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Author: Sara Dutilly

You Can’t Lose What is in You

You Can’t Lose What is in You

I know you know this, but I am writing a novel. Big surprise: that’s what I”m writing about today.

Once, at workshop in the West Virginia mountains, I heard Meredith Sue Willis say,  that whatever your novel is, you should know it will change, and that you will change, too. She also said that novels are made out of scenes, and then words.

Both are true in this case. Over the past 12 years this novel has been a short story, a first-person present-tense account, and then, now, a past tense third-person omniscient. It has remained dormant in notebooks for years before coming back alive with a ferocious sprint, and then slowing down again to a light stroll with copious breaks for trail snacks. While my characters have remained (except for one that I cut pretty early on), almost everything else has changed.

How like life, to change, yet to also remain true to itself. Though things change, much remains the same and when we look through history, we cannot be surprised by what we see now. Life has always been life, and people have always been human.

The long of it is 30,000 words, and more than that. It goes beyond what I have written or typed. Now, in my notebook of new chapter drafts, I find myself copying passages of scripture, in a way of submission, instead of actively writing more of the story.

Are your ears awake? Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. –Revelation

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! The honor! The power! You created it all; it was created because you wanted it.-Revelation

I find myself copying passages about writing that encourage me.

Do not worry about the whole. Write what is next, the idea that comes now, at the moment. Don’t be afraid. For there will be more coherence and arrangement than you think. -Brenda Ueland

I find myself journaling my insecurities and whatever nonsense pops into my head. I find myself submitting to the will of God. I find myself questioning the call of this novel. Is this something that I want, or something that He wants? I want to be sure that I know, though at this point I really want to drop it, but I can’t. So, I guess I do know.

I find myself learning more about the process of writing than I find actual scenes and words for this novel. I find myself taking joy in the ease of writing poem drafts (no matter how terrible they are, I can at least get an entire draft finished in a few minutes, and that is deeply satisfying when, for other projects, there is no end in sight.)

I find myself trying to remember all that I’ve written regarding this novel. Most of it is in one of two notebooks, but a lot of it is also scribbled on loose pages that I had meant to organize with everything else. When I can’t find something I thought I had written, I feel a bit distressed, as if I’d lost something important. Perhaps I did lose something important, but really, more truthfully, since you can’t lose what is in you, I know that the exact words of a first draft are not always as vital as I imagine they are.

If I recall a scene but can’t find the draft, surely I can rewrite it. What is important will remain. Keeping every exact, initial word is not my goal. And that is true for life as well as writing.

Where to Begin

Where to Begin

Where to begin?

A beginning. A starting over.

Just fragments. Just brainstorms.

Begin: to start, to come into being, to complete the first part of something.

What if we are always beginning, and in that way, are never beginning?

These are the kinds of things that roll through me this evening, when it is dark and quiet and a thunderstorm is coming softly. The fan in my room is circling its small space, affecting the whole room with soothing wind and white noise. My desk is filled: folders and notebooks, envelopes and bills, homeschool booklists and books themselves.

It looks like I’m in the middle of something. In some way, I suppose that I am.

It’s called life.

The school year is beginning again, but life doesn’t start and stop, so as I plan and think over our next school year, I am hesitant to say that we are about to begin. Truly, we already have. Though some things are new, the whole is a continuation.

More than anything, with the next season of homeschool coming up, I didn’t want a list of lesson plans to follow, but something to stand on. Sure, I look at various curriculum and I dream about what will bring peace and abundant excited wonderful learning for all subjects, but I’m starting to think that it doesn’t really matter what we use.

We just need books. Yes, all the best literature. But activities and lesson plans? I’m not so sure about those.

As Charlotte Mason says, Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. 

As Paul says,

Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing.
Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude.
Tell him every detail of your life, 
then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.
So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.
And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.”  

This is what we need. While we listen to The Pilgrim Stories, and read The Life of Fred and American Tall Tales. As we learn about George Washington and then the Civil War. As we begin to put history into our own Book of Centuries. As we frequent the zoo and learn to bake. As we observe the natural world around us, can we Rejoice in the Lord always? As we begin some things but mainly continue many others, can we Rejoice together, remaining focused, stopping the distracting thoughts that seek to sway us into areas we are not called?

This is not a practical blog post, though sometimes I wish I had that gift.

