Escapism

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Yesterday morning, I was scurrying through the bathroom on the way to do something with some kid to get them ready for school when I heard the radio announcer talking about a show that night, and having tickets to give away. When I realized what the show was, I dove for the phone, because except for Christian, we were uncommitted and this was one of the shows I had intended to try to get tickets for in the first place before, well, the last few weeks happened.

So I got the tickets and I told the kids we were going to an acrobatics show, but I didn’t really know what it was, and truthfully I was kind of nervous, because I was tired and emotionally drained and the last thing I wanted was to have to buck up four whiny attitudes, and I was terrified that I’d remembered wrong and what we were getting ourselves into wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly what I’d been picturing, but it was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen. I wince on behalf of my community, which didn’t attend it well, because I can’t imagine the audience that wouldn’t like it:

In a week when sorrow feels numb and outrage feels impotent and discouragement is threatening to feel like despair at the end of a series of weeks that feel like being on the receiving end of a whack-a-mole, I am so, so grateful for an hour of pure delight and wonder and escapism…with no need for violence or villains.

And the fact that all my kids adored it…even the tween who hates EVERYTHING.

And the wonder of watching what the human body is capable of.

And a haircut.

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Look, my laptop takes such poor quality pictures, it almost looks artsy!

And secondhand scarves, because I love scarves.

And a good conversation with a friend.

And the tone of my husband’s voice on the phone in the background.

And the return of anxiety, because it’s teaching me about the relationship among anxiety, scrupulousness, and hampered spiritual growth, and challenging me to move forward.

For a good air-clearing within my marriage about where we stand on a particular point of stress in our world, which may be a baby step, but it’s still the first step forward.

For a weekend of baby love, and the promise of another one coming up.

And for a woman willing to spend a weekend with my crazy kids so we can have aforementioned baby love weekend.

For a massage. Because maybe my back won’t hurt in the middle of the night tonight.

For college students who want to work with the Down syndrome community…because we have so many ideas and zero time and energy to bring them to fruition!

For dipping below 130 on the scales again, however fleetingly.

For being too busy to cook desserts, which makes it slightly more likely that I could pull it off two days running.

For homemade yogurt and kombucha, and the way I feel different…even if it’s totally psychological.

And for homemade sourdough bread.

And a really good walk this morning.

And rain. Because oh, how we need rain, with our crunchy grass in September.

That’s my gratitude list. Are you thinking of yours?

 

Reset

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Photo by Wendy House, via Flickr

We’ve been all drama, all the time lately (read: escalating for months) in our house, and for a couple of weeks, I’ve been telling people I’m ready for 2017 to cease to exist. Like, it should be wiped off the annals altogether. I know it’s not a sound way of looking at things–the hardest times are the ones that teach us most and gift us with the most life lessons, and anyway it’s not like my troubles compare to those faced by many others–but sometimes you’re just done and that’s all there is to it. That’s where I am right now. Just done. I’m at my breaking point. My tolerance is gone.

But, as is often the case, when the universe (AKA God) has a lesson for me to learn, he’s not subtle about it. I was reading a memoir called Hourglass, and the author shared a conversation with an older woman who said, “Yeah, I had a bad time of it for a little while. About twenty-four years.”

Two nights later I grabbed my “January book,” where every New Year’s Day I write down a summary of the past year and my goals for the one to come. I knew the content of the most recent entry, yet one thing, I found, I had forgotten. I wrote, “2016 was a terrible year. I just want to wipe it out of existence.”

Sitting there, staring at those words, I realized if I don’t want to have a twenty-four-year-long “bad time,” I have to do whatever I can to change my own narrative. There are a lot of practical applications for that, but probably the first is that I need to start looking for things to be grateful for again. Years ago I participated in the 1000 Gifts blog hop, and from that experience I know nobody else really cares about my lists, but that isn’t really the point. So I will begin my gratitude list again, and I give everyone carte blanche to stop reading before you get there–as long as you go looking for your own things to be grateful for. Maybe if a whole lot of us make some attitude-change ripples, we can reset not only ourselves, but large things. Things beyond our sphere of influence.

