Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bittersweet Birthdays

Many birthdays ago, I overheard my Mom explaining my poutiness at my 8th birthday party to the parent of one of my guests, "Oh, Christi always gets gloomy at birthday parties." As though she were expecting such a thing, and still went through all of the efforts and headaches involved in planning an ice cream birthday party for her oldest daughter. Needless to say, I increased the pout factor even more when I heard that.  A photo album holds a picture of a line of girls, holding up their ice cream sundaes to the camera, all smiles except for one spoiled, sullen birthday girl.  And whether the observation was true (yep) or became a self fulfilled prophesy (unlikely), I still find myself getting a little poopy around birthdays.

My children are approaching their 4th birthday.  Just in time too, because E is sooo over being three.  And while she is desperate to be four, dissolving into dramatic tears each morning, evening, and every half-hour in between  when she asks, "Mom, are we four yet?", I am desperately trying to figure out how to stop time. If they are getting older, then I'm getting older.  And really, aren't my children's, extended family's, and friend's birthdays all about me anyway?  Okaaaay, I'm trying.  Really trying, to put aside my slightly narcissistic view and share in my children's excitement about kissing their toddler years goodbye.  It's ridiculous, I know.  I should be drawing giant X's on the calendar days, counting down the hours until the big day.  Birthdays are fun! And the getting older part isn't so bad.  My children can feed and dress themselves.  They help out with chores.  They buckle their own seat-belts.   They back the car out of the garage (I kid, I kid).  And if this last month of year three is a preview of the year to come, it's starting out to be just adorable.  I'm reminded of why the four year-old class was my favorite to work in during my high school and college years working in daycares.  But, while I appreciate all of their cuteness and independence, I've been in a true funk about this approaching birthday.  I do NOT want my children to be any older!  I didn't when they were two months old, I didn't when they were two years old, and I sure as heck don't now.   Life is good.  Let's not mess with it by changing and growing.

So, I do what I do when I'm in a funk.  I cry.  I pout.  I sit in front of a mirror and over-pluck my eyebrows.  And eventually, I pray.  (Oh, if only I could someday have the brains to reverse the order, my brows would be so lush)  And then, I read this...

And I cried again.  But this time, I cried because of the warmth washing over me as I read the clear response to my prayers.  I read it again tonight, and it touched me, but days ago when I read it as the answer  "A mother fills, only to empty, and empty, and empty, which fills her full again, and isn’t this giving away the way to have it all?"  just after quietly praying out my questions to God, it rocked me.

Birthdays are a time to celebrate this glorious gift of life.  Not a checklist of goodbyes or expectations to meet.  Not a right way to feel, but a right way to live.  When Elijah died this summer, I came face to face with the deepest grief I hope never to share as I tightly hugged his moms at the funeral.  Just imagining their pain made it hard for me to breathe at night.  As she greeted his former therapy team, Pam managed to sternly advise, "Always have big birthday parties for your children. Every year [all three of them] I tried to get out of it. I didn't want to go through the hassle of throwing a big party, and now I'm so happy that we did."  This year, I had a big party for my big almost-four year-olds.  Bigger than I'd planned because it was shared with their one year-old cousin.  Big party or small, I celebrate their growth as I did their birth, pouring all of my love into them, as my heart stretches bigger, filling back up with more love than it started with.

"A crop is made by all the seasons and the only way to have it all — is not at the same time… but letting one season bring its yield into the next."

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Milking We Will Go

My sister, Carrie has a cow.

Nope, it's not a nursery rhyme.  Just lovely Carrie, and the first line of her future herd.

Several times a week, the kiddos and I truck on over to their Auntie and Uncle's farm to take a turn helping milk.  This is a small sacrifice of time and a rather uneven trade in my favor for an overwhelming supply of delicious raw milk.

Yes, Mom...salmonella, I know.

