children what they need if I don't take time to satiate my own needs? How can I give them what "promotes growth and provide energy" if I can't recognize those things?
So what nourishes you? Is it time laughing with friends over shared experiences? A cup of hot tea on a cold day? A light scone that crumbles in your mouth? A gentle breeze off the lake? The smell of salt in the air? An early morning run? A few hours spent screaming with fellow fans at a ball game?
If you don't know, find out. I know what nourishes me: quiet, a good book, a cup of hot tea or coffee, sunshine of my face, a piece of great chocolate, art, art and more art. And only when I make the time for these seemingly frivolous things will I be nourished. Only then can I maintain a life worth living.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I was struck yesterday and again this morning by how our lives are imbued with a fragility that is more pervasive than most of us are able to acknowledge on a regular basis. Two events have brought this reality to the forefront in a way that I can not ignore: a dear friend's father who has a brain tumor and a friend who died of cancer, leaving behind two beautiful daughters.
There have, of course, been other times in my life when I was aware of life's fragility. I remember reading The Lovely Bones years ago and feeling determined to order groceries online, homeschool and generally barricade my daughters in our home to keep them safe. But even if I were to do that, I would not be able to protect them. Brain tumors and cancer seep through windows, crawl under doors and attack us from beneath our very skins. There is no protecting my children from predators like these.
More importantly, what would I be teaching them about life if we spent all of our time avoiding death, danger and hurts? Life, for all its fragility, is meant to be lived. The very fact that it is easily broken or destroyed makes it all the more important that we live it all out - stretched out fervently to see, taste, experience and do all that life offers us. All that we were made to do.
Life's fragility breaks my heart. But I think perhaps its very fragility is a lesson for us from our Creator. Many of the most beautiful things are fragile or transitory. Spring alone is evidence of this. The riot of blossoms and color that greet us daily will not last forever. Their very transience makes us notice them all the more. My daughters delighted in our daffodils and were dismayed when they quickly faded from vibrant life to a shadow of what they once were.
I'll admit that even as I write these words to remind myself of these truths, I cry. It hurts to be so aware of life's fragility. But I've also recently been pondering time and its value, so seeing the fragility up close makes me long to use the time I have to truly live.