Love, Grow, & Overflow

My cup overflows. My laundry does too.

Category: Family (page 1 of 2)

Superhero

 

(c) Cristiana Gasparatto, some rights reserved

(c) Cristiana Gasparatto, some rights reserved

At three and a half, my son, you’re delightfully quirky.  You love rockets, gadgets, and fire trucks.  You like superheroes, but you’re not old enough to watch them on television.  Relatives have you well-stocked with awesome dress-up clothes, but usually you tell me, “I just want to be myself.”  Sometimes you’ll don a Batman suit, but absolutely no mask and no cape.  Or you’ll run around in the mask and regular clothes.  When we went to a costume party, you agreed to be a fireman by wearing a t-shirt that had a fire truck on it and carrying a hat.  You’re affectionate and enthusiastic and joyful and passionate.   You’re particular.  You’re yourself.

My boy, you hate conflict.  We can tell you five times to pick up your toys, and you might ignore us each time (usually because you’re so absorbed in your imagination).  But if we say calmly, “I am scolding you,” you will dissolve into a puddle of tears.  Sometimes when you lose a privilege, you convince yourself you didn’t want the privilege anyway because you hate feeling that loss.  Your sister has learned very quickly that she only needs to pout in the right way and you will usually give her what she wants.  (We are helping her to unlearn that, by the way.)  We call you our little peacemaker.

I think peacemaking is a superpower.  That’s not hyperbole.  Take any comic book and imagine what could happen if, instead of fighting with fists and weapons and traps, the bad guys were able to be swayed by diplomacy and understanding and compromise.  It may not make for an exciting feature film, but wow, that would be powerful.

As you get older and are ready for big-kid themes, you’ll read superhero stories rife with action and conflict.  You’ll see that usually there is a point in the beginning when the superhero’s power is raw, untamed and misunderstood.  They go to a mountain or an empty warehouse to train, and there they learn how to harness their power, control it, hone it.  As a parent, I’m excited to be able to help you develop your talent (and not just because that means casting myself as a wise mountaintop sage or a mysterious cloaked warehouse mentor).  I believe your heart for peace is God-given, and I can’t wait to see how that plays out in your life.

Right now, you just love harmony, but your dad and I will help you learn that being a peacemaker doesn’t mean being a doormat, and it doesn’t mean being a people-pleaser.  We’ll help you learn that the longing for harmony inside you sometimes means walking with people through really difficult situations that leave you sad and hurting and uncomfortable.  Sometimes it means engaging conflict, not avoiding it.  Jesus may have been able to calm the storm with a word, but being a human peacemaker often means riding the waves of struggle and strife for a long time and not letting go.  It takes courage and strength and boundaries and truth-speaking.

I was thinking the other day about the beatitudes – the special blessings Jesus spoke on a mountainside.  He would list certain groups of people and encourage them with a promise.  In my head, all the “Blessed are they”s get jumbled and I can’t always remember which promise goes with which beginning statement.  I was thinking of you, so I wanted to read about the peacemakers.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Sons of God.  I love that.  When you long for peace, I believe your heart is chasing after the heart of God.  When you work to establish peace, I believe you are doing the work of God.  It’s December, a couple weeks before Christmas, and in this season of candlelight and baking and silent nights we are all trying to carve out little moments of peace and warmth.  Our souls long for it.  Your dad and I believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and the type of peace he brings is far deeper than cookies and carols.  It’s peace that lasts long after our artificial tree is boxed up.  It’s the peace that heals and restores.  As you work peace in the world in small ways, you will give people small and beautiful reminders of what God is like – glimpses of ultimate peace.

What a superpower.

Keep just being yourself, my maskless, capeless superhero who yearns for peace.
Keep being yourself, my boy, little son of God.

Raindrops

 

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: bitzcelt via Compfight cc

“Sometimes in the morning, if there is rain on my window, I pretend one drop is our house and one drop is grandma’s, and I draw a path from our house to hers.”  My daughter shared this sweet thought with my husband the other morning.

When we moved here eight years ago, this town was full of strangers.  The other day my dad asked if this was home now.

Yes.