This is Haiku the Day Away, where Motherhood is Poetic. This carries fragments and unfinished thoughts, because while we can be fooled into thinking we are beginning, we are actually surrounded by continuum.

Continuum: a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.

As we continue this year, I hope to share with you our progression in education; the atmosphere, the discipline, the life of rejoicing in learning together. It’s not all about homeschool. It’s learning and it’s life.

My readers, I offer no help. Just stories. Just a place for conversation, where fragments are allowed because sometimes we just don’t know, because though we think we might be beginning something new, we all have a past that brought us here, where a desk is filled and a fan is spinning and it’s dark and quiet and that thunderstorm has subsided but predictions say it’s coming. Tomorrow, the sun will come up and show off for us again. We will begin a new day, but simply continue many other things.

How to Write Acrostic Poems with Your Kids

How to Write Acrostic Poems with Your Kids

An acrostic poem is the kind of poem that looks like this:

Piecing words together
On paper like this
Emits a certain
Memory

Well, that’s just the first thing that came to mind. Do you get what it is now, though? Acrostic is not often used as high literature, but it is a fun way to help kids write poetry.

We use The Good and the Beautiful language arts, level 2. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s free. It’s absolutely sufficient for us right now.

Our last lesson was about poetry. My son read two poems out loud and then was supposed to write two acrostic poems. My son is eight years old and he does not like to write. Sometimes this is because he doesn’t like to physically write, and sometimes it’s because he doesn’t want to come up with ideas. On this day, I believe both were at play.

I am a writer. This is the stuff I live for. It’s always a little bit heartbreaking when my son doesn’t like it.

Poetry is not a need, but it does help with so much understanding. It delves deep into humanity. It requires extra thinking. It brings pleasant surprises. It can be a great joy to homeschool life. My kids are little (my oldest is 8 years old), so we mostly read sweet and silly poetry books like A Child’s Garden of Verses and Sing a Song of Popcorn. These children’s poems rely heavily on images and are light in nature. We also read the poetry of A.A. Milne quite a bit. Every once in a while, I pull out my big literature book and we’ll read poems like “After Apple Picking” or “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud” or whatever flits to me as we go through the seasons of life.

Andrew Simmons wrote in The Atlantic “Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.” He is speaking of a kind of poetry my kids have not yet seen, but I believe this still applies to a child’s early years.

That is to say, simply, that I understand this lesson on acrostics was not critical to my son’s development. But if I could help him through it, and if we could find some joy together within the lesson, then we would.

First, my son was supposed to write an acrostic of his own name. We read an example in the lesson, but he was still unsure. He thought he couldn’t do one himself. He didn’t know where to start.

I wrote one with his sister’s name, to show him how it’s done (yes, this is on a random piece of scrap paper):

He thought this was silly. I showed him how, even though the word was “Susan” I didn’t write her name into the poem. Instead, I wrote about her, describing her actions. This is not a requirement of the acrostic, but I believe it helps to instill good writing skills and higher thinking.

I wrote his name vertically on a sheet of paper and asked him to first think of some words for each line. This is a first draft, a brainstorm.

Was I surprised that the first word he thought of was “butt”? No. Not really.

He wanted to use “Byron” as the first word. I asked him to think of another word that started with a B that described him. I was thinking “boy” but I kept my mouth shut. He thought of the word “brother” and we went with it.

“Now, what do you want to say about yourself?” I asked.

I tried my hardest not to suggest, but just to ask questions, making him think about his decisions. “What does a yak run like?” I asked. “Do you really need to say, ‘or something’ at the end?”

My son is working through a handwriting program, and he has to write on his own almost daily in other subjects. When I can, and especially when he is creating his own  piecesof writing, I am his hands. This frees him up to think more about what he’s saying than how to form the letters.

Then next poem was about birds.

We went to our sunroom for this one because that is where we can always hear and watch birds flying and singing from all directions. We also did this one as a family, each of us taking different letters to make a poem together. Maybe there are some assignments that should be completely independent, but for our family, I am coming to believe that we all benefit from working together.

 

That was our little journey with acrostics. I hope you enjoyed it. Now, may I encourage you to write poetry with your children? (As I write and publish this, it is National Poetry Month, so get on with it!! Poetry can be so fun!)

