May 2014


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I planted flowers last weekend. I mowed grass and raked last year’s soggy leaves and I loved every hot, sweaty minute of it. A whole Saturday spent outside, in the dirt.

Thing is, I love the beginning of the summer. I’ve got all kinds of energy and ambition and excitement when the green of the budding leaves is sweet and new and the dandelions haven’t yet gone to seed and the scent of spring lilac floats on fresh evening breezes.

Nothing about the season annoys me yet, because it’s all so newly beautiful and welcome.

A season newborn in sweetness, and who doesn’t love a brand new baby?

Tending is easy in the spring. Mid summer, though, when it’s hot and grasshoppers cannonball themselves around and the grass has faded and the weeds are creeping into my driveway and the house doesn’t cool off at night… then tending becomes more like plain old, unpoetic work.

One of my goals this summer is to tend my way through it. To attend, if you like, to the loveliness around me, even when it loses some of its fresh beauty. To enjoy the mellowing of the season, and the children and the tasks and the growing, as the days in and out themselves.

I intend to enjoy this summer. I hope you do, too.

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And then I laugh, and he kind of does, too, as he heads out the door. I know he doesn’t know how to take me, sometimes, but that’s okay. I don’t either. This foster parent/kid thing? We kind of make it up as we go along.

It’s the most frustrating thing in the world (in my current small world, anyway) to feel like you’ve made so much progress and things are going great and there hasn’t been a temper tantrum in weeks and it all seems so sweet… to unpack his old ripped backpack while he’s outside playing before the school bus comes – because everything is about to fall out of it and it seems like a good idea to put it all into a grocery bag instead – and to find my husband’s expensive binoculars there at the bottom of the mess of papers and candy wrappers.

It’s the most heart-sinking, here-we-go-again feeling, as I pick them up and put them on the kitchen table and then he breezes in and he sees them there and he looks at me and I say, look what I found.

I can tell his mind is working hard, thinking how he’ll get out of this one, and he says, I just wanted to look at stuff.

We do the whole, are they yours? and, are you supposed to take things that aren’t yours? and honestly I’m so mad at him I could spit, and he knows it. We dance awkwardly around each other, me mad and he defensive, until the bus comes and I send him off with a reluctant hug and that have-a-good-day-don’t-steal-anything blessing. Ya, I know.

If fostering was a Facebook relationship, I’d check It’s Complicated.

Almost every day, lately, he says something like, it feels like you’re a real mom, or maybe I’ll stay in this family for a while. This is new for Transient Child. He’s used to using people up and moving on. So when he prays, thank you for letting the Ross family take care of me, it about rips my heart out.

I worry about him. I think, if you are stealing small stuff now, chances are good you’ll steal bigger stuff later. I talk about consequences and about what happens when big people steal stuff and he nods and says he won’t do it again, but I’ve heard that before, and we haven’t even hit puberty, yet.

Don’t borrow trouble, I tell myself. You can only do your best, I think.

But I’m his other mom, and I can’t help it. Every kid matters.

This morning, the day after the binocular incident, he says again how I am like a mom and this time I ask why?

Because I boss you around? I joke.

He laughs and says no.

Because I love you so much? And he says yes and gives me a hug and then the bus comes and he waves back at me as he walks out into the new day.

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Life is a journey of beautiful contradiction and fortunate misstep. I am not where I set out to be, all those years ago, thank God.

Life is hard and sad, by times, but would you read a story that never posed a problem to solve or a tragedy to overcome? I’m learning there is a beautiful grace in hard and sad and while I don’t wish for the tough times ahead, I know they will find me.

This morning my foster son reads aloud these words from the book of Proverbs, from a little plaque that sits on the desk in my office space. We’re the only two awake in the house on this holiday Monday, and we’re cozy in our space while cool rain falls on the greening world outside our window.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, he reads.

The Lord is Jesus, he says thoughtfully, and he looks over at me and nods confidently. I nod back, serious as is he, and I think it’s not something I’ve taught him. I don’t think I’ve ever said to him, Jesus is Lord, and you should believe in Him.

My foster son is learning how to pray. He’s not done it before, and all this church stuff and believing stuff is new to him. He’s learning that Jesus might be more than a swear word.

The first time he asks to pray is at dinner and we bow heads with him and wait, and he says, I forget how to start.

Dear God, I prompt, and he’s off, thankful for the day and the food and the kittens and the toys, but it’s the ending that sticks my heart, when he asks for God to watch over the Ross family and his mom. I didn’t teach him to pray or tell him he should, but he lives here and we do it, and he’s been watching, of course.

I didn’t become his foster mom to turn him into a Christian. Or maybe I did. I think Jesus makes life better, so, maybe I did. I have no idea where he will go in his life or what he will believe. I certainly don’t want to give him tiresome religion, but I’m pretty sure he’ll face lots of hard and sad stuff of his own, and I’d love him to discover life-sustaining faith.

I know he’s watching, and I suppose I want him to see me watching, too.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11: 28-30 (the message)

This scripture is working on me. I’ve been thinking about the unforced rhythms of grace. I’m trying to watch how He does it. I’m trying to walk with Him and work with Him. I want to get away with Him and recover my life. And who doesn’t want to live freely and lightly?

I’ll probably write about it some, in the days ahead.

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I don’t write about writing much. I don’t know that much about writing, to be honest. And I kind of find the blogs and such about writing a bit … boring. It seems they are mostly written by those who have written something as a way of finding those who want to write something and convincing them to buy their next book or sign up for their next workshop on how to write something.

