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On Sweetness and Mother’s Day

Copyright © 2012 Erin Molloy Photography

It’s Mother’s Day morning and last night was one of those up and down kinds of sleeps. Chris and I are at the stage where we go to bed in the unknowing: will the boys sleep all night? Will they wake four times? Last night August had to pee, then he couldn’t go back to sleep. Then he still couldn’t go back to sleep. And, then he really couldn’t go back to sleep. Each trip to his room, I found myself accidentally kicking my leg against something: a laundry basket, a couch.

By 5:45 when Brooksie was crying, I was so fuzzy and frantic (my usually style of mid-night waking) that I literally ran into the doorframe in our room. I slammed my cheekbone loud enough that Chris jumped up and I moaned and fell back on the bed. (He went to check on Brooksie.)

So, sleeping in on Mother’s Day morning is not only called for, it’s fitting. I’m sort of a mess this morning, what with my bruised cheekbone and puffy eyes (I accidentally got cucumber juice in them while cooking Friday night and they don’t take kindly to cucumbers. Remind me to tell you a great story about that sometime.)

I’ve been reading in bed with coffee by my side, brought to me by Christopher in my favorite bright red mug. And my boys are in and out. Brooksie loves to waddle in and gaze flirtatious and mischievous at me. He raises his eyebrows, makes a serious face, then smiles and almost laughs and waddles away. So far during my reading time, he has come in to find a waded up receipt (which he played with for five minutes, carrying it back and forth from my room to the kitchen), a green pen (from which he couldn’t remove the cap, thankfully. He used it to “comb” Ezra the Super Cat, who will take any form of attention he can get, even when it involves a green pen in the hands of a one-year-old.). Now, Brooksie is back in the room bare-handed. He walks to the side table, shakes the lamp a few times while I remind him how that’s not a good idea. And then he’s pinching his pointer and thumb together and touching the table. He’s amazed with this development, that his fingers can gather and make a cone of sorts, that he can push them against the table and experience some sort of finger-sensation. He looks at me and smiles. Then he opens his hand and looks inside at his palm. He does some assessments. He’s happy with what he sees. His palm is good, he decides. Then he’s out of the room again. Off to something new.

Soon, Chris calls me to the kitchen where my favorite meals is being served: Eggs Benedict (and I promise my love for the creamy sauce has nothing to do with my love for the saint). Chris makes it for me every Mother’s Day, every birthday. Homemade hollandaise stirred perfectly over boiling water. Today, though, the lemon is moldy and there is nothing Chris can do to replace it. The sauce doesn’t congeal and it doesn’t help that August is crying on the couch. (His morning show on Netflix has been buffering for ages.)

So I enter the kitchen in my pjs, hair in a pile on my head, cheek beaten by the doorframe, eyes puffy from the Cucumber Incident. August is crying about the lack of “Busytown Mysteries” and my husband hands me a mimosa, because that’s just the sort of thing he does. And I think how all of it is perfect: the uncongealed hollandaise, the frustrated three-year-old, the baby astounded by his own hands.

We sit at the table to pray and just before we bow our heads, August whispers to Chris across the table: “Should we get Mama’s flowers?”

“Let’s pray first,” my husband says. And they do, thankful for me.

Then they slip away and return with orchids in a vase. August choose them, he says: yellow, my favorite color.

And on the card: A list of questions Chris asked the boys (of course only one of them could answer):

  1. What is you favorite part of Mama? A: Leaning on her belly.
  2. What is your favorite thing to do with Mommy? A: Play cars
  3. How do you show Mommy you love her? A: This answer is acted out: He squeezes the chair with his arms.
  4. What do you want to say to Mama? A: Thank you
  5. For what? A: She lets me get frozen yogurt even though I didn’t get it for my dessert

 
Also this morning, during the lazy coffee drinking in bed, I read words about sweetness in Lauren Winner’s book Still. They’re the words of a twelfth-century Cistercian named Baldwin of Forde. He says:

“Jesus is sweet…He is sweet in prayer, sweet in speech, sweet in reading, sweet in contemplation, sweet in compunction, and in the jubilation of the heart. He is sweet in the mouth, sweet in the heart, sweet in love; he is the love of sweetness and the sweetness of love…Those who have tasted of him grow hungry, and those who are hungry will be satisfied and the sated will cry out the memory of his abundant sweetness.”

