Big Shoes

Some nights, Prince Charming sleeps on the sofa.

And I love him for it.

We’ve driven around the country together.  We’ve crossed the Atlantic.  We’ve jammed up against each other, close and personal, in tight train cabins across eastern Europe.  We’ve spent nights apart, wishing for the warmth of the familiar body even while relishing the chance to stretch out.  We’ve yelled at each other.  We’ve given the silent treatment.  We’ve laughed.  We’ve stayed up too late, slept in, or gotten up too early and did it all again.  I’ve dented his expensive guitar.  He’s hurt my fragile female heart.  We’ve laughed and learned and looked confused with each other’s mothers.  We’ve given both sets of in-laws grey hairs and their first grandchildren.  He’s eaten burned dinners and cold ones.  I’ve learned to live on his paycheck.  He buys the good shoes.  I’ve had to admit impulse shopping.  I’ve carried all his children.  He’s wiped the tears of all of mine.  We’ve gained weight and sympathy weight; our shapes have changed.  Our lives have changed because of how much life we’ve done together.

 

P1060810

There’s a video floating around the internet of some guys experiencing pregnancy and labor. They get hooked up to machines to simulate the pains of childbirth.  I don’t know if they make it through and get a milkshake at the end of the whole ordeal (which I consider a very necessary part of the delivery process.)  I haven’t watched the video.  There are times it’s helpful to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but I don’t believe my husband would be a better guy if he walked this one.  He can’t walk the marathon miracle race of childbirth.  He can’t mimic the days of nesting instinct that cause mothers to rearrange the sofas through Braxton Hicks contractions.  He can’t feel the unborn child kick as a big brother drapes himself across mom’s expansive belly.  He can’t experience the wash of hormones that allow mamas to take another breath and push.

But he wouldn’t be a better dad or husband if he did.

His own two feet have been imprinted with legos in the middle of the night, but he bore it silent so as not to wake mama or baby.

His own feet have grown numb in the pre-dawn winter cold when he drove to another day of work in a minivan with a sluggish heater.

His own feet have paced the emergency room floor with a sick child at night.

His own feet have come home repeatedly to a disheveled house and tired wife rather than spend the evening with friends.

His own feet have warmed his wife’s cold ones even when they went to bed not speaking to each other.

His own feet have worn mismatched socks because no one had attempted to scale laundry mountain in the living room for too long.

His own feet have been rolled over by his son in a wheelchair.

His own feet have often carried the weight of two children up and down the stairs.

His own two feet have often hit the cold floor before light so he’d have time to read and pray before spending a long day at work.

I don’t expect him to walk a mile in my shoes.  I’d rather he be man enough to go shoe shopping in the ladies’ section with his wife.

IMG_0707

Sometimes I have gotten upset because he wasn’t doing the dishes, or helping with the homeschooling, or scaling the side of laundry mountain.  Sometimes he doesn’t look for a honey-do list first thing on a weekend.  Sometimes he keeps the kids up past bedtime, or offers them ice cream at dinner time.  Sometimes he disciplines them differently than I would.  Sometimes he falls asleep when I want to talk.  Sometimes he forgets to touch me as much as I need him to since I’m a slow-cooker and he’s a microwave.  Sometimes he and I really don’t think the same.

And sometimes I’m patient enough to remember that is a good thing.

 

We’ve been made very different because we were both incomplete alone.  Sometimes marriage highlights the differences, and it makes for Hollywood-worthy drama.  Or comedy.  But Hollywood misses the fact that marriage, like wine or wood, or cheese, or sex, gets better with age.

Sometimes real husbands sleep on the sofa so that a sore tired mama and a new baby won’t be woken by an early alarm.

That’s love right there.

Happy Father’s Day, Prince Charming.

P1070759

Sisterhood of Yesterday’s Pants

I woke up on Saturday.  Yesterday’s jeans lay on the floor where I’d left them.  There was a dried spot of regurgitated milk on the left thigh, and a streak of garden dirt across the shins.  They were stretched out in all the places that you want jeans to stretch in.  But it was Saturday.  Of course, this doesn’t make much difference to a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husband generally works weekends.  So to celebrate in the only way possible, I spit on the laws of the cultural laundry gurus.  And wore yesterday’s pants.
It is true that as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husband works weekends, I have the right to wear yoga pants pretty much 24-7.  If I want.  But I realized somewhere in the past decade that yoga pants are good for yoga.  And lounging.  And sleep.  And any time you’re not on the clock.  But they are not good for homeschooling, stay-at-home moms of sleep-defying toddlers, whose husbands work weekends.  Because those moms are not doing yoga.  Or lounging.  They are definitely not sleeping.  And they are, almost constantly, on the clock.   They – I – wear a lot of hats.  But more importantly, as chief cook and bottle washer in this joint – I have to wear the pants.

So I make it a point to get dressed every morning, even if I’m not stepping a foot beyond the front porch all day.  The most rebellious I get is wearing yesterday’s pants.  Don’t they say to dress for the job you want, not necessarily the job you have?  I want the job of a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom – who has it all together.
Which I don’t.
I came downstairs on Saturday morning and put some eggs in a pot to hard boil.  My husband left, coffee in hand, for a long day at the store.  He’d come home after the kids were in bed the night before, and wouldn’t be home during the children’s waking hours until the middle of the next day.  So it was my job to hold down the fort.

