Mud Balls in the Basement

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I can’t seem to let go. It’s not so much the practical things. It’s the words scrawled on little slips of paper. It’s the cement-hard mud balls that were rolled up by tiny hands. It’s the heartfelt message on a Christmas tag. It’s the smooth rock from a happy shore.

Bereft of so many of my own childhood memories, I have always clung to little things. I’m so obsessed with not losing something meaningful that I have been known to dig through my children’s trash as they purge their bedrooms. “WHAT!! You can’t throw that away,” I gasp, as I snatch it and add it to my pile.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not real big on ticket stubs or figurines.
It’s the more important things — like the little construction paper leaves we cut out at Thanksgiving time. Each of us would take one out of the basket, which sat in the center of the table, and write on it what we were thankful for. When the kids were little, they were always thankful for daddy and the dog.

Or it’s the notes — things that indicate who we have been in the world.
It’s the cards and drawings and well-used trinkets.

IMG_9839As a little girl, we moved across country and practically severed all family ties. Because the tiny fragments of family history that I could remember, were not underscored by tradition or cemented by rehearsal- they began to fade away and get buried in the intensity of the painful every day. While my propensity to collect things that bore meaning began long before I lost my mother, her sudden, violent death caused my inadvertent quest to preserve precious memories to grow more intense.

By the time we unlocked the door to Mom’s condominium, the crime had been solved and there was no one around. The bright yellow police tape, which barred the door, was the only obvious sign that anything had taken place at all. Mom had been brutally murdered and her body had been hidden in a closet in the spare bedroom. Ironically, the house was spotless. There was no sign of the argument that had led to her death. The broken statue that had crushed her skull was nowhere to be found and there was no sign of the gun. The bed was made, the cat was fed, and the dishes were done. It took us awhile to find the shadow in the chocolate brown carpet. It was just about the only clue left. Her blood.

As we began to open drawers and dig through closets, we searched desperately for something we could take away that embodied her essence — something that would allow us to keep her. Perhaps some private note that would unravel the mystery — something that was attached to her plaguing sadness. But there was nothing. No diaries. No special jewelry. No treasured trinkets. Only her smell, which was growing faint in the robe which hung on the back of the bedroom door. I tied the robe up tight in a plastic grocery bag with the hope that I could capture her fragrance there. She was a lonely woman. She had no friends that could tell the story of her heart.

Now, some 30 years later, I am thinking through a recent visit to my mother-in-law’s home. In her prime, Joyce was a proud and lovely woman — the consummate hostess, accomplished homemaker, and a keeper of treasured things. She is spending her final days waiting for heaven in the memory ward of a nursing home, unable to speak. Dad is still walking the halls of the house, but nothing is the same without her. As I ran my fingers over the things that used to mean something to her, which are still neatly arranged in her home, I realize her essence is fading. One day soon, all of the treasures that fill Joyce and Stew’s home will be disassembled and divided. If the stories aren’t told that are attached to the objects held dear, they will one day become items to be taken away in a box.

3229343087_c485ed07cf_bThen, as I sat in the middle of a heap in my own father’s basement, wading through the items he and my stepmother collected over the years, I contemplated what it all means. Sally died of breast cancer a few years ago and it’s hard for my dad to figure out what matters. What if he gives away something that could be meaningful to someone? How can he possibly muster the energy to sort through all the things that have no meaning to him without her? Cookbooks and sewing stuff, and bathroom junk, and pretty pictures, and little statues, and extra shoes, and bags, and jackets? There seems to be nothing that truly bears her essence.

In the end, we all lay in our beds and face the end of opportunity. Our piles of stuff, no matter how well pared down, gather dust and go out of style. Much of what we hold dear will be loaded into boxes and hauled to Goodwill. So how do we capture the essence of what has been? It’s not the things we keep that bear meaning. It’s not the bed or the sheets, but it’s the warm place left by the breathing person who slept there. It’s not the after-shave my husband wears, but the way the room smells after he’s gone. It’s not the swing set, but the bare spots left in the grass from all the days little feet wore away patches. It’s not the field, but the path that runs through it.