I am grateful for the bike ride I haven’t had time to detail.

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For friends willing to donate time to play with me on a recital this weekend.

For manuscript requests.

For the fact that having 10 tons of drama dumping on my/our head/s every moment prevents me from assigning drama to the novel query process. (That’s a really big deal.)

For what appears (and had darned well better be) the end of a plague in our house.

For the beginning of experimenting with fermented foods.

For expanding horizons inside my heart.

For the grace to interact with people on controversial topics without becoming too anxious to sleep.

For the most unwelcome resurfacing of anxiety, which has sparked all these reflections.

For cheesecake.

And the fact that cheesecake doesn’t last very long in the house.

For chenin blanc.

And although I never thought I’d utter these words, for Pit Bull.

That’s probably enough to start.

 

Home Alone on Thanksgiving

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thankful (Photo credit: madison faith)

When my husband was growing up, he lived a thousand miles from his cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. A family of eight does not travel well over that kind of distance, so generally they spent their holidays as a nuclear family, in their own home, by themselves, and they developed strong traditions around that structure.

When I was growing up, both my parents’ families tried to get together for one or the other of the big winter holidays, usually no more than two hours from our house. A family of six can’t travel well over large distances, either, but two hours is entirely doable. Thus, I grew up looking forward with all my might to extended family gatherings around the holidays. (Cousins rock, people. Right there’s a reason to have large(r) families.)

I always found the idea of a holiday spent at home, with nothing but your own family, incredibly depressing. To me, that’s sort of the point of the holiday: a break from the same people and surroundings you inhabit every day. I have always viewed a holiday spent with just us as the height of all that is depressing in the universe.

But this year, family circumstances are such that we spent Thanksgiving at home, by ourselves. My sister and her family joined us for Friday afternoon and evening, but outside of that, we were home alone from Wednesday through this morning.

And I am converted.

It was so relaxing. Our family is on the go All.The.Time. Having a super-long, unstructured weekend was a rare gift. It felt like a deep breath and a long, slow, relaxing exhale. I got to go to Mass and do Jazzercise on Thanksgiving morning, prepare a moderate Thanksgiving dinner (one vegetable, one starch, well, okay, two, but stuffing doesn’t count), eat it on my family’s schedule. We Skyped with a couple of family members, the kids played downstairs, and Christian and I pulled together some of what we needed to organize about our lives in the coming weeks. We’ve done most of our Christmas shopping already, so we waved off shopping entirely–Christian had to get an extension cord, and I needed to grocery shop, but both of us timed the outings to avoid the feeding frenzy. We took the kids to Chuck E Cheese on Saturday afternoon. We didn’t even have to play at church on Sunday, so we went to our old stomping grounds for late Mass in the gap between Michael’s naps.

At the end of this interval, the kids are sick of each other’s company, and everyone’s chomping at the bit to return to the routine. Especially me. 🙂 But I loved this Thanksgiving, and I hope we have more like it in the years to come.

There’s a lesson in this, if I can only figure out how to apply it more widely. More is not better, or richer, or more fulfilling. Less is not barren; a smattering of activity, strung jewel-like along a weekend, is beautiful; crowding ten times as many “jewels” into the same stretch of “rope” just looks gaudy and overwhelming.

Nothing surprising in that paragraph. But it’s nice to know it applies to holidays, too.

Making Peace With My Birthday

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Photo by Packfill, via Flickr

For most of my life, my birthday and I have had a pretty dysfunctional relationship. It’s not about age–I’m seeing the first hints of the aging process taking its toll, and I don’t like that, but psychologically speaking, I think this whole obsession with youth is ridiculous. No, it’s about the day itself: the purpose of celebrating, the proper way to celebrate, the attitude I should be cultivating.

It’s a day all about you! Your day, your way! You should get to do whatever you want to do, and no one and nothing should stand in your way! In other words: me, me, me. For one day, I am the center of the universe.

