Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Post Started Dec. 14th . . . (An Attempt at Catching Up)

Every day from Dec. 1st up until the night before Christmas, the kids open a little box with a Christmas-themed activity inside. Because life is busy – particularly at this time of year – most days the little paper pulled out of its box says something very simple (“watch Charlie’s Brown’s Christmas”, “Check your stocking for a treat”, “Read a Christmas book”, “Eat Ho-ho . . . hos”). Sometimes the paper says something slightly bigger or more exciting (“Go choose a Christmas tree”, “Go ice-skating”). And sometimes it says something . . . that we just pretend is related to the holiday. Today’s paper read, “Go see the most Christmassy movie of all: Star Wars”.

Which is why I am sitting here at the computer at 8:35 pm in a completely quiet house (eating, for reasons I don’t fully understand, a small quiche that I found in the freezer section at Smiths and had to bake for 24 minutes at 400).

After sending off Mike and the older five, I took the younger ones to get a compensatory treat, let them watch Frosty the Snowman, and had them all in bed by 8:00. For years my parenting included a quiet house by 8:00, but as our kids have stretched into their mid to late teens, that has no longer been practical. (9:00 pm is a miracle). And somehow having older ones up later tends to mean little ones continue drifting about the house later as well. So this still little moment to write happenings of late feels rather indulgent.

We didn’t get our first real snowfall until several days into December. (And haven’t had another proper one since.) But, as usual, it felt like magic. I don’t love just . . . being cold or old frozen snow, but an actual snowfall is one of the loveliest things. And I don’t know why exactly, but it seems to make the kids all breathless and giddy with wonder and excitement. Everyone starts pulling everyone from bed and pushing them to look out the windows, babies are held up to peer out at the white world, and the kids who don’t have to head off sorrowfully to school insist on putting on snow clothes before even changing out of pajamas or eating breakfast. Hats and gloves and coats and boots are dug through and scattered everywhere. (And it simply must be stoically borne.) They want to come back in within five minutes of course. And suddenly wet boots and gloves and hats are strewn about amidst the unused, dry ones. And then they want back out again ten minutes later. . . . And right back in again. But “first snowfall” should be a holiday. One of my girls (Goldie? Penny?) said that the first snowfall is one of their favorite days of the year.

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As I mentioned, we haven’t had any more snow since, but this past Tuesday morning the entire world was frozen, washed-out white with thick fog, and completely frosted. Some of it was likely due to the poor air quality we are currently experiencing, but it was lovely all the same. Between the fog and the frost covered . . . everything, the overall scene looked a bit colorless: muted – like living in a world of near black and white, but mystical and magical and beautiful.

It wasn’t until I returned from running some errands (and walked past the Dr. Suess tree and laurel bush that encroach upon our front porch) that I noticed the distinct spiked detail of the frost. Hoar frost and pogonip were the terms I heard bandied about. And it was one of those moments when I was hit with deep wonder over nature knowing how – with such seemingly small effort -- to be so miraculous and . . . full of design. It’s there constantly of course, but I often fail to notice it in its less-rare manifestations.

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In other seasonal news: it was our year for a tall tree. Mike insists we get a live tree . . . wait, we always get a live tree, but I guess I mean . . . Mike insists we get a live-er tree every other year (one with roots still intact and ready to be planted). Because those are incredibly heavy to be carting in and out of our house and off to our cabin where we eventually plant them, the live-er tree years mean . . . a very small tree. The kids make the best of it and cover every inch of those little things in decorations, but when we get our less live tree (cut down) the following year, it always seems extra magnificent – particularly since we compensate so well by getting as tall of a tree as we can find. (This year we kept seeing pretty big trees and Mike kept saying, “Taller! It needs to be taller!”) Getting lights on those trees is not the most fun, but I love love their pine scent and grandeur. I love the always-cold night of driving two vehicles to pick out our tree (because we need the truck to bring it home but we can’t all fit in the truck) , and I love how much it reminds me of my own childhood Christmases picking out the tallest tree in the lot. My mom claims that they got to know her so well that when we’d pull up to the tree lot they’d recognize her at once and, leading her to the tallest tree say, “We have your tree right back here! We’ve been saving it for you!” When, eventually, we all left home, and my mom found a lovely fake tree, I felt a little sad imagining someone at the lot holding “just the tree” for us . . . and us never coming to get it. Dear tree. (I feel almost as sad for all the trees I see standing in the tree lots on December 23rd and 24th – knowing they likely won’t find a home for Christmas. Sniffle.)