So, through the connection of many dots, I have arrived at today. I’m going to approach the pile in the basement, and write down the stories that are associated with my little things. Then, maybe, I can let them go and my children won’t have quite so many boxes to take to Goodwill. They won’t have to wonder why I saved a little wooden box full of mud balls.

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Photo Credit: Locket photo by Paula Bailey

Chicken Talk

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I’m glad you plan to give in to our demands. You really don’t want any more of this:

Roadie Yoke, spokeschicken,  Locally Associated Brotherhood of Egg Layers: A chicken union that ain’t gonna take no crap.

 

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Photo Credit: Will Whittier 2015

The nose pickers

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By the time fourth period rolls around, it’s going on 2:00 and the 4-6 year old children are tired. When I come in, I know I have about 15 minutes to teach the most important parts of my lesson before I start losing them to the play things that surround us in the room. Fortunately, my theatrics are good and the children are enthusiastic. We learn about birds, their homes and their habits. The children sit up on their feet, in tiny blue chairs, and prop their elbows up on the octagonal table that they surround. They are fabulous. At this point in the day, all the hair is marvelously messy — bows are askew and many shoes are untied. They stare at me, wide eyed, as I talk about the size of a hummingbird egg or where an eagle makes it’s nest. The children gasp audibly as they imagine that the woodpecker can actually eat a frog and the red tailed hawk can swoop down and pick up a field mouse with it’s strong talons.

It’s a sweet time… well… except for one thing — and can I just be up front here?
They pick their noses.
They pick. their. noses.
And when I ask them if they need a tissue, they sweetly look up at me and say no.
When I suggestively hand them a tissue- they daintily hold it in one hand, while they pick with the other.
When I whisper to them discreetly, “Please use your tissue — don’t pick your nose,” then, one little darling in particular, will turn her head and bend down a bit in order that she may pick in private.

This drives me to distraction and it’s terribly hard to continue with my lesson whilst suffering through the inner squirm. Since I only have a very short time, for the sake of whatever children are not picking, I have to continue teaching, in spite of whoever is picking.

We always listen to the sound of the bird and then we scroll through bird pictures on my iPad.

Then comes the question — and it always comes.

“Can I swipe it?” And a little finger comes for my iPad.

Success…

I was told that I must work myself out of the job somewhere along the line- I just never fully understood the ramifications of such a success.
I’m somewhat familiar with the phenomenon;
I have watched my friends feel their way through the murky waters,
laughing while in tears;
resigned, yet determined.
Another life revolution.
Another season that comes without beckoning.
A successful release.

A silent game change for one of the most underrated, yet essential workers on the planet- the successful repositioning of mother.

Mother: the assigned life-giver, the assigned tender of tender shoots, the assigned protector of fragile bodies, the assigned cultivator of hearts and nurturer of souls.

 

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Photo credit: Jessica Garcia©2008

It doesn’t matter how many women I have seen walk this path and it doesn’t matter that they have lived to tell the tale- the experience still comes fresh and unfamiliar.

My life has been intricately and intimately woven into the lives of my children.
The inevitable unraveling comes with a tug and a pull, which results in a dull pain and an occasional sting. I find I’m not quite ready, no matter how many warnings I have been given.

It feels like being tied to a post- I vaguely know what’s coming and I watch it roll in, like tendrils of acrid smoke, and I brace myself.
I am to breathe deeply before being released.
Released into a new reality.
My position is suddenly redefined.

Now, quite shockingly, I feel like an old type-setting machine which has been relegated to the corner.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that I served faithfully and quietly as: Executive-in-Chief, Staff Administrator, Assistant to the President, Facilities Manager, Human Resources Manager, Event Planner, and Queen?

And, wasn’t it just yesterday that I served- maybe not so quietly- as: janitor, chef, counselor, medic, seamstress, decorator, chauffeur, and friend?

