Teacher

My highschooler comes home from her new part time job, Tuesday through Thursday, at lunchtime. The chatter is non-stop for a while. I love to watch her as she talks.

She works as a pair of extra hands at a private school.

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A helper was needed for two special needs kids, teenagers. When the job posting came up, I thought it might be of interest to her. Patience with certain children is one of her attributes, and she is not scared of different. I asked her if she was interested and she said yes.

Our homeschool schedule had to be adjusted, but that is fine. We can well afford to be flexible with the hours. Important lessons take precedence, and some things need to be experienced. I felt this would be an excellent opportunity for her.

After the first week she says to me, “I’m really surprised by how much I like it.”

“I knew you would.”

I am too smug. She wrinkles her nose at me, then rolls her eyes. I pretend to be affronted, and defend myself.

“Well,” I say, hands on hips and trying not to grin,“at least I didn’t say, ‘Told you so.’ ”

This earns me a skeptical sideways glance and a lifted eyebrow.

“OK,” I admit, “It’s kind of the same thing.”

“Kind of exactly.”

We laugh.

Over the following days I learn that The Wiggles and Minions are her students’ favorites, about words missed and corrected, and many other things.

I listen to it all.

We are in my room after she gets home one day and conversation goes as usual. She pauses for breath, hesitating.

“Do I talk about my kids too much?”

My kids.

I shake my head no. “I want to hear,” I tell her.

She smiles and speaks of how much her boy student likes to color all the pictures in, not just the right number to get the answer, of gentle tugs on her sleeve and sweet laughter finally earned. She isn’t looking at me as she describes the laughter. There is a particular light in her eyes.

When she still rested in the womb I placed my palms on my naked, swollen belly. With fingers splayed out across the roundness, I wept and promised her she could be who she was, not knowing what future would come.

Here it is. I watch an unfolding woman’s soul begin to enter into being.

“My kids,” she said.

Just when I thought she couldn’t get any more beautiful.

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My Mother’s Day Post

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I wanted to write a nice, heartfelt mother’s day post, but I’m having a hard time. Here’s a confession: I have allowed myself to be snared by the entitlement trap. The one that makes you question, “Is it too much to ask for a little appreciation one day out of the year? One measly day?”

I know letting these kinds of thoughts in only makes me and everyone else around me unhappy (If Momma ain’t happy . . .) so I try to not be that way. I really do. But when other moms start posting their pics, that familiar monster of discontentment rears its head and takes a big old bite out of my good intentions.

I know them all well, every member of my little family. I know the intricacies of who each one of them is, their hopes and plans for the future, and how they like the jam spread on their toast. Sometimes I want them to know me, too, to see me as something more than she-who-takes-care-of-us.

It makes me cranky. Extremely.

Here’s the very, very foolish thing about this mind set. I say all the time that what I do, being a mom, is the best investment I could ever make. I love being mom, and there is absolutely nothing I would rather spend my time doing. I mean it with every single molecule of my being. I say it to friends, strangers and my beautiful family constantly.

I think I want breakfast in bed, and nicely wrapped gifts of writer’s books that show deep consideration and thoughtfulness. Something that shows me they recognize my soul. I do get gifts. And I appreciate new cookware, it’s only that I would like a more personal gift item every now and then, perhaps one that reflects my interests. I want to be seen, acknowledged.

But instead of recognizing me as a writer or the girl who likes roses, this is how they see me:

The fixer.

Reader of every single text you send her. Ever.

Possessor of magic mommy spit.

Emergency cash fund.

Lady with the mop bucket when they get sick all over the floor.

The soft, cool hands laid on a forehead and a kiss on the cheek.

Mender of torn clothes and tattered pride.

Advisor. Advocate. Rear-end Kicker.

Roast-cooking, sandwich making, vitamin-pushing nourisher.

Listener of stories and complaints and dreams.

The one to run to with happy news. The one to run to with bad news. The one to run to with the worst news of your life.

The one who lets you cry, even when it kills her.

The safe place.

Home.

They don’t tell me these things, but I know this is who I am to them because I live it every day.

I hope they never, ever see me as anything less than mom.

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On Philosophy, Theology and the Emerging Church

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Something’s off. I know it. But who am I?

A tick in my spirit is not enough argument to stand on. I should be able to stand and I feel guilt that still, even now, I am inadequate. I need to go back to my philosophy books. The fifth (or sixth or seventh) time’s the charm, right?

