Tag: Love

10Feb

Love Thursday

Anyone remember Love Thursdays? Apparently, the tradition is still alive and well at Chookooloonks, but it seems to have slipped out of vogue elsewhere which is a shame… especially when one finds a wee reminder of love tucked inside a walnut shell on a foggy Thursday morning.

This morning wasn’t the smoothest we’ve ever had. The trouble really started yesterday afternoon when I decided to knock tax filing out of the way during the girls’ naps. Three hours later, I was hopelessly lost inside the labyrinth of IRS form instructions with bad words on the brain and nary a plan for supper. As a result, bedtimes were far too late, and we all woke up unwillingly this morning with only half an hour until school.

I felt like my head had been run over by a nice mid-sized sedan, and patience escaped me within the first minute when one daughter greeted the offer of a tissue with wailing and gnashing of teeth. The other passively protested the not-hot-pinkness of her jeans by taking ten minutes to put on one sock. Backwards. Both girls were crying by the time their shoes were tied, and I was seriously contemplating the benefits of getting a sister wife or two.

At five minutes until school, two overtired girls slumped against their overtired mother in the kitchen, our goodbye hug sagging with defeat. I could still feel the sedan’s tread marks across my skull as yet another signature on my sign-in sheet of failures—my failure to get up early, to respond to this morning’s preschool dramas with grace, to “mop up hurt with embrace,” to finish the taxes yesterday, to ration my time skillfully, to keep up with the to-dos, to be fitter, happier, more productive, to mother effortlessly…

Because it’s not effortless for me, you see. Loving my girls is the fiercest instinct I’ve ever experienced, but mothering them takes intention, sacrifice, trial and error and error again. Looking at how other moms do it is the surest way to convince myself that I suck. That mom enrolls her children in a variety of extracurricular activities; that one takes her children on weekly field trips. That one had each of her children reading by three and a half; that other one relaxes on the academics but gives her children hours of undivided attention. That mom chronicles her children’s growing-up years with breathtaking photos; that one writes books to hers. Each new way of mothering flashes in neon letters until I am dizzy from the should of it and wondering how drastically I am screwing up my daughters.

My mother-in-law doesn’t see it the same way though. When I got to spend time with her a few weeks ago, she reminded me of what matters above all activities and achievements. It’s the one thing that comes to me by instinct rather than effort, and we have so much of it around here that it shows up inside our walnuts. We love each other. We really do, even when the girls have to entertain each other because I got caught up in the difference between Form 2555 and Form 2555-EZ and forgot about supper. Even on groggy, rushed mornings when we hug through tears of frustration. Even when I think longingly of sister wives and sleeping in.

Maybe it’s impossible not to screw up our children, and the real goal of parenting should be to keep their future therapy sessions to a minimum, or maybe parenting just comes less easily to some of us. Either way, a simple shape this morning reminded me of the truth my mother-in-law shared with me—that love doesn’t just cover a multitude of failures; it renders them obsolete.

Duet

7Feb

Wicked

“It seems funny and horrible to think of Diana’s being married,” sighed Anne, hugging her knees and looking through the gap in the Haunted Wood to the light that was shining in Diana’s room.
“I don’t see what’s horrible about it, when she’s doing so well,” said Mrs. Lynde emphatically. “Fred Wright has a fine farm and he is a model young man.”
“He certainly isn’t the wild, dashing, wicked, young man Diana once wanted to marry,” smiled Anne. “Fred is extremely good.”
“That’s just what he ought to be. Would you want Diana to marry a wicked man? Or marry one yourself?”
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want to marry anybody who was wicked, but I think I’d like it if he could be wicked and wouldn’t. Now, Fred is hopelessly good.”