And I think: Is there a better word for this moment, this time in my life while these babies learn to be themselves and my husband loves me better and better, while all at once I feel so young and still so rich with age? Sweetness.

Oh, Jesus, we cry at the memory of your abundant sweetness.

 

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Tomato Thankful

  • This bright red tomato just picked from our garden. On the last day of April??? (I can’t get over the weirdness of this. I know I may be from Texas, but Amarillo and Austin are 500 miles away from each other. That equals two very different climates. See here and here if you want to be nerdy about it. And after being a grown-up on the East coast, the idea of April being anything but ground-smushy and 60 degrees is still crazy to me. So, fresh tomatoes from the garden in the middle of “spring”? Strange and kind of wonderful.)
  • A new camera other than my lame-o phone camera! (Hence the photo above.) My kids will finally have their lives documented!
  • A friend-date last night with Andrea
  • A lovely weekend with my brother and sister-in-law…having them around, especially while Chris was out of town for the weekend, was such a gift. By Sunday lunch, Brooksie was crying when Jason left the table for the bathroom. (And calling “Ma-Ma-Ma-Ma” after him. Should I be offended?) Also, they left me a surprise thank you note and a bar of dark chocolate, which is the best way to ensure that I’ll always be their friend.
  • That my husband got to spend a whole weekend with his best guy friends from the east coast. That he loves his friends as much as he does and for how he inspires me to love mine well.
  • Brooksie’s newest word: “Eh-a,” which is baby speak for “Ezra the Super Cat.”
  • August’s sudden lovey feelings for our next-door neighbor. When she wasn’t around to play with us on Saturday and I suggested we walk to the park, he countered: “But, there aren’t any cute girls at the park!” Seriously? Where did he learn about cute girls?
  • The book, Psalms for Young Children that I discovered at the Eerdmans table at the Festival of Faith and Writing. The pictures are beautiful and the Psalms are true to form: there are sad ones and happy ones, and I’m amazed by how much August is connecting with the laments. More to come about my thoughts on why I believe we should be exposing our kids to both kinds of Psalms.
  • That my very sleepy almost-four-year-old fell asleep in my arms half dressed in his pajamas at 7:45 on Saturday night. I sang to him and smelled his clean hair and promised my heart that I wouldn’t forget what a gift it was to rock my big baby to sleep. Then I tried to stand up with his 36 pounds in my arms and lift him up to his lofted bed. It was hard work. Aren’t all beautiful things a little bit difficult?
  • The countdown to summertime has begun! Did you know I love summer for a gazillion reasons? After my two non-summers in San Francisco, I’m so thrilled to experience all the heat and ice cream and mosquito bites and sprinkler playing and sunscreen lathering and hamburger grilling with my boys.
  • Can I brag about my husband for a second? (You’re thinking: Isn’t that all you do on Thankful Tuesday?) After I came home from the Festival of Faith and Writing all rejuvenated and excited to write, he decided that I should have a whole day away every month, where I can go somewhere to write and meet friends for lunch and generally do whatever I want to do. That idea sounds kind of awesome, right? I’m thankful for a husband who is always thinking of ways to care for me.
  • For sundresses and iced coffees and sunsets and bubbles and baby pools
  • For popsicle makers and my dad’s birthday and my the chance to make up stories in the car on the way to all the places and watching August become himself and learning who that is. For the insight that he, “likes to watch soccer, not play it.” It’s good to learn about this person who is learning about himself.

It’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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Dishes and Litany and all that Beauty

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I live in the litany of the putting away. The clean dishes go onto shelves, forks and knives and cups and bowls. And the boys are waiting for their food, always waiting for food. I move from fridge to stove to sink to table, little circles.

Sometimes it’s morning. I listen to the news in my pajamas. Oatmeal for one child. Cereal for another. I’m slicing an apple. I’m pouring a cup of milk. I’m cleaning up a spill. I’m reminding Brooksie that “our food does not go on the floor, little babes.” I’m sipping coffee as I move around that room. I’m not frantic. But I know what needs to get done and my gut is begging me to feed it as well. Take bites. My mom always stood during breakfast too.