This is where we drop our luggage after a long journey, where we sink into the couch and sigh and let the cats settle into our laps.  This is where we’ve borne our children, where they sit for breakfast each morning and read the cereal boxes.  When we drill our phone numbers into their memories for emergencies, it’s this area code they recite.  When it storms, we look through these rain-sprinkled windows.

Our parents and siblings are spread now across five states.  We point it out to the kids on our colorful United States floor puzzle, families several jigsaw pieces apart but still interlocking. The kids don’t completely grasp distance, even when we measure in movie lengths or numbers of naps.  Their extended-family relationships have been shored up with video chats and holiday gatherings, with out-of-state trips, with relatives coming for weekends.  We’d love to see our extended family more, but we’re thankful for the way they make our kids a priority however they can.

We’ve made the hours-long journey to grandma’s house more times than I can count, celebrated birthdays around her table even if they’re a week or two away or a month past.  They’ve ran the span of her yard in superhero capes, rolled bocce balls down the slope of her hill, stood silently as deer made their skittish, graceful journey across her backyard.  They’ve scaled playgrounds with their cousins, ran laps around my aunt’s house, carved pumpkins on their grandfather’s back porch.

My daughter can’t navigate a map, but she knows the path between two raindrops.  Her fingertips trace the distance in breath on glass, knowing the people who love her are always close to home.

Beds and Flowers

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

(c) Tambako the Jaguar

Last weekend, my mother-in-law came to visit, her car packed with luggage and her father’s old tools.  She and my husband spent the weekend building a loft for my daughter, four generations intersecting on sawhorses in our driveway.  Over the course of three days, hubby and his momma measured and cut, sanded and painted, drilled and assembled.  When they were finished, we had a beautiful loft, painted blue to match the sky on the rainbow wall in my daughter’s room.  There’s a butter-yellow platform with stairs that go halfway up, wide enough for a reading nook in the back, high enough to hide below.  It’s amazing.

The bed is everything we want for our children.  We’ve built something sturdy and beautiful, strong enough to support their wild moments, soft enough to catch them if they rise too high and bump their heads.  It’s a safe place for the quiet, vulnerable moments, for reading and resting and dreaming.  We try to parent like this, with great thought and labor.  We seek plans, lay foundations in measured care, choose values that will hold firm as they grow, that will catch them softly when they fail and fall.  We don’t parent perfectly, but we parent intentionally.

We are not nearly as intentional about our yard. Sometimes, when the weeds get too high next to our garage, I think I should just stick a scarecrow in the ground and call it our weed garden.  When I start talking scarecrows, my husband knows it is time to pull out the weed wacker.  This year, though, we’ve become accidental gardeners.  First, one of my daughter’s teachers gave her a pack of flower seeds, which we planted in finger-dug holes in the front yard.  Next, our neighbor offered us her gardening extras – two tomato plants and a pepper plant.  (We accepted, largely due to my daughter’s recent hypothesis that green beans come from frog legs.  Apparently we are in need of agricultural education.)   We dug up the weeds from a sad flower bed in our backyard and planted them, along with some chives that another friend offered.  We threw down a bag of mulch we found in a corner of our garage.  For the next few weeks we watered our gardens, the flowers in the front, the vegetables in the back.

Then, I got pregnant.  In the stomach-churning first trimester, it felt like we pushed the pause button on our lives – on play dates and museum trips and neighborhood walks.  On grocery shopping, whenever I could avoid it.  We were just getting by, and gardening was easily abandoned.  And still, as the weeks went on, blossoms formed on our vegetable plants.  Tomatoes started growing on the vines.  The cutest little green peppers soon joined them.  And, in our front yard, the flowers have popped up, blooming in brilliant colors on tall, leafy stems.

I believe our kids benefit from our measured parenting.  I think God blesses the work parents do, the hard labor, the long, seemingly endless battles.  Even at our best, though, we are limited.  I’ve seen much grace in our lives in the last couple months, in my plants and my kids.  The God who dresses the lilies of the field and the zinnias in my yard doesn’t stop when I’m exhausted and sick. In my just-getting-by days, in the times when intention fails, when my measurements fall short, he’s there.  God is at work in the dark and overlooked places, breathing life into forgotten seeds, calling them forth to bloom.

