My 3rd Parent and My 5th Child

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Two years ago today we moved into our lovely old house. It was built in 1896, so this place is celebrating its 120th birthday this year, as we celebrate 2 years of calling it home. I refer to this place as “mine,” but more accurately we are the caretakers here. There have been others before us and there will be more after. This house sees generations of humans, where I get one human lifetime.

On one of my favorite tv shows, a man owns an estate and a castle. He refers to his home as his 3rd parent and his 4th child. When I first heard that, something ran through me that left goosebumps. I completely understood the weight of that.

This big old house that I call mine is my 3rd parent and my 5th child…

In the way that it keeps me warm and dry, a safe haven of love and acceptance in a scary world. 24/7, always here for me. I never even think to doubt it.

In the way that it has constant needs and demands, always requiring my hands on it to fill cracks and sweep out corners and give attention. Such constant cries for my attention and affection.

In the way that it takes my time and my love, and seems to breathe it all right back into the people who step inside.  This home feels more like a person than a place.

Maybe it is the 120 years of history and stories and families that have lived here. Or maybe it’s because we believe this house chose us. But either way, it IS a part of our family. This may not make sense to you, but then I’m guessing you haven’t been here.

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I spent a lot of my adult life with a lot of responsibilities and not a lot of money. I had a couple decent places to live but mostly pretty crappy ones. I rented what I could afford, and often had very little heat or money or food and life was really hard. I dreamed for many years of a warm old house with extra bedrooms and plenty of bathrooms and room for all of us to gather or be alone at times. And two years ago, that wish came true.

If I could create any home, any place on earth to tuck away and be safe and sound from the storms of life, it would be here. With its flowery wallpaper inside and it’s vines growing up the walls outside. I feel lucky every day to be here, even when I’m scrubbing hundreds of windows. But especially today, as we celebrate 2 years caring for this parent/child house of ours. This dream come true.

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*** I sometimes write about how much I love my life and I worry that people think things are all “perfect” and I totally “have it together.” No one should be under the impression that I do not bitch about my big old house from time to time. ‘Cause I do. Nor should you be confused that I have a perfect life, as I do not. My toddler refused to leave his high chair all morning so I let him to watch 5 episodes of Barbie Dreamhouse because it kept him reigned in and allowed me to write to you kind folks…

 

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Thoughts From a Mother’s Heart

 

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Me with my mom, 1974.

 

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My oldest and my youngest, 2014.

I didn’t hand pick my children. They came to me as they were, with imperfections and sweetness and the smell of baby. And I loved them with all of me from the start. This is true of all mothers, I think. It feels built in and huge and primal to love them so completely, even though they aren’t some perfect fine china that I went out and selected. They come as they are.

This is very similar to life. We don’t choose ours, at least not our starting point. We get dropped in with parents in some house or city and life and we don’t know any different. By the time we can really think about it at all, our lives are merely our lives. Normal to us.

On this note, I think often about how privileged I am. I got dropped into a home with heat and running water in the cold Wisconsin landscape in 1974, a privileged time to be born in America. I had clothes and plenty of food and Christmas presents and good schools and parents who loved me. My life has never been perfect and I’ve had my share of hard times, like most of us. But I was set up for thriving in the place and time that I was born.

Again, I did nothing to earn this. Like a lighting strike, all factors came together and I came to be. If there is more to it than that, I have yet to prove it.

I’ve been feeling actually sick about the Syrian refugees. Because like me, they didn’t hand pick their children or their life, but I have to believe they love them with the same ancient old mother’s heart that beats through all women. (Yes, all women, even those that aren’t mothers, because we all have it. We are born from it. )

So I’m thinking of these moms trekking across treacherous landscapes and oceans with their babies. You know, the babies that they love like we love ours? Of course they do.

Only they didn’t get born into white middle class America. Or even poverty level America, which is more sad and terrible than anyone understands but it is still worlds better than what these refugees are going through.

But they aren’t refugees. They are people. They are mom or dad or brother or sister or cousin or friend. They are human beings.

Are there bad ones among them hell bent to cause hurt? Maybe. But there have been 750,000 refugees let into America since 9-11, and not a single one turned out to be a terrorist. This statistic makes me say there’s not a real worry there. We, the people of this once great nation, are causing the problem. We are bathing ourselves in fear and throwing it around. And we are leaving innocent people behind because our fear is more important to us.

