Cue George Michael

It's Thursday morning and David is already on his second phone interview of the day.  He takes the jet back into cold country later today for more of the same, sans phone.

I told him we really ought to buy him a coat.

He keeps shrugging me off.  A little bit of denial, or a little bit of hope...depending on how you look at it.

It will be my job to pack his bag and spend a few hours on my knees and keep the home fires burning.  This weekend that home fire includes nudging Caleb to get a running start on his science project write-up.  He's been feeding and cleaning and praying for snails for nearly fifty days now.  Almost time to put them under the microscope and find the results.

Please be results, I pray.  Because let's be honest, it could go either way.

What are you worried about, David asks in the middle of the night.

Nothing, I say.

That at the end of fifty days and forty quarts of spirulina algae and hundreds of gallons of distilled water and 600 miles of driving and a bazillion hours of research...that there will be nothing, except the same 240 snails he started with. 

Nothing.  And then what?

That at the end of four months and dozens of phone interviews and sixteen different airports and hundreds of discussions and thousands of tears and a constant prayer...that there will be nothing, except the same hope and faith we started with.

Nothing.  And then what? I whisper.

Keeping the home fires burning will also mean keeping Ethan glued together, more or less.  He's had a rough couple of weeks.  Weeping before school, weeping after school.  I got a phone call one day from the nurse because he was weeping during school.  We've talked and talked.  And he learned a new word:  "concerned"... because he was worried that he said "worried" too much.

One day he came home from school.  I could tell he'd been crying.  He gave up his stiff upper lip as soon as he saw me.  He cried for a while and then he asked, "Mom why don't grown-ups cry as much as kids?" 

I smiled.  Because we all know the truth.

This morning David reminded me that growing up is hard.

Oh, believe me, I know.

I've been doing a bit of it myself.

Growing up.  Finding faith.  Being Believing.  Banishing my worries and concerns, in order to trust.

Faith is hope for the thing not seen.  Not seen yet, but true, but sure, but there. 

Why I Became a Mother

For moments like this one:

Last Sunday night David had meetings.  The dishes were done.  The house was quiet.  The kids were turning on lights and finding pajamas and pulling down the blinds in their rooms.  I suggested we all meet on my bed for a story.

We began reading a book Savannah received for her birthday, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

Every night since then, the kids have asked, "Can we read again tonight?"  It has been a lovely refuge in the storm of busy life.

Last night, the kids laughed out loud as I read.  I kept reading until we got to a good stopping place.  We had prayer.  Then Olivia begged for one more chapter.  I gave in.  But that chapter ended in suspense.  (Perish the thought!)  The children erupted,  "One more, one more, you can't leave it there!"

I gave in again.

The next couple of chapters ended in tragedy.  I started to cry while I was reading.  (Couldn't help myself.)  Ethan was tucked into my side and he looked up at me, worried.  I kept reading, trying to talk around the choking lump and struggling to see the swimming words.  Everyone was sober when I finished.  Some of us were crying.  I kissed them all and sent them to bed.

I lay there for twenty minutes or so and then Savannah came in.  Eyes, red-rimmed.

"Mom, I thought when you started reading again that something good was going to happen."

She wept on my chest while I put my fingers in her damp hair.

We stayed like that for a while, Savannah weeping silently, my shirt getting wetter, her hair slowly getting drier.

Oh, this is the good stuff.  It was one of those moments I live for.  My children snuggled around me, their hearts and minds full of story and the whole-hearted empathy that comes from good writing.  The room still, they all ears and breath, and me the voice to a story so good you have to weep, unabashedly. 

And especially the afterwards.  The openness, the tenderness, the vulnerability, the shared joy and the shared sorrow, the shuddering breaths, the steady beat of our broken hearts, the sighs, the satisfaction of being comfort, the quiet.

Be still my heart.  I am undone.