Get started with these tips on writing acrostics:

Tips for Writing Acrostics With Kids

  • Start with Something the Child Enjoys
    • Does your child play soccer? The piano? Do they love looking at books about frogs? Choose something they are interested in. This way, they will already have a storage of knowledge and inspiration from which to draw ideas.
  • Look Through Books
    • The dictionary has every word in it, so if you need help coming up with words for the different letters you could start there. Of course, you probably don’t have time to read all the words for every letter, but skimming through a dictionary, or a child’s dictionary, could help. Another resource could be to look through magazine pictures, or a family photo album. If the acrostic is of your child’s name, think of things they like, toys they play with, their hobbies, and their friends. Once you have a couple of letters done, the rest will likely fall into place more easily.
  • Write on Sticky Notes
    • Write every letter on a sticky note. (My kids absolutely love sticky notes. Do yours?) Do this as a family, allowing everyone to contribute their ideas. Take your sticky notes for a walk in your neighborhood, and talk to people you pass, asking them for ideas. Don’t worry if the words go together. Just get some ideas flowing first. After you have several ideas, go back home. Pick your favorites and write a poem from there. Maybe you could write a few different acrostics with the same original word, exploring how the word choices change the tone and theme of th poem.
  • Don’t Complicate It
    • Just one word per letter is a fine place to start. For instance, with BIRDS, we could have written: Beaks/Insect-eaters/Real pretty/Delicious/Singers. After that, if we wanted, we could have written whole sentences, allowing the acrostic poem to make a statement or ask a question.

 

[Featured Image: Photo by Taylor Ann Wright on Unsplash]

Burnt Toast, Handwriting Lessons, and Drawing Close to Hope

Burnt Toast, Handwriting Lessons, and Drawing Close to Hope

Mornings are hard.

I know I’ve written about this before. I’m not complaining (though, admittedly, I have complained about it in the past.) I’m simply stating it out of recognition. There is a difference between complaining and recognizing.

Complaining says “Oh man, I am upset about the way this morning is going, and I’m going to choose to stay upset about it.”

Recognizing says, “Mornings are hard.” Then, maybe, “How might they get better?”

One way to make a hard thing worse is to wallow in the hardship. One of my sons did this today. I’ll get to that later.

This morning, I woke up when my husband’s alarm went off. I thought about how my kids would be up soon. I thought about getting up before them, and showering in peace. I thought about the dark, quiet morning and how wonderful that is. Then I thought about how I could just stay in bed and sleep.

I heard someone get up and go to the bathroom. My 8-year-old walked into my bedroom and I told him that he could read in bed for a while. I showered while the house was still mostly quiet.

I know of many moms who choose to wake up before their kids, and I admit that when I do this, I feel much refreshment. But I like to stay up late, and I simply can’t do both.

After I showered and dressed and brushed my hair, both the boys followed me downstairs. They ate some zucchini bread. I poured a cup of coffee, had a banana, and read by myself. Then the baby was up. I got her out of bed. I fed her a banana. The boys read Dog Man and Harry Potter and then did a math lesson.

Fast forward about an hour. All my kids were making toast. I was perusing Literary Mama’s Calls for Submissions. They’ve only sent me rejections, but I’m still trying, i.e., I’m not living in the hardship, but going for hope.

Suddenly, I heard someone say, “Smoke!”

The toaster was smoking something fierce. A thick grey took over the house. The bread was completely burnt, and its essence was spreading into all our breathing air. I’m thanking God that nothing caught on fire.

Apparently, my 6-year-old son had wanted his toast to stay hot, but he wasn’t ready to eat it. After one toasting cycle, he pushed the toast back down into the hot metal grates for one more go. I was upset, and trying to make him understand the severity of his actions. I allow my kids to make toast, but not to play with the toaster. I was trying not to overreact. I understand why he did this. Hot toast is better than cold toast. He didn’t know that it would smoke like that.

We opened all the doors and windows. We turned on all the fans. That was five hours ago and my house still smells like smoke.

We moved on with our daily lessons. Handwriting was next.

My 6-year-old started crying. He said he didn’t want to do his handwriting. He didn’t want to write or draw. I still don’t know why. He usually loves handwriting and drawing. I told him that he needed to tell me more. I told him that just saying, “I don’t want to” is not helpful. That doesn’t tell me anything. I told him something I’ve been saying to both my boys lately:

BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A PROBLEM MAKER.

