It Won’t Last Forever

This morning I sat by the window in the big yellow chair in my bedroom as Ella bounced up the steps.  I told her to get dressed, so she skipped to her room and then she skipped back to me to tell me she likes the outfit I chose for her — lots of maroon and orange because today is gameday you know.  So I told her to skip on back and please get dressed.  So she did.  She talked the entire time.  This girl has an enormous amount of words per day allotted to her.

When she was done getting dressed she bounced into my room again, and I told her to brush her hair.  So she gets her hairbrush and stands in her doorway where I can see her, and she sings and she twirls her brush around.  There is no brushing of the hair going on whatsoever.  And I just look at her.

She called me her hero at school.  When her teacher told me that, I smiled, and I looked back over my shoulder at her sitting in her little chair at her little desk quietly working on her assignment.  And I felt ashamed.  I am so much less than a hero.

This morning at 4:36 am Ella had a really really scary dream.  She has a really really scary dream every night.  She comes and wakes me, every night, and usually I give her a hug and tell her it was just a bad dream, and tell her to think about Poppy or collecting seashells or picking flowers or something as I tuck her back in, stroke her hair and kiss her forehead.  But last night I said something dumb like “Oh Ella, you have a really really scary dream every night” and tucked her back in with not much more than a quick hug.  And then as I climbed back into my own bed I remembered the whole hero thing and felt pretty crumby because that wasn’t very heroic — how I just acted.  So I went back in and hugged her and asked her if she was warm enough and told her I loved her.

Someday she’ll realize I’m not a hero at all…

So this morning I sat there watching her twirl her hairbrush for a moment.  “She is so easily distracted” I thought, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her…bouncing and singing and twirling.  And that snaggle tooth of hers and her hello kitty glasses that always slip down on her tiny freckled nose…my God, she is precious. Honestly, maybe I’m beginning to like that distracted part of her.  It won’t last forever…

But right now?  Right now she has the ability to completely dismiss from her mind anything at any given time (homework, chores, hair-brushing) and instead tell me a joke or sing me a song, or spin and twirl around the kitchen, or show me how fast she can run, or how loose her tooth is. When will she lose that? When will she become organized by lists and check boxes and responsibilities?

My guess is that it’s about the same time that she chooses a new hero.

When that time comes, I will have wasted all of these years, these moments, and I will miss this stuff that — to be very honest here — kind of drives me crazy right now.  And the worst part is that I will have been, like a fool, wishing for it all along.

One day I will watch her as she walks.  She won’t bounce or spin or skip or twirl, and I’ll try to remember the last time I saw her spin, or skip, or anything other than just plain old walk.  And I’ll know then that it’s too late.  It has already happened.

Ella Morven Park NST

What She Does

when she’s not eating everyone’s stuff

Poppy napping 2014 NST


Posted in Photos, Poppy


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Laundry, Clovers and Good Fortune

I am not sure where the week went.  We went to Blacksburg last weekend which, of course, was awesome. We all came home with sunburns. You would think that after almost eleven years of raising ginger people I would get the fact that I need to apply sunblock.  I failed.

Anyway, so we left Blacksburg early Sunday to get back in town for Will’s middle school basketball tryouts. And then we had two games.  And I didn’t get the sheets changed.  So on Monday I was doing laundry and sheets all day long.  And then our house was void of all food, so Tuesday I went all over town and back again for food. It is becoming increasingly difficult just to keep the house stocked with food. Why do they eat so much??? And we had an audiology appointment and an ophthalmologist appointment, and then we had softball and cheer practices so I didn’t clean anything in this entire house. And there was a LOT of laundry STILL sitting in the chair waiting patiently to be folded.

Then it was David’s birthday, so I cooked a lot, and went shopping and got myself a couple of sweaters and some new jeans for his birthday. And I went to the home depot and bought him a new weed wacker for his present. (That is what he wanted.) And the laundry still needed to be folded.

Then it was Thursday and I cleaned bathrooms.  And I finally finished folding the laundry. Kate had riding lessons and while we were there Ella spent most of the time on the tire swing getting filthy, eating popsicles and finding four leaf clovers.  She found 21 I think.  She spread them all out on the island and everyone picked two clovers to keep for themselves.  Henry put one in his sock this morning for good luck on his test.

“Wish me luck on my test today mom!”

“What test?!”

“My science test.”

“Did you study?”

“No.  I forgot about that.”


“I know.”