The trouble is, for thirty-seven years I tried that route, and I’ve had way more bad birthdays than good ones. You know why? Because the world isn’t all about me, even on my birthday. It’s no one else’s responsibility to make me happy. In fact, they couldn’t possibly succeed in making me happy, because what I really wanted was for someone to read my mind and figure out what I needed in order to be happy and give it to me, because I didn’t know.

(Sick, I know.)

All I had was a vague sense that I shouldn’t have to work. Every year I trotted out the tradition from my parents’ household, that the birthday girl didn’t have to do dishes. And from that I drew up a wholly unsustainable vision of a birthday as a do-nothing, responsibility-free day. And then I was never happy, because it never turned out that way.

This year, my thirty-eighth birthday, I accepted a truth I’ve known for a long time: a birthday for a mother (or a father) is different from a birthday for a child. You don’t necessarily get the first piece of cake (I mean, you could, but your ice cream would be half melted by the time you finished getting the little ones’ cake and ice cream cut up for them, so what’s the point?). You don’t go wild with excitement over presents (what do adults go wild with excitement over?).

You don’t stop being an adult just because it’s your birthday, and trying to act otherwise is a recipe for unhappiness. Like it or not, there are still kids to feed and dress, clothes to fold, and dishes to wash.

And if you can make peace with that, you will find that the efforts your family puts forth on your behalf will be enough to evoke that little glow of satisfaction you were looking for all along.

For a rain chain, three pairs of pajamas, an umbrella, and a rain gauge….
and more importantly, 4/10 of an inch of rain to go with them
(even if that’s barely enough to scratch the surface of the worst drought in 50 years)…

For a twenty-mile bicycle ride with my husband
and a relaxing picnic beneath a tree beside a soybean field

For hundreds of online well-wishes (Facebook rocks, I don’t care what anyone says)
especially the thoughtful and personalized ones  from people I respect

For a student coming to help me clean house in exchange for lessons
and the end of the overwhelming set of deadlines coming into view

For Nicholas officially becoming the first of my children to be completely toilet trained, even at night (woohoo!)

Sharing with Multitude Mondays and Just Write

The Beauty of Light and Dark

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Photo by exquisitur, via Flickr

There’s a quote I think of often, from a movie that never hit the big time, but which has really stuck with me over the years: Grand Canyon. “Everything seems so close together,” the character Claire tells her husband. “All the good and bad things in the world. I feel it in myself, even. And in us. Our marriage.”

There seems to be a deep truth in that quote, but I’ve never quite managed to wrap my head around it, until this week in my nursing-time reading, I started reading what Henri Nouwen had to say on the subject of gratitude and celebration.

His argument is that every occasion of celebration also involves loss: when you get married, it’s union, but also departure from the family ties that formed us; when you graduate and get a job, you lose the environment of constant seeking and stimulation of being in school. And so on. To celebrate life means to celebrate the whole works–the ups and downs are part and parcel of the same thing; we aren’t supposed to celebrate one part and merely tolerate the other. “Those who are able to celebrate life can prevent the temptation to search for clean joy or clean sorrow,” he said. “Life is not wrapped in cellophane and protected against all infections.”

“Gratitude is a difficult discipline, to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future….I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say ‘everything is grace.'”

 (Quotes from The Essential Henri Nouwen, edited by Robert A. Jonas. You should buy this book. Today.)

I know the truth of this; if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, that there’s a reason for all we’re asked to suffer, that it’s in life’s difficult moments that we learn the most important lessons. But it’s easy to wax philosophical when life is good. Not so easy to touch that truth when the tough times come calling. Or move in.

But where I really see these words intersecting my world is in the everyday. It’s not the big stuff that gets me, it’s the constant low hum of self-sacrifice, noise and chaos when my soul’s natural state is quiet and solitude. And yet the blessing is the curse. Look how rich my life is. You can’t have four little ones running around, eight pairs of chubby, soft arms around your neck, four separate adorable giggles, all the heart-catching moments beyond count, without the noise and chaos.