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And of course Jesse and Abe both had their birthdays within the last week. It was a rather wild Saturday. Jesse turned 9, Daisy and Penny had their piano recital, and Abe had his second dance of high school. (The Winter Ball? The Winter Dance?) Because it was girls’ choice (and thus not Abe and his friends needing to arrange and plan things), I didn’t think I’d be taking pictures again, but one of the girls in Abe’s dance group is also in the Young Womens’ organization that I currently serve in at church, and she asked if I’d take them. While I generally avoid formal photo taking at all costs, I have actually enjoyed being able to interact with Abe’s friends from school. More and more I agree with my mom that teenagers are rather fun people. And I am sure I’d never have gotten to know such a big number of the kids Abe associates with without having taken pictures at his last two dances. And . . . also . . . how often do you have an excuse to spend a good chunk of time around your kids while they are on a date! Haha.

(Mike has been teasing Abe a bit about the swapping around of dates that occurs with his group of friends. If you look at the group pictures from his two dances there are a lot of familiar faces . . . just paired differently :). [Of course Abe has countered with, “Well . . . I seem to recall hearing of someone who married someone that his friend had taken out . . .” To which Mike can really only respond, “touche”.])


In any case, back to Saturday, along with everything else, we still needed a few things for Jesse, as well as a cake made, etc. But Daisy nicely made a grand “Gameboy” cake, and luckily Jesse wanted McDonald’s hamburgers for dinner, so, amidst the busyness of the day, we even managed a visit to Santa’s reindeer (which usually show up in the park across the street from us about this time).

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And Abe turned 17 the same morning that the frost I spoke about earlier came. I suppose 16 should have seemed more strange to me – after all, that is when he could officially drive himself places and officially go on dates, but it’s funny how certain numbers just sound more surprising to me than others. 17 just sounds . . . I don’t know . . . not truly old I suppose, but it’s an age and number that caught me off guard. I feel much more surprised to find myself the parent of a 17 year old than I was to be the parent of a 16 year old. (I always find myself trying out the feel of these numbers/ages to see which things seem the oddest to me. Particularly with Summer, Hans and Mette. I will think often to myself things like, “Someday I will have a 17, an 18 and a 19 year old!” and then I will wonder if that sounds as wild to me as, “Someday I will have a 13, a 14 and a 15 year old” or “Someday I will have a 19, a 20 and a 21 year old.”) Anyway, enough with ages. Here is Abe on his birthday – admiring his exciting (?), new graphing calculator.

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Three-year-old Summer can’t stop wrapping things. Between all the birthdays this month and the readying for Christmas, it is present season after all, and if I’ve gotten a bit snippy over all my Christmas wrapping getting torn and used up, she’s only — after a few protesting moments of moaning and crying — moved on to sheets of copy paper and blue painter’s tape. She snips and smooshes and folds the best she can — adding tape here and there for good measure — and then goes about gifting people her toys . . . or gifting them other people’s toys (she gave Abe Penny’s set of Schleich lions the other day). And every now and then I find miniature and carefully bundled gifts of . . . just paper and tape set under the tree.

She and Mette seem a little unclear on just what this Christmas business means. We keep talking about it: “Oh no, that’s for Christmas.”, “On Christmas your stocking will be filled with treats!” Etc. And we keep doing Christmassy things — decorating, sticking surprise boxes from Amazon in our bedroom closet, watching Christmas classics, etc. They keep asking if it’s Christmas now in a “Is what we are doing now Christmas? Is this Christmas?” sort of way. And they seem excited for whatever it currently is or might yet be, but I don’t think they quite comprehend the culminating glory of Christmas morning that is ahead for them. Which makes the prospect of it very exciting for me.

