grasp

I was snooping around Facebook the other day and I found myself looking at photo’s of my first boyfriend’s littlest sister. You know how that goes: one minute you’re just gonna peek at your feed and the next you’re staring at the intimate life details of someone you last saw 36 years ago.

The last time I saw Mary, she was an adorable four-year-old that wouldn’t leave me alone with my boyfriend. Now, I’m looking at a young mother with three beautiful boys of her own.

She, of course, has no idea that I am invading her privacy, nor does she know that one of her photos brings tears to my eyes.

She is standing on a dock and her boys crowd next to her for the shot. She casually drapes her arms around the oldest two on both sides of her, as the youngest squeezes into the middle. Her right hand is the one that does me in: she has it resting on her middle boy’s shoulder and both of his hands have reached up and are grasping hers. His right hand is holding her wrist and with his left he has intertwined his fingers with hers. He is reaching for her with both hands. A simple thing. A natural impulse. Probably an average day for this Mom and her boys.

It makes me want to tell her.

I want to make sure she knows how special that grasp is.

And how fleeting.

Oh, her boy will always love his Mama, but the uninhibited instinct to blend his flesh with hers -the need of that little boy (that can feel so ironically oppressive to a young mother), that is a flash. A bright, blinding flash.

Why does so much have to come at once? Why so much need and so much love that the sweetness can be too intense at times- like a thick layer of frosting on a double-rich cake. Why can’t we spread it out and save some for those moments for when we need it most: for when that boy asks you not to kiss him goodbye at school anymore or when his hand pulls away as you reach for it in the parking lot or when it’s not there at all anymore, because that hand no longer needs to be intertwined with yours.

When I was 41, I found out we were having twin boys. I already had three boys and a little girl. I had plenty. Yet, there they were, growing inside me. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted two more boys-or any more kids of any kind- but for me there was no choice; they were a gift bestowed upon me and I would do my best to accept it with grace.

Sometimes it feels like I get a second chance at mothering. The first time around, while I loved my small boys fiercely, I simply didn’t know.

I didn’t know that one day they would stop grasping. I didn’t know that one day their physical need for me would end, and mine for them would go on forever.

And ever.

So I was given the precious gift of two more little boys. Other women my age stopped having babies at the reasonable cut-off date. Their boys (like my two oldest) have their own independent lives by now. The women tell me they can’t imagine doing bedtime stories or a first-grade field trips all over again.

I know what they mean, and I sometimes wonder if I’m going to make it myself.

But then a small hand reaches for mine

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and we both hold on tight.

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

a little love

Is there anything better than a tiny bouquet from a little boy? photo (18)

I just imagine him seeing this small, beautiful flower and thinking “I need to get that for my Mama” and he picks it and holds it tight in his small, sweaty fist until he can present it proudly to the woman he loves.

I am that woman.

I want that flower to last forever, because now I know this devotion will not.

That cruel fact makes the flower a perfect vehicle to carry such sweet love; their spectacular, intense beauty is finite-we must drink in their gifts while we can.

Oh, they will come again, but they will never, ever be in the same bouquet. Someday that perfect bloom will emerge from the earth and that same boy will walk right by. He won’t notice the pretty, delicate thing in the grass, and he certainly won’t be thinking of his Mama. Yes, his love is still there and it is still as deep, but it becomes a quiet thing-sometimes too quiet.

I have friends that only had two children.  There are times when I see those families and I think, “What if we stopped there?” At this stage we would have one out of the house and the other on his way out. That seems so reasonable! Jeb and I could actually spend some time together!

And then I get a flower from a sweaty hand and I am so glad. I get to do this again. I get to feel that crazy mad boy love again (times two!).

But this time the bouquet makes me cry-like it should have with my first little boy, seventeen years ago.

But I knew everything then and I know nothing now.

My life is unreasonable and I am so glad.

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