Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Ordinary Day, Four Years Back

This week, I had the opportunity to speak on a new topic I have been working on for some time. In preparing for the talk, I collected many pictures of my children playing outside. For two days, both Mark and I wandered through our hard drive looking at the faces of our children as babies, as toddlers, as school-aged children. In one picture, Noah and Benjamin are running down the driveway of our old house. It was taken nearly 4 years ago and they are both looking forward, chasing a ball.

I am really not sure what happened when I saw that picture and I am really not sure why it was THAT picture that got me... but... in seeing my children, 4 years back, I missed them. I missed the little boys that the big boys used to be. I missed their tiny shoes, their smaller clothes, the way their little boy bodies fit neatly on my lap. I missed their simplicity, their laughter offered freely, the rhythm of a day focused less on activities and more on just caring for and being with my children.

Honestly, Mark and I have worked really hard to enjoy our kids, no matter the stage. We are not people who wish this day would pass so we can get on to the next thing. When our children were babies, we revelled in the newness of it. When they became toddlers, we laughed as they took those first wobbly steps. When they were two, we watched in amazement as they found their voices and made attempts to have some say over their young lives. When they began preschool, we celebrated their growing independence and ability to learn. When they left for school, we were overjoyed with their excitement for this new, huge world. And, as each thing came to pass, we missed the last stage some but found ourselves content with and proud of the people they were becoming.

So, I was surprised to find that I felt so sad in looking at that random, old picture. I love the boys they are today. I love how they make me laugh and I love that they have grown into a place where we can talk through the mysteries of life in a way that is more equal than instructive. But, that old photograph was a sign to me that it is going all too fast. Sometimes, when I am up to my eyeballs in children and schedules, the days can feel a little long. But, I remember that day when Noah and Benjamin were chasing that ball. I remember their laughter, their enthusiasm, their smaller bodies and simpler thoughts. I remember the sunshine, the temperature, the relaxing nature of a day lived doing what we wanted to do. And I know in my head that it was 4 years ago. But in my momma-heart, it was yesterday... or maybe just this morning.

It was a good reminder to me to not wish anything away. What seems like a regular moment today might be a warm and needful memory a year or two from now. I do not need to get through this day any faster than this day will go. Instead, I need sink my toes into this shifting sand and remember every detail of this ordinary day.

Today, the sun is out and the temperature is rising. Three of my sweet children have already gotten on a bus and ridden way too far away. Elizabeth, home with me, will head outside in just a while and when I am not playing with her, I need to watch. I need to see. I need to store up the way the sun lights her face, the way he feet don't touch the ground when she's riding on the swings, the way she runs head-long from one activity to the next all day long. I need to store it up for myself because all too quickly she will join her brothers and I will be home in the stillness with these memories all around. And I know that in that quiet minute, all things ordinary will become what really matters to me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

On Blogging and Brazil and Facebook and Finland

Spending time reflecting on the minutiae of my daily life has been helpful to me. Looking at my life surrounded by these precious little lives and wondering what I need to learn from them deepens this experience for me. And, writing about it can help those lessons and memories to stick. Originally this had been the hope and plan for this simple blog. Over time however, that view has changed, adjusted, become something new.

As I poke around my blog and hear from regular readers, I am reminded that this work of mothering may feel a titch lonely from time to time. But actually, it is done in vast community with others all over this amazing planet. I do not think I would be aware of this had I not chosen to blog but the reality of it is both comforting and humbling.

I was blog-surfing today and came across my blog listed on someone else's site. I have never met them and they live far away. But, to me, it was another reminder about how connected we really are... how our work in raising little ones is, at its very core, so similar. We may live in Alaska or Florida or somewhere in between, but we all woke up this morning, put our weary feet on the floor and began the day by responding to the needs of someone who is likely not old enough to vote. And, together, we will cook and clean and kiss and cuddle through this long and sunny Saturday until all are safe in bed and we fall, fatigued, into the same.

Every week, I help to run a MOMs Group with a great group of enthusiastic women. A few weeks ago, we wandered off-task into a discussion about Facebook. There are so many women who are in this stage of motherhood that have found there way to that site. We wondered together why there was so much enthusiasm for Facebook among this very busy group. Our talk together revealed some truth about our lives. While we love our families and we love our children and we would not change a thing... we can get a little lonely. We weary from talking in three word sentences and spending the day forgetting ourselves. We long for connection outside our home and seek to find that which we are doing, every single day, is also happening somewhere else. Please hear me... this work of mothering is worth it and full and glorious and good... but sometimes we get a little tired. Sometimes, we feel a little alone.

