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Sally

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When I brought Sally home she was four months old. I had just turned 22. Today, twelve and a half years later, we lost her. The tears just won’t stop coming.

I married very young, and in many ways, my husband and I were still learning to navigate married life. We had moved from our home-state four months earlier. My husband had made his position on a dog clear (NO!), but I ignored his wishes and went with a friend to see Sally – a terrier mix with big, searching eyes and a quiet demeanor. Even now, I feel deeply sorry that I made such a decision without my partner on-board, but she won him over in a heartbeat, and I am so glad that she did.

Sally’s arrival really marked the beginning of my adult journey. She taught me that I could bear the weight of another creature’s physical and emotional needs – that I could be depended upon. We had tried raising a puppy once before, and it pains me to confess that I didn’t have the maturity or forethought for a puppy. But when Sally came, I was ready. I poured into her the time, attention and unconditional devotion that she needed. Not that I was a great (or even good) trainer or super intuitive, but I loved her so much. Maybe it seems like a lot to put on a dog, but she paved the way for my children. My firstborn came nearly five years after Sally, and my second baby another nearly five years after that. Four months ago, we moved back to our hometown, and I can’t help but feel that Sally’s death just closed the door on a significant part of my life.

Sally was an intelligent dog; she would watch me from across the room and seemed to understand the conversations going on around her. I will miss her quiet presence at my feet and beside me on the couch or bed. She had a bit of an independent streak. She was a stubborn thing, but I never could fault her for that. Nothing got her more excited than a rabbit, and nothing more focused than a mouse. I really thought she would chase them here a while longer.

Rest well, Sally. I miss you.

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Celebrating My Little Women

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My beloved copy of Rose in Bloom

I know – this post title is unforgivably sappy, but it’s my nod to Louisa May Alcott, whose books I devoured as a young girl. Disappearing into her simple, sweet, almost agonizingly wholesome worlds was like eating roast and potatoes on Sunday. Considering her own less-than-traditional bent and the challenges she faced as a woman advocating for greater equality, maybe Louisa May’s writing offered her a similar escape. Today seemed appropriate to recognize her since it is, apparently, National Women’s Day. I was only recently (an hour ago) made aware of this holiday; thank heaven I have Facebook to educate me about such things.

Never in one of Ms. Alcott’s books did surly, half -asleep parents try to get a surly, fully-awake, kicking-and-screaming kid to the bus stop in time. Jo’s strong will was romantic, and her mistakes were always rewarded with valuable life lessons that she took straight to heart. Her mother seemed ever peaceful and confident that her girls were not, in fact, little miscreants destined to drive her mad. On this particular, rocky morning, I look to Louisa May Alcott to remind me of the beauty of a strong will. I am blessed to have one daughter who knows what she wants, who feels that her opinions are valuable. The other, just two, is clearly following in her sister’s footsteps as she screams “Mine!!” and chases Olive to her room, arms flailing.

There are plenty of challenges ahead, but both of my girls show kindness and vulnerability, too. Today, then, I take a page from Mrs. March’s book, and celebrate the depth, strength, sweetness, and beauty in my girls while I pretend to be sure that we can successfully bring them up. Thank God for my rosebuds, not yet in bloom.

 

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A Letter to My Almost Seven Year Old

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You, my first baby, will be seven years old this week and I feel like I should document who you are at this moment, at least a little. My pregnancy with you and your babyhood were among the most joyful times in my already blessed life; marked by a contentment that is rare for me. I love you more than I can say.

I will always remember the year you were six as groundbreaking. You have become so much like me (stubborn and headstrong and proud), and sometimes that makes it really tough for me to parent you. You talk and sing endlessly. You are smart and observant. This year you learned to swim and ride a bike. You sang in front of people at a talent show and blew us away with your confidence. You had your first “crush” and made your first best friend. You’ve learned to read well and are starting to experience the magic of disappearing into a book. You do like to be the center of attention, sometimes work too hard to impress others and get over-stimulated pretty easily; but your empathy, compassion and endurance are growing, too. You insist on learning everything the hard way and your anger is intense at times. You ask startlingly existential questions. I think your imagination rules at least eight hours out of every day.

As a mother, I am irritable and sharp too often, but I hope that figures less prominently in your daily life and memory than our awesome conversations, hugs and goodnight songs. And though I know that discipline is necessary and good, I also hope that you know deep down that those things that make you so angry right now – like having to do chores and eat food you dislike, or not having the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want – are a major part of the way we show our love for you.

