I did not get a Christmas letter written this year, nor did I send cards, except to my mom and my grandma, so this is an attempt at a summary. Condensing a gift that is 365 days big is a difficult assignment. Thinking back over this year makes me think of elastic. The Year of Elastic? Not really the sound of wonder and music, or the kind of word one chooses for a theme for a year, but more the sound of stretching and rebounding, maybe sometimes even bungee jumping. I cannot even tell you how far down on my un-bucket list bungee jumping is, but there are other versions of plummeting and rising that give one’s innards a jolt. When all quiets down a bit, you know you might have had the courage to try this stunt when you were 20, but you probably wouldn’t have had the fortitude to stick it out and learn from it. And at 60 it might kill you, so this is the time!
For us this is the time to parent people who are finding themselves and spending a good bit of their own time beating around in the bushes beside the trail to see if there is a better trail and sometimes there is and you concede the point as graciously as you can. This is the age of also parenting people who still require a bit of training not to yell and hit when they are mad, or throw their cursive practice page into the trash can when they get frustrated. Then there is the teaching about doing random acts of kindness for someone who does not even deserve it and doing dishes when it isn’t your turn. This is also the age of vigilance to notice when the quiet people are being steamrolled and those who are less needy should be given a timely love pat on the back for work well done.
I have made a career of wifing/mothering ever since I got married and had my first baby. Granted, there were varying degrees of dedication, yet always it has been my conviction that this is my life-work because God gave me children. Let me tell you, there is a lot of scope for the imagination and plenty of use for any talent if you get over not being noticed all the time for your good work. There is just so much to keep track of and grow and learn, and anybody who thinks being a stay at home mom is boring has not leaned into it hard enough…ahem.
Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought in the toddler years, if I just felt sure I knew what I was doing? Well. Here I still am, thinking that would be nice. Still learning.
This year our last booster seat left the car and our first child turned 16. We are squarely in a season that is strange and fun and did I mention stretching? Everybody can buckle their own seat belts for the ride, but they don’t all want to go to the zoo with equal passion. Dad is driving the car, making sure the correct address is in the Google Maps so they can actually get to the zoo, navigating the traffic and the gas tank. Mom is up there in the passenger seat, passing out snacks and untangling arguments about whose water bottle the green one is, saying it’ll be fun! Just stop pestering each other and have fun… and thinking secretly that the zoo is always with her.
Gabriel finished his bachelor’s degree in nursing this spring. He is still working in the Emergency Department in the trauma center in Altoona, although he also got his paramedic’s certification in case he ever decides to join a flight nursing team. He loves his work, but there are nights when the shift is so crammed with patients that he finds it hard to care about people anymore. One of the best stress relievers for him has been to start collecting antique woodworking tools, crafting workbenches, carving spoons, shaving curls of hardwood off planks in the methodical old ways with block planes. I have an impressive collection of wooden utensils in my kitchen, all carefully hollowed out of greenwood with spoon knives. We joke about buying stock in Band-Aid and there have been a few suturing episodes, but the more the guys work with their sharp instruments, the less they cut themselves. Here’s a photo of his workshop in the barn loft, a happy place until the weather turns freezing.
Aside from my usual homemaking stuff this year, I spent most of my spare hours with my hands in the clay. Slowly I have gotten to feel confident with making mugs and smaller pots on the wheel. I have endless ideas to try in the new year, but I think I will work at one new thing per month. My sister gave me a gorgeous planner where I can even write out what I want to learn each month. Shall it be teapots in February and plates in March? Hmm? It is wonderful to have my heated shed where I can work for a few hours, leave the mess, pick it up again the next day. For the duration of the winter, Gabriel has his antique tools in half of the shed, so our dream of working companionably in the same space has come true.
Over the Christmas hustle when I was trying to stock my Etsy shop, I would go outside after the girls’ bedtime story and work until Gabriel got home from work at midnight. One can only keep that up so long, though, and I am taking a goodly break. (For those who want to know: my Etsy shop is HomesteadHighlights because we all make stuff around here, so there will be listings that are not pottery related. I also have an Instagram page under (lame name alert, because I cannot pin down a name I love) deep8_ceramics where I chat about the process of learning to make pottery. I don’t know anything except what someone taught me, mostly from Youtube, but it’s fun to figure it out as I go.)
What I have not done much is read and write. I am going to have to figure out a way to juggle better. My soul shrivels when I don’t read, and I feel like I am dropping chunks of life when I don’t write. Maybe that planner… Every new year I feel hopeful about my abilities to be organized and start strong with one. I love the feel of chipping at my goals and checking off lists, then I start winging it again when life gets too busy to pick up a pen and jot a list. I have learned to keep my shopping list in GoogleKeep. It works great because I am less likely to forget my phone than my list. I can’t decide whether I should just embrace this idiosyncrasy or continue to fight it. Maybe I could develop a planner that spans January to June for people like me. It would be half the normal price and they would not have to feel guilty about the wasted blank pages at the end of the year.
