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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The in-between months

Growing up, I was never a fan of January.

It was always somewhat dreary and cold — a back-to-school, post-holiday let down — it was like a whole month that felt like the first day back from vacation. But not anymore.

These “in-between” months, the ones that nestle snug between the holiday season and first bloom of Spring have grown to be quite charming. They are calmer, quieter, glimmering with hope and New Year’s Resolutions. They are planning days. Dreaming days. Days to snuggle in from the cold without the busyness of months that surround them.

I have already read 3 books since Christmas. (Three!) That might be more than I’ve read in the past 3 years (well, not counting children’s books.) But my favorite so far is one that aligns with so many other little things I’ve been thinking about lately — and it is on a subject that this amateur gourmet and aspiring gardener loves: food!

In Defense of Food, actually. Have you read it?

It’s quite well-written and thought-provoking. And as our little family has been making changes to live more intentionally, eat real food and simplify, I have enjoyed the parallels between how we eat — and how we live.

Author Michael Pollan writes:

In order to eat well we need to invest more time, effort and resources in providing for our sustenance, to dust off a word, than most of us do today. A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and little more than an hour enjoying them. For most people for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life. Traditionally people have allocated a far greater proportion of their income to food — as they still do in several of the countries where people eat better than we do and as a consequence are healthier than we are. Here, then, is one way in which we would do well to go a little native: backward, or perhaps it is forward, to a time and place where the gathering and preparing and enjoying of food were closer to the center of a well-lived life.

What I find so simple – yet profound – about this statement is that one could replace the first few words about “in order to eat well,” with: “in order to have meaningful friendships,” or “in order to have a strong marriage,” or “in order to have a deep-rooted faith life” — one must invest more time.

Effort in preparation of them, time in enjoyment of them, energy to care and tend to them. It is easy to live in a “Fast Food” world in how we conduct all of our relationships, not just our relationship with food. But alas, the things that are fast, cheap and easy are usually not the most satisfying.

And are rarely all that nourishing.

These in-between months are a gift of the ordinary — the gift of time. Time to prepare and plan for and nourish all of the relationships that are so very essential for our own well-being.

We’re finishing the garden fence and will be building the raised beds in the coming weeks. February will be here before we know it and we have our eyes on potatoes, spinach and onions as our first attempt. What we plant now in well-prepared, fertile soil will be ready to harvest in Spring.

And so I savor these in-between days. A quieter calendar. Time to plan. Days where I can, as Pollan says, go “backward, or perhaps it is forward” to a time and place where the slow, thoughtful enjoyment of nourishing relationships were “closer to the center of a well-lived life.”

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Love comes from God

I held Kate in church today as we stood in the second row.

She met my gaze with squinting, smiling eyes and sang the hymn at the top of her lungs. Singing with joyful abandon, trying to hear her own voice over the choir, she naturally attracted some attention. The elderly woman in the pew over couldn’t erase the smile on her face as she kept glancing over at Kate — the older family behind us doted and grinned. When Kate insisted upon reading her storybook out loud to her baby doll during the readings, Matt walked with her to the back so our row could hear the pastor (though her story really was quite good!)

The congregation is starting to recognize us. With four children, 5 and under, we pile in holding hands as a little chain. Usually at least one of us steps out early to spend the second half in the back with a restless child.

Last week, a stranger came up to me and said: your husband is looking for you (he had parked the car and dropped us off). She knew exactly who belonged to me — and to whom I belong. This week another stranger I hadn’t met before commented on how well-behaved the kids were (I invited her to sit with us next time!) and said that she was sorry we had to stand last week.

And though there was a time when I would’ve felt a twinge of embarrassment or guilt that perhaps the glances and attention we attract is out of frustration or annoyance, I know better now.

There was a particular service a few months ago when I was almost in tears. The children were chatty and playing musical chairs across Matt and my laps. I tried to discreetly nurse the baby as the toddler emptied the diaper bag. My face felt hot and I felt as though 500 eyes were looking straight at us thinking: why are you here?

And then, someone answered my question.

We were gathering our things and getting the kids together when a man a few rows back made his way upstream through the crowd to greet us. He reached out his hand to introduce himself and then said:

“I just want you to know how much I enjoyed watching your family today. We all did. You couldn’t see them, but everyone in the rows around you were smiling the whole time. Thank you for being here today. Through your love, you help us to see God.”

