In Which I Ramble to Make up for Lost Time

So much for posting at least once a week. I have been doing a few odd things to keep myself occupied, and in the process I have discovered my new favorite gardening tool. The lawn mower! A few weeks ago, I mowed the weeds in the garden, and yesterday I decided to try it in the flower beds. It worked! When I just had two children, I got a little ambitious in planning out my perennial beds, and now I have all these sadly depleted stalks that need to be trimmed. I simply wasn’t getting around to clipping them, because if I have to choose between having nice children or nice flower beds, I will take nice children. I wouldn’t mind having both. Enter the lawn mower with its nice bagger attachment, and just like that, the job is done! I expect lots of volunteers springing up on the compost pile next year.

I have also been taking various children to various appointments, dental and otherwise. In the last six weeks, I do believe there were nine appointments, a facet of parenting I never considered way back when. Who thinks of cavities or glasses or specialists when that first baby is laid into their arms? We don’t want to think those things. So we don’t.

While I was sitting in the dentist’s waiting room I wrote this:

Sometimes I look at the lovely Christmas card photos that we get from our friends, everyone nicely coordinated, artistically arranged, and smiling beatifically. I wonder if those children ever yell and pull each other’s hair when the favorite doll is in dispute. Do they ever have shocking displays of passion because a sibling raided a candy stash? And I don’t suppose that lady ever gets the impulse to sneak out the back door and runnnn.

I have no objection to sweet family portraits. We do it too. But this putting our best foot forward as if life were all one lovely photo op is just not helpful at all…

From the very start of the parenting journey, the literature is illustrated with serendipitous scenes of dreamy women cradling their cute tummies- never photos of the women who inherited a tendency to retain fluid and lose all traces of their ankles. The nurseries are perfectly appointed, pool of light warming a new mother as she rocks and feeds her newborn- but no one shows her, teeth clenched, tears running down her cheeks because those first feedings can be so incredibly painful. It is all baby powder and cute onesies- no scratch and sniff pads with the odor of pooey diapers that have been in the trash can for two days.

We have a vague notion that parenting may require some sacrifices such as getting up at night, but we really don’t expect it to be just downright hard some days.

I love the warm, cozy, hot chocolate and candles moments. I love reading poems to my children. I love ladling out bowls full of their favorite soup in their favorite bowls. I love going on hikes through autumn woods. But at our house, hot chocolate spills with predictable regularity and people aren’t always polite about who sits closest to Mama to see the pictures. There are always piles of dishes to clean up, and when we hike, knees tend to get skinned.

Life is like that- an ebb and flow of lovely and nasty. It can be very discouraging to others when we throw up the illusion that somehow we do everything right and escape the boo-boos and poo-poos and other unhappy things. I think the worst feeling in hard times is to feel that we are the only ones. Somehow, we are unique in our need or our sin, whichever it may be.

I can just tell you, right now, that as wonderful as our life is, we all need grace and forgiveness daily. We all need bandaids, and we all need friends along side us who are real.

Okay, I wrote that after a painful episode or three with a child who inherited my stubborn tendencies. I had prayed and cried and spent a lot of mental energy trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and I was feeling like a rather dreadful failure and thinking that I bet nobody else ever has these moments.

On a more cheerful note, I found a lovely piece of discounted fabric last week and envisioned my little girls in fluffy gray dresses with yellow accents. I could see our family photo this fall, with the baby and I wearing these dark fuschia jewel toned tops and the boys of the family in various shades of taupe and grey. Well, today a friend of mine brought her family to church in their elegant coordinated greys and yellows and fuschia from a recent family wedding. So now I have this dilemma… Do I go on with my plans and look like a copy cat or do I scrap the idea? Haha. Isn’t life grand?

An Exercise For a Frustrated Mother




Sometimes when that little blond one has done something. Again. Something really naughty or messy or particularly exasperating…  Like the time she ate my Very Special Hidden Chocolate for Hormonal Moments, or the time she dipped into the birthday cake before the party, or the time she completely emptied a new shaving cream bottle into the tub, or the time she cut all the tags off and tried on the clothes I bought for baby gifts… You get the idea. Those times when I hear my voice getting a little high pitched and desperate, I remind myself of these moments. She had totally denuded the miniature rosebush beside the front door, but she did it to make a cake for me! It really helps to get a little perspective on the matter at hand!

Don’t Try This at Home

Once there was a lady who got up bright and chipper on a chilly fall morning. She didn’t have a particularly full schedule for the day, aside from keeping her children (and there were 5 of them) fed, busy, and reasonably happy. As she mulled over her plans, she developed a slight hankering for pumpkin whoopee pies, the which if you have never tasted, you will not understand at all how such a hankering can unleash such a series of events.

