Happy Birthday to me

Last Friday was my birthday. It was lovely, and delightfully uneventful; my husband made me a dinner of lobster and corn (accompanied by some bubbly!) and for dessert we had Jebmade blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. I went to bed happy.

The next day, I decided to run away. I like being alone, but rarely get to experience it. Luckily, I married well and my husband understands when I need to go. I escaped to a lovely mountain town in Vermont about 90 minutes from home. This place is special to me for a few reasons: my mom used to meet me here for lunch, two of my siblings married here, and it is absolutely beautiful.

When I pulled into my lodging for the night, I heard the ding of a text. The message was from Jeb. He had managed to get all of the kids together for a photo. With Luke living out of the house and Cal an independent teen, this is no easy feat. The last time this happened was three years ago. A lot can happen in that time, especially when puberty starts working its magic.

The photos instantly brought tears to my eyes.

My children are beautiful. Stunning. (I love how this works. We are so blinded by love for our children that we are convinced they are the most magnificent things on the planet. We would be shocked if others didn’t quite see what we see…love goggles).

And they all came out of a spark between Jeb and me. Remarkable. Our love created these human beings. That is amazing. I stare at these captivating images and I can hardly wrap my head around what they represent. These are my children. Without me, they would not exist. Without them, neither would I.

When I left for this excursion, Jeb locked me in a strong embrace. Nicky was holding onto my leg and I had just received a hug from Kelly and about twenty-five kisses from Drewzie. As Jeb released me, he said, “You sure are loved.”

Yes, one thing I know for sure: I am loved.

When that thought came into my head, I felt the most lovely feeling wash over me: contentment. Right now-this very second- I have absolutely everything I need. My life is filled with love, and when all of the other noise gets distilled down, there is nothing left but that.  

To love and to be loved. It is why we are here.

 

 

Mission accomplished.

 

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Daily Grace

I’ve been struggling a bit lately. Running a house for seven people and still holding a place for the eighth feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. Usually, I feel pretty balanced, but one of my teenagers is pushing pretty hard and it’s wearing me down, making me vulnerable. And when you are far outnumbered, it is unwise to stay down for long.

But the hard, cold truth is that I signed up for this. My signature is right in front of me, running around, tearing up the house, fighting in the backyard and staring into the fridge proclaiming that there is never anything to eat around here.

 I created it all.

Everywhere I turn, there’s the life I made for myself. There is no turning back. My six children are not going anywhere…ever. Even when they have moved out, they will be with me. They own a piece of my soul and that is a forever thing.

But how to handle the everyday deluge? If I don’t shift my perceived woes into something beautiful, my life will be everything but.  There is only one solution: appreciation.

I have to make a conscious choice every single day: I have to bask in gratitude. I have to stop looking at my parenting role as a job and remind myself that it is a privilege. That’s truly what it is, even when (to the untrained eye) all the evidence points to the contrary.

When I got married, my husband’s grandmother gave us a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”.  I remember thumbing through it and reading the piece on children:

 

On Children

Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 

I remember my 26-year-old brain thinking, “Well, this guy’s whacked. Whatever, dude…”

Then, at 29,  I had my first child and she gave us another copy. I read that passage again and knew old Kahlil was nuts. Of course my baby belonged to me! I grew him and birthed him and I was feeding him from my body- damn straight he’s mine.

But now that same boy is moving to New York City and I know Kahlil was right. Now my 17-year-old is pushing me away with all of his strength and I know he was right. I looked for the book(s!) on my shelves the other day, and to my horror, I realize that my young, know-it-all self had gotten rid of them. I probably sold them in a garage sale to a 40-something mom who realized she actually didn’t have all the answers and was seeking some wise words. She probably picked the book up and couldn’t believe her luck; then she glanced at me (with a baby on my hip) and she knew. She probably paid me a with a quarter and a sly smile that said, “just you wait, honey.”  I now have to get another copy. I will ask a young mother, one that knows her child belongs to her, if she has one to lend.

 No, these creatures do not belong to me. They have been given to me for safe-keeping and I am fortunate to have the gift of them-even when they are doing their best to knock me off my feet. When I’m in a place to take a step back, I see the full picture. It is completely in focus: my life is rich. When I’m in the eye of the storm, the treasure is a blur- all I can make out is work and filth and need.

That’s why I sit and write this blog. It helps me step back. It allows me to focus on what is truly there, not just what I see at the moment.

 So yes, I believe that parenting is a privilege. We get the honor of molding and shaping and influencing. We get to be the bow. The responsibility of it is intense, but in return we get a baby’s first smile, a bouquet from little boy or an unexpected hug from a teenager. It may seem like an uneven trade, but if you are a parent you understand. You learn that this love is ferocious, unreasonable, beyond imagination…and rarely fair.

But buried beneath the burden are the riches-treasure so dazzling there are times you have to look away. It’s a phenomenon that cannot be explained; only experience can bring understanding. But even then, the force of the love defies logic, so we give up making sense of it and just accept that we are under a spell-one that will never be broken. Our children do not belong to us, but we surely belong to them.

So I mine for the gems that are easily lost in the chaos. When I uncover them, I savor their richness. I acknowledge their grace.

My children make me laugh,

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Kelly’s go-to dress

 

 

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Luke and Cal…before all the rest

 

 

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January in NH. Grethe being Grethe.

