The Hundred-and-Twelfth Letter: A New (Home)School Year

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Dear Daughters,

We started school this week, so I guess this is the requisite back-to-school post.

I knew this year would have a different feel to it since both of you are home every day and officially “in school.” The past two years, the Goose has always been at preschool two or three days each week, but now she’s in Kindergarten, and the Bean is in second grade.

I realize it’s only been two years since I led a child through Kindergarten curriculum, but apparently I’d managed to forget just how hands-on it can be. Still, we’re making progress each day with figuring out how our schedule will (or won’t!) work. All I can say is, I assume parents who homeschool a half-dozen kids at home are significantly more organized than I am.

I spent a lot more time planning this year, knowing that homeschooling two would be considerably different than homeschooling one child, especially when the first child was an independent and focused child like the Bean. This summer, I worked on a daily, subject-by-subject schedule, printed off our state’s academic standards by subject for each grade, and wrote a report about what we accomplished during our last school year, organized by subject and addressing the surpassed academic standards.

I’ve even read a few books about classical education to get my mind kickstarted, and let me tell you, I would never have imagined spending my free time reading philosophy of education texts would be something I would choose to do.

I also spent time this summer considering what I want our homeschool goals to be—not according to academic achievements or tasks I want you to be able to accomplish, but rather related to the larger, grander life pursuits I want you to reach for, and of course the habits we need to cultivate to get there. So I thought I’d include that here, in this letter, so that years from now, that doesn’t get lost in the abyss of school files.

But first, this week:

It’s been tiring, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve ended up with a summer cold.

Our days felt long, and each afternoon, I needed to hear the nudge I felt: whatever you do is enough.

Just because we don’t check off every box, every day, doesn’t mean we aren’t rocking this thing called homeschool. What it more likely means is that I have too many boxes on our to-do list. (I should probably apply this principle to my “real,” non-homeschooling life, too.)

This week, in addition to homeschooling, I was also working on an exciting project for a local nonprofit and also spending time brainstorming plans for what an afterschool reading program for public school students might look like this fall. I was also thinking about our church involvements, mowing the grass, sucking on cough drops, and buying school supplies. I was also getting up early to run with our neighbor… or getting up early to not run with my neighbor, like this morning… or not getting up early at all because this cold is kicking my butt. This week I was also checking in with friends and family in far-flung places, and checking in with friends right here in our little town, and making plans to spend time at the library with your new homeschool co-op teacher in order to assuage some of your fears.

I was also evaluating what it is I should be spending my limited time on, but also offering myself a lot of grace.

Because, let’s face it, this week I also lost my temper too many times, wanted to run and hide too many times, and drank too many cups of tea. (Just kidding on that last one.)

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: at some point every day, I want to quit this homeschooling thing. (Of course, at some point every day, I want to quit this motherhood thing, too, but that’s an issue for another day!)

I want to quit, but I don’t. And part of the reason I don’t is because I have not just all the feels but all the conviction: conviction about educational philosophy, conviction about how I want you to spend your days, conviction about cultivating your habits of attention. I love hanging more knowledge on your pegs of learning, making connections between the various subjects we’re studying, and giving a big-picture education.

I want you to work hard and rest well and you yourself see the connections between what you’re reading in books and what you’re seeing in the world.

And yes, I want you to see me juggling a thoughtful life with the tug of Kingdom work always refocusing me. I want you to see how much grace we need to get by, offered to one another and to ourselves. There are so many things I love about homeschooling that are unexpected surprises to me.

I started out with practical reasons to homeschool: because you were an early reader, because I wanted art and music to be central to your curriculum, because the public school schedule doesn’t line up with the college schedule, because we travel to see family and I want a portable education.

But now, it’s all these other things, too.

Girls, do you want to know what it is I hope and dream for you on this homeschooling journey?

These are the goals I typed up this summer and tucked into our daily schedule binder that (I hope) are shaping how we do school this year:

to cultivate

            compassion & empathy

            courage & wisdom

            wonder & curiosity

to love

            God

            one another

            other people

            beauty

            books

            learning

to foster a joy (and proficiency) of reading all things: all subjects, all genres

to nurture an interdisciplinary worldview by making connections between disciplinary knowledge, especially as connected to the “pegs” of our classical curriculum

to incorporate creative expression through music and/or art every day

to develop the ability to converse with others, especially those different from us

to exemplify how Kingdom-work is incorporated into daily life and rhythms

It’s a list of ideals, I guess. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

At the very least, it’s where we’re headed on this homeschooling journey.

Here’s to another year, girlfriends!

Love, 

Your Momma

 

The Hundred-and-Eleventh Letter: The Myth of Neglect

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Dear Daughters,

Earlier this spring, we had a lovely assortment of flowers and plants on our front porch. We had marigolds, ferns, and gerbera daisies, as well as a few others whose names I never got to know.

At first, we had a struggle with a squirrel repeatedly unearthing some of the potted plants. That was finally solved after I dumped hefty amounts of chili powder into the pots, though the cause and effect cannot be scientifically proven. Eventually, the gerbera daisies quit  blooming, though I continued to water them to keep their greens lush. Then, after hosting two rounds of lovely finch eggs in the fern on the north side of the porch, the fern got infested with some sort of mite and had to be disposed of. In recent weeks, the plants began to shrivel, I watered less as we got busy with other projects, the heat got worse, and here we are, with a less-than-welcoming front porch of dried-out plants.

During the recent spate of hot and sunny days, when we had to run errands during the day, I would park the car in the front of the driveway to take advantage of the house’s shade, and so we were using the front door more often than usual. (Normally we park in the back and use the back door.)

Using the front door means I can’t blame the plants’ neglect on my lack of noticing.

Nope, I noticed.

And I decided I was not interested in making time for the outdoor aesthetics of the house that were not absolutely necessary when there was so much work to be done inside the house (the kitchen renovation), inside my head (homeschool planning), and inside my heart (encouraging and loving my people and my community, which I take seriously as Kingdom work).

