Saturday, November 4, 2017

Carhartts, Poetry, and . . . Loving SO Much

Yesterday Mike took a little time off work. In the hours between picking up Anders from morning Kindergarten and the rest of the kids from regular old all-day school, we stuck socks and shoes on the four youngest, packed diapers and a bottle, and went off exploring a bit. It was gray and raining off and on. We drove and drove – talking about our future and things we might or might not want in it: some of it actual possibilities; some of it only dreams; some of it logistics and worries and what ifs. We spotted a rainbow then pulled over to tromp around a bit. The sun filtered through the clouds – sending down a big, triangle of celestial streaks in the distance. It was much colder than I’d realized. Mike bundled Hans in his arms. Anders, Summer and Mette cried that it was too cold, lost the use of their legs, and begged to be held. And, glad that he’d thought to bring it for me, I threw on Mike’s old Carhartt coat (like I used to always do when going out to feed the chickens and horses at our old Fruitland Drive house) and tried to take a few pictures (between lifting babies, holding little hands, and rescuing kids from falls into little mucky ditches).

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(It also happened to be “crazy hair day” for the elementary kids.)

Mike bought that old Carhartt coat back when he worked construction before we were married (we still always point out to the kids the columns he put in at our local grocery store).

I wrote a poem once about the way Mike says “construction”. I don’t remember much of it. Maybe it was sentimental. Or maybe simple and seemingly void. There was something about him speaking Spanish and it sounding like a song. And something about seeing that word – construction – on a truck door. I do remember this part:

“Carson’s Construction” it read.
And I thought of you
and saw that you
say it differently.

I invited him to come carve pumpkins once – early in our dating. It was raining as he drove to my house. He swerved to miss a raccoon. Ended up smashed against a tree and unsure of his name. Days later I went with him to retrieve his Carhartt from the remains of his beloved Bronco. It had been sitting on the passenger seat and was wedged between upholstery and crushed metal. He’d had batteries in the coat’s pocket and their acid burnt holes through it.

Maybe I should write a poem about that? And about wearing that same coat now? In a cold, grassy field with the eighth of our nine children in my arms. Hm. It doesn’t seem like an easy thing to make into a poem. But the feeling. It’s a sort of poetry.

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I have felt so stretched lately. Pulled thin. A hundred mountains a day to climb and – even with all my ability and focus – only ever able to crest the hill of one or two. I ponder so much over the meaning and purpose in us always having more than we can actually do . . . that does need done; about things that should be “poetry” and beauty – that truly ARE poetry and beauty – playing out in such muddled and messy ways. I sense some design in it. It’s there. It’s there. The beauty and purpose in the exhausting and ordinary and ceaseless demands. It’s hidden a bit. I often feel like I’m just about to catch a thought about it – a light in my mind as to the necessity of life being this way. Sometimes I do catch it. For a moment. And all the frustration, and undoneness, and feelings of failure vanish. I see it. And feel breathless. We’re all a bunch of Gideons . . . our armies reduced impossibly small –- fighting our own daily host of Midianites. Sometimes so caught up in the details of the battle that we hardly realize that we are, in fact, winning. Gloriously. Our tiny armies aided by someone who makes them far far more than enough.

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Mette has been so full of demands of late. So much crying. So much she wants now that her tiny two-year-old self can’t yet do. Such a big spirit and such tremendously large hopes and emotions trying to fit in such a tiny, little body that has to patiently grow into the capabilities she so much wants to be ready for. But yesterday, not long after a 40 minute bout of tears and tantruming  over her car seat not having been buckled in the exact manner she would have most preferred, Mette sat with me -- looking at these pictures from our afternoon adventure. She pointed happily to the both of us and said, “Mama and Mettee!” And then, speaking to herself as she looked at them closer she added with such utter, doubtless certainty: “She loves me. Sooo much.”

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And there it was again. All the hard replaced with one overarching moment of complete light and truth. Somehow, in that comment, was the whole entire meaning of everything.

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Halloween 2017

Halloween afternoon found me (and the youngest four) pulling into a parking spot in downtown Ogden. To the left of me a large construction sign blinked “Caution. Zombie Crossing.” while to the right and in front of me Christmas Village was being set up. (Dear little November – all sandwiched between jack-o-lanterns and cornstalks, and twinkly lights and music: unsure of which it belongs to and trying to fit in a holiday all its own as well.)

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After some errand running I rushed back home to get kids down for naps, rolls rising, and stew meat cooking. It was a push, I knew, hoping the rolls would rise by dinner time. (I tried to hurry it along by sticking them in a spot of sun on the floor in our front room – crossing my fingers that Hans wouldn’t discover them [and that no one else would accidentally step on them].) I typically make stew for Halloween. (Except I suppose it can really only be called soup -- as I never bother to thicken it – poor near-stew.) In any case, it didn’t occur to me that anyone cared one way or another about having it for dinner, but, the day before, when several kids asked eagerly if we’d be having stew for Halloween, I realized with a bit of surprise that it had become a little tradition to them, and getting it made suddenly seemed far more necessary than it had 24 hours earlier.

