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Author: Sara Dutilly

While Playing Sodoku

While Playing Sodoku

I had forgotten I drafted this post. Maybe it’s been a month. Then I wrote another because this thought lingers.  So, though similar to my very last post, here is another attempt, a continuing exploration.

I’m still having trouble saying the word. I say it slowly, syllable by syllable. So-do-ku. It’s been years since the puzzles entered my life. Though I’ve never been an avid player, I’ve completed enough to know what they are. I should know how to say the word, but uncertainty lingers.

Nine numbers in a row. Nine numbers in a square. Nine numbers in a column. Nine large squares total.

A new phone arrived for me the other day, and today it snowed. While I love watching the snow, my Florida-self longs for warmth and sunshine. Two kids went outside to play in the white wonderland, and I stayed inside with the oldest. I downloaded Sodoku on my new, faster phone and I explained the game. For forty-five minutes he sat, and I snuggled next to him under a blanket watching his brain and his fingers work out the puzzle.

Homeschooling begs for material things, and though we have plenty around our house, I am caught with one sentence which says, lean not on your own understanding

My understanding is that of humanity. It’s of America. It’s of the culture which loves to show off possessions. So we buy books and we buy lesson plans and we buy puzzles. We stand in front of children and talk, and we call that school.

Yet school is not the goal here, but education. Puzzles are great brain exercises, but another puzzle hangs from the ceiling of my path.

How does one teach? How does one encourage? How does one live the life of a mother and know that what they’re doing is right?

This is a house of peace. I say to my children. Choose kindness. I say. Choose to forgive. Stop fighting. Stop yelling. Stop. Stop. Stop. 

It can’t all be “stop” though. Sometimes, mustn’t we say “go”? Yet when I give freedoms, my children take advantage. They slip up. They spill the eggs on the floor and they walk to the neighbor’s house without invitation or permission.

Sodoku shows every mistake. It begs for trying. It boasts an eraser. Nine numbers over and over. Nine times nine squares. The same numbers shown in different patterns. Different answers for every new game.

Every day we have the same numbers. We have beds and lightbulbs. We have a kitchen holding breakfast. We have a room with homeschooling supplies, windows which let the sun shine brightly, a small library. We have parents and children and enough understanding to distract us from everything real.

We have the ability to realize that what is real is actually not. That looking beyond our visual reality allows us to make the same mistakes, to learn, to rearrange, to fight and forgive and move on.

Not school, but education. Not things, but lessons. Not a bunch of words, but The Word come to life. Can that be our understanding?

Sodoku. Homeschool.
Mother. Wife.
What is true and what is right?
Day by day, we wake and try.

 

To Lean

To Lean

Homeschooling is so strange. And as I write that sentence, I am caught with what may look like simple self-doubt. Surely, there is plenty of that in life without taking on the task of homeschool, and homeschool adds its own level of questioning.

Because I homeschool, I am not only mother but teacher. Thankfully, my children are mostly willing and my husband is always helpful and encouraging. My children are learning to not only choose obedience but to love the learning itself. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we don’t do a ton of formal schooling. My children have lessons to accomplish, writing books to complete, but sometimes we do none of that and just play games (which lend their own teaching-blessing to the home school. I could be convinced that Scrabble is all you need for the first several years of schooling.)

Sometimes, the sun is just too bright and lovely so we spend our day outside. Sometimes, I am pregnant and too tired to make anyone do anything so we watch a movie and call it a day. Sometimes, I am tired of the routine and need to throw things off course, so we spend a day at the zoo or make too many muffins.

That is the lovely thing about homeschool, though. My only child who is actually school age is motivated on his own to practice mathematics and to read anything he’s handed. He is supposedly learning ahead of the average child his age (as far as the school system is concerned) so taking a day off here and there is no big deal. Even if we weren’t ahead, I have to remember why we homeschool. The main reason is not to create over-educated children but to allow for life to be the teacher.

What am I trying to say here, though? Mostly, I am trying to figure out what I’m doing. I’m trying to find a way. If you homeschool, too, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. I’m doing something that’s never been done, but yet this is something that’s been done millions of times throughout history.

Today, there are so many resources and for that I am grateful. Still, when I look at my home and my children it sometimes seems there are no resources good enough. Our family is new to this world, and no one can tell us what is absolutely right.

Only one can. Only one has.

It is this verse that keeps ringing in my mind when I think about our homeschool: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. It’s one that I’ve read and heard over and over throughout my life, and yet it has a tremendous meaning for my home right now.

