Introspective Insights

Introspective - adj: Examining sensory and perceptual experiences. Insight - n: The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation.

Sucker Punched

I’m not one to whine and complain, but there are times when a day attacks and wins. I’m not sure when it started, but by mid-morning, the headache began. By noon, I couldn’t keep my eyes open and by mid-afternoon, I was angrily yelling. In my self-inflicted time out, I asked myself the same question I always ask, why do I fall victim to this madness?

I crawl out of my hole, apologize to the kids. Start slow and quiet, helping with homework. Understanding fills the room. Hugs and silliness and laughter follow. Yet, I still face off to the fear, the sneaky lie that tells me that I push the kids away every moment and that someday they will give up on me. Yet, I know that even when I’m irrational, I always love them. And this broken, tarnished mom will always start again.

Little Helping Hands

As early as 18 months, I started letting the kids help me bake. Little hands measured, stirred, scooped, and spread. As much as I wanted them to help, it was also a source of irritation for me. I started each baking session with my extra patience on and sometimes it ran out before we finished. I’m ashamed to admit that I made each one of them cry in frustration at least once.

Sometimes I bake because I want to surprise Jerry and the kids with a treat. While I don’t feel obligated, at times my annoyance with the little things that go wrong result in a stinky attitude. The love language I often express towards others is acts of service. I also enjoy giving gifts, so the combination of the two often leads me to obsessively looking for that perfect item and then running home to cook and bake three items in two hours. Baking is usually therapeutic for me, but occasionally I have that stroke of bad luck where I cut myself, dump sugar between the stove and cabinet, and realize I have no measuring spoons clean. Then I am rushing and brushing away the very people I’m preparing for.

Tonight, I was determined to make apple pie and start the apple butter in the crock pot. Pie crust and I don’t get along, so I ended up grumbling and patching it together like a quilt. After peeling and chopping about 50 apples, I knew I was in over my head.

My sweet, four year old Abby walks up, “Mama, can I help scoop the apples into the crust?” My first instinct and response is, “No”. My time line already a mess, bedtime looming in the distance, dirty dishes literally spilling off the counter, to do list too full for the last three hours of the day. She insists, whining, “You NEVER let me help!” I pause and look into her pleading pools of blue. I hand her the spoon and she begins – two apple slices at a time (there are at least 60 slices in the bowl). I sigh and walk away as Kayla sits at the table and chats incessantly over the single apple she has been peeling for the last five minutes. I’m frustrated, but thankful that my girls are here in my space, doing what I am doing and choosing to be with me. I know it won’t always be this way. God, please give me the patience to pause and listen and communicate with a word, a sound, a look, a gesture, a hug, that I am happy they are there.

Six Years

To my Zachary on the occasion of his 6th birthday.

Six years ago, he was born – our second child, a son, Zachary John, which means “remembered by a gracious God”. We were in awe of this precious boy – crying softly, hand tightly clenching Jerry’s finger. He cooed and sighed in his sleep foreshadowing the loud, joyous, boyish sounds we now hear every day.


He preferred one of us snuggling him to sleep instead of a lovey, thumb, or pacifier. A whole year of nights he only wanted Jerry. He smiled at everyone, everywhere, always looking for a smile back. Every picture in his baby book is a grin. To my astonishment, he laughed at 10 days old, on Valentine’s Day. A precious love gift for this exhausted mama. I’m still in love with him today.


His first steps were terrifying to him, but that dimpled smirk and sigh of relief boosted his confidence. Now, he never stops running.


When I’m angry and tired, he gently comes to me and says, “I love you, mama.” My heart melts. He likes to listen to us read to him, but yesterday he read his first sentence.


This mama aches for that little baby boy, but loves this delightful, six year old boy in front of me. Time marches forward, ignoring my pain, but gifting me with the joy and discovery of my Zachary.