The plants moved to the bottom of the priority list–actually, right off the priority list–and other things were taking precedence.

Because we are always, girls, always making choices about what is important to us and how we are spending our days.

What I mean is, I could easily make a list of all the things I’ve neglected this summer. Here are five things off the top of my head–

  1. The Garden: Take a step around the corner of the house, for example, and note the knee-high weeds in the garden that barely constitutes a garden.
  2. The Novel: Just last week at reading camp, one of the other volunteers asked me if I was still working on my novel. Gulp
  3. Writing Goals: I had pretty high expectations for what I would be able to do this summer. I have myriad ideas for poems, letters to you here as well as in your individual journals, Instagram posts. 
  4. Photobooks: I am behind in making photobooks. At the very least, I thought I would have by now made the annual school-year-art-project photobooks for both of you.
  5. The Summer Routine: I really thought I would get into a routine to give our summer structure. I did not. And it seems silly to me now that I ever thought this was a possibility.

But am I neglecting these things? That isn’t exactly true. Or at the very least it is misleading to characterize it as neglect.

Most of us use the word neglect (as in, I neglected to do that) as a way to distance ourselves from the action. It’s not exactly saying that we accidentally didn’t do it, but it is usually used to suggest that we didn’t have much choice in the matter. In fact, I would say “neglect” is most often used to say that we were too busy to get around to doing it.

And maybe we were “too busy.” But I’ve written before about the myth of busyness, and that we all have the same amount of time and many of us need to take more responsibility for how we are choosing to spend our time. It’s one of my things.

I feel similarly about neglect. Did I neglect the marigolds in this little pot in the photograph?

All I can say for sure is this: I didn’t make caring for them a priority because I made something else a priority instead.

And if I start labeling things as “items I’ve neglected,” I’m suddenly dealing with the baggage of an unfinished and impossible-to-finish to-do list. It turns the freedom of choice and priorities into guilt and shame. Yes, I know we could all be doing more and being more and squeezing more in. But we shouldn’t be doing that. Squeezing in more. Feeling bad about what we aren’t choosing to do.

No, girls, don’t frame your priorities like that. Don’t catalog the things you’re neglecting. Focus on the things you’re choosing to give precedence during this season. Embrace those things, and let the rest fall away.

Focus on the things you’re called to do. (And stop cataloging what others are or aren’t doing.)

And when in doubt, always choose the Kingdom work of hospitality. That’s one of my soap boxes, too.

Because Kingdom work is, for real, always a priority.

As is going upstairs right now to listen to you put on a homemade puppet show performance of the song “Baby Shark.” You already gave me a handful of pennies to pay my price of admission.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Hundred-and-Tenth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 2)

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Dear Daughters,

I am apparently the type of mom that, after a day of playing outside and getting hot and sweaty, sends you in for showers before dinner, but just after you go inside, I grab a pitchfork and unearth the first round of our potatoes that grew out of the rotten potatoes in the cupboard, and the whole thing is so miraculous, that first revealing of golden globes of grace (look at that alliteration!), that I just can’t resist calling you back outside to see the harvest for yourself, to let you dig right down into the dirt with your own hands, even though when I holler up to you from the back door to come, you tell me you’re already stripped of your dirty clothes and in the shower, so I tell you to put anything on, even clean clothes, I don’t care, because you have got to come pull these potatoes from the ground yourselves.

Yes.

I am apparently that type of mom. Who knew? I surprise even myself sometimes.

I’m told I give off a vibe of being practical and plan-y, but really, what I want to be is full of wonder and spontaneity. 

Yes, what I want to be. I’ve been trying this summer to be more attentive and open to possibility, rather to my plan.

I’m also apparently the type of person to whom an acquaintance from church I don’t know really well says, “You look like someone who likes kale. Do you like kale?”

In fact, I do. And I eat kale. I like giving off the kale-eating, green-smoothy-drinking vibe.

But I am also the sort of person who can only handle finding so many little caterpillars in her bag-full of kale she so graciously receives from this acquaintance, even if she’s drowned a whole bunch of them by washing the kale thoroughly.

So there you have it. I’m not always full of wonder, even if I do find the life cycle of caterpillars fascinating and the lacy holes they are able to make in kale quite lovely.

Yes, I’m working on being attentive this summer. Not always succeeding, of course. There are moments every day when I want to pull my hair out and just throw in the towel on this whole parenting thing (figuratively!), but no more than all parents, I think, and probably less often than a lot of my friends who are counting down the days until the school year starts.

So in an attempt to just be flexible and attentive, I didn’t make a big summer plan, apart from our calendar obligations. I didn’t make a summer bucket list. I didn’t plan all the fun things. I never really got around to making much of a daily routine for us, as good as that looks in other people’s lives on Instagram. Summer just kept speeding on by at full speed.

We went to as many library programs as we could, we had VBS, a week off, then I taught for a week of Faithways Academy, had a week off and a homeschool practicum, then tore out our kitchen the following weekend, then had reading camp for a week, and then had another week off. And here we are, at the end of July.

The kitchen is still in-progress.

But it’s been a summer.

The eldest is reading a mile a minute.

The youngest is complaining that her best friend is reading too much and isn’t playing with her enough.

Early on, I did make a list of a few things I hoped we could do together over the course of summer, ways to be intentionally creative. I called it (on the post-it that marks where the list is in my planner) a “making things list.” Making things. We did a few of those things. Not many. I encouraged you to go ahead and get out your clay and use it all up. (It didn’t work–the eldest still saved a few colors for later.) We made hand sewn pillows. (They were supposed to have buttons on them as well, but you didn’t want buttons.)

I didn’t have you work on your stories I had planned. I didn’t make a photobook of your art projects from last school year. I didn’t plan a schedule for next school year.