Yet, somewhere along the line, I managed to go from knowing everything- to knowing nothing; from being better than anyone at everything- to being rather less than satisfactory in my employment of skills.

Culturally, ‘mother’ is a job title assigned very little merit.  The serious pursuit of excellence in the execution of a mother’s duties is not considered worthy of accolades;
so it falls relatively low on the list of important achievements.
But God does trust women with a great and magnificent responsibility.
He trusts her to conceive and carry life,
to grow and nurture life,
to train and model life,
and finally, to let go of and release life.
The choice to fully embrace the role of motherhood with passion and intentionality is the highest achievement.

Ironically, in the end, mother isn’t given a letter of termination- or a severance- or even a security walk to the exit.
She is ultimately beyond and above that, trusted to be wise,
to laugh and weep,
and to keep walking with a more mature poise than when she first began.

Decades have passed,
my hands are worn and wrinkled,
and my eyes have grown wise…
I have worked long, grueling hours for the high payment of joy and tears.
I have given it all, mind, body and soul…
But now, it seems it’s time.
Like something out of an epic movie, I’m to be locked outside the gates of the city I helped to build.
I’m to follow the well-worn path that leads to the sun, which is setting on the horizon. Time to close this chapter of the book and begin scrawling in another.

I will be called back an undetermined number of times, to serve in my newly structured position. My technical expertise will be required on an as needed basis.
I am now consultant, sub-contractor and outside-insider.
Come closer- stop.
Stop- come closer.
And if these gyrations aren’t enough,
I am to know precisely when to keep my mouth shut.
God, that’s very funny.
You really have trusted me with the big stuff.

I hear the screeching of the tires- it’s time to get out of the car. There is to be no outward display of emotion at this point. I am just supposed to get out, keep moving, and carry on.

Mind you, I have not been dismissed as beloved mother and friend, and I have not been sacked as trusted and wise counselor… but I have reached the place where I have successfully worked myself out of a job.

My jacket buttoning, and brussel sprout cajoling days are over.
My teenage counseling services are almost unnecessary and my constant stream of advice is no longer welcome.
It’s on to the next chapter.
So, like a modern-day Mary Poppins, with a heart stuffed full of treasured memories like an old carpetbag, I take my first barefoot steps down the path ahead,
both laughing and crying,
resigned, yet determined,
ready for the next adventure.

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Photo credit: Rel Luttrell©2014

Passing the half-life…

Turning 50…

If the story of my life happens to be 80 pages long- then I’m 10 years past my half-life today.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum © 2012.

It’s so strange to look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the young woman that used to look back at me. Lines have emerged- lines that tell the stories nobody knows. I would like it if all my lines to turned upwards- but they don’t.

Is this the same woman who, on a good day, men used to turn to admire? I recently retired a big pile of jeans that don’t fit in the same old way and I face myself with the question, “Am I willing to do what it takes to fight back against the slow atrophy of aging?” Truth is, I’ve never been a very good fighter.

I’m a true survivor, having escaped death and doom time and again… but the talk in my head usually says- “you lose.” It’s been a slow and difficult process to believe and embrace the truth that God created and values me.

Anyway, back to aging body parts. Will this be the battle of my decade- how to fight back against the hands of time? That certainly seems to be the cultural mandate. In fact, if I had a few more bucks… I could just pay to fluff my buns in order to make my old jeans fit. I could uncurl the lines around my mouth and poof my lips. Yuh know, a 50,000 mile service check. The only thing is, the manufacturer didn’t make these recommendations.

