The Gardenias are blooming

There are no more pine needles

to gather from the wooded forest floor.

The thick compost rug is now dampened

in April showers and dew.

May petals blossom from sleepyhead plants in bed;

the season is upon us for these sorts of things.

It is a season like any season — full of its own agenda —

For who would wear a winters’ coat to pick a summer melon?

Or expect the leaves to wear golden orange in the middle of May?

This is the season we dwell in, with beauty all its own.

I embrace it, delight in it, for tomorrow it will pass.

There’s time yet to sled down a hill

or write a book

or wake up in Paris,

But for now, hurry, to the front porch we go —

Smell the sweet air that greets your nose,

The Gardenias are blooming.

Here I am

Today I am moving slower.

More intentionally.

Only a few things to be done on the “to do” list, none of which are bound by deadline.

So I can stop, sit, sing, “Where is Thumbkin?” with a little girl on each knee, welcome the big ones back in from the yard with a hug, calm a conflict with a snuggle on the wooden floors.

Time is not my own today. It is their time and God’s time and our time as a family, and in that there is peace — for what else is there to be done than what should be done?

Today I am giving myself time for virtue and patience and enjoyment. I am baking bread and letting them help with flour-dusted fingers.

I am cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry and playing Ring Around the Rosie — even if all that gets done is that we all fall down.

I am settling into the in-between space that welcomes interruption and dust on the floor and toys scattered beneath the couch. Where children grow right under my feet and time stands still — but just for a moment.

And if ever I feel like these small people gifted to me are in my way — keeping me from doing all the things I am meant to do — well then, I have wandered off path yet again. I veer back singing, “Where is Thumbkin”:

“Here I am. Here I am.”

I settle back in to what matters.

I take on less so I can take them along.

And together we go in peace.

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Rhythm and purpose and peace

The trees in our forest have suddenly dressed themselves — lavishly, I dare say.

I almost didn’t notice that they had gone from stark naked (at least the deciduous ones) to adorned in fluffy green leaves until one day, I did. And there it was: a sea of greens, some pastel; others a deep, mossy color.

Spring has been tapping on our shoulders for some time even if it’s been a whirlwind around here and I’ve barely had time to update the calendar. The urge for Spring chores came over us like April showers and now we find ourselves without enough time in the day to paint the chicken coop, plant new seeds for the garden, mulch the front beds, cut back those winter-worn stems and give everything a little freshening up.

It is so very satisfying, the nurturing of life.

I wrote that to my Aunt this morning when she texted a picture of a tree (she thought was dead) starting to blossom. It’s the feeling that comes over me when I stand in the evening dusk, watering the Salvia and the Plumbagos, listening to the sound of water showering on glossy leaves. I love that sound. Or roll pizza dough, dusted in brown flour. Or feed the chickens, or love on the dogs. Or push through that exhausted day-is-done feeling to read the kids a good bedtime story and sing their favorite songs.

And maybe I’m just feeling sentimental because of the clear, blue skies, but what great joy I find in tending to these things and watching them blossom. Is there anything better? They say that the secret to joy is service and perhaps that’s as simple as that — when you spend time loving other things, the love and joy you receive is tenfold.

After a long winter of all-encompassing morning sickness and too-much-TV, it feels so good to go days without the background noise of a glowing screen. To cook from scratch again. To dig in the dirt again. To do those things that one does for themselves — and together as a family — that provide rhythm and purpose and peace.

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What’s it like to have a child with Down syndrome?

I read her question on a pregnancy forum late the other night.

I had been skimming a baby website to see what size fruit baby #5 compares to now (an apple) and I was caught by her subject line in all caps: DO YOU HAVE A CHILD WITH DOWN SYNDROME?

She had just received word that her prenatal tests showed markers for Down syndrome, she was scared, she was on the fence about whether or not to continue the pregnancy and wanted to know: What’s it like to have a child with Down syndrome? She didn’t preface it with the word “SERIOUSLY,” but I could tell the seriousness in her tone.

I remember that feeling. I wanted to know that, too — desperately — on the rainy Tuesday afternoon when Kate was born and we received her diagnosis. What does it mean? What does life look like? What’s it like?

But what I really wanted was for someone to tell me it would be OK. I wanted that most of all.

