Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Reflection (In the Driveway)

The girls played in the yard in their bathing suits again today. They took turns with the garden hose, "washing" Daddy's car - and each other - while I sat in the shade on the driveway with a shirtless baby on my lap who was trying to read my book instead of me, and me admiring the gummy-with-leftover-pancake-syrup creases in his neck.

This time of year, we Floridians reap the rewards of enduring the long hot summer. Outside, it's balmy. It's perfect. Buffered by distance, noises float to you over the air - lawnmowers, traffic, a yapping dog - that almost sound like music. You can watch the edges of the shade shifting in the breeze and with a great happy calm in your heart, drift right off to sleep...if you aren't supervising children.

As soon as my baby pattered off to chase his sisters, I picked up my book again, Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI.) It's a rich text; I can only read a little at a time. "Now is the time of joy," he writes. Why is this the time of joy? Because the Kingdom of God has been proclaimed to us. What is the Kingdom of God? It is God's kingship, the active reality of his reign over nature and history. It is in the midst of us. It is the very person of Christ. I leaned back and thought about this, while the yellow palm clusters waved against the sky.

It is extraordinary - the hiddeness of God's Dominion. "Surely you are a God who hides himself," the psalmist says. Like a seed, he has planted his Kingdom in our midst; it takes root in darkness and sprouts secretly. The story of mankind from God's perspective is the growth of this seed. The events of our history books are immaterial; they record the rise and fall of worldly kingdoms. God's record is of the fact of his kingship in our world. His is an entire domain that can only be seen by those who desire to enter it - and the story of this domain is the whole point of the history of man, a point that is completely missed in the glare of worldly power. We can impugn God, I suppose, for making himself invisible, but by doing so, he has ensured that the only way to him is by the mechanism of Love. (Ratzinger, p. 37) By those who seek him, he can be found. But there is no one who is not free to seek something else instead.

Sitting in the driveway, I thought for the first time that I might be in this Kingdom now, by faith, through His body and blood, and that perhaps it is beside the point whether I live or die, whether America rises or falls, or in what way I suffer. Because suffering, dying, living, America rising, America falling, we his people are already under the rule of another reality. Our swords have been beaten into plowshares. The wolf and lamb are lying down together. On all this holy mountain, there is no harming or destroying. This is not yet a thing that you can touch with your hands. But it is real. As the Holy Father says, this means that no matter what terrible things may happen to us, there is nothing terrible that can happen to us. On a day like today, it wasn't even hard for me to believe it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Circle of Light

It's that time of year - twinkle lights are up, Christmas music's on - when children get excited. I always did - not just for the gifts I'd get but those I'd give: bought or (more likely) made - usually, in our case, all through the night from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning. But I think even more I anticipated the Occasion, the Family Event of the year when I knew by our particular rituals, more than at any other time, that I belonged to a clan.

It's the time of year, though, too, that grown-ups can get the blues. I find that I usually do, a little. It's lonely to not be a child at Christmas. Now I'm the one creating the customs, and it can even make me shudder: on the one side I see my new little family around our own little hearth, on the other side Night, and between the two just Shep and me, rubbing sticks together to make a circle of light. There's no illusion here.

This year, though, it occurs to me, maybe it's not inappropriate to feel a little grieved. We await, after all, a haunting mystery brought forth in the dark of the year: a baby born to die. It takes your breath away - the generosity, the humility, the love, the grim necessity (since we'd be doomed without it) - and it makes your heart thud, to anticipate Beauty himself, defaced.

What's more, even as we prepare to commemorate that the Light has come, here we are still waiting in the dark, for the Light to come again, at last, for good. We're standing brave against the night. So maybe it's not too outrageous to mourn a little, to feel a little pathos now, even if it flies in the face of jingle bells and snowmen and reindeer and santa clauses. Those are the only illusions, really - just the jingles of the merchandise. Christmas is about what's real.

Advent is the beginning of the church calendar, and it makes sense to me for the year to begin this way, with the first rumblings of war: God made flesh, dropped down into the territory of his one ancient enemy. In the end, he'll emerge victorious, but not before that darkest dark day of shaking earth, blackened sun, bloody moon. After that he'll break out, and there's not a sad thought then on Resurrection Day, only triumph and the groundswell of spring. But here we are at the beginning, in cold silence in the dark of the year. It seems you can't understand any part of this plot-line apart from the whole: it all leads up to Easter. Right now, you have a tiny, tender baby, peerless in perfection. It gives you goose-bumps and joy and hope and awe, and longing and grief and wonder and suspense. Not the trivial spiel of a commercial Christmas, it's better, wrought with all emotions, the Story Unsurpassed. Embracing this, I don't feel so melancholy. I begin to take great satisfaction in rubbing these sticks together. I find they do make quite a glow.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The potential of flight

Did it really just take me three weeks to remember that I love my life?

I huddle in the backyard on the edge of the picnic blanket ("huddle" because there's not much room for me; I share it with three sprawling children) under the ligustrum, half-listening to childish chatter, marveling at the happy collusion of the breeze and the sunlight. I'm not giving a thought to the temperature, except to think what a relief it is to not be thinking about the heat. This time of year I always say to myself, "This is why people live in Florida."

The flying things are out, a pair of cardinals chasing each other in and out of the hedge, dragonflies darting and hovering. Every now and then a butterfly crosses my sight, unexpectedly, like a personal message from God.

Later, in the front yard, though it's almost November, the girls have a sudden passion for running through the sprinklers in their bathing suits. (High of 75, baby!) And I have a passion for lying in the shade on the sidewalk watching them. M wants to get me wet, so badly. She fills a cup and walks toward me, giggling. I beckon her to come closer so I can reach out and dump it on her head. S, soaking her hair in the sprinkler then coming to paint with it on my pants, has a better method. After a few trips, she's made a lot of progress - still, not as much as M could if she prevailed. We're all laughing.  J is asleep inside; when I'm ready for a break, I tell them to stop trying to get me wet or we'll join him. So they find a new game, pouring "tea" for each other, complete with accents and exaggerated body language. They're actresses! Where did they get that from? They're so cute it hurts.

I love how they burrow their feet in between my knees when we sit together on the sofa. Saturday morning, I dozed between them while Pink Panther played. Every so often I'd wake up and laugh enough to convince them I was watching too, then zonk out again. After maybe fifteen episodes (only six minutes each, in case you're worried), we went to wake Daddy up - "Time to make 'peh-pakes', buddy!" - and baby J too.

In the kitchen, with all of us gathered around the stove, the girls mixing batter and otherwise "helping," J in my arms, I hugged my baby close and said, "Look at us! This is our family! I'm so blessed!" And I felt it.

The pace of this life is its challenge and its glory. When you've been gone from it and come back, you want to run right back out, and keep running, or else you're pacing, pacing, pacing, restless, in your mind, looking for a way out, infuriated with your children for slowing you down. I was worried I wouldn't get past that phase. It took me too long. But with relief I find that it's coming back to me how to let myself down into this sticky flow, how to let myself down and be impeded by it, how to plod along thigh high in this viscous substance. It's all starting to fit around me again, like clothes. Suddenly I have all the time in the world to nuzzle that cheek - can I even hint at how soft a child's skin is? - or nibble that ear, or smell that earthy, human smell of my life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I had forgotten: You have to forgive yourself everything.

My children are having a hard time getting my attention. I feel myself going inward, into my mind, where my blood buzzes, life pumps, where I feel alive, in my thoughts. I try to shake it off and hear M. She's telling me something, volubly, about a lizard. Daddy caught it. It bit him on the hand. M was too scared to catch it because it was so big. I try to stay focused all the way to the end, as she stutters, repeats herself, thinks of words, divides the air with her hands in tiny karate chops - in the way she does - sectioning off the parts of her story, helping me understand exactly what she means. She's very precise. Why would I want to be anywhere else?

But somehow, my mind is straining to escape.