She decided to get her small sons started on their math lessons at the kitchen table while she mixed up the ingredients for the cakey-cookies that would then get fluffy mounds of icing sandwiched between them. The coffee brewed and her mouth watered. Occasionally she had to pull the baby off the table and distract her with measuring spoons or scrapers. The little Kindergarten girl kept needing help with her “Going On Eagerly” book, which she was going through a little too eagerly. The lady kept telling her to slow down and color the pictures, all the while trying to keep track… now had she put in 1 cup of sugar or 2? The last step was to add the pureed pumpkin alternately with the flour. It was then she discovered that the last jar of canned pumpkin was actually gone, and she was going to have to process those two gigantic ornamental pumpkins sitting on her front porch. She had been waiting for a day when there wasn’t much to do, but this day had somehow lost its uncomplicated status and she just wanted those whoopie pies done.

Through her subconscious, the sounds of happy splashing filtered ominously. After she extracted the baby from the bathroom, sanitized her, and dressed her in clean clothes, she gave a lecture to the older children about flushing every time, and shutting the bathroom door. The baby got dropped in bed for a nap and the little girl huffed and puffed as she rolled the smaller pumpkin into the kitchen. Oh well, the lady thought, Mom always said you just do what you have to do. No point in dithering.

By the time she tried out the butcher knife, the chef’s knife and the sharpest paring knife, she realized that this pumpkin was not going to go easy. Children drifted in and out of her peripheral vision, fascinated by the shining blade whacking down on the cutting board. After they sorted out the fat seeds from the stringy interiors, she told them to run along outside for a while. But the little girl stayed right at her elbow, helping her toss those seeds in butter and salt and popping them into the oven for a roasted treat. The day had become officially complicated, and she wasn’t sure how to turn off the crazy. School resumed, while a kettle full of golden pieces started to simmer on the stove. She renewed her efforts at chopping. There was a moment of vacillation, trying to decide whether to attack the second pumpkin, and why did she buy two anyway? Oh well, she thought, might as well be shot for a horse as for a mule.

The next few hours passed in a blur of cooking and blending batches of beautiful golden puree, fixing sandwiches for the children’s lunch, and finishing the cookie batter. The coffee was no longer fresh, the baby woke up, the husband returned from his classes, and the pumpkin was still not in jars, nor were the whoopie pies iced. She didn’t even want one anymore. But she doggedly finished up, wrapping each one lovingly in its own personal plastic wrap.

She ladled those two bowls full of puree into jars and set them to cold packing three hours. Well, she thought to herself, surveying the ruin that was her kitchen, I suppose that is how one gets something done. Then she ate a whoopie pie, just because.

You Can Kid the World… but not Your Sister

Today, in honor of my sister’s birthday, I am reposting what I wrote two years ago on The Blog That Didn’t Survive Some Technical Problems. I am reposting because I liked that post and because I like my sister.

As a little girl, I used to marvel at how light hearted and excited my mom became when she and her sisters were together. They would talk, sometimes all at the same time, and my Dad and the uncles would drily remark that it didn’t matter if nobody heard what was said, as long as it all got said.

When my sister and I were youngsters, we had this strange competitive relationship. I was probably a little like the Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Schulz, described it, “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.” I had this feeling I was born to keep the little sister carefully in line. We could peacefully coexist for entire days until suddenly she had too much of the solicitude bossing, and I would retreat in pained surprise at her ingratitude in rejecting my ideas. In my mind, she was always favored, cute, able to do pretty much whatever her charming little heart desired. In her mind, I was always three years superior and patronizing to boot. So we had this funny little dance of like and dislike that we did. Mom would look at us in bewilderment and say, “You act like you don’t even like each other.” That is why this next quote makes me laugh.
If you don’t understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you were probably an only child.   -Linda Sunshine

After she got married, and moved far away, I started to realize just how strong this bond of sisterhood really was. There was nobody else in my life who would honestly tell me whether the curtains I made looked all right or slightly tacky. None of my friends knew exactly which purse/shoes/fabric looked just like me. And they would certainly not have said, “Yeah, I would never buy it, but it will look fine on you.” Neither would they give me an impish look and ask me if I am pregnant or just gaining weight. These are things only a sister can do and get by with it. Besides my husband, nobody else ever saw me cry in utter frustration about my mothering. Nobody else had the inside scoop on why I still sometimes get an urge to eat one of those factory made cream horns with the sugary-shortening filling. I have never seen anyone else do a better “lima bean chew” than she does. And nobody else knows so well why I named my favorite doll “Bernice”.

To the outside world we all grow old.  But not to brothers and sisters.  We know each other as we always were.  We know each other’s hearts.  We share private family jokes.  We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.  We live outside the touch of time.  ~Clara Ortega

So on my sister’s thirtieth thirty-second birthday, I celebrate her and the unique role of “born to be friends” that we share.