I have so little understanding that it’s hard for me to even answer what might be in my head. But trust in the LORD. Submit to him. He will make the path straight. The path of homeschool. The path of motherhood. The path of writing. The path of being a wife. It’s all crooked in this world, but the straight path can be made.

 

The Magic of Novel Writing

The Magic of Novel Writing

I am in the middle of writing a novel.

I’ve been writing this novel for years. It began as a family story. It turned into a short story for a college writing class. Now, I have 30,000 words and I tell people that I’m writing a novel.

It’s true. I am writing a novel, but I’m also mothering three children. I’m teaching them to read and write and count and make breakfast for themselves. I’m teaching them to clean their own toilets and hang up their sweaters. I am a wife, a friend, a homemaker.

The novel is secondary on purpose. My family comes first.

I’ve wondered if I should give up this novel. It’s so hard to write. But then– is it hard to write because aside from the novel itself, the longest thing I’ve ever written was only a few pages long?

Some writers say that they have a hard time writing short pieces, that they just can write and write and write forever, that after a few months, they could have a draft of a novel. Perhaps I’m exaggerating the time frame, but it has always been easier for me to write brief, poetic, flash pieces. A writing friend who has been reading my novel-in-progress recently gave me some glorious feedback that should have made me want to write novels forever and ever and keep going until it was finished. She asked if it was really a first draft. She said she was deeply impressed. She said that my technique and my flow was consistent.

This got me thinking, though. The writing has been slow. Every time I sit down to write another scene (which is not often, mind you) I feel like the words are being pulled out of me like ribbons from a magicians throat. You know that trick? The one where the magician opens his/her mouth and shows some color that should not be there. They yank and a long scarf/ribbon comes out. It’s longer than you would think.

It seems I am unable to just quickly spit out words for this story. Instead, I am transported. The words travel from somewhere deep and perhaps that is why it reads like I’ve been working on it for a long time. It is not a first draft, but it is nearly so. The words that are on the page right now are new because I have re-written the novel a few times. I had begun with a different backstory in mind and when some other friends suggested that I use the real story of my family history, that it would be better, I began again. It’s not that I’ve edited the words so many times, but perhaps that I’ve held them for so long.

Aren’t all great stories ones that grew in someone’s soul for years? Aren’t they always the stories we’ve heard over and over again and then we live them or find them fresh? Aren’t they wrought with themes that we’ve known our whole lives, made new with men and women we are just now creating?

Yes, I am writing a novel. Slowly, surely, with so much fear and truth that tangles and twists and pulls at my guts and makes me want to throw up. But instead I continue to stand like a magician, one who has not trained in magic but finds herself pulling on hidden ribbons anyway.

 

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

Costco at Christmas: When One Day’s Events are Worth a Lifetime of Teaching

I went to Costco today.

Yes, I know. It’s four days before Christmas, so I might be insane. I almost turned around after it took me ten minutes to get into the parking lot, but we needed groceries and we needed supplies for the Christmas weekend and today was just the day our life fit with errands.

Costco wasn’t actually as packed as the parking lot had led me to believe. There is a 5 Below, a TJ Maxx, a PetCo, and a golf store in the same plaza so perhaps that was part of the mayhem.

Before Costco, we went to a local story time that we love. My kids got some books and we all snuggled on a carpet listening to Christmas storybooks. Before the group reading started, the story time reader asked some questions.

“What are some things that your parents think are good for you to do?” she said.

Immediately, my oldest son (age 7) said, “Praising Jesus.” An involuntary laugh came from my belly. I was a little nervous about the reactions. “Praising Jesus” is not so politically correct, you know, and I didn’t know any of those other moms. Also, praising Jesus is a good thing, but to hear my son answer that praising Jesus is something good that we want him to do – something about that just doesn’t sound right to me. I know his heart is right and that he loves Jesus and loves to worship, but  I have an editor in my brain who is constantly trying to put words together in a better way (good for writing, but not always so good for parenting). I’m still pondering that “Praising Jesus” moment of today. Perhaps another post will come about it later.

I talked to my kids a lot about Costco before we went. “It’s probably going to be very busy,” I said. “You need to listen to my voice above all other noises,” I said. “I have a list of groceries, and that’s what we’re getting.”

I had even packed lunches and had my kids eat on the way to Costco so they wouldn’t be starving on our voyage through the maze of giants’ food.