We didn’t do any science experiments this summer, which I kind of cheated by calling that “making” things anyway, but we did follow a free art tutorial to draw the Saturn V rocket this week in honor of the anniversary of the moon landing.

We didn’t practice baking and cracking eggs, but we did make hardback junk journals, even though the youngest just wanted to make one out of a paper bag instead with no pages, and she insists on calling it her iPad.

We didn’t learn to knit or crochet, not even arm-knit, which I was pretty sure I could teach you, but we did tie-dye, and your dad even tie-dyed one of his old white shirts, so we can be matchy-matchy if we want.

Our adult schedule shifted a bit this summer too. We had to cancel potlucks because of the kitchen renovation, but I did help with a bereavement meal and look forward to taking food to a friend who just had a baby. We also graciously accepted a meal in the worst of the chaos. And you’ve eaten the majority of your weekday lunches at the summer meals program at our local elementary school.

Apart from the potatoes and some volunteer tomatoes, we didn’t garden at all, which is unusual for us, and the raised beds are covered solid with weeds and grass, and even our little slate patio around the grill is more than ankle-high with weeds, but we do have mint going gangbusters, and until the crazy heatwave a week ago, we had a healthy batch of oregano. I call that a win.

I’ve continued to mow and water my orchids inside, but I let the pots on the front porch shrivel up.

I have not been writing you letters as often as I’ve been getting ideas, but we did have a tame turkey loose in our neighborhood last week and it was hysterical the way it was trying to get into everyone’s front doors.

We still have huge chunks of torn-out green linoleum on the back porch, but you two worked together to make an incredible tent out of kingsized sheets in the guest room while we were working on the kitchen.

And I’m good with all of it. 

All of it.

Every single ordinary, extraordinary thing that did get done and that didn’t get done. That was planned and that was accidental. That made us laugh and that made our hearts heavy. That bloomed and that shriveled.

I’m good with it.

Though I do sort of wish I had written a few more letters because all of this attentiveness has been giving me All the Ideas!

Love,

Your Momma

Big News!

we live here announcement

P.S. If you enjoy reading the letters I post regularly to my daughters here on the website, I hope you’ll consider helping me spread the word about my most recent book project. It’s the second fifty letters in a tidy 180-page paperback. It makes a great Christmas present!

The Ninety-Eighth Letter: Seasons Change

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Dear Daughters,

I probably overuse the word “season.” Seasons of the calendar year. Seasons of the church year. Seasons of life. Seasons of parenting. TV shows. Growing seasons. Canning seasons.

Repetition. Change. Growth. Death. Winter. Advent. New Life. Planting. Premieres. Easter. Sowing. Learning to read. Summer. Harvesting. Finales. Canning. Frost. Fall. Repetition.

Yes, I do love that seasons change. I’m especially partial to autumn and all of its cliched crispness in the air and stunning leaves. Even the satiny red leaves of our sweet gum tree out front almost make up for the annoying sweet gum nuts that litter our driveway the whole year long.

Seasons change, and some seasons come back around, but we’re never quite the same as we were the last time through.

That encourages me.

I mentioned in my last letter that I was recently asked to share about my faith journey and vocation by a professor friend who teaches theology at our local college. When I asked her what she was expecting from me during the hour I was to share, she mentioned that I might want to read some of my writing and display some art.

The art part was relatively easy to decide, especially because I knew I wanted to share the logos and graphics I’ve designed for local organizations. (That fits into vocation, right?)

But the writing part wasn’t as obvious to me as I started sifting through the myriad places my writing about vocation exists: on my computer, in notebooks of all sorts, in these letters, of course, in the collection of poetry your dad and I published last year.

I started reading and reading and reading.

And, I’ll be honest, what I should read to the class didn’t become much more clear.

What did become clear was just how quickly seasons can change.

When I started writing letters to you online, I was working through a lot of issues related to mothering and vocation and survival. I was just beginning my creative journey and hadn’t started making art yet. I was in my early thirties but trying to figure a lot of things out. I was dissatisfied but probing. And I certainly would have never imagined the life I have now, especially the homeschooling part of it. I even wrote an early letter about how excited I was for you to be going to school some day. That I would rejoice to see you go.

This was only four years ago, girls.

In the poems I skimmed, I uncovered so much wonder and hope, conviction and transformation, grief and anxiety. I have poems from before you were born, often saved in Word documents in a monthly file I used to email to my writing group. I have poems of pregnancy, poems of labor and delivery. I see glimpses of both of you as babies in those words, a life deep with metaphor even in those exhausting, mind-numbing months of postpartum haze. Your own growing vocabulary and ability is sprinkled throughout many of the poems, too, as well as references to the toys strewn across the floor, so many cups of tea, my Pyrex bowls, and our fixer-upper house. There are lots of poems about your dad, and also poems about relatives we’ve lost over the last decade.

Through it all, girls, I can trace my growing appreciation for what life is now, in this current season.

This current season.

And I am grateful that seasons change.

That you didn’t stay babies, for example. (I mean, I’m seriously grateful on that one.)

That I’ve released a lot of the weight I initially felt about mothering and the cynicism I felt about others who seemed to find holiness here.

That I now call myself an artist and a writer and not feel awkward about it.

That my life is full to the brim with vocation and meaning.

In rereading my own words, I can recognize how I myself have changed in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

There was a time when I couldn’t manage to take you both to the grocery store at the same time, but I now know I can single-parent on airplane flights and 10-hour road trips.

Girls, I wonder sometimes how you will remember this season of life, what glimpses you’ll remember from childhood that will carry you through later seasons. I can’t know, of course.

But I do know that at least you’ll have these letters.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

The Ninety-Second Letter: Cowbirds, Toilets, & Trinitarian Motherhood

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Dear Daughters,

I once heard a youth pastor use the metaphor of an overflowing toilet for the love of God. As in, I kid you not, “God’s love is like an overflowing toilet.”

