Shadow Feelings

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Henry NH 2013

A few weeks ago you played in a tournament.  It was a short-lived experience, on a team that I knew would not last.  But even so, I sent a note to the coach to let him know about you.  About how you don’t hear all that well, and that a gym, especially, is a really crumby place to hear anything what with all the bouncing balls and pounding feet and yelling.  There is nothing in there to absorb sound, so it must be wildly frustrating for you, Henry.

I told him what I tell all of your coaches…

…to look at you when they speak, and to speak up a bit.

And also that your dog chewed up one of your hearing aids so you only have one ear to work with…

…that you are smart and you will pick up on everything quickly.

And he responded politely.  No questions.  No concerns.  Just a nice response that went something like “looking forward to meeting him.”

But something in me, just the slightest little bit, felt unsettled.  That shadow of a feeling you get in your heart when there isn’t really any tangible reason for it to be there…it was there.  Sometimes it feels like paranoia.

I watched during the final game.  I watched him call to you out there.

HENRY.

HENRY.

HENRY.

You kept on running.  All of you…you all kept on running.

And then he pulled you out and he did not put you back in.

Maybe I am wrong, or maybe just then I knew what that shadow of a feeling was for.

I wonder how many people in your life, rather than putting in an effort to talk to you, have just given up.

They are missing out on you, little buddy.

This is the Beginning.

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Our first basketball tournament of the spring season is behind us now.  Henry’s team lost the championship game by one point in overtime.  It was the first time since The Will’s team won the national championship that I felt the stinging of tears on my lashes.  They were good tears, though, the kind that come when your heart is overflowing with love and pride for your son and his team that never ever gave up.

And today I awoke with a scratchy throat and that tired feeling you get when your weekend was busy with basketball and mulch and laundry and grocery shopping and not much else.  And it is raining.  All day it will rain.

I have to take Henry for x-rays today. He fell pretty hard on his elbow during one of the games and it is swollen and bruised and warm to the touch.  I can’t believe it could possibly be broken.  But, I didn’t really think William’s ankle was broken either.  Nor did I think William’s arm was broken.  I am not a very good judge of whether or not bones are broken I guess.  So I will take Henry in and get it over with so that we can know for sure and I won’t have to worry that I am the worst mom ever (even though I’ve actually been told by one of my children who shall remain nameless that I am, in fact, the worst mom ever).  And my little boy won’t have to walk around dragging a broken arm behind him because his mother doesn’t think it is broken.

So.

The daffodils are up.  I like them more and more with every year that passes.  This autumn I am going to plant them under the trees in the back yard so that it is dotted in yellow smiling bunches.  I say that to myself every year, but this year I really mean it.  And crocuses…I think some purple crocus too.

Henry will get his new FM today — the replacement for the one that Poppy ate.  This is the second hearing aid/FM that Poppy has eaten and the expense is going to have to start coming out of her dog treats budget or something because this is getting ridiculous.  And also it’s a good thing she is cute.  But I gave her the cold shoulder for a good 24 hours just to show her who’s boss.

The mulch is finally done.  Well, half of it is done.  We need to order another 12-15 yards.  I love mulch.  But it is hard to believe we spend the amount of money we do on steaming piles of decaying wood bits.

We have two tournaments this coming weekend…a minimum of 8 games.  In a stroke of brilliance I decided to manage The Will’s team.  Well.  It is a lot more work than I was anticipating let me tell you.

Spring break is nearly here. I look forward with great intensity to no homework.  Teachers, please no homework or I will just about fall over from the disappointment.  We will head to the lake for a bit…fishing, hiking, sleepovers and cooking over a fire. Watching the sun’s sparkling rays kiss the lake while we sip our coffee in the rockers on the porch.  Bacon and eggs in the morning, fires in the evening.  No TV.  No internet.  Sort of the way life *should* be.

And Easter.  Little boys in oxfords and ties and little girls in dresses and shiny shoes.  Little white gloves and Easter baskets. Bunnies. Chocolate eggs.  Family.  Mass.  The beginning.

Yes, the beginning of something really, really good.

There is no music here.

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The charcoal gray shingles above our family room compose the majority of my view from the shower each morning.  Behind them I can see the tops of a few trees. The sun is usually still low enough that it’s brilliant yellow and pink rays haven’t yet sliced through the trees above the rooftop.

But this morning what I saw was a snow-covered roof, smooth wind-drifts of sparkling brilliant crystals and beyond that trees…the tops of trees…as far as I could see.  It was later in the morning on this day; the 17 inches of snow had given me a couple of extra hours to spend sipping coffee and reading a book that I am trying to finish, however hard I seem to be finding that to do.  And yet I am still not done with that book.