IMG_4348

 

The kids pattered down the stairs at exactly 7:02 a.m. (They have to stay in their beds quietly until 7 for the sanity of all humanity.)  Chocolate milk spilled at exactly 7:05.  Yet another of our old Berenstain Bears book covers was ripped off at 7:08.  The first fight of the day was broken up at 7:11 (they were late for the day.)  I nursed the baby for approximately 7 minutes until I remembered the eggs.  All the water was gone and the bottom of the pot was red hot.  So I threw away half a dozen slightly charred eggs around 7:19.  (We eventually got around to eating bananas and cold cereal an hour later.)  We dug through the laundry piles to find clothes for everyone.  I put the toddler’s pants on the 4 month old. I didn’t notice.  The toddler himself never got around to having pants until nearly lunch time.  He uses them as a napkin anyway, so it was probably for the best.

Wearing the pants doesn’t mean I do everything right.  I am tired.  I am frazzled.  Maybe it’s spring where you are, but I have been in the same season for a decade.  It’s the end of a hard school year in a really small house with a crazy toddler and a new baby and oh my the clutter.  My house was built before Americans were hoarders and there isn’t a single closet on the 1st floor and only a couple curtained off storage corners upstairs.  Stuff. Is. Everywhere.  Stuff can own you, not because it’s worth much, but because it requires so much.  Take the dishwasher, for instance.  Please.  It currently stinks because of old food buildup in its drain.  On Saturday, I had to pull on my big girl pants and clean it.  It is slimy down there.  Dark.  Mysterious.  And my almost two year old desperately wanted to join me because clearly it must be fun.  Why else would the lower half of Mommy’s five foot frame keep flailing to keep him from jumping on the dishwasher door and shaking the countertop loose?  It seemed like something out of a bad sci-fi movie where the evil alien slime robot sneaks into the house through the dishwasher drain and sucks unsuspecting homemakers out with yesterday’s congealed oatmeal.  (Which I’m not worried about here, because the drain is so full of yesterday’s oatmeal that he’d have to give up and try the neighbors instead.  We’re safe.)  It was not glamourous.  It did not seem glorious.

IMG_3752

But it was glorious.  It truly was.  I’m learning this.  God is most glorified when I am elbow deep in ancient bacon grease, because I am there doing the work He has given me.  The work of God is generally the dirtiest, most repugnant, least obvious.  It is the most needful.  If Jesus were walking the earth today, He would not be found in a sharp suit next to the proud CEO of a new non profit hospital on the front page.  You would be better off looking for Him holding back the ponytail of the tired single mom cleaning toilets on the old geriatric wing.

And He was there Saturday morning. With me.  Hallowing my dishwasher as I knelt before Him in yesterday’s pants.  One thing I’ve learned – you don’t need to dress up to meet your Maker.  In fact, many a conversation we’ve had as I stood too long in the shower, wishing I didn’t have to get out and face another snotty faced toddler or explain fractions or pay bills or wipe hot foreheads or stinky bottoms or watch my husband stagger as he brings home the hard-won bacon.

He is not God just at weddings and funerals and Sundays.

He is God at 2 a.m. when the whole world minus the baby wants to be sleeping.

He was God on Monday afternoon when the toddler dunked the iPhone in the muffin batter as my husband called to say he’d be working late.

He is God on the 12th round of chemo.

He is still God when good people die and bad men walk free on earth, when white is called black, when wrong is called right.

He is God who makes the sun rise again after a night when the world seems to have spun out of control.

He is God and I am not ashamed for Him to see me in yesterday’s pants because the uniform of the holy is made beautiful by stains of faithfulness.

He is God and He is good.  Even at dawn on Saturday mornings when your phone sounds muffin-y and your house smells like burned eggs and nobody else is wearing pants.  This is holy business, mamas.  This is worship.

IMG_3283

 

Prodigal Vegetable

I’m not one to worry.  Oh wait, I’m a mom.  Maybe I do worry. Sometimes.  A little.  There are six young daredevils who are, most of the time, in my sole care.  If one complains of a headache I immediately consider the possibility he needs brain surgery again. Another is a toddler who defies gravity and usually loses.  I’m actually the queen of worriers.  I’m a worry warrior.  (Say that out loud a few times!)

I worry about my kids, my house, my husband, my stuff.  I worry my teeth are getting more crooked.  I worry I’m a bad mom.  I worry about my country.  I worry about mice getting into the chocolate chips.  I worry my vacuum is gonna die (I pray for it regularly.)  I worry about scarring the neighborhood with my children’s ghetto lawn ornaments (generally an assortment of nerf guns, various pieces of discarded clothing, and creative handmade squirrel traps.)  I’ve been practicing worry for years, and I’m getting good.

But I know better than to let it control me.  Of course I do.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have let two of my children go on a Spring expedition into the wilderness a few evenings ago.  Perhaps I knew it involved fording a small river because they asked me to pack extra clothes.  But perhaps they shouldn’t be tied to mama’s apron strings so tight they can’t occasionally get their feet wet.  Right?

Fiddleheads_Crosses_de_fougère

Probably every culture has some indigenous foods that anyone hungry enough for the adventure can get.  Come Spring around here, it’s fiddlehead season.  Fiddleheads are tightly curled Ostrich Fern fronds.  They grow along shady riverbanks locally.  For a few weeks every year, people – like my dad- go out and harvest them.  This year, Grampy invited my two oldest boys along to help. It was sort of a coming-of-age ritual that was expected to involve water in boots and playing host to a blackfly family reunion. But the result is usually a decent haul of fresh, free vegetables that are quite palatable (as far as vegetables go. Chocolate is, unfortunately, not indigenous, but the upside is that I find no reason to relegate chocolate to a single season for eating.)

So off they went and I stayed home.  Not worrying.  I made supper.  I fed the four kids still tied to my apron strings.  Still not worrying.  My husband came home.  I bathed each child, dodging water gun squirts from the toddler as I mopped up puddles and made sure they weren’t drowning (because that’s my job after all, to keep them safe.)  I added diapers and pajamas to wriggling little bodies as it started to get dark.  Finally, I sent my dad a text.  Not because I was worrying of course.  Just curious.  He didn’t answer.  I put the boys to bed and sat to feed the baby on the sofa that strategically faced the window.

