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Once in a while, on a Sunday afternoon, you need to run in back pastures with leggy llamas. You need to race the wind across an empty prairie, golden grass underfoot and wind in your face, and everyone watching and cheering and laughing.

Honestly, it’s what I want for them, all these ones I love. I want them to run their whole lives, chasing the things that challenge them and make them gasp for air because the running is so happily exhausting. I’ll watch them, and cheer and laugh, and I’ll sit them down at my kitchen table for tea and brownies when they need to catch their breath.

And when they call to me, from across a field or a country or an ocean, I’ll listen. I’ll cry or laugh or encourage, whatever. I’ll remind them of these prairie boy, llama-racing, windy days, and of how they grew up learning everything they need to know to keep on with it.

I’ll do my own running, too, of course. A little slower, and maybe a few more stops to rest and more potty breaks than I used to need, but that’s okay, because honestly, this crazy racing life is still so much fun.

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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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There are times when it seems I’m taking my family for a walk on the edge of a cliff, and I wonder if we might all be about to fall and fall and fall at my misstep, plunging into crashing ocean or onto crushing rock.

Nice thoughts on the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, eh?

I wonder at moms packing babies into covered wagons, pots dangling from pegs and uncertainty ahead, and I think they must have hardly been able to stand it some times. I wonder what was stronger in them, adventure or duty? Following men and making homes out of next to nothing and some of them thriving and some of them going plumb crazy, I imagine.

I wonder at moms raising children in war, and how do you do that? Or moms with sick or starving or buried kids, or moms with stolen kids. Stolen kids, three hundred missing Nigerian girls, and I know I have no clue.

There are moms – today, this very minute – all over the place, all over this round world, raising babies up and away, and some of them thriving and some of them, yes, going crazy. (It takes a lot of comma pauses to make a thought so big.) In a few days, some will open a card or eat toast offered on a plate in a bed or go for lunch. Some will get phone calls and some will get flowers and some will get hugs. Some won’t, and this is the dilemma of celebrating days, because some can’t celebrate and the special of the day makes it hard.

My boys will do something if their dad remembers to remind them. If he remembers he’ll pick up some flowers or some chocolate or if the weather is nice we might go for a country drive and I’ll be sweetly reminded of when they were little and they brought me dandelion bouquets or sometimes just grass. So pretty, mommy.

I’ll wonder at the time passing and whether I did it good enough and I’ll know I mostly did and sometimes didn’t. I’ll wonder at the way I’m doing it now, with extra souls in our home and how these days, these needy ones are pushing us a bit, out to the edge of the cliff and I’m praying the cliff-walking is making us all stronger and more capable and ready for whatever might be up ahead, whatever the twists and turns.

I’m praying this walk I’m taking my family on, these life choices and this way of living, all of it, is growing up kids who will thrive, and not just driving them crazy.

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I wish I could title this post the first and last time I threw shame at my son, but that would be a lie.

I can say I’ve tried. I can say I’ve worked hard to be a good mom, most of the time. I can say I’ve said sorry to my kids when I’ve done wrong. I can say I have amazing children, so there’s that.

But I remember the first time clearly, like you remember a scene in a movie.

He was little, toddling around my kitchen in that little trailer we lived in when he was born. I’m sure I was tired and maybe mad at my husband about something, or lonely because we’d moved into a community where it had been tough to make friends, or who knows? He was by the fridge, reaching for something I didn’t want him to have. I told him no and he grinned that baby grin that says I hear you but I’m doing this anyway, and then I yelled at him.

You know the expression, his face fell? I know exactly what that looks like, because his did. He looked confused and hurt and anxious, and he started to cry. And I cried, too. Because something changed that day. That day, I realized I would fail my children.

Of course I held him and kissed him and of course he loved me still, and I suppose he forgot about it.

But I haven’t. Nor have I forgotten the time I slapped a little boy’s hands at a group gathering, and heard the woman beside me gasp. Nor have I forgotten the time my little man came up to me with a mouth so full of candy he could hardly speak and I made him go make a slobbery confession and apology to my friend whose kitchen goodie drawer he’d raided.