For me, the problem with Costco is that my kids think it’s a playground. They climb on top of the pallets of green beans. They karate kick each other in the wide aisles. They cling onto the refrigerator doors, feet only half-way on the narrow ledge below. They run at the first sight of free samples and often stick around for seconds or thirds. Since I was the cautious friend as a child, always with creative ideas but hardly ever the one to actually carry them out, I am constantly surprised at my children’s adventurous spirits. Their wide eyes and fast feet are always ahead me.

Today, I walked into Costco breathing deep and moving intentionally, trying to prepare myself for distractions and hiccups. The good news is that I wasn’t boiling with annoyance by the time we reached the checkout. However, my oldest son (the one who said that his parents want him to “praise Jesus”) did throw a significant fit about mashed potatoes. Apparently he didn’t get a sample while we were standing at the table, and his brother had grabbed two. Since this oldest child is often picky about food, I asked his brother to share, thinking that if the oldest liked them he could get his own. My middle son gave my oldest a bite, but this was not sufficient to the oldest so he threw it on the ground and ran, pouting.

He is the logical one, the one who loves to calculate and follow instructions and charts. He is the social one, the one who loves to be around people, yet he is the sensitive one, too.

I sat him down next to the stack of canned tuna. I knelt and hoped that I wouldn’t lose my other children in the process.

It’s as if Jesus’ parable applies to parenting: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Mt. 18:12)

If a woman has three children in Costco and one is having an emotional breakdown about mashed potatoes, should she not stop everything and focus on that one?

“You need to stop with the, ‘I want,’ with the, ‘He has,’ and, ‘I didn’t get’ stuff,” I said. “You need to stop this fit right now.” He calmed down. Then I said, “What did you do with the bite of mashed potatoes your brother gave you?”

“I threw it on the ground,” he said, eyes down, face splotchy and scrunched.

This child is the oldest. The one who rushes to answer questions, the one who is always right. He threw his bite of mashed potatoes on the ground. I told him I was sorry, but he had made a choice and he was facing a hard truth. I said there would be more samples and he could choose to take them with gladness or to continue to mope about his lack of mashed potatoes.

Sometimes I wonder at the way I speak to my children. I know my thoughts are winding, poetic ones and often come out with the confusion and many viewpoints. I am trying to speak more clearly, to pause and edit before I give my children directions. Somehow, my son understood what I was telling him and he only mentioned mashed potatoes once more.

We walked out of Costco smiling, and to me that means success.

Epilogue

In the parking lot, the oldest son said, “Sorry, mom, for throwing a fit about mashed potatoes. Sorry [brother]. Sorry [sister].” This was not a perfect day, but since no person is perfect, neither can our days be. Still, we praise, as my son said at story time. I recently read a blog on “homeschooling in the grocery store,” including scavenger hunts and math games to give your children. I have considered that side of shopping, but for me, the grocery store is as much a place for character building as it is for mathematics. With or without charts and calculators, we’re learning both every day.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses (With a Free Pattern!)

Every year, Christmas comes no matter what.

Every year, with joy and lights and wonder. And now that we’re adults, Christmas comes with oh so much more. It’s still exciting and wonderful, but there’s also much to do.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way…

Every year, a list forms in my mind: make ornaments, buy presents and wrap them up pretty, practice random acts of kindness, sing Christmas carols, watch all the Christmas movies, do a Jesse Tree.

These are all things I want to do with my family, but everyday family life is already pretty full. Adding anything extra can make us feel quite busy, and busyness is never the goal. Do you agree?

Yet there is one Christmas tradition that I truly love, one that is scattered trough my childhood memories. It’s the gingerbread house. It’s the mixing of dough and the rolling it out and the cutting of shapes. It’s the handiwork, the teamwork, the using of all my senses. We would pack on too much candy and by the end of the night everyone would feel sick because we’d all eaten way too much sugar. Perhaps what I really love, though, is simply the smell of gingerbread. Put molasses and cinnamon in anything, and I am game! Yum!!

My oldest son asks every year if we can buy a gingerbread house kit. It starts as soon as they hit the shelves and it never stops. While I know this would be the easiest way, I am a stickler for the homemade and I tell him no because we can make one at home with much better ingredients. This year, I got to spend some one-on-one time with him measuring and cutting and creating our pattern (a tiny architecture/STEM lesson wrapped up in the most wonderful aromas!)

Here’s a little peak at the house pattern all cut out and taped together (just with a little bit of tape, since we would be disassembling it to trace onto our dough):

I had plans to try out some healthier gingerbread house dough, but when it came time last Friday to actually make the stuff, I used my trusty Joy of Cooking recipe. (I’m sure that if you want to make your dough, you can use whatever basic cookbook you have, or use the first basic recipe that comes up on google. Perhaps this one from King Arthur Flour. They never let me down.)