(Anne of the Island)

~~~

When Dan and I started dating, the only thing I wanted to do more than get swept off into our personal Happily Ever After was to break up with him.

It was for his sake, you see. I was a psychological disasterpiece back then (as opposed to the mere social casualty I am now). Though I no longer lived at home and had faced the pain of my childhood pen-first, my mind was still at the mercy of old dogma. The God I knew required sacrifice, so I worked when I should have been sleeping, skipped breakfast, and stumbled through crowded days feeling as valuable to the world as a wad of overchewed gum. I judged people as I had been judged with a persistent, needling criticism that made me want to rip out my own brain. My heart was deeply pitted, oozing dark secrets like tar, strewn with scar tissue like emotional speed bumps. Romance was the last thing I needed. Romance was the last thing I deserved.

It found me anyway. It came as friendship but quickly unfurled into something more, something sweet and affirming and scary as hell. Dan’s kindness threatened my jagged defenses in a way that nothing had ever done before. I tottered on the verge of a thousand nervous breakdowns the first week and two thousand the second. Holding hands sent me into a panic. I was falling for him, yes… but I still wished he had stayed away. He was so good to me, so good, and I was convinced that my true self would be toxic for him.

I also looked down on him for it. I felt like his reservoir of experience was a puddle compared with my ocean; he had grown up happily whereas I had worshipped the divine bogeyman and dreamt with demons. I, the über-sheltered girl from an extremist conservative home, viewed him as naive. The more I loathed myself, the more I resented him for loving me, and I finally decided to come clean. Scaring him off early in the relationship would be a mercy, after all.

Only he wasn’t scared off. He wasn’t even scandalized. He didn’t crumble under the weight of my baggage, and he didn’t bat an eye when I brought up taboo topics. He was deep, strong, and anything but the “hopelessly good” featherweight I had pinned him as. Even neck-deep in the mess of myself, I wasn’t too much for him.

We will have been married eight years this summer, and when a friend asks about our story, I share the light-hearted details of how we met. However, our real love story started for me the moment I realized the kind, thoughtful, respectable man tenderly holding my hand could be wicked and wouldn’t.

Mommy loves Daddy

The wild and dashing part is just icing on the cake.

17Dec

Doo-Wop

I’ve been working on our Christmas newsletter and trying to squeeze each sentence into the narrow space between informative and bragging that entertains without either putting readers to sleep or making them feel bad about themselves. (I could always go the other direction and detail all our struggles of the past year, but while it might give others a luscious little burst of superiority, it’s not really what doting grandparents are hoping to read.) This politically correct newsletter-writing business is hard work, so I’m taking a break to brag about my family here. Cue the ‘60s doo-wop: “It’s my blog, and I’ll brag if I want to…”

A new way to read 2

Natalie picked up one of our Christmas books this afternoon and read a poem out of it. Considering she didn’t know a single phonics rule at the beginning of the summer and we haven’t worked on reading since school started, I’m amazed… and ridiculously proud of her. She’s already famous at school for her artistic talent, and she’s beautiful to boot. I love that girl.

Stickered Sophie

Sophie’s beautiful as well and superbly talented at color-coordinating her forehead with her clothes. She is one seriously hilarious kid, whether she’s singing a ballad about pretty, pretty poops or passionately kissing her socks because she’s so happy to be wearing them. Plus, she gives the world’s best hugs, and I’m the lucky recipient of many of them. I love that girl too.

Daniel

This is one of my favorite pictures of a man who is holding down a full-time job and working on his PhD and training for a marathon… who still finds the time to play hide-and-seek with the girls and to spend the last hours of each day with me. He also makes a mean cappuccino and can make me laugh even when I’m hungry (no small feat). It goes without saying, but I love him too.

Okay, gushing out of my system; back to work. ::cracks knuckles:: Thanks for letting me bypass the rules of propriety, if only just for one doo-wop-inspired blog post. “You would brag too if they happened to you…”

1Dec

Placeholder

A peddler approached me in the grocery store parking lot this morning while I was lugging my purchases to the car. I briefly noticed her baggy coat, wrapped around her like a dingy comforter, before I lowered my head and stepped up the pace.