Even as a teenager, I thought that was a strange metaphor, and certainly a strange way to connect with teenagers, except for maybe on an awkward shock-value level. Regardless, I was thinking about it yesterday morning, and as it’s probably been at least twenty years since I heard the metaphor, I guess it was successful to some extent. It sure stayed with me.

That said, our toilet overflowed yesterday morning. Just after your dad left for commencement, of course.

From the bedroom, I heard a weird glup-glup-glup sound while I was getting dressed, and when I went to check it out, the toilet was completely full. The sound was the overflow drain trying to keep pace. (It wasn’t.) By the time I ran downstairs to grab the plunger (and some rags), the whole thing had spilled out onto the floor.

It was a great morning, let me tell you.

As I cleared everything out of the bathroom, soaked up the standing water, and disinfected the whole floor—twice—and paused to cut a door in your cardboard playhouse and help rig a blanket for the other fort and overall was continuously interrupted by both of you who had no concept of what a disaster an overflowing toilet is, I had a lot of time to think. And that’s when the whole God’s-love-as-a-toilet crossed my mind.

Because of course, I cleaned up the mess. I plunged the toilet. I paused to answer your questions and help you with your fort and your house and talked about why the bathroom was now smelling like the public pool. Yep, I got down to business and took care of the problem.

Because an overflowing toilet is a problem. And it doesn’t take much human intervention to stop it. And then it’s super messy to clean up.

So the metaphor of God’s love being like an overflowing toilet only goes so far. Because God’s love isn’t a problem, right? It can’t be plunged out of existence.

I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.

It’s Mothers Day weekend, you know. And I did not particularly want to spend my Saturday morning disinfecting a poopgerm bathroom floor. I did not want to move furniture out of the bathroom by myself. I did not want to pause in my efforts to help you. But I did it, because I’m the mom.

*

If God’s love is like anything, it’s like the love of a mother.

Because of course it IS the love of a mother.

The Bible is so chock-full of images of God as mother that it’s surprising to me how often Christians ignore them and focus instead on God the father. Creator God birthed the world into existence. The image of protection in Scripture is often maternal—the mother hen, the mother eagle. The image of provision in Scripture is often maternal—the Psalmist finds nothing uncomfortable about talking about God’s followers nursing at God’s breast or as weaned children sitting on God’s breast in peace. In fact, that is held up as the highest peace there is—a weaned child on the breast of her mother.

Oh, girls, how I wish it weren’t radical to hear God talked about as mother, because it hasn’t always been that way! Early Christian mystics mixed gendered metaphors for Godall the time—and even for Jesus, who was literally a man—and it isn’t awkward. It’s beautiful and mysterious and everything that God is.

*

We found a cowbird egg in a finch’s nest outside on our front porch, so our science project Last week was researching cowbirds and learning about this parasitic bird species. We learned that if the cowbird egg hatches in this nest, the purple finch momma bird is going to raise it as her own, even though the cowbird is so obviously not her own in size. It’s a much larger bird.

I’ve been thinking about how hard that momma finch is going to have to work to provide enough food for this baby that isn’t hers. It’s going to be dominant in the nest. Her other babies will suffer. (The truth is that they will likely die from malnutrition or are pushed out of the nest.)

It’s heartbreaking.

Some bird lovers say that you should remove the cowbird egg from the nests of other birds. But cowbirds are actually protected under the Migratory Bird Protection Act, according to the wise internet, so you aren’t allowed to. But even if you were allowed to remove them, it isn’t an easy call, at least for me, to remove the cowbird egg.

The cowbird momma bird placed that egg in another bird’s nest because that is what she does for her species to survive. She doesn’t have her own nest. She watched the nest and at the perfect time of another bird laying her eggs, she placed her own into that safe and snug home to be hatched and raised by another momma.

That’s heartbreaking, right? It isn’t just me?

Girls, the story of motherhood is often heartbreaking.

*

God tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.

As a mother who has experienced loss, I read this verse as a testament to the fact that God knows intimately the loss and pain of miscarriage.

If God indeed knows life before it is formed in the womb, then that same God is well acquainted with grief. Because the womb is a place of grief and loss for many women.

God mourns with those who mourn.

It seems to me that Scripture is heavy with images of God understanding the burdens of motherhood. Both the Old and New Testaments speak about God’s children, adopted children, wayward children, barrenness, broken promises, heartbreak. It’s all there.

*

My next-door neighbors have a robin’s nest above their front door.

On Friday, they told us that the robin used to fly off the nest and yell at them every time they came out on their front porch but that they they were worried because they hadn’t seen her in a few days. They were debating what to do about this nest, not knowing if the mother would come back, not knowing if it had already been too long since she’d been there.

My neighbor reached up and brought the nest down so we could see into it.

And there they were—Four bright blue eggs. Amazing, perfect, motherless eggs.

*

I was thinking about my momma this morning and all the other women I know who’ve lost their moms.

I was thinking about friends with fresh infertility grief while the children’s choir sang this morning.

I was thinking about my single parent friends who are mothering alone day in and day out. Those with spouses who travel the majority of the week. Those who share custody.

Those who feel heavy with the burden of failing marriages and uncertainty about the future, about their children’s futures.

Those who are waiting for fostering relationships to become permanent through the courts but already feel permanent in their hearts.

Those who feel like failures at parenting. Those with wayward children. Those with chronically sick children.

Those who are mourning.

Those who feel alone.

*

Girls, the story of motherhood is not just one of using the plunger when you don’t feel like it or the constant stream of questions that interrupts any sort of productive and coherent writing project.

It’s not just about hand-print art projects brought home from preschool or getting your favorite meal one day of the year that has been arbitrarily chosen as a day to appreciate you.

The story of motherhood is also one of heartbreak.

Real life tells us that.

The Bible tells us that.

But the Bible also tells us something else if we take seriously the metaphor that God is our mother.

Because the God revealed in Scripture is also a mysterious Trinity.

God is community.

