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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.

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.

 

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 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.

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?

Don’t Fight Naked

Don’t Fight Naked

I don’t know about you, but I struggle at home. Whether it’s a little girl who just loves to pee on the floor or a red-headed genius six-year-old who is never satisfied or a middle child who laughs at all the rules (especially the rules of gravity), my head is spinning by sunrise every day.

By nap time, I am done and everyone ends up crying themselves to sleep. It’s really fun.

In her post titled, “The Scientific Reason Moms Hate Screaming,” Rachel at A Mother Far From Home says that “This is why moms are so dadgum tired. Taking care of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers is like having heart attacks, hypoglycemic attacks, and lion attacks all day long.” She is speaking specifically about the noise that comes with small children and how that affects a mother’s brain, but I would add that there are lots of things about small children that make our heart race and our blood pressure rise. For me, the noise is definitely hard to deal with but it’s only one of a page-long list.

Just a few hours before I read Rachel’s post, I was praying The Armor of God. Part of me wants to cringe just saying that because I grew up in church and The Armor of God has become kind of like Nickleback was at that time in my life: way overplayed. But in high school, I thought it was hilarious when my youth group leader spoke on Ephesians 6:10-18 and said, “Don’t Fight Naked.” I wrote that on the back of one of my notebooks and today my four-year-old uses that notebook for handwriting worksheets. Good thing he can’t read yet because the word “naked” is already hilarious enough without having it written on one of his prized possessions.

When I was in youth group, The Armor of God wasn’t yet too much for me. It wasn’t until college when I stopped going to church and started doing lots of other things that I began questioning all the overplayed words of my growing up.

Today I’ve come to realize that a lot of those verses are overused because they really do help our lives. The verses of “The Armor of God” are something I’ve known for a long time, but I’m a kinesthetic learner so I guess I needed to have some use for it.

Like having children, maybe. Isn’t being a mom the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life? But I’m thankful for these reminders, for this help:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,

with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

~read the whole thing: Ephesians 6:10-18

Could this possibly relate to motherhood? Yes, I think so. And it’s not so we can win the battles of discipline. It’s so we can realize there is more at stake. We are fighting for our family. We’re fighting with our family. We’re not fighting against them.

What a great reminder that, when I struggle at home (and I know I’m not the only one!), my struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Among all the questions, would a belt of truth help? Yes, please.

What about a breastplate of righteousness to protect my heart from all the veiled lies that come with the uncertainty of motherhood? Absolutely.

At nap time, could feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace be the answer? Bring it on.

A shield of faith to to extinguish attempts to ruin the joy of raising children? Yes!

Motherhood (and all parenting) requires armor because as moms we’re not just keeping kids alive, but guiding them into the kind of lives that will also require armor.

It would be easy to settle here. As in, Oh yeah, that’s true. I’ll remember that for next time. But I’ve grown up a little since high school, and I know this isn’t a piece of information to simply remember. We have to put on armor now because we know there will be a battle later. (How do you put on the armor? Pray it. Speak it. Over and over.) Once my kids start screaming and begging and hitting each other with plastic swords, it will be too late to get dressed. If I’m naked, I can’t help anyone. (Except maybe my husband… TMI? 🙂 )

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

Pinocchio Told Lies and So Do We

 

When he fell from his chair, blood poured. Apparently, his nose met the table as he fell.

It was just a bloody nose, but still shocking. Rest and paper towels stopped it, but a couple days later it bled again. And again. And again. It bled because my son is young and sometimes his finger finds its way into the nostril. It bled again because my son is playful and can’t keep himself from bouncing. It bled again because weapons, no matter how fake, can still do damage.

The week after his first bleeding, he came to me from behind and said, “Mom, my nose is bleeding.” When I looked, there was no blood. My son laughed. “It was a trick, mom,” he said.

This was not my son’s first trick played. He thinks they are funny, and I know he’s not alone. Lots of people love tricks. I’m just not one of them. It always seems that when a trick is played, it is played at the expense of someone else. When my son plays tricks, I know he’s not trying to be malicious, yet there is a hint of malice. I want my son to know the effect of tricks, so I told him the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” I told him that when he tells untruths, he is telling me that he can’t be trusted. What if he kept playing that trick, then one day his nose actually bled again? Then, I might not come to his aid because I thought he was playing a trick.

Like so many parenting situations, I don’t know if this was the right solution. I also don’t actually know what my son’s intention was. He said he thought it would be funny to play this trick, but I’m not sure if dishonesty should mix with humor. In our house, we tell jokes all the time. We laugh (most days anyway). We play games and celebrate fun, but we don’t celebrate dishonesty.