Ok.  I was worried.

About the time I finally admitted it, a taxi drove up.  My dad climbed out.  I craned my neck to see.  One… Two boys climbed out.  Relief flooded me.  Apparently no one had been washed down the river getting their vegetables.  That would have been tragic on so many levels.  I didn’t know why Grampy’s truck hadn’t returned, but that seemed a small casualty by comparison.

They tumbled in, slightly muddy around the edges, and my oldest announced triumphantly, “That was awesome!” The other grinned in agreement. “And turns out I like popcorn!”

The story came out in breathless pieces.  Since they’d had to ford the river, my dad had decided to lock his wallet and cell phone in the car rather than get them soaked in his pocket.  He’d put the key in his pocket.  The pocket had a hole.  The key found it.  Not until they’d returned with their haul of fern heads did they realize they weren’t getting home that way.  So plan B.  Off they walked to find civilization.  A lady at the third house they found welcomed them in to use the phone.  (And fed the intrepid explorers some popcorn.)  Unfortunately they all have come to rely on preset contacts on our phones, so none of them – neither my dad nor either of my kids – correctly knew another phone number.  (We don’t even have a home phone hooked up at the moment and some phone numbers have changed recently.  Don’t judge.)  So they couldn’t call anyone they knew to come to the rescue.  Hence, the taxi ride.

My husband and dad went off to get an extra key and return to the river for the truck.  I checked the boys for ticks and commandeered their trekking clothes in exchange for pajamas.  They trundled off to bed.

I promised to teach them all the important family phone numbers the next morning.  Maybe they don’t need my apron strings anymore, but they do need an open phone line to mom.  The ties that really bind.  May they never forget it.

photo by Grampy
photo by Grampy

I went to bed suddenly much less worried about the vacuum, the yard décor, or the chocolate chips.  Funny how you can lose someone for a few hours, and when you find them again, suddenly nothing else seems so important.  So rejoice with me. They were lost, but now they’re found.  And my freezer is filling with vegetables.  Kill the fatted fiddlehead, let’s celebrate!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Pride

“Mom, I put deodorant on today.”  My eight year old announced when he came through the door on Friday afternoon.

“Oh, good, honey… What kind?” I asked, wondering if he’d grabbed my stick or my husband’s off the shelf that morning.

“The best smell in the world – beef jerky!” He announced proudly.  He watched my mouth open and close as no sound escaped, and continued brightly, “I chewed it and then rubbed it under my arms.  It’s irresistible!!”

I let my breath out through my teeth.  “Ahh… well, we’ll get you some real deodorant this week.  Then you won’t have to be so… irresistible.

It wasn’t till I walked away and digested his words that I wondered what he’d done with the jerky after using it for his creative purposes…

My list of parenting failures is extensive.  Not only did my oldest smell like garlicky rotten meat, but my toddler rubbed yogurt all over his shirt. My four year old in the wheelchair thinks it’s cute to answer every stranger’s genial hello with a growl.  My six year old is addicted to sugar.  My seven year old finished his dreaded handwriting assignment, then balled it up and tried to eat it in protest. The three month old can’t seem to unplug the painful blocked milk duct through nursing.  And I won’t even tell you I hid in the bathroom to surf Facebook and I realized mice had visited the pasta after I threw it in the boiling water and I forgot to pray and I threw a tantrum about my super small house.  I failed.  And that was just today.  I’m convinced all the pretty and perky moms around me must roll their perfectly made up eyes and gently steer their clean obedient children with white shoes in the opposite direction from this disheveled mom and her motley crew whining in mismatched puddle boots.

I feel like a victim.

Of course, there are some days when I have my ducks lined up in a cute row behind me.  Some days I remember to neither wear white nor black so the dirt smudges, pizza, kid snot and baby drool don’t show quite so well.  Some days a child will read a whole chapter book from his school list without it being assigned, or do a chore without prodding.  Some days they share something other than just germs.  Some days they just want to play with ice cubes rather than something expensive that requires mommy to use any glue or patience.  Some days I not only make a meal plan but follow it.  Some days they eat it too.  Some days I remember I have a husband.  Some days I brave Wal Mart with six kids and a wheelchair and win.  Some days nobody cries.  Not even me.

And I feel like a supermom.

But for my own sake and yours, don’t treat me like either. Both are pretty little lies. From the pit.

If you ever notice me acting like either option, please pull me out of the bathroom where I’m hiding. And take away the empty bag of chocolate.  Hand me a stiff drink of coffee and a Bible and remind me of the servant in Luke 17.  He worked all day in the fields.  When he came in, naturally, he was tired and hungry.  But it was still his duty to make sure his master was fed and attended to before he could rest himself.  This feels uncannily familiar.  I’d like to think this is unfair.  Wouldn’t he be justified to feel like a victim having to do so much every day? And shouldn’t he be rewarded if he did manage to work a long day and continue on through the evening?

No.  He is doing simply what is expected.  Neither more nor less.  The master knows his capabilities.  He furnishes his tools.  He assures the servant of a good meal and sufficient rest when the work is done.  He doesn’t feel sorry for him.  He doesn’t give him a medal for simply doing his daily work.  I don’t know why I’m saying he.   This is personal.

The comment I hear most often is from someone shaking their head murmuring, “You sure are busy!”  As if that’s the most piteous thing in the world.  Granted, I don’t have a lot of downtime.  I can’t tell you the last time I watched a movie or went aimlessly shopping or even found time to blog or shower without some little person popping shamelessly in asking for something.  I’m not a victim because of that.  I have been given great gifts and the responsibility that comes along with them. Throwing pity parties and allowing others to bring cake and allow me to wallow in it is gross.  Is it really so negative to have a full life?  That’s a lie.  From the pit.