Worth It

 

copyright D. Sharon Pruitt

copyright D. Sharon Pruitt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I write this, I’m six weeks pregnant.  It’s the sweetest little secret, like carrying around a diamond in my pocket.  Already somewhere deep inside me, the tiniest of hearts is fluttering.  And even though this is my third go-round, this quiet miracle stuns me every time.

My head can never get too far in the clouds, though.  “Morning” sickness keeps me planted, usually on my knees on the bathroom floor.  When I’m not vomiting I’m trying ridiculous remedies like walking around holding a lemon to my nose.  Some of my lousiest parenting days are unfolding right at this moment, like the other day when I laid down the whole afternoon and let my kids gorge themselves on Netflix videos.  I’ve also perfected parenting from one place: hide-while-I-seek-you-from-my-chair and let’s-read-a-story-here-on-the-bed.

The first time, when I was pregnant with my eldest, I felt guilty that I was doing pregnancy wrong since I didn’t enjoy it.  And then I felt guilty that my little lima bean would sense my negativity and grow up emo.  The second time, I felt guilty that my one-year-old would be forever scarred by the days I spent hunched over the toilet instead of creating stimulating fine-motor activities.  And now, with my healthy and well-adjusted preschoolers as testimonies to grace and resilience, I press play.

I have no energy, I have no appetite, but I also have no nagging guilt.  Not much, anyway.  So, there’s that.

This, too, shall pass.  Meanwhile, hello again, Caillou.

I’ve heard people say morning sickness is a good indicator that the body’s producing enough hormone.  I found it when I googled, so it must be true.  But in my searching, I found something even more interesting: some scientists theorize that morning sickness and food aversions exist to protect the baby by preventing moms from eating toxins.  Morning sickness usually abates after the first 14-18 weeks, which is when the organs form.  Moms usually have aversions to meat, fish, eggs, spicy foods, certain vegetables – foods that, especially in the pre-refrigeration days, harbored a lot of bacteria that could damage fetuses.

I like this theory.  In the past, morning sickness has been one of the many things rising against me first trimester, along with craving empty carbs and crying every time I read Tina Fey’s thoughts on motherhood.  But now I’m realizing this ol’ body is with me, not against me.  I’m praying each day for this sweet baby.   I’m doing everything I can to be a haven for this child.  And physically my body is doing the same thing, protecting even now, sheltering from danger.  It’s a little unnecessary in these days of at-my-fingertips knowledge about listeria and nitrates and proper food handling.  But still, I understand, this body fighting like a warrior for something worth defending.

Even at these early weeks, Baby, this truth is clear:  I will always fight for you.  I will always protect you.  Even when it’s primal and a little violent and my eyes stream and my legs shake.  Even when it’s undignified and messy.

I will be weak so that you can grow strong.

 

Cicadas

 

We’ve got a great playground in our backyard, a hand-me-down from friends who outgrew it.  It’s far nicer than anything we could afford, and we love the chance for kids to work out their energy in a way that involves neither our couch nor the cats.  Late in the day, the sun peeks through the trees and dances on my kids’ faces as they slide and swing and climb to their hearts’ content.

Last week, in the midst of play time, my daughter let out a shriek and exclaimed, “Eww! A bug!”  My husband, who is our one-man bug patrol, was mowing the lawn with earphones in, so even when he was in view I couldn’t get his attention.  (Well played, husband.)  So I sauntered over, expecting an ant or spider.  Two insanely ugly bugs were latched on to the underside of the platform.  They were giant and gray with huge eyes and long, bent soul-crushing front legs.  (They looked straight out of Starship Troopers, or what I think Starship Troopers bugs would look like.  I didn’t see the movie because bugs are gross enough without Hollywood’s touch.)  Inside I was saying “EWW! A bug!” but someone needed to be the grown-up, so I put on my best parent face. I said,  “Wow!  I wonder what kind of bugs they are?  Now we have a science mystery to solve!”  My daughter looked at me skeptically and said, “I think I’m just going to swing instead.”

