My lovely girls: be willing to be different

My lovely girls,

You live in a world where we are told it’s everything to be beautiful. You are beautiful — but that is just one thing of many things that makes you who you are.

And about being beautiful, anyway: beauty has little to do with what you see on the cover of glossy magazines in grocery stores. In fact, the most beautiful people I have ever known in my life have not been the most symmetrical or svelte or smooth-skinned — but rather, the most joyful, the most kind, the most interesting, the most comfortable in their own skin.

And that’s the funny thing about beauty anyway — some people will sacrifice all the things that make themselves most captivating (their joy, their individuality, their sense of self) to match a Photoshopped ideal. And what’s so ideal about that?

So don’t chase shallow beauty; instead chase love and hope and butterflies and the things that make you your best self, which is a self that is giving.

It has been said (a time or two or a thousand) that in giving we receive — and that is the truth. I have learned this as your mother. For it is in giving my time, my talent, my life to our family that I have received the most joy I have ever experienced. I chased all sorts of things in my youth (though I’m still youthful enough!), and truly, most of them were as worth catching as the cold. What was worth catching was your father, this family, and this opportunity to help make you better while you help make me better: and that’s what family is all about, after all.

As your mother, I am all about girl power in its truest sense — not in a “girls go to mars to become super stars” sense, but in the sense that us girls have one of the greatest roles in this world. I like the way another mother puts it, Mother Teresa:

“Let us pray that we women realize the reason of our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a mother or a wife in this life — but simply, a woman. As women, we’re made with a special capacity for love. For some of us, that love creates families. For some, that love creates companies and charities and communities. Wherever we are called and meant to be, real girl power is found in using the unique gifts you were given to be an instrument of peace in the world — in your world: your family, your friendships, your work.

You can do a great many things in this life: but know that the greatest thing you can be is simply who you were meant to be. And that’s more than enough. Knowing that is a great freedom because there is a world of opinions and pressures out there that can drown out that soft voice inside you that knows what’s best.

The neat thing is, realizing that you just have to be who you are meant to be is both a great relief and a great adventure. It involves some prayer and some thought, of course, but it also involves taking, as Robert Frost says, “the road not taken,” the one carved just for you.

My lovely girls: be kind, be brave, be bold and be willing to be different. For it is in our differences that we often find our greatness.

And mostly, know you are loved.

Love,

Mom

DSC_0652

Wonders of the World

I sat on the front porch last night in my new teak rocking chair watching an incredibly majestic sunset.

The sky looked like a piece of Elly MacKay’s artwork — as if the clouds were water-colored paper, back-lit in a giant light box. The colors — neon teal to a dull orange — wove in and out of clouds that bellowed like smoke. And in the very middle of the big cloud in front of me was a heart-shaped hole where the most comforting wave of deep pink flooded through. I rocked my new baby and watched the setting sun and later remarked on the Sipping Lemonade Facebook page:

“If I had to name my own 7 wonders of the world, a sleeping baby and a beautiful sunset would be two to of them.”

It made me think about how every week is full of small wonders — things that truly make me see the hand of God in the world. As Chesterton says, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Yes: that is the feeling in those moments, sheer gratitude. It’s bigger than happiness. It’s happiness doubled by wonder.

And even if I never see the The Great Pyramid of Giza or The Hanging Gardens of Babylon — my life will have still been complete having seen the rise and fall of my child’s breath on a summer afternoon.

photo(53)

To have watched a storm roll in with a cup of hot coffee.

tumblr_n87cgvYNYH1tdpnt6o1_1280

To have been visited by a friendly amphibian while splashing in a water table.

tumblr_n7i73dIFQo1tdpnt6o2_1280

For surely, it is in these little things that God shows his presence to us every day.

We spend so much of life looking for miracles:

When really, aren’t they all around us?

image

What is truly made by a home-maker

One of my favorite places in the world growing up was my Grandma’s house — the home of my mom’s mother — in a sleepy little town in East Texas.

When I was in college, she switched houses with my aunt and uncle — going from her big red brick house at the top of the hill to their log cabin by the pond at the bottom of the hill. But no matter, the cabin soon became “Grandma’s house,” too, as her stuff and her scent and her presence were now all in it.

It wasn’t a fancy house by some people’s standards — but, to me, it was full of great treasure. Its richness lay in the stories that every piece of furniture, every framed picture, every family heirloom held. My Grandfathers’s old upright bass still stands in the corner of the cabin (which is still in our family) — even though Grandma passed away the summer I was pregnant with my first-born.

I think about her house sometimes while I sit in my new home, just built this Spring.  A home where I am planting fruit trees and raising babies and growing a family with the love of my life.