God the mother does not stand alone.

God the mother does not provide alone.

God the mother does not grieve alone.

And that is the Mothers Day message on my heart today.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Eighty-Fourth Letter: Greasy Linoleum, The Promised Land, & All The Things

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Dear Daughters,

Your dad dropped the metal spatula into the narrow crack between the counter and the refrigerator this evening.

Our normal solution to items falling into this crack—yes, it happens often enough to have a “normal” solution—is to use the tongs or the yardstick to fish the dropped items out. The spatula, however, had fallen on its side with the flat part against the linoleum so that it would not come out without turning it first. And we couldn’t get a grip on it to turn it, which is really just way too long of a story to tell you this:

The whole refrigerator had to get pulled out away from the wall.

I’m pretty sure we haven’t pulled that refrigerator out since I painted the cabinets, and that was before either of you were born.

Oh my goodness was there dirt and grime and grease and general fuzzy-stickiness.

In fact, there were solidified nasty drips of who-knows-what down the side of the refrigerator up to the level of the counter. Because clearly we drop a lot of things down that crack. And the linoleum under the frig had a top layer of dust but an under layer of sticky, greasy, black stuff.

Yuck.

Your dad got out the Pine Sol and began cleaning the side of the frig while I used the vacuum behind it to get the loose stuff up. Then he gave me the soapy bucket of water to begin scrubbing the floor while he dished up dinner for the two of you. Appetizing, I know.

As I scrubbed at that floor, as the water in the soapy bucket turned so dark it could be mistaken for black tea, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be grand if this were enough?”

What I mean is, I like a well-cleaned house.

I like the feeling of a rewarding project accomplished, and I happen to consider a clean bathroom a rewarding project. I like taking the time to, say, prepare a nice meal, organize a junk drawer, sort a closet, get on my hands and knees and scrub the grease off of linoleum, or paint the aforementioned cabinets.

What I mean is, I actually like housekeeping and housetending and doing the tasks of daily life that keep a house tidy and running smoothly.

They are wonderful and rewarding tasks.

And I often wish they felt like enough.

It’s the same with mothering, girls. Mothering is rewarding and beautiful (and tiring and exhausting and infuriating and mind-numbing sometimes, too, but mostly rewarding), especially now that you’re turning into miniature human beings.

I have friends who so rock the mom thing, and so rock the clean-house thing, and so rock the house-decorating-project thing, and so rock the keeping-their-kids-clothes-sorted-by-size thing. I envy that a bit, to be honest.

I want that to be enough, and to find joy and completeness in that, because those are beautiful and fulfilling things. And many of those rockin’ friends really are fulfilled and happy and thoughtful.

But: me.

I remember sitting in my friend’s minivan after I became a mom and feeling so utterly not fulfilled with motherhood and telling her that I keep swinging back and forth between two extremes: one, wanting to be content in this new season—to just get acclimated, stop complaining, accept it for what it is—and, the other extreme, being content to be as Abraham was, which means not being settled, living as a stranger in the promised land, living in tents, not having much except God’s promise of what would be eventually.

I told my friend that I didn’t want to be comfortable, that I wanted it to feel strange, wanted to be the stranger, because I knew that there was more than this to my calling.

More than the greasy green linoleum.

More than the clean house.

Yes, more than mothering.

And, girls, I still believe that, but I can see a little more clearly than I could in those early months of mothering. I’m not so swallowed up by the misery of it all. (That sounds awful, but it was a tough time at first.)

I can see how this—all of this beautiful messy life of house and mothering—doesn’t just live in a tent alongside all the other beautiful messy things I do: the writing and painting and designing and loving and leading and teaching and serving and laughing and encouraging and following up and showing up.

No, the mothering and the wife-ing and the house-making are right inside the tent with me. I can’t be a stranger from them.

That said, tonight, girls, tonight I wished longingly for a life that could focus on one single thing, rather than a million things.

It’s a life that nobody has, not really.

Especially in this culture, where it seems everyone is trying to do all the things and be all the things and post pictures of all the things on social media.

Still, tonight I wished for a life that after the floor got wiped down, the rag hung up, the frig scooted back, I didn’t feel compelled to pick up my laptop and write you a letter, didn’t have a freelance project to work on, didn’t have a chapter of a book to read for homework, didn’t need to read Amos and prep for the Bible study I lead tomorrow, didn’t feel like I needed to touch base with a half-dozen friends and acquaintances going through tough times, didn’t have two art commissions to paint.

I won’t do all those things tonight.

But I could.

Don’t get me wrong: I love those things and I love my full life and I love being called to do the work of the Kingdom and seeing that Kingdom-work all around me in each poem written, each banner handlettered, each text sent, each chapter of the Bible pondered and discussed.

I love it.

But sometimes I just want to put on my PJs and snuggle up next to your dad and watch Madam Secretary.

And ignore all the things.

And sometimes, girls? Sometimes I do.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Fourth Letter: These Are Not the Best Moments

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Dear Daughters,

While on the road last week, enroute to Thanksgiving in Pennsylvania, we stopped at a Panera for dinner in West Virginia. (The two of you are always more happy with a bowl of macaroni and cheese than just about any other quick food options.)

As we waited for our little buzzer to light up and signal that our food was ready, I noticed an elderly couple looking at us from a nearby booth. I’m used to people looking at us when we are out as a family because, well, your dad and I are really tall.

Let me just say as a sidenote that I don’t feel abnormally tall most of the time, but given the number of strangers who comment on it, and the number of people who stare without commenting, and the number of strangers who obviously look down at my feet to see if I am wearing heels, well, I must look pretty tall out there in public, especially when I am with your dad, who is six inches taller than I am. And after bold strangers ask how old the two of you are, they are typically in disbelief at your height as well. Sigh. We’re a tall bunch.

