September 2012


Did I ever tell you the dream I had when I was pregnant with my first son? About how I somehow ended up with a baby but didn’t know what to do with him. And how, in the dream, I was busy and had things to do and places to go and so, in the dream, I put the baby in a box and covered him with a blanket and put him in the bottom of my bedroom closet. And I went and did my thing.

And after I had done my thing and much time had passed I would remember, all of a sudden, that oh my goodness I’d left that baby in that box in that closet. And I would rush to the room and stop at the closet door, afraid of what I would find. I’d fearfully open the door, and he would be lying in that box on the floor. Just fine.

I had that dream several times during my pregnancy, and the uncertainty and the terror and the relief that I felt each time were visceral. I woke up, each time, feeling sick.

Then he was born, and I was all thumbs when I gave him his first bath in the hospital, and I worried myself crazy imagining all the things that could go wrong. And the nursing wasn’t working and he cried so much and I was alone in my little home in the middle of nowhere for days on end.

I remembered the nurses’ advice. Their confident you’ll get the hang of it, and you’ll know what to do, and babies are tougher than you think.

But he didn’t seem very tough. He seemed small and helpless and I didn’t always know what to do. It didn’t just come naturally. And I felt like the biggest mommy failure in the world when I gave up and gave him his first bottle. And I remember the hours of crying baby and crying mommy and just knowing I was making a mess of it all.

Yesterday Matilda had her babies. Three tiny, perfect, mewling little creatures that were found under the front steps when Carter went outside to play. He heard them crying and searched them out and came in to tell me that the babies were alone and cold and wet and Matilda was nowhere to be found.

And like a slap it all came back to me. The not knowing how to be a mommy times. The times when it didn’t just come naturally.

For a while we left the babies where they were and just watched through the window. Matilda came and went but she ignored her babies.

She isn’t accepting them, Colton said. She doesn’t know what to do.

Finally we gathered the babies and a box and we put momma in with them, but she just wandered from corner to corner, stepping on the babies and trying to escape.

They’re going to die, Mom, Carter said, and he searched my heart with those big, blue, pleading eyes of his.

Let’s try to get them nursing, I said.

So I held Matilda on a towel on the couch, and Carter helped each baby, one at a time, find a nipple. And it worked. The babies nursed, and it was like Matilda really saw them for the first time. She tongue-washed them, and wrapped herself around them, and it was like she finally got it.

Is this what a mommy needs when she is struggling to find her way? When it seems like her instincts are betraying her? When she’s cross and tired and unlovely.

Because sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes, it takes more than an encouraging you’ll be fine.

Sometimes it takes a knock on a door and a hug and a let’s do this together, Friend.

Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one, for the results can be much better. If one falls, the other pulls him up; nuy if a man falls when he is alone, he is in trouble. Also on a cold night, two under the same blanket gain a warmth from each other, but how can one be warm alone? And one standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two stand back-to-back and conquer, three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (Living Bible)

There are a few online chat thingees that I’ve signed up for. I browse them once in a while, interested in the questions posed and the commenters that try to help or answer or advise. I’m struck, often, by how public we’ve become. How much more open we are now, about our parenting, our choices, our lives, than we have been in the past. It’s kinda cool, and it’s kinda creepy at the same time.

Mainly it’s cool.

So, I’m reading a homeschooling Facebook page for a group that I’ve joined. It’s interesting, because it’s membership is not based on ideology or religion or homeschooling style, but on geography. Which makes for a diverse group and some interesting conversations. I admit I mostly lurk, but in an interested, you go girl, kind of way.

Yesterday, though, I was troubled. Here’s the skinny.

A woman posed a problem/question to the group. She described herself as the mom of two children of  young elementary school age, and a couple of babes. She was homeschooling the two older children and was frustrated with how things were going. The children wouldn’t do the work she assigned, wouldn’t come sit at the table when asked, and the home was full of tension and anger and frustration. She was asking the group for suggestions and indicated she wondered if it would be better to just send the older kids to school where teachers could deal with them educationally, and she could be just a mom and have some peace in her home.

This was the jist of it, anyway, as I understood it.

And lovely homeschooling moms offered lovely advice.

Evaluate the curriculum you are using to see if there might be a better fit for you.

Try X curriculum.

Try unschooling, it saved our family!

Be consistent.

Take breaks.

Be gentle.

Be tough.

And to each suggestion offered, the mom would respond in a defeated way. Either she’d tried it, or was already doing it, or she didn’t think it would help.