Now, a memory of Pinocchio.

When I was 5 or 6, my cousin recorded herself reading the entirety of Pinocchio and sent me the tapes as a gift. I listened to them, and perhaps that is where the magic of the story begins for me. I watched videos of Pinocchio: the Disney version and a live-action version I liked to check out from the library. I am no Pinocchio expert, and today I recall only the basic story line, but another memory is this: as a teenager vacationing in Italy, I wanted the book. (While in Florence, read Pinocchio? Exactly.) When my grandmother found out that I wanted and purchased the book, she scowled. “He’s a liar,” she said.

Oh, my sweet, sweet grandmother who so rarely showed her opinion. She said that Pinocchio was a liar and she didn’t like him.

A liar. One who doesn’t tell the truth. A liar cannot be trusted. And what is the motive for lying? Is it fear? Shame? A distrust of self? I have told lies. Is it safe to say that every person has? For Pinocchio, dishonesty was always revealed. It never benefited him. In fact, lying always brought more shame than the act that prompted the lie, and yet he still told lies. Even though our human lies don’t always bring such social humiliation, doesn’t shame always follow? It’s a voice that says, Why would you lie? You are a liar. And, like Pinocchio, we continue.

After some research, I have discovered that in the original version of Pinocchio, author Carlo Collodi killed off the marionette (source: slate.com). He apparently wanted to hone in on the consequence of doing bad things instead of the always possibility of rebirth.

Grace. Always grace. That’s why Disney’s version is so lovable. Because, though Pinocchio has told lies in every one of his versions, Disney offers him the chance to separate the “Pinocchio, the Liar” from “Pinocchio, Who Struggles with Lying but Desires Life and Will Have a Chance to Live”.

Pinocchio begins as a piece of wood, a special block with lots of potential. Our kids are so much more than a block of wood, but I admit that at times it seems I cannot see the difference. I’m sure I often come across the same way.

Pinocchio was a liar and Collodi killed him for it (note: this was before the publishers told him to bring Pinocchio back to life). Disney gave Pinocchio a dream and then fulfilled it.

Disney makes Pinocchio sing: “I’ve got no strings to hold me down, to make me fret or make me frown. I had strings but now I’m free. There are no strings on me.”

So, if my son plays tricks but in my eyes they look like lies, do I let him continue to play his games, hoping that he will grow out of it? Or do I point out the dishonesty in tricks and offer the hope of rebirth now? Or am I thinking about this too much and should just let a boy be a boy and have his fun?

After all this, rebirth stands out the most. When Walt Disney Studios allowed Pinocchio to become a real boy, they did not take away the lies, but they did take away the shame. They didn’t say he was perfect, but they allowed him to be human and have understanding. Though Pinocchio never had strings, he did have something holding him back, and in the end he was still allowed to live a life of hope.

 

Small Ones

Small Ones

As I write, I know I’ve failed. In so many ways. Inconsistencies everywhere. Disappointments. Rolled eyes. Mine and theirs and probably yours.

Yet hope remains at the core. Every day, hope that the next day will be better. Right now, the disappointments of this day grip and need refreshment.

Right now it is nap time. It is mostly quiet. Mostly calm. I am sitting on my bed, legs covered. Leaves sway outside my windows, caught by sunlight and shadow. Waving. Dancing. Ferocious. Caught by the wind but stuck to their tree.

How I made my children sit and wait. How I scolded tiny curious hands and big adventurous spirits. I stood at the edge of the kitchen counter, caught by the wind of frustration but stuck to walls of reality, where small fingers held globs of butter, where lunches were being eaten quicker than I could make them. What’s the big deal? My kids were gobbling carrots. I can’t even remember why I was so angry.

Can disappointments be kindling for new fire? I hope so because here I am and though I see beauty and greatness in my young-mother season, I also see an army of chaos and noise marching to the disappointments of my own unwarranted reactions.

Who was it that said we should celebrate the small victories? That, as mothers, there are always millions of things going on. Work and friendships and laundry and dishes, trying to keep up with spousal dates or even just time alone. Then, hobbies, those things that we are drawn toward. Our passions, our gifts. We are constantly working on things for our own lives and also in the lives of our children. Is there ever enough time? Though one child might throw meatballs at lunch, all the other children clear their plates with glee. That’s a small victory.

We are constantly demanding, “Stop hitting.” “Quiet your voice.” “Stay in your room.” “Choose kindness.” We are always tying shoes or digging out splinters or wiping noses or bottoms or asking for a path to be cleared to the beds. There is always more to do, more to work on, more to demand. Yet the small victories are the ones we will only see if we sometimes slow down and watch. If we sometimes remember.