And this causes hate. And I’m so freaking tired of this hate. I’m tired of everyone pointing fingers and blame and not doing their part. Really, other than posting memes on Facebook, what are you doing to help this world be a better place? Ask yourself that.

I see people stand behind Jesus like He’s an excuse for bad behavior. Or others who swing poor Jesus around above their heads to swing Him at folks, like He’s some form of punishment. Only that isn’t what Jesus was, and I do know that. I was taught about Jesus since I remember anything, plus for all the rest of my childhood. And the Christianity of today, the one that that fills our media with hate and has everyone pointing to reasons to be unkind, this religion does not remind me of Jesus at all.

I don’t know how to fix anything, but I do know that we’ve got to stop being enemies. All of us. With our Facebook wars and our drama-causing gossip. Especially since we’re standing here on our high horses in our warm homes on this rainy November day. Especially since none of us are aware of what won us the cosmic lottery, allowing us to be safe reading this on the internet while families are bombed out of Syria. Especially since the US sent like 8000 of those bombs. But no one wants to lay claim on that little coincidence.

All this hate in the name of terror. And it’s working. We’re so scared of the enemy that we forget we are not each others enemy. We’ve forgotten that we are all human beings with a responsibility for each other. Isn’t that what our children and our aging parents are here to teach us?

Be a human being today.  Do something nice. No judging, no fighting. No borders and religion. No us versus them.

Be thankful for your life and your privilege. Because this world needs some human kindness.

 

A Syrian refugee hugs her crying baby after arriving on a raft on the Greek island of Lesbos, October 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Giorgos Moutafis / Reuters

Riley

Writing, for me, is a journey. It’s a way of learning – my own personal way of processing this world and the things I encounter and experience. This makes writing hard at times. At other times, it makes writing impossible. There are subjects I cannot touch, or ones merely skirt the edges of. I write about these things when I’m ready. I suppose that we all tackle our challenges one at a time. As much as I love writing and it’s a part of who I am, it’s also a place where I face my own demons.

For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been unable to write about my niece Riley. She isn’t biologically my niece. She’s the daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Holly. Riley is my goddaughter. I saw her be born and I thought, “Oh. It’s you.” I still can’t tell you why I thought that but I knew it the same way I know that the sun comes up. As I’ve always known her.

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I waited for Riley. I saw the love between my girls and their Auntie Holly and I knew how much we’d love her little ones when they arrived. I sewed her quilts and stuffed animals and towels before she was even born. I watched her while her parents went to Vegas. I made guacamole and cinnamon bread with her since she was a toddler. I’ve probably kissed her a million times. She calls me Auntie Michelle and puts her little hand in mine and this simple act never ceases to make my heart soar. Riley is a sweet, gentle little soul and she is my family. Her whole family is to us.

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When we get together, Brice runs to Riley and her 4-year-old sister Addison and grabs them both in his arms so he can hug them at the same time. He calls them “his girls.” They all pick up playing and talking wherever they left off when they get together, as if no time as passed.

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Addison, Riley and Brice. 

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Brice and “his girls.”

On May 1st, we found out that Riley had a malignant brain tumor that was pressing on her brain stem. The tumor was miraculously completely removed but Riley has a long road of her with radiation and chemo.

She started radiation today. It’s heartbreaking, all of it. And it’s caused me to wonder what kind of sense can be made in a world where a 7-year-old that I love so very much can get brain cancer. The whole thing has left me wondering what I could write or say about anything. There is no real answer to be found here.

Here’s what I have learned that I can finally say after 6 weeks:

When I see Riley, I see the little girl that I love and I almost forget that she’s sick. Not really, but I don’t think of her as sick. I think of her as Riley.

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Her mother has shown me the strength we are given as mothers. She gets up and faces the direst of circumstances every single day. Her life is the stuff of nightmares right now but she gets up every day and keeps moving. This simple fact inspires and awes me, as I wonder how she can even be standing upright. It seems we are all stronger than we think, even in the darkest times.

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The outpouring of prayers and messages and contributions and #RileyStrong photos on Facebook have been amazing. Riley has came out of the surgery so much better than anyone could have hoped for and we believe it’s all of the wonderful souls out there praying and sending healing thoughts her way. And I know that this gives her parents faith, that in the hardest of times, people come forward and help.

Thank you all for listening on this rainy afternoon. And for caring so much about Riley.