In finding my way to blogging, I never would have guessed that I would be able to connect to others all over the world. In the past month alone, folks have wandered in here from Malaysia, Canada, Argentina, Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Brazil, and 24 of the 50 states. My dear friends, can you see it? You are not alone. You are not alone. This is just one simple blog, one mom's thoughts on life with her family. But, standing all around us are moms from all over the world, doing exactly what we do. They are loving on their children, trying to find a minute to themselves, and looking for connection. Just like you. Just like me. This picture in my head is wonderful and rich and seeped in the kind of community that can renew our vision for what we really do. This picture of mommas in Brazil and Finland both embracing their babies makes me smile and feel encouraged. And maybe, just maybe, in imagining that scene somewhere else, I can see anew the importance of what I am doing today.

It is Saturday. I am home with my two youngest and the day is spread out before me. As I finish this blog, I am going to go upstairs, get dressed, and get my kids ready for a walk outside. We are going to take our dog and we are going to let the Spring sun fall upon our faces. We are going to sit at a baseball game and cheer for our team and we are going to wander outside looking for proof that Winter has ended and a new season has come. What about you? What does this Saturday hold for you? Wherever you are today, whatever you are doing, remember that there are others who laugh with you, share your frustration and know the minutiae of your ordinary day. And they know, like you, that there is power in the simplest moment; your child's arms around your neck, the peaceful breath of a newborn, the reckless abandon of a child at play, the kiss that you place on the forehead of your child. We all see that. Together. All over the world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Time to Play -- OUTSIDE!

As I prepare for a new speaking season, I have been reviewing current trends in parenting and reading bunches of books on those topics. I love to develop new talks and am really excited about my newest topic "Getting Your Kids Outside to Play!".

Playing outdoors has been a very important thing to Mark and I since the children were old enough to walk. I know it is a huge struggle for some folks who face fears and worries about their children being outdoors. I also am aware that many people believe that their children will really NOT know what to do. I spent about 20 minutes watching Elizabeth play in our backyard today and would like to share with you some of what she did during that time. She could not see me and was given no toys when she headed outside to play. Here is what I saw:

-Elizabeth runs as fast as possible out the door.
-Elizabeth begins running back and forth across the yard many, MANY times.
-She wanders to the garden and stares at the strawberry plants which have no blooms or berries yet.
-She runs as fast as she can to the play set.
-She runs half-way up the slide, comes down on her knees, and pops off the bottom.
-Elizabeth runs sideways 10 paces away from the play set and runs up the slide again.
-She runs up the slide and goes 10 paces off again and again.
-Elizabeth runs at the swings, hits them on her belly and swings that way for several minutes.
-Elizabeth tries to combine all three swings, pushing them all at once and watches them swing.
-She runs back to the garden and checks on the strawberry plants. Still no blooms.
-She runs back toward the house, I think she is coming in.
-Elizabeth notices a rubber band on the ground.
-She tries to shoot the rubber band as I wonder how she knows to do this.
-The first shot goes a few inches.
-The second shot goes a long way.
-Her face lights up!
-She spends several minutes trying to figure out what made the rubber band fly so far.
-In following the rubber band, she finds a piece of sidewalk chalk.
-She takes the chalk and colors the same spot of patio til the chalk is almost gone.
-Fingers chalky, she seems to look for water.
-Elizabeth finds a small table (patio furniture) over-turned by a recent storm.
-She wiggles the table legs and realizes there is water in the underside of the table.
-She lifts her pants and steps onto the overturned table, into 2 inches of water.
-She splashes a bit but the water does not enter her winter Crocs.
-She hops out of the water and takes off running across the yard.
-Back to the strawberries. You guessed it. No blooms.
-She is distracted by a robin that flies to the bird feeder.
-While watching the robin, a squirrel jumps onto the feeder.
-Elizabeth laughs out loud.
-She watches the birds and squirrels for a long while.
-Out of nowhere, Elizabeth takes off running to a nearby tree.
-She hangs upside-down on a low limb and lifts herself into the tree.
-Noticing something on the ground, she pops down and picks up a label that was blowing through the yard.
-The wind blows. She stops to watch the label blow and turns her face up toward the sun. The wind blows her hair away from her face.
-She runs into the side yard and I cannot see her. (The yard is fully fenced.)
-Several minutes go by, she comes running back.
-She notices her bike (training wheels) on the patio.
-She rides the bike back and forth across the patio for several minutes.
-Elizabeth heads back to the swings.

All in all she was outside about an hour. For a five year old child, that is a long time! She was happy and calm the whole time. She did not complain or come in needing one thing or another. She was not bored. And while I spent a lot of time watching her, I did have a few minutes to myself.