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That evening Abe went about lighting all our porch pumpkins while Mike lit our little mason-jar mummies, etc. in the house. (Halloween might be the only night of the year that it occurs to me to light candles around the house.) Then I tried to get pictures on the porch in near-dark conditions of kids eager to be getting candy, and walked with them around just our cul-de-sac. After that, we trick-or-treated our own house. (The kids all rushed Abe as he answered the door -- pushing at and mobbing him as they simultaneously went for candy and came into the house. Had any other trick-or-treaters behaved in that manner, it would have been terrifying. Like being taken over by a pack of very small furry animals.) 

Mike then took over with the kids. They went around the block – then deposited the tired ones back home while he took Penny and Jesse to go to more houses in our ward and to his parents’.

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(I was quite pleased with the little batty-monster I whipped out of my head and onto my pumpkin in two seconds flat. Almost as pleased as Jesse was with his pumpkin with dollar signs for eyes. And at least as pleased as Mette was with the pumpkin Abe carved. She had zero interest in taking part in the process [or even in watching it]  – only in shouting occasional demands: “Carve my pumpkin Abe!” “Abe, get my pumpkin ready!”.)

Goldie stayed home with me and passed out candy. Snickers and M&Ms to ordinary trick-or-treaters, the suckers she’d turned into ghosts and spiders to the tiny kids, and Ding-Dongs to closer friends and neighbors. Daisy went off to play games at a friends’ house and Abe did the same (with me cautioning him repeatedly to drive more slowly and carefully than he ever had – ever wary for little ghosts and super heroes and princesses and vampires). (As he walked up to his friend’s house, he put an old sheet with eye holes cut into it over his head. A family with young trick-or-treaters was leaving the doorstep. As they passed Abe, they grumbled loudly to each other about teenagers trick-or-treating – clearly intending for him to hear. Poor Abe. He felt terrible. And he was just trying to go to his friend’s house! But if he had been trick-or-treating . . . one poor teen, all alone, with nothing but a sheet for a costume . . . surely he’d have deserved a little sympathy and kindness! Haha.)

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(Mette saw her first treat as a complete victory. She’d done it! She’d said “trick-or-treat” and now had a Kit-Kat in her little hand. I think she would have been fine going home right after that if we hadn’t urged her to set her heights higher. . . .)

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I’m finding myself liking Halloween night more and more as the years go by. I love the simpleness (we don’t put a lot of effort into costumes), and I love the cozy feel of pumpkins and candles and eager little kids.

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Update (of sorts) On The Kids

Abe just finished reading Moby Dick (in all its whaling glory). He liked it quite a bit (though the amount of time it took him to finish was complicated by an inability to read more than 15 minutes at a stretch without falling asleep). My own favorite part in the book (which, as it happened, was the only part he read to me) was when one sailor described someone (perhaps Captain Ahab himself?) as a good man, but not a pious kind of good man, rather, a “swearing” kind of good man.

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I asked Abe the ending. Shall I tell you? I will (and rather abruptly): they all die. (Well, except for Ishmael [as in “Call me Ismael”]. After all, someone had to survive the ship and all the little whaling boats mashed to bits by Moby Dick, and everyone cast to sea; or how could the story be told? [Or, at least, how could it be told, as it is, from the point of Ishmael?]) And why, you’re certainly wondering (at least I was) did Captain Ahab set his heart so on hunting Moby Dick? Couldn’t he have just let him go? And his men all survive? But no. He couldn’t. “He had a fiery passion for Moby Dick. He was obsessed.” Abe tells me. (Why, he fashioned a special harpoon just for Moby Dick -- which he cooled in blood rather than water. [Yeek.]) I guess Moby bit off Ahab’s leg. That struck me as rather a difficult thing for a whale to do. If he did anything at all, wouldn’t he just . . . chomp the whole of you? But, Abe dismissed those ponderings: I simply didn’t understand the jaw of a sperm whale – particularly the bent [crooked?] sperm-whale jaw of Moby Dick.

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Anders’ third loose tooth seems to be a source of utter misery to the boy. When he remembers it, he wanders about the house crying and piteously wailing (to no one in particular), “Why do I have to be the only one with a loose tooth?” But life hasn’t been all unfairness and hardship. He recently spent part of the birthday money from his grandma on a humongous, and shockingly soft, plush fox. As bedtime drew near, upon the first night of Foxy’s arrival in our house, I said to Anders, “Anders, you should be excited to go to bed because you get to sleep with the softest, coziest, cushiest thing!”

