Just Stay…

You are leaning in, and smiling. Your face is changing again, and already I can see the woman you are becoming, peeking out from the red velvet curtains of your youth. Freckles spring forth on your nose, wild, and unruly, like wildflowers in an untouched meadow. They spread across your cheeks, under the eyes shaped just like my great-grandmother, your namesake. You are ten, fully present on the stage of your own journey, alight with childhood wonder, and the beginning of your own becoming.

How lucky am I, I wonder. That I should have a front row seat to bare witness to your journey. How blessed I am, to be your mother.

You hug me, and when you do, you squeeze so tightly. There is not a hint of wanting distance between you and I yet. You are all in. Your intensity makes me laugh, but as there is little air left in my lungs, it comes out a foreign sound, one I barely recognize as my own. It is muffled, and smushed, having done acrobatics around your body to get out, but still, there.

This is just like love, I think. Just like everything in my life since I transitioned from Daughter to Mom.

Everything is different in me, and I am shocked to find that not everything under the sun has changed. I felt the shift so strongly, that I assumed the earth groaned and shifted her weight from leg to leg, while performing in this sort of cosmic ballet.

I stood, there at the hospital window, in pain. Hooked up to machines, that made me cower close to the plastic bed frame. I steeled myself for how different things would be, before summoning up the courage to let myself see. I was shocked to find that the grass was still green, the sky still overcast, the same buildings still standing, and gray. How could anything still be gray?

This couldn’t be right. There had been a reckoning. My whole life had changed in a one breath revolution. And yet, if I wasn’t mistaken, strangers walked by without even realizing what had happened.

Still, on our street, people are driving by, oblivious to the fact that things are changing. They don’t even realize how much you are growing. How could they comprehend, that for every yard they drive by with children playing, they have become an astronaut, zooming through time and space? Someone’s whole universe is playing behind that fence, while my whole world still fits in a ten foot by ten foot kiddy pool.

I want to stretch this moment out like silly putty. To hold eternity around my hands and  wrists, like a yarn cat’s cradle.

I want to breathe you in, so that the smell of your hair never leaves me. To write in braille on my skin the feeling of holding you, so that even if there are moments where one or both of us can’t see clearly during your teenage years, that we can still read the truth.

I want to memorize by heart, the sound of our laughter. Want it to play on repeat through my head, like a catchy commercial, bubbling up whenever and wherever, interrupting thoughts and conversation.

I want for you to never leave me. But at the same time, I want you to. Not now, not yet. But when it’s time to.

I want you to go wherever you are meant to go. I want you to have adventure, and write your own story. I want you to scale high peaks, to climb your own tower. I want you to swim through deep blue waters, to feel the sand between your toes on the shore of each ocean.

And even as I am thinking of a future a million or eight years away, I am wondering if you will settle for anything less than someone who loves each freckle as much as I do. Or will you take care in choosing who you give your heart to?

This ultimately is not up to me, though it makes my knees feel shaky and weak.

So I do what I can, in this moment. I squeeze you back. I feel your ribs relax. You sigh, happily, content with being held by me. It is there, that garden gate opening, that I whisper what I need to say while you can hear it.

I tell you that you are lovely. That you are strong and brave. I tell you that you have the courage that this life takes. I tell you that I love you. That you are worth loving and protecting. And that no matter what happens, I am Team Ellie, all the way.

You nod, and relax your grip. Then sit beside me, your head resting on the side of my chest. You look content. The window closes, for now. I feel it. I bend down and whisper that I love you, anyway. Just in case some part of you still needs to hear it.

The sun is warm on my other arm and leg. My skin feels almost as tight as my chest. A bird lands in our yard, small and black.  It meanders slowly around my garden, and back to the grass again. This bird, it seems, is in no rush to go anywhere else. And for once, neither am I.

 

 

 

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Dear You, Dear Me….

They say to write what you know, but tonight I’m writing what I need to remember.

Today was hard. Yesterday was not my favorite, but today was REALLY hard. Today felt like walking involuntarily into a pit of quicksand. Without a rope.