The dishes are piled in the sink from last night's dinner. Shep said he woke up this morning trying to think of ways to motivate me to do them. (He's kidding.) (Sort of.) He says, "You're no Hazel." And I always say, "Who's Hazel?" It's an old tv show, I guess, about someone who kept a nice house. There's no rancor in it, though. I laugh. Before, I was trying to make like I was going to get it together. Now I think we both know it just is what it is - not because I don't love him - I just sometimes leave dishes in the sink over night.

Now, I have moments like this: I pick up S, and she lays her soft, soft face in the crook of my neck and very purposefully, kisses me there. She's proud and happy from doing "school" with me, learning how "L" says "llll" and that "lion, leaves, and ladder" belong, but "kite" doesn't. She even tells Daddy about it later in the car on the way to Nana's. There are definitely times like those.

And there are times when the kids are running around the house like crazy while I type and read and brood. They have to say things three times before I say, "Hm?" I remember my parents being like that. I thought I never would be. They pull all the blankets out and pretend to be caterpillars in cocoons becoming butterflies. (They're very creative.)  J stumbles around like a drunken praying mantis - if you can imagine - exploring. When he goes too far out of sight, I investigate. I tell the girls to go make their beds and they just keep playing. As long as they're happy, I let them. But when fighting breaks out, I bring down the law, and there might be yelling. I have to stand over them, gesticulating and threatening to get them to go upstairs and do as they're told. Now J has his hand stuck in the trash can lid. If I wait a few seconds, he gets it out himself. Is this good parenting? It does foster creative, independent play. But I probably should get up before them in the morning instead of letting them get in bed with me and telling them to be quiet while I sleep a few more minutes, then stumbling out after them to make breakfast. Wouldn't it be better to greet them bright and shining in the morning, all dressed like June Cleaver, with a smile and hug and breakfast already made/making? Perhaps. Probably. Pray for me.

Coming back to full-time motherhood from being in the theatre, even just for those two little months, I feel like I've had to start again from the beginning, only this time I don't have one small infant but three lively pre-schoolers. It's like being dropped into an ant's nest. Nothing makes you pissier than when you go from morning to night feeling like a Failure every moment of the day.

I have to remember the fundamental key to motherhood: complete clemency toward yourself in everything. The not-often-disappearing constantly-reappearing trails of clothes and toys and other clutter on tables, floors, and stairs, the constantly-interrupted tasks, the wandering of your mind seeking intellectual stimulation, the glacial pace are not things to be fought against. They aren't distractions from your job; they are your job. Once you embrace this, you stop saying to yourself "I'm a Horrible Mother" every time someone is wailing on the floor at your feet, any time a person is a little late to the bathroom (I'm not talking about myself, by the way), or on the occasions one of your children does a face plant into the sidewalk. It's not your fault. It's not that you aren't organized enough or on top of things enough or safety-conscious enough (though you can improve in all those areas.) It's just life. So bring it on.

I'm loading the dishwasher. There's a busy little baby alternately climbing on the dishwasher door to unload everything I load, and stretching his arms up my leg to beg me to pick him up. I pat his greasy little towhead and run my finger across the soft, soft skin under that perfect little chin just below the scab from where he tumbled into the side of the stairs. He grins at me, and I grin back. He grins bigger, and I grin bigger. He laughs. His laughter sounds hilarious. Well, you know baby laughter. There's nothing better. You can't help laughing back. The music is playing on Pandora - the Hillsong station. Suddenly, I actually know what he's doing. He's asking me to dance. I put one more bowl in the dishwasher, then swing him up to my hip. He puts his tiny hand in mine and we take a turn on the family room rug - due to be vacuumed - but let's not think about that. Let's just groove.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Over the Last End Edge of Summer

This time of year the light has eloquence. I don't know if this articulate quality is inherent in the light itself or if it's lent by the temperature of the air, newly cooled after a long hot summer, balmy and lifting the edges of your clothes with motherly affection. But the light speaks to you, saying things about your life. You take a walk or sit in the driveway or on the porch or bring in the mail, but the quality of the light makes you know you are doing more, something of a deeper meaning. It recalls to you your hopes.

It's Sunday. I'm strapping the kids into their strollers for a family walk. The air is not quite cool but not hot, and our bodies sink into the relief of it like a sigh. The first star is out; the sun is getting low. As we all head down the sidewalk to the bottom of our hill, the world is burnished...alight with a glow from underneath, a glory. This time of year, I think it must be true: I'm going to see that glory in the flesh; with my own eyes I'll see it. Everything seems lit with significance, and my heart is filled with joy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Ten days now since we closed The Importance of Being Earnest. What are the chances that the first play I do in five years is one of those rare experiences that remind you why you do theater in the first place?

I keep running my lines as I drive down the road. I want to remember them. I know I won't forget the bright spots, but I want to remember the words. I want to remember everything: getting to the theater an hour before the show, greeting my fellow actors, greeting the crew. I set my stuff down at my place in the dressing room and flip the switch for the lights above my station. I start in the bathroom: brush my hair and teeth, put my contacts in. Then I get my makeup on: foundation first, then highlights over my cheekbones, under my eyebrows, on my eyelids. I stay standing and in motion, leaning in to the mirror, stepping back. I'm too keyed up to sit. Powder, dark blush, bright blush, eye shadow, eyeliner, eyebrow shadow, mascara, lipliner, gloss. My hair goes up in a bun, with a fringe of curls around my face. Then I layer on my costume: tank, corset, bum ruffle, petticoat (taffeta so it swishes!), skirt, wig (swept up in a Gibson Girl so I don't have to do it myself), hat, hatpin, oh! and shoes. It's easier if you put them on before the corset, but not a problem if you forget. First go trouser socks (they asked if I wanted hose instead - ha!), then boots - nifty, they zip up the sides. Last is my bodice, the only article I need help with. I step into the greenroom so Adrienne can fasten it up the back, and just about this time our stage manager calls, "Places!" We say, "Thank you, Places," and I say "Break a leg!" to the boys, Algy in his smoking jacket, Jack in his top hat.

The girls are in the dressing room still, finishing their makeup, putting on their costumes, gossiping - they don't go on til Act Two. Robin and DeDe, my hearts - I've never enjoyed a dressing room more. I swish around the greenroom in my taffeta petticoat, warming up: "P-t-k, k-t-p. Buhduhguh, Guhduhbuh. Peter Piper the pickled-pepper picker picked a peck of pickled peppers...," and so on. I didn't go to grad school, so my warmup is a little bare-bones: a few vocal slides, half a "salute to the sun," blow some raspberries, trill my tongue, and then swish, swish, swish up and down the greenroom, saying tongue twisters and running my lines.
It suffices.

I wait for my first entrance on the platform backstage sandwiched behind Adrienne and Philip (Mamma). We listen for laughs to gauge what kind of audience we have that night. I wave enthusiastically across the platform to "K.K." where he waits in the dark for his own entrance. I love it back there in the semi-darkness embraced by the ugly side of the set - braces, screws, and seams - the stage light spilling over in a dusky halo, the laughter of the audience, the potential energy of waiting there, knowing your moment will be upon you soon whether you're ready or not. The river is flowing forward and it will take you along, unless you get crazy, turn back, and run out of the theatre down the road (to probably never be cast again!) You'll step into that light, squint across the room, smile at Ernest, step to the side. You'll sweep down the stairs with an aside to Algy and greet Ernest with the line that always gets a laugh, even though you're not entirely certain what it means. You'll sit; you'll sip tea quietly, casing the joint, the rugs, the sofa, the Mamma in her dress, settling in as if you were in this room, Ernest just over your shoulder, without two hundred spectators watching the action. You're just here, waiting. The river flows on and takes you, steadily, surging, exuberant, fun. It catches you up and your feet rise from their grounding. You have nothing to do but be carried along, so you don't fight it. You throw yourself into it, and each word has meaning, each action carries you in the direction of your desire. You fight for what you want. You don't waste even a glance, but bow everything to your intent.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Comeback

For five years, I was fine without theatre. I was a mommy. I didn't see how I could do both. Yes, I was obsessive, overzealous, and intense, but if I was just going to be a mommy, I was going to be a great one. I compared myself to only the best and judged those who (kind of like me, but I was in denial) couldn't compete with the crafty, creative, decorating, foodie, bread-baking, tomato-growing, homeschooling moms of the year; you know, the moms who had their ass hanging out most of the time (like, well, me.) I intended to be that woman who feels most alive at the sewing machine or in the garden or by the stove. Of course I don't know how you make yourself feel alive, or anything else for that matter.