Now tiny droplets of watery mist flew around me like fireworks…flashing and sparkling as they met the sun’s rays through the window…swirling and swirling upward until they reached the ceiling and were thrust downward by some invisible force.  Rivulets of water streamed down my face, through my lashes and across my lips, it’s warmth sinking into me.  I breathe in the scent of handmade soap and remember the first time I made it; how good my life felt; how happy I felt then; and how good the entire house smelled for weeks as it cured.  And I thought “soon enough there will be time for that again.”

From beyond the door spilled the customary strains of my home.  A few notes from a baritone followed swiftly with some thumping/pounding sounds and quite possibly some muffled swear words.  Followed with more notes from the baritone…repeat.  And a viola…song after song, note after note.  A page turns, and more beautiful harmonies.  And there are two little redheads playing some very elaborate game with their stuffed animals.  And bickering.  Because that is just how those two communicate.

This morning I ate orange pound cake for breakfast.  We all did.  They got dressed to go out and play.  I helped with gloves still wet from yesterday, and boots that were on the wrong feet, and zippers and hats and hoods.  I joined them outside a few minutes later, just to be with them in their world of sparkling, frozen, kid wonderland for a moment.  They were already hot at that point, stripping off hats and gloves and unzipping coats.  Their cheeks were pinkened.  They were happy.  I showed Ella the deer tracks in the snow and how they look like hearts.  And then I said goodbye…and I left them there, with their dad.

I came here, to this place full of adults and gray carpet and tan walls and metal file cabinets. To a window that overlooks not trees, but blacktop and eight air conditioning units whose motors fill my ears with a constant hum.   Coupled with the buzz from the fluorescent lights above my head, it creates a pretty constant white noise that I have learned to ignore. There is chatter around the corner now and then, but I’m not usually a part of it.  It’s a pretty nice office, though I don’t make it sound that way.

It is quiet here.  I can concentrate.  There is no tv or wii game; no xbox. No muffled swearing.  No thumping or stomping or pounding.  There is no bickering. Nobody running through the house with Poppy, barking barking barking.

But there is no sunshine streaming through my window.  No padding of small feet. No wagging tails.  There are no fireworks; no sparkle.  No soapy smell.  No warmth. No memories.

There is no music here.

A Different Path

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From the earliest time that I can remember, I wanted to be a mother.  But when they asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I never answered with “a mother.”  Because I didn’t think that was what they meant…they meant something real; a real job, that pays money and makes you a productive member of society.  And so I would answer with something like “a veterinarian” because that seemed plausible…I liked animals and I liked science and so I could be a veterinarian.  At some point in my little-girl life, I learned to feel that choosing home would not be acceptable.  You take classes in middle school to prepare for high school to prepare for college to prepare for work in the real world.  But there is no path to prepare for marriage and motherhood and making a home.  So you follow a path – I followed a path.

In high school I met this boy.  His name was David.  All I wanted was to marry that boy and make a life, make babies, make a family with that boy.  But that was not what I said.  What I said was Psychology.  I’ll study Psychology…I’ll be a Psychologist.  So I did, because that was the path I was on.

And when I graduated, I realized that Psychologists, especially those without a Ph.D. are not really in high demand.  So I got a job as a bookkeeper, and I waited for him.

When we were finally married, we were broke.  We argued about money.  We argued about buying little things like socks, or once I remember we argued about a broom – someone bought a broom and that was just not in the budget.  Every penny we had leftover was saved for furniture or Hokie games (priorities).  And when we had enough that we felt like I could stop working, we talked about babies.

And then we had some babies.  And that bookkeeping job morphed into more of an in-depth accounting job only I didn’t have an accounting degree, I had a psychology degree which, if you ask me, is relatively useless when you’re dealing with numbers.  But I kept at it, because it could afford us more…more experiences, more stuff, more savings, just plain more.  And around here, “more” is the path most traveled.

But I felt like there was less of me.  Less of me to go around, because in addition to all of the diaper changing and peanut butter and jelly making and book reading and potty training and preventing the untimely deaths of four little children and all that, I was working on that dumb computer in the wee hours of the morning, or late at night.

It drained me.

It drained me, because it was not what I wanted.  But my life was not about me anymore…it was about doing what was best for my family.  So I plugged away, and tried not to think about what I wanted.  And as the kids got older, and the work got harder, I worked more.  More hours during the day because they could make their own lunches and they could get themselves dressed and I didn’t have to worry (too much) about them accidentally killing themselves somehow.