I took photos (carefully, trying not to get too close) and shared them with a few friends online.  One friend identified them as cicada exoskeletons.  She told me the cicadas had already molted, and that the creepy things that looked so much like live bugs ready to devour us were actually empty shells.  I was doubtful, but after doing some internet searches I realized she was probably correct.  I found some cool molting videos and a coloring page of the life cycle of cicadas, and I showed my daughter.  “Like a butterfly!” I cooed, which is true in the sense that I am like an Olympic athlete.  But my kids were comforted by the fact that they weren’t alive, and my son was especially comforted by the fact that he could, with parental permission, whack something with a stick.

As soon as we got into the backyard, my kids dashed valiantly to the playground to knock down the cicada shells (which was a little scary, honestly, because I was only mostly sure they were just shells.)  Sure enough, one gentle poke with a stick sent them falling down, empty and crumbling like paper.  My daughter said, “I wasn’t afraid once I learned about ‘em.”  And it felt like one of those “The More You Know” videos from the my youth, like maybe Tutti from Facts of Life would step out with the collar popped on her bedazzled jean jacket and say, “Cicada shells aren’t scary.  They’re not even alive.” And then a star would shoot across the screen with a rainbow burst and a sprinkle of piano keys.

I think this is true:  knowledge trumps fear.  It was utterly ridiculous to avoid half of the playground because of bugs that were not even there.   And I think of all the friends and opportunities my kids will miss if they grow into adults that let paper-tiger fears keep them from engaging the world.  I hope I can teach them now that when they feel uncomfortable or afraid of something they don’t understand, they can ask and educate themselves and poke those fears with sticks until they crumble.  And while some fears are valid, my kids don’t need to be shackled by those fears.  They can rise, like stars.  Like butterflies.

But not cicadas, because, ew.

Crossing

IMG_3160-002She did it.

It was beautiful, really.  I am certain that not all inner struggles will resolve so neatly.  But one day at swimming lessons (the second-last class), my brave little girl stopped panicking and started paddling.

I was out on the playground with my son, whose lessons come after hers.  We’d relegated my husband to bleacher-moral-support duty, with his swimming background and his calmness and his promises to text me every few minutes with updates.  But my phone had stopped working, so it wasn’t until I stepped into the pool area that I saw her.

On her own.

Exuberant.

She paddled out to her floatie toy, then threw it further and retrieved it again, circling the pool in wide, happy arcs like a doodling pen.  Her eyes were lit up with pride and we both kept smiling.  My cheesy thumbs-ups got a little out of control and I think at least once I trumped them by throwing a fist in the air.  (Looking back, I feel like I should probably be embarrassed, but I’m just glad that I didn’t actually open my mouth and yell, “Boom!  That’s my girl!” like I was thinking inside.)

She got out and my husband and I covered her with accolades and a towel and wrapped arms around her in big drippy chlorinated hugs.  Then she and I headed quickly into the locker room because we had business to take care of.

We had a bridge to climb.

We stopped in front of it so I could snap a couple photos, and she posed with her fists raised in front of her like a boxer.   And then she raced off.  She’s fast.  I ran after, up the ramp with stairs spread out like platforms.  At the top, she ran out into the middle and our hair blew around us and we shouted victoriously just as I’d imagined.  She did a little dance, hips wiggling in the mismatched clothes she picked out, hair damp and tousled and wild.  And then she went running to the end, and down the other side, and then back up again.  Her sneakers pounded on the rusty metal, diamond-shaped openings framing the blur of cars below.

On the way down, she tripped and fell hard onto one of the platforms.  And then got up, brushed it off, and challenged me to race across the field to the playground.

I was hot and sweaty.  Out of breath and out of shape.  I was wearing sandals that were not good for running.  But I kicked them off and ran anyway, because her face lit up with shrieks of laughter.

Because every victory needs a victory lap.

And because, boom.  That’s my girl.

IMG_3156

Learning to Swim

float

Photo Credit: Geoff LMV via Compfight cc

Swimming lessons did not go well last week.

My daughter loved every moment of them until last week.   She would skip around the locker room with freshly-toweled hair, pausing to say that she couldn’t wait till swimming again.  But after weeks of kicking and paddling, the teacher decided they were ready to paddle by themselves.  Although my daughter’s floatie was cinched around her waist and a pool noodle was looped under her arms, she was terrified.  When the teacher let go, she froze in the water, legs stick-straight, arms wide, fingers splayed.  She cried a guttural cry and then frantically grabbed for her teacher.  When her teacher backed out of her grasp, she got angry and began screaming “STOP! Stop it! Stop!”  until the teacher finally grabbed her pool noodle again.  She spent the rest of the time whimpering at the side of the pool, trying to convince me to take her home.