Living in a state of grumpiness is a problem. Talking about it, moving on, is a solution.

I get sad, too. I get angry. There are lots of things that I don’t like to do. But I do not allow my children to just tell me, “I don’t want to.” They must tell me more. If I were to allow my children to only do what they wanted, all our lives would be miserable. This is an exercise in communication, and one thing that I never anticipated when we decided to homeschool. Because we are a family (because we are human), we are constantly finding ourselves engulfed in selfishness. I encouraged my son to look deeper into why he didn’t want to do this lesson.

I took my 6-year-old into the sunroom. I sat him on the couch. I tried to explain to him that he was not to live in grumpiness. I told him that this is a house of peace. I urged him to say, “I receive peace.” He just sat, wailing, as if in terrible pain.

Maybe he was in terrible pain. I don’t know. Maybe he was still hurt by the burnt toast episode. I don’t pledge to be a superstar mom, or to tell you that you should do what I do. This is my story, and I believe that life encouragement is buried in this story.

I wrapped my son in a blanket. I left him alone. I heard him saying, “I want mommy,” tears falling from his eyes like a waterfall. At first, when he was just a little upset, he sat gently wallowing in his rill of misery. But that rill got bigger. Then he was helpless, free-falling off of emotional waterfalls.

I grabbed a book called, “God’s Gifts.” This is a Little Jewel Book, one of many from that set that were given to my family a few years ago. They are just sweet little, easy readers. In this moment, I thought it couldn’t hurt to remind ourselves of some goodness. I started to read it and my son started to calm down. Then we read two other books, giggling and snuggling close.

It wasn’t about the books, but about the closeness.

We stayed in the sunroom, a cool breeze blowing into our lungs. We finished our lessons there.

My 8-year-old son’s language arts assignment today was to read poetry and write two acrostic poems. He loves to read, but really does not like to write. This is hard for me because I love to write. Still, I know that he is a kid, so I try to help him. Stay tuned for a post about the beauty of acrostic poems and how to actually help your kids (or yourself) write one that has a little bit of literary value!

 

[Featured Image: Photo by Patrick Selin on Unsplash]

DIY Birdseed Ornaments

DIY Birdseed Ornaments

When I began this blog, I said that I wouldn’t do tutorials. Then, I made birdseed ornaments with my kids and I thought I would share them with you.

Here’s why I want to share these: I tried to make them last year. They were cute but crumbly. I don’t remember what kind of fat I used, but it may have been coconut oil. Whatever I used didn’t keep the ornaments together. Then, a couple months ago, I saw a picture of birdseed ornaments that were left inside of metal cookie cutters and hung on trees just like that. Genius, right? I was inspired to try once again.

Without much preparation, I’ve simply had this thought floating around in my head. This happens a lot with me– does this happen with you?– where I just think about doing something for a while until BAM! It’s time, and I go for it. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) this ends in failure because I either don’t have the supplies I need, or somewhere in the process I just decide against it.

Last week in our homeschool, the day arrived. It began with a couple of psalms and some watercolor painting. It continued with a penmanship lesson and a math lesson. Then, I just knew it was time to get outside, and I know making birdseed ornaments would get us there because we’d have to go outside to hang them. I told one kid to get the birdseed, another kid to scrape the lard out of a jar, and still another child to cut apart our paper towel rolls.

–Why, yes, I do have a cabinet full of paper towel rolls. Do you need one?–

I had previously looked through our stash of cookie cutters only to find one rusty metal ornament. I thought we’d spread lard and birdseed on the outside of paper towel rolls, and I was preparing for this adventure when I had an idea.

–Are you ready for this?!–

We would cut the toilet paper rolls even narrower and fill them, as if they were the cookie cutters we had wanted all along.

The afternoon was a raging success, so here I am to tell you how we did this. Please let me know if you’ve ever made these. Or, let me know if you try my technique. I am fascinated!

Materials:

1 Cup of lard, melted
2 Cups of filling (birdseed, and add in seeds and dried fruits as you like)
Paper towel or toilet paper rolls, cut into 2-3 inch wide pieces.
A cookie sheet or other portable hard surface
Natural hemp cord

Simple, right? Well, yes. Read on for some secrets I discovered while making these cuties.