Spring is coming and the glorious days of summer will quickly follow. Our children need so much from us but some of what they need is LESS. Less entertaining. Less scheduling. Less intervening. Less electronics. Less toys. When we pull back and let our children play freely, they discover vivid imaginations, amazing nature, stress-free moments and the kind of activity that develops many sides of their little beings. They imagine a rock that looks like a bear. They turn a twig into a person. They feel the grass beneath their feet and the sun on their faces.
And it is good.

A little while ago, I tucked Elizabeth into bed for a nap. She was tired from her play and gladly lay down in her bed. She pulled her blanket up over her shoulders, pulled her baby in close and took a deep breath. I leaned in a kissed her forehead and smelled the outside on my girl. She fell asleep quickly and is up there now dreaming... of slides and running and squirrels and birds and bikes and yes, strawberries.

Good night, my sweet girl. Sleep well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Break --- Thursday --- And Only the Morning, At That...

We did not know. How could we know? There was no way to predict the turn our week would take on Thursday. And, there was no way to see that all the planning and activities we knew we wanted to accomplish would be completely lost by 8:00 AM.

Before I begin to tell our tale, it is important for you to know that we live right next to a huge woods. Now, perhaps when you think "woods" you picture something small and quaint and beautiful. A cluster of trees, a rabbit or two. This is nothing like the wilderness that runs around the back of our neighborhood. Our woods is full and deep with tracks made only by the deer that wander freely through our yard. Our woods is home to owl and coyote and is not somewhere we wander into lightly. We hold it in great respect and have been lost inside on various occasions, only to find our way out, hours later, unsure how we landed in the place where we did. It is a beautiful backdrop to our simple life and was a huge selling point when we put an offer on our very humble house.

So, yesterday morning, down one vehicle and Mark needing to work, we decided it would be best for me to drive him to a nearby train station for his commute downtown. It was early and that is the excuse I will use for being careless as we headed out the door. Some of you know that last summer we became the happy owners of a golden doodle puppy. Lexie is still all pup but has added 50 lbs to her fuzzy frame and is a constant companion to someone in our family. We really had no idea how attached we would become to this endless bundle of energy but in the last year, she has won us over and we cannot imagine life without her in it. So, as Mark and I prepared to leave for the train, we decided to take her along for the ride. I didn't leash her. I should have. I didn't know. How could I know?

Lexie was outside first. I followed right behind her and Mark was last out the door. As Mark and I headed down the stairs to the driveway, I noticed Lexie, just to my right, frozen and standing on our front lawn. Wondering what had captured her attention so completely, I looked up and followed her gaze. In our next door neighbor's yard stood two deer. They were frozen, too. I looked at Mark and Mark turned to call Lexie in but it was too late. The deer bolted and our puppy took off after them, running for all she was worth. Mark started yelling but it was no use. This was fun for her. These deer wanted to play! There was no thought, no hint of obedience, no reflections on safety... just running and running... and then, they were gone in the woods. Gone. Seriously, totally, no-way-to-see-hide-nor-hair-of-them, GONE.

Mark, dressed for work, ran into the woods yelling Lexie's name. I ran the other way doing the same. It was wet and mucky from rain and too much snow but we ran on anyway because our puppy was gone and we wanted her back. I circled back to the deer trail and followed it willy-nilly through the the pine grove on the wood's edge. Coming back out the clearing, I met up with Mark, both our hands in the air to signal that neither of us had her.

"It could be that we never see her again..." Mark said sadly.
It had been 30 minutes. She had already been gone half an hour.

Regrouping, Mark ran home to change clothes and find boots. I woke the kids, told them she was lost and asked them to get dressed and find boots. In minutes, we were split into teams in the woods. Mark and the older boys headed north to the deer bed, the little ones and I followed a creek down the long side of the woods and then cut back in at a clearing where there is little brush to obstruct our view. Nothing. No puppy.

I couldn't hear Mark and the older boys anymore. We were just too far apart. I knew the little ones were tired and we had already walked 30 minutes in. Josiah would call her name and then moan a little... almost a cry, but not quite. And I prayed and prayed as I walked... for protection, for return... and asked Josiah and Elizabeth to pray, too.

It is wild in the woods... thick and amazing and a little bit dangerous. It is mating season for the deer and I just kept thinking that if a buck finds my golden doodle chasing his deer, the antlers will settle that case... and Lexie will lose. I kept wondering what would happen if she came upon a group of coyotes settling in from a night of carousing here and there. One on one, she had hope, but a pack?