But there’s a contractor coming at two o’clock and the floor is full of crumbs and something smells boy-laundry-bad in the utility room.

Which brings me back to the point at hand. I can’t explain the whys and the terms. Words like post-modern and panentheism should trip off my tongue by now, but instead they trip me up. All I can say is something smells fishy.

I hate fighting. It makes my stomach hurt and my knees wobbly.

But in case you were wondering, I will not be swayed from this spot. See my shaking, clay-dirt covered feet? They are dug in deep into His word. Shaking but not shaky. The truth I try so hard to grasp and breathe in has penetrated, if only a little. So I stand here, desperately hoping. I know where my help comes from.

I know what I know and will not be moved. The difference between stubbornness and conviction is whose voice you listen to. Feelings lie, but the Truth doesn’t. Turn the pages in the Book and speak to its Author. Just the facts, please, without muddy thinking.

We are corrupted by our own wisdom, fed philosophy before we learn how to tie our shoes. If you think not, you do not understand the term. Everything is built on something.

Read your Bible, and not a verse here and there. Read it straight out, great drippy chunks of it. Read a whole book, and then read it again. I was brought up on the Word, yet here I am listening to chapters over and over and finding out I don’t know so much. Somewhere around the fourth repetition I think I may be starting to get it. Maybe. All my learning tends to get in the way, but the repetition of the word wears at those false walls.

Ask why and why and why. Do not strangle your questions. Do not follow man, even if it is a man who says do not follow man.

Do not ask, “What does this mean for me?” or “How do I make sense of this?” ask only, plain and simple, “What does it mean?”

You are precious in His sight, but you are not the center, beloved child.

Study philosophy before you quote philosophers. Use your own capable brain. Wrap your weary mind around the hard edges of logic and truth. It’s good medicine. And we are sick, there is no doubt of that.

Under the Microscope

When we first started homeschooling, I wasn’t aware of it. I was too busy trying to get all my ducks in a row. Besides, I have never really understood why what I do should be of such intense interest of outside parties.

It was the homeymoon phase and didn’t last very long.

Every mom knows this intrusion on her parenting skills. It starts just about the time your baby bump begins to show, and continues until . . . well, I don’t know when it ends. I haven’t got there yet.

With homeschooling it’s kind of like that, times ten. Your friends, neighbors, relatives, random strangers on the street suddenly turn a critical eye on your life. Everyone has an opinion. And then there are the demands we place on ourselves.

The very first book I read about homeschooling advised me that my house must always be in order. I tried to laugh that off, but it made me nervous. A week or so later, I joined a group. With member ship came a list of written rules. The most important thing we were to remember was that we represented something important. Members were severely admonished us to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting this responsibility. At all times. 

Then there are the questions. Most of the time these are fine. An exception would be one of those ambushes when an angry looking adult corners the poor homeschooled kid. Then the adult proceeds to quiz the child on various subjects until the child is caught in a mistake, at which point the angry adult says something like, “Aha! I knew little Johnny’s education was being neglected! He can’t name all of the Kings and Queens of England in chronological order!”

During these inquisitions the homeschooled child will misspell simple words, fail easy arithmetic, and forget the name of the city in which they reside. They will also confess to sleeping until 11:00 because, “Mom said she was never teaching us anything ever again,” and “We like to sleep all day.”

On the other side of the coin, there are the enthusiasts. A truckload of shiny assumptions line the path to the homeschool pedestal of perfection. Myths abound. The idea that mom has endless patience and the children are all little geniuses and are always perfectly behaved does not really describe what our family looks like. Not that reality ever stopped me from trying to grasp the elusive brass ring so tantalizingly out of reach as the ride takes me ‘round and ‘round.

This brings me to my own worst critic. Me.

There are lists, scope and sequence charts and all sorts of assessment tools that are meant to be a guide. Being a mom, however, I can easily and quickly turn those helpful tools into proof of my inadequacy. Although logic dictates that not everyone congregates around the 90th percentile, no one ever brags about being average.

I celebrate all kids who have found there place to shine, and am rightly proud of them. But being average in a world of perceived stars is hard. I forget the truth. Everyone has their own specific gifts and should be encouraged to flourish in them, whether those gifts are the usual ones or not. I have to remind myself that the quiet gifts are as valuable as the loud, trumpeting kind and that nurturing is my calling, not comparing.