IMG_3846
no looking through rose colored glasses here

But to feel like I am somehow capable of raising another six souls to be both smart and wise, both gentle and strong, both quick and careful, both pure and prepared, both confident enough to cook their own goose and yet willing to eat humble pie when justly served- who do I think I am?!?  This work is hard.  No matter how much I love these grubby little creatures that share my DNA, this job is beyond me. Maybe, just maybe, if I had a PhD in nutrition, kinesiology, medicine, teaching, engineering, homemaking, and child psychology – and my kids fit into preconceived boxes – maybe if I could function on an hour of sleep a day, maybe if I had a thousand years, and a maid, and chauffeur, individual tutors, the latest medical interventions, wings, eyes in the back of my head, a mansion, lightning reflexes, sage wisdom, understanding in rocket science, patience, and the ability to see the future- maybe then, I could do this motherhood thing pretty well. But I’m not God. I royally mess this gig up.  Daily.  To think I’m up to this is – say it with me – a lie.  From the pit.

No. I am what I am by the grace of God.  That deserves neither pity nor pride.  I am pushed to the limits, though I often find in the pushing that I go further than I would have taken myself.  That’s not a bad thing.

Beef jerky deodorant, on the other hand…

bw-16-DSC_0023

Quarter For Your Thoughts

“The first impression of [Israel] was of the strangely small scale of everything. But before nightfall one came to realize that this is an intrinsic part- that God wants to show us nothing is great or small to Him who inhabited eternity in its dimensions of space as well as time. It is a pivot land – and pivots are apt to be small things in the eyes of those who do not understand their meaning.” – Lilias Trotter (From A Blossom in the Desert, page 203.)

269706_164953956905286_130731810327501_351047_3322113_n

You’ve heard the phrase, “turn on a dime”? Well this time, I turned on a quarter.  Blame inflation.
It was a while in coming. The quarter, I mean. Actually, it was twelve days ago that my son lost it. No, I take that back; he knew where it was. He just couldn’t get it.
It was inside his body.
It stopped briefly in his throat, which took years off my life. (Don’t you hold your allowance in your mouth when you wrestle with your brothers?) But then it passed more calmly into his stomach. It took a leisurely stroll though his intestines. At some point in the last week, it exited the premises. I missed it.
Never has twenty five cents been so anticipated. (Except perhaps when one of my kids is expecting the tooth fairy’s inaugural visit.)
Since it made it successfully though the esophagus, I had decided it didn’t necessitate an Emergency Room visit (I try to save those for brain infections.) But, like any parent with wi-fi would have, I googled possible scenarios. Apparently my five year old isn’t the first to swallow a quarter and forget to chew it first.  Some people said it would pass harmlessly along its way. Unless it didn’t.
So we waited.

the Henry
the Henry

It’s not the first time a child has swallowed something undigestible (other than bubblegum, red dye #40, and good old fashioned dirt).  Ben swallowed my earring when he was ten months old.  But he was wearing a diaper, so checking for a diamond in the rough was a bit easier than with five year old Henry.  That was interesting.

I finally called the doctor.  He recommended an x-ray.  So I trooped all six kids over to the health center, pushing wheelchairs and double strollers across the parking lot against a biting winter wind.  Half a dozen hands smashed the automatic door opener buttons repeatedly until the security guard gently pushed his from inside.  We know how to make an entrance.  I had visions of Child Protection Services storming the double doors behind us and commandeering my children from the unfit mother who feeds her kids pocket change.  Thankfully, it was fairly quick.  We escaped before they arrived.

But driving home, I reflected on the scene.  Who could have thought this would be my life?  I remember being 18 and halfway around the world in college, slightly chubby from having just discovered Nutella, wondering what the future would hold.  The wife of one of the teachers prayed with me one evening.  Afterwards, she described a little rowboat tied up to a dock.  It pulled against the ropes that held it, but couldn’t leave with the outgoing tide.  Not yet.  I was nonplussed.  Was that my life?  I wondered what I had to do to get free from the ropes.  I was ready!  Why couldn’t I go?

For years, I realized, I had been waiting.  Waiting to attain, to grow up.  Waiting for the future.  But I didn’t need to wait anymore.  (Except for bedtime. Always.)  Like many women, I’d been raised with the expectation I would “do something” with my life.  Wife and mom might be some my hats, but not the only.  Why settle?  I could be woman of consequence. I could have a full, meaningful life.  I could effect many lives as a teacher, a journalist, a nurse, or a missionary.

But here I was looking for pocket change in the nether regions of my son’s gut.

Here I was driving a rusting Yukon brim full of car seats and a wheelchair with light-up wheels.

Here I was explaining fractions and proper nouns around the dining room table and trying not to cry over spilled cheerios and milk.

Here I was, wife and motherhood overflowing the twenty four hours of every single day.

And I realized as I left the x-ray building with my ducklings trailing behind, that here, right where I was, I was doing my life’s work.  My magnum opus in puddle boots.  This work, no matter how menial, tedious, and sticky, was my greatest accomplishment. Sure, I could do other things, but nothing of greater consequence or longer lasting effect.  I wasn’t waiting for the big purpose of my life.

I was living it.

In waiting for a quarter, I realized I didn’t need to wait anymore.  I was no longer tied to the dock.  My little ship had sailed.  (Actually, it was rowing across choppy waters breathlessly, but definitely going somewhere.)

I shouldn’t despise the days of small things.  Turns out they’re the pivotal days of my life.

Hope no one has to swallow anything bigger for me to learn the next lesson.  This could get expensive.