My heart full of gratitude, I smiled and thanked him. Because of his loving comment, he did the same for me.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” 1 John 4:7

How family stories make us stronger

I’ve been pestering all the elders in the family (my parents and my husband’s) for old family pictures of their parents. I’m putting together a “generations” wall somewhere in the house — maybe by the dining room table — with photos of the couples who came before us.

I’ve seen many of the pictures before. The ones of my maternal and paternal grandfathers in Army uniforms. The one of my Grandmother looking like an old Hollywood movie star with red lips and curled hair. I love these pictures.

Many, though, I haven’t seen. Like the one of my Dad and his sister and their parents on a glass-bottom boat — or the wedding pictures of my young Nana and Papa. I’ve so enjoyed taking them in, like treasures in a new-found time capsule.

I asked a lot of questions of my grandparents when they were alive, but now I wish I had asked so many more. Family stories are such a part of us and I find them to be incredibly comforting. And in a fleeting world where things are constantly changing, these people truly are the roots that ground us.

I was thinking of this concept last night when I stumbled upon an article that introduced me to the research of Marshall Duke, a psychologist from Emory University. Over the last decade, Duke has explored the value of family history in the lives of children. The article continues:

[Duke] developed a list of twenty questions such as “Do you know where your parents met?” “Do you know which person in your family you most look like?” and “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?”

Duke found that the higher children scored on the family-history test, the higher they also scored on measures of self-esteem and self-control and the lower they scored on anxiety, among other measures. Duke even looked at children who experienced the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Even in this extreme case, knowledge of family history appeared to indicate how resilient the children were in the months that followed.

Duke explains that it’s not necessarily the facts of the family that give children these qualities but the fact that, if children can answer these questions, it usually means that they have strong connections with mothers and grandmothers and that significant amounts of time have been spent communicating at family dinners and on family vacations. All the stories of a family add up to what Duke calls an intergenerational self, which he associates with personal strength.

I so relate to this idea of an “intergenerational self” — just as I relate to the images of my young grandmothers with children at their feet. I see them cheering me one, encouraging me forward. I am strengthened by the strength I see in them.

I went to look at Duke’s full list of “Do You Know” questions and found the below commentary most resonating:

Each family will have different stories and different key moments and memories that are shared. It is not the content of what is known that is the critical factor, but the process by which these things came to be known.

This process is, in our opinion, the causational factor. In order to hear family stories, people need to sit down with one another and not be distracted. Some people have to talk and some have to listen. The stories need to be told over and over and the times of sitting together need to be multiple and occur over many years. The most convenient times traditionally have been family dinners, family trips in the car, vacations, birthday gatherings, etc. As Bruce Feiler notes, however, given the complexities of modern family life families can also sit and talk over a snack after school or before everyone goes off to work, or at any other time that they can focus on each other.

These gatherings — short or long — are at the heart of the process by which the intergenerational stories can be told and learned and through which children can grow stronger and healthier. No quick fix. No simply learning the answers to the questions. Just coming from a family in which the opportunities to learn family history and to create a family narrative are regular, multiple, predictable and inviolable.

As Bruce Feiler implores in his book, ” The Secrets of Happy Families”: Talk. A lot.

How precious is the gift of family.

On Down syndrome, Mother Teresa and Michelle Duggar: The Top 9 Posts from 2014

This blog has been such a fun hobby for me and has given me the opportunity to share my heart and connect with some wonderful people. I took a walk through memory lane and reflected on some of my posts from the past year while gathering together these 9 most popular.

I hope you enjoy — and thank you for reading!

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1. What Michelle Duggar says are the top 3 things every mom should have

Excerpt:

Some notes on parenting from the mouth of Michelle:

1. Whoever praises your child will have their heart. Michelle talked a lot about the importance of encouragement and praise, but was careful to differentiate between flattery and praise, saying: Praise acknowledges a character trait that a person has developed — whereas flattery is often an exaggeration of the truth. She believes the more we praise our children for the traits we want them to develop, the more they are eager to exhibit them.

Read more here.

What Michelle Duggar says are the top 3 things EVERY mom should have!

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2. Why are we so afraid of Down syndrome?

Excerpt:

There is a reason that the abortion rate for Down syndrome is soaring — while the vast number of parents who have a child with Down syndrome feel incredible gratitude. There is a bridge that’s broken between understanding human genetics and understanding the human spirit. There is a missing piece that so often causes misplaced fear.

