My Mother’s Hands

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by my mother’s hands. She has lovely hands. Her nails, never polished, are well shaped without much effort or maintenance. She never wore lots of jewelry, just a white gold wedding band and a simple diamond engagement ring. Her hands were sun tanned from working in the yard year round. They were capable of so many things.

I remember sitting next to my Mom in church when I was a small child. After doodling on the bulletin and flipping through the hymnal, I would often lean against her and pick up her hands from where they rested in her lap. I would study her hands. I wanted hands like hers when I grew up, attractive, strong, and capable of miraculous things like untangling delicate necklace chains. Sometimes those church sermons went long and I would release my Mom’s hands and my head would rest in her lap instead. And then her hands would do their most amazing feat, they would gently comb through my hair. There is no calm in the world that compares to being a child, resting on your mother while she gently runs her fingers through your hair. There are times in my adult life when I am in need of comfort and my mind takes me back to that church pew and the soothing rhythm of my Mom’s fingers gliding through my hair.

My Mother’s hands are gardener’s hands. She developed a love of plants from her parents, and she had an amazing garden. I remember stacks of Organic Gardening magazines around our house that she would consult. She was in that garden for hours every day. It wasn’t something she taught us or showed us, and to be honest, it is not anything I aspire to learn. It was her therapy. A way that she worshipped God. It provided food for our family for the year, and she froze, jarred, jellied and jammed everything in that garden. My mother’s hands can also cook!

My Mother’s hands can sew. Her Dad taught her to sew. She made many of our clothes growing up. We spent much time in fabric stores, pouring over McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue pattern books. My Mom doing the fabric math on her scratch pad before sending us loose in the store to pick out materials for our new clothes. She did tailoring for our neighbor. She made curtains, throw pillows, and even reupholstered a sofa and chairs for our first homes.

My Mother has beautiful handwriting. She would be the first to tell you what she does wrong technically according to her penmanship teacher from elementary school, but I always admired her signature on every document I had to take to school. And when the time came to learn cursive, I had no care for that the quick brown fox jumping over the lazy dog or that I was holding the pencil too tight against my ring finger. I wanted my signature to look exactly like my mother’s.

My Mother’s hands turn pages. She’s a reader. She loves to study the Bible for herself. The soft worn pages, highlighted and noted, bear witness to time spent with God. She loves Scripture the way that her father did. This is one way that my hands are like my Mother’s. When people ask me why and how I learned to study for myself, I can say, “This is what I watched my mother do.”

My Mother’s hands can hold cards. They can throw dice. They can spin a wheel. My Mom loves to play games. We played a lot of cards and games when we were growing up. She plays cards with her grandkids now. They all associate Nana’s house with games. Her hands are a legacy to her family to take time for play.

My Mother’s hands serve. Maybe because they have done so many things over the years like comforting, cultivating, sewing, creating, cooking, writing, and playing. These are the hands of someone who has lived and loved so well, and when a heart is that full, it directs the hands toward others.

My hands will never do all the things my Mother’s hands have done and I don’t wish it any different. She is uniquely gifted by God for the life He called her to and I am in awe of that calling. I’m simply grateful I was raised by the remarkable hands of my remarkable mother.

Sunrise Season

{I wrote this piece a few months ago but I never shared it because I wanted to get better sunrise pictures to include with it. School has been suspended through April 24, and that could possibly extend to the end of the year, so it seems more important than ever to celebrate Sunrise Season.}

I’m becoming a bit of an outdoorsy girl in my older age. Don’t read into that too much. I can’t skin a buck or run a trout line, but I do like a long walk and I love a sunrise. A morning person by nature, I love the visual of a new day erupting across the sky in glorified splendor. The Scriptures say God’s mercies are new every morning, and the sunrise seems to confirm that truth.

I have always driven my kids to school. I love doing it because the best conversations happen on that morning commute. I take Lindsey to school first and then come back for Stephen, as the start time for high school is later than middle school. Lindsey and I are usually in the car by 7:20. In time for sunrise.