My point is, when these strangers were studying us in Panera, I didn’t pay much attention to it. But then, after our food came, in the chaos of trying to make sure everyone had what they needed and dishing out the bowls of mac and cheese onto the plates so it would cool faster and tearing the top off the squeezey yogurt so you could eat them, the older man spoke to us, and he started off by saying something very strange.

“I really don’t like you,” he said.

Now, that is not normally how one strikes up a conversation with strangers, but I could sense that he was someone who needed to talk, and though his words were awkward, I had this hunch that maybe he was trying to be friendly, not abrasive, so I acknowledged him and encouraged him to continue.

“I seriously don’t like you. You know why?”

I didn’t, but I was sure he was going to tell us.

“I’m old.”

And by that, he meant that we were not old.

He proceeded to remind us, in a rambly sort of way, to enjoy these days when we are young and have young kids because he used to be young too and one day he woke up and he was old. He missed being young. He missed having his family around. He knew we couldn’t imagine it, but trust him, we needed to enjoy being young. We will be old before we know it. And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving.

His wife came back, we wished him Happy Thanksgiving, and then they left.

My first internal reaction was sadness: I was sad that this man was sad, that even despite his attempt at humor, he was emanating regret.

But then, well, my sadness turned into less-than-compassionate annoyance. Here’s the deal, girls: as a mom of young children, I hear this message all the time.

All. The. Time.

And while I know it sounds ornery, I just need to get something off my chest.

One of my pet peeves is being told by strangers to “enjoy these days,” to appreciate the time I have with my children while they are small, to count my blessings because time goes by so quickly, before I know it my kids will be grown and out of the house. So enjoy it. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Blah blah blah.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t young folks who need to hear this message, who would find it encouraging. But I kind of resent the assumption that I am not already doing this, that I am not already able to live in the moments and appreciate the beauty that is here.

Granted, I will be the first to admit that there have been times when I have not wanted to appreciate the beauty of these days–there have been times when I have wanted to flee (on the worst days) and longed for the minutes to pass more quickly (on the best days).

But right now, in this season, I am doing a good job living alongside you, enjoying the stunning and creative human beings you are, even as you exasperate me and I lose my temper more times than I like to admit. And so, when I am told to appreciate these days, I kind of resent the idea that any stranger feels like she needs to pass on this wisdom of a life well-lived, when implicitly this person is admitting that she did not do a good job of appreciating life when she was young. That really does sound ornery. I guess this is one of my buttons.

I work hard to live a life of gratitude and grace. It’s a daily struggle. And I often fail. But I’m on the path, girls. I’m on the path.

I see the hunt for the sacramental in these ordinary moments as one of my primary callings right now, not just as an example for you of a well-lived life but as an encouragement to others who need to see that hope is possible in the drudgery of the ordinary.

The other thing I resent when someone tells me in a chipper voice (or a somber voice, because, let’s face it, it can go both ways) to appreciate these moments because I will someday wake up and I will be old and have all these regrets–well, what I resent is the suggestion that these moments, here when you are young, are the best moments, the moments I will most miss later. These are not the best moments. And the future moments are not the best moments. All of the moments are the best. All of the moments are moments we are called to live fully, to love fully, to be aware of grace and live sacramentally. All of the moments. All of the seasons. Sometimes it is harder than at other times, and I’ve often suspected, even after talking to older moms, that in the extreme exhaustion of raising small children we have to work the hardest to find grace, but it is still here.

What I want to say to you, girls, today is this: I am living in this moment, right now, alongside you, and I am loving you and appreciating this life we share. I am feeling the late-afternoon sunshine dance across my laptop keys as I type this, and I see how beautiful it is. I am listening to an episode of Daniel Tiger in the background, hearing a deep belly laugh from the eldest, watching the youngest drink her milk with crazy bedhead. I’m sitting beside an empty mug of tea. Our white Christmas lights are glowing on our bare tree. I’ve still got my boots on because we are heading to some friends’ house for dinner, but I took my big earrings off to try to motivate myself to go outside and rake some leaves.

These are the silly details of a life that make me smile.

These are the details of the life we share.

These are the details of a life of gratitude.

I will not wake up surprised to be old one day.

I will not wake up surprised that you are old enough to read these letters one day.

Sure, the time is going quickly, quicker than I can even believe sometimes, but the moments, well, they’re the same every day. They’re full of promise. They’re full of grace.

Love,

Your Momma

The Thirty-Ninth Letter: Why I Need the Quiet

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Dear Daughters,

Yesterday, I was playing in my room with the littlest, who was pretending to “beep” (that is, “sleep”), and I noticed that the eldest was being very quiet in the living room.

Everything okay, Bean? I asked, from my room. “Yeah,” she hollered back.

It was still very quiet. I followed up. Whatcha doin’ out there, sweetie?

“Just looking out the window,” she said.

Just looking out the window.

When I was young, my stepmom sometimes came into my room in the morning before school and she’d find me sitting on my bed, seemingly doing nothing. When she asked what I was up to, I’d say, “Just thinking.”

Just thinking.

Just looking out the window.

When your dad and I first got married, it would drive him a little bit batty if he was sitting and reading in a room–your dad is often reading, as you know, even when flossing and brushing his teeth–and I came and sat down and didn’t pick up a book. I would just sit there, because I was thinking. He would put his book down, and wait for me to start talking, assuming there was conversation to be had. I just wanted to sit.

I told him I’d be happy to pick up a book and pretend to read if he wanted me to, but I was not going to be actually reading.

Now, eleven years later, he is in the habit of pausing in his reading to ask me whether I’m waiting to have a conversation with him, and if I say, no, then he goes back to his book and tries to not let it bother him.

I am someone who really likes to sit and be quiet.

While it has always been true, I didn’t realize just how much this is the case until I had children.

Just after the eldest was born, my friend Mary Lou confessed to me how difficult is was for her after her girls were born because of being an introvert. Once you have kids–especially when they are young and still breastfeeding–none of your life belongs to you anymore. Your body doesn’t belong to you. Your preference for sleep patterns doesn’t belong to you. You aren’t able to make space or time for any of that alone-quiet-peace introverts crave.