One thing I decided to do this year was to cut out enough dough for each person in my family to make their own personal gingerbread house. This would ensure that no one was fighting because someone was messing with their design or because someone’s hands were in the way or whatever.

We gave each of our children a paper plate and a little bowl of candy and we let them decorate their own houses. We sat down alongside our children and decorated our own houses too. Of course, I don’t have photos of our process but hopefully the last two sentences gives you an idea of how we did this.

So, I had the idea to build tiny, individual houses but I wasn’t sure how it would work out. Truly, it was great.

5 Reasons to Build Tiny Gingerbread Houses:

1.) Individual Creativity. No one fought over what kind of design to make because everyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted to their own house.

2.) Fairness. My husband had the brilliant idea to ration out the candy into individual bowls (I used washed yogurt containers, which I always save for things like painting and to-go lunches and now, for building gingerbread houses). This way, everyone was sure to get the same amount of goodies and no one complained that “So-and-so ate all the peppermints.”

3.) Preventing Candy Hangovers. Everyone got an appropriate amount of candy and could do with it what they wanted. Our smallest child ate most of her candy while the rest of us were decorating our houses. We had figured that would happen, but in the end it was fine because she had the same as everyone else.

4.) Structural Integrity. I seem to recall gingerbread houses being finicky, and the roof caving in or the foundation cracking. However, my idea to build tiny gingerbread houses had the added benefit of lighter-weight pieces. Therefore, the house itself wasn’t so complicated to put together and it was absolutely structurally sound.

5.) Easy Icing Glue. Because our tiny houses were not so heavy, we were able to use a simple powdered sugar + milk icing to build them. That’s right, no egg whites! We just made sure the icing was kind of thick so that it would dry faster. We sat down together to build the houses, went downstairs to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and came back upstairs to do our decorating. That 45 minutes gave the frosting enough time to dry so the candy could be applied without any collapsing. (Note: Because our children are so little, my husband and I basically put the houses together. We applied the icing and helped the kids position their pieces so that everyone would actually end up with a house and not a big pile of crumbs.)

Simple Steps:

***Things you will need to make your own gingerbread houses: Dough, candy, powdered sugar and milk, bowls, paper plates.

1.) Print my FREE TINY GINGERBREAD HOUSE PRINTABLE . Cut out your pattern (I made my pattern pieces with an old cereal box. You can make your pattern pieces with paper, but something heavier will be much easier to work with.)

2.) (Optional) Build the house using your pattern and a few pieces of tape. (While unnecessary, I found that this helped my son and I both see what we were about to do with the gingerbread and to make any adjustments we wanted.)

3.) Make gingerbread dough and roll out to about 1/4″ thickness. I used one recipe of gingerbread dough and we made 5 tiny houses with it, and we had leftover dough that I froze for later use.

4.) Using your pattern, cut out enough pieces of gingerbread to make as many houses as you need. You will need 2 pieces of roof, 2 pieces of side, and 2 pieces of front/back per house Basically, my printable makes one house.

5.) Bake the pieces of gingerbread. When transferring your shapes to the baking pan, be gentle because they will stretch a little (another benefit to tiny houses: if the pieces aren’t perfect, the icing will still be able to hold the house together!)

6.) Once the cooked dough is cool, mix together a few cups of powdered sugar with a little bit of milk (remember, you want the icing thick, so don’t add a lot of milk. A good rule of thumb is to add one tablespoon at a time until your icing is smooth and spreadable.) Now you’re ready to assemble your house!

7.) Once your house is assembled, get out your candy and have at the decorating!

8.) Take lots of pictures and let me know how your houses came out!!

 

 

The Ship’s Run Aground

The Ship’s Run Aground

A dear friend gave me a book last week. It’s Cultivate Vol. IV: Creativity Unlocked, a book created by Cageless Birds, designed to do just what it says: unlock creativity.

It certainly does.

(Please note that I am not getting paid to write this. I am simply sharing my life here.)

The book is a kind of devotional. Most entries end with prompts that aim to help unlock creativity in those who dare to take the journey. The first prompt speaks about creativity, ability, and risk, and though my answer quickly turned from the original prompting, I think it valuable to share my answers with you.

Creativity: What is inside yearning to get out. The desire to make. Not to critique, but to make in the first place. To make new. To make aground. To make live.