Evening Grace

somewhere in the middle of yesterday

At the end of yesterday, at the very end, after I had fed, and read, and testified, and prayed, and coaxed, and washed, and combed, and consoled, and sandwiched, and packed, and taught, and coached, and hurried, and kissed, and reminded, and wiped, and bused, and fieldtripped, and Costcoed, and Targeted, and unloaded, and restocked, and put away, and perspired, and tracked down, and dropped off, and encouraged, and picked up, and tutored, and picked up again, and talked, and listened, and bolstered, and picked up again, and nurtured, and cajoled, and cooked, and fed, and curriculum-nighted, and helped, and edited, and re-edited, and kissed, and prayed, and kissed, and goodnighted, at the very end of all that...Olivia showed up in my dark sewing room and asked me if I had any "cardboard" so she could make a pyramid for her game project that was due tomorrow.

I didn't handle it well.  I was all out of nurture.  And it was only by the grace of God that she made it out of the room alive.  Well, that, and David showed up just in time.

Yesterday was so exhausting--mentally, physically, emotionally--that by the end I could only make animal noises.

David said, "Do you want to talk about it?"

I said yes and did my best.  I started with, "I am a wonder!" at the top of my lungs, but then the rest of it dissolved into gibberish followed by primal hoots and grunts and whoops and deep bellows of frustration.  I finished by saying, "Ay, carumba!"

At which we both dissolved into laughter.

He rubbed my back for a while, and it is not too much to say that it was the best twenty minutes of the whole day.

Have you heard?  Even if you are a wonder, it is still the hardest job in the whole world.  I mean, I was playing a gold medal game yesterday.  You should have seen it:  mothering and homemaking and serving and giving and blessing and nurturing and all with patience and compassion and perseverance and inspiration all day long, but then I lost it in the final minutes of competition.

Ay, carumba.

You can’t possibly do this alone, but you have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you—Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.

Remember, remember all the days of your motherhood: “Ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

-Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Morning Glory

My gaggle just walked out the door after the usual rounds and rounds of "I-love-you's" and "Have-a-good-day's." 

This is how it goes every morning.  They kiss me and then say their litany at least three times each.  It sounds highly orchestrated...two have-a-good-days and then an unexpected pop of I-love-you, and then they turn it around and everyone does a different part.  Maybe this time: I-love-you, have-a-good-day, I-love-you, I-love-you.  It goes like that until I hear the front door close.

From the window I can hear Olivia asking Ethan if he remembered his lunch and Savannah saying "tikki-tikki- ta- taaa" as she practices her piano rhythms out loud for the neighborhood.

Olivia has a test today on integers.  She was in our bed late last night trying to nail it down.   After she left us to ourselves, David and I just looked at each other. 

"She is good at so many things," I said. 

(Just this morning I looked over at her as we read Alma 41 and I was a little bit jealous.  She has the heart everyone should covet.  Her resurrection is going to be spectacular...she will get mercy for mercy, she will get love for love.  No question.) 

And David said, "Yes, but one of those is not math."

"No," I said and grinned. 

Is it wrong that I find this complete lack of math skill and even basic logic delightfully endearing?

The note on her lunch sack today (my version of have-a-good-day-I-love-you) included a picture of her brilliantly solving the most complex of integer equations:  -5-(-7)=2.  Her little stick figure was beaming.  I hope her after-school-self will be as well. 

Yesterday morning as I drove Caleb to the bus I turned on sports radio.  The Boise State game was played on Monday night and it is one of my secret delights to listen to men after they're all hopped up on wins and last minute touchdowns.  I have no idea what they're saying (what is "special teams," what is "an offensive line"), but they sound like boys.  I love listening to people that can't help themselves.

They were talking about the highs and the lows of the weekend.  The panel was listing all sports highs and lows until the last guy said, "The high...my son went off to school.  It was time.  He needed to go.  I dropped him off at college this weekend.  The low...when we said goodbye he gave me knucks.  No hug."

One of the other guys said, "Yeah, that's not going to haunt you."

And everyone laughed and the conversation dissolved into the chances of Michigan's quarterback winning the Heisman.  I sucked in my breath and looked at my son's size 9 shoes.

