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

The Hundred-and-Ninth Letter: Ordinary, Extraordinary Summer (Part 1)

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Dear Daughters,

Today is a perfect day.

It is not too hot, the tree branches are swaying in the breeze, and the dappled shade in the yard is in constant, gentle motion. I’m sitting on a plastic Adirondack chair squarely in the middle of the yard as I write this. The two of you are playing with a neighbor in the yard, going back and forth between treehouse-restaurant-sand-baking and balancing on the slack line your dad set up before he left for work this morning.

This morning, I got up and met a neighbor outside for a run—okay, not a “run” per se, but a series of jog/walk intervals for thirty minutes. We all had breakfast. Your dad left. The Bean worked on your math workbook while I read some Magic Schoolbus books to the Goose that are due back at the library tomorrow.

We got a little lost enroute to a juggler performance in the low-income part of town, and since you’re oblivious to the adult categories of suburbia and poverty and income distribution, you told me how beautiful the neighborhood was we were circling around and meandering through–beautiful, you said, because it was so green (overgrown, I would have said, unmown grass, shaggy bushes, but beautiful in your eyes).

I ended up pulling out my maps app to get us to the right park, and we enjoyed the free “outreach” program provided by our library.

We got home in time to braid hair and lather up sunscreen, then leave again to meet another neighbor family and their double stroller at the corner to walk down to our local elementary school’s summer meals program for chicken patty day. After lunch, we played on the playground, eventually walked back up the enormous hill for quiet reading time at home, and now here we are, living an ordinary summer afternoon.

Ordinary and extraordinary, I think.

It’s been cool enough to have our house windows open all day without the A/C kicking on. I’ve got a fresh-mint-and-oregano seltzer water in a mason jar beside me, my old paint jeans fraying at the knees, a wrist brace for a tendonitis flare-up after a painting project yesterday, and my feet bare, with just a hint of a flip-flop tanline, enjoying the dancing clover.

Did you know that, girls? That clover dances? There’s so much to see when you look for it.

As my laptop battery runs out, we’ve got a plan for homemade stromboli for dinner, which is basically the same as homemade pizza and we just had that three days ago, but whatevs. I need to move my Adirondack chair a few feet back because the shade has shifted and my jeans are getting toasty, though the breeze its still amazing. Your dad has a meeting tonight, and we’ve already picked a readaloud book for the time he’s away. You’ll need showers for sure after all of this outside-sunscreen-sandy time. Later, we’ll stick a star sticker on a handprint canvas to mark the passing day, a just-started-yesterday tradition we’re working to incorporate into this ordinary, extraordinary season. Your dad will close the day out with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which you’re listening to for the first time.

That’s what the day is, girls.

Today.

It’s not profound in its parts, but it is in the whole, mostly because I’m paying attention, I guess.

I don’t always pay attention. I don’t even know if I do most of the time, but sometimes, sometimes I do. Sometimes I notice.

And sometimes I write it down.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Thirty-Eighth Letter: God Helps Us

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Dear Daughters,

On a warm, sunny day this week, I slathered you both with sunscreen before driving to the church’s community garden for some late-afternoon weeding. The truth is I had also discovered some sprouting onions in our cupboard that I thought I’d try burying in the ground.

You don’t have much patience for the amount of rubbing it takes to get the mineral-based sunscreen absorbed into your skin, especially around your nose and cheeks, but I’d told you that you’d be able to play on the new playground at church, which is within view of the garden plots.

You knew how the routine would go, because we’d done it before. I laid out a blanket in the shade near the playground, and set out water and snacks, so you could get out of the sun as necessary.

But the lack of shade on the playground was an issue today. Since it was late afternoon, all of the slides were too hot to slide down. And because the slides are your favorite part of the playground, your attention spans were shorter than usual.

You kept coming over to the garden, wanting to wear my gardening gloves, wanting to help pull weeds and use the small trowel, wanting to stomp all over the dirt I was trying to till by hand.

I let you. Why not?

I was sweating and pretty uncomfortable myself, but I’ve learned that getting your hands dirty in a garden, even if it means sweat is dripping off your nose, makes just about any day a good day.

I am not, in general, someone who likes being gross, and I am, in general, someone who sweats lot. I had a headband and visor on, my sunglasses, my own sunscreen, cut-off jeans, and a sweated-through T-shirt in no time.

After trying, fruitlessly, to dig a hole bigger than one of the onions, the 4 year old told me once again how hard it was to work outside and how hot she was. She’d probably mentioned it a dozen times at that point. (The toddler, if she happened to be nearby, echoed the sentiment monosyllabically: “hot.” Or, sometimes, “sweat.”)

“Momma’s hot, too,” I said, “but sometimes we have to do things, even when we’re hot and uncomfortable. Gardening is one of those things. We get hot and dirty, but it’s worth it.”

Then, patting myself silently on the back and thinking I would get a mother-of-the-year award for this, I added, “And you know what? Gardening can teach us about God. Did you know that? What do you think it can teach us?

