Creative Liberties: Holiday Edition

St. Nick's Night

Have you ever heard the story of the holiday ham? A young woman is hosting the holiday dinner at her new home and she gets the turkey started in the oven and then pulls out the ham, cuts it in half, and puts both halves in the oven. Her new husband asks why she went through all that work to cut the ham in half and she looks at him as if he were a fool and says, “That’s the way you’re supposed to do it.” The young man wasn’t so sure about that answer but he was sure that he didn’t want to get her all riled up before everyone got there so he dropped it and went on his way. But his question stayed with the young woman all morning long and when the young woman’s mother arrived the daughter asked, “Mom? Why do you cut the ham in half before you cook it?” “That’s just the way you do it,” answered her mother. “It…it cooks faster that way, I think.” But the young woman’s mother wasn’t really satisfied with her own answer and thought about it off and on the whole day until her mother arrived for dinner. While Grandmother was in the kitchen looking at all the delicious food, the Mother said, “This morning Susie asked me why you have to cut the ham in half before you cook it and I realized I don’t really know why. I’ve just always done it that way.” Grandmother begins to snicker as she says, “Well, I don’t know why you do it that way, but did it that way because I didn’t have one big pan to fit the whole ham on so I put one half on each of my two smaller pans.”

How many “traditions” started just like this. (I’d venture to say more than we realize)! Someone makes a split second decision and they run with it, not imagining that it will have much consequence but someone else latches onto it and whoops…now it’s tradition. “Well, that’s just how things happened” becomes “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Saint Nicholas Night happened like that for us. Several years ago a friend of mine told me about the Catholic tradition of St. Nicholas Feast Day which, long story short, is a day to celebrate St. Nicholas and his generosity. To celebrate, some children leave their shoes out by the hearth and St. Nicholas drops by and leaves them small toys and/or coins tucked inside. We decided to further that idea and leave out toys for St. Nick to pick up and take to the North Pole, refurbish, and then redistribute to other children for Christmas. That’s a Win-Win-Win in my book. Clear out old toys, teach the children about giving to others, and make it not so obvious if/when Santa brings pre-loved toys on Christmas morn. So we did it one year and then, quite honestly, I forgot about it.

The next year I saw a friend post about St. Nicholas on the morning of December 6. Whoops. We missed it! So we rounded up our toys (and I made a quick run to the store for goodies) and I told the children that St. Nicholas day was indeed December 6, but he didn’t come until that night. Carter was old enough that apparently that stuck in his brain and we’ve been doing it on the night of December 6 since. Thanks, Catholicism, for letting us borrow your Saint’s feast day. We’ve taken some creative liberties with how it should be celebrated and changed it around a bit. We call it St. Nick’s Night and he brings candy instead of small toys or coins. I love how it’s teaching our kids to think of others, to clear out some space and pass along what they’re aren’t using anymore, and to be mindful that pre-loved toys are just as lovely (sometimes even more so) as brand-new-in-the-box toys. This little tradition makes me happy and I wonder how (or if) it will change over time. Most things do, I suppose. But this is one idea that I’d like to keep around for as long as we can.

Happy St. Nick’s night, y’all!

 

 

Resolve : Cracked

I’m going along and one little thing after another chinks my armor,
this steely resolution that I’ve built around my head, my heart.

Weeds of doubt slip into the cracks. Words snake their way in.
And I am frightened but I don’t move. (I can’t).

I convince myself that it’s just a little thing. I can handle with it. NBD.
But it grows and grows and grows – little thing after little thing – until it’s all I can see.
The weeds curl around my heart and squeeze.
Bits of my soul ooze out, but I don’t feel a thing.

It squeezes and squeezes and squeezes until the only things left are anger, bitterness, hurt, and yes…a little pride.
(But not enough).

Smile a While

Smile a while and give your face a rest.
Wave your hand to the one you love the best.
Then shake hands with those nearby and greet them with a smile.

If one Sunday morning you find yourself at the little country church where my Papa preaches, you’ll hear this song. The piano will twang along and the people will sing whole-heartedly, not worrying about how they sound. There’s something special in those little churches that big churches lose somewhere along the way. There’s also something special about being greeted with a smile. It not only makes an impression on people, it just makes you both feel better.