The Dull Moment

Call me Ishmael.
I chase an elusive, white-legged, chubby toddler in an endless loop around the cluttered house. He’ll be the death of me if I can’t get him first. And even then…
I was in the shower. A grubby fist poked through the shower curtain. It handed me a cough drop. I took it before the grubby fist could reconsider its offering. The little body connected to the fist ran out of the bathroom, leaving the door open wide. I sighed. I was shivered. I turned off the water and followed the grubby fist into my bedroom. Apparently it had already been through my neatly folded laundry pile on the bed. I pulled the body of the grubby fist out from under my pile of wrinkled t-shirts and plunked it unceremoniously into the pack and play crib that was currently a ball pit.  It squealed joyfully and started flinging the balls out into the laundry pile.

IMG_3677

So went the day.  I’ll spare you the details, but the rest of it involved a hijacked toilet seat, peanut butter, literal lost marbles, a very stiff neck, icicle sword fights, cold spaghetti, an overdose of Curious George, a serious lack of sleep.  Finally, though, it was nearly 10 p.m.  I was oddly tired.

But I absolutely couldn’t go to bed because my husband was trying to do something to ease the ache in my neck.  He had gone across town to buy me ice cream.  Just the right kind.  Now, you might argue that ice cream doesn’t fix stiff necks – or laundry piles mixed with plastic balls – or lack of sleep – or too much Curious George.  And you might be right.  Or maybe you just haven’t tried the right kind.

Either way, though, it was getting late and even good ice cream was sounding less appealing than a thorough night’s sleep (even though I had no aspirations of getting such a thing with a hungry month old baby.)  I rubbed my sore shoulders as I nursed the baby and dejectedly surveyed the cluttered living room.  There was so much I still needed to do before bed if I wanted to maintain my own sanity and/or a path across the floor.  Then the phone rang.

I couldn’t turn my head to see my cellphone perched on the back of the sofa.  But I reached for it blindly.  Was he on his way?  “Well…” My husband hesitated on the other end of the phone.  “Keys work best at unlocking the outside of the car door when they’re not still in the ignition…”  I groaned.  It was now after 10 p.m.  The store was closed.  He was outside waiting for the emergency folks to come.  They hoped to be less than 45 minutes.  It was bitterly cold.  “At least the ice cream’s not melting.” He tried to be upbeat.

I bowed in frustration; feeling the strain of uselessness in my inflamed neck joints.  I wished I could help.  I wished to could run down to the store with an extra key.  But it would have taken me nearly 45 minutes to get all the sleeping kids awake, bundled up, into the car and over to the store.  Besides, I realized, I didn’t have an extra key at home.  I was helpless.

My husband was officially going to freeze to death buying me ice cream that I hardly wanted.  Oh the irony.  And here I was, turning into a pumpkin at the stroke of 10 p.m in a sea of chaos.  Tired, overwhelmed and useless.

“If only it wasn’t winter,” I thought bitterly.  “Than it wouldn’t be so bad.”

“If only my toddler wasn’t such a kleptomaniac…”

“If only the baby slept at normal hours…”

“If only the five year old hadn’t swallowed a quarter and I didn’t have to check for it every time he goes…”  (true story.  We’re still waiting.)

“If only the kids wouldn’t fight over Every. Single. Lego…”

“If only my house was bigger…”

“If only my neck wasn’t so sore and stiff…”

In the quiet of that moment, a phrase crossed my tired mind.

“The Lord is giving you this good land not because of your righteousness – for you are a stiff-necked people.”  (Deuteronomy 9:6)

Ooh.  Was this getting personal?

was a stiff-necked people.  That much rang true.

I had been given a land full of white-knuckled little giants.

The land was flowing with milk and honey – both flowed around here, all right.  Usually off the table.  Mixed with Cheerios.

And I was stubbornly looking at this rugged, beautiful promised land as if it could be conquered by my own strength.

Foolish, proud, stiff-necked woman!  How many sore shoulders and swallowed quarters would it take to convince me of my insufficiency?  “Don’t answer that,” I grimaced in prayer.  “I don’t want to know. Just help me, Lord, to be brave as I live in the land full of lego-crazed natives.  I don’t know how to survive here.  I don’t even know how to keep houseplants alive, yet You’ve brought me to this strange new land.  My body feels its limitations.  My mind can’t seem to adjust to a new normal.  My soul feels hungry.  I’m coming up short.  I love my family, this wild wild wilderness of motherhood, the adventure.  But God, I just don’t know how…

The land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end.”  (Deuteronomy 11:11-12)

It’s a whale of a job, this motherhood thing.  It’s not (just) because I’ve recently had a 6th child in 8 years.  Motherhood is challenging even with one.  No, motherhood is impossible – even with one.  Ideal, perfect motherhood is impossible.  I could chase it my whole life and never quite grasp it.  But I’m not expected to.  I’m just supposed to take the step onto the green grass of the new land.  And another.  And another.  And trust God to take of the rain.

And the whales.

And the ice cream.  (Which I ate when my husband got home.  Because it would have been ungrateful not to.)

In that silent moment, stuck on the couch amidst a sea of chaos, I gave up the chase. And went to bed.  For a few minutes anyway.

12-DSC_0003

Midwife Crisis (A Birth Story)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

That’s childbirth in a nutshell.

I had a baby recently.  Five days ago, in fact.  So the memory’s fresh.  It all went down like this…

I’m one of those lucky folks who can either say they’re in labor for six weeks – or six hours.  Pressure builds and Braxton Hicks contractions are regular company in the weeks leading up to my due date.  I waddle.  Nothing fits.  I have to choose between breathing and bending over.  I crave chocolate.  (Actually, that’s nothing new…)

My last hippo selfie
My last hippo selfie

The local hospital (where all my children have been born) frowns on natural birth after a mom has had a cesarean birth.  They’ll do it, but grudgingly – only if the mom’s doctor is with her every moment she’s there.  I’m enough of a crunchy mom to consider a home birth except for two factors.  My house is tiny.  And my husband isn’t into the idea.