Yeah, so he’s relying on the four leaf clover and his natural brilliance.  Good thing he’s got the clover. And now it’s Friday. This morning, the old man forgot to turn off the alarm before he let Poppy out, so everyone was wide awake and terrified nice and early. Ella was looking at the clovers she pressed in a book, and left the book on the floor so Poppy came by and ate the clovers. Let me repeat that. Poppy ate the clovers.

“What’s Poppy eating?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where are my clovers?”

So that was great because then there were hysterical sobs. And can I just say that I had a hard time not smiling during all of the sobbing because Ella has lost one of her front two teeth and the other one is kind of all snaggly looking and she looked unbelievably adorable with her freckles and that crazy tooth and her eyes pinched shut and tears running down her face. She reminds me totally and completely of Ellie from Up.

So anyway, this whole clover eating thing was very, very traumatic because Ella had chosen the most special five leaf clovers that she had found and put them in the book to save them. And now they’re sliding down the dog’s intestinal tract, along with my sunglasses which Poppy chewed up on Monday, and the pencil she chewed up on Tuesday, and the gum and paper she chewed up on Wednesday. (When you come home from running errands and you find shreds of paper and thin strands of gum all over your front entry you know it is going to be a fantastical day.)

So after the clover incident everyone got dressed, and then everyone went to school. And at 3:00 I will pick them up, and that is when the bickering will begin. (I wonder how much Calgon it would take to actually take me away during the bickering…) But hey, I’m not cooking tonight, and there is going to be beer available, and I get to see my family. So there is always that to look forward to.

This weekend there is a softball game and two football games and three basketball games. Oh, and my baby brother is finally getting married to the most wonderful girl ever. I’ll be honest — I am probably going to drink some wine this weekend. And when I say “some,” I mean more than two.

The cool weather is coming. Leaves are falling. It’s the time of year in which I feel this incredibly strong urge to settle in…to add layers, and warm blankets, and candles. To make warm, rich meals, and sip cocoa or coffee or wine in the evening while I read, covered in the soft glow of a lamp. It’s a time to slow down, look around, and thank God for our good fortune.

It’s kind of amazing how you can live an entire week, not realizing how wonderful your life is, until you sit down to write it out in all its mundane glory. And then when you do, you see that even in the midst of all of the errands, and the work and the things the dog ate, there is so much goodness hidden in all that mundane.

You See the Flowers

Kate 2014 NST

From my chair in the sand I looked out over the water, and I watched your willowy frame.  The wind tossed your hair and it sparkled in that way that it does in July, after six weeks of sun has left it’s highlights falling in ribbons around your crown.  You stood at the edge of the ocean, where just your toes touched the water, and you bent to pick up a shell.

I saw it as plain as day.  Later, I wondered if maybe I was wrong–if maybe I saw something that wasn’t there.  And now, a few weeks have passed and there is an image in front of me in black and white — a picture of what I saw back then.  I can’t pretend it is not there anymore.

I saw black and white, but you saw colors and swirls and patterns.  You saw flowers and butterflies and possibilities.

Henri Matisse said “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

You have a beautiful mind.  You are graceful, and mature and full of resolve and determination.  Your heart is gentle, your mind is bright, and there is a light behind your eyes that can almost bring me to my knees.

You see the flowers, Kate.

You have always seen the flowers.

The Magic of Ordinary Days

Last week I made all of the kids flannel jammie pants. It was a lesson in patience and learning to cover mistakes. And P.S., I am not real good with the buttonholer. Luckily, my clientele is not terribly discriminating and they have been wearing those soft flannel pants all week even in the 90+ degree heat.  While they laid around in their flannel loungewear, I would spend time in the garden.  The flowers in the garden are more beautiful this year than they have ever been.  The herbs are growing steadily, and the tomatoes are coming along. That is all I planted this summer…maybe next summer there will be more.

I sat the other morning, watching the kids eat english muffins topped with a pat of butter and doused in homemade blueberry jam.  While it is a bit of a romantic sight to see your children devouring homemade blueberry jam while it runs down their arms in thin purple streams, it is also messy. And an indication that the jam was a bit on the thin side.  I will try again later in the summer…

Yesterday, Henry and I spent three hours or something like that building a lego set.  It gave me a reason to avoid steam cleaning my carpets.  Eventually though, the steaming had to be done.  Disgusting.  We live in filth.