Why are we so afraid of Down syndrome?

Because we’re often only told a small part of what is truly a big, beautiful love story.

Read more here.

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3. Dear mom with a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis

Excerpt:

Dear mom who just received a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis,

I know how you feel.

Except — unlike you, I was holding my new baby, Kate, in my arms when I found out. She was wrapped in a blanket, looking up at me as I cried, listening to the Neonatologist on staff tell me — only minutes after she was born — that she had Down syndrome. And what that meant.

Read more here.

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4. The Whole Story on the “R-Word”

Excerpt:

As a child of the 80’s, I heard the R-word a lot.

Used on playgrounds, in classrooms, in movies.  It was similar to other words that evolved from purely descriptive statements (about religion or sexual preference or otherwise) into casual put-downs.

I was never a user of these words, and in retrospect did have a special sensitivity to them — but I also never thought about the silent victims of these words. The people who may not even be a part of the conversation: the onlookers, the over-hearers, the victims that know these “slam” words are the same ones used to describe aspects of them.

And truthfully, I just hadn’t ever put much thought into it.

Then, last week, I did.

Read more.

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5. To parents with a Down syndrome diagnosis: keep dreaming big

Excerpt:

I remember the feeling that came over me in the delivery room when the doctor told us Kate had Down syndrome.

I felt an incredible grief.

And, in a way, I was grieving something — the death of an imaginary dream, a 9-month long fantasy, an idea of a child who I had created in my daydreams who did not have a “disability.”

But the more I grew to know Kate — and the facts about life with a child with Down syndrome — the more my grieving gave way to new life. It awakened in me a spirit of hope and love I had not experienced before, and now my dreams for Kate are bigger than ever.

Read more here.

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6. How Mothers Can Change the World: 7 Ways from Mother Teresa

 Excerpt:

What I find so cool about her message is that it doesn’t take great acts to change the world, rather, “small acts with great love.”

This little home, this little family, this little neighborhood: this is where I am called to serve, to love, to find my greatest joy. “What can you do to promote world peace?” says Mother Teresa: “Go home and love your family.”

I have a little book of her quotes upon my bookshelf that I pull down from time to time and I find that many apply so beautifully to the vocation of motherhood specifically. I thought it would be fun to pull some of those together.

Here are 7 ways Mother Teresa encourages mothers to change the world by loving in our own homes.

Read more here.

How Mothers Can Change the World: 7 Ways From Mother Teresa

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7. If you only know one thing about Down syndrome, know this

Excerpt:

Kate has Down syndrome — which is very different than Kate is Down syndrome.

It is just one aspect of her beautiful, intricate design — one thing that can cause some things to be a little extra hard for her, but other things will come a little extra easy for her. It is something that affects her, not something that defines her.

When we start defining people by just an aspect of who they are, we lose their humanity. All of us may not have Down syndrome — but all of us are uniquely made where some things are extra hard for us and other things are extra easy. We all have things that others may be confused or frightened by — and things that others may be inspired by and drawn to.

A Down syndrome diagnosis in itself is only a sentence of a novel. Only a stroke of paint in a beautiful painting — a chord in a love song. It is not the full picture.

Read more here.

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8. More kids after having a child with Down syndrome?

Excerpt:

I received an email from a reader yesterday that said:

“Hi there. I am a mother of a 6-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a one-year-old who has Down syndrome. I am curious: how did you decide to have more children after your daughter, Kate? We want another baby, but because of the statistics [of having another child with Down syndrome], we have fear.”

As a mother who has always wanted a big family, this question was heavy on my heart, too, when I first had Kate. And so, I thought I would answer her question here.

Read more here.

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9. Looking for “the one”? Don’t stop believing.

Excerpt:

I feel very unqualified to be blogging about relationship advice or marriage.

After all, I’ve only been married 6 years. I have an incredible husband who still amazes me daily with his love, selflessness and humility. And though I met him in a yuppie bar downtown 8 years ago next week, I still feel he was given to me from some serendipitous combination of luck, grace and heartfelt prayer.

I would like to think that some sort of clumsy, yet virtuous, actions on my part had something to do with the gift of our beautiful marriage — i.e., being the kind of girl he would like to marry, valuing the amazing qualities he possesses, choosing to… go to a bar on a Saturday night?

Read more here.

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