Really, I think, she was seeking permission to send her kids to school.

And if she makes that decision, then, you know, you go girl!

What bothers me about this whole conversation though, is the fact that it’s still September. She’s only been doing this a few weeks, and she’s ready to give it all up. And I just want to whisper to her, as gently as I know how,

ARE YOU CRAZY?!

I mean, really, did you think it would be easy? Did you think it would be pie-in-the-sky, pollyanna every day, sunshine and rainbows?

I actually laughed out loud when I read the comment one mom left in response to desperate mom’s question. (Bad, I know.) I don’t know most of these women personally, mind. What I know about them comes mainly from the chatting that takes place online. And the impression I’d had of the mom leaving the comment was that she was experienced and active in homeschooling her children. Because she was on the page a lot, had lots to say, and offered lots of advice.

Anyhoo, she responds to the question by relating that she, too, is struggling in similar ways with her oldest child and that she had in fact already contacted the school about enrolling him. Oh, and he was in grade one.

Grade one!

This woman has spent more time reading about homeschooling and planning to homeschool and choosing curriculum than she’s actually spent doing it!

I’m not a militant homeschooling mom. I don’t think it’s for everybody. I support whatever education decisions you make for your children. But whatever the decisions are, know that there will be hard stuff. Whether you choose traditional school or some version of homeschool, it is not sweetness and light all the time.

It’s hard and it’s wonderful and it’s hard.

And whether you are the mom of schooled children or homeschooled children, the answers to the hard times are (usually) internal. I mean, diet or curriculum choice or whatever can all be factors, but the bottom line is that it’s not (usually) about what you do, it’s about who you are. It’s relationship. Always, always, always.

Always.

So from one mommy to another, hang in there. Make the choices you need to make, celebrate the wonder of being a parent, but accept as well the hard stuff that goes along with it. Ford the rivers, climb the mountains, slay the dragons. Work it through. Work it out.

It’s worth it.

Really.

You, and your children, will be stronger for it.

He started at the Mexican border on April 21, and 2700 miles, 146 days and 5 pairs of shoes later we picked him up in Waterton, Alberta. When he crossed into Canada he became part of a small but elite group of long distant walkers who have walked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Coast Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. He had lived out of a 13.5 pound back pack for 146 days. It contained the necessities: his tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, jacket, stove, and cooking and eating utensils. Sometimes the pack grew to 35 pounds when it was restocked with food and water.

I was curious and so I asked what all of you would ask. Why? Why would you push yourself to walk 20 or 30 miles a day, sometimes thirsty and hungry? Why would you want to sleep under the stars 1200 feet above sea level? What did you learn? Would you do it again?

Some of the answers you would expect. The challenge. Can I do it? Will I be able to make the right decisions each day? But there was another answer, too.

In real life we shield ourselves from the elements and many times from the creator. On a long hike everything is stripped away. It is down to the bare essentials. I am in the elements, close to creation and the creator. I am continually in the moment, traveling to a destination along what are often unmarked trails, guided by maps, at times a GPS, and faith. I am dependent not only on my own skills, but on Him. God is very real to me, and the mountains, desert and valleys are my cathedral in which to worship.

May all of us live in the moment and find ways to experience and worship Him.

(You can see Jim’s website which includes pictures and his trail journal at boatmanwalking.com)

If one more person tells me to just praise or just pray or just be grateful or count it all joy

Not that these things are wrong. Just, you know, that isn’t the sum of it. I can smile and count my blessings and fill page after page in gratitude notebook after gratitude notebook and sometimes, still, I am sad.

And the only thing worse than being sad is feeling guilty for being sad.

Sunday morning I sit in a pew alone. The family is away and so I sit without husband or children there to place an arm around or hold a hymn book with, and a strange melancholy steals over me.

It’s a feeling I have been fighting. I’ve been trying to praise my way out of it. I’ve prayed and served and thought of others and scolded myself. I’ve asked God to make me better. But on Sunday morning, alone in full room, I give in. The tears well and fall as I whisper the words the others are singing and I bow my head to hide.

I have no right to be sad, I think. Not when across the room sits a man who just buried his wife. Who is sitting without her on the day of their fortieth wedding anniversary. Who is surrounded by family who mourn with him in their loss. Not when a friend struggles to care for her sick husband. Not when there is cancer and illness and struggle all around me. It makes me feel rather pathetic, to tell the truth.