That’s much too vague, so let me give you a snapshot of what happened just between 4:30pm and 5:30pm:

Now, it’s worth noting that it had already been a rough day. But so far, I had managed to keep smiling, to stay kind and patient. I was feeling like the worst had to be over, and I was an overcomer with a capital O, even though I was exhausted already. So, after ensuring that all 5 of my little miracles had clean clothes, matching shoes, brushed hair, and a recent trip to the bathroom, we set out. We picked up our ClickList order from Fred Meyer, on time, and with easy conversation flowing between myself and the attendants. This is when my 10 yr old twins began singing rewritten Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. It’s May, and the rest of us were already listening to The Greatest Showman soundtrack, but whatever.

The car now filled to overflowing, we pressed on to the gas station. My six year old joined in the singing, and her older siblings attempts to rock the car hard enough to get my attention, while I calmly pumped their college savings into our SUV. I’m kidding. We don’t have college savings.

The singing turned to bickering. Someone stole my gas credits of over a dollar a gallon off. Nevertheless…. I persisted.

Which is when one of the wee little lambs proclaimed that they were about to pee their pants and had to go NOW. So instead of going to the coffee stand and local library, we raced home. The children bickered the whole way. But, no one peed, and as soon as we pulled into the driveway, it was announced that they no longer had to go anymore. Like magic.

While unloading enough groceries to feed a small country, I attempted to return a call. This is when one of my children tried to push their father’s lawn mower into the street, as cars were approaching. She didn’t even get three feet away from me (which means that she was still 10+ feet from the road) because I have the peripheral vision of a wolf, but still, adrenaline.

All in the house, and partway through reorganizing my full pantry, I suddenly had to run to the bathroom in order to avoid peeing my own pants. Afterward, when I went to stand up, my right arm glided through what felt like seeded clay mask solution. Poop. No, literally, poop. All over the wooden half wall border, and now, me.

I washed my arm, multiple times, put the 4 yr old culprit in timeout, used heavily toxic cleaning supplies (just kidding, it was Method) to clean the wall, and then rewashed my hands, three times. I turned off the faucet, and grabbed the towel, attempting to dry my hands, only to find that the towel, exactly where my hands were, is what she had used to wipe her behind after Pooptopia 2018.

I’m not kidding.

After putting the towel in the washer, I rewashed my hands and let them air dry as I headed to the kitchen to finish making the parts of dinner that weren’t in the crockpot. I opened the refrigerator, and BAM! Out came my brand new overpriced bottle of cold brew coffee concentrate, onto the floor, lid breaking and coffee shooting up my leg and glugging onto my just-cleaned-before-we-left floors. I swore, and bent down to pick it up. Which is the exact second that the mayonnaise flew off of the top shelf and directly onto my hurt toe.

I cried. Like a baby. A big, ugly, self-pitying baby.

The 4 year old came to comfort me, and touched my face with her unwashed (towel dried) hands, that still smelled of poop.

My husband, God bless him, did not laugh when I told him what had happened, mascara still staining my cheeks, like I had been the runner up in the Miss America pageant. Instead, he looked wide eyed and incredulously at me.

And that was just what happened in one hour today. There was so much more! And while it feels pretty cathartic to write all of that trivial terribleness down, what I needed was not something that venting could provide. Maybe, just maybe, what I needed to hear is what you need to hear tonight. Feel free to listen in and be consoled alongside of me.

You are a good mom. You are doing your best, and your best is good enough. Your children know that you love them. Your children love you, too. More than they show sometimes. More than they say sometimes. You are not a failure. You are not all dropped condiments and swear words. You are not a maid. You are a real person, who is loved. You are lovely, even if you don’t feel it. Even if your arm smells vaguely of poop. Even if your 4 year old needs to lay off the chia seeds.

You are making a difference. What you do matters. Even on the days that it seems like nothing you do is for keeps. Keep going. You can do this. You already are. This is just one bad day. Okay, two. But they haven’t been all bad. You have everything that matters. Tomorrow is a new day. And bedtime, for them and you, is right around the corner. The day is not a wash, no matter how much of the day you have spent washing up. There is still hope, things can still turn around. You will get through this. You’re already almost to the other side of this day. Just a little bit farther, you can make it.