I’ve never really considered myself an introvert, nor would most people who see me lead small groups or read my words publicly, so the way I interact with the world–and the way the world interacts with me–has always confused me a bit.

I’m not good at multi-tasking, and prefer instead to devote all of my energy to one task, without background noise. I’m easily distracted if too much is going on because I can’t focus on anything. I don’t typically notice when a CD in the car begins to repeat because I’m not listening to it. I’m driving or I’m thinking. That’s it.

I am slow and careful and sensitive and thoughtful, but if there are distractions to be had, I get flustered easily.

Which means that as a mom, I get flustered easily.

You know what? Though I never would have admitted it before, until last year, I had this hunch that my need for quiet was a weakness. Sometimes I heard myself saying things light-heartedly to friends or family who seemed to accomplish more in a day than I ever could, who seemed to sleep less than I did and be very efficient with jobs and kids and life, things like, “My mental health requires me to get sleep” or “I’m just too too cranky if I don’t have downtime.” Or something like that.

But I felt it was a weakness. Really. If only I were more focused, I would think. If only I were more motivated, I would think.

I’ve felt at times like I was simply not as capable as my friends, my colleagues, the bloggers I read. These people do so much with their time and, some of them at least, really seem to enjoy Doing All The Things.

When I first came across the category “highly sensitive person” last year and read the characteristics of such a person (some studies say 15-20% of the population might be HSP), I felt like someone was describing my interior life to a T.

I’m not kidding. What I thought were my own strange neuroses, these things that made me feel wimpy and even inadequate, were on that list.

I cry easily. Caffeine affects me like crazy. I feel the weight of others’ burdens. I process slowly and take a very long time to make decisions. I don’t like loud noises, chaotic and unpredictable environments, or violent movies or television shows. I’m prone to anxiety and depression. I have a really good sense of smell. It takes me a very long time to decompress after a busy evening. I am sensitive to criticism. I worry a lot that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. I’m detail oriented and notice when things aren’t right. I make lists, lots of lists, so that nothing gets overlooked when we’re packing. It’s important to me to be prepared, to not face unexpected things–because I expect everything. Also, aesthetics matter to me–I am moved by beautiful art and beautiful spaces and beautiful books.

What I know now is that all of these things are related to the fact that I need quiet, that I like to sit and think.

And what I also know is that this thoughtful sensitivity, this quiet-craving, is not a weakness. True, I can’t achieve what others can achieve, whatever that means.

But who cares?

Because my lack of day-to-day achievement is a blessing.

How so?

My slower pace enables me to see and appreciate beauty in otherwise overlooked minute and mundane details.

I’ve realized that it makes me better able to emphathize. I notice when people are hurting. I’m pretty good at following-up with people and keeping track of what’s going on in others’ lives.

And whatever vibe it is I give off, it’s one that strangers pick up on. They talk to me. 

All of that to say, I need the quiet to process all of these things, to process my life. And I need rest. Space to breath. Notebooks to write in, post-its to make lists on. A beautiful pen with which to write those lists.

Motherhood doesn’t allow for a lot of that, but I do what I can to make it happen. I hire a babysitter. I designated an upstairs spare room as my art room. I’m writing a poem every day this month as part of a local writers’ initiative. I set my alarm to get up early and enjoy a cup of tea before the day begins. I don’t set very high goals for the day and instead take moments as they come: Meghan Trainor dance parties while washing dishes, belting out Over the Rhine in the car when I run a salad over to the church for a funeral lunch, soaking in our time together on colorful Adirondack chairs in the yard on a beautiful afternoon.

This is not the kind of person who climbs the corporate ladder and becomes CEO, the person who makes six figures, has myriad followers on Facebook, the person who tries to squeeze more hours into a day.

This is the kind of person who repurposes an old canvas and writes a poem about it.

This is the kind of person who can call life sacramental–and believe it.

This is the kind of person who listens for the still, small voice.

This is the person who might, some days, hear it.

You know what that voice says?

Rest.

Be still.

Have peace.

And I do.

I think you do, too.

Because sometimes, when something makes me cry and the eldest sees those tears, she comes over to me and gently rubs my arm, leaning against me, without saying a word.

Love,

Your Momma

 

 

 

The Twenty-Ninth Letter: What I Do All Day

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Dear Daughters,

I remember once when we lived in Texas—long before you were born—talking with an acquaintance of ours who stayed at home with her young daughter and, at the time, was expecting her second. I was curious about what sorts of activities she did with her daughter during the day, but then I made the mistake of trying to ask about it. In fact, I worded it in about the worst way possible: “So, what do you do all day?” I asked.

I cringe now, remembering how I felt when I said it, realizing how awful it sounded and knowing I couldn’t take it back or reword it once it was out there, hanging in the air awkwardly.

What do you do all day?

Granted, I didn’t mean the question the way it sounded—I wasn’t accusatory or incredulous but rather seriously curious about what sorts of fun things her daughter enjoyed doing—but the truth is that I had no idea what it meant to stay home and take care of children. I had no idea what it took to keep small human beings from killing themselves, which of course is the minimum required, and certainly no idea what it took to be a good, attentive parent.

I had no idea how hard it was to do even the most basic of tasks while caring for young children. Everything is magnified to the nth degree.

I am now, of course, more than aware. Trust me.

Let me tell you a story.

This morning I decided just before breakfast, around 8 am, that we would go to the food co-op in Lexington and then be back for lunch, because I had a meeting at the bank at 1 pm.

Now, I know enough not to overschedule—one small accomplishment for the day is quite enough, and going to a single store is often that one small accomplishment.

So, we eat breakfast.

Then I get the toddler dressed. Put a ponytail in her hair.