There are other times, but these memories are enough to spit bad mommy at me when they come to mind.

Of all the things I wish I could change about raising my boys, shaming them is at the top of the list.

Shaming them was never about them. Shaming them, every single time I did it, was about me. It was always about my insecurity, my need to look like a good mom, my difficult relationship with someone else.

These have been the hardest mommy moments in which to find forgiveness. I’ve owned them. I’ve apologized for them. I’ve asked for forgiveness for them, but they linger at the edges of my memory. If I could have parenting do-overs, these would be the ones.

I don’t know how you get through the parenting years without mistakes. I guess you can’t.

I do know my kids have a shining example of an imperfect mom who, in spite of all her mistakes and mess, loves them to heaven and back.

Thank goodness for grace.

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Monday was fine. Fine, as in warm, snow almost melted, glorious bright sun after a long winter.

Fine enough to get us out of bed early to gobble down a quick breakfast and head outside. Because on the first warm day of spring, my husband wants to burn things.

I could smell the smoke before I got the dishes cleared.

There’s something about new warmth that makes us want to disappear the old cold. The winter’s accumulated pile of mouldy bales and dead animals and general yard yuck. He gathered it all and lit it up and called the boys to watch it. Because a fire of old stuff can out-of-control itself pretty quick when spring is not yet green.

I walked out to check on them, gathered around the burning pile. One on the fence, one on his bike, another on the dirt road with the dog. Sitting and watching the winter garbage disappear. Raking it from time to time to keep it from spilling into the still dry field around it.

I don’t know if there is a lesson in this. If I thought hard enough I could probably come up with something.

Really, though, it’s just a thing to do on the first warm day of spring.

A few years ago we took a family vacation to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We toured museums and viewed mountainsides that had been carved into art and we played.

One day, after stopping in at a university to see yet another display of fossils and rocks and bones, we had lunch on the grounds. I’d packed sandwiches and such, and because we didn’t see any Keep Off the Grass signs, we spread it all out and picnicked. People were coming and going so it was a little like picnicking in a fish bowl. I was mildly uncomfortable because that’s how I get whenever I am doing something that causes people to look at me. I imagine their disapproval. I wonder if I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing.

While I’m sitting on the grass, handing out the food and imagining all that criticism from all those passing people, I look over and see Carter. Eating his sandwich. On the lawn. Where people can see him.

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My husband and my children don’t have the same hangups that I do. They don’t think the same way. They don’t wonder or care, usually, what other people think. They say things like:

No one is looking, or

You’ll never see these people again so who cares, or

If it’s really a problem, someone will tell us to stop.

My husband and my children, because of their whatever attitudes, often have a lot more fun. They seem to live more freely. They try things more easily. They do things like:

Going to a movie alone, dressed in his Hallowe’en costume complete with creepy-eyed contact lenses, just because he wanted to and couldn’t find a friend who could go with him. As a teenager, I would have never done that.

Taking up interesting hobbies, like knitting, even though he might be teased for it. I still have a hard time doing something for which I might be teased.

Developing their personal tastes in things like art and music, even though they aren’t typical interests among their peers. This one, I understand.

I’m getting better at all of this. I’m getting better at caring more about what God thinks and less about what people think. Oh, what freedom! I’ve been able to say no sometimes and to be okay, for the most part, with what others might think about it. I’ve also been able to say yes to some things I wouldn’t have said yes to before. Nice.

I keep this picture of my uninhibited, creative, sandwich-eating boy on the desktop of my computer. It reminds me to let go of the fear of being criticized, and to embrace the joy of living in the moment.

Thanks, Carter, for showing me how to really eat a sandwich.

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Life has been fast-paced lately, and I’ve found it hard to write enough sentences to put together into anything resembling a blog post. This week I’ve decided to repost some old stuff that was fun to write at the time, and fun to remember now. I hope that’s okay!

Thanks for your patience.