You never have to see this day again. But also, you will never have this day again. It’s not too late for amazing, or at least for redemption. You tell them that they learn more from failure than from succeeding, let yourself believe that it applies to you, too. It can’t always be a day at the park, but then, you wouldn’t want it to. Get out the broom. Sweep up the broken pieces, mop up the stains of today. Serve your husband and babies, fill their plates. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, and listen to the conversations that take place around the table that you set. Put the food, and resentment, away. Hold your babies.

Teach them to be humble and acknowledge that it was a hard day. Remind them that tomorrow will be better. Cast your love upon them, like a net in open waters. Enfold them with grace. Let yourself bathe in their laughter, cleanse the mundane from your face. You are worth more than the sum of your mistakes.

Forgive.

Rest.

Tomorrow is waiting.

 

 

 

 

Palm Reading..

It is almost Easter weekend. This, and last weekend all together, make up one of my favorite parts of the year.

When I was a little girl, I remember clearly the day I discovered Palm Sunday. I was sitting in a new Sunday school class, in a new church, that we didn’t end up joining. I was wearing my sister’s gauzy dress, and I felt very pretty, and very twirly, which meant almost the same thing.

To the right was the biggest flannel board that I had ever seen. The teachers hands, lined and swollen with veins, moved swiftly as she placed the flannel graph figures onto the board. I thought, she must be a professional, she must do this for a living! She built the scene skillfully, in the same way that librarians are adept at reading, book upside down and showing the page the whole time they do so, so that you can really soak in the illustrations.

I sat, transfixed.

Before I knew it, a still life depiction of a road, a donkey, and children, all surrounded by random shrubs and palm trees, stood in front of a stone city wall. It was all so eighties technicolor and full of life. It. Was. Beautiful.

She talked about how the children followed Jesus, and actually made a way for him. How they picked up palm branches and waved them, yelling, Hosanna, Hosanna, glory to the King of Kings! I am sure that my heart sped up, that my blood pressure rose, as I dared to imagine living in a place where you could just pick up a palm branch and wave it, dancing in the streets. How strange, how exotic! How unlike our familiar streets, where I could only grab a pine branch and a fistful of sticky sap. And I definitely was not allowed to dance in the street, or walk in front of donkeys.

Now, she said, after wrapping her tidy story up. Now, we have a surprise for you. And the white door opened, and in walked a man in slacks and a button down. His arms were filled to the brim with giant palm leaves.

You guys, it was like Christmas. But Easter. Almost.

We were each given branches, and I don’t mean to brag, but I am sure that the one that they gave me was sprinkled with magic. It was perfectly green, and strong, with just the right amount of bend and wave.

We lined up with the other classes outside, facing each other. A white runner was unfurled between our feet and the feet of the person standing opposite us. I don’t remember if there was a donkey or not, because in my head there was, but by now I was in shock, and things looked like a dream sequence in a movie.

A man dressed up as Jesus, began to walk toward us. Some teachers and kids threw their fronds at his feet, making a green striped carpet for him to walk across. Our teacher gave us permission to shout and dance. Our 20 or so voices became a joyful mob, ushering in a revolution with one sentence. Hosanna, Hosanna, glory to the King of Kings!

I don’t remember what happened after that. By the time that my feet touched the earth again, I was walking towards our friend’s apartment, across a wide expanse of lawn. Giggling, and giddy, I waved my branch, recounting in ridiculous detail what had happened at church. Okay, I get it, my mom was saying, I’m glad you had fun. But you never told me, I accused, you never told me about Palm Sunday! I did, she said, when you were younger. Not like this, I said, watching the soft spear shaped leaves, twist and rustle, above my feet.

It’s funny now, to think about that day. To try to put the pieces back in place, a faded puzzle, that became part of what makes me, well, Me. That day laid the foundation for part of what I believe. I know that it’s silly, to be fangirling Palm Sunday, but just as real an experience as the throngs of girls screaming for the Beatles. I felt it. I still feel it, actually.

I have thirty years of mistakes between now and then. Three decades of going back and forth to where I never should have been. Shannan Martin wrote that, “We tether our bodies to our sons and daughters, and all of us to the shaking ground. We’re still here. Just watch us get through this. All will not be lost as long as we seek shelter in low places.”

