Gifts of love

I still remember the first Valentine’s Day with my husband — my then boyfriend. Or not even “official” boyfriend yet (we had only been dating a couple of months). I knew I was going to marry him, but we had not defined labels yet.

We were on our way to a movie the week before when he asked me casually: “So, what are you doing for Valentine’s Day?”

I was so excited I could barely wait to duck into the bathroom at the movie theater and call my friend Stephanie, “He asked me to go out with him on Valentine’s Day!” After all, that meant something. I was going to be his Valentine.

Fast forward almost a decade later to today — an unseasonably warm 70 degrees, blue-skied February day in Texas. I asked my husband, “Isn’t it like this every day of the year in San Diego? Why doesn’t everyone in the world live there?”

We spent all day outside, working on the garden fence and the plant beds. With dirt under my nails and children at my feet, I dug up and moved some azaleas and spider plants from here to there. I pulled weeds that held firm to thick clay soil and dug my hands into the cold earth below to make room for transferred plants with dangling roots. Our wildflowers have been blooming early (they are as eager for Spring as I am!) and I pulled a handful yesterday and piled them into a water-filled mason jar turned farmhouse vase. It sat in the middle of our diningroom table last night as friends poured wine and piled pasta and listened to music over the speakers.

There’s a part of the mass where the priest says the words “…Through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.” Those words always stand out to me. For these simplest of joys — the dirt, the earth, the plants, the pasta — these are daily gifts from God reminding me: you are loved.

Every time I dig my hands into the earth or wrap my arms around my babies. Every time I cut into a juicy pear or pick a wildflower. Every time I kiss my forever Valentine or share a meal with loved ones — I am reminded, once again, that these are gifts of love from Him who is Love Himself. Him from whom all good things come.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” – James 1:17

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Little Women

“I’m a GIRL!” my 2-year-old declared matter-of-factly with bouncing blonde curls as if someone had told her otherwise.

(This hilarious toddler vacillates back and forth between sweet-as-honey and stern football coach, and this moment was the latter.)

“O.K.!” I affirmed. “You certainly are.”

“And Kate’s a girl and you’re a girl,” — she paused — “And she’s a BABY,” she said pointing to the 10-month-old.

“She is a baby,” I affirmed, “and a girl.”

She nodded emphatically, satisfied that she had made her point, and returned to putting the “hat” (a whale-shaped bathtub toy) on her “baby” (a plastic walrus). Then she put the hat on me — which obviously means it’s my birthday and a song ensued loudly:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR MOMMMMYYYYYY…

And around we went: whale-shaped hat on me, on her, on Kate — Happy Birthday! to everyone.

“Want me to make you cake?” she asked sweetly (when desserts are involved, even imaginary, she always uses her sweet-as-honey tone.)

“Yes!” I agreed. So she mixed up a little something here and then a little something there and voila! Cake time.

Kate is great at eating imaginary cake. She scoops up the air as if it were a bowl of pure chocolate icing, pops the pretend cake in her mouth, closes her eyes, and lets out a complimentary: Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Mmmmmmm. She goes back for more.

The boys — Daddy and the 5-year-old — were at a basketball game, so it was just these girls and I — making cake, fitting hats for walruses, and looking for shapes in the evening clouds. I spotted one: a heart! So apropos for Valentine’s Day “week.” I laid back against the concrete patio for a better view, when suddenly it was blocked by three curious, grinning faces in front of mine, eager to tackle the fallen Mommy.

“One, two,” I said, counting heads.

“Three!” Kate finished with a smile.

These little moments with these Little Women — they prepare all of us for the big moments to come. The big responsibilities and decisions that go into raising girls. Sometimes I find myself thinking too much about the years ahead — when really, there’s more than enough important stuff to think about right now: like cake and birthday hats and being little.

And anyway, I am still a “Little” Woman in many ways myself. Growing as they grow. Learning as they learn. Becoming who, God-willing, I am supposed to be — just as they are.

“Don’t try to make me grow up before my time.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

 

 

The not-so-quiet quiet life

The bacon sizzled in the cast iron skillet as I chopped tomatoes and green bell pepper and sharp cheddar cheese.