Buon giorno, signora,” she said in a halting African accent.

I mumbled that I wasn’t interested as I shut my groceries in the trunk.

“Please, signora,” she persisted, holding out her wares.

“I’m not interested,” I reiterated, hurrying into the front seat before she had a chance to corner me.

As I was pulling the door shut, I caught one last sentence from her: “Thanks anyway, and have a good day.”

Something about her tone, the quiet defeat in it, made me look at her for the first time. She had turned away from me and was standing simply in the parking lot, a tier of mismatched wool hats the only buffer between her and the cold December drizzle. She was carrying an armful of cheap umbrellas and a package of men’s socks, and I wondered why I hadn’t even bothered to find out what she was selling before saying I wasn’t interested. It’s not that I needed a new umbrella, but it wouldn’t have hurt me to at least look at her earlier, to notice more than my own annoyance.

Now that I was noticing, her weary stance settled in my stomach like a rock. Her face was passive, but the way she stood like a forgotten monument, like a placeholder for someone else’s name, expressed more than words could have. I caught a glimpse of the woman beneath all the layers and of the dignity I had failed to acknowledge when she invaded my personal piece of parking lot. I felt like scum.

I wish-wish-wish it weren’t so instinctual for me to treat some people like I’m a superior being just because my husband’s income allows me to shop at the grocery store rather than peddle accessories outside.  That has everything to do with privilege and nothing to do with betterness; my head knows this well, but the concept is taking time to soak into my reflexes. (Case in point: this post from a year and a half ago.) Of all the things I wish I could change about myself, this automatic discrimination ranks high.

I drove away without speaking to the woman again. I didn’t want to raise her hopes that I wanted to buy an umbrella after all, and I felt I had already missed my chance to do the right thing—to make eye contact, smile, treat her with respect. However, I did whisper how sorry as I was as I pulled out of the parking lot where she stood motionless in the rain. I’m letting that image of her, a woman like me holding umbrellas nobody wanted while the sky dripped unchecked on her face, rest heavily in my mind in the hopes that I’ll get a do-over some day… and that when I do, my instincts will be trumped by kindness.

19Aug

I’ll Even Pay For Shipping

I’ve had a heavy couple of days. Friends of ours who have been together as long as Dan and I just ended their relationship, and a small but sharply-elbowed portion of their pain has crammed itself under my rib cage. They weren’t married, but they had made a home together, and they had both been thinking in forever terms. The break is jagged. We have offered the guest bedroom and listening ears, but these feel as useful as a cup of tea trying to put out a fire. What I really want to offer is a solution.

The man, A, told us candidly about his reasons for initiating the break-up. He loved E, loves her still, has wanted to give her the sparkly ring and the commitment and the curly-headed babies she’s longed for… but he can’t do that until she checks back into her own life. Dan and I see it too, how she’s been drifting along aimless and emotionless. She loathes her job, halfheartedly subscribes to a religion she doesn’t believe, no longer recognizes her desires by name, and has forgotten how to love. She’s floated so far away from her own heart that apathy is towing her down without the slightest opposition. E wouldn’t even acknowledge her partner in a life raft with his hand outstretched, and A couldn’t continue to build a life with a drowning woman. His decision was necessary and heartrending.

E still isn’t talking, and I wish I knew what was happening in her—if this pain that not even apathy can immunize against is sparking recognition in her again or if she is simply counting on the anesthesia to kick in soon. I want to shake her until her eyes refocus. I want to show her the warm, gentle man who made a brave decision in hopes that she will come back to him with motivation all her own. I want to remind her of the lively and radiant woman she is beneath the lethargy. I want her to take stock of her priorities and realize that a life with love and fulfillment is worth too much to float by listlessly. Wake up! I think from the pressure center under my rib cage. Wake up! Wake up!

I hope, however foolishly, that my brain waves make their way to hers and that the heaviness knotted inside my chest will somehow translate to a happy ending for my friends. I believe this is exactly the kind of situation in which miracles thrive. I just wish I could insure that their miracle comes with overnight shipping… and maybe an extra-loud alarm clock. The one in our guest room really isn’t up to the task.