I thank God for you. I pray that we can lead you in the way you should go subtly and gently, that we can help you channel your stubbornness in a way I haven’t yet mastered myself and that you would always know that we love and support you.

Happy birthday, baby.

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Making Memories: Is there a recipe?

This morning my daughter and I made sugar cookies. Later, I mentioned it to my dear friend and she remarked encouragingly that I had “made a great memory” for her. I’d been reflecting on memories already so her comment sent me to my computer.

I hear parents say all the time that they want to create great memories for their children, or some variation of that sentiment. It makes sense. We all want to give our kids rich experiences and we want them to remember good times. For a lot of people, that’s just an expression, but I think some folks can get pretty caught up in this idea that they have to go out of their way to plan experiences for kids and perhaps even feel guilty if they haven’t done “enough.” I’m not justifying bad parenting. I also know there are many other reasons to give children varied, great experiences and I’m not addressing those. I’m talking to the parents who are feeling lousy because they can’t afford that trip to Disney, didn’t sign the kids up for some activity or don’t quite have the energy for a five-course breakfast on Christmas morning. Take heart; we have little control over memories, anyway.

As the idea for this post marinated, I tried to come up with the things that made the biggest impression on me from childhood. It was interesting to see what surfaced. Of course I remember some things that my parents planned or traditions we observed. But memories are strange things. They’re dreamlike, only not quite. They seem to float around in my mind and yet can be so weighty. I have a hard time coming up with other adjectives to describe them, even after an embarrassingly long time with the thesaurus. Why do we remember some things and not others? We can’t choose the things that will loom large in our kids’ memories or how they’ll remember them.

I remember looking out of the car window on a dark, quiet moment one Christmas Eve at glowing luminarias.

I remember sitting on our back patio on a hot, sunny day with my much older siblings while they listened to U2 and Midnight Oil.

I remember shooting rubber bands across the street with my friends in a brutal war against the neighborhood boys.

I remember walks with my Dad, discovering rocks and having quiet talks and special just-me-and-mom breakfasts with hot chocolate and whipped cream.

These and scores of other small memories and a few big ones collectively help me frame my past. Often, they are not so much about any particular experience, but about the feeling that experience evoked: Profound, grown up, part of something, loved.

In our home I want to focus on positivity; to give my girls a peaceful and happy space in which to make their own memories (hmm… might need to work on my irritability). I hope that their collective memories will point to a childhood that felt secure and full of love. It’s still one of our family goals to get out and do fun things more often but experience tells me that I can’t control what they’ll remember, so I’m not going to waste time fretting over it. I figure the best way to make good memories is to live in the moment.

 

 

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On Rare Moments Alone

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Like so many parents, I seldom have time alone.  I love my kiddos, even like them, but I’m an introvert and the relentless noise of childhood and the availability my children require of me can take their toll. My fantastic husband knows me well and encourages me to get out of the house by myself when I can. Still, quality time – even if it’s just with oneself  – takes a certain energy. Often, I wind up at some store or another despite the fact that I hate shopping. I know that a walk around the lake, time to read or pray or write, even exercise would be much more refreshing but I just can’t quite bring myself to do those things when I’m already burned out. But, I digress.

Even when they aren’t spa-like and zen, I need those moments when I’m not physically responsible for another person. Surprisingly, I often find these times most directly impact me physically. The feeling I have when I can walk at normal speed, when my hands aren’t ushering and guiding little backs and my head is not inclined toward a baby on my hip… it’s wonderful. I know that those experiences are gifts, too; that they are precious and short-lived. But I have such an unexpected sense of self when I can square my shoulders and enjoy unrestricted movement; although, I suspect it will be a long time before I can be alone without the occasional, sudden rush of fear and adrenaline as I wonder for a split-second where my child is.

Even if I don’t exactly feel like a new woman when I come home from these field trips, it is good to remember who I am apart from my kids. I feel vaguely guilty saying that, and I’m not sure why. Maybe I feel a little like I shouldn’t have an identity apart from them. I do, though. Of course, they are a huge part of who I am and I believe that mothering has deepened and stretched me but it isn’t all of me. I want to teach my girls to embrace who they are and use their unique personalities for good, so remembering my own doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

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My Grandma’s Fake Pearls

PearlsI am blessed to have quite a few items in my home from loved ones. The items themselves, of course, are not so important, but the memories and feelings that they invoke are very dear to me. Most of these things are in view every day and to be honest, I forget to cherish them, to remember what they represent.