Last week I rushed into Walgreens right before they closed. I always feel bad when I walk in at the very last second because I remember being that person behind the counter who is silently cursing the person that walks in at closing time. I rushed to grab what I needed and then headed to the checkout. Scrambling for my debit card, I didn’t even look the cashier in the eye. But all of a sudden she said, ”I remember you. You’re the one who waved and smiled and said ‘Good morning’.” I looked up at her, a smile now dancing on my face. I was. I am! It was me, the one who waved and smiled and said, “Good morning.” And I’d completely forgotten about it until that moment. But she hadn’t. And that made me happy.

Earlier in the week I’d walked in while the entire Walgreens staff was huddled in the front of the store having a meeting. When I walked in I was greeted with a plethora of “Welcome to Walgreen”s – a habit for many of them, I’m sure. And, without even thinking about it, I made a huge (and I do mean huge) circular wave and almost shout-sang “Good Morning!”, hanging on to the rrrrnnnn sound much longer than I should have. I laughed at myself and my reaction. Who does that?, I thought. I’d looked like a total fool. I blushed a little, laughed and went on my merry way.

Even though it was long-gone from my memory, that cashier hadn’t forgotten. Maybe she remembered because she thought I was a fool. Maybe they all snickered about it once I walked away. But I like to think that my silliness really did brighten their day, that maybe I passed my smile around. And, I thought, I’m extra glad that she remembered me for being the smiling one instead of the grouchy one (because, unfortunately, there have been plenty of times when I could have easily been remembered as the latter).

So smile a while and give your face a rest. It’ll do us all some good.

fab four (griffish) low res-1

Gratuitous picture of my four favorite smiling faces

Breastmilk Boo(hoo)

It always catches me off-guard, that moment when the scab is ripped off. I’d completely forgotten about it and then I hear a conversation or read a post and it all comes rushing back to me. And I know that the people who share these words do it out of love. They believe whole-heartedly that breast is best and they want you to believe it, too. And here’s the thing, I agree with them. In other circumstances, I might even be one of them. I might be the one rattling off all the benefits and calling for others to try harder, go longer. But I’m not because I couldn’t be. I couldn’t nurse my babies. And I see them now and I know – I know beyond a shadow of a doubt – that my babies are growing up to be smart, productive (tiny) citizens of society. But still it haunts me, this ache that has lessened with time but never completely goes away. I wanted to breastfeed my babies and I couldn’t. I did it all, tried it all, gave it my all (and then some) and it just.didn’t.work. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more over a single thing in my life. Giving up broke my heart every single time, even after I promised myself I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I always found myself daydreaming of a nursing newborn and how wonderful it would be, but things rarely turn out like they do in our daydreams, I suppose.

Of all the things in my life that I wish had maybekindasorta been a little different, this is what I wish I could change the most. I bottle fed skin-to-skin. I made lots of eye contact. I did everything I could to make bottle feeding as much like breast feeding as I could and yet I still feel like I missed something. And, as illogical as I know it is, I still feel like I did something wrong. That it was my fault. That I didn’t try hard enough. That I gave up too quickly. That I didn’t try more things. Even though I know damn well that’s not what happened. The mind is a funny thing, isn’t it? 

I know this much though: my children are pretty darn smart and imaginative, even without that liquid gold. I mean, what 4 year old asks to be the man in the moon for Halloween? That’s some serious thinking outside the box.
the ivey league halloween 2013

Gratitude (or something like it)

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Is there a word for that moment when you feel so overwhelmed with gratitude that you can’t even move? That moment that just socks you in the stomach so hard that you can’t breathe and tears roll down your eyes simply because you’re aware – so veryvery aware – of all the good, all the beautiful, all the wonderful that’s right here in your lap. Surely there is. I may even know the word but my whole body is so absorbed in living and loving this moment that there’s no brain power left to add words. Or maybe there aren’t words. Maybe it’s something that transcends language.

I start to count my blessings and I can’t finish one thought before another crashes into it. Words are too slow, too cumbersome, too human to catch up with what I think, what I feel. And I’m convinced that this is the kind of prayer that brings me closest to God. The kind of prayer that has no words.

Uncomfortable

I read about some inequality or hatred that I’ve never heard about or even thought about before…and I squirm a bit in my seat. Scootching to the side, I leave room for my familiar friend Uncomfortable to join me. I may not like it, but I have to remind myself that Uncomfortable doesn’t always equal Bad. Uncomfortable means that I’ve noticed, that maybe even if I want to look away, my heart-gut is saying, “Listen up…this is important.”