As a parent, it was excruciating. As she flailed outwardly, my stomach twisted and turned inside.  I’m wired to protect her and to keep her safe.  For one crazy momma-bear second, I considered hopping in and grabbing her, rescuing the little girl who needed no rescue but desperately believed she did.  But I know the way to keep her safe in the pool is to push through the lessons, even when she feels unsafe, so I relegated myself to cheesy thumbs-up signs from the bleachers.

I want her to be safe.

And this isn’t really about swimming.

Up until this point, parenting has been largely about enfolding.  Hold her in my arms.  Wear her in my sling.  Buckle her into carrier, swing, and stroller.  Make sure the gate is latched in the backyard, make sure I’ve got a tight grip on her hand in public places.  Parenting has been safety-by-containing.
And now both she and I are learning new skills.  Kindergarten looms on the horizon, school busses and mean kids and exposure to thousands of things that I’ve intentionally filtered out of her life so far.  It makes me sentimental and nervous and scared all at once to watch her grow. (“Stop it!  Stop!”)  We’re both a little terrified.  So she works on getting her ears wet, on her “scoopers and kickers,” and I try to figure out what she needs for the days when the buckles no longer hold her, when her legs are tall enough to jump the gate.

My husband always says that we can parent by building up walls to keep the world out, or by equipping our kids to thrive in the world.  Safety-by-containing vs. safety-while-engaging.  And although these heartstrings bind tighter than any five point harness on the market, I know this:

When it comes to what we’re building up, I choose her.

The boy across the street is learning to ride his bike.  Just a couple weeks ago his dad was holding on to his seat for balance, and now his son takes off down the street, at once wobbly and fierce.   His dad jogs behind him, close enough to scoop him up if he falls but too far to reach him before the ground scrapes his skin.  Seeing the pride on both their faces, I know it’s not a bad thing, this ever-growing distance, skinned elbows and all.

Outside the pool, there is this gigantic pedestrian bridge that spans the road – a hulking eyesore with peeling sky-blue paint.  My daughter’s fascinated by it.  I’ve promised her that the day she paddles across the pool, we’ll climb it.  I imagine us running up the ramps out to where the cars speed under us, our hair blowing in the wind.  We’ll yell “We did it!” through the fencing and our words will get carried off in the traffic and the breeze, the two of us together, learning to swim.

 

Palms

c. Kaytee Riek - Some Rights Reserved

c. Kaytee Riek – Some Rights Reserved

Last week, my daughter brought home a coloring page from Sunday School.  On the back, she’d written her name in crooked preschool letters.  She’d flipped around the Ds to Bs, so her name was a different name entirely.  Underneath, her teacher had written capital and lower case Bs and Ds, and then my daughter had written her name again correctly.

Her Sunday School teacher is amazing.  She has a doctorate in reading.  In this house where we love words so much, that’s like being a rock star.  I love the way she lovingly incorporates reading skills into each lesson.  In her room on Sunday morning, it’s not God in one hour-long slot and literacy skills for another time.  They’re all together; God and the gifts he’s given, wisdom and truth and kindness cresting over each other like waves.

My daughter’s name is important.  I believe it is written on God’s hands, each letter inscribed across the flesh of his palms.  I admit I’m not sure what that means entirely, but I believe those hands are actively working in the world.  I believe they’re open and cupped with mercy, and my daughter’s life is written into that plan, steeped in that mercy.

A receiver of mercy.  A bestower of mercy.  That is what her name looks like.

I believe those palms rest on her teachers’ shoulders each day as my daughter writes her name, nudging, “Teach this child who she is.” So we work on the letters, parents and Sunday School teachers and preschool teachers together. With crayons on paper, we note the number of tines on her E, the directions of b and d.  We’ll keep working until she knows her name like the back of her hands.

We’ll keep working till she knows herself like the palms of God.