Love Personified

I keep listening to the Jars of Clay song Skin and Bones from the Inland album which speaks of love being people – both the object of love and the action of love.  Recently I read that love is a person and his name is Jesus.  This means that love is not a feeling or action – but a person. A person embodied in what love really is – all actions flowed from love of others, love of the Father, love always at the forefront, love as the focus, love personified.  And isn’t that what we all need to learn?  Love is who we should aspire to be – love is “skin and bones”. It’s not a theory or a concept, science or philosophy, but an embodiment of us acting out our highest calling.

I think of my days at home. I express love through doing things for others – “acts of service” as a famous author describes it.  Checking off the to do list all in the name of love.  But are these tasks received as acts of love?

Maybe it is not enough to show love in the lists, but to be present and hear and touch and hold and whisper into a little ear and play “This Little Piggy”.  For my children, being present – “quality time” is likely one of the few love languages they understand. Love towards my children  is my presence fully engaged and focused on them in the midst of the everyday tasks and experiences.  And as I come to this realization, I remember how much I have to learn.

Stretched Before Us


It is the end of August and we are holding desperately to
the last days of summer.  We sat by the
fire last night and in the twilight and flickering fire, I studied these three
faces of ours.  I couldn’t take my eyes
off Kayla.  Freckled face, long hair
spilling down her shoulders, eyes fixed on a book, legs curled up into the chair.  At eight years old I ponder that in a mere ten
years, she could be spreading her wings for the first time.
  I can’t bear the thought; I look up to the
stars, squinting to see the first ones appear.

I remember my own childhood – it seems – in snapshots…sledding
down a hill in preschool, a yarn and burlap sewing project in kindergarten,
making ice cream in second grade, relearning to hold a pencil in fourth grade, confirmation
class in eighth grade.  In between those
times were summer – somehow rolled together into hours of living outside,
riding my bike, listening to rain under the metal awning.  When I ponder it all, the years mesh together
into this rapid playing silent movie a lifetime ago.
  

Today friends dropped their kids off at college for the
first time – realizing that their years of preparing come down to this moment.
  Letting them go free – hours from home, in undiscovered
places.  I remember leaving home – I recall
the mixed emotions of new found freedom, homesickness, anxiety, and looking
forward to this new, strange life away from home.

Others said good-bye to twenty-something kids, driving cross
country to new homes.  Miles of space and
time opening into a chasm of separation.
 
It seems that as I look through my friends, I see the same road
stretched before me – one that my own children are walking down since they left
my womb – one where they slowly move away from me.  

I glance back at Kayla’s sweet face; she is smiling over her
book – adventures found in her imagination. 
I’m praying that I get this right – that they will remember these days
with me.  I hope that in our hunting for
green things in the spring, and discovering crickets in the summer, reading
books near silent snow falling in winter that I have taught them how to view
the world in wonder.  I’m overwhelmed by
this ache rising in me that somehow grows stronger each year – discomfort
realizing that I have such limited time. 
And how am I using that time?  

I was a terrible babysitter growing up, but despite that, I
had a few regulars.  When I think back to
those days, I remember the kids, but I don’t remember experiences or bonding
with them. I remember watching TV or cleaning the kitchen – I never took the
time to really get to know them.
  In my
early teen mind, I was just there to watch over them, but somehow not become
involved.  I’m sure that I was the sitter
they didn’t like.
 

I can’t help but thinking that there is a little bit of that
teen babysitter left in me…that I don’t cultivate memories, but perform tasks
instead.  This thought tugs at my heart
making me realize that every action I choose while the kids are still with me
is a chance to say yes or no to them.
  I
look at our days and I’m afraid to admit that in saying yes to chores and
checklists that I unwittingly am saying no to them.  

Another day goes by and I see the twisting turning path
leading them away from me and I know that every shred of me wants to do
something drastic, but drastic measures are not needed.  Small, everyday changes need to be embraced…more
yesses and less noes.
  Only one week
until school starts.  What kind of
memories can we create in one week?