I did hear words of comfort in those first tender days. We received many words of encouragement and love that sustained us. But there is one person who convinced me it would be OK — and who continues to show me every day that it’s more than OK. That it’s awesome. And that’s Kate herself.

Kate is five — soon to be one of five children in a crazy house so full of noise and love, my head and heart both feel they’ll explode some days. She is a ball of sunshine and can also be a big ole’ grump, depending on the given moment or circumstance. She is delayed in some areas and yet, shows a maturity that surpasses her age in others. She sometimes has a hard time finding her words; she never is at a loss for a big bear hug. She is silly as a seal and has a smile as wide as the sea. Her big brother says “we’re the luckiest family in the world” because we have her.

People ask me if having a child with Down syndrome is hard and I respond, “Sometimes.” Being a mother of any child is hard, sometimes. Sometimes she’s my easiest. Sometimes she’s a tough cookie. And I could say the same thing about each one of my miracles — each a gift, each an opportunity for me to grow and learn.

I realized — as I tried for a moment to respond to the woman on the forum — that I was having a hard time answering her question: What’s it like to have a child with Down syndrome?

Because I found I was really just answering the question: What’s it like to have a child?

I am not naive or trying to sugar-coat a disability here — sure, “Down syndrome” makes some things more challenging if I choose to think about it that way. But being a part of this club is also an incredible, amazing joy. Life is full of challenges — Down syndrome or not. Life is full of joy — Down syndrome or not.

What’s it like to have a child with Down syndrome? It’s a great adventure in love. An adventure that looks different to every person and every family, but that’s still full of love.

I sat in church on Sunday and saw the two men with Down syndrome across from me. I have seen them both separately before, but never together, and I was happy to see that they are friends. Soon I found myself not being able to stop the tears leaking from my eyes — I blamed it on pregnancy hormones to my husband — but really, they were tears of joy. For those men, sitting in the front row, sharing friendship, praying, brought out an emotion of sheer gratitude in me.

What’s it like to have a child with Down syndrome? It’s worth every moment.

Every challenge, every fear. Every uncertainty about the future, every “extra” thing we have to do. The abundant love and grace and goodness Kate brings to this world and our family overshadows any of the other stuff — and I am so very grateful she is ours.

Today, 3/21, is World Down Syndrome Day — a day chosen for awareness and advocacy. This awareness is so needed in our world — as are the stories of great adventures in love.

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Raising a man

That phrase — raising a man — has been floating around in my head today. It is really what I’m doing in a sense. He just had his seventh birthday and somehow between his Birthday Eve and Birthday Morning, I am pretty sure he grew a few inches. And did his voice get lower? Maybe I’m hearing things.

He asked if he could crack the eggs this morning for homemade waffles and I hesitated because I was sort of in a hurry and didn’t want to be fishing out egg shells (even I tend to get a little piece of shell in there). He cracked all 3 eggs — with no shells to be fished out. When did he learn to do that?

And when did he become a walking encyclopedia on the animal kingdom? And how did he know how to rig that little handle on the toaster to stay down (when even his Dad’s attempts didn’t work — you can imagine his proud smile). And how does he know just how to comfort his sister in that way all his own?

Next to the shelf with the bobble head and the coin bank in his room is a picture hanging on the wall that says:

“A little boy is the only thing God can use to make a man.”

And while we are certainly still far away (relatively) from manhood, there is starting to be less “little” in my boy, and more independence, confidence, responsibility.

I sometimes fear for him in this world where many things can threaten the integrity of men (and all of us), but then I look where he’s looking and I am comforted. Because he’s watching his Daddy.

He’s watching him work hard and sweat and push wheelbarrows in the yard. He’s watching him give me a tender hug at the kitchen sink and whisper, “I love you.” He’s watching him react to his little sister’s temper tantrum with gentleness. He’s watching him drink coffee and read a book. He’s watching him pray. My son learns a lot from me — I am a source of comfort that only a mother can provide. But his Dad is his role model.

As for now, he is still busy chasing lizards and frogs and marbles scattered across the floor. There is great idealism, courage and energy in boyhood; there is also great faith, gentleness and affection — and as he grows, I hope these remain. For no matter how big he gets, there are always the truest things that will never change, like how much he is loved.

My little boy who God is using to make a man, I love you.