The process of milking the cow involves leading her twice a day by halter from her grazing area in the pasture to her handmade milking stall beside the barn.  Once she's securely tied in her stall, contentedly munching on grain, we each take a side on the cow, and sitting on overturned buckets slowly, stream by stream, fill two gallons with rich, frothy warm milk.  The first month or so of doing this, I would spend the milking time by churning (get it?) up ideas of how to make this milking process more efficient.  I mean, come on, milking by hand?  In 2012?  Adding to my frustration of the slow process, my large milking hands would cramp up before I was even halfway done with my side, and I'd have to take frequent breaks shaking them in the air before continuing.  As the summer plugged on, however, I found myself enjoying milking time more and more. And as my hands grew stronger, I found myself re-introducing myself to everyone I could, showing off my super powerful handshake grip.  I even found myself enjoying milking in the early, early morning, being lulled back to sleep by the cadence of milk hitting the bucket underneath the cool moon.  And milking in the warm evening, my kiddos picking blackberries in the bush just behind us, running up and popping them in our mouths as we milked.  And A coming up beside me and ducking under my arm to stand between the cow and I, determined to get a stream of milk on his own doing.  Yes, I've quickly come to enjoy milking time.  It makes me wonder if I'll ever reach a point where I enjoy the slow process first, or if I will always have to be delayed in my appreciation of the longer road.

If we're lucky enough by the end of this milking process to have not had the milk pitcher kicked over, we move our gallon jugs safely out of the way, untie the cow and lead her back to pasture for the evening.  All of these transporting cow steps have gone along relatively smoothly, up until recently.  As the corn fields ripen, this lovely headstrong cow has other ideas in mind than pasturing on plain old boring grass.  I try to empathize; how would I feel being led by a field of hot cheesy pizza day after day without so much as a little taste?  I would feel like knocking over the person leading me and charging right into that pizza field, that's how!  Such has been the case recently with the cow.  Although generally good natured, one particular evening she saw me as a pesky nuisance.  A small interference standing between her and glutton paradise.  As I led this stubborn cow by her rope, she turned her head towards me suddenly, using it as a kind of head shovel, attempting to scoop and fling me out of her path.  As I sailed through the air (okay, possibly this is an exaggeration, but I was at least sort of on my tiptoes), I thought about what a beautiful day it was and what a shame that it was going to end in a head injury brought on by cow trampling.  Off in the way distance, my eyes met with a pair the same shade of blue as mine, except while mine had a frantic terrified gaze, his looked as if he were watching Superman himself battle the wild cow villain.  The gaze calmed me. I pulled myself together Superman style, and brought the cow’s head around towards me by pulling tightly on the halter, scolding her as if she were a child, and not a cow.  She stared at me vacantly, but by that time, having closely averted a head injury, my stare back at her was equally vacant.  That and I was suddenly starving for pizza. Tying her secure to a tree for the night, I left the cow to graze and headed back towards the barn.  My little guy ran from the blackberry bushes towards me, meeting me halfway, reaching his arms up to be held and I gladly obliged.

Motherhood.  This amazing experience that allows your weakest moments to become your strongest teachable moments.  One moment you're being flung around like a rag doll by a disgruntled cow, and the next feeling a little too proud for outsmarting a cow that first outsmarted you.  I'm no Superman, mind you.  I'm not even a Supermom.  I can't even sweep up a mousetrap without crying.  But, some of my best parenting moments may just be when my children watch me get back up again after stumbling.  Or after sailing through the air briefly.

Isaiah 40:28-31  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cash, Credit, or Eggs?

