If a Mother Doesn't Get to See the School Bus

If a mother doesn't get to see her children climb onto the bus on the first day of school, does the first day of school actually happen? 

Since I needed to be on campus for my own first day of classes, I wasn't able to wait at the bus stop with my two oldest daughters last week as they started their school years.  I didn't get to hold Brooke's hand as she ventured into the world of kindergarten, and I didn't get to say one last goodbye to Reese as she moved up to the next school as a third grader.  I didn't track their bus with my gaze until it turned the corner at the end of our street, standing in the driveway with the slow realization that my kids -- well, they just left.

Instead, I waited until I came home from work, found the camera, and uploaded the pictures that my husband took from the morning.

Only then did I see the traditional first-day-of-school smile,

 and the truth-be-told, I'm not sure if I'm really feeling this back-to-school-gig grimace.

I had a moment of sweet motherly realization that, awww, she wore a headband to kindergarten today!

And then another realization, close on its heels, that she also had chosen her own outfit.  By herself.  I tell you, that girl has never met a color combination -- or pattern combination -- that she hasn't liked.

Then I saw pictures of the littlest member of the family dutifully waiting in the driveway during the happenings, and I wondered how her three-year-old mind must have processed the fact that the house, for once, was about to be quiet and that her playmates were leaving.

But most of all, I viewed the pictures with such thankfulness, such gratefulness, that these children are mine, that God has entrusted these three to me -- and me to them.  

We won't be able to share all of their special moments with them in person, I realize.  

This year especially, I remembered how blessed I am -- not only to share special moments with my kids, but just to have my kids.  My heart hurt as I thought of a friend and colleague whose eight-year-old son unexpectedly passed away last winter.  This was the first year that she didn't get to put him on the bus.  I prayed for the parents from Sandy Hook, knowing that the onset of this school year must be providing one more reminder of the painful absence that they've felt every single day since last December.

When my girls came home -- flushed and excited, talkative and tired, hungry and cranky, energetic and spent -- I picked up the trails of stuff they left behind in the hallway as they plodded into the house, and I remembered to be grateful that today, even if I didn't get to see them get on the bus, I did get to see them come off of it.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful school year ahead.
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The Calendar Doesn't Lie: classes really do begin.

 I've seen it on the calendar for weeks.  That small block with the note "classes begin."

Funny how it's still a bit of a surprise when I actually get there.  Really?  Tomorrow is go-time?

In preparation, I've photocopied my syllabi, set up my course websites, practiced pronouncing the names on my class rosters, and -- this is essential -- painted my nails.  For the love of all things polished! 

It's become my tradition to paint my nails for the first day of class, an unspoken pledge to enter the semester feeling pulled-together, even if I'm breathing fumes and correcting smudges.

You've got this, girl, my manicured fingers seem to say.  You've got this.

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Counting the many things that have gone RIGHT.

Last week I delivered dinner to a special friend and colleague whose father recently passed away.  Perhaps because cooking isn't one of my favorite domestic endeavors, it's always been a great help when friends have made meals for our family when we were in need.

(Case in point, my pastor's wife once lavished us with a chicken pot pie that was so delicious I wanted to cry when I ate it.  Mind you, I had just had a baby, so crying was my typical response to most everything.  The baby yawned?  A car commercial showed a toddler growing up into a teenager?  My printer ran out of paper?  All perfectly legitimate reasons to cry.)

At any rate, receiving a meal is one way I've felt loved, so I find myself trying to love others in this way, too.  After I dropped off the meal and hugged my friend, I prodded my kids back into our minivan, backed down her driveway, and then proceeded to crash into her mailbox.

Because nothing says, "I'd like to bless you and make your day easier" than inflicting damage to someone's personal property.  Essentially, it was a mailbox beheading.

With the mailbox cradled in my arms, I walked up the driveway to her house and rang her doorbell for the second time, holding the mailbox out like a bizarre second offering.  See?  Just a few minutes ago I gave you lasagna.  Now I have a mailbox for you.  Surprise!