I later explored that word “aground” because when I reread my words I was unsure that it fit. Below is what came from my exploration.

The word “aground” refers to a ship in shallow water, a ship that is on the ground has “run aground.” This ship is not where one would expect to find it, and likely not where it expected to be found either, but it is where it can be seen fully. If I were a ship run aground, I would be seen fully, and therefore would be in a vulnerable place. Creativity is vulnerable. And it’s not just about painting and so-called artistry either. “To be creative,” as Justina Stevens (author of this first devotional in Cultivate Vol. IV) says so eloquently, “is to problem-solve, to come up with ideas during your day, to find a way to relate to a stranger, to try a new seasoning in your stir-fry. It is a drive to live, to make families, to take risks. … Your calling as a human is to live a creative life.”

Ability: What I am given. What I can do. But more than that, what I am graced for. Ability is uncovered in the process. It is not shown immediately, but allowed to be dug out. [Or, allowed to run aground.]

Risk: Scary, yet exciting. Risk is uncertain, but necessary. Without risk, life is flat. Sometimes an act may seem risky, but if prompted by the Holy Spirit, risk is life-giving and wonderful. If we prompt our own risky situations, they are likely to devastate. With the Holy Spirit, risk will always turn to good, will open our eyes, will raise our faith and give us stories that glorify God. Though in the beginning of any risk, fear may creep in, when we are with God He is with us and in His love He gives wisdom where we may see a void.

Oh, these Cageless Birds have me excited. I know very little about them, but just the words “cageless birds” paired with a drive to unlock creativity. Wow.

Cageless birds are those birds who fly in freedom, who belong to a flock, who peer into clouds and touch the line where heaven and earth meet. They are those birds who are not fed, but find themselves sustained. They are not tied to humans, but are allowed to soar.

“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description but careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds.” -Mt. 6:26 MGS

We see birds in the sky as V’s. The birds, wings spread, look just like those pointed lines. They fly in formation, together with others. Caged birds are provided food and scenery, but the universe is a grand gift. Life is unpredictable and risky. Life requires the ability to explore.

Birds are unconcerned with blemishes. They do not wallow in the fact that they are depicted as the twenty-second letter of our alphabet. They just fly on because this is their instinct, nay their calling.

 

 

When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

When Your Child Wakes in the Middle of the Night

The scene is familiar:

It’s dark. I am in bed, but not asleep yet. Instead, I am thinking, reliving my day and predicting my tomorrow.

At bedtime, I prayed sweet dreams for my little ones, dreams of candies and princesses and strong warriors defeating dragons. I prayed peace over my children and my household. Still, when trying to put myself to bed, I lie awake thinking about events, feeling as though I should have a plan for the days to come, that I need one in order to be in control.

Then, in that too-dark moment, my worries are interrupted as a boy cries and I hear the CRACK of his door opening. He goes to  the bathroom and I go, too. I help his tired wavering body to stand. I help him flush and wash and dry his hands. Then he is back in bed and I cover him the way he likes. “Make the covers straight, please,” he says, not always so politely. He likes when the covers are flown up and then dropped like a parachute over him. Parachutes save the lives of people in mid-air, and though my boy is not jumping out of planes just yet, he is that type.

I lie next to him for a moment, stroking his thick wavy hair. It is not long, but still my fingers become buried in it.

This is as still as the boy ever gets. Usually climbing, jumping, performing supermans or mountain climbers (his favorite exercises) or wandering deep in the woods behind our home. He is adventurous and he is an adventure.

I cannot see anything when I whisper that I love him. “Sweet boy,” I say. This is something that I know exists within him, but I don’t witness it often. I kiss his head and I go.

As I close his door and make the short walk down the hallway, my only thought is Why? Not why did he wake (and truly, this scene is the easiest of any child’s wakeful moments) but why did I go to him in the middle of the night? Often when I hear a child awake after bedtime, my eyes roll and I pull the sheet over my head to hide. Sometimes I play the compassionate mother, but more often I just want my children to figure it out on their own and let me sleep. In this scenario, I moved–and was moved–to be near. But why?

What we hear so often is that our children will not be little forever, so we should cherish the time when they want us near. But that is not why I went to my son. I’m not even sure that I agree with that popular sentiment. Though there are many precious things that I may later miss about this stage of parenthood, shouldn’t we always cherish whatever we have? Every moment of life is a fight for contentment, some moments easier won than others but still the fight continues. Today, I want my children to be self-sufficient and kind, but when I am old, I might desire the needy-busyness of toddlers. Whatever I want today and might want tomorrow should not be the ruler of my parenting decisions.