The lard I used was homemade. My husband made it a few months ago out of really good, local beef parts and it’s been sitting in our refrigerator since. I don’t really know what he used or how he made this lard, but I’m sure recipes exist somewhere. Else, you could hop on over to your local grocer and purchase some for cheap.

SO, we melted the lard and then I measured it to make sure that we had the amount we needed.

We made the filling: as much birdseed as we had, then added some raisins and sunflower seeds from our pantry.

I lined a cookie sheet with an old cereal bag (my grandma always saved these because they are the perfect surface for rolling out pie crusts, so I save mine too.) You could use wax paper or parchment paper, or you could just do this right on your cookie sheet. I just didn’t want a big lard mess to clean up, so I lined my cookie sheet with a cereal bag before beginning.

My three-year old scooped the birdseed into our paper towel roll ornaments.

Here’s where ingenuity kicked in and surprised me.

I cut straws to make holes in the ornaments, so we could string some hemp cord through them later.

**This part is important! I kept the straws in place and strung the cord through the straws. This made it much easier to get the cord through the ornament because straws are smooth and birdseed is not!

For the most part, the cord went through easily, but on a few of these, I had to first remove the straw and use a nearby stick to poke a hole all the way through the last end-piece of hardened lard-birdseed.

Along the way, I found that lard is sticky and gross, but thankfully it washes off of hands and cookie sheets when you use hot water. I also found that when my hemp cord frayed at the ends, excess lard was useful for acting like a glue to keep the frays together.

One thing I’ve learned over the past year of birdseed ornament fascination is that there are many different ways to make these. Simply, I was excited to finally find one that worked for me without becoming a crumbled mess.

My daughter was really excited today when she saw birds munching on these ornaments. Though I couldn’t get a photo of that scene, if you make these ornaments you’ll likely have something far better than a photo to watch.

 

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

The leaves are slowly falling, slowly changing, and I’m realizing that this autumn season makes me think that other things will change, that autumn is the best metaphor and I want to see all the pretty colors cover my world like a postcard.

But life is not a postcard.

–this is profound, I know.

Can the changing not be left to leaves and temperature, but used for life itself?

–Life doesn’t follow nature’s seasons.

Still, if I’m thinking about my life changing, what would I want to change?

I could list these things, but what is the purpose in listing what I want? Then, I would just be like my children who, without a thought, impulsively speak their desires.

Now, here’s a story:

I’ve been making my kids say, “There is no lack in this house.” I tell them to repeat, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Because they are always (*okay, not ALWAYS. Just a lot of the time) bickering over petty things like [whining-ly] “Can I stir the eggs?!!!!” “No me!!” “NO! I WANT TO STIR THE EGGS!!!”

Sometimes I get frustrated and banish everyone from the kitchen. But, more recently, I have begun saying to my children, “Guys. Everyone can stir the eggs. There’s no end to the stirring.” This is when I make them repeat, “There is no lack in this house. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

My kids act like only one person can stir the bowl of soon-to-be-scrambled eggs when actually, the eggs only get better with each subsequent stir.

“There is no lack in this house,” I say.

–But

is the Lord my shepherd? Shall I not want?

It’s a gift, the unwanting.

A completely miraculous, amazing, wonderful thing, to have a shepherd and to see the world in abundance.

But we shun the shepherd’s abundance. Somehow, we think we know better.

Us adults, we’re supposed to have it all together. We’re supposed to speak well and calmly. We’re supposed to be able to let our kids learn, to let them figure things out, to cherish all the moments naturally. We’re supposed to be able to put together a blog post that makes some kind of sense. We’re supposed to have something to add to the world besides our ramblings.

But ramblings like this, these are the looks of a beginning, like those deciduous trees.

This may be my favorite word: deciduous. Those trees and shrubs who, every year, shed their leaves and go bare-branched into the winter.

But trees are supposed to have leaves, right?

And I’m supposed to have a conclusion.

Soon, the trees will be cold and covered in snow.

We’re sitting on something.

 

Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

Mom, I’m Going to Make a Flower

I know this is just a piece of torn notebook paper. I know the tape is rough and the leaves will turn. But my boy made this.

After breakfast, I had -lovingly- shoved my noisy kids outside. They were too harsh for the walls of our home so I sent them where there are no walls.–

Where they can run and jump and raise their voices. Where birds chirp quietly and bugs crawl under our feet. Where wild things live unseen.