Finally, I told Josiah and Elizabeth we had to head back. We were tired from walking and hoarse from calling. Each of us was fighting off a heavy loneliness that encompasses those who have lost a pet. Our companion was not alongside. She was gone. And try as we might, we could not find her.

The woods ends at our neighborhood and just past that is a four-lane road. As we came out, I could hear the traffic... weekday, morning traffic... the world heading off to do what they do. The van was not in the driveway and I didn't know what to think. Did Mark find her and have to drive her off to the vet? Has he gone looking by van? We had come out the clearing and were still far from the house when I saw the van squeal around the corner, come up our street and turn quickly into our drive. Mark got out. No Lexie.

Not yet past the clearing, I put out my hands to signal that I didn't have her either and I could see him speaking to us but we were too far away to hear. I put my hand to my ear and he cupped his mouth. I could hear him now... did I hear him right?

"We have her!" he yelled. "We have her and she is okay!"

The little ones and I ran through the yard and into the house and there was our dear dog! She was muddy to her chin and stunk to high heaven, but she was there. In the midst of much hugging and petting and tail-wagging, Mark explained that he was so afraid she had gone to the road that he had to go off that way and look for her. When he found her, she was half a block from a BIG road, having already crossed busy traffic to get to that spot. She was totally disoriented and he was actually afraid that she might bolt again. He came up to her quietly and she was so freaked out that she didn't even respond in classic Lexie fashion, but instead just seemed sad and relieved.

After a bath and two bowls of puppy food, we tucked our wet dog into her bed for a snooze. Mark never did go into work but called into meetings from home instead and all of our plans for Thursday were canceled. Instead, we spent time at home together. We threw Lexie a ball and never got tired of it as she retrieved it again and again. We gave her some treats and revelled in the fact that all of us were home, right where we belong. And we were thankful and prayed thankful prayers again and again and in quiet minutes shook our tired heads at the turn our day had taken.

And when I went to bed, I called her name and she came with me and I fell asleep with a 50 lb puppy laying at the foot of my bed. And I honestly felt that in our little corner, all was right with the world.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Break --- Wednesday

Some days do not not follow a predictable path. Sometimes, we plan and hope and lay it all out "just so" only to find that our best laid plans do not play out the way we expected they would. Yesterday was that way for us...

I woke early to drive up north to meet a friend for breakfast. Mark had decided to take the day off and so I was relishing my short-lived freedom and looking forward to good conversation and good food and a little time to myself.

Mark, on the other hand, was home with our squirrely children who woke up VERY early to build with their new Legos. As I drove in silence, he was juggling scrambled eggs and scattered blocks and the necessary explanation of every inch of a their new creations. But, we had a plan. After breakfast, Mark would pile the children into the truck and drive to nearby train station. They would then take the train downtown, to the Museum of Science and Industry, where we have a family membership. After my breakfast out, I would drive downtown to meet up with them and enjoy a family day together. A good plan. A well-thought-out plan.

It started out okay... except for my phone. My fairly new phone, a Palm Centro, has lost all button capabilities. The touch screen still works... but you need the buttons to turn it on. So, I can receive calls but I cannot place them. A little frustrating... especially when I get lost while driving up north to meet a friend for breakfast. But, phone or no phone, the plan could still go on... or so I thought.

I made it to breakfast and had a wonderful time talking with a new friend. It was a good way to start my day and felt like such a treat to speak face to face with another adult. As I was talking however, pieces of the plan were falling apart back home.

Mark successfully saw the children through breakfast and dressing and finding shoes and loading up. He pulled out of the driveway and heard a strange noise coming from beneath his truck. Determined to make it to the train, he headed onward and found the two highways that can take him to the station were both absolutely backed up with traffic. And then, more noise... enough noise to really strike fear and worry into my dear husband. A truck full of well-loved children is one thing... well-loved children in a truck that is making horrible, clanking, sounds-like-stuff-is-falling-off noises is another thing entirely.

As all this happened, I was on my way out of the suburbs, linking highway to highway, in hopes of meeting my family at the museum. My half-broken phone rang and a quick glance at the caller ID made me think my best friend, June was calling. But, it was Mark's voice I heard next.

"Don't go the city!" he blurted out.

"Huh?" I responded.

"Where are you? Don't go to the city!" he continued.

It was then that I remembered that the call had come not from home but instead from June's home number. With the truck breaking down, Mark went to the closest place he could to park the truck and put the kids back into a safe place.

So, I came home and the truck went into the shop. We did not go to the city and the kids were temporarily disappointed. We ate the lunches they had packed for our outing sitting at the dining room table. It was not what we had planned. Sometimes, that happens...