Holding Time


I’ve written before about the fleeting moments of childhood rushing by me.  I was reminded of it
again today as I watched my preschooler almost turned big kid.
 

He’s all boy, my Zachary. 
Always smiling his dimpled grin – big blue eyes sparkling.  Today he was so hungry at the restaurant that
he ate his spaghetti and his two sister’s also – using two forks to shovel
everything in – grinning ear to ear, mouth stuffed.

He took his first shower today and laughed in delight at the
water running down on him – inching further and further under it.  Shaking, wiggling, shimmying around.  

I forget that even at five there is so much for him to
discover.
  Yesterday a neighbor let him
ride his battery powered car with real gear shifter, accelerator and brake.  He hit the accelerator for the first time,
bubbling cackle infectious.  

Preschool is almost over and big kid school looms on the
horizon.  I can’t imagine him not home
with me…can’t imagine him all spiffed up in his school uniform, backpack, and
lunchbox in tow and yet this reality is a few months away.  How can I hold onto this time?  I feel helpless under its ever flowing
current.
  

God puts us here to care for these small ones for such a
short time and yet the day-to-day can swallow us up if we allow it – I have
often and too easily allowed it.  Today I
aim for consistency in capturing the wonder, recording the moments, priceless
memories and gratitude for this gift of motherhood – even if fleeting.

Streams of Starbucksness


I am at Starbucks with my sweet three year old Abby.  She’s been really cranky today, but she is
quiet right now.  She is eating a pink
cake pop and people watching.  We are
making the mermaids on our cups talk. I’m the mommy and she’s the baby.  She looks out the window and says, “The cars
are going fast!”  Jazz pulsates and
slides out of the speakers.

Abby is hunched over her chair backwards watching the
manager interviewing someone.  I’m
admiring my gold purse and pondering the purple stainless and ceramic mug that
is on my wish list.  I sip the sweet,
rich foam off the top of my latte – nectar of the coffee warming my
insides.  I look into her adorable face –
hair a mess, smiling, dimple shown, big blue eyes laughing. 
 

Abby plays a game, “Can you sit in this position, mommy?”
Leaning forward, on the edge, on her knees, legs spread apart, sideways with
legs crossed.  She says, “It’s a little
table!  That one is a little table!  It’s a baby!”

She climbs on my lap. 
She says, “You have to write, mama. 
Why?”  I say, “I must!” She says, “You
so cute.”  I kiss her still pudgy,
toddler cheek. How I wish all of my moments with her were like this – coming off
lunch time with her tantrums and my yelling. 
Night and day.

The music slows and saddens, tranquil trumpet.  This moment fleeting, the clock signaling the
end.
  She bonks my head with hers
grabbing my pen and clicking it so I cannot write – snapping me back to
reality. 

This Spot


I’m sitting on our small couch, feet up on the ottoman, lights
out, Christmas tree on.  From this spot,
I can see the TV, the fireplace, outside through one of the small windows, the
whole living room – all of those things now quiet and dark.  From this spot I have rested, nursed three
babies, cried, slept, laughed, worked, and watched.
  Gazed out at children running around the
room, the seasons changing outside, and my life passing by faster than I can
imagine.

From this spot I have sat very still with three sleeping
babies in my arms (each at different times), looking down at their cherub
faces, curled up fists, and listening to their sweet sighs.  As I sat here in this spot, I looked outside
and observed every season change.
  Marveling
at bare trees showing fuzzy patches of green, bursting forth in swaying leaves,
turning gold, yellow, red and blowing away. 
Squinting hard to find the first snowflakes of winter silently floating
down.  Gazing down at my youngest child –
messy toddler hair sticking to her sweet cheeks, thumb in her mouth, hard sleep
weighing on my arm. 

In this spot, the moments of my life are performed before me
as I struggle to grasp them.  Snapshots
in my mind play out – if I am still enough to capture them.  Yet I am not usually still.  I spend less and less time here in this spot and
somehow, I am sure that I am missing it all. 
Someone please tell me it is not too late…not too late to sit here
quietly, smiling, holding on to these three.
 