Summer, overhearing, perked up. Her eyebrows raised in surprise and she exclaimed, “He gets to sleep with ME?”

When we all began laughing she asked, in some confusion and perhaps a little defensiveness, “Well who IS the softest, coziest, cushiest thing?”

If not her then, well, who indeed?

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Speaking of Summer: the dear little soul has been stuttering and stammering a fair amount as she speaks lately. It isn’t worrisome. Abe went through a similar stage at her age. But it does make me feel extra tender feelings for the little sprite. She says such big things, “I expect that . . .” and so forth. I sometimes think that with the host of babies that followed on her heels (two younger than her in the house before she was half way through her second year) she just grew up a bit on the quick end. Her little brain and mind seem to have matured faster than her tiny three-year-old body is ready to keep up with.

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Hansie boy has finally taken to real live official crawling, but his stage between dragging himself about on his belly and true crawling was perhaps the best mobile stage I have ever witnessed among any of our children. He would get up on his knees, tummy off the ground, . . . but then, rather than push up on his hands, he would use his forearms (somewhat folded in front of him and rolling one over the other as he went). It resulted in the greatest shuffle motion of his whole body as he crawled, and he could never do it at all without one or the other of us calling gleefully for everyone else to look.

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But Hans isn’t the only one whose movements are joyful to watch. Mette’s run. There is little better entertainment. It’s almost as if she’s running in place – bobbing bobbing up and down, up and down, and side to side; but then, somehow, forward motion is added in so that, though she is propelled forward, the greater portion of her energy still seems to be used in the vertical aspect rather than the horizontal. When we drop the neighbor kids off after school, she often insists on getting out at their house and running the two-house distance to our own home. Driving slowly behind her as she bobs up and down and forward along the sidewalk towards our house is a highlight of my day.

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As was the case for Abe, Daisy is compelled to get most of her 40-hour-learner’s-permit driving in . . . in our giant van. There is just not a lot of time to head off driving with just her (and the smaller car that she shares with Abe [Mike’s cousin Devin’s old Honda that he GIFTED them!]), but there is a good deal of time spent going places with loads of children in tow . . . and it seems a shame to waste those opportunities. She’s been handling it quite impressively though.

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Also, she’s gone and gotten herself a little job. Every Monday she spends several hours at her piano teacher’s house helping instruct in theory, etc. for these little group lessons her teacher offers.

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Penny wrote the dearest thing in the little folder of stuff she was to present to me at our recent parent-teacher-conference. (I have been looking and looking for it but not finding what became of it.) The teacher had asked her to write an answer to: “Why do you come to school?”. She wrote about learning and wanting to be an author and illustrator some day. But then she wrote about wanting to make other people feel special and important as well. She ended with, “I don’t just come to school to learn, I also come to love.” Is that not the dearest thing? Both her teacher and I were quite touched. And of course that is exactly what I hope. There is so much negative out there – and sending my little ones out into it each day is a bit overwhelming. But if they can see themselves as sources of light – sent to combat the dark, and share love and goodness – well, there’s little more that I could wish for.

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Speaking of parent-teacher-conference: I LOVE Jesse’s teacher. I almost started to cry at his conference. She’s from India. Oddly enough, we were neighbors with her years ago. Her son mowed our lawn. Her daughter babysat our first three kids. And I served in our church’s primary organization with her. But I don’t know that I appreciated or even recognized her skills as a teacher when we moved back to UT and discovered she taught 3rd grade at the elementary our kids attended and Abe and Goldie both had her. It was clear she had high expectations of the kids, and it was fun to see her occasionally, but I didn’t think much about it until Jesse got her and I wondered how he would do with her personality – how he’d respond to her strict nature. In general I have been unsure if public school is the best fit for the way Jesse loves to learn and have considered and still consider other options for my boy. But visiting with the two of them was the happiest thing. I can hardly explain how she does it. But she utterly demands his best and challenges him . . . all the while making him feel AMAZING. I just came away from there feeling nothing but overwhelming gratitude and love for her – I’m almost crying again with thankfulness. She LIKES him and pushes him and demands and encourages. Every day he tells me he loves school. I love her. I don’t know if you can love anyone more than when they are good to your own kids.

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Goldie made the NAL team at her school (National Academic League). They get to play against other schools – it’s all buzzers and questions and excitement. As with anything they involve themselves in, it takes them away from home far too long each day, but it only lasts until Thanksgiving, and she loves it. And also . . . she gets a shirt that spells out GeNiUS using symbols from the periodic table of the elements. So how could we not let her have that opportunity? We couldn’t. Surely we couldn’t. (For a minute I thought the symbol Ge was for geranium – the flower – rather than germanium the element. Clearly no NAL team for me.)

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