And then one summer, Will broke his little arm.  And we were cooped up inside.  A lot.  It was too hot for walks.  It was too hot for shooting hoops…or playing catch…or riding bikes…or skate boarding.  It was too hot for anything, really, except going to the pool, which we couldn’t do because Will broke his arm.  So I spent a lot of time working, because that was what was best for our family.  Except it didn’t really feel that way, because all they did was watch t.v. all day until I was done working.  When I finally emerged from the den, it was time to run errands and when we got home it was time to cook and they would watch t.v. some more because the alternative to t.v. was fighting and no thank you.  And when Ella wanted to play The Ladybug Game, I didn’t have time.  And when Henry wanted to build legos together, I didn’t have time.  I didn’t have time for games of basketball with Will, or painting toenails with Kate.  I never said yes anymore.

I sat there one day that summer, wondering what happened to sipping coffee on the deck each morning.  What happened to watching the kids play outside in the evenings?  What happened to picnics and pool days and bbq’s and making lemonade and planting flowers and catching fireflies and roasting marshmallows and walks at dusk and all the good stuff we used to do?  There came a point in each day that I gave up.  I didn’t care anymore, and I just wanted the day to be over with so that I could try again the next day.

The only good thing about me working was the money.

And maybe the money wasn’t really worth my exhaustion and their boredom and me not having time for them…and me not caring…

One day this June I will spend my last day as a working mom.  I won’t work at home, or at an office, or anywhere.  It is the best thing, maybe not for everyone, but for us.

I wish I could go back in time to that little girl I used to be.  I would be the voice that whispers in her ear.  I would whisper memories of her own childhood to her, memories of her own mother…like the lemon love notes she made.  Or the bookworms she knitted, or the stairs she scrubbed and waxed or the Halloween decorations she hung or the carnations she bought when I got my driver’s license or the beef stew she made or how she used to nap on the couch while The Guiding Light played in the background or the countless other good memories I have because she was my mother.  I would whisper of the memories she made for me.  I would be the voice that tells her that being a mom is a good dream — and not to give up on it.

Dreams do come true, you know.

(Someone should be sure to remind me of this in July when the kids are all bored and fighting and trying to kill each other and I have to separate all of them to the four corners of the house.  Except for Kate, because she’ll probably be up in her room, quietly sketching horses or something…)

I want more time.

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I can remember sitting in the sand, the wind whipping my face as I watched the kids play in the surf without a care in the world.  I sat there on that beautiful day, in that beautiful place, trying to pretend that it was the sunscreen that was making my eyes tear.

I knew I was standing at a crossroads back then.

Back then, I felt a choice was being forced upon me.  But as time passed, I began to see that really, I held all the cards.  I could do whatever I wanted.

I spent the next six months trying to figure out what I wanted…and trying to keep my head above water with work, and four kids, broken bones, football seasons and basketball tournaments, meals to cook, homework, riding lessons and a house to clean.  I tried to make everything work, when I knew that really, that was never going to happen.

The TV people ask “What was your favorite memory of 2013?”  Or “What was your biggest accomplishment of the last year?”  And I think to myself…”I’ve got nothing. Nothing to tell.”  It was just another year in which I failed to be the person I really want to be.

I look back on the last year and wonder how to describe it…how to describe my life for the last three hundred and sixty five days.  How does one measure a year of their life?

Do I measure it in dollars earned?

Do I measure it in voyages taken?

Weight lost, or miles walked or the fifty dozen cookies I baked?

Maybe the number of times I lost my temper.  Or cursed (a lot).  Or prayed for forgiveness or to be a better wife or to be a better mother or to please God show me the way to do this (a lot).  The number of times I cried…or worried…  The number of times I smiled.

I could measure it by the number of championships won, or the number of seasons without a single win at all.  The number of hair ribbons clipped, or pony tails styled. The number of beats my heart leapt as hooves pounded by me carrying my baby girl, while I am left standing on the side, dust swirling around me in their wake.

Surely I could count meals prepared, or the number of nights that I fed them cereal for supper.  Or the number of hands held, freckles kissed, hugs given, I love yous poured forth…  The number of algebra problems solved.  Pictures taken, love notes written, gifts wrapped.  Miles driven.  Flowers planted.  Paws wiped.  Laundry folded.  Lunches made each morning, alone in the quiet, softly-lit kitchen.

The number of books read, or games played.  Or the number of times I said no, and instantly regretted it.  Again.  The number of times I heard “You’re the best mom in the world.”  Or the number of times I was not at all.