So why did I go to my child in the night? It was not because I wanted to cherish the moment (actually, I wanted to sleep long and well and wasn’t getting that anyway), but because raising kids is about longevity.

What happens when we give our presence to our children? Surely, even if they are not fully aware, there is an impartation, a reminder of the peace that is necessary not just for bedtime, but for life. And since life happens in every moment, shouldn’t we seize the ones we’re given, whenever they happen, and whether or not they match our current or future desires?

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

On Lifetime Friendships and Everything in Between

This blog was drafted in the Houston Airport, the day after the last of my childhood friends got married. I was sitting there, waiting for my flight, and I just started writing.

Who knows why we write. Who knows why certain events stand out to us, why we get stuck on thoughts, but in that airport I was stuck on these relationships. In the sidebar of this very blog I have quoted Flannery O’Conner. “I write to discover what I know.” This is that kind of blog post, where I may come to no conclusion.

Still, when I think about lifelong friendships I immediately think of my husband, who was homeschooled. All of his lifelong friends share his blood. Though he is supportive, he does not understand my desire to keep old friends. Perhaps this blog is a quest to try again to explain. As I write that line–my desire to keep old friends–I realize that it’s not me keeping these friendships at all. They just are. After 27 years, these relationships keep themselves.

6.26.2017

This weekend, one of my very best childhood friends was married. Now she’s on her honeymoon and I’m sitting in an airport restaurant. I am filled with tacos and nostalgia.

Years of water tell the beginning of our friendship: a river, an ocean, an inlet, a swimming pool. Together they tell stories of smiles and survival.

We lived through elementary school and puberty, high school and graduation. There are five of us girls who are still close, who spent the weekend together as adults, who just want to know that even though the memories are beautiful, the future of our friendship is available too.

Available. Uncertain, unwritten, that the future holds promise and the current holds air, holds breath, holds that which is necessary for the continuation of life.

I am wrought with a heartache that misses all the moments, a sentimentality that wants my eyes to sob.

My eyes have released enough: at a wedding so beautiful and perfect, at a garden so lush, when two families were united by two loves grown together. An unrehearsed prayer in a doorway, words were spoken of something invisible, something represented by all the caught glances and all the clanging, cheerful glasses. Dancing proved joy, but dancing also made it.

The weekend was filled with love in so many forms. A father gave away his last daughter, spoke blessings over a room. A story about sailing on our water. Sailing is natural freedom, glamorous adventure. I wasn’t mentioned, but I know that context. I’ve been on that boat too.

The bride’s dad honored his wife, credited her with the friendship that remains in their family, said that his wife taught his daughters how to be friends. Truth told of that Mama: she taught us how to be friends, too.

Oh, we lived in her minivan and by her quiet grace. Driven around town for years until we could drive ourselves. Then, we were reckless but covered. Now, we are all married, all have families and homes of our own. Differences run but the similarities we share are enough. Memories so strong.

But why are we still friends? My husband wonders this, and I do too. It appears that most people lose their childhood friends when they go to college. Why are we so lucky to have remained attached? Are we all suckers for stories? Are we all stuck together with humor and tragedy? Our childhood has all of that coming-of-age drama. All childhoods do, so what holds ours together?

Everyone close to us was funneled through our youth group. Yes, we talked about God but we also had cigarette breaks. We drank underage and we all dated and cried and stayed out too late, disregarded the rules. But we passed our classes and got out of high school and now we’re all married with functioning lives of our own.

Some thread remained tight between us and we still celebrate together. We still cry together. We still… still is a word made from glue that dries or is drying. Still is a word for the moments that seem unmoving like trees rooted in forest soil. Yet even trees can sway in the wind. Is the tree used up by metaphor? Maybe, but trees still grow and keep growing.

Where is the root of this friendship? Was it born as we sat on dark, deserted beaches, and in Sunday morning church chairs? Or as we sipped hot drinks at a coffee shop with music and scones, in a youth group that ended but never really departed?

Too much remains of these relationships to break them. Our differences never blurred, but we remain like splotches in a Jackson Pollock. All unique. All striking. Some may say, but what does it mean? Like everything, it means the world, and it means nothing, and we are left with questions that words can’t define. That’s art and that’s friendship.

Now, I am a mom and, no matter how I look back with chuckles and squints, I don’t want my kids to relive my childhood. I don’t want them to do everything I did or see everything I saw. I do want them to know purpose at a young age, but does that stifle their own growing?