It would have been nice to not have to treat childbirth so medically, to be pushed for every intervention, to have to lie down the whole time, to have to tell the next twenty strangers that I’m not in fact 16 or Catholic, I willingly chose to have six children, and explain my desires to delay clamping the cord, and not be told when to push, and wait to give the first injection.  I wished I could just be home in my own bed after having a baby rather than visited every hour by nurses just stopping in to push on my tender tummy and ask if I was getting any rest in the most infamously uncomfortable of contraptions – the hospital bed.

But such things were not to be, so I tried to prepare for the next viable option – waiting until I was white-knucked onto furniture in labor before rushing to the hospital, popping out a baby, and convincing them to let me get home as soon as possible.

The best laid plans of mice and men… My midwife retired last year, so I had the doctor whom she practiced under (and who had delivered my fourth baby by c-section.)  When I saw him on Friday for a check-up I was almost 4 centimeters dilated, so he offered to strip the membranes and get labor going.  Since he was required to be in the hospital while I was, a weekend labor would have been most convenient to avoid any scheduled surgeries or appointments he had during the week.  I agreed, and went home to wait for labor to kick in.

But aside from lots of cramps and waddling around grandma as she handled the daily bustle of my home, I didn’t go into labor.  I waited all day Friday.  My water broke mid-morning Saturday, so I called my husband to come home from work before the snowstorm.  But still we waited.  I concluded I am not a patient person.  I didn’t want to call the doc to tell him my water broke because I expected he’d make me come in and be induced.  I really wanted to wait for my own body to do its thing.

But I finally caved.  Indeed, he wanted me to go to the hospital to get checked out.  They confirmed several things.  Yes, my water had broken.  No, I wasn’t having strong contractions on my own. No, they wouldn’t let me leave to wait at home.  No, I couldn’t leave the bed.  Yes, the cafeteria was closed all night.

So I spent the rest of the night enveloped in a huge hospital johnny, strapped to machines reminding me that I wasn’t really in labor, and pouting.  My doc did let me wait… And wait… wishing I were home in bed waiting… until about 2 am.  Then they decided to induce contractions.  We couldn’t leave, couldn’t sleep, and I wasn’t allowed to move.  I agreed.

As they started pumping in the drugs, my hopes fell.  If we were going to do things their way, I decided we’d do it all the way.  I got an epidural for the first time in any of my non-surgical births.    It did make the relentless medicine easier to bear.  At 4:35 Sunday morning, all seven pounds and three ounces of little Ezra slipped into the snowy world.  He looks like his brothers and is, of course, perfect. 🙂

credit: Danielle Brady
credit: Danielle Brady

It wasn’t how I’d planned it (I wonder if it ever is).  But he has arrived.  I did get to go home before the next snowstorm about 36 hours later.  It snowed in our family of eight.  Eight!  I’m trying hard not to do too much more than snuggle my children, old and new, and occasionally clean pickle juice off the floor.

The day Ezra was born, I bumped into Genesis 41:52, the verse in which Joseph named his second son.  Ephraim.  “For God has called me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

I could pout about the way labor went, or I could breathe in the sweet smell of my newborn’s head as he nurses (I don’t get why I will smell like sour milk and sweat while he can smell so delicious) and choose to be thankful it was all for a purpose.

IMG_3639

Wouldn’t trade it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be on the sofa drooling in sore-backed exhaustion while the toddler paints himself with yogurt on the rug and the kids try to sneak M and M’s and video game time.

It’s a wonderful life.

credit: Danielle Brady
credit: Danielle Brady

To Kill a Mockingbird

I’m nesting.

Baby clothes are washed.  Everyone’s fingernails have been clipped.  Those cobwebs in the corner were finally vacuumed.  Groceries are stocked.  Grandma is standing by the phone.

whatever 031

This pregnancy has nearly reached its magnum opus.  Soon I’ll get to hold the baby in my arms rather than waddling like a hippo-sized penguin with it balanced under my belly button.  The anticipation is growing, and I want everything to be ready.

Unfortunately, I am not one of those who make neat, tightly woven nests. I’m flighty, as bird-brained as they come – and that’s when I’m not even pregnant.  Add homeschooling, five little boys, and general homemaking in a little house, and life gets messy.  Really messy.

IMG_3085

It was about 7:00 yesterday evening that I had to admit the truth.  Grandma had graciously helped me with laundry all day, even changing the sheets on the top bunk beds (always an adventure, even when you’re not pregnant).  I had just pulled the toddler from the bath.  A second later, the little streaker raced into our bedroom, clambered onto the freshly laundered white sheets, snuggled down next to the pillows with a huge grin… And peed.

That was when I should have started humming, “Let it go… let it go…”  But I couldn’t.  It did bother me.  I stood there, diaper in hand, staring face to face with reality (and a happy naked baby on a wet mattress.)  Everything is not going to be ready for this new baby.  No matter how hard I’ve tried…

It would be nice to plan a birth like we do a wedding, every detail accounted for right down to the weather.  But every baby born in a snow storm is proof that God has other ideas.

You’d think I’d know this by my sixth child.  You can’t prepare for a miracle.  Not really, even though you know it’s coming.  There is a new soul coming into the world.  A new promise.  A new person.  Sure, you can buy diapers, make freezer meals, and practice deep breathing for labor, but you can’t be really be ready to carry the weight of a fragile new life in your arms.