The other strange thing about turning 50, is that I realize that some of the dreams I dreamed haphazardly in my 20’s may not come to fruition. Now that I’m almost 50, married, with two, mostly-grown-up kids- I may not be able to live single, in a high-rise, in the inner city, whilst commanding a high salary. I may not ever again pack up and move to another State to take a menial job and live on macaroni. I might not ever become buff like the girl in “Flashdance,” (well, it’s been thirty years since I saw the movie, but that “Maniac” song is still stuck in my head). I might not ever travel as a bohemian journalist to do interviews all over the world. At this late stage, optimistic as I can get, I may never become fully functional when it comes to laundry. I may never have a clean purse for two weeks running. I may never become a coupon master. I may not ever do…. well… anything else really “big.” There’s a little change left in my purse and I better decide how I can make it go the furthest.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

As I look at the last quarter or so of my active life- some good questions once again emerge – like, what matters most? With all the competing draws for my attention- what is the highest and best use of this day? Which choices will be high impact in the next chapters of my story? I want to be intentional and wise.

I can hear answers coming from some- “Well, you’ll never stop being a wife and mother,”  and, “Soon, you’ll have grandchildren!” Others declare, “Now is the time to clean your purse!”  Well, maybe so. Maybe I should clean out my purse- so I don’t have to dig so long to find gum for my grandkids- but, I don’t want my goal to be a “finally” clean purse or a polished car.

It’s true, my family is my greatest joy and my level of commitment to them will be constant… but there will be lots of times when my presence will be unnecessary… and there’s more… more of me and more of the mission.

More of the mission that helps people where they get broken; that spot where something wicked came and some little treasure of a person believed a lie which set them on a path they weren’t intended to follow…

But, I digress… back to gray hair and body parts.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

I’ve been told time and again about how fast it goes. I was always grateful that I didn’t begin to have children until I was thirty and had seen a little of life and death. I felt I somehow understood a bit more about the precious and insignificant. Now, as I look back, I’m faced with knowing, once again, that we are never wise enough in this lifetime to see with perfect clarity.

I absorbed the verses that explain that we are but a vapor, or a fading flower. I have done my best to cherish moments and collect the important things of the heart and I’m thankful. I’m immensely grateful for the good and mostly at peace with the bad. I haven’t led a boring life- there’s adventure, intrigue, romance, violence, crushing sadness and utter joy…. but I look cautiously forward now- knowing more keenly than ever- that I don’t have forever.

Artwork by Angie Stevens, the Doodlemum©2012

Interestingly, I’m not afraid of the same things that used to scare me. I’m no longer afraid of forceful women. I’m not afraid of being disliked. I’m not afraid to say no and almost not afraid to fail. I’m not afraid of teenagers who scowl and seem fiercely independent anymore. I’m so far past them now that I look back with a familiarity and move right in to their crabby space, loving them wholeheartedly.
Now, I have different fears. I fear bitterness. I fear that I will misunderstand truth. I fear self-loathing. I fear unbelief. I fear that through any and all of those things, I have the power to hurt others and experience living death. I fear I will not meet my potential by not finally getting- all the way down in my core- without wavering, that God really enjoys, likes, and trusts me; that He looks at me with adoration. If I can really get that relationship right- all the rest will follow. Because of that truth, I can breathe clean air and I can love my husband with a real and wild love.

Yes, well, back to stopping the hands of time.

Now I understand why “the bucket list” became a such a crazy-popular catch-phrase- because it’s not a bad idea to make one. I’m amazed to see young men and women jumping out of airplanes and traveling to Atlantic City because it was on their ‘bucket list.’ It blows me away to talk with those who are asking good, stark questions about the use of their time and the direction of their path at such early ages; but why do I know that somehow, even these brilliant, young folks are going to ask the same tough questions when they reach the half life? They will do similar evaluations, regardless of the check marks on their bucket-lists. They will once again begin to ask, “Have I fulfilled my purpose and have I done it well? What is good- what is beautiful, really- and what am I chasing after?”

Well, I’ve edited out about 10 pages here and I will leave my special birthday post with these final words. Gray hair happens, cellulite isn’t only for couch potatoes, and we don’t have forever, but in these days of evaluation- while I may not have the game plan down… I have had an amazing time thinking about the definitions of goodness, happiness, and legacy. I have enjoyed every living thing from a new perspective and I feel more alive than ever. My goal is to seek God first in all things and know that all the rest will follow, whatever that may look like.