I called my work-at-home husband: “Coming home soon? Lunch is almost ready!” Happily, he said he’d be down in a minute.

“Kaaaate, eat your hummus,” I encouraged my distracted 4-year-old, giggling with her 2-year-old little sister at the table. The oven timer beeped: homemade croutons were finished. I grabbed an oven mitt and ran over to pull them out as Kasey Chambers’ song, “The Quiet Life” came singing over Spotify:

We could be the talk of the town tonight
Carry home your shoes in the morning light
Or we could just stay here a while
Wrapped up in the quiet life

I knew my husband was “home” from his home office when I heard the girls squeal. Nothing like two little girls to make you feel welcome. “DADDY!” they yelled in unison and threw their hands up in the air. Wide grins took over their faces.

We could sail away to Tobago
Fly across the Gulf of Mexico
Or we could just stay here a while
Wrapped up in the quiet life

“Oooh,” he complimented as he walked over to the chopped salad waiting for him. Mixed greens piled with fresh tomatoes, green beans, bacon, peppers and cheese. “Dinner is slow-cooking in the oven,” I smiled as we sat down to chat over lunch.

We could get a job on the movie screen
Smile on the cover of a magazine
Or we could just be man and wife
Happy in the quiet life

We talked about work and weekend plans, garden to-dos and yard projects. And as I glanced over at the fridge, a photo caught my eye. It was a picture of our first date — a young couple in a posh restaurant that look mostly the same as we do now, but whose lives were just unfolding. Whose dreams were just being shaped. Whose priorities were naturally different.

He kissed me goodbye and off he went as the girls ran off to the playroom. I piled dishes in the sink and squeezed a lime in my water. And I stopped to look at the photo once more.

Who knew that our greatest accomplishments would not be found outside the home, but within it?

That such purpose would be found in this crazy, loving, not-so-quiet quiet life.

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It’s catching up to me

“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” —  John De Paola

In many ways, life is anything but slow.

From the moment I wake to the moment I slide under the beige duvet of my bed, I am going. We have no need for a rooster or an alarm clock around here. At daybreak, there is a baby longing to be nursed, children asking to be fed, a 5-year-old peering through our door: “Goooodmorrrrning!”

If I am lucky, I wake before the roosters (and am trying to get better at that!) — but still more often than not, their sweet crows are my calling to greet the day.

I amble into the kitchen — a nursed and changed baby against me. The cat and dog see me — meow, woof, woof woof, feed me, let me out, water my bowl! Matt gets the girls ready and takes the panting lab out — and then the assembly line begins: smearing peanut butter on toast, slicing fruit, filling drinks, herding little ones to sit and wait patiently.

With Pavlovian anticipation, the sound of dripping coffee gives rest to my soul — and then, more blueberries for you. Yes, I’ll refill your drink. Here, let me wipe your mouth.

And so it goes: a daily dance. A beautiful, sometimes exhausting, choreography. To the left, and twirrrl — sometimes one step forward, two steps back.

But these partners of mine, these glorious dance partners. The oldest of which is quite handsome and a partner I will cherish for life. The best decision I ever made (or perhaps it is better stated: the best gift I ever received) — my husband — who, as the strongest dance partners do, always keeps me balanced and on my toes.

And the other ones, the little ones, they bring this stage alive with never a dull moment. No matter the bumps or quarrels — the show must go on, it does go on.

But if welcoming this fourth little one into our lives has taught me anything, it’s this: there is nothing more I really need to do than this right here. This dance. Than the daily loving and feeding of mouths and souls. The hugs and kisses and playing and listening.

A part of me sometimes thinks that I’m missing out — or that they’re missing out — from being home so much. Should I put them in more activities? Should I be personally involved in more things? I am the organizing and social type, I love to plan and invite and join committees. Should we be doing more?