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but several years ago, I lived far, far away in the tropical paradise of Hawaii where I spent my nights falling asleep to the sounds of the ocean crashing noisily against a sandbar outside of my window, my weekends camped out under the stars on the beach, and my days working in a hospital trying to pay for this simple life in paradise.  My boss at the hospital felt it his managerial duty to educate me in all things Hawaiian culture starting from day one of employment: chopstick etiquette, spam musubi, the basics in Pidgin-dialect (including the appropriateness of addressing a doctor as 'How'z it?').  Our therapy department also provided homecare services around the island, allowing for short reprieves from the hospital to drive alongside the ocean and visit those confined to their homes.  On one of my first days of employment, my boss informed me that in Hawaiian and Filipino culture, it is customary to give a visitor a gift when they leave and it is considered disrespectful for the visitor to refuse that gift.  Months later, thanks to my cultural education, I found myself graciously accepting two warm, peeled hard-boiled eggs (one for each hand) from an elderly Tagalog speaking wife of a patient that I was seeing one afternoon.  Not that I would have wolfed down two warm slippery eggs to begin with (not without a tub of Miracle Whip to go with it anyway!), but the fact that I had just spent the previous hour in a fourth story apartment building with minimal ventilation cleaning dried phlegm from her husband's mouth and trying to teach him to safely choke down applesauce had cleared my appetite for the rest of the afternoon.  Smiling and nodding at each other, I graciously accepted the eggs nonetheless as I headed out  the door towards my sweltering hot Honda.

I don't know where I was going with that story except to say, I have become an elderly Filipino grandmother in my social etiquettes.

Eggs have become my welcome to my home gift.  My thank you gift.  My currency.  I feel it speaks to my adaptation to country life when I truly feel that two child hair cuts for ten eggs is a pretty even trade.  A neighbor inviting my children over to her swing-set so this mom could go for an evening run?  Six eggs for you, neighbor!  A friend took some wonderful family photos for us last week and I'll be paying her in eggs for the next 18 months.  Another friend is going through a family crisis and all I have to offer is prayer and a basket of eggs.

When I first envisioned raising chickens, my selfish and a teensy bit unrealistic heart immediately envisioned cutting down my caseload at work and prepaying my children's tuition through college with the extra cash brought in by our egg stand at the end of the driveway.  A dreamer can dream, can't she?  Our three hens are amazing little egg layers thanks to the garden they ate through this summer and we average between two to three eggs a day.  The perfect amount to feed our little family, our dog on occasion, and a few left to give away.  Although I enjoy using eggs as currency, my favorite thing to do is give eggs 'just because'.  Just because you have been a friend more years of my life than not and mean more to me than I ever get a chance to say. I know, I know, they're just eggs, but my craft skills are limited to staple gun creations and my cooking is not much better. In the past three years, I've received more 'just because' gifts than I can remember receiving in my life.  Gifts much more generous than eggs, I must confess.  And each time I'm given a just because gift, tears fill the corners of my eyes.  Just because?  Really?  I'm humbled by the generosity of my friends in faith.  As I move forward in my walk with Christ, my thoughts drift to Him, lingering on the greatest gift that I have ever, could ever receive. Grace.  A gift that at one time I almost refused.  I think of this gift, of what's to come, and I think of what, years ago, I once thought to be paradise.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bedtime Stories For My Children

As I drove along the road the other day, watching the rolling fields beside me morph into subdivisions and then into apartment housing complexes, I relaxed thinking of how my commute has changed since moving to the country.  Commutes in the suburbs involved tolls, traffic, and the occasional spotting of wildlife which yielded a call to action...
One day, working in the suburbs, I was driving between appointments when I spotted a large turtle in the road.  'Oh, poor turtle', I thought to myself as I swerved to miss him.  'I hope someone stops to move him.'  Just as suddenly, I hit the brakes, my jaw fixed in determination.  Christi. I thought to myself. Do you want to be the kind of person who waits for someone to save a turtle? Or do you want to be the kind of person who saves turtles!   I flung open the car door and ran back down the road to save the turtle.  Upon reaching him, I realized he was much, much larger than he'd appeared from my car.  I tentatively reached my hands out to pick him up by his shell and move him to safety.  The turtle looked at me, stuck his neck out as far as it could and proceeded to flip out: hissing and lurching angrily toward me. Excuse me!?