5Jul

Seven

For our first, we dined on calamari in Venice.

For our second, we chased rainbows at Niagara Falls.

For our third, we sunk our feet into wet grass at a huge outdoor concert in… (wait for it)… Scranton.

For our fourth, we played Battleship and sampled tapas in Philadelphia.

For our fifth, we napped on the beach on Marco Island.

For our sixth, we snuck away to a spa not ten minutes from our own front door.

And for our seventh, I’ve been carting the girls around Edinburgh to shops and farms and playgrounds while he’s spent the day at a conference. The romantic nature of our schedule may not be blowing your minds right now, but I love that he brought the girls and I along with him on what could have been a simple business trip. I love that we haven’t spent a single anniversary in the same city. I love that takeout features largely in our celebration plans tonight, and I love him.

11Mar

Conscience on a Ledge

Over the last few weeks, throughout early morning writing sessions, late night socializing, and the swirl of multicolored tasks that make up the in-betweens, my heart has had trouble resting easy. For once, it’s not due to any great dissatisfaction with life. My days tip more toward busyness than boredom, but I’m grateful for the creative luxury of molding my own time, for the daily check-up with my priorities. I’m happy with our family life too and our current balance between stability and excitement. Strong friendships are in the works. Opportunities abound. We can see the light at the end of the credit card statement.

However, my thankfulness and energy buzz have slunk away in shame following each new mention of Haiti. Stories like this and this, not to mention the news reports, aid auctions, and countless pleas for money, forced tragedy into my periphery. Millions without shelter or food or medical supplies… airports blocked, adoptions halted, supplies looted… impulsive relief groups stealing children… the chaos of some trying to do the right thing and others trying just to stay alive compounded with whether I should donate €10 with a text message or buy a cookbook or bid on a painting or empty PayPal’s pockets into any number of beseeching hands… I felt like I was examining calamity through a thousand microscopes.

Around the same time, a friend asked me to read her boss’s new blog exploring social justice issues like human trafficking, burdensome charity, and water allotment. Our church took up a drive to help impoverished leprosy victims in India. Compassion International brought bloggers to Kenya to report on local children’s living conditions and the need for sponsors. I heard the refreshingly-controversial Derek Webb’s “Rich Young Ruler”… and my conscience went into dizzy overdrive.

What am I supposed to do with the whole world’s sorrow at my fingertips?

It’s an honest question. I believe we humans were made to care, deeply, about each other. I see it as part of our divine imprint, the throb of compassion when we see someone in pain, the ability and drive to meet each other’s unique needs. Discomfort over suffering in our world shouldn’t be shrugged off easily; it’s what makes us humane. However, the accessibility of information makes it especially difficult for me to find my place among seven billion wishful thinkers.

Should we stop paying off debt, forget about retirement savings, and send the money to charity? Should we move back to the States where we could make a lot more and live on a lot less? Should we do away with date nights, family vacations, and birthday presents?  How can we possibly choose between the desperate situations stippling the globe?

My heart chimes in from time to time to talk my conscience off the ledge. It tells me that unfocused guilt is neither healthy nor helpful. It looks me in the eyes and says that I cannot cure the world and that even if it were possible, my job is not to do so. My heart is convinced that the needs I should be attending to belong to the people already in my life—a refugee mom at church without baby blankets, a lonely landlord eating supper alone, neighbors with health problems, a friend who’s struggling in her marriage, another caught in a messy divorce, yet another mourning the death of her child. Every day, I have opportunities to ease specific burdens, to spread kindness face-to-face.

This strikes me as true religion, every bit as significant as disaster relief for third-world countries. It’s how I can make a positive, lasting difference even with limited resources and my own family to care for, and it feels fundamentally right. So why is my conscience still crouched halfway out a windowsill obsessing about the wide, wounded world that needs a cure?

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