Her graciousness was astounding, and she shared multiple stories of driveway and mailbox woe.  Her husband had run down the mailbox before, too.  A separate time, their car inexplicably had drifted down the steep driveway overnight, and they woke to find it in their flower bed below.  "It's the Bermuda Triangle of driveways!" she reassured me, mentioning that it would be an easy fix.

There we were, two friends, both trying to make the best of damaged situations, and it struck me as terribly ironic and oddly comical and wonderfully reassuring all at once.  Somehow, in the midst of all that had just gone wrong, we were finding ways to remember what still was right.

Any given day, it's easy to focus on the what's gone wrong, but I want to be a person who pauses and recalls what's right.

So much goes right.  The other day I tossed a bag of outgrown clothing into a drop-off donation box, and my car keys (which I unwisely had looped around my index finger) slipped from my grip mid-toss.  Before I could even process, the keys clanged against the chute, teetered, and then miraculously fell onto the pavement outside rather than plummeting downward into the cavernous steel box. 

That day, my kids and I didn't get stranded, keyless, in the Sam's Club parking lot.  I didn't need to awkwardly contact the Salvation Army and ask them to return my accidental donation.  Even better, I didn't need to dumpster-dive headfirst into a donation box.  That situation could have gone so wrong, but look how right it went!

Unfortunately, some days you crash into your friend's mailbox when you're trying to make her day better. 

Thankfully, more often than not, we miss the mailbox. 
Enjoy a dose of humor, hope, and encouragement for moms with Then I Became a Mother.  Both Kindle and paperback editions currently are on sale!

"Hilarious and spot-on!" Jennifer Wiles Mullen, Mosaic of Moms.

"The perfect read for those days that you wonder if you're doing anything right." Amazon Review.

Image adapted from marymuses (flickr.com)
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Clinging to Summer. Wishing It Away.

I can feel it in the morning air.  I can hear it in the evening crickets.  I can sense it in my bones.  This summer, like it or not, rapidly is coming to a close. 

Some days -- like today when my three-year-old flooded the bathroom sink, my five-year-old melted down over a missing Barbie shoe, and my eight-year old launched into a lengthy, resolve-draining whine about watching TV (all before nine thirty in the morning) -- I long for the structure that the school year will bring.  We need some structure here.

Other days, I feel like the end of summer is a death of freedom.  Our schedules will fill up.  With the start of the semester next week, Joel and I will revert to our balancing act: tag-team parenting with one of us at home while the other is on campus.  There won't be lazy mornings when it's no big deal if I don't shower before noon.  My late nights will be filled with essay-grading, email-responding, and lecture-planning.

I want summer to linger for its freedom, yet I'm ready for it to be over.  Whether they can articulate it or not, the kids seem to feel this way, too.  We're all operating under a certain degree of meh, hovering on the cusp between two seasons, a bit tired of one and slightly wary of the next.

We attempt to make the most of the waiting period.  I find myself filling the days with as many last-ditch summer activities that we can muster: a local baseball game, a trip to a nearby lake for an afternoon of swimming, a backyard fire to roast marshmallows.

When I begin to view the upcoming school year as an insurmountable mountain, I remind myself that what comes ahead will be paced just like summer has been paced: one day at a time. 
Nothing that's ahead of us -- no amount of work, no hectic scheduling -- is more than we'll be able to handle.  God, who's above time, will walk with us each step, just like He has done in the past.
It's possible to hold contrasting emotions at once: clinging to summer, wishing it away.  The real test is to balance in the middle, finding the comfortable spot in the midst of the discomfort, and realizing that these days -- flooded bathroom sinks and all -- are good days, too.

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Husking Corn and Feeling Prepared

Two bushels. 

This is the amount of corn that my in-laws and I husked, cut from the cob, and cooked this past weekend.  Have you ever seen two bushels of corn?  It's no joke, my friends.

Preparing and freezing corn is a long-standing family tradition on my husband's side.  Thanks to this, I now have a section of my freezer stocked with perfectly-portioned Ziplock bags of golden corn that I can use during the months ahead.  When winter lingers, thawing one of these is a throwback to the sweet taste of summer.

And the feeling I get when I look at that orderly pile of freezer bags?  A warm pride rises within me, making me feel like I'm kindred spirits with Laura Ingalls Wilder or pals with the Pioneer Woman.  At least in one area, I relish the sensation of being prepared. 