Caleb's bus arrived.

He kissed me.  He told me I-love-you and have-a-good-day a couple of times.  He shut the door and walked towards the bus.  He turned around twice on his way there to wave at me.  And then he gave one more wave from the bus door. 

Just in case.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

This morning I woke up to the sounds of industry.

My husband, already in his shirt and tie and smelling like aftershave and soap (delicious), leaned over me and nudged my shoulder with his lips, "Just so you know, the lawn crew is here."

I could hear the lawnmower and the trimmers going.  He was giving me fair warning: Don't walk outside naked this morning and also, ahem, it might be time to get up.

I heard him start his car and the sounds of the garage door going up and down.  I rolled over and tried to sleep.  But it is very hard to sleep to the sounds of industry.  Sounds of industry smell like guilt to me.  (Which I can smell a mile away.)

I am in the last week of summer and it is a little like purgatory.  Can't go backward.  Don't want to go forward.  Limbo in my head, dread in my stomach, sludge in my blood, terror in my heart. 

David keeps telling me, "You know we had an amazing summer, right?  I mean, you know, right?"  He's making sure I know how lucky I am, telling me that I have nothing to complain about, reminding me that in my wildest dreams I couldn't imagine a better summer.  (And don't forget, he says with his flirty eyebrows, I provided it.  Don't worry darling, I am very good at showing my appreciation.) 

The thing is, I know that.  I really do.  It was amazing.  But that didn't stop me from crying myself to sleep last night.  Because even though it was the summer to end all summers, it's still almost over.

Insert swear word here.

And yet, the sounds of industry are all around me, nudging me back to work, back to school, back to schedule, back to getting up before eight.  And the guilt is close behind, telling me I have to do more in a day than slather sunscreen on my children's gorgeous, growing bodies or braid the girls' hair or go boogie boarding with my boys and wash the sand out of our suits at night. 

A couple of days ago I spent the day at the mall with my girls.  I sat across from them, sharing an orange julius while they chattered excitedly about the new year and new teachers and piano lessons and the first chair seat in the viola section.  And I wished I could be as excited as them.

But I could only stare at their suntanned, freckled, beaming faces and wish that it was just the beginning of June.

Or at the very least, that they could take me with them.

In one week, this house is going to be very quiet.

RIM thinks I should get motivated, make a plan, write out a schedule, get busy and accomplish a few things.  CIM just stares at the wall, lost in thought, lost in space, lost again. 

Because the truth is, when my kids walk out that door in less than a week, there is a part of me that feels like my purpose will walk out with them. 

RIM thinks that's ridiculous.  CIM just shrugs.  Because ridiculous or not, it's also true.

I had a full-time job rubbing sunscreen on shoulders and cheeks and ears and the tender lines of scalp where the braids were parted.  It was a very good job.  And I was very good at it.  And have you ever seen me boogie board?  I am like a professional.  I really am.

And well, damn, I really hate job-hunting.

P.S.  The nice shot of my very fine cleavage is a just a bonus to this post.  You're welcome.

The Oyster Bed, For Now

It is an oyster, with small shells clinging to its humped back.  Sprawling and uneven, it has the irregularity of something growing.  It looks rather like the house of a big family, pushing out one addition after another to hold its teeming life...It amuses me because it seems so much like my life at the moment, like most women's lives in the middle years of marriage.  It is untidy, spread out in all directions, heavily encrusted with accumulations and...firmly embedded on its rock.

It is a physical battle first of all, for a home, for children, for a place in their particular society.  In the midst of such a life there is not much time to sit facing one another over a breakfast table.

--Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea, pg. 74-75

I have been preparing for today for two weeks.  Nesting, I suppose.  I've been dreaming about it for even longer.  The children are coming home.  There will be time, once again, for staring at each other over the breakfast table.

Oh, joyful day.