The number of punishments doled out.  The number of times I caught someone picking their nose…  Number of trips to the orthodontist, the orthopedist, the audiologist, the pediatrician.

The number of trips to Target.

Is there really a way to quantify my life?  To measure it with any accuracy?  I don’t know.  I know that last year didn’t feel all that good, though.  I have never believed myself capable of doing it all and doing it all well.  I just don’t have that kind of energy or capacity to perform at a high level for any extended period of time without there being some consequences (which are usually that I am terribly grumpy).

I sit here watching the snow which has been falling for about 8 hours now.  School has been cancelled for tomorrow.  But I have work to do.  And I know how I want this new year to be different.

I want more time.

This year, I want more time with them.  Time to read together…play games together…time to braid hair.

There will be time for more dates with him.

More time for walks in the snow, and picnics and trips to the pool.  More time for games of knockout, or horse or 1 on 1.

More time to make lemonade – the real kind.  And cocoa.  And cookies.

I want more time for barbecues.  More time to eat popsicles and drink margaritas.

I want to more time to sip wine on Sunday evenings like we used to do.

I want time to let the curls of steam from my coffee rise around my face every morning.

I want to time feel the sun on my shoulders each day, and gaze at the stars at night.

I want time to pick wildflowers.  Time for more waggily tails and games of catch. Time for fires in the fire pit…more roasted marshmallows.

I want more time.  More time for smiles, for talks, for sitting with fingers entwined, for dreams to be shared.  More time for simple things — the things that matter to me — so that when I look back on this year, I will say it was the best year of my life.

Even if it can’t really be measured.

Knitting Peace Out of Spider’s Silk

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For the first time in what seems like a very long time, my house is relatively clean.  If you don’t count the pine needles lying in a ring around the bottom of the Christmas tree.  Or the spider webs…I can only assume there was an egg sack in the tree when we brought it home, which hatched (to my horror), which led to multiple strands of silk (not the pretty kind) being cast from the top of that tree to every window and corner in sight.  It almost looked like the angel atop the tree was shimmering — bathed in the glorious light of God.  But not really.  Mostly, it looked like a lot of spider webs.  No matter how often I sweep away those threads, they just keep coming back.

Anyway, I finally — after six months — had a chance to do some serious cleaning.   And now I sit here surrounded by the glow of the Christmas tree and it’s webs.

Ella woke me at 5:59 am this morning, feverish and vomiting and pathetic.  So I made coffee and we watched movies and snuggled and she sipped ginger ale.  And when she slept, I finished up the cleaning.

On Friday, we set a plan in motion that had been in the works since June.  This new year to come will bring changes…good changes…but I think some challenges too.  I feel like I’ve been waiting my entire life for this.  I haven’t felt this at peace in some time.  Even in the midst of vomit, and pine needles and spiders’ silk…strange maybe, but not really, for home is where the heart is.

Henry and David have basketball all day tomorrow.  I think I will put a potpourri of rosemary, vanilla and lemon on the stove to simmer for the day, bake some banana bread, and nurse little Ella back to her normal, dramatic self.  The groceries will wait until Monday, I guess.

Now the sounds of Will practicing his baritone float down the hall and dance in my ears.  And out of the corner of my eye, as I write, I can see Henry waddling down the hall like a bow-legged penguin in nothing but his underwear trying to make his big sister laugh.  I’m not sure he got much of a reaction from her, but he made me smile.

Maybe it’s the magic of Christmas, this Christmas tree and its beautiful light shining upon me, the smell of cinnamon, clove and orange, the flicker of candles or the sparkle of glitter on every surface in this house…

…or maybe its more than that.  Maybe it’s the hope and the promise He gave — a baby boy, born in a stable on a cold winter’s night in Bethlehem all those years ago…

I’m not entirely sure what has knit the peace in my heart tonight, but I know for certain one thing…

…our life is pretty wonderful right now.

The Silent Buckling

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Kate 3 NST

Last night as I was tucking you in, I took your hand in mine.

It felt bigger than I’d remembered.

I kissed your forehead, stood and let your hand fall.

But as your fingers left mine, a veil of regret, or sadness or something came over me.

Maybe it was just the knowledge that even these quiet moments with you will not last forever.

We don’t hold hands anymore, Kate.

Our fingers don’t intertwine the way they used to.

Your little hand does not reach out for mine anymore.

You don’t let me hold your hand in public anymore.

So last night, I took your hand again.

I held it to my cheek and commented dramatically about how we never hold hands anymore and you laughed and said Moooom! in that way that you do.

Just like a teenager.  I love that.

I looked away. I didn’t want to buckle…buckling would have been easy.