I have a friend from Bosnia who has three children and the most spare, precise, peaceful, orderly home you've ever seen unless maybe you're from Bosnia. You can't imagine how mortifying it was to have her babies crawl on my floor and come up with dirty knees be-furred with dog hair. She would never live with a dog. (For one thing, she has an idea that ingesting animal hair is potentially fatal. I need to find out more about that.) Then there's my BabyWise neatfreak gym-rat girlfriend, on top of her life, everything in its place. And here I come driving up in a car with half a foot of detritus on all the floor boards. She would never. Never. Then there is my friend who seems perfectly at ease as a mom. She never takes a break. She doesn't seem to want to be or do anything else, thriving on Picture People photo shoots, shopping for the next size up in shoes, and planning her kids birthday parties. These were my ideal mothers, and you can imagine how I measured up. I convinced myself everything was going swimmingly, but I had my misgivings.

Now, I'm a good cook. I like the idea of growing some of our own food. I probably will homeschool with the help of a co-op of some kind. But do I feel most alive in the kitchen? I feel happy. I feel God's pleasure (and my family's.) I like making good food. But I do not find my ultimate creative fulfillment at the stove. At the sewing machine? Definitely not, though I know how to operate it when I need to. (Though, honestly, when do you actually need to operate a sewing machine?) Having and holding babies? I do feel very alive doing that. There is great joy in the constant daily grind - it is formative, like daily prayers, like saying the rosary. And this womb of home is where I have found love and meaning in a deeper, more fulfilling, more nourishing way than anywhere in my life before. I wouldn't negate any of it, or abandon it, or diminish it. But is there more to me? Yeah, I think there is. Why would I even try to deny it?

Steven started going to our church two years ago, and I feel like maybe he was sent just to fetch me. Steven's a bona fide professional theater actor. After services, we would get to talking, and I started to feel that old, stirred-up feeling. I could hardly cope with it. So I went to see a play he was in, but I felt even more stirred up. So I went to see another play and took Shep. Then we saw a few more. Afterwards, Shep would stand back a little, watching me talk with the actors. He saw the way I was: stoked, like he hasn't seen me in awhile.

Shep's the one who said, in one of these post-show conversations, to one of my actor friends, "I think she's going to have to do this again." I heard that as the tremendously generous gift it was; we do have three children, you know, ages five, three, and one, and someone was going to have to pick up the slack. He was smiling when he said it. Maybe he's missed seeing my glory. It must be hard to love an artist; their hearts don't stay in their bounds. I was trying to. But maybe I was trying to rewrite my bounds instead of filling the ones I was given.

On August 23, I went back to the theater after a five-year absence. Seven days ago, we closed the show, and I haven't yet quite come back down to earth. Oh theater....I love you. There, I said it. I can't denigrate your part in my life anymore. I've always had a conflict between my good girl self and my wild parts. Maybe because it feels so dangerous to be so alive. But after being gone and coming back, I know more than ever, whether I'm great at it or just good, I was made to do it, and I don't think I can walk away again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

For Father's Day

An old post:

The Buses

I think the only place to start is with the buses. It just says so much. We lived in the buses the summer after I finished kindergarten. Dad parked two buses side by side and cut a hole out so we could pass between them. The yellow bus was the living room/kitchen and the blue bus was the bedroom/bathroom. Off the back, outside the emergency exits, Dad built a porch where he set up a table for meals and a curtain-enclosed stall for showers. I remember during every meal the ever-present bees buzzing around us.

For the shower, Dad had befriended the neighbor up the hill from us, who had allowed him to tap into his water supply. A series of hoses ran down the hill from the back of this neighbor's house to a 50-gallon drum on top of the buses. This was really ingenious as I think about it. The water must have heated up in the summer sun enough to provide a warm, albeit quick, shower. I never remember Mom in the shower; maybe she washed up at a friend's house once or twice a week. Mom bathed Lauri and I one at a time in a little round blue plastic tub with water she heated in the microwave. Dad might have been the only one to shower on the porch. The shower curtain hung on a wire half-circle, and Dad would pull it around him, the ends each touching a bus. Once, a lady from church who stopped by, probably out of charity as I think about it now, got quite a show. I'm sure Dad didn't realize she was there when he got in the shower, but it was just a glitch in the system: From inside the yellow bus, she could see him showering through the rear window. (My parents say they don't remember that, but somehow I do. Who knows whose memory is faulty? I say it makes a good story.)

In the bedroom bus, Mom and Dad slept on a mattress on the floor. My older sister Lauri and I had bunk beds, which were old doors my dad had covered with blue shag carpet. I seem to remember Lauri was scared of falling out of bed, so that's why I got the top bunk, which I loved. Paulie was just a baby, so I'm sure he slept in a box or a drawer somewhere. In the mobile home we moved into that fall - when it started to get cold - he slept on top of the dresser.

The bathroom was right where it had always been in that bus, a tiny room by the rear exit, with a port-a-potty. I distinctly remember a sign above the toilet paper, printed neatly in my mother's hand: "Eight squares apiece." I think that had something to do with the capabilities of the tank, maybe a tendency to clog or how often it had to be emptied. (Now that I've watched my own young children use giant wads of toilet paper, I can see why she might have been worried about clogging.) But surely we used double-ply. Otherwise, it seems like a scanty allotment.

You're probably wondering the reason for our unique accommodations. Well, we weren't just camping. My father's ingenuity only began with the buses. What he was really about was just up the hill. He was working on building a house literally with his own two hands and with mostly "found" materials: glass from an old greenhouse, fieldstone a farmer gave him for digging it out of his field, oak trees my dad cut down himself and helped to plane at a friend's mill. The oak was for the beams. The fieldstone was for the fireplace - three stories high. The glass was made into windows that covered the front of the house. All the floors were pine. I remember when he sealed the downstairs floor with polyurethane, he suspended the piano from the ceiling to get it off the floor. When he sealed the stairs and we were waiting for them to dry, to get upstairs we climbed a ladder and then crawled across a plank. That was one thing my mother complained about, and overall I can't say she really complained that much, considering the unconventional nature of her life with my father. She protested all the way, but she did climb that ladder and crawl across the plank. At the time, she was eight months pregnant with my sister Elizabeth.

As kids, we all thought mom was kind of a party pooper. She wasn't cheerful as she scrubbed panes of greenhouse glass with a bucket of hot water on the kitchen table in our mobile home (after feeding, bathing, and putting to bed three kids in a single-wide.) She seriously fussed when she had to crawl across that plank. And when she knocked herself out when we were leaving for church because she didn't duck coming out of the emergency exit of the bus, she was actually angry, maybe even livid. Looking back now as a wife and mother myself, I don't know how she did it, especially considering that as I am writing this, those are the only three examples I can come up with of her bad attitude. It makes me want to cry. It's sweet to think of her going wherever my dad took her, doing whatever crazy-sounding thing he came up with for them to do, maybe objecting at first but always giving in in the end.