Today I went for a run. It was absolutely awful.  It was five miles of yuck.  From the first step I could tell it would be unpleasant.  And then about 40 minutes into the running, I got these rapid fire texts from Ella:

Hi can I get Netflix?
On my IPod?
Odd dj
Do hdjdhd
Hdjdjfjd didhhd

At which point I said, with all the breath I could expend because seriously, I thought I was going to die on this run:

Stop texting me

And she stopped, but only after I got one more “Please?” Then The Man began texting me about his commute, and everyone was on some sort of party text where the whole family gets all the texts, so I could stay up to speed on what everyone was doing at that exact moment, when all I wanted was for my phone to stop vibrating and whistling at me for the next 20 minutes. It could be worse, I know… I mean seriously, how long can you stay frustrated at these freckles:

Ella 2014 B&W NST


This summer hasn’t been all flowers and flannel jammies and lovely blueberry jam drips down our arms, of course. There has been plenty of crying and bickering and teasing and whatnot, too.  And a lot of other kinks in the ordinary chain of events…like the blueberry bush that I planted — you will not believe how many blueberries we have harvested this summer so far.


Two berries — which were outstanding by the way. The birds are getting all of them. Which I knew would happen but I somehow thought perhaps that the laws of nature would cease to exist in my garden.

And the car…we had to have some repairs done.

And then the lawnmower broke.

And the garage door.

And the mailbox post is rotting.

Plus our basement had to be torn apart due to the pipe that broke (which is still not fixed). We have just finally gotten the walls, painting, and carpeting finished.

And today I ran out of butter. I do not even know how that happened because in the 17+ years that we have been married I do not think we have ever, ever run out of butter.

Such is life, right? Highs and lows and ordinary days… But there is magic in those ordinary days.  Look for it.  There you’ll be, just trying to get through another day of cooking dinner while Spongebob plays in the background and you’ll look over and see your four children in the soft, muted light of a late summer afternoon. There they’ll sit, in their flannel jammies, after a day at the pool. They’ll laugh at something…a couple of them will still have a spot of sticky blueberry jam on their cheeks.  And it will knock you off your feet.

Your life is magical.

The Lego Police

Legos NST

Because who doesn’t need the lego police in their bathroom.

It has been there for days now.

Maybe a week.

I love it.

Summer Afternoon

Often in the evenings, when supper is in the oven and the kitchen is (relatively) clean, I take a glass of wine out onto the stoop with me and I stare out at my little corner of the world.

The gardens are alive with dragon flies and bumble bees, and always I see a lot of work I must do…deadheading, dividing, trimming, weeding…

Last night I sat outside and watched as petals from the crepe myrtles drifted lazily to the ground like snowflakes.  What a pretty sight in July…they gathered on the path like clumps of fluffy snow.  We planted those crepe myrtles eight or nine years ago when they were less than two feet tall.  Now they are large and beautiful and provide us with glorious shade for our hot Virginia summers.

This morning I sit in quiet…nothing but that fridge again with it’s hum and the birds’ pretty songs to keep me company.  I picked flowers from our garden the other day and they smile at me…coneflowers and yarrow, hyssop, catmint and even some oregano for fun.  (If anyone needs fresh oregano, I have scads of the stuff.)  On my list of things to do today:

  • make peach cobbler
  • work in the garden a bit
  • make blueberry jam
  • finish the laundry

Yesterday’s run has me feeling a bit sore.  It was my longest run yet — 5 miles — and I am dealing with something like tendonitis in my right hip…I’m pretty certain I need better shoes.  Anyway, when today’s work is done, we will spend the afternoon at the pool.  Hot sun, soft pool towels in stripes and polka dots, cool water and the laughter of children.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  In reality, it may quite possibly be more like this: hot sun, pool towels, luke warm water and the four loudest children in the county.  Well, such is my life, and I love it this way.  When we get home, we will make Limonada do Coco to refresh us before the pizzas go in the oven.

Sounds like the perfect way to spend a summer day…

“Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-Henry James

I agree, Mr. James.

This Summer Morning

Flowers NST

I have left my job.

I am sitting here in the quiet of this morning sipping a cup of coffee.  The steam rises in swirls around the mug and the soft light of day is beginning to shine through the trees, dappled and twinkling as their leaves flutter in the breeze.  The refrigerator hums.  Just outside the window on our deck a brood of Carolina Wrens is nestled in the hydrangea bush.  Four tiny beaks rest silently inside while the pair flies back and forth throughout the day.  The male calls out, and his song fills my ears…it is much prettier than the refrigerator’s hum.

In my mind a list grows…things that must be done today…this week…this summer, and a sleepy little redhead just tip-toed down the stairs to tell me of her dreams, so I shall go now.

There is much peace in my heart today…

Time Does Go By

The other night I sat in our room upstairs folding laundry.  Ella was in bed, tucked snugly under her fluffy white comforter and humming along to the sound of Henry’s recorder.  He played all sorts of tunes, and she hummed along.  They often sit together while he plays.  He does quite a good job with that recorder, though he could not sing a tune on key if his life depended on it.