My house is a mess. My yard is a mess. I have allowed poor nutritional choices on occasion. If I am supposed to be wonder woman, I think I was strangled by my cape.

All of this pressure to be perfect can blur the home educating mom’s vision.

Most years January was my typical time of year to panic about school. Mid-year evaluations would reveal how much we had fallen short of my goals. Never mind that I knew full well that these were unrealistic.  I would disregard the fact that at the time I made these plans I never actually expected to complete everything. This need to compete would typically unbalance me for a week or two before I returned to my senses. Sprinkled throughout the journey, in moments of weakness and stress, sporadic fits of ‘pursuing perfectionism’ have plagued me as well.

I’m doing better now. At least so far today.

 

Seven Things to Remember

We are destined to fail at perfection, because perfection does not exist in this world.

No one can do it all, be it all, or have it all. We were never meant to.

Growing up young men and women is imprecise and not to be measured by man-made standards.

There will be mess. Always.

Critical people are not useful and can really get in the way of your goals. They do not have the right to ruin your destiny.

Trying to live an ideal not your own is life draining and a stumbling block.

Good enough is good enough.

No Small Act

My word for 2014 is kindness. I try to focus on the word, to find meaning in the concept. It’s useless. No idea comes.

Instead, a memory, and not one of a kindness given or received. It is one of those that comes unbidden, in early mornings or late at night when the quiet allows things pushed away into the corners to creep out and demand attention.

In the memory, he is eighteen years old and comes to stand beside me. I am in the kitchen, where moms of many spend a lot of time, my hands busy, taking care, doing one of the small tasks that make up my one best job.

“I have to tell you something,” he says.

His usual method of communication is to launch into loud and long dialog while his audience either keeps up or watches the blur. This preamble means it is serious. He often does this with things that bother him, his expression morose and tragic. Usually the situation is not. He shifts his feet. I finish what I am doing and give my absolute attention to him. He takes a deep breath and blows it out in a hard, fast exhalation.

He looks so very small, suddenly. This is not guilt, or a request, or a confession.  It is something else. He is troubled and sad.

“A long time ago,” he says, “when we were at church, a lady said something really mean.”

This is about his little brother.

A tingle starts between my shoulder blades as the muscles tense, but so many things are open to interpretation. I try to relax. I tip my head to the side and nod for him to continue.

He tells me the words she said and the words, though spoken years ago, are still sharp. “Shouldn’t be allowed” and “normal” and more. They buzz in my ears too loud and hurt, hurt, hurt. The air and sun of seasons gone by have not diluted their terrible power to cut. The greatest danger of motherhood is the inevitable vulnerability of her tender, unguardable heart.

He stands there, with little boy eyes and slumped shoulders. He has borne this burden a long time, taking the arrows for his brother, for me. The man and the boy are all mixed up. Here is my child, made a man too young, now a grown man with a five o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning, still carrying manly boyhood wounds.

Why would a person say such things to a child about his younger sibling? I want to bind my boy’s hurts, to gather up the pieces of his grief and take them away, to cry, to scream, to use my own words against the one who has injured him so. Instead, I am quietly still. Tight anger is my shield against overwhelming helplessness.

He will not tell me who. He says he does not really know her. He doesn’t remember. But his eyes shift. Still taking arrows, he stands on this with fists clenched tightly around small secrets. There is nowhere for my Momma Bear fierceness to go.

I offer cliché-filled wisdom and rub wide circles on his broad back, pat his arm. We talk. I fix him a glass of sweet tea, give every bit of motherly comfort I can scrape up.

Life goes on and I try to forget about it, to disregard the mutterings of a mean-spirited woman and the scars left behind. I say to myself, “This is her problem, not mine,” and I shake my head at people like that.

Yet it haunts me. The pain in his eyes, and the unspeakable words still there, swirling about in the air and in my mind, never fading.

Kindness. This was not kindness. Then, out of the salt, I know what to do.

I pray for her.

I am surprised by the way it washes me, this act of kindness. And in this, I discover an even greater act of kindness, one toward myself.

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Blessings

 

 

Entering 2014

I subscribe to a lot of blogs, and I pop onto facebook regularly. Everybody is posting goals and plans for next year. Not me.

My chair welcomes me and so does my cup of tea. A bag of Hershey’s Special Dark Kisses, courtesy of those who know how to give a good Christmas gift, joins me. While everyone else is making lists and dreaming big dreams I sit and sip.

I think to myself, “Dang girl, you made it another year.”