Of course, Dad's plans might have sounded crazy, but for him they were more or less realistic, though they didn't always reach completion in exactly the time frame that was at first agreed upon. The house was supposed to take six months; it took five years. Still, he finished it, and pretty much single-handedly, with a little help from friends on things like pouring the foundation, erecting the beams, nailing the shingles. Someone else would have been crazy to try. Most people wouldn't have even thought to. My dad, as I used to say, "could do anything, just like Jesus." Mom was always quick to correct me and say "almost anything." Like, for example, Dad couldn't save my soul, I guess she was thinking. Maybe she was also thinking about one or two other things he couldn't do. Wives have that vantage point. (Mom, though, was usually too busy thinking about all the things she herself couldn't do, like keep herself from sometimes getting angry or keep her kids happy at all times.)

I think Mom just had a very sensitive conscience; she didn't want us making an idol of our Dad. I don't know if we made an idol of him, but he was definitely our hero. Life with him was a fabulous adventure. Time taken out of working on the house to stand on the ledge of the driveway and throw a weighted rope over and over until he hooked it over the branch of a tree fifty feet up so that he could make us a swing - and not just a swing, a thrill ride - was time well spent in his opinion. A house without a rope swing, after all, wouldn't be much of a house.

Of course, he wanted that rope swing as much if not more than we did, partly because he'd gotten it into his head, and he couldn't get it out of his head until he'd solved how to do it and accomplished it. I just know he lay in bed at night working it all out in his mind - inventing - and then what fun to get up in the morning and try. Nothing could stop him. He was single-minded. But it wasn't just the problem-solving, which has always been his main hobby in life, it was the dream he had and wanted to invite us into. He was creating a place that lived inside his heart and head, a place for his family to experience a thrill ride, even before we knew what one was. And I must say, we certainly did.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Secret

It took me awhile to understand what Jesus was talking about because it took me awhile to understand his kingdom really is upside down from this world. "Really?" I started to think, "You want me to pursue a direction exactly opposite from where they pointed me in school, in work, even in church?" Everything around me said, "Go higher! Get larger! Make a name for yourself." When I was eighteen, I thought my life would be meaningless if I didn't end up famous. But misgiving nagged me; even the messages in church sometimes didn't jive with his words, and I wanted to follow his words. It took me so long to believe Jesus really was leading me down, to diminishing, to even disappearing. His voice, so quiet among the voices screaming, "That's the way to death!", said, "Yes, but the only way to life."

It takes a lot of faith to trust that quiet voice and follow it down to the grave (and I can't without his help): to stand silent before my accusers instead of defending myself; to not fight for my rights, to even lay them down; to do more than my share of the work without bitterness; to do humbling - even degrading - acts of service without recognition or thanks; to receive insults and choose out of love to go back for more. I thought, "Can this really be the way?" But then he helped me try it, and I knew it was, because I felt the hint of a brand new kind of joy; I sensed the sprouting of a living seed I didn't know was in me. I know if he helps me continue, and I know he will, I will see the growth of a glory I could never have imagined.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Holy, holy, holy God,
Be glorified in these hands,
In this self-serving life
Trying to serve you;
I only scratch a dent
In paint that needs to come off,
Not even a fleck.
But I'm new to knowing what you see in
Little me, with my unwashed hair in a pony-tail all week,
With my smile and the lines that don't go away when it's gone,
With my love for ice cream, with my dandruff,
With the way I down-dressed my husband in front of his sister,
With my Gatling gun laugh that does delight you so,
With my pensive looks and love of a good comedian,
With my hands wiping, changing, dressing, bathing, buttoning, brushing, patting,
With my twisted vessel for loving (it never comes out straight,
But sometimes when I'm unaware
And my busy hands stay out of it,
The love that fills my heart makes its way
Where I meant it to go);
I'm new to drooping all my weight
Onto your arms,
My lamb-head against your chest
Where you carry me.
I revel in it,
Into myself, I suppose,
But in awe of you,
That you would bear me thus;
I always knew you could
But now I know you want to.
Now I see
It doesn't put you out
To do what you made me to need.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Someone Wants to Hear Me Sing

Who am I kidding? I'm wretched. I'm lonely. I'm in need. No one sees what I am doing. The ones I love most are not satisfied with me. The love I am grasping for like a hungry infant is not forthcoming. I'm empty. I hunger. I want.

We finished swim lessons today. Finally the summer stretches out lazily before me like a river. I have nothing to do but visit the beach and my relatives in Kentucky, and then in August to start rehearsal for a play (more on that later!) I'll hit these marks and in between we will get up each morning with a single daily goal - to log hours in the pool, punctuated by meals and nap-times. From conveying my children to swim lessons and back every day for a month, I am spent. I'm so glad I don't have anywhere to be tomorrow. Maybe now I'll clean my house.

Maybe I won't.

But I aspire to. I aspire to too many things, self-improvements: better housekeeping, better parenting, better communion with nature, better finances, better responses, better loving. I do well, but I could do better. Every day this month, I cared for my children. I fed them three meals a day, kept them safe, and sometimes did their laundry. I worked on teaching them to clean up after themselves and to obey their mother and to stop screaming at each other. I made it possible for them to learn how to swim. I also taught Sunday school and saved hundreds of dollars with coupons and threw a birthday party. That's a lot, isn't it? Even just keeping the children safe is worth more than all the rest combined. I'd like to call it enough. But to satisfy every expectation, I know it's not. There is still space for someone to find it lacking.

"Mommy, keep singing!"

I was singing along with the radio in the car this morning. I knew almost all the words.

"You are Lord of Lords,
You are King of Kings,
You are Mighty God,
Lord of everything.
You're Emmanuel
You're the Great I Am
You're my Prince of Peace
Who is the Lamb.
You're my saving God
You're my saving grace.
You will reign forever.
You're the Ancient of Days.
You're the Alpha, Omega,
Beginning and End.
You're my savior, Messiah,
Redeemer, and Friend.
You're my Prince of Peace
And I will live my life for you."

Whenever I got quiet, my two-year-0ld told me to keep singing, a touching request. So I sang louder, and with feeling. She was right - I needed to keep singing that, over and over. And I think I needed someone to want to hear me sing, and I don't think she was the only one who did.

Now, late in the day, as I type this, over and over a sweet baby is relentlessly climbing my back. Detritus litters the floor. I fear, in the end, I may never be much more than I am now. I'm too much of a drama queen. I'm too passive aggressive. I'm too exacting (of myself mostly.) I'm too craving.

I have lately been contemplating - at times obsessively - the Roman Catholic church. Is it the true Church? Am I going to end up in it? I hear of it being our Holy Mother. I don't know if that description includes every branch of Christ's Body, the low along with the high. All I know is I want to run into her arms. Where else can I nurse and be satisfied at those comforting breasts? I mean, is God Himself equipped with those? I don't know how to imagine it. I just know it's what I need.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lord, Have Mercy. Christ, Have Mercy. Lord, Have Mercy.

And so it goes. And so it goes.

I am sure Fernando Ortega didn't know he was singing for me when he sat down to play Kyrie Eleison for the cameras in his home in New Mexico.

I put the kids to bed and now I'm sitting on the leather sofa, wine in hand. I usually don't drink alone, but Shep is out of town for the night, and so I've digressed, not only from my pious perch of eliminating sugar from my diet - ten peppermint wrappers (what a pitiful binge - I wasn't prepared) and a twice-emptied ice cream bowl litter my t.v. tray - but also down into a glass of wine - only one, but just one takes the edge off.

I'm blowing off steam. I want to go wild. I've been juggling all day, no, all week. Three kids and an armload of towels, to the Y and back every morning. Three wet kids, learning to swim - with success, so at least it's worth the effort. (One does the crawl. One does the float. One does the freestyle - meaning for now she is happy with what she knows and wants to be left alone.) Three stretching, straining, flailing, calling, weeping, whining, shouting, laughing, bossing, screaming, chattering, prattling, yammering, yattering, yapping, jawing, babbling, jabbering, bucking, braying kids. To breakfast, to make beds, to the potty, to the car, to the locker room, to the potty, to the pool, to the potty, to the pool, to the potty, to the car, to the store, to the car, to the house, to the nap, nap, nap, not-long-enough nap, to the grouchy - I mean, the evening - hours, to dinner, to bath if it's that day of the month, to bed, to bed, to bed, to bed. And then the baby is teething, so bedtime is done three times. Three times' the charm.