I am in no hurry to fill the rooms like a Pottery Barn catalog (though there are certainly a few things on the wanted-list!) Because I know first-hand that fancy, shiny things are not what gives a home that special “je ne sais quoi” as the French say: the word meaning, literally, the “I don’t know what.” That pleasant quality that is hard to describe. The feeling of home. The feeling that — no matter where I am or what I’m doing — covers me like a warm blanket of well-being.

As the daughter of an Air Force officer, we moved a lot growing up, but Grandma’s house: it was always the same. And so was she. With her games of Yahtzee and her Camel cigarettes and her homemade “milk chocolates” (made only with real cocoa and sugar). Every summer smelled the same on her front porch — like cut grass and hot dirt and an old dog panting at my feet.

I love beautiful things and decorating and finding that perfect little something to make a room feel happy, but I always bring with me the reminder of a house that — with old, worn couches and hand-me-down bedroom suites and decades-old decor — was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And with a big happy family often gathering there, I’m sure there were smudges on the windows and dust on the floor — but I don’t remember any of that. And my kids won’t remember any of that about this house either.

One of my other favorite places in the world growing up was my Nana’s home — the home of my Dad’s mother — though she and my Papa moved a few times over the course of my life.

As an Army chaplain’s wife, my Nana was a master entertainer. She had about a billion place settings of Blue Danube china and all the linens to match. She had every one of those kitchen gadgets sold on late-night TV and served fresh fruit topped with vanilla pudding and whipped cream out of stemmed glasses for dessert. And there was always dessert.

She was an impeccable decorator and a generous hostess and though she wasn’t big on crumbs in the livingroom, when it was just me and her, we’d sit on her couch — my feet propped on her lap — and eat brown sugar Pop Tarts while watching The King and I.

Nana was my favorite date in college — we’d meet for lunch or coffee many days of the week and she truly had the spiritual gift of hospitality, as in: she made everyone feel special. It came natural to her, the ease of her smile, the sparkle in her eyes. She could get away with anything and everyone loved her — mostly because, they sensed she loved them. And she did.

These two women — though different in many ways — were very much the same in the most important way: they knew how to make a house into a home. They were, in the truest sense of the word, home-makers. It’s a word that has acquired a sort of frumpy feel nowadays, but that’s exactly what they were: makers of a home. And even though they both also worked outside the home when their kids were a bit older, I know they would have agreed with C.S. Lewis when he said the work of a homemaker is “the most important.”

It is the work that creates the places that — even when we’re grown — live on as our “favorites in the world.” It is the work that makes us feel loved, special and safe. It is the work that makes not just homes, but the people who live and visit there — it makes us who we are.

We can travel a lot of places in this life, but few remain within us even after we leave them behind. The homes that built me — my grandparents’ and my parents’ contain a magic that lives on as I make my new favorite place in the world: the home where I raise my children.

And as I make “milk chocolates” and delight in beautiful stemware — as my prepare my mom’s herb chicken and her famous oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies — as I decorate with hand-me-downs and forget-me-nots — as I rock my babies and sing them the same lullabies that lulled me to sleep as a child —

I pass on a legacy of love.

For that is truly what is made by a home-maker. A love that serves, that sustains and that stays with us forever.

665590_557209694305629_800310353_o

My Grandma in the log cabin

What My Daughter Taught Me About Love, by Robert Fulghum

My mom clipped this article and has saved it in an old file for years. It’s from an old Parade magazine, circa 1989. The other day she found it and had my dad read it — he liked it so much, he passed it on to me.

I liked it so much, I’m passing it along to you:

What My Daughter Taught Me About Love

By Robert Fulghum

The cardboard box is marked “The Good Stuff”. The box contains those odds and ends of personal treasures that have survived many bouts of clean-it-out and throw-it-away that seize me from time to time. A thief looking into the box would not take anything. But if the house ever catches on fire, the box goes with me when I run.

One of the keepsakes in the box is a small paper bag. Lunch size. Though the top is sealed with duct tape, staples and several paper clips, there is a ragged rip in one side through which the contents may be seen.

This particular lunch sack has been in my care for maybe 14 years. But it really belongs to my daughter, Molly.  Soon after she came of school age, she became an enthusiastic participant in packing lunches for herself, her brothers and me. Each bag got a share of sandwiches, apples, milk money and sometimes a note or a treat. One morning, Molly handed me two bags. One regular lunch sack and the other one with the duct tape and staples and paper clips.

“Why two bags?”

“The other one is something else.”

“What’s in it?”