I’m not sure when I started pointing out the sunrise to her, but we talk about it every morning. As we turn off our street, we see it cresting the top of the hill. By the time we cross Lake Peachtree, the vivid colors are streaking out their reflection across the glassy perfection of the water. We always pay attention at that point. Conversation stops and we take it in.

We had a rainy winter. Lots of fog and dark clouds, and many days there was not much of a sunrise just a subtle brightening of the grey sky. One morning mid-February, it cleared out and Lindsey walked to the end of the garage and looked out. The sky gleamed golden and pink at the top of the hill and she stood transfixed and said, “Look Mom. It’s coming!”

It was beautiful. Perhaps made even more so by the absence of that majesty over the recent days. As we enjoyed it there on the driveway I realized: This is a season. My Sunrise Season with Lindsey. Next year, she will go to high school. The sun will be up when she leaves. Her brother (God-willing) will probably drive her to school.

Seasons change. It makes me feel… not sad, but maybe wistful. As I pause to futurize the nostalgia I will one day have for this time in our lives, I’m grateful. Grateful to God for painting the sky for our delight and wonder. Grateful for this beautiful girl who notices the creation around her. But mostly, grateful that I was paying enough attention in the present moment to realize that I had been gifted with a Sunrise Season.

February Reflections

Delight

I took coffee to my parents a few weeks ago. We tend to do sit-down visits around beverages with my family. It’s always interesting the direction those conversations will take. My parents always want a full report on how the kids are doing, but once we had covered that, we moved on to books and movies.

I was telling them a conversation I had recently with Stephen concerning World War II and the Cold War. Stephen is an avid reader about those topics and I had recently posed a theoretical question to him and was astonished by how thoughtful his answer was. Quite honestly, he had probably already considered the question because the answer he gave was detailed and nuanced. He knows more than I do about that topic.

As I was telling this story to my parents, I could feel myself getting excited and I concluded with, “I think this is my favorite part of parenting… when they start to integrate everything they’ve learned, draw their own conclusions, form their own beliefs, and you look at this person and think, ‘I may have had a role in making you, but you are becoming wholly your own person.'”

My parents were just smiling at me. Indulgently. Wistfully. My Dad nodded and my Mom said, “It is the best.”

I think the way they looked at me will stay with me forever. In the moment, I saw us as parent and grandparents both proud of this kid we loved. It was only later, scrolling through Instagram, that I saw this meme and my thumb halted.

When I saw this picture, I saw the father in the background first. I saw his face. I saw the delight in his son. And I remembered the faces of my parents looking at me as I gushed in pride of my son. And I knew. The look on their faces wasn’t pride in Stephen’s knowledge of history. It was delight in their daughter being a mother.

It made me realize this gig of being totally in love with your kid doesn’t end when they graduate, get married, get a job, or whatever. I will be dazzled and delighted by them until I draw my last breath. I also realized how blessed I am to be the delight of my parents. Everyone deserves at least one person who thinks they hung the moon.

Further Thoughts on Delight

I’ve also decided I’m just going to start delighting more. I’m going to delight myself in some things. We had sunshine for the first time in what felt like months and I took my time delighting in that sunshine as I walked to the mailbox. I delighted in the birds singing. I delighted in the power-half-hour nap I took on the couch at 2 pm. I delighted in the sunset on the way to volleyball practice. Mindfulness is teaching me that I can engage my emotions in the small moments of the day where beauty and nurture show up and it will color the whole day brighter.