I want to go wild.

I feel better when I am measured and even - no sugar, bed by ten (or eleven...thirty), plenty of sleep, then hitting my marks: breakfast by eight, out the door by 9:30, nap by 2:30 - three at the latest - dinner by six, bath (I tried to add that one in there as a regular thing - ha!) by seven, bed by eight, eight, eight, NO SUGAR, BED BY TEN! But then a day comes when I've got to blow off steam, and I'm eating...whatever I can find...with the internet on my lap, wasting time down rabbit trails.

I googled how to grow great-tasting cucumbers. After half a glass of wine, that innocent query almost turned me aside into dangerous waters, but I stayed my course and found out that size makes the biggest difference in taste of cucumbers grown in the garden - really! (Irrigation and soil acidity are also important factors.)

I by-passed Facebook somehow, thankfully, since it always makes me feel like crap to peep over the fence into other people's lives. My latest obsession has been couponing, anyway, but I by-passed that too, and found myself reading essays about my identity in Christ. I guess there is some worthwhile material on the internet. And a man at a piano calling down mercy.

I'm fried. But, too, I'm sad. My sister is sick. She is in a lot of pain. When we exchanged texts this morning, she was just trying to make it through the day. Sometimes just making it through the day requires the most mercy of all.

So pour it on, sweet Jesus. Rain it down. I'm waiting here to soak it up.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Ok, so do you ever have one of those days when you can't get on good terms with your honey no matter how hard you try? (Of course you have.) I don't want to be self-centered. I don't want to act like I'm in kindergarten. I don't want to stress my husband out more than he is already. I know work has been slow for him until a week ago and I got spoiled having him around so much and he just has a month of this busyness and then it will probably be slow again. I know he is worried and preoccupied and stressed out and is spinning twenty plates at the same time and has a crushing load of paperwork which he hates more than almost any other possible thing. I know he has the burden of supporting his family and I wouldn't want to carry that and I'm so lucky and blessed and thankful that I don't have to. I know he's exhausted from driving all over Florida this week and getting up at six a.m. with all three kids this morning and making them pancakes and letting me sleep in. I know that he would rather have played with us than stay cooped up in his office doing officey things on a Saturday. I know he would rather stay at home and have dinner with us than go to his colleague's retirement party tonight, two hours away. I know he would rather swim with his girls and rock his little buddy to sleep and then sit on the porch in the dark with me, smoking a cigar. I know.

But I just wanted to have a nice relaxing irresponsible Saturday where we didn't get anything done. I wanted to relax and sit on the couch with him, drinking coffee and playing on our computers while our children played on the floor at our feet - and in the next room and upstairs and on the back porch and on the couch with us and on our laps and on our backs and sometimes even on our heads. I just didn't want to be alone (with the children.)

Maybe I can get my act together before he gets home.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

You Say Tomato

Let me tell you about my fifth child. First, you know, I have Grace. Then Emma's second, and third is baby Will. Max comes in at fourth place. (He's the dog.) I remember - but only very vaguely - a time when he was the first and only, but since my human babies started coming, Max has had to come to terms with his new rank, dead last. The good news for him, though, is he finally has a younger brother: Thirsty, my tomato plant.

Thirsty spends his days in a pot in a sunny corner of the pool deck. He's been known to be unruly and a little high maintenance. But I understand where he's coming from. There's a lot of sibling rivalry, for one thing - he has to compete for attention against so many - and it took awhile for me to adjust to having yet another set of needs to attend to. There have been times, I know, when he feels...desiccated, but I'm glad he hasn't given up.

From the beginning, I have checked on him every day, often two or three times a day. At first I worried about browning leaves and leaf miner tracks (listen to me - I sound like I know what I'm talking about), but when those things didn't kill him, I let them go. The thing that has been the most worrisome is he has had a tendency to dry out so fast I have had a hard time keeping up with it. Every other day I would pour an entire bucket of water over him, by increments, letting each portion soak into and through his soil before pouring on more. But if I didn't get to it at least every other day, for whatever reason - maybe because I had a babe in arm or was running out the door or just put it off and forgot about it - stalks would bend over to the ground, every leaf would droop. There were times I was afraid I'd lost him.

His fruit bore the marks of his suffering. He developed blossom end rot, which is apparently "especially prevalent when rapidly growing, succulent plants are exposed suddenly to a period of drought." (Yes, like any good mother, I have spent time online researching his ailments.) I have to be honest: from the start, I suspected a little mulch would help. But I didn't know how much it would help. That's why I didn't get around to it for about a month. I intended to go buy some. Finally it occurred to me to just borrow some old mulch from the front shrub bed (with my bare hands - I have the fire ant bites to prove it.) Once I threw that in Thirsty's pot, life changed for him. If I'd known what it would mean to him, I would have done it sooner. Now, things are going much better, and if they continue this way, I might even have to change his name.

As it is, I'm proud of my little tomato guy. Not only has he shown great fortitude, persevering in all circumstances, he has borne fruit from his trials - literally - and his fruit is something to write home to mama about. It isn't like what you get from the grocery store. His tomatoes are so tomatoey they taste like tomato sauce. Even Daddy gives them high marks, and Daddy doesn't like tomatoes. Daddy even suggested planting more tomato plants, which is really not like him because up until now he has not been into gardening, especially not into me gardening (though he puts up with it as long as I don't do it in the front yard.) The sight of what he deems my half-begun, abandoned science experiments (you have to fail before you succeed!) symbolizes for him a chaos that is on the verge of overtaking our life. It gives him anxiety. The thought of Daddy getting in on the game, though, and taking my little horticultural brood under his wing makes me feel not so alone. It gives me hope for the future of our homestead, especially if he'll be in charge of irrigation.

Monday, April 18, 2011

This Again

Oh nuts. I'm depressed. Why????!!!!!

I must be repressing something. That's usually where it comes from - some anger or sadness I'm too scared to feel, or some thought that has slipped in like a dart under the surface of my consciousness. So, what is it? Why is it so hard to know myself?

"I don't wanna." That's how I feel about life today, though, happily, not about my children. They have a way of keeping me moving and making me smile. Sitting with them while they have their goldfish and juice, getting in the pool - all the way in - those things are pleasant. They give me a lift. Jumping on the tramp - gets my wiggles out. The current favorite there is "Princess Dies." The available roles are: Evil witch, dying Princess, and saving Prince. We go round and round. Everyone gets a shot at killing, dying, and reviving. It seems we could go on for hours. But when we're sweaty enough, there's a hankering for the pool.

We get in. By the time I work all the way up to putting my head under, the princesses are ready to get out, and I hear Will making noises in his room. I swim under water all the way to the steps, the water cool, sliding over my skin. I shake off and towel dry. I'm refreshed in body, and a little bit in soul. Will is not himself today, though, either. He's teething or has a virus, or maybe thrush? He puts his head down on me as I carry him out. Maybe he's listless like me, on the inside, listless of heart.

It's not that I don't want to parent. It's not even that I don't want to do the dishes and the laundry. I mean, I'm not dying to. But I do them. I mean, I'll do them.

It's my live-er. It doesn't wanna. There's a weight on my chest.

I think my faith has been wavering. I was going so strong, completely confident that Jesus was at work in me and in others through me as I hung on him in dependence. I was praying into the areas I saw in my life and those around me where I longed for God to work and make his glory shine. And I knew he was accomplishing his purposes even as I was praying for them. I think some little arrow of doubt found its mark in me somewhere.