The Various Uses of Leaf Raking

After supper I decided to let the house stay in its state of collapse and work in the back yard for some therapy. Gabe left for work at six, so I had a long evening to trim dead flowers and do some mowing. When Alex saw my intentions to bag the leaves as I mowed, he begged! to rake them! Sure, knock yourself out, buddy. If I had suggested that they do that, I am reasonably certain there would have been some groans of protest about such A Huge Job.  They had a ball, flapping rakes around with abandon, making interminable trips with loads on their toboggans to form a central pile. I pulled out the spent beans in the garden and watched in amusement as they raked the entire back yard before they gleefully leaped into their pile, burying each other and erupting out again with yells loud enough to make the neighbors wonder what those youngsters were up to now. It kept them busy all the way to bedtime.

Suddenly I had a flashback to years ago when I had just two little boys and Gabe had to work late for some reason or other. Like 10 o’clock late. It was a similar night, gorgeous, but I was mad at the circumstances that were keeping him so long. It got dark and I decided to go out and fling some leaves around. The little boys were oblivious to the steam coming out of their mama’s ears and just had fun, staying up late, running circles around the furiously leaf raking automaton that was me.

I raked the entire backyard in the dark, with occasional squalls of tears that nobody but God saw. I felt better, too, after I was done. I had unloaded my frustration and come to a saner view about the pressure that my husband was under to finish a job that took longer than he had thought when he gave his word to a customer.

I still don’t like solo parenting evenings so much… never will. But the last thing my man needs is a mad wife when he comes home, so I suppose I am writing this for other ladies out there who can relate to this scenario. Go out and rake some leaves before he gets back, then greet him happily!

Camping Retrospective

I grinned as I walked the perimeter of the semi-deserted campground with my crew of excited kiddos. The only other campers were three older couples with pull-alongs that had impressive pop-out this and thats, large TV antennae, paint fresh from the factory. They kept immaculate campsites and were as kindly large-hearted as anyone you will ever meet. One of them had a puppy named Vinnie. “Go ahead and pet him. (Now, Vinnie, stop jumping and licking!) He does that because he is still a pup, you know. Did you see him run? And he has a really great nose!” (Conversation quoted verbatim.)

There was our campsite, an aging, borrowed RV, popping with fresh children, no extra entertainment needed. There were strollers and sand toys and camp chairs strewn around, and a picnic table loaded with stuff that was not food. I took a camera and completely forgot to use it until it began to pour and we needed to hunker down inside. So all I have are these vignettes in my head. In twenty years, we could be the couple with only a shaggy haired puppy, saying, “Oh yes, I remember the days when we used to take our kids camping.”

I will think of my 7 year old, intently studying the campground map as we walked. “I know exactly where we are! See, there is number 23, and there is the bathroom and the trail.” And I thought, “I know just where we are, too, my son. We are one month away from 8, gap toothed and dreamy, rocks in our pockets, just grown up enough to dare to venture alone down the trail for a little while.”

There will be the snap shots of my oldest son, responsibly hauling the baby back to camp when she wandered, organizing a bucket brigade to bring warm water for washing dishes, and most importantly, chopping kindling to keep that fire blazing!

I will remember my little girls with curls flying as they gave their dollies rides on the swings. There was the endless play with a bag of plastic frogs from Salvation Army, bathing them tenderly in soapy water and giving them names like “Otis” or “Panko”. Then I will see them, curled up like commas under mounds of warm blankets, sleeping off the utter exhaustion of running full tilt all day.

Last, but not least, how could I ever forget the night Gabe and I spent with a little Human Bean in our bed? … the one with the sleep habits of a cricket with an itch. Her floor bed wasn’t working out so well, as she whacked her head against the bed frame and the cold wall by turns. The wails and sorrow kept waking us anyway, so we hauled her up between us, where she could whack her head against the warmer, softer bodies of her parents. She didn’t mind in the least, and neither did she quibble about sleeping next to a source of nourishment. Because we were camping, we laughed and shrugged it off, “Oh well, that is why we do NOT allow our children to sleep with us! Normally.”

I spent my time trying to keep everyone fed, reasonably clean, with jackets zipped and shoes on their feet. I developed a migraine and couldn’t eat my mountain pie, and I made a lot of runs to the bathroom with various people who needed to go. We hiked one slow mile down the trail, where I hauled someone piggy back for a long time and bribed her with fruit gummies if she would walk on her own legs. We also collected a lot of camp under our fingernails and a humongous hamper full of dirty laundry.

As I was cleaning out the camper and running serial loads of washing through the laundry room, I muttered a bit about how ridiculously much work this made, and was it really worth it? On Monday morning, Gregory answered that question with a sighing observation over his math book, “Why is it that the fun stuff goes so, so fast and the boring stuff lasts soooo long?”

I guess I wasn’t the only one storing up memories over the weekend, and in the end, that is what matters.