So instead of shying away, I sit with the Uncomfortable. Let it weigh heavy on my chest and really wrestle with it. What does it mean? What does it mean for me? Do I dare to even ask? Maybe…maybe…I’m supposed to do something. Write a letter to the editor. Stand up for someone who might not be so easy to stand up for. Go do that thing that my heart is telling me to do. Or, possibly harder than any of those, change. Change my heart, change my mind. Changing isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of growth.

I think I’m growing now. I walk around with the uncomfortable weighing down my pockets. I hide it there, thinking no one will notice. And it’s not, like it’s been a hundred times before, that I’m uncomfortable in my own skin. Quite the opposite, really. Certainty is the belt holding up my heavy-pocketed pants. But how long can I drag around these stones of hurt and frustration and disconnect before I tire my own self out, like a toddler runningrunningrunning until – all of a sudden – I stop.

I open my head, my heart, my hands…waiting for something, anything.
And, for now, this is all I find:
You must love each other, just as I have loved you.

I think that’s enough to keep me busy for a while.

Simplicity and Slate

“Mama! Is this a real slate like Laura and Mary would have used?”
“Yeah. Kinda like that.”
“Oh my gosh, Carter! Look! It’s a real slate like for learning stuff. Like in the Little House books! Can we get it, Mama? Pleasepleasepleasepleeeeease.”

The girl knows I’m a sucker for books and that this will be an easy sell. (It was).

"Little House Best book ever! I'm reading the fith book!!!!!"

Little House
Best book ever! I’m reading the fith[sic] book!!!!!

We started the Little House series several months ago and we used to take a break between each book to read something else. But the end of book four was so sad and book five begged to be read and so we started it the next night. Every night I read to them. (The little kids get their turn earlier in the day). They are both completely capable of reading these books independently but there’s something about hearing it read aloud that makes it magical. And as long as they will let me read to them, I’ll continue to do so. It’s one of my favorite parts of having children. Seriously.

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We went on a field trip recently where there were covered wagons and beef jerky and a little log cabin. Her eyes glittered with excitement and happiness as she listened to the guide talk about the tiny house and how Laura’s house would have been much smaller than this one. Whoa! I thought. And I glanced at her and she mouthed the same to me. We were smashed into the tiny cabin with maybe 20 other people, double what it was built to hold. Can you imagine 8-10 people in that tiny little house? There was one small bed and a crib, a fireplace, a table, and a rocking chair. The loft was tiny but aching for little children to visit, but rules are rules and there was no climbing the ladder that day.

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As I looked around at the simplicity, I wondered where it all went wrong. Hear me out. I’m not glamorizing it. These people lived hard lives and I’m not asking for tradesies (because, for starters, I <3 my A/C).  They endured struggles that I can’t even begin to imagine. But as I read the books I notice that they never seem worried about what made them “happy” or what feels good but what kept them alive and what was the best for the whole family. Were they better for it? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t have an answer, but it’s a question I think about often.

I read a passage tonight about the family traveling to Silver Lake. It describes mile after mile after mile of nothing but a giant sky and blowing grass. My kids can’t even really imagine grass tall enough to blow. And, if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine miles and miles of nothing. We live in a rural area, but not that rural. (Although sometimes I wish we did).

My eyes and my voice are both tired. I stumble over a word or two as my mouth tries to keep up with my brain (ever a problem for me). Her eyes are flicking on and off but she leans in, hearing each word and letting my voice take her on a journey that starts on a bouncy wagon seat and ends with her dreams. Her book of dreams; that’s the book I really wish I could read.

~just write~

Good morning, Mommy

He slipped into our big bed and he didn’t look little any more. He’s nearly as long as I am now. I heard his teeth chattering and asked if he wanted to cuddle. “I was just about to do that,” he mumbled sleepily and slid over. Hooking one arm around my neck, he rested the other on my arm, laid his head down on my cheek, and I wondered just how many times this would ever happen again.

His arms, still scrawny and small, feel stronger than I remember them being. He rubs his fingers gently on my arm for a minute and then stops, takes my hand and places it on his arm. Tap. Tap. He thumps me as if to say “my turn” and I run my fingers up and down. My other hand instinctively moves, too, and I am rubbing his back as well. Remnants of mod podge on my fingers snag on his tee shirt. My jaw starts to ache from where the curve of his head doesn’t fit perfectly against mine, but I dare not move.