What I learned on the Roku

The Roku portion of my February is a tribute to the shows we watched or finished this month on Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Cheer

This Six-part series on Netflix was so good. We are not cheerleading people by any stretch of the imagination, but that is not necessary. Cheer is a a documentary about Navarro College’s competitive cheer squad. There are so many underdog stories to root for, but the entire series was such a reminder not to compare your daily life to someone else’s. So many of the kids on that squad were dealing with pain- physical, mental, and emotional. In all their brokenness, they came together for two minutes and performed a near flawless routine. Hooray for glossy perfection, right? Except the beauty of the whole show was in the brokenness, the hard stuff they were pushing through and battling. Those were the reasons they were worth cheering for. We don’t know the hard stuff people are facing under their performance any more than we know the beauty God could be forging out of our own brokenness. We could be on the cusp of our own “Daytona.” Whatever the case, the real story is in the journey.

Downton Abbey

I know. I’m the last person in the universe to behold the beauty that was and is Downton Abbey. There’s so much to love about this show. The costumes. The setting. The humor. The history. The heartbreak. The cast. Dame Maggie Smith, for the love of God. Has a better television character EVER existed? I could write a book about this show, but I think it boils down to this: there was something magical about the writing and the actors that made me care so much about the characters. Call it kismet. The villains were redeemable. The heroes were flawed.

There was a scene in one of the later episodes when Mrs. Baxter’s kindness to Thomas completely changed my opinion of him. I had hated him, with (at best) minimal sympathy over the course of the show. He had been wretched to just about every character including himself. But Mrs. Baxter saw goodness in him. And if she saw goodness, there was goodness to be found. How we treat people can give them the dignity it takes for others to see their value as well.

I will never get over Downton Abbey.

Books

From the stack at the top, I did some nonfiction reading on the real Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle with Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. It was interesting to see some of the parallels to the show, particularly the history around World War I. Interesting fact, the Carnavons of Highclere bankrolled Howard Carter’s excavation of King Tut’s tomb.

I also read up on the Vanderbilt family. The time period paralleled Downton Abbey, but of course it was defined by their rise (and fall) during the Gilded Age in the United States. Fortune’s Children is family history to Arthur T. Vanderbilt II, and this book is well written. He highlights different time periods through the lens of one family member. It reads like easy fiction- this family knew extravagance and disfunction, in spades.

Self to lose- Self to find is a faith based look at the Enneagram. I’ve been diving into the Enneagram recently and this was a good resource. I’ll probably have more to say on that in the future.

The Unhoneymooners was my fun fiction for the month. It had some Pride and Prejudice themes in it, namely, what we assume about people when we first meet is not always accurate. The Elizabeth Bennet character comes from a large Mexican American family living in Minnesota. The dialogue was very funny.

God with Us by Glenn Krieder is a book I have had for ages and finally decided to read. It was an exploration of the presence of God throughout Scripture, not just at the arrival of Immanuel Jesus. My biggest takeaway from this book was that so much of what we know about God in Scripture is anthropomorphic. We ascribe human trait to God because that’s the only way we can attempt to understand him. God has condescended to us and allowed that because He wants a relationship with us. But that means that it is not the whole picture of who He is. We see through the glass dimly. We have to hold tension to the mystery that He is infinitely more. Even the language we use to describe Him is not sufficient because language is anthropomorphic.

The last book I “read” is a screenshot from my Audible app. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness is a beautiful memoir about a family’s journey through childhood illness. A daughter is born with an unknown blood disease and the fragility with which Heather Harpham writes is akin to the condition of her daughter at birth. This quote at the end is a keeper:

“Between us was the future. Who we would become as we grew older, as the kids left home. And also the future of the two small people we loved most, our aspirations for who they might become, the revelation of who they already were. All of this reverberated in the gaze we held for a long time. Brian lifted his wine. We clinked and pressed glass against glass, globe against globe. ‘To the end,’ Brian said.

And the beginning.”

Asheville

We took a trip up to Asheville. The Downton Abbey Exhibit is at the Biltmore through April, so it seemed a good time to revisit this city. We were last there fourteen years ago, when we lived in Tampa and a mountain vacation seemed the right thing to do in the summer. Traveling with teens as opposed to an infant and a toddler is infinitely easier. But still, I have fond memories of both trips. In the picture below, we had just bathed those babies in the antique claw foot tub at the B&B we stayed at. I was feeding Lindsey and Stephen was playing with a truck. Paul had put Harry Potter on the television. We were happy and cozy in our vacation digs. In the recent picture we had just checked in to our brand new hotel. We were about to walk to dinner, where we would enjoy a leisurely meal that did not feature chicken nuggets or toddler tantrums. These pictures tell me that I have loved every stage. They tell me I will love whatever comes next.