I may be behind in multiple areas of life right now, but not with corn.  Somehow, that seems enough for the day.

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Kids Being Kids: Life with Neighbors

This summer marked the first time that we've had across-the-street neighbors.  For seven years, our house faced two empty lots, but recently two families with children moved in.  Our girls have been delighted. 

It's unusual when more than a day to passes without the six kids gathering in one of our yards.  When they're at my house, my goal has been to keep an eye on the activity without hovering.  Let kids be kids.  I stay attuned enough to catch moments when they indicate that they're up to no good, like the day they clumsily snuck out of our shed carrying shovels while whispering, "Do you think your mom will notice if we dig there?"

A mom's ears perk up at phrases like this. 

When I pressed them for more information, the story came tumbling out.  Apparently, the toad that they had captured the night before had died.  One girl shook a small insect cage to clear away the debris and thrust it under my nose.  I took one look at the toad's shriveled form and confirmed the inevitable: Yep, he's a bit dehydrated.

My five-year-old became the spokesperson.  "We need shovels to bury him."

The ceremony was brief.  Nobody knew the toad's name, but he's now resting in peace in the far corner of our backyard under a grave site marked with a golf ball and a rose.

The next day the kids showed me the insect cage again.  This time it contained a pitiable lightning bug and a bee that kept charging into the perforated roof, his only chance for freedom.

"Are you planning on releasing them?  Giving them any water, or something?" I ventured.

"Probably," one kid answered.  "But if they die, don't worry.  We know where to bury them now."

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A Garage Sale (my heart is all a-flutter)

Garage Sale (noun): an event where you rid your home of objects that you can live without, but you hope that others can't.

My neighbors recently held a garage sale.  Even though one would think that a neighbor's garage sale won't directly affect your life, it became a big deal around here.  Our girls volunteered to help sell cookies and lemonade with other neighborhood kids, and for two days they spent most of their waking moments visiting the sale, talking about the sale, persuading us to buy items from the sale, or longingly observing the sale from our driveway across the street in the rare moments when we lured them back to our house.

By the end of the weekend, the girls had a new bin of Polly Pockets in their possession (because, clearly, we need more small plastic toys in our house), and I had picked up two of these butterfly decorations for a dollar.

When I showed the butterflies to a friend, she said, "I think my parents had a decoration just like that when I was growing up."  I went a step farther to offer my guess that roughly three million Americans owned this exact same gold butterfly decoration in 1987.  Give or take a dozen.

At any rate, I modernized the butterflies with a quick coat of spray paint, and they're now happily flying above my daughters' beds.

Good as new.  Come to think of it, perhaps even better.

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An Update to Assure You That I Haven't Disappeared

Time, it would seem, has been getting away from me.  I'm amazed that we're nearly two full weeks into August.  In another two weeks the lazy rhythm of summer will cease.  School will start for not only for Reese, our oldest daughter, but also for Brooke, who's entering kindergarten.  (Observe a moment of silence to commemorate this milestone.  Kindergarten!) 

Kerrington, our youngest, will attend pre-school two mornings a week.  The rest of the time she'll either (a) revel in the calmness of being the only child in the house, or (b) drive me slightly mad with incessant requests to play dolls or My Little Ponies with her in lieu of having sisters as playmates.

As for me, I'm preparing -- mentally, emotionally, and literally -- for the four classes that I'll be teaching this fall semester in the mornings.  Over the next week I'll finish tweaking assignments, selecting readings, and revising my course syllabi.

It's been a good summer.  I've spent time with the girls and Joel, read for pleasure, completed a ridiculous amount of projects around the house, and took some breaks from the computer.  I've had several moments when I've thought, I should blog about this, but lo and behold, no blog post ever materialized.  So, while I've experienced a few weeks that have been sparse on the blog (my apologies to you, loyal readers), the weeks have been quite full in real life.

For example, earlier this month Joel and I celebrated our twelfth anniversary.  He surprised me by planning an impromptu get-away at his friend's cabin on Keuka Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York.  Let me tell you, he had me at, "I've asked my parents to watch the girls for two days."