During all my preparations, the cleaning and organizing and sewing and refinishing, my mind has been thinking.  Mostly about Lindbergh's oyster bed, the sprawling, heavily encrusted, humped-back oyster shell I live in, and the year I have just survived clinging to my rock.

I thought about it when I cleaned out the drawers and make a stack of all the children's clothes that no longer fit.

I thought about it when I filed the drawings my children had made before they could make letters.

I thought about it when we sorted through the toys they had outgrown and no longer use.

I thought about it when I sanded the finish off the chairs of our first real dining set that we bought before Savannah was born.

I thought about it when I took the teddy bears off the boys' shelves to make room for the certificates and plaques and baseball trophies.

And I thought about it when I folded up the winter quilts and put out fresh summer pillows on the couch.

The world has gone around its axis one more time.  

And I am feeling dizzy. 

Grateful, but also reeling, I watched my children walk out the door this morning and I'll admit I was a little melancholy.  Too much pondering, perhaps.  I told David that I needed to talk, but he had to go--to provide, to secure our place on the rock.

My children are coming home today.  They are coming home for the summer.  And they will come home for a few more summers after this one, maybe a dozen, if I'm lucky.  But I can see that one day they won't, that my summers staring at them across the breakfast table are limited and precious.  This year amid the spelling tests and math facts and tricky letter "e," I taught my oldest daughter how to shave her armpits and my nearly teenage son learned how to talk to girls.

I can feel the earth turning under my feet.

Three days ago I went to the bookstore and spent all of my birthday gift cards and some of my grocery money on books for my children's summer reading.  It was a sizable stack and when I got to the counter the woman said, "Wow.  Are you a teacher?"

I said, "No, I am a mother."

She looked up at me, surprised.

"I am a mother."

And I said it all the way to the car.  I am a mother.  I am a mother.  I am a mother.  And my time has come. 

I'm in the oyster bed, for now.  Lovely, crazy, wild, busy, teeming, untidy, exhausting, perfect oyster bed.  And we have made it, again, to summer, when the sprawling, spreading life stops for a few glorious months and it's just us.  Just us--across the breakfast table, across the game board, across the country.  With all the time in the world.

At least, that is what I am telling myself this morning.

Henry James Was Right

Because some of you asked about it...here's where we are:

I could not be more delighted.

The very best time of year is just days away. 

Last night we got a headstart.  I took the kids swimming and then they read books while I made a simple dinner.  It was nearly eight when we sat down to eat.  I was so happy standing there in my kitchen looking at my wet-haired, rosy children. 

I am very good at summertime mothering.

Even my children can tell.  Last night Savannah must have kissed me ten times before she went to bed.  She couldn't help herself.  I think I have been away far too long.

"Summer afternoon, summer afternoon...the two most beautiful words in the English language." 

--Henry James 

What Meaneth These Stones?

"Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:  That the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord that it is mighty."

Read More

For Love

By now, you've probably made it to the fifth stage of grief...and accepted the idea that there might never be another post on this blog again.

It has been a long couple of months. 

I have been so far underwater that I had to give a few things up.  Among these were blogging, homemaking, and being happy.  Do you know how much time and energy these things take?  For a few days I even gave up breathing and thinking and being likable.  All of them much too difficult given the pressure I have been under.

[Olivia gave me a card for my birthday a few weeks ago.  In an attempt to be encouraging, it said, "April Showers Bring May Flowers" and she had made little pop-ups.  My pop-up had my face in a thunder cloud complete with rain and lightning and all my children were little pop-up flowers.  She gave me an admonishing hug to go with it.  There have been days when I nearly die of shame seeing it.]

Anyway, the sun is finally coming out.  Thank heavens for that.

I talked to Barb on the phone on Sunday night.

She mentioned how I was clear down on her blog roll just above the private bloggers.  I sighed and changed the subject.  Because, as some of you know, I have a serious crush on Barb and it nearly killed me to know I had disappointed her.  (Gosh, I hope that was disappointment in her voice and not relief.)  The next day I nearly wrote a post because, like I said, this is a serious crush.  But even love could not overcome my debilitating list of obligations and a few more days passed.