There is one item, however, that never fails to reach me. I love the long strand of fake pearls from my grandma, who has been gone a few years, now. I love their soft sheen and smooth weight. I love the sound they make. I don’t know how long she owned them or how often she wore them, but it doesn’t matter. They aren’t something that I would usually wear, so putting them on is always intentional. The unfamiliar feeling of the pearls wrapped around my wrist or hanging from my neck brings me back to them again and again, reminding me of Grandma.

My daughter wore her “pearls” today to “get married” (she is six 🙂 ) and wanted me to match. So I am wearing Grandma’s pearls and feel the need to thank her for reminding me to be intentional – to notice the special in everything. My spirit has been dulled to the beauty in my every day for some time and I know that there is choice in that. I even forget to relish the big things – inexplicably choosing to allow my mood to snuff out my positivity. So today I choose to take my time and focus on the luxury of coffee in a beautiful mug instead of on my irritability as I take cold sips between kid fussing and feeding. I’ll stop to feel the simple joy in the act of scrawling something on a piece of paper – even if it’s just a grocery list (if you love writing, you’ll understand) and all those other conveniences which make me truly spoiled. Mostly, though, I will take joy in my kids and husband, for them and for me.

All my love, Grandma.

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No-Niche Moms

I manage to stumble across multiple mom blogs each week, without even looking for them (thanks, Facebook). Some of them are better than others, but to me it seems that almost all cater to a stereotypical mom – whether she stays at home or works. There are ideas for that mom who has it all together and is rocking the mom thing for her perfectly-photographed brood. There are posts urging the mom who is struggling to hang in there – reassuring her that things will be different soon – and a handful of other themes. I can appreciate some of these posts, but I never feel like I’m the intended audience, exactly, and I think many moms can relate.

Part of the reason for this is the blog medium. Writers tend to romanticize things because they want to make them appealing, sweet, witty, whatever. This is paradoxically engaging and alienating. And readers happily take those cues. More than that, we take reading between the lines way too far. Maybe you read the simple words “play room” and conjured a sun-soaked, white space with a few tasteful toys and hip art on the walls (I know you’re filling in the blanks right now!). And perhaps that’s accurate. But, more likely, “play room” means the messiest room in the house in desperate need of new carpet. Even if it is a serendipitous place, in my experience real life never feels like a  glossy magazine spread. We might be able to set the stage and there can be value in that but the sought-after bliss is either fleeting or entirely absent because that just isn’t the stuff of true and deep satisfaction.

Here’s some of my real: I don’t have a niche. I stay at home. I keep up with the chores. I love my husband and children more than I can say. I read to my kids and take them outside to play and make pretty decent dinners (but not often enough). I love being in my yard. I also look at my phone too often, sometimes wish those same kids would bugger off and waste lots of time thinking about how I should probably meal plan (so much time that I miss my window of opportunity to actually go to the grocery store). My little house looks messy a lot despite my efforts to keep it neat. I long for a little romance. I pray and thank God often for this gorgeous life but my spirituality is a bit hard to find these days. Some days it’s tough to get out of bed. I know my problems are first-world. Forgive my self-indulgence, but I’m trying to be as honest as possible.

I am blessed to have lovely and wonderful friends, but none of them who live close stay at home right now. I’m the kind of home body who needs motivation or accountability to get out the door and some meaningful conversation to keep things interesting. I know that life won’t mold to a fantasy so I am not desperately seeking an ideal; I’m just trying to find satisfaction in the everyday. And I do find it in bits and pieces. There is nowhere else I’d rather be, but this season happens to be hard for me, too. Being at home makes many things easier but it takes a different kind of discipline than working. I’ve done it both ways and respect the challenges for each path.

So whether you work or stay at home, if you are feeling a lot blessed but also a little overwhelmed, a little isolated, a lot tired, a little like you should be enjoying things more but you can’t quite get there – this post is simply my fist raised in solidarity. I don’t have much advice, except that if you have that just-finished-watching-a-rom-com taste in your mouth every time you read a parenting blog, remember that a few words on a screen do not and cannot fully represent a person’s life or their feelings about that life. Even when we already know that, I think the overall impression can add to our feelings of discontent. And if any of you are in a particularly sweet and wonderful season – that is awesome! I’ve been there, too and have faith that I will be again. But even if not – this struggle is a GOOD struggle and there is satisfaction here, too.

Mom on.