Go Fund Me site to donate to Riley.

6 Months

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My mom passed away 6 months ago today.

I’ve thought about this day. I’ve thought about what it would be like when my mom had been gone for 6 months. I guess I thought, or hoped, that it would be some magical point where grief gets easier.

It turns out its true. It is easier.

Or maybe it’s just that this balmy, sunny June day felt like it had very little to do with that cold December day 6 months ago. This anniversary is a marker, a sign on the road to show how far we’ve come. The only connection is the one we give it.

The memories of her painful and difficult end of her life, they have become less vivid.  They don’t haunt me like they did at first. I remember her now in better times.

I send love her way. I tell her my stories while I garden and do dishes and wash chubby baby fingers.

I have finally set down the trauma of that time.

But I still miss her. I still think of things I want to tell her and text her. I do it less now, but I still do it.

I’ve realized what a hole is left in my life without her. I have a very full life, but she was my touchstone each and every day. My entire life long. It was rare for me to not talk to her at all in a day, ever. I didn’t realize this missing piece at first. I couldn’t see it until the dust settled. It makes me realize how much I miss having someone to talk to during the day. We always made time for that.

So tonight, after the end of a very long day, Steve and I drove out to the cemetery, right down the road from my house a few miles. It’s lovely out there, and lovelier still for the green and the temperature. I felt far away we are from that cold December day that I had to say goodbye.

I’m glad for the growing time in between.

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Happy 1st Birthday to Lincoln!

My Lincoln.

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One year old today.

It’s surreal, this fact.

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This is us, one year ago this morning.

7 pounds 6 ounces, my biggest baby by over a pound.

My longest labor by over a mile.

Lincoln felt like a baby horse inside of me rather than a baby human, so I wasn’t surprised to see how strong he was right after birth, lifting his head off my chest while we laid there skin to skin. Eyes open, taking it all in, not even crying. So much like he is today. My mellow fourth baby who got the memo that he is not the center of the universe, just an equal part like the rest of us.

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Lincoln is all smiles. He cuddles with pillows and pets and people. He is a charmer, a sweet, daring little soul who cruises the staircases in this house like a pro. He crawls from room to room, chasing cats and the puppy and dragging trucks along with him, calling for Brice. He thinks I’m the funniest person in the house, which is nice. All my other babies thought someone else was funnier.

I noticed a family of four out on a bike ride in front of our house this week while I was working in the yard. I counted their kids and thought, “Four kids. That’s nuts!” And then I remembered that I, in fact, have four kids and I felt kind of ashamed for judging, not to mention silly for not remembering. My life is just my life and I think that I get caught up in the living of it that I forget to keep track of details. Like how many children I have, apparently.

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I remember when I was leaving Georgia to go to the hospital and deliver Holly, I was just convinced that I could not love this new baby as much as I loved Georgia. How could I? It didn’t seem possible, because we learn a whole new kind of love when we become mothers, don’t we? But when Holly was born, I realized- our love multiplies in direct proportion to how many kids we have, like magic. There is always more than enough. Even with four, there always seems to be at least enough. I may forget how many kids I have, but there is lots of love.

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And though it feels that I am lacking sufficient time for it all, I try to remember that my life is supposed to be full of needs right now. Lincoln will only be a baby so long, and babies fill your days with moments. Messy moments, needy moments, tender moments. A baby fills your life and your arms. There is room for little else. As they grow, they play and explore more on their own. They reach out to the next room and then the yard, to friends’ houses and school and sports and activities, and pretty soon they have moved right out of your house and life. They create a life of their own. It happens in the blink of an eye. I know this.

So I play with the baby and tend to his needs and this fills my life. And I write a paragraph or few pages here and there. The book I’m writing waits more patiently than a hungry kid. Some moments this is easier to take than others. Writing is part of who I am. I miss it when I can’t get there.

But before I know it, the time will be there for me to write without interruption. I have done this whole baby thing enough times to know that the fog and storms of life with small children do eventually lift.

So for now, the computer sits open to Word, waiting for me to finish something. Lots of things. And it will wait. I nurse my baby. I celebrate the gift of his presence in my life. This little everyday miracle that I lug around on my hip. My fourth. Dare I say, my last? Watching him leave babyhood right before my eyes feels nearly bearable, even though it truly feels like it’s time to be done. The tradeoff of no longer having a baby in your arms all the time is that you no longer have a baby in your arms all the time.