A small smile turns up the corners of my lips. I am inordinately pleased.

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I try to assemble a list, The Year in Review, maybe. But instead I find myself watching my daughter sleep. A pang strikes me because she is changing so quickly and no longer the familiar girl child of yesterday.

I understand, for the first time, what the word metamorphosis truly means.

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When I see one of my young men sleeping or joyful or deeply wounded, the little boy trying to hide behind the mask of manhood is plain to me. But this sleeping lass is another breed entirely. She has entered into her becoming.

The shape of her spirit has changed her form. Her bones have grown into the promise and soon the flurry of short days will pass. Another will watch her, their own wild heart whispering “Mine” with every beat.

My chin sets firm. She was still mine first. No one will ever take the scars tracked across my flesh and soul for love of her. In the face of her sleeping strength my grip loosens a little.

My words poke her, telling her to get up and she moans, resisting. I do not relent and she sits up in the bed. The little girl is there again, in her frown.

I should not eat chocolate so early, but I have another.

I call my husband. The phone is crackly, muffled sounding. I knew it would be. Something is wrong with it and has been for a week or more. I could have texted, but I snapped at him on his way out the door. Neither of us mentions that. Instead I say, “Got there ok?” and we talk, mostly saying, “What? What? I can’t hear you,” before we tell each other goodbye.

Wash needs to be done. Wash always needs to be done, like most things I do. Years of being caregiver stretch before and behind.

The middle boy comes in. He worked all night. We talk of movies and books, because it is too early for me to contemplate world events. Instead we discuss plot structures and great moral dilemmas. I shoo him out the door, telling him to go get some sleep.

I need to check on the eldest. Stress stalks him today. Authority comes harder to some than others, and it is not a comfortable coat for him to wear. I hope his new employee is kind to him. Maybe notes from mom are not as important as I like to think, but I send an email anyway.

With those things done, I cast my mind back over 2013 but nothing momentous and worthy of prose leaps to mind.

I unwrap another kiss and pop it into my mouth, letting it rest there, melting on my tongue.

chckiss

 

 

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O Christmas Tree

I intended to have a white tree this year. I have a nice space, I have silver and blue, red and more silver. We have never had one of those trees. You know, the kind where everything matches and makes a lovely picture.

When we got out the boxes of decorations, I remembered we didn’t have any lights with white strings. Lights we have. In abundance. But they all have green wire.

I could have sent a text to one of the boys and had them go to the store, but I could not do that to them again. My guys do not do well with Christmas décor selection.

Instead I ordered lights. They will be here in four days.

This is where the tree was going to be.

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I say going to be, because when we got our little three foot tree out of the storage building, my girl noticed the white tree had orange spots. Moisture has gotten to it. Rust.

We have a large green tree as well, but my children always want the smaller one. And they want it decorated like this.

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The saving grace is that there is only so much room on this little guy. I have culled some of the bits they prefer, but some are not to be parted with.

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The tree has been repaired many times. It came with a bit of a wobble, resting on a flimsy plastic base. Now the tree is much more solid, a block of wood replacing the broken plastic that had been encrusted with my glue gun handiwork.

Every year I say we should get a new tree, but they love this one.

I bought this tree the week before Christmas on the year we were ‘without permanent housing’. Under a borrowed roof, in the middle of nowhere, I decided that circumstances would not determine our celebration.

It was a cheap tree to start. The tree was marked down, perhaps because of its defects, perhaps because it was late in the season, or perhaps it was simply waiting for us to come claim it. I spent less than forty dollars on gifts for four children, a few plastic ornaments and the tree.

I would have been happy to chuck that tree as soon as possible and return to the possibility of nine foot tall trees. But no, we keep this one. Some years it is our only tree, some years it is The Little Tree or The Charlie Brown.

You would think kids would want presents, toys, things for themselves more, but it’s the tree they cling to. I get the feeling this tree will always wear lights at Christmas.

It’s even beginning to shed needles. I thought only real trees did that.

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I guess we don’t really need a department store tree.

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Diving In

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You are ready.

It will be glorious or horrible and, most definitely, it will be messy. There will be sunshine and roses, rain and thorns.

This is what will happen.

The washer will break.

Flu will haunt your house like a hungry stray cat you accidentally fed.

Some days you will forget what blue sky looks like, but on other days you will be able to taste it when your mouth opens wide and lets laughter fly free.