The path to 2020 Mindfulness

(I’m finally getting my New Year post up. Yes, it is two weeks late, but if you noticed the title of the blog, this is a safe space from deadlines and schedules.)

I’m not much of a resolution person. Really, you can resolve to do something any one of the 365 days of the year. For some reason January 1 Resolutions seem to get all the press and when the resolve is gone after a few weeks, the failure feels a lot like shame. I do understand the allure of a resolution. Beginnings seem to demand a title page, don’t they? I think that’s why I decided instead on a word of the year. It’s more of a theme that centers and defines the truth you are living out (or wish to live out) in the coming season. It’s the underlined title at the top of the page that you can build the outline of life around wherever the content of the year takes you.

My word for 2019 was Adventure.

It was an easy word to land on because I started 2019 on a plane to London with Stephen for a 10 day trip across Europe. I also knew we had another family trip to Europe planned for later that year. Adventure was more than just those trips, though. I wanted a year where I adventured… a year when I tried new things. Like starting a blog. Or where as a family, we embraced the spontaneity that had defined us when the kids were younger- when we woke up on a Saturday or Sunday and said, Let’s go do THIS today. Adventure served me well last year because the intentionality of the word lead me to my word for 2020.

Mindfulness is a state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts. I have been terrible at mindfulness my entire life. My coping skill has been to live outside the present and focus on the next good or fun thing on the calendar. Anticipation is great, but living in the future as a panacea for the struggles of the present is not a very whole approach to life.

As we were living out adventure this year, I became aware of enjoying all of the moments. We only have a short time left with all four of us in the house together and I want to live fully aware in that time. I actually thought my word of the year would be savor, but savor seemed too focused on just the good times. I don’t necessarily savor an argument with my fourteen year old over the state of her bedroom but I can be mindful in that tension. I can remind myself to remember what really matters in that moment and maybe dirty clothes and empty cups are not the thing.

There was a time back in the fall when we were all riding bikes and I watched Stephen and Lindsey racing to be first. Paul looked back at me and we laughed at them and it hit me, These are the good old days. The four of us together. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of the last 16 years. I want to live wholly present in these next two years. I want to experience and feel and ponder all of it as I’m living it, not just looking forward to the next Big Thing. Today is a Big Thing too.

I have lived in that survive-for-today-anticipate-the-future mode for so long. I say that without any shame or guilt. It was all I knew to do, and on some level it worked because it helped me to arrive in the place I am now. But like Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I know better now.

I am mindful.

You Can Someday Yourself Out Of A Life

I saw that quote while scrolling through Facebook awhile back and it made my thumb pause and hover. It was from a post by Kay Wyma author of several books (that I have loved) and the MOATblog. Written in chalk on the sidewalk as she took a walk through her neighborhood, she snapped a picture and posted it.

I think it resonated so deeply with me because in 8 words it expressed a truth that I’d been wrestling with for most of 2019 but had struggled to put into succinct prose. Time is passing swiftly and all the things I’ve said “someday” to are started to stack up like the proverbial elephant in the room.

Some of those things are big ticket items, but many are small. Some are things I want to do with Paul. Others are adventures I want with our kids. Still others are just for me. And while I firmly believe you can travel and experience with your kids after they have flown the nest, there is something sacred about the years we all live here together. I want to honor THIS chapter.

We lived in Canada for four years. It was such a gift for our family for so many reasons not the least of which was that we learned to live intentionally. We knew we were there for only a few years and we wanted to see, experience, and cultivate as much as we could and with people who had different perspectives than those we had known. It was the perfect time in our lives to take on that adventure because our kids were so young and their commitments were minimal.