Nash took his one-subject spiral notebook with him.–

His red notebook. His new notebook, the one that we only own because it was $0.10. His collection of blank college-lined papers which had been purposeless until paired with a mind for creation.

Nash went straight for our giant magnolia-climbing tree and sat, still and quiet in its shade. He drew. I walked outside with our precious new baby I went to the van, opened the trunk, took out a lawn chair. I unfolded it and I sat in the driveway.

Soon, my children gathered near as if they knew that we belonged together.–

No matter what has happened, no matter how annoyed we have all been with each other, no matter how much complaining we have given into, my children always know, somehow, that we belong together.

Nash found these leaves and picked them off of their plant. He held them between his fingers. He rubbed them on a page and watched the chlorophyll transfer. Then he smiled that kind of smile that speaks for itself.–

That smile that says joy, unspeakable joy. That smile that shouts, I rejoice right now, in this day and always. That smile that exudes a simple gratitude, higher than any words.

“I’m going to make a flower!” he said. “Mom, can I go inside and get the tape?” I allowed it. Well, I couldn’t stop it. He had an idea, and he had to complete it. He worked diligently to make a flower out of five leaves, and then he hung it right outside mine and Neil’s bedroom door. “Where Grace can’t get it,” he said.–

Where it is safe, I heard. Where you’ll see it, right at eye-level, I knew. Where you’ll remember.

He decorated the entrance to the place we lay our heads. His one idea, focused until completion, made with the things he saw. Completed all by himself. It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world. But really, it is.–

When an idea comes to life with child-like faith. When the process is more important than the product. When little love-reminders are placed right where we are sure to see them… where we need to see them.

About A Day

About A Day

Because it’s therapeutic just to journal about the day.

Because in the thinking back, we can let go and find the beauty in our mundane.

Because, in an effort to find significance where I am right now. It’s that place where kids are small and messes are big and none of us know what we’re doing.

This morning, I woke up to a seven-year-old who had to go the bathroom and was eager to read The Boxcar Children. He said good morning to my sleeping eyes and then he went to my closet to read alone. It’s a big closet, with the light and space for this boy to spread out.  One corner even holds a pile of his books. I wonder just how many books he has in there, but I have never taken the time to count them. Instead, I often remind my boy that it’s not his closet. I ask him to stack his books neatly. I ask him if he really needs that many books in my closet. He always tells me that he does. I don’t believe him, but then I look at my nightstand which holds at least twenty books. I read them all.

This morning, I stayed in bed with Susan (almost three weeks old now). We snuggled. I went back to sleep until the next child awoke. Then I left Susan to dream, and I showered.

The morning was more hectic than I would have liked. The mornings almost always are. This morning, Susan woke up and and wouldn’t be put down. We were all starving by the time she did. As soon as my hands were free I made oatmeal. I cooked it with maple syrup while my middle two children stood close, blowing holes into the steam that rose above it. I scooped the oatmeal into four bowls and listened to everyone’s requests for toppings. Milk. Honey. Brown sugar. My oldest cried. He didn’t want honey but because I was feeling rushed I had accidentally put it into everyone’s bowls. Screaming rose like the oatmeal’s steam had earlier, but the screaming could not be blown away. The child said he didn’t like honey but I know that’s not true and I told him so. We argued, though I knew that was dumb and futile. I am an adult and these are children, but I often forget about our age gap.

Susan woke up. Eventually, everyone was fed and we were trying to get everyone ready for a play date at the Splash Pad. I was annoyed.

“Seek first the kingdom of God” kept playing in my heart, but my annoyance won anyway. I gave my kids opportunities to listen but they kept failing my expectations. I made sandwiches while Susan lay in a basket of clean laundry and screamed. Her siblings stood nearby trying to calm her with sweet songs and well-meaning kisses. We were an hour late to our play date but we had fun while we were there.

Water shot up from the ground and my kids knew exactly what to do with it. They explored. They played. They laughed and climbed and made memories with their friends. I chatted with my friends–the other moms–making my own memories.

Where are my eyes throughout these days? Am I looking at crumbs or at the tiny hands who made them?

After dinner, after bedtime, I washed dishes and wiped the counters and now I am sitting at the table writing out the day, looking for the meaning, knowing that meaning only sometimes comes how we think it will.