Then I remember that we have company coming in to town tonight so I better strip the bed upstairs and check on the state of that bathroom. I patiently help the toddler up the steps. Stripping the bed involves letting the preschooler help take the pillowcases off. Keeping the toddler off the bed. Keeping the toddler from going down the stairs by herself. Keeping the toddler from getting into my art collages across the hall in the art room. Then I go downstairs holding the toddler’s hand and the sheets in my other arm, dropping a pillowcase, waiting for preschooler to come back up the stairs to get it.

Then I gather up some towels to put in the laundry with the guest sheets, and we all go down the stairs to the basement to get it started. You take turns pretending to crawl on the floor and “hide” under a chair that is inexplicably in the laundry room. I convince you we do not have time to build a tent in the TV room. I check the dryer—before breakfast, your dad had already started a load. It’s still wet in there after one full cycle, so I start the dryer again. The dryer repairman is coming tomorrow.

I start the washing machine with the sheets and towels. We go back up to the main floor, slow step by slow step.

Then I remember that the store I’m going to has glass recycling, which we don’t have in our town, so I load all three bins of recycling into the back of our car. I’m pretty proud of myself for remembering to do this. I figuratively pat myself on the back.

Then the toddler needs a diaper change, which reminds me that it is garbage day and I need to take the stinky bag out to the curb, where the garbage can is already sitting. I remember that the kitchen trash is also full, as is our downstairs bathroom trash. I take all the trash out.

Then I realize I still haven’t gotten myself dressed for the day, so I do so, deciding that short sleeves and flip-flops are adequate because it’s drizzly but will probably warm up by the time we get to the store. And I hate to deal with jackets while we’re at a store. I spritz myself with perfume instead of showering and put some eye makeup on.

I remember that it will need to be a fast lunch before my 1 pm meeting, so I start water boiling on the stove to hardboil some eggs. Both of you love egg salad. I silently applaud myself again for thinking ahead.

Then I get the preschooler dressed, and we have a discussion about what matches and what doesn’t. Let her decide about her hair. Find a matching headband.

Then I pack snacks for the drive down in the car, and add sippy cups of water, and make sure we have a change of clothes for both girls, in case of motion sickness, as has happened before on this drive.

I remember to put the eggs in the pot of boiling water.

I become aware that it is taking a ridiculous amount of time to get ourselves ready for the store. I decide I will write a letter to you about it later today, and so begin to catalog in my mind all the tasks that I’m doing and you’re doing and how funny this might seem tonight as I relive it.

I remember that we need some bulk items at the store, so I take the canisters for flour and sugar and put them out in the car. Go me. I remember to grab the cloth bags. I make a list of items we need to get at the store, so I don’t forget while we’re there.

Then I run back down to the basement to check the dryer—this time, it’s dry—so I empty the dryer and put the wet sheets load in and start it again. Run back upstairs.

I move the eggs off the heat.

Both girls get shoes on; the toddler also gets leggings. The preschooler goes to the bathroom one more time.

It is now 10:15, more than two hours after I decided to go to the store, and we are ready to go.

I usher you out onto the deck in front of me, grab my phone and purse and diaper bag, and pull the locked door shut behind me, tugging hard to hear the latch click… and at that exact moment I realize the keys are still inside the house. I look at the car helplessly, and then raise my hand to shield my eyes so I can see through our glass back door. The keys are hanging right inside the door. On the hook. Where they belong.I push on the door, just to check, but it’s locked. Well-locked.

Sigh.

Your dad is in his executive cabinet meeting, so I try calling your babysitter, who has a spare key to the house, and her phone goes to voicemail twice. I realize for the first time just how cold it is outside, considering none of us is wearing a jacket. It’s in the low forties. It isn’t drizzling, but everything is still wet. I walk us over to our friends’ house, just around the block from us. They have a keypad lock on their back door, and I know we can get inside and be warm there, while we wait to get in touch with someone.

At their house, I take your wet shoes off, give you your car snacks and waters, and go find a charger for my phone, which is compatible with theirs. I plug it in and let you watch Dinosaur Train for a few minutes, mooching their wifi.

I get a call from your sitter and find out that she has the key but can’t get to us because it is the first day of class at the seminary—can we get to her down on campus, about a mile away? Yes, we can.

I pack us all up again, and we walk back to our house, get the double stroller out of the shed, the double-thick outdoor blanket from the back of the car to bundle you up, and head down.

I’m still in short sleeves and flip-flops, pushing seventy pounds of child in a double stroller, but we’re making progress, I think. Everyone I pass is bundled up in a hoody or winter jacket. I make it to campus and get the key, about the same time I admit that there is no longer time to get home, get in the car, and drive to Lexington and still be back for my 1 pm meeting. So instead I promise you a cupcake from a bakery up on Main Street, as a reward for being so good and noncomplaining all morning.

The bakery is closed.

I try to go inside one of my favorite boutiques in order to get us warmed up for a few minutes and the double stroller doesn’t fit through the historic building’s door.

So I truck it home, now having gotten more than a day’s workout in, though still incredibly cold, and by this time, you’re disappointed you aren’t getting a cupcake and also begin whining that you’re cold.

We make it home, and I splurge and let you drink some homemade cocoa while watching more Dinosaur Train. You spill it on your shirt and pants.

I make lunch–egg salad–and then begin the process of getting you ready for quiet time, changing diapers, getting the preschooler’s bedtime friends out of the room as well as her clock that lights up, and getting her a clean outfit. I put her cocoa-covered clothes in the sink and wash them out. Just before laying the toddler down in her crib, I happen to check my phone and see a text from your dad. Are you coming to the bank?

It is 1:05. And I’ve forgotten about the meeting.

It’s only a few miles away, so I holler to round you up, attempting the impossible task of rushing you, and the toddler indicates that she has yet another dirty diaper in need of changing. I change it. We get in the car. We make it there at 1:15.

That is a day in the life, girls. A day in the life.

What do I do all day?

Well, let me tell you…

Love,

Your Momma