This year I discovered the app Libby by Overdrive, which gives me access to library audiobooks. My favorites list of podcasts is growing as well. This is what I do to stimulate my mind while I do mug handles. Last January I deleted the Facebook app on my phone. I find that I do not miss anything except the sorts of things that everybody knows because they saw it on Facebook and I am totally clueless. It’s not really that bad. I have found plenty of things to fill those scrolling distracted minutes. Ask me how I control my Instagram habits? It takes carefulness, no matter what, to avoid falling into wormholes that have nothing to do with what God wants me to do right now.
Alex is working on his last high school credits. With only 7 to go, he is hoping to graduate in the spring. This fall he spent a few weeks helping an uncle with a house renovation project in South Dakota. It was his first flight out of the nest for that long and we really missed him. He also did an Outdoor Emergency Course in preparation to do ski patrol with his dad. It was a fairly rigorous course, with quizzes or tests every weekend. I was amused to see how much more seriously he took those deadlines than the ones I give him for his lessons. Now that it’s time to study for a driver’s permit, he is out of ambition and taking his good old time. That’s all right by me, although I will be glad when he can drive himself to work. I keep being startled by this tall child of mine when I see him out of the corner of my eye. Most times this happens when I’m working in the kitchen and he sidles past the fridge to see if anything jumped in there since he last checked it a few minutes ago. It is a very handy thing to have such a strong young man hanging around when furniture needs to be moved, or feed bags have been hauled home from the store, or stacks of boxes need to go to the post office.
Gregory has spent hours, days, doing research on forging methods and drooling over blacksmithing tools. The obsession lasted so long that Gabriel decided to build him a forge and buy hims some sacks of coal for his 14th birthday. He has been hammering out hooks and key rings from old porch railings. My favorite is a plant stake that looks just like a heron. His favorite is a knife he forged out of an old door hinge, then carved the handle and epoxied the two together. I hear him whistling to the tune of the hammer blows and tease him that he should start a business called Great Guns. Since Alex has a job, Gregory is our barn worker. He feeds the animals and takes care of the egg gathering/washing. It has done more to teach him focus than any other daily chore. A hungry creature doesn’t care how interesting your book is. It just wants to be fed. On time. And watered. Every day.
I try hard not to hover and be solicitous with these boy-men. I try to be suitably impressed by their accomplishments but not too gushy (aw, it’s not a big deal, Mom, nothing to it). I try not to get discouraged that they still mercilessly tease their sisters and I try to think instead about how they generously buy Pringles and candy corn to share with everybody. I admit to bewilderment with what to do when the adult is right there around the corner, just about fully fledged, and yet the child is cavorting around in full sight. One thing I have been learning: one cannot hitch one’s wagon to the feelings and whimsies of one’s growing-up children. It just ain’t a good practice.
The girls are easier to understand. Olivia is domestic and reliable in the house. She is a peacemaker at her core, and usually asks if anyone else wants the last cookie before she takes it herself. When it’s clean-up time, it is easy for her little sisters to dawdle while she scurries around putting things away. Occasionally I am happy to see spunk in her that won’t be taken advantage of. (See steamrolled reference above. Actually, if Gabe and I ever had a child who had no opinions, we would worry it was a foundling.) This year Olivia sewed about a dozen dolls with big ideas of selling them. Every time she has a fresh batch, she decides to give them away. The latest ones have hip-length yarn hair that can be styled, so she wants to keep them all. She struggles to keep them all decently clothed out of fabric scrap dresses.
Rita is sailing blithely through 3rd grade and I am so grateful that I waited until she was seven before she started first grade books. She is plenty smart, but not bookish at all. Her best learning comes from making stuff and observing closely what is around her. She knows the habits of individual chickens and how to make a village with acorn caps and some good ways to make soup when you feel like you might want a little something to eat. The day before Christmas I found her in the basement, stripping dried cattail fluff into a bag to stuff a pillow for our trip to Ohio. That’s Rita in a nutshell. Need a pillow? Make one. Why bother somebody else? Just use the stuff at hand. Any stuff. There is a slight conflict in that last philosophy that the discerning among you might understand.
Addy is now 7, and learning to come to terms with always being the little one. It doesn’t matter that it makes more sense for her to have the bottom dresser drawers. “It’s just because I am the shortest” and she is prepared to take offense at that. Her huge store of affection gets lavished on people and pets alike. She likes things to be fair and getting dibs on the top bunk has been her latest great happiness. Recently we were baking cookies together and I made an accidental flour mushroom that showered gently over the counter. Addy had an epiphany: “I get it from you, Mama! You make messes too!” I grinned at her and said, “Yes, you do get it from me! But we get a lot done in life, you and I.” We embraced our idiosyncrasy together and just had a good time with our cookies while I told her about my own days of scraped knees and skinned hands.
I suppose the year was fairly ordinary, but the days were full of struggle and triumph and occasional headers into mud, quite literally. Normally our area gets about 40 inches of precipitation a year and this year we had 60 inches by mid-December. It seems fitting that we had a downpour all day on this last scrap of 2018. If this keeps up, I’ll be looking toward Arizona.
Looking ahead, I know there is a lot of potential for character development and opportunities for repentance involved in daily interaction with needy humans. I don’t have any profound aspirations other than to start new every morning with coffee and those mercies that rebound daily and keep the strains of life from completely fraying me into a frazzled, useless mess. It’s a good life, after all.
How about you? Would you like another year like the one you just had, or are you grateful to move on to a fresh one?