When we moved home our priorities shifted to the familiar and the more rigorous pace of the tween and teen years. I have no regrets because it was and still is the season of life we are in. Yet, each of us, over the last year, has talked about going back to visit Canada. We talk about our people back there. The places we visited. Our favorite restaurants. The spirit of adventure we had when we lived there.

We’ve had a great 2019 that included a pretty epic trip to London and France. We love to travel as a family but adventure isn’t only about vacations. Being intentional, the way we were in Canada, means examining that stack of Someday items and starting to address some of those today. Let’s go ride bikes together. Play a game. Make s’mores and watch the football game outside. Tag along on a business trip. Skip church and go to Top Golf. Have family movie night. Go to see the Nutcracker. Start a blog. If we say we value time together, time to discover, time to create, then let’s stop reminiscing and “someday-ing” and let’s start living out our values.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so maybe it’s a good idea to begin as you intend to go and not let those “Somedays” pile up too high. Stephen will graduate in two years and while that makes me sad, I’m also grateful for it. Like a stint in Canada, there is a date looming out there that reminds me: Be intentional. Be mindful.

We watched Dead Poet’s Society a few weeks ago as a family. If you’ve seen the movie, the whole Carpe Diem theme goes hand in hand with this Someday quote. Sieze the Day. Don’t postpone everything for Someday. The movie features a Thoreau quote, from Walden, that the boys read before the first meeting of the Dead Poets and I have always loved it, “…I wanted to live deliberately…To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Seize the day. Be mindful and intentional, because you can Someday yourself out of a life.

Carefully Curated Childhoods

I have this childhood memory that I channel whenever I want to remember a time of pure peaceful innocence. In this memory (which might be a composite of many memories) I feel warm, loved, cared for, and complete. It’s a random 10 second snippet of time, yet it brings so much peace. The most amazing part is that my Mother managed to pull it off without Pinterest, Mommy Blogs, or a friend’s Facebook post.

In this snippet of memory, I am probably seven years old and back in my childhood house. I’m lying on the yellow linoleum of that 1970s kitchen, right by the refrigerator, where the fan is blowing warm air out at me. Soft music and traffic reports play out of the old clock radio my Mom set on top of the refrigerator. My sister is at the kitchen table nearby, probably coloring for her own enjoyment, because in 1980 we did not have homework in kindergarten. My Mom is cooking over at the stove and our cocker spaniel, Buffy, is right by her side. The house smells like dinner, which was spaghetti and meatballs. It’s cold outside and already dark, because this is winter in Massachusetts after all, but we’re in for the night so it doesn’t matter. We’re waiting for Dad to get home so we can eat.

And that’s it.

That’s the memory.

A saved mental video that I replay all the time. It’s so vivid, I can feel the warm air blowing on me, hear the traffic report updating an accident on Storrow Drive, and smell my Mom’s homemade tomato sauce.

I have no idea if there is some kind of mind science that explains why every sense of that memory has stayed so alive in me. It’s a pretty ordinary memory. Nothing of consequence happened that day. My childhood featured vacations, day trip excursions, and even scheduled Family Game Nights, and while I still remember all of those things and treasure those experiences, this is the memory I return to with the most fondness. This is what plays first in my mind when I remember my childhood.

We live in a world where so much is carefully curated. There are subscription boxes of clothes, beauty items and meal plans that are “meticulously chosen” for us based on our personal information. When Lindsey was in elementary school, one of the snack sign ups specifically asked for a Yule log shaped baked good for the class party. Chocolate chip cookies would not do, we needed carefully curated Christmas themed desserts. We try so carefully to curate the childhood of our kids as if we are in control of which perfectly planned memories they will hold tight. As if their hearts don’t have anything to say about it.