For in this spot – this quiet, comfortable, ordinary spot, I have
experienced more life than I have ever before and wonder if I will ever
again. 

When It Is Dusk

I’m sneaking away from bedtime for a moment…two little girls
aren’t ready to quiet down yet.  And I’m
looking outside at this hot summer day ending…orange light reflecting on green
leaves and baking on orange bricks and turning burnt grass to gold and trying
to soak in the last of this day.  When it
is dusk and the day is ending and the night beginning is when I recall all the
things that are finite around me.
 
Littles only stay little for a time and they are growing in
front of me quickly and quietly yet steadily and my mind is changing and
shifting and realizing that maybe I don’t really know what I should be focusing
on. 
 
I look around at the living room strewn with forgotten toys
left after play…the kitchen with never-ending crumbs…outside with toys peeking
out of buckets.  My everywhere is full of
little lives and here is my own life that I’m not really sure I’m living – but I
must be if I hear them laughing and playing and jumping and hugging me…feeling
their little arms around me.
 
This life – the days run together into a quiet rhythm of
cooking and cleaning and picking up and folding and sweeping so that all of a
sudden it is dusk and I realize that a year has passed since I have been home
with them.  I wish I had something
profound to say – a way to hold onto this day as the light grows dim – but maybe
that is the trouble with me anyway.  I
always know what to say and when to say it and I’ve found these past months to
be strangely without words. 
 
I write best when full of angst and this year has been one
of the most profoundly peaceful and joyful periods of my life and like this sun
fading I’m holding onto it with dear life unsure of how to process it all to
say what it all means and to fold it deep into myself forever.
 
I can only be thankful for it all.  But isn’t thankfulness everything?  The first stars are appearing and I look up
to them anticipating the gentle night ahead.  

The Road Stretched Out

It’s officially spring here in Southeast Michigan and with spring comes the itch in me for a good road trip. There is something about packing into the car with good road food, coffee, books and an atlas and heading out with the road stretched out before us.

I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip. One of the first that I remember was driving from Michigan to Vermont to visit my aunt and uncle. My grandparents and great aunt drove my brother, cousin, and I out there the summer we were 13 years old. I remember so many great details about the drive there and back that the time there, while fun, was not as notable. It was as if the journey itself was the joy and life of the trip. It is that sense of adventure and unknown that makes an ordinary destination a celebration of the gift of this life and freedom we have to roam.

We take many road trips every month to visit family about 90-150 miles away and while that keeps me somewhat satisfied, it’s the big road trips that refresh my soul…remind me that new, simple things are what keep me going – keep the excitement in the journey.

The road trip is a metaphor for life for me right now…this journey I’m on doesn’t have a clear cut or flashy destination. But I’m learning here in the quiet rhythm of everyday that it’s the sights, sounds, and experiences are what matters – as long as I keep looking for them – longing for them and looking out the window, but also inside to those faces I love so much. Its Zach telling me his new Easter clothes are “fantastic”…Abby making up cheerleader type moves as she keeps begging me for yogurt…Kayla making up silly songs and dancing around the living room while Zach and Abby follow along. It’s little hands around my neck, hugs so tight I can scarcely breathe, it’s Zach saying “I love you, my highness”, Kayla asking for me to put my arm around her. When I really take in these sights and sounds, I’m overcome with the gravity of it all – this journey – never passing this way again – each moment coming faster and faster like I’m watching the sunset and trying to hold each ray in my hand.

This thankfulness and humbleness does not flow from me as often or as intensely as it should. But I truly am thankful for this road stretched out before me – wherever it may lead.

As far as that big road trip…well, it has not been planned yet. But I’ll take the two small ones over the next two weeks and savor the journey to places and people that I love. And that is more than enough for this roaming soul.