Sometimes it’s lunch and the quesadilla has two sides: one swiped with spinach puree for the baby who doesn’t notice green things yet. One plain for the boy who notices everything. “What vegetable would you like today?” I’m saying. He’d like to just once get away with no vegetable. Not in my kitchen! My head sings. And, it’s true: I own this room.

Later, during naptime, there are dishes to wash and floors to sweep and counters to wipe or, possibly, to be left till later. Because, seriously, I need to get on Twitter.

And dinner, and after dinner: All those dishes. All those pans. When we were first married and living on my tiny fellowship in grad school, freezing in Syracuse winter with our heat set to 62, Chris and I stood together in the kitchen washing pans and drying them, washing plates and drying them. That next apartment in Philly had a dishwasher. It was a slice of glory. We filled it with wonder in our eyes. How easily I can forget that.

The other day, I was putting away a glass bowl: the kind that has held salad and cookie dough, a baking soda volcano and playdough mix and I thought: This is it. This is my life.

Granted, sometimes I can have that thought in the kind of way that leads me to cry in my pillow and take a long bath and rewatch the saddest scene in Little Women (you guys know what I’m talking about). But, sometimes, I have that thought and the light shines in through the window and the bowl sparkles and I think: Thank you, bowl, for the volcano and the endless supply of salads. Thank you for the chocolate pudding August and I made in our second apartment in San Francisco and the way he couldn’t quite pronounce “choquate” then. Thank you for the endless circles I’ve scrubbed around you in every home Chris and I have shared for almost eight years. Thank you for the putting away and the getting out and the hope that I can always clean you.

And in those moments when the bowl is good and the litany is good, I realize that my life is this in its most simplest form: these circles I’m moving in around the kitchen and around my day–from breakfast to play time to errands to the kitchen to nap time and writing time and play time and the sun shining down on us outside and back to the kitchen and food and my husband being home and the boys wrestling in the living room and bathing the boys and clean shiny skin and combing their wet hair down and pajamas and teeth brushed and stories read and bodies tucked in and moments with my husband on the couch and our own books and bedtime. And we do it over and over and over. And this is the shocker: That circle is good.

Because this is what I’m realizing: every night as I lay my baby down in his crib and sing the words, “I know that moons rise and time flies and sweet little boys get older…” I see him changing. Some moments I can stop the circling long enough to notice: the way he’s smiling today, the joke he’s trying to play on me, the love he’s inheriting for books. And when I notice, that’s when I remember to pray.

It’s always about paying attention, I was thinking yesterday afternoon, stacking plates on top of one another, hoping not to wake the light-sleeping baby whose room shares a wall with the dishes. And that makes the circle more of a spiral, doesn’t it? We’re always circling, yes. But it turns out in all this doing and putting away and creating and consuming, we’ve been spiraling toward something all along.

And that spiral leads toward a glorious center, the place where God is making all the plain things beautiful and all the sad things untrue.

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Dirty House Thankful

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Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what He has done for me. (Psalm 66:14)

  • For the prayer book I’ve been following for the past few weeks (The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle) and its collection of scripture that keeps sticking in my head. Like Psalm 66:14. “I will tell you what he has done for me.” What a beautiful calling to live into…
  • A house littered with toys and cardboard boxes and missing its kitchen table (the weather was so nice we moved it outside): proof of a full, people-filled (anti-task) weekend. It’s nice to have a clean house when Monday arrives, but this weekend was filled with life in the best kind of way.
  • Our friends Kevin and Mindy who we’ve only known for three months but whom we love dearly and who left yesterday for Shanghai, where Mindy will set up the work of an amazing organization called Epic Arts. Epic uses the Arts to engage and offer healing and purpose to people with disabilities. For Mindy’s passion, Kevin’s commitment to her calling, and their willingness to move across the world in order to love well.
  • For a late bedtime Sunday night due to an evening stroll to the park for snow cones.
  • For my little boy who still was in his own imaginary world shooting rockets and slime out his arms instead of running after the ball in his soccer game.
  • For a husband who cheers “Yeah, buddy! Are you having fun?!” when August comes off the field, regardless of his interest in sports involving a ball.
  • For the beauty of a spring that feels like summer, even if summer is going to feel like Mars.
  • For neighbors with sprinklers and kids in their swimsuits
  • For whole days spent outside
  • For friends who come to August’s soccer game
  • For late-night coffee so I can get my blog posts written
  • For my yellow quilt Memaw made me when I got married. (I love a good quilt in the summertime.)
  • For a home that is becoming a place of guests and dinners and late night grown up conversations. For our life in Austin and its goodness and God’s sweetness.