Happy first birthday, Lincoln Thomas. I love you with my entire being and you fill my heart with joy.

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I Am Here

I am here.

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I suppose we all have a place that we wanted to get to. A goal we wanted attained or a dream we wanted fulfilled. We have lots of these over our lives, I’m sure. Some come to fruition, some fall by the wayside for something more important. We wander varying paths in our lives, for sure.

But my life, right here, right now? This was my dream.

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An amazing old house with it’s own stories and history. A quarter acre plot of my very own land to plant tomatoes and tulips and sunflowers. A place to raise my children and be safe and warm with those I love the most. To write books and magazine articles and take photos of what I love. And have this be my job. To no longer worry about paying for groceries or rent or basic necessities like I did for so many years.That was my dream.

And I’m here now. When I stop and look around my life for a moment, I realize this and it startles me every time. IT startles me because I get caught up in laundry and dishes and messes and life. I have to pause long enough to see it.

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I stand in my lovely kitchen or to chase the kids around the house or get the sweetest texts or notes from my husband and I feel as though I brought this life here with my own wishing on stars. As if by changing my attention from my fears and worries to my brightest shining dreams, I brought them to life. And here I am, where I dreamed for years that I would be.

And the thing is, there will always be more dreams. To finish my second book. To watch my words flow out into the world and do some good, I hope. To see my kids grow and see their dreams come into fruition. It keeps us dreaming, this wish for more.

But this here and now? Even on the hardest of times with preschooler tantrums and carpets tracked with mud and cheerios, this is my dream come true. I am living in the midst of my very own fairy tale.

The Little Voice

There is a little voice inside me. She whispers things like,

“Slow down.”

“Take it in.”

“Be thankful.”

Sweet and gentle, like a mother would speak to a young child. Some small encouragement in tough moments, or to remind me that I’ve done a good thing. It’s a great little voice. She says to be patient with my 4-year-old because he has no concept of time. It tells me that his dawdling pace is a good thing, as he will grow fast. He already has.

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“Slow down and look around. And listen.”

I try to listen.

But her voice gets buried underneath the craziness of my day. Her quiet whisper gets lost in the din of Paw Patrol episodes in full color through the TV. A squealing baby. The thunderous hooves of my horse-like puppy chasing the cat through the house. And the “to do lists” on the counter and in my head, adding items all day long, no matter how fast I cross them off. The cat with his paws under the bathroom door, or the baby with everything in his mouth, or a kid yelling for applesauce. Not five minutes of peace, at least not until Steve is home to help wrangle them.

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The alarms and calls for assistance, butts to be wiped and dogs to be taken out. They keep my day going, breathing me in and out like tides from dishwasher to the email to nurse the baby before nap. The day and weeks and months disappears with these moments, and I chase them all, once in a great while stopping to hear the soft voice tell me to be present where I am. Trying to remind me that chasing never got anyone anywhere.

This is hard to do. I am once again overwhelmed by the ride that is a couple small kids in the house. I do remember from my girls that it passes. I will wake up one day, just like that, and I will wonder where the hell a few years went. And I will sigh with relief, realizing that I can speak in full sentences or even paragraphs again without being interrupted. I can sleep through the night. Hallelujah! Everyone can wipe their own everything! The ride will slow and the kids will start growing up. Just as we grew up. Just as our parents grow old and die. Stop and notice or not, life marches on.

“We are but links in the chain,” whispers the gentle voice.

It’s a work in progress, this journey. Maybe we circle through over and over, the same battles and dreams, and that’s why they seem so familiar. We ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes strong and bold and authentic and present, and other times curled up, bobbing along, just trying to make it through. It depends on the day, the part of life. As for me, I listen better some days than others.

“We are all doing the best we can.” She whispers calmly.

I believe this.

Right in this moment, where we are at today, we’re doing our best…

The lady who cut you off and then gave you the finger when you had the audacity to squeal your brakes as you swerved to miss her. She’s actually trying her best, too. She may very well be doing it badly, but I think she’s doing her best.

When I stop for 10 seconds and take real breaths in and out and make time to be still and be quiet and do yoga and be right here and now, then I remember that. And the world is a remarkably nicer place.

I hear her little voice and I remember that.

I have to choose to listen. She refuses to scream over the crazy.

She will patiently wait until I’m ready to listen.