I know– kids grow up no matter what parents do, and parents screw up no matter how hard we try. And here I sit right in the middle of the growing up and the trying, in these glorious moments where my kids are climbing trees and skinning their elbows and I am writing exploratory blog posts and bad poetry because that’s what I can finish in an afternoon. Because, though I treasure the friends who have known me forever, not everything should be lifelong. Sometimes I yearn to see the ending, the completion, the finishing of something, if even just a first draft of a poem about washing dishes (always more satisfying than the act of washing dishes itself).

I don’t want my kids to relive my life, but I do want them to know adventure and security, reason and frivolity, beaches and hot coffee. To know that we are always discovering and that lifelong friendships exist, but more than that, life exists and so do long friendships, and no one knows all the answers. Not even me.

 

Irma and all the Weather

Irma and all the Weather

Well hurricanes have been the subject of many an article lately. Today, Irma’s destruction is measured in my former home state and she has mostly moved north to leave those people be. Her affects on Florida are described in my text messages and all over my Facebook news feed. Destruction, yes, but thankfully I have not heard complete devastation from people I love. Oh, mustn’t we always remind ourselves that devastation is cyclical, and we are all in the circle. We all have troubles, whether or not Irma is the cause, and we all have hands for helping. Right now, Irma (and Harvey, too) is America’s news. It’s flooding. It’s roofs ripped off, fires even, and looting. Yet, hope lives on.

At my home, I sit in a quiet sunroom, surrounded by windows and the sound of cold wind and sirens. Leaves move and birds chirp, as they always do. Life is a crescendo-diminuendo, predictable yet changing, cyclical yet surprising.

And Irma is moving. “Why is she following us?” my children asked as we headed north from our Myrtle Beach resort vacation early Monday morning. Over the weekend, we had been watching Irma on the television, interrupted by emergency broadcasts where the governor of South Carolina spoke the possibilities. We watched, we listened, waiting for information that could change our departure time. Irma is following us, and Irma is in us. Who knows why she is here or where she will go. Until they hit land, and even once they do, hurricanes are unpredictable. Today, Irma is fading into scattered thunderstorms.

It is September. The air is cold out my window and the sky is one big cloud waiting to burst. The headlines: Irma Tosses Homes into the Ocean. An Alligator Wanders Downtown. Manatees, Fish Stuck on Land. Record Flooding. Power Lost. Death Toll. A professor once taught me that all great fiction requires truth. Truth, she argued, is the starting point for any great story. I say stories as if all stories are fictional. Stories are things gone by, but their affects can still bring pain. Here, I am simply speaking of the story itself, not of the lives and homes mangled by its events.

From my room, I know the story of Irma but all I see is a grey sky. All I feel is the chill of autumn.

No matter how scientific, the changing of seasons is still strange to me. The most shocking is summer to fall. When tank tops no longer suffice, when sweaters are necessities, when the scarves come out.

Autumn. That season that so many people love for its orange and yellow colors, for the beginning of family celebrations, for the turkey on the table and the aroma of cinnamon and cloves. Symbolically, though, why does autumn remind of a downward change? It’s no longer time to jump and swim, but to sit and reflect. The year is coming to a close, and I hear those words of John Lennon. And what have you done?

It’s not that I believe doing is the answer, at least not when it comes to the changing of seasons. Autumn comes, the leaves fall, then winter strikes. The year ends and another begins. This is how the natural world works. It is purposeful. Still, we all have our favorite seasons. Mine is summer, and it can’t last forever.

Like I told my 6 year-old recently, “When you get rid of old things, you make room for new things.” He was sad and crying because a pair of his most beloved pajama shorts had a hole in them and I told him, perhaps not to sympathetically, that we could just throw them out. He lost it. Humans abhor change.

America is making news, and it’s not just about hurricanes. And of course it’s not just America making news either.

Change is everywhere today. It always is, but the stirring of hurricanes and the coming of cooler days makes change evident for me. Even if we aren’t up on all the news stories, we can’t ignore the weather. It touches our skin and enters our lungs. It blows our hair to our faces. It makes us sneeze, drenches our sidewalks, and facilitates the fading of chlorophyll.

Oh, that beauty be discovered here in this solemn grey sky.

Beauty has so many definitions and I am now led to this story:

When I was in college, an art professor gave an assignment for us all to define beauty. What was it called? Maybe “The Beautiful Project”? We had to give answers for A Beautiful Face, A Beautiful Font, A Beautiful Depiction of Water. So many others, but these are what I remember. We had to gather our image-answers and display them with labels on a large matboard. Today I wish my Beautiful Project was still in my possession, but it was left in the classroom for grading and has probably been decomposing in a landfill for some time now. Likely, it is completely gone.