I often wonder what memories my kids will treasure. When they are adults and look back on their childhood, what are the moments that will encapsulate all of their senses and stir up all of the feelings and nostalgia for childhood innocence? I’m willing to bet it will surprise me in it’s ordinariness. We place so much emphasis on the carefully curated Activity, Vacation, Craft, Extracurricular, etc., but the real beauty of a happy childhood is in the mundane. It’s found in the random moments of doing ordinary life, being present, and loving your people.

Belonging and Worthiness

Last week I experienced a couple of the better Mom moments of my “illustrious” mothering career. I saw two of the primary emotional needs met in my kids’ life. These were not large, poetic, epic events that played out to inspirational music. They were small, un-staged but still soul-filling experiences that displayed on their faces in radiant joy and it made my heart so full.

For Lindsey, it has been a struggle to be seen. The Lord knows we have struggled in this regard. This child is clearly an introvert. She checks all of the boxes on the Susan Cain checklist. While she may get exhausted from peopling, she is not shy, she does not lack courage, and she would still like to be acknowledged for effort and ability. She gets overlooked all the time. The last two years have been hard for her. Seventh and eighth grade are not awesome times in the human experience and there have been a lot of things that have piled onto this already tenuous existence. Last week in volleyball, her coach called her aside to give her instruction but in a backhanded compliment, wound up filling her bucket more than anything I have told her for the last two months. After the game we got in the car and she told me the whole story and I could see the excitement in the glow of her face and hear it in the breathlessness of her voice. The validation in that off the cuff remark said everything she has needed to hear: You are worthy. Oh, how she needed to hear that from someone who is not related to her.

For Stephen, last Friday morning was just an exclamation point to the blessing his school has been since Day One. As we pulled up, and he was driving, there was a group of students that he is friends with, selling donuts and coffee for a fundraiser. They all came rushing to the car, calling out to him, and joking with him. As I rounded the car to change places with him, he just stood there looking at me with the biggest, happiest grin on his face. That look on his face is imprinted on my brain until the end of time because it said: These are my people. I belong.

What a blessing to see, in the span of 18 hours, these needs met and recognized on the faces of your children.

I dwelled on it over weekend, replaying the interactions and the faces of my kids. I just reveled in the fragile grace of all of it. But on Sunday as I was getting dressed, I felt God whisper right into my soul, “It was my pleasure.” It nearly broke my heart because I had not seen his hand in it at the time, but in that moment I knew it was all His orchestration. My faith has been vulnerable lately. It’s a season where I have not seen much evidence of God in our lives. There has been heavy emotional and mental stuff that has worn me down and that has been coupled with an absence of refreshment and renewal. But God knew. He knew, because in these two sacred moments when I saw worthiness and belonging poured into my children, refreshment came. Renewal came.

God sees. God hears. God knows.

We are worthy.

We belong.

I nag, therefore I am

Job performance reviews are in around here and apparently I nag too much. I nag about homework. I nag about picked up bedrooms. I nag about dishes in the sink. I nag about food left in rooms. I nag about study habits. It’s apparently out of control, at least according to my children. Since they are the ones that have offered this constructive criticism and the very ones I seek to train up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it, I have been doing some soul searching.

I started my introspection by defining “nag.” Google dictionary defines nag (verb): to annoy or irritate a person with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging. My daughter says my nagging lacks perspective because I’m not putting her behavior in the context of what is actually important for a thirteen year old girl. She says I should look at all the bad decisions other kids make and then reverse engineer my way to gratitude that her and her small time problems are the only thing I have to worry about. This has faulty logic all over it, but there is a nugget of truth in there- nagging quenches gratitude. My son says my nagging makes him feel “inferior.” He hates the implication that he is unable to perform in the care of himself without my vocal interference.

The next thing I thought about were the emotions I felt before I started to nag. Sometimes it is frustration. I become frustrated when I feel like I am the only person invested in the care of our home. Other times it is motivated by fear and insecurity, whether that be on their behalf or my own. Still other times, I don’t have faith that my kids will make smart choices regarding time management. And do they even understand good housekeeping? We live in the South. Cockroaches are real. And finally, sometimes I’m just tired and hangry. I can nag when what I really need are potato chips and a nap.