Small victories always add up to one big victory.

None of my kids can tie their shoes yet, but they can untie their shoes and get them on and fill their own thermoses. Small victories. Baby steps. Like when my six-year-old’s nose started bleeding a few weeks ago, it splattered on the ground and made a hilarious spray of a mess on the floor. I was trying to help the nose but also didn’t want the other children’s feet in the mess so I said (probably yelled) that the two non-bleeding children should stay in the kitchen. As I gave tissues to the bleeding son and took wet wipes to the floor, my four-year-old hugged his little sister and said over and over in the most sure and calming voice, “Stay with me.” And she replied, just as sure,”Okay.” The floor still had to be wiped clean and the nose still needed pressure, but that calming voice of small victories rang.

Perhaps all my frustration is just a result of misplaced expectation. I want too many things and I think I can have them all right now. Instead of being stuck to the visual reality of this every day life, maybe I should get stuck to the idea that wholeness sounds more often than it looks, that here is where the wind of small victory catches.

Oh, I remember now. Small Victories is the name of Anne Lamott’s newest book (which I have not read but want to because I love her). But I also read it somewhere else, from someone who was speaking of mothering small children. Perhaps it was Rachel Jankovic. Just trying to give credit to the original.

 

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

I’M FAILING AT CHRISTMAS

Is it really possible? I mean, Christmas is a day. December 25. And days always begin and end without human help.

But as humans, we so often act like we need to do all these things to make Christmas. We need gifts and trees and cookies and we need to drive around looking at lights and we need the happy music and the steaming cocoa.

In my household, we have Christmas traditions. They’re pretty usual. We make forgotten cookies. We watch all the movies. We look at Christmas lights. We give as much as we can. We have fun. This year, I thought we’d also spread  Christmas kindnesses across our community, and we’d make a Jesse Tree to remind ourselves of the bigger story. We started the tree, but have not been faithful, and my almost 6-year old reminds me daily. “Mom. We forgot to read our Bible story.” We’re stuck on Moses.

Surely, I thought, I can just incorporate kindnesses into our wintertime life. “Hold the door for the person behind you.” “Pay for someone’s coffee.” “Let someone go ahead of you in line at the grocery store.” I even sat down and made a list with my children. A whole list of completely plausible ideas. And we talked about why we wanted to show kindness.

“What is kindness?” I said. And we decided that kindness means considerate and willing, nice and helpful. We wrote our list and have done none of it. Not even the simple, free things. Because life happens without trying.

December 25 will come.

This year, the forgotten cookies crumbled. Our tree topper didn’t light. Our children have cried and screamed and talked through all the Christmas movies. When we drove around to look at lights, we had to stop for gas and for air in the tire. Our 4-year old was being nasty and my words weren’t getting through to him so I took him out of the van and sat him on the curb to have a little chat. It was really fun. (Not.) Really? Don’t you know this is Christmas? I thought. The roads for the best lights in town were blocked off, so we left that neighborhood early and got dinner at a food truck. Our kids hated it and ended up eating bananas instead. Our Jesse Tree is empty.

By trying to make Christmas, it seems I have unmade it.

But our tree is up (no topper). Our ornaments are hung (except one that likely got thrown out with our last tree). The air is cold. Forgotten cookie crumbs are filling a box on top of our fridge.

And my boys are not being kind or selfless like I want them to be. Like I want. “I” is such a selfish word.

Really. Do you have to do that? It’s Christmas. 

But is’t not Christmas. It’s only December 16. We’ve got nine more days.

Nine more days to make up my lack of follow-through. Nine more days to get it right.

Then, I wonder if we need that Jesse Tree anyway, or that list of Christmas kindnesses. Do we need cookies that hold their shape? Whether eaten by finger or spoon, they still do the sugary trick. We have tried. And now we’re going out of town for a pre-Christmas vacation, and we won’t be home to complete any of the things on our list. Really, we’re out of time for preparation.

Only one kindness has been done. This is one truly random, unplanned kindness that lets me know that my children understand the true meaning of Christmas.

It’s Jesus. It’s a savior. It’s peace on earth. Good will toward men. It’s glory to God. It’s the best gift ever wrapped up in cloths and presented by angels. It’s everything before Him and everything after Him. It’s unfailing love and a call to do the same. Peace on earth. Good will toward men.