I tried a different approach.  "Shoo-shoo now" I urged him.  This turtle may have had some bad rescue experiences in its past, but clearly I was here at his aid.  I continued coaxing it, my hands kind of dangling and waving strangely in front of me, my heart willing them to pick up the turtle, and my mind not letting that happen.  These writhing hand movements seemed to irritate the angry turtle even more and he crawled further towards the center of the road, hissing at me all the while.  I stood on the side of the road helpless as cars drove by, drivers pointing and laughing.  Yes, laughing.  And pointing.  My vision of turtle martyr-dome quickly shifted into the reality of being road-side street performer.  But, I could not give up; The turtle would surely get hit, and given his size it would be the humans injured in the accident, not the turtle.  And I would be forced to be the kind of person who tries to save a turtle but then quits and gets back in their car.  Finally, down the road a garbage truck approached and slowed.  The truck pulled over and the driver got out.

"This turtle, he's going to get run over" I offered as the reason for the turtle being in the middle of the road and me standing beside him, doing absolutely nothing except waving my giant hands around.  Some circumstances don't really need explanation as the garbage truck driver just looked at me dumbfounded.

"Lady, this is a snapping turtle."  I nodded as if I of course already knew this.  "They'll bite your finger off.  If you get something in its mouth, it'll bite and won't release its jaw."  Snapping turtle.  Mental note.  The garbage man then proceeded to save the giant snapping turtle by kicking it out of the road with his huge garbage man boot.  He kicked it, flipping it onto its back, then onto its belly, then onto it's back again until it was finally off of the road and in the safety of the ditch.  Still hissing angrily, the turtle walked off into the grasses.

What else was there to say? "Right.  Thanks so much for stopping!" I called over my shoulder, hurrying embarrassed to my car and grateful that my head carried a little more influence than my heart in the movements of my hands.

These days,  I stick to the map on commutes and don't leave my vehicle except for scheduled stops. No unanticipated detours, I've learned my lesson...wait, is that a baby raccoon up there?

Monday, September 3, 2012


One lazy afternoon early in July, A, E, and I were huddled around a game board in a small circle on the living room floor, spinning a spinner and carefully counting out plastic cherries, plucking them from the tree and into the bucket and back again.  The quiet noise of a car engine was heard down the road.   Without a word, my son shot up from the floor, ran to the window and peered out, his little head turning as his eyes followed the car passing by our house.  When it was out of sight, he turned away from the window and rejoined the game, lying on his belly, hands propped under his chin.

"Who was it?" I asked, watching E spin and spin until the spinner landed on her favorite spot: a bird carrying away a cherry from the tree.

"I don't know." he replied.  And the game continued on in the quiet summer.

This weekend we said so long to summer.  A bittersweet goodbye because despite the enticement of all things fall: apple orchards, cool and crisp mornings, hay rides and birthdays, this summer has been a joyful awakening in the beauty in slow.

Slowing down, learning to wait, growing (or at least trying to) a garden, learning about adventures held in chicken raising, watching kittens entertain themselves with nothing more than a fallen stick on the ground.  It's been a summer of savoring days when the sunshine sticks around until nine at night and my children and I are still swimming in the pond well after dinnertime, and that feeling of urgency can be squelched for a season.  It's a conscious effort for me, though.  Many days I feel like I'm trying to be Phoebe, when I'm so very Monica...

I try and approach learning to slow as training for a race or studying for an exam (see? Monica.). I've found with small daily practices, taking time to read the Bible each morning, spending time in prayer, looking for God's purpose in my every day, peace becomes a little more ingrained each day.

Each season holds its own special treasures.  I look back on the season of raising my infants which has melted into this season with my small children, and I'm grateful for the quiet days when the most exciting thing that happens is a car driving by our house in the middle of the afternoon.