This past weekend, I watched my husband manage my son so perfectly without any nagging. He empowered him with time management, accountability to tasks, and good faith that he was capable of all of it. Stephen would like nothing more than to spend his entire Sunday playing video games. However, he had some tasks he needed to do around the house as well his homework. Paul said to him, “I understand you have homework, yes? You also need to clean your gun (Stephen shoots sporting clays competitively). At around 5 pm we’re going to replace the headlights on the Jeep. So this day can look however you want it to look, but those are all the things that need to get done.” Full transparency- Stephen was less than thrilled about some of these tasks, but he also realized, I will still have time to do the things I like to do, if I manage my time effectively. And he did. He has developed maturity that I had not realized because I default to nagging him about each task he needs to complete.

Lindsey is a different story. I don’t know if she would have responded the same way as Stephen, but she’s also two years younger. Her exception to my nagging may have a different root cause. She told me that I’m not seeing the good she IS doing. She has told me numerous times, “I would never NOT do my homework.” And as I sit here and think about it, that’s absolutely true. She has always done her work. I can show my gratefulness for her and my trust in her academic diligence, by leaving her alone to handle it. We still need to work on her housekeeping and cleanliness habits, but maybe she’s correct that I’m focused on things that don’t matter as much in the big picture right now.

I’m not sure if I will ever fully defeat the nagging monster inside me, at least as long as the kids live here and my eyes are trained on them daily. The things that motivate me to nag still remain. I want them to accomplish everything in life they dream of doing. I want them to understand how to manage time. I want them to have clean bedrooms so they know how to take care of their living space and so we don’t get insect infestations. I want to eat high carbohydrate snacks that I know I shouldn’t eat.

So, I will probably still speak out of these emotions.

I’m probably still going to nag.

But hopefully, maybe, a little less.

Happy 16th to my Boy

Dear Stephen,

I cannot believe you are 16. It’s not that you don’t look like it or act like it, it’s just that I can’t believe this much time has passed. You are a teenager. You drive automobiles. You shave your face.

I am amazed by you all the time. I’m not sure other people understand what we’ve been through. It is crazy that now we can talk about what we felt and thought during those “strong-willed” years. I think the two of us have such a bond because together we survived a crucible experience: your early childhood.

You were an absolute terror as a toddler and young child. I used to project out what it might look like when you became a teenager with all the energy and attitude you had as a kindergartner. Fortunately, a mother’s projections are not always the best indicator of anything but her own fears. You are a phoenix- this magnificent ball of fire that burned itself out and re-emerged as this smart, even-tempered young man.

Your sense of humor is obviously my favorite thing. You are in on the joke. You can laugh at yourself. Our texts of nothing but memes and GIFs are as sacred to me as any memento a mother can save of their child. Your giggle and laugh still make me smile. When you were born, your cry sounded like a giggle. Did I ever tell you that? Maybe from the beginning, God intended you to be a person who laughs easy and often.

I love that you love us well. You are never ashamed to hug or say “I love you.” My favorite part of the day is when you get out of the car at school and wish me a great day followed by a “Love you.” And that tiny wave you give me as I start to pull away….that has left a mark forever. When you were little, you climbed out of the car and ran into the building without a single glance backward. The first time you turned around for that little wave was fourth grade. Do you know why I remember that? Because I know exactly what it did to my heart. I still feel it. When I pick you up from school you always ask me how my day was. That is how I know you are growing up. You sincerely want to know what your Mom did all day, as if laundry and grocery shopping were fascinating phenomenon every teenage boy longs to understand.

I think it is amazing that you do not allow anyone to define you. You have pleasantly surprised us with the things you have chosen to do in high school. You do not waste time worrying what anyone else thinks. YOU ARE SO BRAVE, Stephen… in all the ways that matter. I look at you all the time with pride and more than just a little envy that I could be more like you.