There will be tears. You will be expected to sweep up sharp broken pieces even while your bare soles are smudged with blood. You will never be enough and always be enough.

It will be scary hard. You will be forced to plant your feet, take ownership of your failures, and stare them down. You will fall short but you will be forgiven. You will learn to forgive yourself.

You will be pulled and stretched until every bit of your bounce is gone. Flexibility will be your middle name. On certain days you will wonder if the shape of deflated balloon is the permanent price your spirit will pay. But then, when you develop eyes to see the magnificence of stretch marks, the vision will leave you without air.

You will breathe beauty.

You will take a small hand in yours. If you don’t let go you will both grow into your feet, getting big enough to walk in the land of giants. You will begin to understand that perfection does not dwell in the world of mortals. Yet in times to come, a backward glance will reveal the perfect, unerring, working out of the distance you have already traveled.

This is what will happen.

You don’t get it all. You get the prize.

Your sisters are all lined up along the edge. They will help you if you are wise enough to understand that you are not alone.

Dive deep.

You will be fine; more than fine. How do I know? Look at you, sister-friend, momma-lady, baby-girl.

You’re already treading water.

Beautifully Fragile

I feel very fragile lately.

I have been fragile for years, but it was a moment of clarity and surprise when a medical assistant shook her head and said so to me.

You’re so fragile.

The idea was foreign to me. I was the girl who dug trenches in hard, red clay to bury water lines, planted gardens and carried heavy loads. The girl who bathed dogs and people and wiped up vomit from the floor.

When she told me I was fragile, I laughed.

Who has time for that?

Now I have time. I’m not a girl anymore.

It’s a strange place, but not bad. Tears dampen my cheeks almost daily. But what days they are.

My daughter comes in from a trip to the movies.

“Bree asked me if I was a daddy’s girl.” She bites her bottom lip, trying to hide a smile. She looks at me from underneath her lashes but I can see her eyes, the way they shine. “I told her yes.”

And here I go again, wiping my eyes with a tissue.

My middle boy, the one who drives me crazy, the one too much like me and too much like his father, says to his little brother who is now a man, “I am proud of you.”

Their conversation continues to flow around me while I am stayed, becalmed in the current, bathing in that singular moment, hardly able to breathe and not really caring if I ever do again.

I cry at the note taped to the television, “Watch anime with me,” and at the memory of how he always laughs at my lame joke about anime and anemone. An invitation into his world is a prize. This is not a carnival prize, but a gold medal prize to be carried and worn over the heart.

My husband comes in, weary from work but too stubborn to admit it. He stands, reading the endless to-do list on the refrigerator. When I see him with the youngest man-child and get a glimpse of the crazy, terrorizing love that comes with being this boy’s father, the wild rawness, the manliness of it, moves me.  

Against such things it’s hard to keep fists clenched tight around the small threads of bitterness gathered up over days and years. Maybe that is where the salt for all these tears was being held, waiting for release.

There are always ready tears for my eldest, who does nothing to make me cry, and so I do. What can I say? Mothers understand.

It took a long time to get here. I always, always knew it was all worth it. All the books and articles and wise women said so.

So the fragile girl laughed and wiped up vomit and held tight to little (and not-so-little) hands whether they wanted it or not. She waited by the phone and did not yell. She saved her keening for another day and stood as tall as five foot something allowed. Love made her strong.

Who knew being overwhelmingly, beautifully fragile would come from being so strong?

It’s not a bad place. Not a bad place at all.

(c) 2007 Engraved

photo (c) 2007 Engraved Arden Stone

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Unrelenting

Casualties

Any time you decide to break away from what’s expected, you will have fallout. It can be changing religions, or loving the wrong person, or simply choosing something different from the status quo.

We can predict some of those who will oppose us. We know their thoughts and opinions, and these we can prepare for. But there are often surprises.

It’s very difficult when you have been of one mind with a friend and grown used to leaning on them, only to have a thick black line drawn between you, to be pushed away and delegated to the land of Not Like Me. Wisdom tells me friends who behave this way were never really my friends at all, but it is still a loss. And it still hurts.

If you live your life with any passion or guts at all, there will be people who should love you who decide not to any more.

There will be holes. Spaces are always filled. Some of those who smooth over the gaps will be the core people, the ones you always hoped would be there. Others will wait on the periphery, treasures you never saw coming. They will step up and stand beside you.

They will say, “I trust you. Even if I don’t understand and may not agree, I have faith in you.”

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