I could hear the water running downstairs — David was cleaning the dinner dishes, William was reading, and Kate was on the computer doing some type of homework.  And I sat folding another load of laundry.  I can remember back to when everything I folded had tiny little snaps and zippers and never folded up very well into a nice little rectangle the way I like.  And now I fold compression shorts, and football pants and slippery basketball jerseys, cheer uniforms, plus a LOT of socks.  None of those things fold very neatly either, actually.  I fold and I sigh a little…time does go by.

There is a large picture window in our room which overlooks the front yard.  We used to be able to look out the window and see clear down to the end of the street.  Now, in just ten little years, the maple tree is so large I cannot see past it.  It’s green leaves ruffled in the breeze that night, making the setting sun’s light flicker through the shutters.  What I see the most when I look at that tree is it’s shade.  I can remember sitting with Coco in the tiny patch of shade it provided ten years ago…we had to keep moving to stay in that shade patch because the tree was so small.  That was back when he was sick, but before I knew he was sick.  He would just sit there with me.  I thought he had finally, at eight years old, mellowed out.  It turns out that he was dying.  It still to this day breaks my heart that I didn’t even know.

But life goes on…time marches on even when your world feels like it has been jarred mercilessly into stillness.  You look around at all the people, and they don’t notice…they don’t realize that your world has stopped because their world has not…

The day after Coco died, we spent a few hours at the pool.  I don’t think I moved from my chair much.  His death exhausted me, it consumed me — the memory of it, the pain of it.  But when we came home and walked through the door, I expected him to be there.  I forgot.  I forgot he was gone.  Sorrow has a funny way of torturing a person like that for a long, long while, smothering them at first like a heavy, wet shroud, and then slowly unraveling until finally all you feel are the shreds of grief now and then.

It will be nine years without that big, old labrador next week.  And now I sit here, with another dog — a beagle — on my lap. Poppy.

She is a good dog.  She is seventeen pounds to his 75.  She is a lot like him, to be honest.  Having her doesn’t stop the missing him, though.  I guess that’s the sorrow…still touching me even nine years later.

Miss you old buddy.

Don’t ever grow up…

You will turn seven in just a couple of weeks.  I have planned your party.  Well, I have planned the major details…the date and the theme and all that.  I have not bought the invitations, or made lists or really done anything else, sadly.

Your brothers will both be playing in tournaments that weekend.  On your birthday, you will sit in a hot, smelly gymnasium, listening to the squeak of sneakers and the bounce of basketballs and you will ask me “when is it gonna be over, Mommy” one hundred kajillion times.  And I will look into those big beautiful eyes and sigh, because I know it really stinks for you, and it kind of always has.

The other day I was driving home from somewhere and I passed my favorite place on this entire green earth, the garden center.  Outside they have these picnic tables set up with red and yellow umbrellas so you can buy a chili dog and sit down and have lunch during your glorious visit to the garden center.  We have never done this, though.  We definitely need to do this. Anyway, under one of those umbrellas sat a little boy.  I think he was about 3, although I was pretty much zipping by at 60 mph, so I could be way off, but whatever.  I remembered how you and I would go to the garden center together after preschool, and I would buy way too many flowers and you would sweat and get a sunburn because you have red hair and fair skin and I forgot to bring a hat or whatever.  And you would whine about being hot, and itchy, and I would promise you if you behaved we could look at the fish in the pond.  And you would want to spend WAY too much time looking at those fish in the sweltering heat of the greenhouse and I would hurry you along after a couple minutes.  And now I think how that must stunk for you, too.

Anyway, I looked at that tiny little boy sitting under that umbrella, and I thought of you.  You were tiny, like him, and now you seem so big.  And your teeth are falling out and new, gigantic teeth that are too big for your mouth are coming in.  You have bangs and glasses and you’re at school for so long that I hardly even see you anymore.  Time has a way of slipping by quite unnoticed, Ella.

You know what is ironic?  Even for all those hot, itchy trips to the garden center where you did not have fun, you asked for flowers for your birthday.  You want flowers to plant in our garden.  Daddy and I thought about peonies for you — you are going to love them.  And we will get you those gardening gloves you wanted, too.  And maybe even a watering can.  You also asked for books, a new basketball, and hello kitty.  I think that is the most wonderful list of birthday wishes that I’ve ever read, baby girl.

Ella, don’t ever grow up…

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Copyright 2008-2014 Kristen Johnson

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