Your turn. What are you thankful for? 

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Thankful Hopeful

  • Living in Texas where sunsets look like this from the back deck
  • Rocking side by side with Brooksie on the front porch swing at my parent’s house, my arm around him, my left hand holding his left, our right hands in his blankey
  • The sweet hope of hearing morning songbirds in March. Spring is coming!
  • The community around my parents that has been bringing food almost every day the past week, and that will keep on bringing food after I leave
  • My boys going to sleep last night when they were supposed to
  • A post-dinner Skype with my cute husband and his new haircut
  • This little veggie garden Chris planted for us on Sunday.

  • Talking to Chris at 11 last night while he was outside watering the brussel sprouts
  • August’s undying love for his year-older cousin, Blythe. We watched her at the end of her ballet class  yesterday and he couldn’t stop smiling all toothy and waving, “Hey Blythe!”
  • Time to read. I finished The Help and I’m halfway through Andrea Palpant Dilley’s Faith and Other Flat Tires. (I’ll be interviewing her around here soon. Yay!)
  • The joy of picking up my mom’s house (granted, it’s mostly my kids’ stuff) and doing dishes when she can’t. I’m thankful I could be here when I needed to be and that I have a job (you know, I’m a SAHM) that allows me the freedom to up and leave for home.
  • An early happy birthday celebration for Brooksie involving his cousins, kites, swings, popcorn and blue icing (in no particular order).
  • A healing mom and lots of hope…

Happy Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for? 

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{Practices of Parenting Carnival} In Which I Believe in Family Dance Parties

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My family had one living area in our three bedroom ranch house. It had a shiny brick bench in front of the fireplace. It was a perfect place for a stage and served as one pretty faithfully for this girl obsessed with her own performance skills. Most of my best moves were done while I happened to be alone in that living room, Amy Grant’s newest cassette on the tape deck and my back to the audience, arms rising at my sides, hands jazz-spread. I only turned around to sing the words at the last possible moment, “Angels Watching Over Me!” belted to the couch full of stuffed animals.

By that point, I was alone in my performances. I was the youngest and my brothers–three and five years my seniors–had long moved on to the more important things that 12-year-olds and 15-year-olds think about. But, long before my solo career, we performed as a trio, late (at least it felt late to me) Saturday nights, with Mickey Mouse Disco on the record player, my parents moving around us for what felt like the entire record: just us dancing and laughing and singing at the top of our lungs. It was 1984 or 1985 and I was five. My brothers were heroes even then, skinny goofballs with dances I’d never seen before (they’d learned them at school, no doubt). I was mesmerized by those boys, but we were still equals in our shared home, raised one at a time onto our father’s shoulders while my mother gasped in fear. And running from one side of that room to the other where a pile of pillows and blankets made for a perfect diving pit.

That’s what I think about when my boys are cozied into their jammies, the baby scooting along the coffee table in his little footies, the preschooler running from the door to the carpet for a knee slide (how does every boy instinctively know how to knee slide from the moment he turns three?).

See, I’m imperfect. And, even more shockingly, my husband is not quite perfection either. And there are days when all I’ve been is the worst version of myself: snappy and frustrated and envious of all the people in the world who have perfect children (it’s only on those days that I think perfect children exist somewhere). I have yelled when I didn’t want to. I’ve cried on the toilet. I’ve eaten an entire bar of dark chocolate during nap time. And I’ve found myself rolling my eyes at the pile of laundry as if it’s the laundry’s fault for existing.