I have so many hopes for you. I hope you get to do all the things you dream of doing. I hope your desire to learn never goes away. I hope the passion you have for certain subjects is realized and integrated into the life you choose. I hope you never stop traveling. I hope you always keep that belly laugh. I hope you find love. I hope you have loyal friends and community . I hope you follow after Jesus in a personal and purposeful way.

I hope you always text me funny things.

I hope 16 is your best year yet.

I hope you always know I love you the most.

Love,

Mom

50 years

My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend, which is awesome until you understand that the next thing to turn 50 will be their first born child, yours truly. A marriage commitment of 50 years warrants gold anniversary tidings and celebrations. 50 years old gets you a balloon that refers to you as ancient flatulence. The greeting card and party favor business is not always logical or kind…

Back to my parents- a half century is a long time to do life together and it’s not all sunshine and roses. My parents can argue with the best of anyone. They are so proficient at it, they are unaware they are even doing it. That’s a gift. My sister and I pointed this out to them when we were old enough to realize that their brand of spirited discussion was not the runway to divorce, rather just the way they communicate. My mother was oblivious and said, “We never argue. It must be only when you two are around.” Her denial is the age old analogy of a tree falling in a forest and no one being there to hear it. It’s an argument you cannot win, so clearly we are indeed dealing with a master.

Outside the arguing, my parents are a strange mix of two people from completely different backgrounds that just go together perfectly. My Dad is an extrovert born and raised in Boston. His childhood is a scrapbook of shenanigans. My Mom is introverted, the youngest of six, raised in Maryland, and the goodiest of all the goody two shoes. They were paired up together in the wedding of mutual friends in 1967 and while my mother found him obnoxious at first sight, she went out on a date with Dad shortly after and the rest is history. My sister and I try to puzzle out which one of them would be more lost with out the other and it tallies out dead even. They are so tightly woven together in interdependence, the two have truly become one. Call it stubbornness or kismet, but they have created something that endures.

When it comes to marriage longevity, there is some evidence that it may run in the family. My grandparents were married just shy of 75 years. You learn a lot from watching a marriage last for three quarters of a century. My Grandma always said her marriage advice was to “Stay sweethearts.” I appreciate that and she certainly had the years to back it up. But I also think that everyone writes their own recipe for marriage because we are, all of us, different types of ingredients. My parents’ marriage is different from my grandparents in the same way mine is different from theirs.

We took my parents out for a family celebration recently. It was a different 50th celebration than for my grandparents in 1978, where we gathered in a church basement and my sister and I sang “God is so Good” in matching dresses my mother had sewn for us. We celebrated this one with dinner at a local bistro and started with a champagne toast that got my Baptist mother tipsy and encouraged my Dad to move on to a martini. We had a great dinner with conversation and laughter, and that evening was a snapshot of what these last 50 years yielded- two daughters, two sons-in-law, five grandchildren, memories, laughter, and a few shenanigans.

We drove my parents home and I had Alexa play music from 1969. My parents got the biggest kick out of that. They don’t really have a song per se, so we were trying to capture the era. My Dad remembered a song that used to play at the airport when he was flying back and forth from Boston to Washington DC to visit my Mom before they were married. It was called, “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas,” by Guy Marks. We played the song and it was every bit as cheesy as you can imagine so of course my father remembered all of the words. They reminisced about how he would be waiting for his plane and this song would come on in the terminal and he would sing along while my mom sniffled because he was leaving.

As we got to their house, my Mom thanked us for the evening and she said, “It’s been 50 good years.”

I said, “Well, if you take the hard times out, doesn’t the good really factor down to like 45 years? Surely the rough spots would make up a chunk you could subtract from the good years.”

“No,” she said, “It all goes together, the good and the bad. That’s what makes up life. And when it all shakes out… it’s good.”

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. Thank you for these 50 years. Even though loving you both has <sometimes> made us bananas…it’s been so good.

P.S. And if anyone asks, could you say you waited ten years before you started having kids? Kthanksbye