Without even a pause, you squeal, because you’re sure you have the right answer: “That God helps us!!”

And you are right, of course.

I didn’t know what answer I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. I had thought more along the lines of patience and provision and lack of control. More gardening-like metaphors of sowing and reaping, and needing both rain and sunshine.

But, as usual, you cut right to the chase.

God does help us.

It’s not a “God’s on our side” kind of help, not a “God won’t let anything bad happen to me” kind of help, not a me-and-God-we’re-buddies kind of help, and certainly not a “put in the work, and you’ll be blessed” kind of help.

No, what I’m thinking is the fact that seeds sprout at all, girls, is a miracle.

A miracle.

That the thyme my mom transplanted five years ago from her garden in Pennsylvania, put in her trunk, and then drove to Kentucky is still taking over my herb garden is a miracle.

That we save all that compost–tea bags, egg shells, banana peels–and it breaks down into something that can nourish the soil is a miracle.

That God has actually given us an opportunity to participate in the act of creation is a miracle.

It’s all kind of crazy.

But, and this is the annoying part, we have to get dirty and sweaty first. And we have to keep those weeds under control or they choke out the good stuff.

There are so many gardening, farming, seed-laden, dirt-encrusted metaphors in Scripture, girls. It’s a powerful thing to kneel down in the dirt and feel that moist soil underneath the cracking, dried-out dirt on the surface.

You know, there’s probably a metaphor in that act of kneeling, too, because if you try to weed just bending at the waist, you’ll run out of back strength long before you run out of weeds.

God helps us.

And, here’s a side note: If you just can’t keep up with the garden, if you let those tomatoes rot on the vine or fall on the ground and get so gross you don’t want to even pick them up to throw them into the compost, you know what happens?

You get volunteers next year.

Love,

Your Momma

The Twentieth Letter: New Seasons

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Dear Daughters,

I love changing seasons.

I love the fall’s cool breezes and crunchy leaves. I’ll take sweatshirts and jeans over shorts and tank tops any day. I don’t like to sweat.

I also really love school supplies. I mean, seriously. Notebooks. Folders. Binders with tabbies. Post-It notes. Pens. Sharpie marker pens especially. Boxes of crayons before the wrappers are all peeled off.

When I think of back-to-school season, I picture those days of crunchy leaves and waiting for the bus. Brand-new decorations in classrooms–not stained, the edges not curling. Wondering which of your friends will be in what class. Seeing the book for the first time. Meeting new people. Figuring out when I could go to my locker.

I still periodically have that can’t-remember-the-locker-combination nightmare, and it’s been over a decade since I’ve opened a locker.

I love the juxtaposition of new school years–fresh starts, new beginnings–with the season of autumn–leaves turning colors, falling off trees, the earth going to sleep for winter.

Death and new life.

There’s probably a poem in that somewhere.

In Kentucky, there is no such juxtaposition and beauty of seasons. Ya’ll go to school in the middle of summer, girls. There’s no getting around it.

Thursday, August 6, was the Bean’s first day of preschool.

I’m told this is a big deal. And I feel like I should feel like this is a big deal. PRESCHOOL! FIRST DAY! WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE? MY BABY IS GOING TO SCHOOL!

Okay, granted, it’s only 2 mornings a week, and it’s a class for 3 year olds.

But I feel pretty much nothing but gratitude that you will be away from me in an organized learning environment.

One of my friends sent her son to kindergarten this week. (And this is the first year of full-day kindergarten for our district.) It’s a tough thing for her.

It’s a tough thing for most moms.

I have this hunch I’ll be the mom secretly rejoicing on the inside.

Or not so secretly.

Part of it is my overall love of new years and new beginnings.

Part of it is that I’m just not very sentimental about these baby and toddler years when you are home with me, chattering constantly, climbing up my legs when I’m standing in the kitchen, sitting on my lap while I am looking for peace and quiet in the bathroom, for goodness’ sake.

I’ve sung this song before. It will be no surprise to you, I’m sure.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve loved watching you learn and absorb information. As one of our best friends says, kids are sponges. I am astounded every day at your capacity to learn and question and figure things out. I’ve loved painting with you and reading to you and teaching you songs and building impressive towers out of blocks.

But.

My dad once told me when I was older–at least a teenager, maybe out of the house already, I can’t remember–that he loved every stage of our growing up, and he loved “this stage” the best. Whatever stage we were in, the whole time we were growing up, that’s the one that seemed the best. I’m pretty sure he likes being Grandpa best of all, of course. But his point was that he wasn’t sentimental about the stages that had passed. He didn’t long for us to be babies again. He didn’t long for us to be dependent creatures. He raised us to be thinkers and doers.

There is hope in this thing called parenting.

Hope.

I’m a nerd, but there is something so hopeful about the beginning of the school year. It’s a new season.

Maybe I get a little bit of that hope every time I open a new notebook, buy a new rainbow pack of Sharpies, a sleeve of Post-Its.

And maybe I get a little bit of that hope every time I look at you.

Love,

Your Momma