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Hans. How might I properly express my feelings for him? I’ve always loved him of course. You know how it is with your very own, helpless, fully dependent little creations. But lately he is just becoming more and more dear to me. That’s the best word to describe it. He is impossibly dear to me. Having come, as he did, not only to a home already teaming with children’s needs, but to a home already teaming with baby and toddler needs, he has spent much of his life being carted about as we’ve continued with the demands of life that existed here before he did. As he’s continued to grow, he has just quietly and unobtrusively moved his way in -- making allowance for all of us to exist just as we’ve needed. He goes softly about — learning and exploring — and generally demanding startlingly little from anyone. He seems content to make whatever he might of his existence — without insisting anyone be inconvenienced to do it for him. Dear, sweet soul. My feelings for him are just somehow very unfettered by any earthly heaviness. They are just tender and pure. My dear dear boy. So so dear to me.

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And to end this update? A final picture. Anders.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

The More Perfect Truth

Last Christmas Hansie wasn’t here.


There was just . . . ceaseless analyzing of symptoms, speculation over the how and when of his impending arrival, kicking and nudging from inside me, trouble breathing, lots of backaches, a hospital packing list, a constant grasping for some concrete idea of who this boy would be, and a belly that made unbearable the usually thoughtless task of picking small items up from the floor.

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There wasn’t even a single bit of anyone crawling madly to unplug the vacuum every time we used it; or of anyone sticking an index finger in the corner of their mouth and smiling shyly each time they were spoken to; or even of anyone bursting to wake, flipping over in their crib and desperately trying to pull themselves to a standing position every time their mom tried to sneak in to wake their brothers for school.


Although, there was a one-year-old and a two-year-old, so maybe there was a bit of that type of thing going on. But, there is nothing like an annual holiday or tradition to make me hyper-aware of all the change a year has brought.

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It was at Christmas time four years ago (2013) that I’d just discovered we were expecting Summer. At the time I was fairly confident she would be our last child. But there hasn’t been a Christmas since that I haven’t been either expecting a baby, holding a baby . . . or both.

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So at this time of year, all filled with sentiment and reminiscing as it naturally is anyway, I am extra contemplative about what has opened up to me and the major shifts in my existence that have occurred in this never-to-be-forgotten span of years. I have this quiet and shifting little visual of my spiritual self during this time. Sometimes she is reaching up and pleading for the burdens and blessings of these years. Other times they are being offered and she is choosing them. And occasionally they are being asked of her . . . and she is humbly and fearfully submitting – a meager attempt to mirror one of the most amazing women to exist on this earth: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”


I don’t know that life has ever been more overwhelming or more of a challenge than it has been for me these past years. I rely constantly on the words of a hymn that The Spirit whispered directly to my heart – personally; God reassuring me – during a major moment of fear on the night after I found I was expecting Hans.

Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
’Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell --
All is well! All is well!

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
’Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tale --
All is well! All is well!

I’ve acknowledged often, particularly when sharing cheery and bright pictures, that those pictures aren’t the whole truth. That they are only frozen moments of beauty amidst exhaustion and worries and messes and stress.

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But I’m not sure I really believe that. It’s an apology of course – a recognition that I haven’t shared all of the difficult and imperfect. There are no dirty dishes or projects hanging over us. There are no tantrums, no tears, no failures, losses of temper, or fears over the physical, spiritual and mental well-being of our children. And yet, . . . looking at those pictures I often sense the most distilled and complete truth of this entire business. The dross and insignificant, and the parts that don’t really matter all sifted out. Only the stripped down, beautiful, and most whole eternal truths left: the hope that through all of the unknowns and fears and impossible hards my Savior has already paved a way and that all any of this truly is . . . is unbelievable, gracious mercy; and kindness; and eventually-perfected love and joy.

Photo Nov 22, 3 51 21 AMIMG_0362IMG_0374IMG_0384IMG_0426-2IMG_0518IMG_0465IMG_0436-2IMG_0445-2IMG_0479IMG_0488IMG_0494Photo Nov 11, 3 45 57 PMIMG_0503Photo Nov 08, 6 51 35 AMPhoto Nov 28, 11 01 43 AM

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