I read that and I felt like someone had written my life. Perhaps that is why I love this time of year. I need the Spring after Winter. I need the sun after snow. I need forgiveness for what I have done. Most of all, I need Hope.

There is so much fighting. So much he said/she said, left and right. More you are like me or you are against me, one of us, or one of Them. It hurts my heart to check Facebook, and has for over a year and a half. People who have everything else in common, are waging a civil emotional war, over the one or two things that they don’t. I am not stupid, I just don’t understand how these methods are worth it. How we are letting kindness become a casualty in a battle worth deserting.

We are all hurting. We are all “Into each life, a little rain must fall.” Thank you, Mr. Longfellow. We are. And we really are all in this together. I think maybe, we just lose sight of that. Or maybe we have forgotten, that our courage grows, when we allow others to walk alongside of us, even if their pace is slower.

I read this morning that it was the same crowd shouting Hosanna, that within a week used their lips to shout Murder. We humans sure know how to divide and conquer.

Things change, times change, that is not lost on me. We rise, we fall, we get back up. Palm fronds are waved one minute, innocent palms are nailed to a cross the next. Tombs are filled with the dead, then left open and empty.

Not every rock was meant to stay in its place. But no rock was meant to be slung from my hand towards your face.

I don’t have all the answers, and I never will. But this week, I’ll be celebrating instead of tearing down. However small my life is, however inconsequential my voice, I’d rather shout Hosanna than hatred, when given the choice.

 

 

 

The Last One

A few moments ago, my six year old daughter climbed up into my lap. She has, of course, done this approximately 14,684 times before. But this time, she had to brace her beautiful foot against the table leg to stay there.

I’ve known this day was coming, have anticipated it with the mommy cocktail of dread and awe. And here it is. The day she has to start supporting herself. The day that I can no longer bear her every weight, and height, and being.

Maybe it’s because I was already sitting at the table, second cup of coffee in front of me, watching steam weave invisible needlework into the air above it. I was thinking about what it is that is most important for me to get accomplished today. We all know that there are more tasks to be completed in a day, than there are hours to complete them. There is nothing new there. At least I own a washer and dryer, and am not forced to thresh my own wheat.

I live in the land of modern convenience, so what is actually important to me? Because time doesn’t seem to curtsy at my feet. Apparently, time has a deadline in need of keeping, regardless of what I want or think.

My great-grandmother once told me that she couldn’t believe she was in her eighties, because inside she was still sixteen. “Inside,” she said, “I’m still me.”

Countless others, have headed for work or to run errands, not knowing that their time on this side of the sun, would be over before they had a chance to come home. Kissing babies, and yelling reminders of chores at teenagers, dropping car keys, and trying to find their other shoe, no, not that shoe, this one, with the black strappy things, quick I love you’s at spouses, and slammed screen doors. Within hours or minutes, their time was through.

It all seems a bit fast, our time out of the mud. From dirt man came, from man came woman, and soon both of us are being tucked in under a blanket of grass and soil.

I hope to pass kindly, peaceful old woman, surrounded by family members and old  friends singing, and laughing. I hope to walk silently from this world to the next, to slip into something a little more comfortable, as I shed the bonds of this skin.

But things don’t always go according to plan. And so, just in case, let me say things I might not have time to tomorrow. Just in case todays sunset, is my last one.

My friends, you are awesome. You have taught me to love. You have given me acceptance, and shown me how to have courage. I have learned more from each of you, than I could ever say. Thank you for loving me, for teaching me to stay. I have loved our adventures, cherish the sound of your laugh. It has been my privilege to walk beside you on your journey. Thank you for holding me. Thank you for everything.

My husband, I love you. It has been my life’s goal to have loved you better, than anyone has before. Thank you for loving me, for making me a mom. Thank you for working and providing, and valuing having me at home. Thank you for taking me dancing, for holding my hand. Thank you for opening doors, and offering your arm. Thank you for not reading my blog, but giving me your blessing to write about you, and us, and whatever I felt that I needed to. Thank you for believing in me enough, that you stand behind and in front of, whatever truths I spill onto these digital pages. Your love, so often, feels like a stained glass cathedral, that I am free to sing, and kneel, and walk around in.