Haiku the Day Away was never about advice or how-to anything. Haiku are small image-driven poems with big punches. Though they seem to be about the images, haiku hold unseen treasures. They show what is in front of us but they are about something deeper. They are like metaphorical x-rays, begging us to look beyond. Again and again, they ask us to seek and keep seeking and they almost always, in the end, reveal more within those things which we have allowed to become mundane. In a haiku, the mundane can actually hold so much beauty.

Consider the Lilies

Consider the Lilies

“What about Susan Joan?” he suggested.

My face crumpled. “I don’t love either of those names.”

“Susan means graceful lily,” he said. “Joan means God is gracious.”

The names have further significance. Both of them are aunts that have played vital roles in my husband’s life, people who continuously shower others with bursting love and creativity. They brighten everything around them.

Still, to me, the name sounded harsh. Susan Joan. Not like the beautiful names that sat on my own list: Lillian, Caroline, Elise, Jane. Lily was once a joke, but it had slipped to the top of my list. Lily is a beautiful, fragrant flower symbolizing innocence, purity, and beauty. Consider the lilies of the field, I thought, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. The image of the lily, along with its aroma, can change the atmosphere of an entire room by just sitting in it. Naming this girl Lilian would give her a more adult option later in life.

Female names have always been difficult for my husband and me. Our first daughter, who is currently three years old, is named Grace, and that was the first female name that my husband and I had ever agreed on. He just doesn’t like girl names, but Grace was an important word for us after giving life to our first two children: two rambunctious boys.

Before we knew this child’s gender, my oldest son told us that she would definitely be a girl. “That would make us balanced,” he said. I chuckled because this boy always chooses symmetry. Still, he was right, and when we went for our anatomy scan the technician told us that, though a baby’s measurements usually waver and the due date is an average, all of this daughter’s measurements pointed to the same date. “This is one symmetrical little girl,” the technician said.

Susan Joan. With only a few weeks of pregnancy left, I joked that we could nickname her “Aunt.” For years, she and many others would probably think we were saying “ant” and referring to the insect that crawls quickly on the floor searching for sugar. We laughed together. My husband said he didn’t love the name Susan Joan either.

The option lingered.

Lilian still rang truest in my mind. Even Lilian Joan, a name I thought beautiful and wonderful and worthy of our little baby, honoring the aunt named Joan that plays such a role in my husband’s family. We’d call her Lily for short, and the rhyme of her full name, “Lily Dutilly,” would bring joy to our world.

Now, we are days away from her projected due date and she sits upside down in my belly, nameless, and the name Susan is beginning to grow on me. I don’t believe that everyone must name their child according to the meaning it holds, but for my family, this is an important part of the process.

What if her name were Susan? Susan Joan Dutilly.  Susan means graceful lily, I thought. It fits well next to our first daughter—Grace and Susan—and still the symbol of the lily would remain present in her name. Innocence, purity, beauty. Consider the lilies of the field… they toil not, neither do they spin.

In this famous line, lilies are portrayed as balanced flowers. They toil not, neither do they spin. Lilies are graceful beings who stand in the field, beautiful and balanced, bright and open. It’s a graceful image for a family, for a mother who wakes and cooks and cleans and tries to finish her coffee before it goes cold.

I try to see my children, to hug them often and give them what they need most. Yet I am often torn between allowing space for all of us to be individuals and for removing the space by making close snuggles. Perhaps this motherhood thing is all about finding a balance, knowing that it may never be created but is simply found somewhere within these chaotic days. That in the end, the moments matter but they also don’t. While sometimes I am tipped too far on the discipline side and other days I am lax, in the end a mother balances out and can let go of the moments she thinks she’s failed.

Now, I think, Can I learn to paint a lily? I want to paint lilies all over this girl’s room. I want her to know that this is who we believe her to be. Though she will surely surprise us, as our daughter Grace has, with tantrums and disobedience, and pure human ugliness, can she know that she is first and always a daughter who brought balance to her family? Though she will be a baby and then a toddler, she will not toil in her growing. Though she will grow to be a woman, perhaps a wife and a mother herself, and though life may take its toll as it does on all humans, right now the crossroad lies in her name because her name is her first entrance. My motherly hope is simply this, that the daughter of innocence whom she is right now would remain steadfast as she goes forth: Susan.

 

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.