I’ve thought of Jesus often recently.  He steadfastly set his face toward Jerusalem in the weeks before his death.  He prepared himself.  He prepared his friends.  But still, the night before his gruesome torture, he wrestled with control.  Jesus had complete control of his destiny.  And it was the one thing he had to give away.

My body will be held by others even as his was.

I will go through contractions much like he bore every lash of the whip.

Others will cover me in clothes I would rather not wear (those darn one-size-fits-none hospital jonnys) just as they clothed him in robes to mock his kingship.

I will bleed and cry in anguish for another even as he did.

Through pain, I will give life to someone helpless to live unless I do this. Just like Jesus.

After the marathon of birth, I will carry and sustain a new life that won’t say thank you or appreciate all I’ve done for it, similar to what Jesus bears in our salvation.

I will lose control of everything that is comfortable and predictable in my life for the joy set before me.  Just like he did – for me.

Can I be so bold as to associate my own life with the life of God himself?    I think we – as mothers – are given this singular chance to carry in our own bodies the death of Jesus so that his life will be revealed by it.  (2 Corinthians 4:10).

This amazing miracle can only happen as I give over control of every little detail of my own life.  Sweat, pain, tears and humiliation will birth a new, perfect, fearfully and wonderfully made masterpiece.  There is no other way.

And this little masterpiece will fill my heart with joy like nothing else on earth.  And then it will pee on my bed.

I give up.

This nesting thing is for the birds.

IMG_3645

Letter to My Unborn Son

This was the first post I ever wrote on this blog, one and a half years ago.  But as I prepare for the impending birth of my next son, I still mean every word.

Dear Child,

I haven’t met you.  I don’t know you (though your roundhouse kicks to my ribs hint at strength and stubbornness ahead).  But I love you already and can’t wait to meet you next month.

I want the best for you.  Unfortunately, I am completely inadequate to be your mother.  Even if I pour my life into parenting you, I will fall short.  Already I do.  (Sorry about those doughnuts.  They gave us both a sugar crash later.)  Just ask your brothers in a few years, when they’re teenagers and you learn how to talk, they’ll tell you.  I will fail you.

I will get mad when isn’t your fault.

I will be too busy when you really just need me to listen.

I will be too lenient when you’re testing rules that should be safe and solid.

I will be too harsh when discipline isn’t the best teacher.

I will say no when I should say yes.

I will be a bad mom sometimes.  I’m sorry in advance.  Is this how Mary felt as she considered being Jesus’ mommy?  We’ve been entrusted with the impossible job of parenting perfectly.  No pressure.  It’s harder than you might think.

IMG_3549

For the record, sometimes you will think I’m being a bad mom when I’m actually trying to do what’s good for you.

I will say no when I shouldn’t say yes.  (More on that when you’re 2).

I will discipline you when you do wrong, belligerently disobey, or try to hurt someone.

I will set rules that must not be broken to protect your own safety and health.

I will teach you manners.

I will not give you candy before supper.

I will expect you to practice helping anyone who is smaller or weaker than you, and all girls, no matter how tough they are.

I will observe bedtime.

I will give you good food when you ask for junk, kick you outside to play when you want to watch too much t.v., and won’t move the car until you’re buckled.

Because even Mary had to set boundaries for Jesus when He was little.  Even Jesus couldn’t play in traffic.  Even Jesus had to take turns.  Even Jesus had to learn to read when he would rather have been in the sandbox.

Jesus didn’t come to earth because it was going to be easy.  He didn’t pick Mary for His mom because she was perfect, or beautiful, or rich.  He didn’t come to be comfortable.  Jesus didn’t come to earth to be happy.

He came to a hard world, a young, imperfect mother, and a very difficult, painful purpose.  It pleased God – His Dad – to put Him here.  His Dad loved Him more than I even love you (because He could).  So because I love you, I must expect the same for you.  I want more for you than just happiness.

It’s a little late for you to back out of this.  In fact, I’m expecting you to jump in head first.  Literally.  But don’t worry, even Jesus laughed sometimes.  In fact, I’m pretty sure He had an infectious giggle.  Even when He grew up, kids loved being around Him, so He must have been a pretty fun guy.

He had lots of brothers, just like you.

He enjoyed food, just like you will. (He spent lots of time eating with friends).

He had lots of energy, just like you. (He worked hard and walked everywhere).

He had an awe of nature, knowing that His Dad had made it to be enjoyed and used by Him as well as you.

He had the power to fill and to break His mom’s heart, just like you.

And He knew His mom loved him.  Just like you.

There are mountains to climb out here.  There are books to read.  There is chocolate; there is steak.  There are pretty girls (we’ll discuss them later…)  There is hard work, sweat, and pain.  But there is laughter, deep joy, and times of rest.  There are big trucks.  There is darkness.  There is hope.  There are hugs and cuddles.  There is lonliness.  There are puppies.  There is dirt.  There is ice cream.  There is so much to discover.

I cannot promise you happiness.  But I will try to teach you joy.

I cannot promise you painlessness.   But I will be there to kiss your booboos and stick on band aids.

I cannot promise you comfort.  But I will try to buffer the hurts when I know they are coming.

I cannot promise you immediate gratification.  But I will try to help you accept the waiting.

I cannot promise you sunshine and warmth.  But I will dance with you in the rain.

I cannot promise you won’t get dirty.  But I will give you bubble baths.

I cannot promise you won’t get sick.  But I will soothe your pain.

I cannot promise you won’t be afraid.  But I will chase monsters with you in the dark and hold your hand when you feel small.

I cannot promise you won’t fail.  You will make mistakes; you will try your hardest and still lose.  Sometimes.  But I will help you get up and try again.  And again.  And again.