Last night I went to the ballpark where two of my children were playing simultaneous games on different fields.  It was exactly like my current life, moving from field to field, catching glimpses of my children's lives as I try to be in three places as once.  And let me tell you, I'm not as good at that as you might think.

But eventually, Ethan's game ended and I sat on the bench with the rest of my family watching the end of Olivia's game.  Near the end of the game, David left to get Chinese food and Caleb nonchalantly got up from the bench and walked over to the fence.  There was a girl a few feet away talking to her friend, and now and then he would glance over at her and then turn and intently watch the game.

I was stunned.

This is one of those moments, I told myself.  A moment where all the moments after this one will be different.

He edged a bit closer but the game was nearly over, and I could see both his hesitation and his bravery in the hands he had shoved in his pockets.

And then, there was a serendipitous fly ball.  Everyone yelled, "Heads up!"  The ball landed behind them and it was enough for Caleb to catch her eye and start a conversation.

Last night in bed, David plied me for more details, "What did he say?"

"I don't know."

"What did they talk about?"

"I don't know."

He was frustrated by my lack of eavesdropping skills.

I told him, "Don't you see?  It's not what he said to her.  It's the thought of going to talk to her at all.  Can't you see what's happening?  He's leaving.  He's going to find a wife and build a house and a life and a covenant with her."  I tried to explain it--this quiet, roaring moment, this thing that had happened, that looked small but was actually as big as eternity, this leaving our bench to go to talk to a girl, even though he was unsure and nervous.

I was awed to find that this did not make me sad.  Not one little bit.  I felt happy and proud and amazed and reverent.  I felt like telling heaven to look, to look down and see the miracles in my life, to see the wonder of its creation.  I felt like I had swallowed the whole depth and breadth of eternity between the pitching counts of one batter at a little league softball game.  I felt like Rebekah

David had gone with Caleb that very afternoon to his sixth-grade maturation program at school and so he could only say, "I know." 

And then he kissed me.

And now, because you've been so good and patient, a small, subtle picture story about the beginning of the end.  I am only glad I was there to witness it myself.

 

A Glimpse of Eternity in My Fridge

It is the last week of January.

I can tell because the oranges on my trees are ripe and ready for juicing.

It is the last week of January.

I can tell because David took calls all night long, all weekend long from the hospital.  They are busy and so is he.

It is the last week of January.

I can tell because my body has its own special kind of pain it serves when I am stressed and last night it was in rare form.  After the holidays and a brief reprieve, the stress is mounting.  The last week of January is always the week when reality hits (I committed to what? when?) and panic sets in.

It is the last week of January.

On Thursday, Rachel came for lunch.  (Well, technically, Rachel brought lunch but I hosted and provided plates and water bottles.  Scratch that.  I think it was just water bottles.  But that's something, right?)

At the end of the conversation the FedEx man arrived with a package full of transporter swabs.  Rachel said, "Oh, it must be that time of year."

Indeed.  It is the last week of January and science fair is upon us again.

Caleb and I spent a good part of our Saturday preparing petri dishes for their little colonies.  Water baths and bleached countertops and rows upon rows of future prokaryotic houses.  I had to clean out the fridge, which I found amusing.  Cleaned out the fridge to make room for bacteria.  Reminded me of my college days and the fridge full of cow hearts and the freezer full of dead insects I used to keep before they saw the knife or the pin.  Hard to believe I'm still friends with those roommates, huh?

On Saturday night David and I went to dinner and after I talked his ear off about my writing class he asked me again, "Now why weren't you an English major?"

I shrugged, as baffled as he.

But this morning as I drove Caleb around town and acted as instructor and assistant as he collected aseptic samples of the bacterial flora at different offices, I thought there might have been a reason after all.

Perhaps only so that someday I could mother this particular boy in this particular way on this particular last week of January.

It is the last week of January.

I can tell because this morning I remembered that nothing happens by accident.