Take heart, my soul. Be strong. Wait for the Lord. Right in those places you most desire to see him - those are the places he is most at work. He gave you the desire, and he gives you the prayers, and those are the places where he is rushing in. He hastens to you, lowly heart.

Monday, March 21, 2011

End of Days

Really, what's going on with the world right now? I can't help feeling like it's about to end. I sit at my kitchen counter during nap-time, watching footage of the Japanese tsunami: water pouring over its boundaries, gathering up the countryside into a mat of houses, cars, and bodies, terrifying, immense. What is this?

I go from my seat at the computer across the kitchen to stir the sweet potatoes cooking on the stove for baby food. I don't know what to do with the contrast: from the incomprehensible to the mundane.

Later, after the kids wake up, we get our stuff together to go to Nana's house for dinner, since Daddy is gone for the night. As we get in the car, the sun is shining its late afternoon glory down on us, and the breeze holds just a hint of coolness. On the way, Grace rolls her window down with her toe, and Emma asks me to roll hers down too. I open the vents in the back of the van to keep the air from thrumming my eardrums. When we get to Nana's, my baby sister - Aunt Catherine - is still there; it's her last night before going back to college. We eat hotdogs on hamburger buns, with ice cream for dessert. For awhile after dinner, we sit on the porch and watch the girls take turns doing "shows" for us. Catherine and my mom try to tell Grace to fix her leotard - it keeps riding up on her buns because she insists on wearing the one that is too small for her because it has "sparkles" even though I bought her a beautiful new one for her birthday with a butterfly and a flowy gauze tutu. She says the skirt is too long. I told her it twirls better. She tried it once, but she's not into it. She wants the one with the two grease stains on the front that gives her a wedgie.

By the time I get the kids back home and in bed it is past 9. When I finally lie down and get quiet on my pillow there in the dark, the day flows back in on me, as it does. I measure my feelings - anxious about this, sad about that, enjoying some things, and under all, a thudding foreboding.

It has been with me lately. Scenes come to me, of hyper-inflation, Shep and I trying to grow vegetables in the backyard (though we don't have a great track record with plants) while fending off roving bands of looters. I see a nuclear blast and New York City gone from the map. I see the wrath of nations poured on Israel. I see the whole world at war.

I see disasters, earthquakes, tsunamis. Will water run over Florida? That terrible wave kicks up dust on the horizon of my mind.

I see women and girls in slavery, kept drugged and in cages, the object of men's appetites. I see abuse, rampant and on the rise, smearing the innocence of one in six boys, defacing the beauty of one in four girls. I see a mountain of bodies: the unborn.

I see a world where I can't let my children out of sight because of perverts, murderers, and slave-traders, where I have to teach a four-year-0ld how to say "NO! THAT'S MY VAGINA AND YOU CAN'T TOUCH IT!" and hope that's actually going to help keep her safe.

I find myself lying awake in fear. Earlier, when I took Max out before bed, the moon was shining so brightly on my pool deck, I wanted to sink into the quietness of the night, the utter peace. It's strange to have such a dichotomy: the world of moonlight and afternoon sunlight, of going to bed and getting up in the morning, of doing the laundry and dishes, of raising the children, co-existing with the world of tsunamis, terrorism, political uprisings, shifting world powers, and economic disaster.

I do not fear God's wrath. I know it was suffered for me. But I fear this gathering storm. What is happening? Is it going to hurt my children?

I turn over in bed, fingering the bracelet I made for Lent and praying, "Abba, I belong to you. Abba, I belong to you. Abba, I belong to you" as many times as I need to to remember: I'm his. He can do with me as he pleases. And I've seen what he does with his own.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oh, theatre, I miss you!

Oh, theatre, I miss you. I miss you! I wub you. I could pinch your wittle cheeks.

I saw a play tonight with an old theatre friend, at an old theatre I used to haunt. I enjoyed the show immensely. Afterward, we said hi to some of the actors, who, you know, as actors, have their frustrations here and there. I remember being tired from extra shows and technical rehearsals, too. From my vantage point, though, I see it's never perfect. The important thing is they gave a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people tonight, including me. I was so glad to be out of the house, for one thing, but also to be watching a play, and a good play, Shakespeare no less, and in that room! I played Dorine, Roxane, Iseult, Amanda, and Olivia there. It's my place, and I love it. Going to the theatre, especially there, is for me like seeing a friend across the room and remembering how very much I love and miss them. When we have a chance, we'll have to spend some time together.

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Poop

So much of a mother's life is about handling poo-poo. I've become a bit of a connoisseur. (If this is going to gross you out, read no further. But if you do, remember I warned you!) Will's poo-poo right now looks so much like what went in his mouth. Honestly, it looks like he's pooping sweet potatoes, which is what he's been eating a lot of. I swear, I get a little worried that he's not getting any nutrients, because I open up his diaper and there it is, just like when it was in his bowl.

Of course, it doesn't smell like sweet potatoes. He's past that stage where his poo-poo actually smelled kind of nice, "like buttered popcorn," my midwife says, that mild, mustardy yellow, seedy stuff. The poo-poo that comes out of a nursing infant (after the first few emissions, that is) is almost pleasant - except when there's a "blow-out." Then it's more work for mommy, rinsing out clothes and sometimes having to buy new ones, because that stuff has incredible staining power. They could use it for dyeing things. (I wonder if anyone has ever thought of that. It just came to me.)

The first time a baby poo-poos, though, is not pleasant, and you'd better hope you've greased up his behind, because meconium, as they call it, sticks like tar and looks like tar, too. Doesn't stink, though.

Now, that's just infant poo-poo. I haven't even started in on toddler poo-poo and beyond. I have so many stories I could regale you with, but to keep some decorum, I will just say, here are some questions that have run through my mind at one time or another in the last four years: What is that stuck on the bottom of my foot? What is that little ball my child is playing with in the bathtub? and What is that mess the dog is eating off the floor?

About the dog: when I have to wipe his bottom, that is the last straw. And yet, when it needs doing, I do it; it's the life of a mother. Speaking of, I think I hear that sweet little singsong summons, "Mommmm-eeeeeee, it's time to wipe my boooo-ttommmm!" I'm going back in.

Home Maintenance

Kids or no kids, no house I keep would ever be perfect. I'm no Martha Stewart (cooking aside, perhaps.) I'm an ah-tist, dah-ling - a lazy one, raised in the age of feminism, no less, yet another example of how homemaking is a dying art. But I do like a semblance of order as much as the next girl. I don't make deep cleaning a regular habit, (though I can say I do have lofty intentions and sometimes go through spurts, usually after my youngest's first birthday and just before the next one's due date), but I do like the house to have that peaceful feeling it has when it is at least straightened up, dishes done, floors swept, and enough clean laundry for us to dress ourselves with. But throw Baby Number Three in there, baby, and even that is difficult to keep up with.

All day, on my way to fix lunch, change a diaper, wipe a bottom, often babe-in-arm, I pass so many things that need doing (and undoing) that I have started just telling myself, "I don't see that," and for the most part, it works. Dog hair on the floor? I don't see it. The Christmas tree still up? I don't see it. All the wearable clothes in my closet half-dirty and piled there on a baby seat Will outgrew two months ago? I don't see it. I do see the poo poo in the little potty chair that needs to be emptied; I'll get to it in a minute.

I need to make a rule, by the way, that once you are potty-trained, the little potty chair is off limits. Kids love going in those things. I'm always emptying the potty chair, thinking, "I need to move this to the garage." But just when I'm about to, it's time to potty-train the next one. One time we had a party with a lot of kids, and I'm telling you, after they left, there was potty and poo poo in every toilet and little potty chair in the house. It's as if they were so excited at all the different places they could go, they decided to try all of them.