I cannot promise I won’t fail you.  In fact, I guarantee I will.  But I will teach you about Jesus’ Dad – the One who put you here in the first place – and I guarantee He will never fail you.  I can’t wait to introduce you to Him.

I’m looking forward to joining you on the grand adventure, baby.  See you soon!

Love, Mom

They're waiting for you...
They’re waiting for you…

P.S.  That first step of life is a doozy.  For both of us.  You can start practicing now being a good sleeper for mama, ok?  Thanks.

Mommy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Holiday Season

‘Twas the night before yesterday, and I happened to be scrolling through Facebook.  Nestled between warm photos of my friends’ brightly-lit new Christmas trees, I saw the candle ad, “How to make your house smell like Christmas.”   I scrolled down, past the six people who had shared a new rendition of a favorite carol, and blinked briefly at the twinkly-perfect blog titled something like, “Simple Ways to get the Look of Christmas.”   After a a few more smiling-through-snowflake-family pictures slid by, a pretty meme sign popped up with a bunch of happy faces, proclaiming “It’s starting to feel like Christmas.”

I turned off the monitor and wrinkled my nose.

My house smelled like diapers and boiled over dinner.  My living room looked like a tornado had done the decorating.  My emotions felt a lot like they had in November, and October, and last year.  I wasn’t full of cheer as I crunched a Cheerio under my bare foot.  I was (you might want to sit down) grumpy about Christmas.

The ninja-bread man
The ninja-bread man

It’s true.  It’s not just that I won’t win any Pinterest awards for great fake snow and shimmery lights and cinnamon pinecones arranged around a rough hewn hand painted pallet sign proclaiming the real reason for the season. Haha. No. There is a stuffed snowman peeking out half-guiltily from the mantle, and a stack of junk mail telling me all the great seasonal deals I’m missing at all the stores.  But otherwise there isn’t much in the house to belie the tinselly-mood we’re supposed to be reveling in.

I lay on the kitchen floor on Saturday. The toddler used my hips for climbing practice, but I hardly noticed. The fog of exhaustion was too thick.  I really should have bundled all the kids up and out of the house to buy diapers at a big box store – but it was the day after Black Friday.  That’s an adventure on a “normal” day!  Or I could have taken them to cut a Christmas tree – eight months pregnant, with a toddler and a kid in a wheelchair and three more offering to handle the saw.  I could have simply cleared the table and offered to make everyone cocoa and stick in a Christmas CD while they made red and green paper chains.  But I didn’t.  I just didn’t have it in me.

I’d caught a cold the week before, and hadn’t managed to shake it before Thanksgiving.  It’s not like moms get sick days.  My husband, who works in retail, had already been putting in long days and weeks leading up to the holiday season, even though the Advent countdown had yet to begin.  I missed marriage.  I wished I’d socked away more savings so I could have Christmas shopping done already, but  with car repairs and things breaking, money -and time – had been tight.  The boys, sensing my own impatience and discontent, seemed intent on clashing over every little thing.  The house felt small; I couldn’t even imagine fitting a tree into our overflowing house, let alone the new baby due early in the next year.  So I just lay there, tired, overwhelmed, and not the least bit full of wonder in the magic of the season.  I simply wondered how it would all happen.

But still… I wished I could feel some of that wonder, see some anticipation in my kids’ eyes as we prepare for a grand holiday, and maybe smell something more engaging than the morning’s eggs in the kitchen.

So I prayed that prayer again, the one I need to.  “Lord, let me see with Your eyes, touch with Your hands, feel with Your heart.”

And I realized, it really would be dumb to throw a pity party for someone who has everything they need but not everything they want.  Just because my Christmas won’t be as American-perfect as everybody (on Twitter) says it should.

I bet Mary didn’t get to go to every holiday brunch and cookie-swap to get all enveloped in the wonder of the season.  She was too busy being snubbed by her family and friends for claiming to be a nine-month-pregnant-virgin.  She was too busy bringing forth a baby in a pig sty to worry about bringing anyone cheer.  Her arms were so full of the Promise of Life; they had no room for  spruce boughs or tangled strings of lights or sale flyers or plates of gingerbread men or party clothes or cards with smiling family pictures.  The only entertaining she did was of uninvited smelly raucous shepherds, surrounded by the literal blood, sweat and tears of childbirth in a dirty stable.  No one even hung a string of lights around the stable door.  It was cold.  Dark.  Dirty.  Embarrassing.  How very un-Christmassy.

For us, a tree will find a place (where, hopefully, the toddler won’t be able to climb it).  Presents will appear.  Decorations (after a fashion, don’t judge) will distract from some of the clutter and chaos.  The kids will have cocoa mustaches and chant familiar carols and help decorate gingerbread.  We will survive the busy season, and, darn it all, we will enjoy some of it.  It is one of the tougher seasons of motherhood, requiring ever so much more than the just the impossibility of normal.  But even though Mary didn’t have a smartphone to document every dramatic moment, she did have the memories.  She didn’t make them.  They just happened.

The pressure started to slide off my shoulders.  Maybe it wasn’t all on me to force my family into the perfect Christmas season.  Yes, there is a lot to do.  But if I don’t throw the Christmas party-event-of-the-season this year, chances are good my kids will still be socially accepted.  If they get underwear and new pajamas rather than jet-powered boots that can blast them into space (that was on one of their wish lists), I’ll just have to hope they won’t need therapy to recover.  If we make and eat a dozen fewer kinds of cookies, I doubt I can call that a bad thing.

And if they really feel the need to experience the perfect Christmas environment, I bet some of our friends’ houses will uplift their spirits with peppermint and cinnamon.  I know you’re out there.  I’ve seen your social media accomplishments.  But don’t worry, I won’t be competing.

Take that, Charlie Brown
Take that, Charlie Brown