Last week we went to Costco. Among other things, we bought a box of gummy snacks. They are a treat for my children, and that day I had splurged on organic ones. I gave one gummy pack to each child after seat belts were buckled. We made our way to the line of cars sitting stopped at a red light. Crowded and waiting to turn. To go home. And my 6 year-old said, “Mom. What does that sign say?” pointing to a woman on the curb wearing drab cloths and a shivery frown. A woman ignored.

“Pregnant and hungry. Anything helps. God bless,” I read.

I’m seeing these signs everywhere now.

“Oh,” said my son. “Can we give her something?”

“I don’t have any cash,” I told him, “What could we give?”

“Gummies!” he said, and he reached back into the trunk, stuck his hand into the box of gummies and grabbed a handful. As many packages as his fingers could grip, and he handed them to me. His precious gummies.

This kindness wasn’t even on our list.

But I rolled the window down anyway, letting in a chill, and I handed the gummies over. The organic ones, given in an organic way to a woman who said thank you and walked away and stuffed her hoodie pocket with them.

We search for meaning, for ways to make Christmas special. But meaning is only found in the manger, where animals roam and hay is scattered. Where life exists opposite from humans trying.

Life is not a human creation, but a gift.

So maybe I’m not actually failing at Christmas.

Somehow my children know, though they don’t often act like it, about peace on earth and good will toward men. They know about generosity and love and glory to God in the highest. They know.

REVIEW OF THE LITTLE PRINCE MOVIE (SORT OF)

REVIEW OF THE LITTLE PRINCE MOVIE (SORT OF)

When I started reading The Little Prince to my boys, I was optimistic. We had already read The Mouse and the Motorcycle20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Peter Pan (adapted versions of the latter two). But my kids didn’t care about The Little Prince.

Was it too much philosophy? Too much beautiful language? Too little action?

The Little Prince is one of those books that I could read in one day, one of the few books that I have read in one day. I know it’s small, a children’s book, but now that I have tried to read it to my kids, I wonder if it really is. Though I think children can become enthralled with the fantastic stories within each chapter, to fully grasp the enormity, years must exist behind your present life.

I was shocked when someone recently told me that they didn’t care for the book. They said it was too cynical. While that comment shook me for a moment, it also formed a full-bodied question that has been flickering in my mind: is The Little Prince only useful to those of us who can identify with all the child-likeness of The Little Prince, while at the same time seeing ourselves within the vanity of the rose, the wildness of the fox, the power-hungriness of the businessman, and of course with the consequential and dynamic aviator?

Even though we hadn’t finished the book, we watched the movie. I admit that I was skeptical. Could a movie really capture everything that Antoine de Saint Exupéry shows through The Little Prince? Surely not.

Not long before we showed the movie in our living room, I had seen a display of its figures at Barnes and Noble. All the figures were marked 50% off and I considered purchasing some for my sister. She collects The Little Prince things. Things like the book itself in every language, a stuffed doll, and various artworks, stamps, calendars, etc. She is the one who introduced the book to me, when I was a child.

The movie is not really a movie of The Little Prince as we know it, but of a post-Little Prince world. Really, it is about a little girl who learns of the book’s title character, and realizes, like the book’s narrator, that the world is so much bigger than what we can figure.

Kind of like the book. The movie is a great homage of the book, a reminder of what it is like to read the book for the first time. The movie is interesting, beautiful, even uses the exact opening words and a bit of the French language. It is tremendous, shockingly good, and my whole family enjoyed it.

This week, my 5 year-old even brought the book back to me and opened to chapter 7, where our bookmark had landed that fateful day when I thought The Little Prince was lost to my household. But we opened it back up and read together the story of the aviator’s agitation at The Little Prince’s concern for his rose’s life. This was a rose that he loved so much, he had to leave her, and then he regretted leaving. What a grownup emotion. A roller coaster. A group of feelings difficult to pin without the simplicity that childhood beckons.

“It is such a secret place, the land of tears,” I read. The aviator dismisses The Little Prince’s concern, thinks it unimportant, then realizes that it is more real than the aviator’s desire to repair his plane and fly home. The plane was tangible, breakable, would eventually, one day, be useless, be replaced. The Little Prince was human. His rose, a friend.

The Little Prince is a child, and my children are children too. I know that speculation of the book’s meaning has been made. Is it about war? Certainly, I see that in it now. Yet having read it many times with only fantasy in mind, for me the book is firstly about humanity, reminding of childhood desires and thoughts which continue to exist well into adulthood.

Yet now that I have children, my childhood exists again. It’s getting a callback. My children don’t hear fantastic beauty in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. They don’t feel attached to the allegory in the dessert. They just see a depiction of the world they know as truth.

So I smile. Thanks, Antoine. I hope you’re smiling too.