My children, my babies, my becoming adults. You are the greatest blessings I have ever received. You are the reason I wake, the reason I need sleep, and the reason that my heart continues to beat. You are kind, and lovely, you are brave and strong. You matter more than you know, and you always will. You are filled with courage, you can save the day. You know the right things to do, and the best things to say. You are here for a reason. You have a beautiful heart. The world needs the fingerprints that you will leave on this earth. Walk kindly, be humble, don’t stop at being nice. Fight for those who don’t have strength left, and the ones without a voice. Make people feel special, make people feel heard. Use your talent to encourage, to build up, and secure.

Figure out quickly who you are, but don’t be afraid to change as you go along. Know that you are loved. There is  much power in that. Know that you are wanted, just as you are. Speak the truth, surround it in love, be brave, shine brightly, and never give up.

Remember that you were born of love.

Treat others the way, that you want to be treated. Plant flowers, and fruit, grow a vegetable garden. Amaze yourself with what you can make with a little ingenuity and the strength of your own two hands. Listen. Read. Dance when you hear music. Love God, love people, love yourself, and take care of this planet. Do not be afraid to reach your hand into the darkness, in order to pull another into the light. All people matter, no one is a waste of time. Look into people’s eyes when they talk to you. Give yourself permission to tell your own story, all of it, even the parts that make you uncomfortable. Vulnerability is strength, and the truly strong are rare. Do things anyway, in spite of the fear. Know that you will get hurt when you really care. Care anyway.

Laugh and do things that I wouldn’t dare. Be yourself, and know that you are being enough. Live your life, babies. Enjoy each trip around the sun. Know that you were and are my greatest joy. While you might not have always fit in my lap, you fit just right, in my heart.

Whether I live 50 more years, or much, much, less, I have enjoyed my time here. I have been truly blessed.

 

 

The Crash

I was out of state at a writer’s retreat. My husband was texting me the lyrics to Dave Matthews’ Crash Into Me, followed by a bouquet of flower emojis. I never responded because I had a migraine, and instead sought the solace of a dark room for 11 hours. The headache clung on, as they so often do, refusing to go away completely until 5 days after.

My writer friends and I left the warmth of the lakeside cabin, and started the long white journey home. The day before, Saturday, we had passed several cars in ditches, and turned around on the side of the road. I, myself, had narrowly missed hitting a deer that ran out in front of me, followed closely by its baby, another baby, and another female deer. Single Moms Unite, I had thought, glad I had been able to stop in time.

I was grateful that the roads were clearer Sunday morning. Not of snow, but of stranded people. Glad that my people were home safe and warm.

Opening my phone, I saw that I had so many missed texts. Call me. I need to hear your voice, babe. Baby. Sweet words from my husband, that seemed so out of place, given that I had been gone less than 30 hours.  I texted back, he didn’t respond.

Sitting in my friend’s driveway, I called him. Do you want to come get me and go out to lunch, I inquired. No, he said, you better come home. Something in his voice made my stomach lilt. What’s wrong, I asked. There’s been an accident, he answered, just a fender bender, but we need you at home. A few blurry questions later, and I was being dropped off. Trying to act casual, not being able to feel my knees. My husband revealed that my Suburban was totaled, two of my daughters had been in it. But were safe.

I said goodbye to my friend, at least, I think I did.

My girls were clamoring at the open door, dresses swaying. I’ve maybe never been so happy to see them, my own little four seasons. Walking up to the door, he kept saying, no one was injured, as if on repeat. I heard him viscerally, eyes on my babies. Counting, always counting, for the number my heart needs to keep beating.

They are really there, I had to tell myself, you’re not just seeing what you want to see.

My six year old sat on my lap and told me her version of the story: “I closed my eyes when the semi truck came at us, then I kept my eyes closed because it was really scary. But then Naomi started crying and crying, and so I knew she was scared too. So I opened my eyes and played tug of war with her until the car stopped spinning and spinning and spinning. Then Naomi yelled, Again! So I played with her until the nice police man came. He said we were miracles. And I am.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when my heart broke into pieces. When I was humbled by the kind hands of grace, instead of the steel-toed kick of tragedy. That is when my selfishness, and materialism, packed their bags and left this place.