A friend recently told me that since she crossed over the 50-yard line- she doesn’t hold back as much. She’s not afraid to tell it like it is and speak a little encouragement that she might have otherwise kept to herself. She’s not as worried or embarrassed about her imperfections. She also said I’m at the peak of my life in terms of wisdom and creativity.

Yeah, that’s a good word… I’m feeling a little more saucy myself.
Pretty, dang saucy.

I’ll tell you a little secret. My husband is a wild man and he’s been known to go outside in his boxers in the dead of winter to get wood for the woodstove. How would I know that? My neighbor mentioned she thought she saw him outside in his underwear at 4 am.
Ahem.
Now, I get it!
This behavior must be a result of being 51. He crossed over the line and into the second half.

Naa. I’m too young for delusions. He was born that way.

Scary to think he will get even saucier.  Now, that I’m a wise and wild 50 year old, I wonder if this means he’ll finally get me to skinny dip?
That would sure get the neighbors talking  🙂

“Therefore we do not lose heart though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

A special thank you to Angie Stevens for the use of her wonderful artwork. I subscribe to her blog at http://doodlemum.wordpress.com/ and very much enjoy receiving her sketches in my inbox.
Angie describes herself as “38, short, defensive, far too chatty for my own good, mother, artist, noisy, chocolate loving and permanently tired. (I know,  how many bloody adjectives do I need…).” I describe her as a kindred spirit. I love her impish little sketches. They are very transparent and remind me of myself as a young mother. Thank you, Doodlemum!

The Seasons of Motherhood…

About the bittersweet journey of motherhood and the milestone of graduation…
Read more here:

A New Rhythm

Artwork by Susana Tavares


Crawling out of bed tired

Lately, the little things don’t look like backyard adventures.
They look more like shopping for dress pants and cheap ties that might fit the boy for two weeks,
and practices and performances,
and algebra lessons,
and end of semester field trips,
and birthday celebrations,
and meetings,
and big decisions for next year.

The little things look like begging sorry to my honey for leaving bagel crumbs on the  kitchen counter as I go flying out the door.
Looks like forgetting what I came for
and coming back for what I forgot.

Looks like living in the country means we can’t run home and throw in a load.
Looks like we’re getting things halfway done and digging through piles for socks,
Looks like drinking lots of coffee and crawling out of bed tired.
Looks like not finishing anything.

Looks like wondering how other people get all this stuff right,
and then remembering that I’m almost 50 and
most certainly beyond such penchants to compare.
It also looks, conversely and hormonally,
like I’m old enough not to give a flip what anybody else is doing and how.
Looks like I’m glad for my girlfriends- doing whatever their doing,
smiling at me with that knowing smile,
it’s in the little things- even when they go very fast.

Looks like racing out early in the morning to check the baby bluebirds in my bath robe and staying up late listening to the non-stop, run-on sentence plans of two very active, young people. Trucks and cars and apartments and jobs and school and girls and guys and this one and that one and today and forever…
golden sound waves and bleary eyes.

Looks like my husband can’t find me,
but my toes can still find his toes under the covers.

Looks like my boy will drive.
Looks like I will soon be forced to wear shorts again.
Looks like I won’t be getting any younger.
Looks like I don’t know what’s coming next.

Looks like, when it comes to self improvement, my greatest opposition is
myself.

Looks like the little things are imperfect and profound and sweet and that even in the messed up mess of the day, I find myself stopping to say thank you.

Life in little things looks like embracing frustration and reaping joy,
It looks like running on empty and finding it full.
It looks like this life, this very minute.

Photo by Will Whittier@2012

Thank you God for little things,
Thank you for my little people, who aren’t so little anymore,
Thank you for the little moments that add up to big ones.
Thank you for my faulty processes and my little failures,
Thank you for stolen moments and infinite noise.
Thank you for the little things.