Some things you do see, though, if you pass them every day and they're at eye level, for example, the dirty smear on the blinds where I tried to wipe off the dust with my finger one day six months ago. Every morning and every night when we go to, alternately, let in a little light and give ourselves some privacy, we see it. Today it was finally driving me as crazy as Shep said it's been driving him (though not crazy enough for him to do anything about it), and so I cleaned all the blinds, on that window, at eye level. Now Shep will think I've cleaned them all, and I think I might let myself be fooled as well.

Something else I saw, yesterday morning when I was putting on my shoe: a little sticker stuck inside. Kids love stickers, too, just to take them and stick them on things, and if you don't peel them off right away, they can become permanent fixtures. This one had been there awhile; I didn't bother working on it. I was just glad I'd peeled out the one that was in Grace's hair before I dropped her off at preschool. Besides, it made me smile. I had a flash of how precious it would be to find that sticker once I don't have anyone sticking them on things anymore. It's precious now. Like I know one day I'll smile back fondly on the year I left the Christmas tree up til March. I'm smiling now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Personal Hygiene

We don't bathe a lot. I have to admit that. I wipe the dirty spots - faces, hands, occasionally knees and feet. That gets the girls through the week. We try to submerge them entirely in water at least once before church on Sunday. Pool water qualifies.

Poor Will has had slightly more baths than the number of months he is old. Though recently he's started "feeding" himself - little bits of banana or granola bar that largely miss his mouth and get mushed on him or his seat or at times licked off his hand by the dog, much to their mutual delight. So he's gotten too much gunk in the creases. Yesterday I put him in some warm water on the clean side of the kitchen sink. He was so intrigued with the running water (probably because of its novelty) I had to take a picture. Plus, he looked so cute beside that big pile of dirty dishes. (It was a great opportunity to address those, too.)

As for me, I find myself thinking about washing myself as I used to think about washing my hair: "Oh good, I don't have to take a shower today. I took one the day before yesterday." Then there comes a day when I think, "Eegh. I've got to take a shower today." But it might be a day and a half before I get around to it. It's just, when am I going to do it? I could shower during naptime or after the kids' bedtime, but that cuts into the time I have for cooking, cleaning, sleeping, reading, and sitting on the couch eating chocolate candy while watching The Biggest Loser. I suppose I could wake up in the morning before the children get up,'s really not that important to me.

But today I noticed a warm, earthy, animal-ish smell, and I thought, "That is not socially acceptable in this country." Of course, it might be these clothes. It doesn't help that my laundry is always the last to be done. While it is comforting to think of myself as being very European, and also environmentally friendly - think of the water I'm conserving - I'd better take a shower and throw in a load.

A friend asked me the other day, "Are you ready for Number Four?"

I said, "I have arms wide open. I can wait, but if I was pregnant right now, I'd be happy."

She said, "Wouldn't you be...overwhelmed?"

We had a good laugh when I said, "How could I possibly be more overwhelmed than I am now?"

Really, by the time I have another one, Grace will be old enough to help more. At the very least, she'll be able to brush her own teeth and buckle herself into the car. Right now, we have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and an eight-month-old. Our life is almost all children: feeding, caring for, teaching, and yes, sometimes bathing them fills up the middle and has pushed everything else out to the edges - things like hygiene and taking down the Christmas tree.

When Grace was a baby, we had a beautiful nightly ritual. Every night after dinner, I would get in the bathtub and take her in with me, on my lap. I'd wipe her gently top to toe while she looked around with her dark eyes, silently studying everything. The water was warm around us and her body was solid and warm against mine. I love us doing that together.

I have to smile at the contrast with today: my children and me making our way to the car together after picking Grace up at preschool, all four of us, Will in my arm, my hands full of papers Grace made, holding her hand with my pinky, nudging Emma with my voice, opening the door with my elbow. But I love today too. Outside, we were moving so slowly that I had plenty of time to look up and see that the sky was a stunning blue. The wind was swaying the shade trees, and I felt the air, between cool and warm, as a caress.

Passing by us with his daughter, another parent said, "You've got your hands full!"

Yes, I do. It's a good word for it: full, like a fed belly, full with these solid, warm little bodies, with these little beings and their sparkling conversations, with their flitting presences, with their chaos, full, like the wings of a mother hen gathering in her chicks.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bits and Pieces

  • I am enjoying reading Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow - in the bathroom, 10 (or 2 or 3) minutes at a time. (If you're a mom, you understand this is probably the most effective way to get it done.)
  • Shep has me convinced the world is ending soon. He reads the news; I don't, because I know I'll be filled in on whatever I need to know. Shep fills me in on the Middle East.
  • Apparently, the bread-baking frenzy is a documented stage of female life. I'm in it. There is something about the dough; it feels like a piece of flesh, and you're molding it. Last Friday, Grace was standing beside me while I formed dough into loaves, and after awhile with a stirred expression, she said, "I love watching you do that." (I think she gets it.)
  • I am practicing a new spiritual discipline called sleep. For me, going to bed at 10pm says, "God made me to need 8 hours of sleep. Whatever I can't get done in 16 hours doesn't need to be done today." (I am conflicted about it; I'll have to let you know how it goes.)
  • I played cards with my mom tonight. We play a kind of speed group solitaire called Duker. The rest of the family can't talk and play at the same time, but my mom and I play best during a good conversation. We played til the baby was beside himself, then I came home.
  • I'm drowning in dirty dishes. Shep promised he'd do them when he gets home, so I'm sitting on the couch waiting for him.

I can't make all this into one unified thought today, (probably because I need to go practice my new spiritual discipline.) But that's my life - bits and pieces whirling around an ever-constant nucleus of caring for little children, a center that is itself full of motion. When I close my eyes at night, I still feel it, like after a day at the ocean; instead of waves, I feel little arms, see little eyes, hear little voices, saying, "Mommy? Mommy! Mommy. Mommy,..."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I've Got to See a Show

I've got to see a show. I'm salivating. I want to see Will. He's doing a show soon that's not your cheeriest night at the theatre, but it would be worth it to watch him. I've seen him "get it": illuminate his character so the audience knows what the playwright meant when she wrote it, which is the actor's only job.

When I worked with him in the theatre, I felt about him more than with anyone else that he was my peer, almost my sibling. We had a fight one time backstage that was so bad it ended with him shouting profanity and me running, weeping histrionically, to my dressing room. It took me a whole year longer than him to apologize, and to even know that I should, which maybe shows who between the two of us was the bigger diva. We always were like oil and water.

One of my favorite memories of him is a tea scene with high-running tension and never-ending scoops of sugar. I feel like I remember the sound of our tea cups rattling from barely contained laughter, and there were definitely bite marks inside my cheeks - the best way I've found to stay in character in that kind of situation.

There was a suicide scene I watched him enact, and it was only a staged reading, for heaven's sake, but I couldn't get out of my chair afterward. The way he had "cut" himself over and over, resolutely willing himself to no longer exist, was an unexpectedly perfect picture of my own interior pain. I couldn't stop weeping, even as people filed past me uncomfortably. That's why I can't make the theatre my church. It can bring up the deep things, but there's nowhere to go with them. In the church you know the only place to take it all is the cross.

One time Will, his wife, and I drove up to Chattanooga for an audition and all shared a hotel room. We sat up til after midnight talking about God. We don't share the same mindset on that subject, but I think he might come closer to my way of thinking before all is said and done. I love him, so maybe he'll forgive the presumption.

Anyway, I can't wait to see his show.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Spot

I compare myself to others. (Don't we all?) Lately, I've been looking at other mothers and calculating if I'm ahead or behind in the area of baby-making. Some of my peers have no children; some aren't even married. But some have four or five kids by this time. Some have even moved on from the baby stage entirely. They're "done" (having babies); their youngest is the age of my oldest. Those are the ones who make me feel behind, especially if they're younger than me. I think, "If I'd started earlier, I could be a 'young' mom" - as opposed to a seasoned, but lacking-in-energy one.