Beeutifl

 

IMG_2343My husband is traveling this week.  We miss him, so as my daughter spins around the living room in her princess gown, I snap a photo and send it to him.   He texts back: “So beautiful.”

She changes from her gown to her footie pajamas and heads for the computer, asking if she can type.  We open a blank document and her little fingers steer the mouse, change the font to 72-point.  Her eyes scan the keyboard, searching and searching, and then she presses a key.

I

She doesn’t believe in the space bar.  She hits enter, sound out a short aaaaaaaaaa, searches and pecks.  She hums, searches more, finds the m.

 Am

 Enter.

“How do you spell beautiful?” she asks.  I stretch out the syllables, remind her what it sounds like, and she finds letters for each phoneme, slowly listening and choosing and searching and typing.

Beeutifl

Enter, again.

She is four, and our words are truths she plucks from the air and puts on paper as her own.  The spelling is laborious but the believing comes quickly, simply and surely.

Soon enough, the typing will come with ease.  Soon enough, she’ll discover the question mark, rearrange the words, find herself afraid of the answer.

I stare at the screen, her first autobiography, primitive and succinct, and make a silent promise to her:  I will sound it out, always.

I will remind her of the strength of her legs, the contour of her face, the taper of her fingers, the beat of her heart.  Beautiful.  I will point it out in the games she creates, in the paper she cuts and glues until it becomes something new.  Beautiful.  Like a mirror, I will reflect it back when I see it, the giggle she can’t stifle, the snack she shares, the way she runs as fast as she can to deliver a note to our next door neighbor.

Beauty.  Tiny glimpses of the divine.

When she begins to hate her round cheeks or her nose, I will sound it out.  When the world tries to redefine it, to reduce it to pettiness and prettiness, I will say it slowly, certainly, clearly.  When her braces make her smile close-mouthed, I will sound it out.  When her heart gets broken and her face puffs up from crying, I will speak it over her like a blanket, stretching it out syllable by syllable.  When she offers goodness and is ignored, misunderstood and mocked, I will tell her what she knew when she was four.  You are beautiful.

On the days when her actions are ugly, I will remind her.  Beauty redeems, renews.

And on the days when she doesn’t believe it, I will hold it up for her like a sign until she believes again.

Beautiful.  

Worthy. 

Loved. 

In great measure.   In giant, shouting font.

Lavish

IMG_1048-001My daughter’s favorite coat is long and minky-soft, zebra print with a ruffle around the bottom.  The inside is lined in hot pink.  Last week she wore it with big white furry boots and a red boys’ snow hat that looked like a race car.  She carried a fluffy white stuffed cat in her arms.  It was quite the outfit, completely over the top.  She wore it, happy and beautiful.

The zebra coat is a loaner, actually.  It came our way by means of a complicated pipeline of hand-me-ups and hand-me-downs that my mom friends have designed to maximize the cute-clothes wearing in our group.  It doesn’t matter to my daughter that someone else’s initials are on the tag.  It’s hers because she wears it, because someone draped it across her shoulders.

She just turned four, my little girl in zebra stripes.  We joke that her birthday is becoming a season in itself.  Our family lives out of town, so we started celebrating a couple weeks early when relatives surprised her with a couple gifts.  We had cupcakes at her grandpa’s house and more cupcakes the next day with two of her grandmas.  When we returned home, traveling friends stayed overnight and brought a gift for her.  Her godmother had her over for a special dinner with cloth napkins and jewels scattered across the table.  On her birthday, more friends stopped by.  Relatives posted a video of them singing birthday wishes.  Others left messages for her.

One thing is true: my daughter is loved lavishly.

I don’t believe in “too much love,” and I am so thankful for people who remind my daughter that she is cherished and dear.   I know, though, that many kids are also phenomenal, and yet not all have a parade of people waiting to pour love and cuddly toys upon them.  I know it’s unfair.  I don’t want her to become spoiled or entitled. Sometimes, it leaves me a little conflicted.

My daughter has no such conflicts.  She is loved.  It is hers because she wears it, the love of so many people draped across her shoulders.  It bears the marks of the people who have passed it down.  It is broken-in love, lavish and soft.  It is bright and loud, sometimes a bit over the top.  When she wears it, she is beautiful, bold enough to stand against the piercing winds.

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