 

 

they fill me up,

 

twins

always

 

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Kelly makes May crowns

 

 

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Big brother returns

 

 

and they make me proud.

5th grade play. Grethe sparkles.

5th grade play. Grethe sparkles.

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Service trip to El Salvador

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off to NYU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to sit in that place of awe, even on the hardest days, at least for a minute or two.

So, I will rise early,before the chatter starts, and I will care for my body and my mind. The silence grounds me and the appreciation comes easily. It sustains me. I will write my stories because they help me see, and this makes me strong.

Gratitude strengthens the bow. My arrows depend on this stability, even when they are aflame and threaten to destroy.

I will bend, but I will not break.

And I will watch all of my arrows soar.

 Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

~  Frederick Buechner

Do you believe in magic?

The gnomes are out in our house. It happens every year at this time. Starting the first week of Advent a pocket-sized gnome appears. He shows up in our winter garden that we have made of moss and stones, and then he hides in a new place every morning. He is joined by a new gnome friend of a different hue each Sunday of Advent and they all hide around the house. Finally, all four of them end up in the manger on Christmas day, admiring baby Jesus with his parents. They are rascals, these gnomes, and our children delight in their antics. 

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The first Gnome arrives

Gnome visit the Village

Gnomes visit the Village

As the kids get older, the inevitable question arrises: “Mom, are you moving the gnomes?”

As a young parent, I froze at the question. What do I do? I loved the sweetness of my child’s imaginary world and I wanted to preserve it for as long as possible. So, without thinking it through, I adamantly denied any gnome movement. I said something (seemingly) simple like: “Of course I don’t move them. The gnomes are magical.”

Life moved forward in our blissful, magical world until one fateful night I was caught in the act of gnome moving. There I was, standing on a chair, nestling those rascally gnomes into their new hiding place for the night, when I heard my boy’s small voice from behind me.

“You lied to me.”

I turned and looked into those huge eyes and I could see the full impact. In a matter of seconds, it was all destroyed; the little gnomes, Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy -all of them lay lifeless at my son’s feet. That may sound a tad dramatic, but it was a pivotal moment for my young son, and for me as a parent. I did lie to him. Damn, I never looked at it that way, but it was indeed a lie. Now I had to figure out why I lied, and explain the complicated answer to my little boy.

One of the benefits of having a bunch of kids is that you get some second chances. The oldest child benefits from getting both parent’s hyper-focused attention and delight in all of their actions, and youngest enjoys the luxury of having parents with much better training.

Part of my Christmas Magic Training came in the form of claymation. When I was growing up, the highlight of the season was the television Christmas specials. My all-time favorite was “The Year Without a Santa Claus” with it’s superstar, the Heat Miser (he’s too much). We don’t watch much t.v. with our kids, but I certainly make exceptions, and there was no way I was going to deprive my children of the Heat Miser. So, one December evening not long after the gnome incident, we all snuggled in and fired up the VHS player.

As a kid, I never understood why they tainted those wonders of animation with all the sappy songs. When the music inevitably started to swell, I would roll my seven-year-old eyes and let out a sigh. Now I had to endure four minutes of song and dance before they got back to the action! Geez! I usually used the time to run to the bathroom or get a snack of some sort. Thirty years later, the sappy song starts up and I feel the familiar annoyance rise in me. But this time, I stay put because now I have a baby on my lap. My older kids run to go pee.

Then a curious thing happens. I am actually moved to tears by claymation Santa and Mr. Thistlewhite. The message of their song is truly beautiful and exactly what I was trying to articulate to my six-year-old just a few nights before, when the magical gnomes were reduced to simple stuffed toys. I glance at my boy to see if he is taking in the profound words of Mr. Thistlewhite, but he is flat on his back, eyes avoiding the screen, waiting for the moment the Heat Miser will return.

No matter. I had learned something. I didn’t need to lie to my kids about the magic of Christmas. This time of year is truly magical, all on it own. The magic comes from love, just like Mr. Thistlewhite said. It is love that makes me pull those damn gnomes out of the box year after year. It’s love that urges us to buy gifts for others and wrap them in pretty paper. It is love that brings us together to celebrate.

I still have young children, so I continue to get the cynical questions about magic. But now, with thirteen more years of parenting under my belt, I have mastered the art of wide eyes full of wonder with the corresponding excited smile. I don’t outwardly admit anything and I don’t deny it either. When I’m called in to see where the gnomes turned up, I just widen my eyes and smile. When our milk turns green on Saint Patty’s day, I widen my eyes and smile. Easter eggs, teeth transformed into dollar bills: big eyes, big smile. If this isn’t enough for the child that “needs to know the truth”, I tell them that I am a helper, for sure. Everyone needs a little help once and a while.  But I also try to convey that believing is a choice. They can choose to scrutinize every little bit of magic in their lives, or they can choose to relax into it and just enjoy the fun of it, without all of the questions. It is totally up to them.

But whatever they choose in the end, I hope they all understand the basic lesson: Love creates magic. Plain and simple. End of story. 

Don’t take my word for it, though. Let Santa convince you…


“Look at me and tell me son, what is real to you?”    ~claymation Santa

‘Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”                              ~from New York’s Sun, 1897

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