It’s on those days that I absolutely must turn on the music after bellies are fed and teeth are brushed. I know, you’re not supposed to rile your kids up before bed. I know, it’s supposed to be time for quiet and gentle nudging toward sleep. But, sometimes, your husband gets home from work and you stuff pasta into everybody’s bellies and you find yourself sitting on your bed asking God to remind you that your life is the most beautiful of all: That your life is a miracle of grace. That these children came from your body…but before that, they were secrets in the heart of God. That your husband just showed up that night in Ithaca, New York. He just showed up at that random house you visited with your barely-friends before the acapella concert and he walked with you up the road, in the dark, both of you bundled under sweaters in November night. And in that reminder of grace: your body sitting on the bed is filled magically with light, as if you were finally your true self for the first time that day. The boys are whining in the bathroom, getting their teeth brushed by that man you loved first that night in 2002 and now you see him scrubbling their teeth, his eyes older, his jaw stronger and better than before and you know it’s time.

There’s only one thing to do:

Find the Katy Perry Pandora station. Hit play. That’s when August runs from across the room and dives and you dive with him. That’s when Brooksie rides on your husband’s shoulders and you gasp a little and then release your breath and out of your mouth comes all the lies you believed that day: about your worth, about what’s lacking.

And here, right here, this moment, when Usher is singing about the dance floor and the baby is squealing, you recognize the truth. And you spin in it holding your son and you both laugh because all is forgiven; all is new.

Linking up with one of my very favorites Sarah Bessey at Emerging Mummy for the “Practices of Parenting Carnival.” (And using her signature, “In Which…” style in her honor.) You should link up too!

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New Year Thankful

  • For these boys in red on Christmas night. Christmas with them is always Christmas at home.
  • Finally living in a place where people eat their black-eyed-peas for good luck on New Year’s. (It’s almost impossible to find black-eyed peas in Philadelphia or San Francisco and it just feels wrong to go without those little gray beans on New Year’s Day.)
  • That we go to a church where we get to celebrate Christmas for 12 days…way into the New Year. It’s such a relief to not have to be done when you go to bed Christmas night! (Isn’t Christmas bedtime sort of depressing?) So…maybe I’m still listening to Christmas music, okay?
  • For the dearest kind of friends in Philadelphia: cocktails with friends in the city, a late-night talk on Barb and Casey’s couch, laughing in Joe and Kate’s kitchen while their girls entertain our boys, bread and cheese with Em, Pete, Jeff and Christina, coffee with Nancy, playing with Brooksie on the Ballbachs’ kitchen floor, midnight tea with Cat. I’m so blessed to know such love (even if I didn’t know much sleep last week).
  • For a mother-in-law who loves my boys deeply and whose spiritual gift is cooking and feeding!
  • For the 9-month-old chunky legs crawling around my living room. For his joy of of newfound exploration (he discovered crawling Christmas Eve!). For how much he loves his daddy.
  • For the line of twine across our wall, Christmas cards clothes-pinned on. So many faces we love smiling at me while I wash the dishes.
  • A late night apology to my boy in the dark, leaning over his bed. I’m sorry for yelling. And his sweet kiss of forgiveness.
  • For the little boy with the new cool bike who would rather go inside and read the book about germs from the library, no matter how much I insist that riding a bike is awesome. For the reminder that my job is to love him well, not make him fit my expectations. Oh brother…this might be a long lesson to learn.
  • For the coziness of home and the joy of rest.
  • For the two days it takes to unpack and how okay I am with mess.
  • A long weekend with Chris at home and the reminder of how good he is with our boys. He has always been sweet with them but lately I’ve been amazed by the patience he’s developed this year, his ability to play long imaginative games and share secrets with August and Brooksie. Our baby squeals when his dad comes into the room. Sunday, when Chris asked August what the best part of his life is, do you know what that boy said? “Donuts with Dad,” their Saturday morning ritual. All little boys worship their dads. Few experience the sweet safety of playing with them. I’m so grateful that my boys know they are loved and received and embraced by their father.
  • My mom is coming to visit today! And it’s my parents’ anniversary.

It’s a New Year Thankful Tuesday! What are you thankful for?

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