One more Back-to-School Post*

My little guy? He loves school. He’s probably the most sociable of my children and he loves to be around lots of people. Last year he was so excited about going to school, I couldn’t even slow him down to get a picture. This year he did let me get pictures before school, but once we got there he was off! No looking back at Mommy. No walking hesitantly. Just go, go, go.
go boy go

Before school:
L2013

And my baaaaybeeee, y’all. She’s old enough for school! And she is so proud about being a big girl going to big girl school.
LJ2013

*I am, after all, a mommyblogger at heart.

Moments into Memories

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i.

We walked on the beach where just hours ago we would have been underwater two-fold or maybe three. The sun slid down the sky, rushing to meet the horizon and we paused to watch. It was one of those big-ball-of-fire sunsets that made me wish I had my ‘real’ camera with me; one that dwarfs the clouds and the trees and the world and leaves you feeling a bit like an ant. An awe-inspired and happy ant, but an ant none-the-less. She looked away to splash in the waves and Oops! It was gone. “Maybe tomorrow,” she says. “Maybe…” I say and we still look ahead, afraid to look away lest we miss something else.

ii.

He lost the chance to get a treat last night. It doesn’t matter what he did or what the treat was, really. Just that it happened and that then it was gone. He tried to hide his hurt, to pretend like he didn’t care but as the darkness of bedtime began to wrap around him, I heard the sniffles. Cuddles helped but still he hurt. I know it’s necessary sometimes – this proving your point, following through, teaching consequences – but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. Each tear tore at my heart. But I do believe it worked. Because today? Today he was full of kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control. Some days I feel like maybe, just maybe, I’m at least getting a few things right.

iii.

I grab both sides and she grasps tighter. I pull her back and WOOSH she flies. Back and forth. Back and forth. “Adin, Mommy! Adin!”  And I lean in for more. We go like this, over and over, until we both wear out. It’s not often that we find ourselves in this moment with no interruptions, no one else stealing the show or snatching my attention and it’s as neither of us really know how to tie it up and move it from now to memory. She looks up and smiles. Little teeth stretched out into a big smile and I grasp the moment and squeeze it tighter, ready for the back and forth, back and forth that is sure to come.

iv.

I look up just in time to see another adult warn him to be careful. He’s climbed up on top of the slide. Again. He’s been climbing since before he could walk, so I’m not surprised. Nor am I particularly worried about him climbing up there. He’s fallen before (and only been broken once).  But I do suppose that it’s setting a bit of a bad example, so I call to him. “Hey, bud…get down, okay? There are lots of other kids here and we don’t want someone to get hurt.” And even as I say I feel like I’ve caved in to peer pressure. If that dad hadn’t spoken to him, I never would have said a word. I saw him. He was fine, not hurting anyone else. But…but…well, I get it. I do. And I really don’t mind that he said anything. He was genuinely concerned, I could tell. Which makes it even harder to be the parent at the playground who isn’t playing with her kids, who isn’t even watching them very well. And I feel this ridiculous need to make sure that everyone knows that I’ve been with them all day, giving them every ounce of my attention and now? Well, now they’re in an enclosed space created for children and I just need to sit and breathe and read and think and not be rightherewithyouallthetimeMommy. Why is it that no matter which way we choose to do things as parents, we always feel this need to justify our choice? It’s exhausting, really. Why is it that no matter how much we give, it never seems like enough? The push to do more, be more is hard to ignore.

v.

We were the last ones to leave the playground. It was late, even for us. Not all that long ago, had I seen children out so late on a school night I would have rolled my eyes or at least given the disapproving glare. (I have to remind myself of that when I’m the recipient of such looks). But this is the freedom I love about our life as we are living it right now. Memories made in the yellow glow of streetlamps shine brighter than those made in the light of day. I’m not quite sure how that works, but I believe it’s true. These are the things that they’ll remember – the things that stray from the norm, the things we only do on vacation. Piling on the floor to watch a movie that started well after bed time. Ice cream for dinner. Skipping school to enjoy a beautiful day. (And learning even when they don’t realize it). Singing at the top of our lungs to cheesy songs that are, quite frankly, musically awful but full of all the things I want them to know, to believe, to live. I won’t control the radio for much longer. Or the late nights. Or their dinner choices. Or a million other things. So for now, while it’s my choice to make, I’m doing the best that I can (and today it feels like I’m doing just fine).