I am reminded of the answer on those weeks when I dip my toes in the rapids and plan a few too many things — those weeks are always associated with more tantrums (from me and the kids alike.) I have learned quickly that there is such peace in slowing down — being home — trading the rapids for calmer waters. Those things that I have chased by go, go, going too often lead to stress, whereas, as De Paola said above, when I slow down, sink my feet in, settle in the moment, all those things: joy, peace, a sense of accomplishment, purpose, connection, whatever: they catch up to me.

They are right here.

But even being at home, I have to set my pace. There is so much to do to keep us moving forward, faster, around the homestead. But I do like these words by writer Shawn Ledington Fink:

You can happily and fondly ignore all those crafts, art projects and DIY projects on Pinterest, Twitter and Facebook and they will be just fine.

You can decline buying the best of everything from those blogs you read.

It’s perfectly fine to stick to the basics, the simple — the s.l.o.w. — even just for today or this week or this month.

And, it’s also wonderfully OK to do those things and do them imperfectly.

Life will resume as normal when you wake up tomorrow without the latest gadgets. Things. Stuff. Projects. Busyness.

None of it is the solution to what you are seeking.

It’s enough to just sit and admire the trees and walk under the clouds, isn’t it?

It’s enough to wake up and notice how the sun sits in the sky?

It’s enough to lay in bed late and read a book and maybe not even read the words but imagine the story and even predict our own unique endings.

It’s enough to just talk and laugh and be silly together.

It’s enough to roam and explore and wonder and search and dream and wish and hope.

Being together is enough.

And they will be fine. Just fine.

I think, maybe even more than fine. These slower days (though still full-on) provide a sense of balance. Quality over quantity.  I am currently reading the book French Kids Eat Everything and found a parallel to this idea in how the author’s French mother-in-law approaches dessert:

“A little portion is all I need. Otherwise, I won’t enjoy it as much.”

And it’s true. Doing less, in many ways, can be all the more fulfilling.

This has been the biggest adjustment for me from single, working woman to a stay-at-home mother of four: slowing down. Tapping the breaks. Realizing that I can’t do everything and that’s OK.

Because instead of giving a part of me to a great many things, I can strive to give the best of me to the greatest of things.

The gift of siblings

My two-year-old scooted close to me at the table.

Holding a pita chip freshly dipped in hummus in one hand, she pointed at her brother and sisters with the other.

“These are all my best friends!” she exclaimed proudly.

“We’re your best friends?” my 5-year-old son said, smiling.

“You’re all my babies,” she said in her cute 2-year-old voice.

The 5-year-old laughed. “We’re not all your babies,” he teased, “we’re all Mom’s babies!”

Kate giggled from her chair while taking a big bite of her grilled cheese.

“It’s true, you will always be my babies!” I commented. The 2-year-old gave me an approving nose-scrunch smile, and dropped her sippy cup on the floor with an, “Oops!”

My boy, still endeared by his little sister’s “best friend” comment went to pick it up for her.

“Here you go,” he said gently.

I pulled him in close, “That’s so nice,” I encouraged, “Thank you so much.”

“Thank you so much,” the 2-year-old effusively echoed, batting her eyelashes at her big brother. He reached in for a quick hug.

It was one of those moments where I take a mental snapshot, tucking it away to keep and treasure. These moments are fleeting of course. After all, they are 5 and 4 and 2 and 10 months old, these little ones. There are many inevitable squabbles and aggravations and bickers among them.

But in these sweet moments of peace and tenderness, I see a glimmer that they will continue to grow to become what I so hope for them: lifelong friends.

My Grandmother once wrote her children and grandchildren an email after a visit to see her on Mother’s Day. I still have it tucked away in my “saved” folder along with many emails from her.

After thanking us all for coming to visit, she said, “You see, it’s not that I interact that much, but having all of you puttering around and watching you enjoy each other and, at times, being silly. It makes my life worth living.”

I think about her words often when I watch my own little ones — puttering around, enjoying each other, being silly. The joy that I receive from their relationships with each other is something I hadn’t thought much about before having children and one that I delight in frequently. One that I work hard to continually nurture.

And I pray that these silly, unique, wonderful sibling relationships will be ones they’ll treasure forever — just as I treasure them.

“Like branches on a tree we grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

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