But sadness, I think, is sometimes an unexpected visitor. And to make him always unwelcome is perhaps a mistake. To close the door in his face, to ignore him, is to say no to a part of who I am.

In the Bible, Jesus is sometimes sad. So is God. And so are many of the people whose stories are told in those holy pages.

So, for a while, I will just be sad. Without apology, without depression, without anger, without comparing. Without guilt.

I’ll flee, and I’ll rest for a while, just a brief time, in the comfort of my Fathers arms. Where being sad is okay.

All the men are away for the weekend. Just me this morning, and Buddy (the dog), and the chores that need to be done. This morning I discover that when it comes to chores, Buddy is not much help.

As I’m waking up this morning I remember that before he left, Lyndon reminded me that we are almost out of chicken feed. He has an old water heater in the chicken pen that he keeps the stuff in, so I am hopeful there will be enough to get me through the morning. How much do eighty chickens and ten turkeys eat, after all?

As I leave the house, I grab the scrap pail to take out to the birds. Might as well; I’m going that way. I stop to let Buddy off his lead. He jumps up and knocks the pail out of my hand, scattering banana peels and leftover porridge all over the grass. He scarfs down his now-claimed breakfast, and rushes through the gate into the pasture, where the goats are standing and looking at me.

Who are you, they seem to be asking, and what have you done with the guy who knows what he’s doing?

Buddy begins a game of chase-the-goats, and I continue on to the chicken pen. When I take the lid off the feed container, I see some grain at the bottom. I tip the container on its side and practically crawl inside it to reach the feed. The chickens and turkeys are swarming, like horror show swarming, and clucking and making this strange growling sound that I’m sure means, come on guys, there’s a hundred of us and only one of her, we can take her. I’m expecting to be pecked to death at any moment and my family will come home on Sunday afternoon and find me dead in the chicken pen with my head in the feed pail.

Thankfully, against all odds, I manage to scratch out some feed and scatter it for the complaining birds, and turn around to see goats in the pen.

Oops, forgot to close the door.

Now there’s a goats vs chickens vs turkeys war breaking our. I call Buddy to try to help me herd the goats out of the pen. He just looks at me. I try pushing a goat or two, but for every one I push away, another rushes over to fill her spot. The chickens and turkeys are frantic as they watch their food disappear.

I whisper a promise to the birds that I will return later with more food, and leave them to it. I fill the pails and my shoes with water, check for eggs, and finally (whew!) I’m done.

Buddy walks back to the house with me, and begs to come inside. He’s not really supposed to, but, bad mommy that I am, I let him. He crashes on the living room floor, exhausted.

Poor puppy, he worked so hard.

I walk up the steps to the Post Office, and when I pass through the doors I avert my eyes. I know the plain white sheet of paper is for her. I don’t need to read the notice. I already know that the funeral is today at 2:00.

Again, it came too soon and too abruptly, and its hard to make peace with it. She had barely retired. Her husband and family will miss her. She was loved. She was part of the community.

She loved to read, and we exchanged books from time to time.

She spoke softly.

She washed the torn skin of each of my boys at one time or another, smiling at them in the tiny hospital room. Holding, counting stitches, bandaging, marvelling at whatever crazy stunt had precipitated the injury.

As I leave the Post Office I glance at the stark, white notice. I think it should at least be printed on pretty paper. It should be printed on soft pink paper with a border of flowers, perhaps.

Colton brought the first egg to the house. Finally, those hens are starting to do what they are meant to do. From the day we brought them home as helpless one-day-old chicks, we’ve been waiting. Feeding them and watering them and watching over them. And now, it begins.

I took a picture of the first egg. But I didn’t take a picture of the second one.

Dad wrote an interesting post last week. He talked about all those kids starting their first days of school. He talked about beginnings, about learning, about teaching. About flying.

There’s only one first day of school each year.

Like Dad mentioned in his post last week, I also oohed and awwed over the sweet first day of school pictures posted on Facebook and blogs a few weeks ago. I loved seeing the cuteness of small children hefting huge backpacks. Standing on their lawns or by the school bus. I loved the homeschool first-day pictures of children seated around their kitchen tables, stacks of sharpened pencils waiting. Ready to begin. Ready, as Dad said, to learn to fly.

I didn’t see any second-day-of-school pictures.

There’s only one first day of school each year, and it’s right and wonderful and joyful to celebrate it and to document it. But the beginning quickly turns into the middle and the middle can sometimes be a challenge.