Everything is so close together. The good and the bad, they are the same thing, shined on from east and west. I may never say, “Thank you, God, that my children are banging on everything in sight and Michael finds things on the floor to choke on even after I’m sure we’ve gotten every single thing up and I have to issue the instruction six times for every individual book I want them to put away.” But I can appreciate the gift–that amazing gift so many long so deeply for–of my children. I can acknowledge that what seems like light and dark are really one and the same, and simply be grateful for the gift of life, with all its shades, and choose not to focus on what irritates.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess. 5:16-18)

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Shared with Hear It On Sunday, Use It On Monday and Multitude Mondays.

After a Good Night’s Sleep

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photo by Martin LaBar (on hiatus), via Flickr

Today, I am thankful for sleeping till 7:15, and being awakened by the slanting rays of sunlight instead of a baby’s cries or an obnoxious alarm clock.

I am thankful for a husband who knew he could offer me a welcome rest by taking two kids with him when he went to visit family. And who took the child I most needed a break from–the one who does not know how to shut off his voice box unless he’s asleep, and sometimes not even then.

I am thankful for sleeping in the middle of the bed, and children who were in bed by 8p.m., giving me some much-needed down time.

I am thankful for sleeping with the windows open.

I am thankful for two days in which I actually was able to concentrate on my novel–for the first time in months, feeling that I actually accomplished something on it, because of the quiet around the house.

But I am thankful, too, for a much-needed reminder that the child who is hardest for me to deal with right now is probably the one who needs me most .

And I am thankful that the quiet, the bed to myself, the sleeping late, was only for this one night. I am thankful that by dinnertime, we’ll have all the chaos back. It’s not the chaos I miss–I could do without that forever–but the love it represents. Because the truth is that, just as motherhood is a variegated flower containing both light and dark, so is family. You can’t have one without the other.

And that insight is perhaps the most important “gratitude” of all.

Hitting Pause to say…thank you

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Photo by honor the gift, via Flickr

I feel a need to pause today and say thank you. On two separate subjects, actually.

From the moment we first realized we might have to take Michael early, people have been extending themselves for us. At first, we kept a list so we could send thank you notes, like, y’know, people are supposed to do. Like we’ve always done before. But before long, the stream of generosity outstripped our ability to keep track of it. In prayers, in child care, in child transport, in meals, in house cleaning, in hospital visits and meals brought there, in gifts and cards and help planning the baptism party, and simply in avid interest in our family’s story (my blog hits have been crazy high lately)–in all these ways, you people have blessed us. We owe one heck of a debt of karma on the universe, and I’m so excited to start paying it forward…because I know I can never pay it back.

And speaking of the blog, that brings me to the second topic: comments.

There are bloggers who respond to every single comment people leave, often simply saying “thanks for visiting!”  I’ve never wanted to do that. As much verbiage as I spew, I like it to be meaningful. I’d rather have horizontal conversation with people. In other words, if I play arbiter to each and every response, it feels like I’m the great almighty Blogger before whom you all lay your burnt offerings of comments.

Not my style. I’ve got an ego, but I’m aiming myself at humility.

But if I don’t respond individually to a comment, that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant to me. I’ve always wished I had a way to personalize my comment box the way people on other platforms can. If I could, it would say something like this: Every comment you leave is like a piece of candy thrown to a child at a parade: a cause for delight and warm fuzzies in my chest. Affirmations lift me up; disagreements (respectfully phrased) promote understanding–and I love, love, LOVE to read your stories, when you share them. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I had a simple “like” button, because your words stand on their own and I would like to affirm them without drawing attention back to myself. Someday, when I graduate to a more sophisticated blogging platform than .com, I will make sure I have a way to do that.

In any case, as insufficient as this medium is, I would just like to say thank you to you all, from the bottom of my heart. Every day I understand better what Luke said in the infancy narrative: Mary kept all these things and treasured them in her heart. Sometimes that’s all you can do, because words are woefully insufficient.