I don't know what the big contest is. I think it's just the awareness that as you make choices, the field of options narrows. Because of the choices I've made, there are certain things I won't have. The rub is, what if those are the things I really wanted? I spent seven married years not having children, and it bothers me because part of what stopped me was just fear, a terrible reason to not do something.

There were other reasons, too, though. I was (I mean, I am! - or, I will be again one day) in the theatre. I wouldn't trade my time on stage. There were moments under the lights...I treasure them. They're mine. Forever. I love the silence, the great dim space just beyond the circle of lights, that waits expectantly for my words to fill it. I wouldn't trade it.

I wouldn't trade, either, the healing I got in those seven years. I was leaky, like a sieve, so when you put love in me, it just ran out. I couldn't hold it inside and be nourished by it. In those years, I felt Jesus' hands, with their significant scars, building and repairing - no, gentler, like a potter - forming, molding, moistening, mending me.

When I went home to have my first baby - I mean, went home to stay, from being out in the world, Love came and filled me up. Surely I'll be on stage again. (I won't be playing Juliet, but some of the best roles require a little gray hair.) Even if I'm not, I know I'll be up to something good. God knows what he wants with me. He knows how many children he wants me to have like he knows who he wants to be their Mommy: me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just Life

There are those moments when I want to scream into a pillow (and sometimes I do), but for the most part we have our little routine that is simply, beautifully, in its way delightful. And on some days there is a moment when I even find it transcendent: the laughter of the baby, the times when I see my girls are learning after all, the lovely feeling I get doing the same things over and over and over: that I know what comes next. I felt it today as I patted Emma's bottom one last time and stood up from rocking her to put her down for her nap: a rush of gladness that I do this every day, just this same exact way, and by persevering in it, through frustrations and enjoyments, I am accomplishing something truly worthwhile.

In our little week, there are days for preschool and going to the Y, a day for the grocery store, a day for Bible Study, and at least one day, if not two, for staying at home. On those days, we might run a quick errand, but not before noon. On Fridays, we breathe a sigh of relief and stay in our pajamas til...well, sometimes all day.

Weekends are best, though. On Friday nights, Daddy is home for good, and the air holds a feeling of celebration. Saturday morning we finally get to "watch," after refraining - for the most part - all week, and Daddy makes bacon, sausage, and "peh-pakes." And sometimes Mommy gets to sleep in. We stay up late Saturday night. Sunday we take our time getting up, drink coffee, read the newspaper. Then we go to the late service at church, come home, and start all over again.

In our little days, you can see the routine even better. There is the way the kids climb into bed with us in the mornings. There is the coffee brewing while I pop the oatmeal into the microwave. There is breakfast, with Mommy juggling a hundred things at once - get this, get that, feed the baby, try to eat a bite herself. Then there is the lull afterward while the girls play and Will naps. I sometimes do a little cleaning; I sometimes read or write when I should be cleaning. There is "make your beds" time, snack time, nurse the baby time, lunch time, play time, nap time, get up and try to not be cranky time, make dinner time, eat dinner time, reading time, brush your teeth time, tuck them in time, and sit on the couch with John time.

That's my life. It might sound boring; there was a time when I would have thought it even sounded depressing - the monotony. But it only sounds monotonous. For one thing, routine always has a way of switching itself up just when you get used to it. When summer comes, our lives will look completely different - well, not completely. There will still be breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nap from 3-5.

God made us creatures of habit. I used to think that was a bad thing. Now it sort of makes me want to hug myself. It's in the folds of this humdrum fabric that are hidden the gleaming, unexpected treasures of my beautiful life. I used to think an ordinary life meant the death of dreams. Now I'm finding out what my dreams really are.


As long as I can scream, childbirth is not that daunting. If I lost the use of my vocal chords, though, we'd have a problem. I tried "hypnobirthing" with my second baby, which is just deep relaxation. It helped a little in the beginning of labor. But as the process ramped up, I had to move and moan. And when it was time for that baby to come out, I had to make a lot of noise.

Dancing helps too. I danced my third baby into the world. I was almost ready to push him out before I knew what was happening. I just kept dancing and adjusting my playlist to my mood. It was the easiest labor so far - except that it kept stopping and starting. That was torture. But I found there was even a reason behind that rhyme. It was my first baby boy, and I hadn't blessed him yet. I was afraid to let him out into the world. Once I spoke my blessing over him, it was time for the yelling to start. He was in my arms within the half hour.

I'm a little addicted to it, the whole process of bringing babies into the world. Of course, there's the initial fun. But I'm talking about birth itself. You have the babies, their little bodies so much solider than you expect as you gather them up that first time, skin softer than anything you can imagine, as soft as some internal organ that's never seen the light of day. But the actual birthing can be addictive. When except in a birthing room or by a death bed are you as close to the primordial heartbeat of Life itself? In that dim room with what feels like the whole earth moving in your body, when you are as helpless as you will ever be, you are in touch with the Source, the meaning of it all. There is nothing more real than childbirth.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"He gathers the lambs..."

I almost quit Bible Study Fellowship. We're studying Isaiah this year. I thought Isaiah was my favorite book of the Bible. After about 30 chapters, I didn't want to read any book of the Bible. Are you familiar with Isaiah 24? Here's the first verse: "See, the Lord is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; he will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants." That's quite a contrast to "He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart," (40:11, my favorite verse ever.) The first half of Isaiah is not a comfortable read. I almost quit. But I realized if I did, it might be a long time before I wanted to pick up my Bible again.

So I went back to the offending chapter, and read it to hear His voice. Verse 6 stuck out: "the people must bear their guilt." I asked God, "How does this touch my life today?" (This is the lectio divina way of reading that our church has been practicing lately.) After a moment of silence, I felt a loosening deep in my heart, God saying to me, "You do not have to bear your guilt."

When I went back to Bible study, we were just beginning Isaiah 40. That's when all the good verses start. I'm beginning to see why Isaiah is and always has been such an important book in the canon of Scripture. It shows the glory of the gospel: 40 chapters (just like there are 40 books in the Old Testament) on the wages of sin, and 26 (like the 26 books in the New Testament) on how God's grace provides a way for us not to pay them. "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows...He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities." Chapter 53, verses 4 and 5. I appreciate Jesus more than ever.

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Nice Number

I am not going to try to write blog posts anymore. I started this blog a year ago, but all my entries that I've published so far were written between the hours of 11pm-3am, and I just can't stay up that late. I had my third child in June. I have started at least twenty blog posts and finished none of them. From now on I am going to write bloglets, just one little morsel at a time. I think I can handle that. (We'll see.)

For today, I want to say that I love the Duggar Family. For the very few of you - well maybe more than a few - who don't watch reality television, I'm talking about the family from Arkansas who is famous for their extremely conservative values and the fact that they have 19 children. You won't find me requiring my girls to wear only skirts (since they're 4 and 2, i.e., aspiring princesses, no such rule is necessary at the moment anyway; my problem is I can't get them to wear pants) or prohibiting dancing (couldn't live without it!) But I have taken a page out of the Duggars' book on the matter of discipline. I had been holding back a little too much in that area. Watching their family reminded me that my job is to train my children's character so they can have a successful life.

What I love most about Jim Bob (yes, Jim Bob) and Michelle, though, is they believed what God said about children: that they are a blessing. I'm not saying the Duggars are a perfect family, but they did do that one thing: take God at his word. I want to have lots of children. I come from a big family, and I love the exuberant chaos of having a lot of people around. I'm too old to have 19, I think, (thank God) unless I had a couple sets of quintuplets. But six sounds like a nice number. Or seven. Or eight. Or five. I just know I'm not done yet. I might get a little scared sometimes that I could have one or two too many kids, and that one or more of them might end up feeling unimportant or overlooked. I guess I could stop having children because I'm afraid and call it prudence. Or I could trust the bountiful, juicy, lush extravagance of the God who always gives enough love for whatever He puts in a person's heart to do.