The middle calls for commitment. It’s the daily grind, the doing it over and over, the day after day after day. The middle is where the learning to fly happens, with all its bumps and stumbles.

So, all you mommas out there. All you wonderful, amazing, hard-working, grace-giving women who do this mommy thing morning after morning, busy day after busy day … know that you are cared for and loved and prayed over today. From my messy middle to your messy middle, we are all in this thing together.

You are all awesome.

Ahhh. Book club. Sweet women, babies in mammas’ arms, wonderful food, comfy couches and warm afghans under which to snuggle. And a book to discuss. Just lovely.

Look Again, by Lisa Scottoline, is the fictional story of a woman who reluctantly begins a journey to discover the birth identity of her three-year-old adopted son. She sees a likeness to her son in a missing child flyer photograph, and she cannot keep herself from digging around in her son’s past.

Truthfully, the discussion of the book was more interesting than the book itself. While there were some tricky social issues raised by the author, the story was presented in a rather formulaic and predictable way. It was a quick and easy read, but I didn’t find it particularly compelling or stretching. But that’s okay. Sometimes quick and easy is just fine.

The book club women rose to the challenge, though, and the discussion of this book was lively and insightful. Especially since one of the members is hoping to adopt a baby.

For me, the main point to wrestle with in Look Again is that of truthful relationship, and of how far one is willing to go in the pursuit of it.

Would I be willing to accept the sacrifices that the search for honesty might require?

While I couldn’t relate to the specific situation of the adoptive mother in the book, the idea of pursuing truth regardless of the cost did give me pause. How often is one asked to make that choice in her life?

Personally, I think we are stronger than we think. And when called on, most women I know rise up and do right and survive.

We end up with all kinds of cats at our place. Because we are quite close to town and not too far off the main road, you see, so sometimes a bunch of kittens will just arrive. It always makes me sad. Unwanted babies, you know.  And the whole shirking your responsibilities by passing the problem on to someone else thing. I get annoyed.

I’ve been thinking about this thing, responsibility. What is it? Can it be taught? How do I raise responsible kids?

Responsibility. It’s linked to words like accountability, duty, obligation, and even burden. These are not the fun or exciting parenting words that I read on crunchy parenting websites today.

Recently my oldest son has had a string of interesting experiences. His car died. He borrowed and lost my expensive camera. And he started his final year of homeschool high school.

I’m thinking responsibility is one of things the boy is supposed to be learning at this season of his life.

He had to deal with the car. I helped him arrange to have it towed to the garage in town. He followed up on it, and learned that the fix would be expensive and might not solve the problem. He sought advice from our wonderful car doctor, who helped him find a buyer for the vehicle. The car is sold.

He had to deal with the camera. I was tempted to let him off the hook. It wasn’t his fault it got stolen, etc. But (joy!) he wanted to make it right. He payed for it out of his hard-earned weed-pulling-in-the-dead-heat-of-summer money. And he did it with a great attitude.

He has to deal with the future. We’re discussing it already. We’re dreaming and sharing ideas and googling things like crazy. It’s exciting and challenging. And it will take planning and cash and decision-making.

I’m biased, of course. I love this boy. And the truth is, he’s the oldest and being responsible is often one of those oldest child traits. So along with responsibility, I hope he’s also learning to love others and trust God and have fun and take a chance now and then.

But when it really matters, I hope he’ll remember his responsibilities.

Every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, and obligation; every possession, a duty.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Harvest is over and he’s home.

When I was in boarding school, way back a hundred years ago or so, it was what we said when a dad was helping his daughter move into the dormitory. When he was about to carry in the luggage or the stereo with those ridiculously huge speakers or the big box full of things sent by the mom to make her room more comfortable. Someone would call it out.

Man on the floor.

It was the signal for the dorm girls to cover up or close doors or do what was necessary to protect their modesties, or hide their messy rooms, or whatever.

I walked out to milk the goats this morning, and it’s what I felt like calling out. Man on the floor. Because it makes a difference. It changes things.

His presence, just being around, makes it all a little different. The schedule changes a bit, the atmosphere deepens into manliness just a little, the boys behave a tad differently.

I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have been there when He walked. To have seen him. To have been in the crowd, to have heard his voice, to have served him a meal.

I think it might have changed my own walk. Changed my schedule, deepened the atmosphere of my life. I might behave a little differently.

How I long to walk with him, hear him, serve in his name.

Today I call it out. I call it out into the hallway of my life.

Wake up, Janelle. He’s on the floor.

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