Vignettes

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…At 9:00, Christian and I make our way upstairs to do a little spiritual reading before going to bed. He turns on the strobe on his phone and checks the kids as he does every night, scolding, teasing or re-tucking-in depending on circumstance. Tonight, he comes into the bedroom laughing afterward: Nicholas is not asleep. In the center of his bed sits a pile of blankets almost two feet high, with no sign of footed jammies anywhere. “Nicholas, where are you?” he asks.

“Wight hee,” says Nicholas, from the opposite corner of the bunk. “I tuck my bay in!” Sure enough, Christian finds a two-inch-high stuffed Christmas ornament bear peeking out from beneath the Leaning Tower of Blankets…

…Attending Mass at Newman a few weeks ago leads to Alex begging to participate in their Christmas pageant. Because he’s not a member, he can’t have a speaking role, but he is playing a shepherd, who is to be led to the manger by an angel. Conveniently enough, his partner angel is his best (girl) friend from school. He comes out of rehearsal in high spirits. “Mommy, E__ and I are walking down the aisle together!” he says. “We hold hands!” He doesn’t understand why Mommy and Daddy have to pinch our lips to keep from laughing—or why we won’t explain it to him…

…We haven’t been down to the woods as much this year as in past years. Pregnant, tired mommy? Writing-busy mommy? Or just lazy mommy? In any case, there aren’t many days left to enjoy in the woods, so one morning I take the little ones down to the creek. I sit down, sharp rocks poking my heavy bottom, as Nicholas throws rocks. Julianna stands with her toes at the very edge of the creek, throws a rock or two, and then, quietly, without fuss, comes over to me and plants herself on my left leg for a snuggle. Fine brown hair against my cheek, body nestled against mine. We look up together as an unexpectedly warm late-fall wind sets the bare sycamores and russet-crowned oaks to dancing. “Buh-buh-buh,” she says as a bird flies overhead—one of many protowords she uses now. And it is a perfect moment…quiet, serene, and all too fleeting…

Head of a fetus, aged 29 weeks, in a "3D ...

…I sit at the computer desk, and my insides flutter. I know that by bedtime I’ll feel bloated; in the middle of the night, the baby will shift so far to one side that I’ll moan as I try to roll over–that by morning, my back will ache from lack of support. But in this moment, the raindrop-trickle of little limbs and fingers on my insides feels like grace itself…

There are so many things to be thankful for, this week of giving thanks. I whisper the list silently skyward, but these I preserve and share.

May the coming holiday be full of grace, and peace, and love. I’ll see you all back here on Monday.

The Aftermath of an Apocalyptic Dream

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I had a dream last night. It began as a movie preview for an apocalypse: the earth split and pulled back, and then, in equal and opposite reaction, came rushing back, oceans rushing over everything in tidal waves the likes of which Hollywood hasn’t yet imagined, the face of the earth rearranging to such an extent that our whole concept of geography shifted.Indianabecame west ofColorado,Californiacomprising the East Coast, that kind of thing.

“EAST…MEETS…WEST,” said the preview voice.

Being a dream, of course, it didn’t stop there. I was in the middle of it, observing in a detached, Godlike sort of way. First I just watched the waters rearrange the earth; then I began thinking about what it must be like to be the people caught in it, and immediately I began to see it. They were lucky, those who died in that apocalypse. Instantaneous, all over without time to experience pain or fear.

I half woke, long enough to remind myself there was no reason to keep thinking about it, and then slipped back into slumber, where I was trying to round up my family. We stopped by Julianna’s preschool and I went room to room, scavenging without conscience. What was I scavenging? Not what you’d think.  Not food and clothing. No, I was after Kleenex and ibuprofen. Tylenol I was really keen on, because of course, being pregnant, I can’t take ibuprofen. (Never did find that.) I went back to the car and we drove, and drove, and drove. My cell phone in my pocket, it transpired, was unlocked and I was inadvertently sending nonsense, wasting precious prepaid minutes.