We have been saving up gift certificates for a local theater and Mark and I decided this was the time to use them. After Elizabeth's nap, we surprised the kids with a trip to movies to see Monsters vs. Aliens... in 3D no less! They laughed out loud and did not move a muscle as the movie came to life not only on the screen but nearly in their laps. And as usual, Mark and I spent as much time looking at their sweet faces, lit with neon screen colors, smiling and giggling and engrossed in a story that was new to them.

The evening was busy with the stuff we have to do... choir rehearsal, batting practice, church events and driving... but I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that we were able to do it together. We didn't get downtown. The kids did not get on a train. But, even in our disappointment we kept on going. And we had a chance to teach our kids a little something about the unpredictability of day to day life. It doesn't always go our way. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes our plan A must give way to plan B or plan C... or plan K.

As we loaded our kids into the van to go to the movie theater, Josiah reflected on this very thing.

"Is this plan B, Daddy?" he asked.

"Yep Buddy, this is plan B... "

"Well," Josiah continued, "If plan B doesn't work, maybe plan C will...or D?"

Yep, maybe it will. Yesterday, it did. It wasn't what we hoped for but in the end it was enough.

Wednesday is over --- Check back tomorrow to read about our morning turned on it's ear...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spring Break --- Tuesday

I love the slow and sleepy mornings of spring break. I love waking up with one boy climbing in the left side of my bed and another boy climbing in the right. I love the dreamy whispers, the random thoughts shared, the quiet that settles in around me and my children when we have no where to rush off to early in the day. And so began our Tuesday... in the way that I love best.

After breakfast, we left for church where I help to run a MOMs Group every week. MOMs Group is not on spring break so all four kids were in tow... the younger two to headed to class, leaving the older two to play independently (and quietly) while the moms enjoyed coffee and conversation together. It was an interesting feeling to bring them all. Benjamin was only 2 months old when I helped to begin the group and I have to admit there was a strange sense of accomplishment or growth in bringing him with me now... as a 10 year old boy.

After MOMs Group, we came home so Elizabeth could nap and the boys played indoors to avoid the rain. In short order, the weather got the best of them and the noise level in my house began to climb. Precipitation does strange things to children... and our afternoon was spent swirling through conversation upon conversation. It was a time of deep breaths for me... and I found myself hunting for a corner of quiet in the midst of so much noise. It was a reminder for me though that there must be room in our world for children to be children. And in thinking it through I found that in all the words that were spilling forth and falling overlapped upon my ears, there was laughter. In finding space for their chatty little selves, I had the opportunity to watch their toothless grins and listen to silly stories and while I still yearned for quiet... there was joy in the chaos, as well.

After Elizabeth's nap (cut short by the voices filling my home), we loaded up into the van and headed into Chicago. Last Christmas, Josiah was given a special Lego toy that came with a box that he could bring back to the Lego store to fill with pieces of his choice. With the expiration date looming, we allowed the older boys to take some of their spending money and headed off to one of my children's favorite stores. We zipped past Mark's building and picked him up from work. To save on parking costs, I dropped Mark and the kids off near the Lego Store downtown and they ran in to find their treasures. I soaked up 25 minutes of absolute silence before returning to pick them up. They burst back into the van overflowing with chatter about the new toys they had in hand. (For those who are keeping track of our spring break on the cheap, this outing cost us nearly nothing at all! ) From there we headed off to Ed Debevic's for dinner... a splurge for us... but a fun outing for my kids on one of their days off. We ate hamburgers, listened to quick tongued-waiters and left full and happy.

We took the long way home and drove down through the city I love so well. We pointed out many of the famous buildings that adorn downtown Chicago and encouraged them to remember the "real" names of Chicago landmarks like the SEARS Tower and MARSHALL FIELD'S. Together, we looked out the windows at the lake, still boat-free, for a few more weeks. We watched a storm roll in and tumble over the beach, leaving bright sunshine before us and darkness behind. We enjoyed the ride, all six of us, tucked into our minivan driving toward home.

It was a day of opposites for us... silence and chatter, stillness and activity... but a good day nonetheless. We didn't find ourselves spending wildly but we were able to be out and about doing things together that matter to us. And in the end, that is what made this day fit... it was full of things that rank high on our priority list... slow starts, meaningful ministry, silly conversations, incredible Chicago, creative Legos, humble hamburgers and shared moments reflecting on it all.

We came home and left the Lego assembly for tomorrow. Mark read the children another chapter of Black Beauty and silence fell quickly in my babies' bedrooms. Mark and I didn't fill the space with the noise of the television then... instead sat quietly in the family room feeling full and happy and spent.

And then Tuesday was done and we were left with one nagging question banging around our brains... What will Wednesday hold?