Can I try to recreate it for you?

A Beautiful Face: John Lennon

A Beautiful Font: My own careful handwriting.

A Beautiful Depiction of Water: a photo of military personnel giving water bottles to a group of thirsty refugees.

I suppose at the time I was an advocate for “Make peace, not war,” hugs instead of guns. Today, I admit that my perspective has shifted slightly.

The Beautiful Project was completely personal, one big opinion to be displayed. I suppose all art is. The artist brings to life what is hidden inside, and that in itself is beauty. I once prided myself on being different. Even in art class I had different ideas–beauty could not be found in separated images, but in the thoughts behind the whole of the answers–and yet today I sit in a room and ponder the weather like everyone else.

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

A Letter to Sort Out the First Grade

Dear Son,

I don’t know what I’m doing. There, I’ve said it. Now I will write more words until I come to an end.

This fall you will begin your first grade year. That is to say that if you were in public school, you would be in first grade because that is the grade your age relates to.

To is a preposition and you’re not supposed to end sentences with it. (I should have said, “…because that is the grade to which your age relates.”) But people end sentences with prepositions all the time, and honestly proper grammar often just sounds snooty.

We should remain aware of our tone both when we write and when we speak, and the two applications of tone are not interchangeable. If I were writing an academic research paper, I should aim to use exactly the correct grammar. In this letter-blog, however, I wish to remain more informal than exact, proper grammar allows. If I were speaking, this entire paragraph would come out in bubbles because I can’t seem to think and speak at the same time. But also, you will often see that speech does not translate well to text. When we speak, we rely on the tone of our voice and often forget about how diction and syntax can change our stories. This is fine, and natural, but still something of which we should remain aware. (Look at that proper preposition placement! At least I think it is proper, but honestly prepositions confuse me. Is first grade the year when you study prepositions? I don’t think so, but it’s probably also not the time to practice division, and we have done that.)

Speaking of grammar and confusion, people also often start sentences with but (and I have done this several times already.) But is a contraction and meant to combine two related, but different, thoughts, into one sentence. Since but is meant to join two thoughts into one sentence, you can expect some controversy if you choose to begin your sentences with it.

You love the word but because it sounds like butt. You are six years old.

I giggle now because of a scene from a college class. The class was called Feature Writing. Features are a type of article that show up in newspapers, but they have a bit more flare than what you might find on the front page. Newspaper writing is all a bit funky because it uses its own kind of grammar, something called AP Style. One day my class landed on the subject of these particular grammar rules. I think we were talking about commas and whether or not you’re allowed to use them in newspapers (the answer: yes, but only if absolutely necessary. A comma often just takes up space and when you’re paying per page printed, you only want to print what is necessary.) One boy spoke up in the middle of our little grammar lesson. His hair was a fuzzy, dark, stark contrast to his smooth pale skin. His arms showed no muscle and the tone of his voice rang higher when compared with most males his age. He was intelligent, loved music and had tattoos. He interrupted the lesson with genuine interest.

Genuine means authentic. You know this well because children are always authentic. You know nothing else.

“What about buts?” he said, placing emphasis on the most hilarious word in the question. If I had had milk in my mouth, it would have come right up my nose. Still today I giggle as I write this story. “What about buts?” The placement was perfect, full of dramatic irony. He hadn’t thought his question funny at all, and he didn’t laugh but called me immature and waited for our professor to give an expert answer. Maybe I am immature. It was just so funny, so my reaction was to bust out laughing.

Now I begin first grade home school with you, my firstborn. This is a place where I must play the teacher. You have never been in school, but my experience with teachers is that the best ones practiced humor. What stands out is not the teaching itself but the laughter and personality. Bits of immaturity made them more relatable, so perhaps I should not fret at that at all.

We will figure this out together, or maybe we’ll just study grammar. If we know the literary, surely history and science will find us. I have no worries for mathematics because you love those so much.

Yet, yes I do worry. All parents do. I’ll set that aside for now and simply say that surely more will come of these first grade homeschooling thoughts, just as surely more will come of homeschool than I could ever predict or schedule in. (Yikes. In is a preposition too. I could remove it since I’m typing but I won’t for circularity’s sake.) Mistakes are the inevitable, editable beauty of life.

Stay tuned.

Love,

Mom/Sara/Haiku the Day Away