“Just some stuff— take it with you.” I stuffed both sacks into my briefcase, kissed the child and rushed off.

At midday, while hurriedly scarfing down my real lunch, I tore open Molly’s bag and shook out the contents. Two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses and 13 pennies.

I smiled. How charming. Rising to hustle off, I swept the desk clean into the wastebasket— leftover lunch, Molly’s junk and all. There wasn’t anything in there I needed.

That evening Molly came to stand beside me while I was reading the paper.

“Where’s my bag?”

“What bag?”

“You know the one I gave you this morning.”

“I left it at the office, why?”

“I forgot to put this note in it.” She handed over the note, “Besides, I want it back.”

“Why?”

“Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like. I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you, Daddy?” Tears puddled in her eyes.

“Oh, no. I just forgot to bring it home,” I lied, “Bring it tomorrow. Okay?”

As she hugged my neck with relief, I unfolded the note that had not gotten into the sack, “I love you, Daddy.”

Oh. And uh-oh.

I looked long at the face of my child.

Molly had given me her treasures. All that a 7-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And I had missed it. Not only missed it, but had thrown it away because “there wasn’t anything in there I needed.”

It wasn’t the first or the last time I felt my Daddy permit was about to run out.

It was a long trip back to the office. The pilgrimage of a penitent, I picked up the wastebasket and poured the contents on my desk. I was sorting it all out when the janitor came in to do his chores.

“Lose something?”

“Yes, my mind.”

“It’s probably in there, all right. What’s it look like, and I’ll help you find it.” I started not to tell him. But I couldn’t feel any more of a fool than I was already in fact, so I told him.

He didn’t laugh. “I got kids, too.” So the brotherhood of fools searched the trash and found the jewels, and he smiled at me and I smiled at him.

After washing the mustard off the dinosaur and spraying the whole thing with breath freshener to kill the smell of onions, I carefully smoothed out the wadded ball of brown paper into a semi-functional bag and put the treasures inside. I carried it home gingerly, like an injured kitten. The next evening, I returned it to Molly. No questions asked, no explanations offered.

After dinner I asked her to tell me about the stuff in the sack, and so she took it all out a piece at a time and placed the objects in a row on the dining room table. Everything had a story, a memory or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends. I managed to say, “I see” very wisely several times. And, as a matter of fact, I did see.

To my surprise, Molly gave the bag to me once again several days later. Same ratty bag. Same stuff inside. I felt forgiven. And trusted. And loved. And a little more comfortable wearing the title of Father. Over several months, the bag went with me from time to time. It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a given day.

In time Molly turned her attention to other things— found other treasures, lost interest in the game, grew up.

Me? I was left holding the bag. She gave it to me one morning and never asked for its return. And so I have it still.

The worn paper sack is there in the box. Left from a time when a child said, “Here— this is the best I’ve got— take it— it’s yours. Such as I have, give I to you.”

Screen Shot 2014-07-03 at 2.30.43 PM

Sugar-coating Down syndrome?

I recently shared the following thought on my Sipping Lemonade Facebook page (Are you on Facebook? Come visit! I post lots of other neat things I find there.) Anyway, I think it’s an important sentiment, so I wanted to share here as well.

I recently had a reader comment that she is “uncomfortable with the way all people who have [Down syndrome] are portrayed as sweet, affectionate, and capable” when she knows people who have Down syndrome who are not that way. The reader went on to comment that she’s tired of articles that “paint [individuals with Down syndrome] like pets that every family should get.” This is a common criticism that I see against articles or blogs that speak positively (or as some would say “over-positively”) about Down syndrome.

But to that criticism I say this:

What child, of any ability, is not challenging at times? What child brings with them the promise of an easy, stress-free life? Writing about the “blessing” of having a child with Down syndrome is by no means sugar-coating a situation where life is, at times, hard. Life *is* sometimes hard — with any child — but it is also incredibly rewarding and incredibly valuable. It is always worth it.

The world doesn’t need me to go on about the challenges of having a child with Down syndrome: there are enough people doing that. In fact, we talk about that so much that the majority of mothers who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis terminate their pregnancies.

Of course, people with Down syndrome — like anyone — can be affectionate and can be stand-offish and can be sweet and can be gruff and can have all sorts of abilities. (We all can!) But who needs that disclaimer when writing about the blessing of your own child?

In a world where many doctors deliver the news of Down syndrome as if it were the worst thing in the world, I can say that having Kate has been one of the best things to ever happen to me.

That is not a generalization or condescension or sugar-coating. That is, simply, the truth.

And it is a truth we need to hear more often.

DSC_0929Kate, 2011