My back was to you, your hand to my cheek, and I felt it.

I felt it in my heart — the soft, silent buckling…the caving in…

…the painful, heavy beating of the heart of a woman whose little girl is growing up.

I love you more than life, little Kate.

Princess Mom

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He asked me if I could just drop him off at practice last night.  Because, you know, I’m the only mom that ever stays.  I guess that is embarrassing.

I remember when they were littler, and I was not embarrassing.  I was pretty and smart and wonderful.  Like a princess.  I was a princess mom.  And they lit up when I walked into a room.  They ran to me.  They hugged me and clung to my legs so that I almost fell over.  And my love for them was not embarrassing.

I zipped my coat all the way up on the way out the door so that no one would see that I looked sloppy when I picked him up from practice.  I sighed a little as I glanced at Ella, dressed for bedtime in her light blue snowman jammies and leopard print raincoat.  I hoped he wouldn’t notice.

When we arrived, a boy was handing out cupcakes that his mom had sent for his birthday.  On the ride home, I told him that I could make cupcakes for his birthday, too, if he wanted.  But he said no.  I guess that would be embarrassing, too.

I liked being the princess mom better.

All work and no play means there won’t be any Apple Betty.

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Apple NST

We have these shrubs out front, under our windows.  (I say under, but really they are creeping up, so that the windows are cozily nestled into the bushes.  I like the way it looks, but it is a bit of a battle to convince The Man that the windows should remain nestled…)  I swear those shrubs grow 18″ a year.  We trim them, and we trim them and they just keep right on growing.

Most of the time, I can’t get to the entire shrub when I’m trimming.  At this point, they are five feet wide and four feet tall and full of yellow jackets most days.  So I do my best.  I clip from the front, and I can usually get about 3/4 of the plant done…just not the back.  I generally manage to remove only about 6″ of height at a time.  In order to finish the job completely, I have to do the remaining parts from inside the house, hanging out the windows and that is a real pain, to be honest.   So the shrubs are almost never fully trimmed.  I just skim the surface.

They are a metaphor for my life, those bushes…just skimming the surface these days…

I think about it constantly — how if I had more time I could do more.  How nothing ever seems complete, but everything is “good enough for now.”  Good enough to get by.

The weekends are good…they are a time to catch up a little…and to do the things we love without feeling like we are casting our obligations aside.  Even still, I wake up most mornings feeling an ache in the pit of my stomach.  There is something inside me that will not quit, and so at 5:00am Sunday morning I am worried about Algebra, and groceries, and apple picking and basketball tryouts and church and how we fit it all in on this day.  And the dialogue in my head begins…

We can’t do it all.

Maybe we should go to church early.

That’s just asking for trouble…they need a sleep-in day.  William has tryouts and he needs to sleep.

Well what are we going to *not* do then?

Apples.  We won’t go apple picking.

That’s the only fun thing on the list!  Poor Ella…  We always went apple picking with the other kids when they were little.  She always gets the short end of the stick…

And this goes on and on in my head…the guilt…the scheduling…the mind racing…until I realize my stomach is upset and there is no way I’ll get back to sleep so I just get up and make coffee.

In the end that day, we decided to go apple picking.  We took a ferry across the river and drove down narrow, hilly roads through farms lined with split rail fences. Red and yellow trees dotted the landscape and the hills in the distance were painted in ribbons of gold and orange and crimson.

We had agreed before we left that ten pounds of apples was going to be sufficient and we needed to control ourselves because we always get too many apples and after 2 weeks of apples apples apples we are sick to death of apples.

So we came home with 21 pounds of apples.  I don’t know what happened.

The kids got ice cream and we got a drink and we loaded up our apples and headed home.  The four were too loud in the car, but it was a good kind of loud, where you know they had fun even if one or two of them had complained about going in the first place.

When we got home, I put on a football game and William set up the computer so he could keep an eye on his fantasy team and yell at them now and then while I made smothered chicken for supper.  And for once, we sat around the table together and ate.

That night Kate and I climbed into bed and we practiced the distributive property.  Oh my was that all kinds of fun.  (For me.  Not too much for Kate I don’t think…)

That day, we did what we could.  I didn’t get the groceries, which meant I had to go in the pouring down rain on Monday (which pretty much stunk…), but it ended up being a good day.  A pretty day, where the Earth did not fall off it’s axis, and the sun did rise again, imagine that.

Cut Apples NST

Half of the apples we picked are piled in a big footed bowl on the island.  It’s a good reminder of that pretty day…and that every now and then having a little fun is way better than getting it all done.

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