The mechanic’s report said total loss, completely ripped apart undercarriage, frame not fixable due to severe damage and four points of impact. Yet the pictures taken afterward, reveal no body damage to the sections where my husband and children sat. No damage. No injuries.  Wrap your head around that.

So now we’re holding, and thanking, and praising, and dancing. We’re I love you-ing, and being grateful, and keeping our mind away from other outcomes. What-If is a dark and dangerous place, and I can’t allow myself to wander down it’s littered paths.

It was only a car that was taken from me. A car. So, nothing, really.

I asked my husband if he realized what his last texts before the accident said to me. He hadn’t, but laughed, because the song he meant to quote was Dave Matthews’ You & Me. “You and me, together, we can do anything, baby. The two of us together, yes, yes……Eyes closed, we’re gonna spin through the stars, our arms wide as the sky, we’re gonna ride the blue all the way to the end of the world….”

And so, we keep on riding.

Pillar of Salt

I always empathize 

With Lot’s wife

Spend most of my time

Looking back

At what I’ve lost

Gaze longingly

At what I thought

I wanted

Empty hands turning

My smooth skirt 

Into wrinkles and pleats

Swallow gravel

Around what is

No longer mine

I ache

I burn

I am frozen

In time

Feet facing starward

Heart churning back

The promised land

Lies ahead

But I can’t move forward 

Feast or Famine

I watched as your little faces crumpled. Saw the lines of Overwhelming begin to etch themselves on the place where your perfect nose wrinkles. You listened, as it was my voice, the one you’ve always heard- first from the inside, warm and muffled, reverberating from my chest down to where you were- then on the outside. I said, every hour in this world, our world, 300 children die of starvation. 300. It is 12:40 now, and by 1:40, 300 more children will be gone.

You looked stunned. And I did not know it was possible to speak that kind of truth, without choking on the gravel harshness of those words. We sat in silence for a moment. At that point, the strength is stripped from words.

So, I asked, what are we going to do about it? This is our problem, and we have a responsibility to fix it.

Transfixed, I bore witness, as the little bit of light that had left their eyes, was replaced by a torch of righteous fire. We can do something, we can. We can do anything, except sit idle. Then a torrent of ideas and words, flowed like a tsunami, into the tide pool of our living room. Voices raised and receded, innocence crested, white caps of belief frothed and spilled soapy, over the conversation, as if to clean it.

We came up with a plan. Or the start of one. Found ways to cut some of our excess spending, in order to give that money where it belongs. To take it out of our selfish hands, and place it in far emptier ones.  We huddled together, my team and I, safe and well fed, in our living room. We remembered again, to put on our glasses of gratitude. That the only way of seeing this life clearly, is through the bifocals of action and thankfulness as a verb.

They got out their Language Arts journals then, and began to write a week’s worth of diary entries, as if the famine were happening to them. I didn’t want to read it when they were done. Didn’t want to see those things written in the penmanship that I love. It is painfully obvious that no parent does.

And yet…

And yet, they do. They watch with eyes, filled with the same intense love, as flies buzz, and bellies swell from all of the nothing to eat. As tears, cannot fall or form, because there is not water enough left in the body. There are places on this planet where crying is a luxury.

This place, is the place we have stumbled upon. We, who are safely situated, in the land of milk and honey. We are learning about ecosystems and lifecycles, our dependence upon water, and on each other.

I wanted my children to know the difference, between receiving their education and claiming it. I wanted them to make it their own, to take ownership, and play an active role. Now I find myself, only 3 1/2 months in, heart sore, and dirty from this road we are blazing. I am the one who is finally learning. I am one of six, understanding, and growing.

THIS is the way I am meant to be leading. Mud-caked and hands calloused from the tug-of-war of changing. This, stripping of selfishness, this molting of ME. Like a snake, shedding, as they continue on their way. Let my pathways be littered with the ecdysis of vanity.

They wake. My children stumble, bleary and sleep filled, into my room. Outside, the dew clings heavy to grass, making it bend as only new mercies can. We move. This is a day that calls for action.