I never did reach the fabled meeting point where I would reunite with my family. Fortunately, my alarm went off.

It was just a dream—nothing truly earth-shattering (I’ll never look at that term the same way again!). But I woke up thinking about the things I take for granted. There are the obvious things, like family and a home and sleeping in security, knowing the most precious parts of you lie safe in their beds. But there are so many things in my life that don’t even register on the gratitude scale: acetaminophen, facial tissue—tools we use and throw away without thinking. When a kid gets a runny nose in the third world, what do they do? The dichotomy between what we think is so important and what we find actually matters keeps smacking me in the face.

Today I head to our diocesan Teachers’ Institute, where I’m slotted to wax eloquent on Advent and liturgy for school kids, and to play piano forMass. Today I set myself this task: to be cognizant of the small luxuries that have become necessities without my ever noticing…and to be grateful for them. While I’m offline, won’t you look around and see what insignificant, extraneous things in your life you’ve ceased to notice enough to be grateful for?

The Best House Guests Ever

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The doorbell rang at 5:15 p.m. on Friday. “Hey, guys, Mr. Kyle’s here!” I called, and went to open the door for my good friend from grad school. I’ve been looking forward to this visit for months, but I wasn’t prepared for my children’s enthusiasm. As I stepped back from greeting them with hugs, Nicholas pounded across the living room: “Aaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiyyy!” colliding with Kyle’s legs and hugging them tight. Julianna tore forward, her face split by a goofy grin, giggling as she threw herself into Beth’s arms.

It’s been two years since we saw Kyle, and Beth was a new acquaintance. And yet there are friends with whom somehow you can always pick up right where you left off—and with whom there is no awkward, formal getting-to-know-you stage. We didn’t stop talking all weekend. Completely geeked out about liturgy and faith (they both work for the Church), agriculture, families—barely touched on reminiscing about school days.

They were so good with the kids, too. So often when adults try to visit it’s like a wrestling match: who gets my attention, the kids or the guests? But the kids spent the entire weekend crawling all over the visitors, who by all appearances reveled in the chaos. My children multiplied their usual hyperactivity several times over. They were so excited. Every morning, when the guests came upstairs, the squeals of delight reprised. Sunday morning at breakfast, Kyle lifted his head. “What’s that sound?” he joked. “Is that quiet? I haven’t heard that all weekend!”

We went bike riding on Saturday, and the four adults spent Saturday evening crowded on and around the air mattress in the basement, snacking on popcorn and talking till our throats were raw, joking about how it felt like a sleepover. After Kyle played through some new music and critiqued it for me.

It’s rare to have the privilege of hosting people who are at home with you from the first moment. Who feel comfortable enough to help themselves to the M&M bag—and instead of being annoyed, you rejoice in the level of their comfort. I didn’t touch the dish sink all weekend, because by the time I got ready to start, they had the dishes well underway.

And they gave us a Shakespeare’s gift certificate.

Sunday morning, Kyle sang with the choir for Pentecost, and afterward we said our goodbyes and they headed home. “Did you enjoy their visit?” Christian asked Alex as he backed out of the parking spot at church.

“Yes, only…” And suddenly Alex wailed, “it wasn’t long enough!”

I agree, my boy. I agree.

Today I am grateful for…

The best house guests ever

a perfect day for a bike ride (except for the mosquitoes)

the beauty of the river

picking up where we left off

new friends

a grown-up “sleepover” (especially nice b/c at the end of it I got to sleep in my own bed, not in some uncomfortable sleeping bag!)

An amazing Monday morning sky as the clouds drift in:

     the air yellow and intimate

     cornflower blue sky dotted with salmon-colored clouds in the southwest

     smudgy gray clouds, almost disappearing into the sky, outlined in brilliant white-silver

     cotton ball blobs atop shimmering gray-yellow formations in the east

     the low grumble of thunder

My love for my sick child

The end being in sight for all my deadlines

An improvement in attitude