They talk a lot about fear and shipping your work and platform, and then, after a while, they start to talk about how tired they are of talking about it all because the art has lost itself along the way or the fun has gone out of it in all the marketing of it, and how they are going to take a social media break because they have a life to lead after all don’t you know, but they’ll be back in three weeks or two months or whatever, and please don’t forget about them while they’re gone. This is supposed to be a Very Brave Thing To Do, because they might after all get forgotten, because we know how fickle the masses are. (The masses being us.)

When I was in the eighth grade, I wrote a story called Hammy the Hamster. I wish I still had it but I hardly keep anything. I’m sure I tossed it or lost it somewhere along the way, but I remember the feeling of having my teacher read it out loud to the class, and comment on its style and creativity and great use of dialogue. This is really good, she said to the class, and after she stopped me and said something like, I hope you keep writing.

I didn’t, not really. And then a few years ago I decided to take back my joy, and I started fooling around with it. I began with a family newsletter, which I mailed to relatives and those who loved me too much to tell me to quit sending it to them. Then blogging hit the scene, and I hit the keyboard, and I wrote bad stuff (just look back in the archives and you’ll see what I mean) about my family and my life. And the relatives and those who loved me too much to tell me to quit writing still read what I wrote, bless them.

I’m saying all this because recently a friend asked me to write about my writing process, as part of a shared writing experience. She’ll write about her process and then I and a few others will write about our processes, and then I’ll ask a few friends to write about their processes.

So here I am, processing my process. Sorry.

Because next week I have to write about writing, and I don’t have a clue what to say.

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My kids say these things to me, sometimes, and I know they are joking. He said this to me, in fact, just the other day. You’re such a girl, Mom, he said, and he smiled when he said it, and I smiled back. He wasn’t being mean or dismissive, mind. He was joking at my tears over some silly thing, and he was being sweet when he said it, but something sat uncomfortable in me as I digested his words.

Sometimes, when you are a minority, you feel a pressure to conform. Or maybe a pressure to subdue the difference of yourself. Or maybe there isn’t really any pressure? Maybe it’s a natural thing that happens? Or maybe it’s just me.

I live in a house full of men, and I thank the Lord every day for each one of them. I am blessed to my eyebrows, and I try very hard not to forget that. I’m wondering just the tiniest of wonderings, though, about whether I’ve allowed myself to get a little lost in the rough and tumble of it.

I don’t have a girly (whatever that is?) decorating style or a girly wardrobe or a girly personality, for that matter. I’m pretty plain Jane about that stuff, but truth is, I have a girly heart, and I’m trying to accept that and honour that and understand better what that means.

I won’t be painting anything pink or putting bows on the toilet seats. I don’t feel a need to make big changes or big statements or to get into any big arguments.

The next time I’m accused of being a girl, though, I think I’ll tell them how lucky they are to have one around.

I’d like some pictures of the boys and me, I say. Because I think it might be nice for there to be a few pictures that actually have the mother in them rather than shooting them.

Mostly, I have pictures of the boys, or the boys and their friends, or the boys and their dad. Or the goats. This is the extent of our family album. Or it would be, if I actually made a family album.

How about, this is the extent of the muddle of photos on my computer?

Anyway, it’s Sunday morning (Mother’s Day) and the sun is shining and the potluck lunch is ready and the kids are ready and no one has a black eye and we have some time before church so I make my suggestion, and I herd them outside and over to the fence.

Make that, I wait at the fence while one boy wanders out in sock feet, another in bare feet, and another spies a chicken on the loose and races off to snag and bag it.

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Meanwhile, the dad decides he has time to do major repair work to his truck (or maybe he was checking the oil?) while the rest of us cheer on the boy who is madly chasing the chicken all over the yard.

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Successful in his capture, we wait for him to return the chicken to the pen while Dad finishes overhauling the engine (or maybe he was adding window wash fluid?) and I decide the old shop might be a nicer background for our photo shoot.

I hand my husband my “camera” and the boys and I line up. Carter is grumbling because the sun is bright and he’s the only one without sunglasses and who cares about taking stupid pictures and we’re ruining his life.

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We jostle and shuffle and finally Tyson leans over and kisses my cheek and miraculously, my husband catches it.

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And then I get a kiss from him.

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And then I get a kiss from him.

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And then the whole thing goes to pot…

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… but I manage to snag my husband and he grabs his gun (?) and my oldest son says smile and I get a kiss from him, too. That’s a lot of kissing for this family.

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So I only raised my voice a couple of times, and I might have said something in the middle of it all like all I want are some nice freaking pictures of us that show how much we love each other!! … and wouldn’t you know it, I got some.

My men and me.

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We are one of those families who like to fling words around like bullets. Honestly, at the end of a meal together, I can be exhausted from the conversational olympics that have taken place. Mostly, I’m happy about that. Mostly, it’s fun.

We like to talk. We like to discuss stuff and share stuff and argue about stuff.

It can get out of hand, though, as you might imagine.

The other day, in the midst of a discussion about something, my son said some words that hurt my feelings. I got up from the table and walked away, and I was angry and sad and moped around about it for a while.

Later, as we passed each other in the kitchen, I said, You hurt my feelings today.

And he said, I didn’t mean to.

We’re good, now.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day, might we sweeten our conversations with the grace of apology.

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