Our drive provided an enjoyable three hours of uninterrupted conversation and moments of pleasant silence.  Before reaching the cabin, we stopped at the Garret Chapel and toured its beautiful grounds.

I've never been to the Finger Lakes before, and I appreciated their simplicity and lack of commercialism.  Plus, if anyone harbors any stereotypes that New Yorkers aren't friendly, please let me direct you to exhibit number two below.  (Clearly, anyone who gives away summer squash and zucchini is a friend in my book.)

Joel then took me to this waterfall, which, he admitted, was the only nearby landmark he knew besides the chapel.  (He wins bonus points for this one.)

The interior of the cabin was a step back in time and, apparently, a celebration of strawberries.  We could walk directly from the back porch to the lake.

While calm in this picture, the lake grew rougher throughout the day as the wind increased, and the temperature was unexpectedly cool.  Instead of canoeing, which I had been looking forward to, we opted to spend the afternoon sitting on the dock with me bundled in one of Joel's sweatshirts that he found in the trunk of the car.  (Rule of thumb: as much as I love adventure, I refuse to become the subject of a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" feature article during the one weekend that we manage to get away from the kids.)

By the time we drove home, I felt that I had been gone longer than thirty-six hours, in a good way.  I'm thankful for my in-laws who babysat the girls, and so grateful for Joel for planning the two-day retreat.

What can I say?  Twelve years of marriage.  Better by the dozen.

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Ode to Summer: An Evening Run

It was just past eight when I took off down the street for an evening run.  We've had remarkably agreeable weather recently: low humidity, blue skies, and cooler-than-average temperatures that have kept the grass green during a month when lawns normally are baked to a dull, straw-like yellow.

This evening was no different.  The air, almost crisp, transported the evening sounds and smells.  I navigated a mile away from my immediate neighborhood to a pocket of homes nestled into our mountain.

If viewed from above, I imagine these roads stretching outward like a tic-tac-toe board drawn with the imperfectly crooked penmanship of a child.  Horizontal streets cut across the steeply-sloped vertical streets that climb their way up the mountain.  Along the way, an eclectic mix of houses -- classic Victorian beauties, nondescript double-wides, weathered farmhouses in need of painting -- are planted on small lots between crooked sheds and well-tended gardens.

Technically a village that possesses its own small post office, this tightly-clustered neighborhood always has intrigued me.  I cut between the streets onto the alleyways, listening to the crunch of my shoes on the gravel.  An older man sits on his back porch and raises one hand in a silent greeting as I pass.  The glow of a kitchen light provides a momentary glimpse through a window of a woman washing dishes at her sink.  I smell the fragrance of a Rose of Sharon bush that's dropped a cluster of petals, snow-like, onto the ground below.  I hear the sporadic pinging from a parked car, its engine still cooling off after its driver retired it underneath a rusty car port.  I catch a wisp of cigarette smoke.  The crickets serenade me. 

I feel like I've stepped back in time.  Every step feels free.

In these past eight years, if I've ever felt trapped by the responsibilities of parenthood, it most likely was on a summer night.  A night like tonight when I wanted to take off and be out -- out past my children's bedtime, out without having to plan in advance for a sitter.  Out soaking in every ounce of daylight before it fades; out reveling in the inky black darkness that follows.  Just out, with no cares, no curfew, no responsibility, no need to supervise the teeth-brushing and bath routine.

Summer has a way of whetting that desire for wind-in-the-hair freedom, and this run somehow both awakened and slaked that thirst.  I've rarely said this about distance, but as I raced the dusk's descent into darkness on my way back home, four miles seemed not nearly enough.

Oh, summer nights, what a gift you are.


Looking to while away these lingering summer weeks?

"Like motherhood itself, Then I Became a Mother is full of laughter, tears, unforgettable stories, naked truth, and beauty. I will recommend this book to my very own sister, and I recommend it to you."  (Laura Booz, Amazon Review)

Image compliments of Thomas van de Vosse (flickr.com)

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An Entirely Regular Saturday (plus a visit to a salon)

Drawn by the lure of a mail advertisement, I found myself standing in a new salon/beauty store in our town for its grand opening.  A decked-out employee greeted me at the door, and I strolled up and down the aisles, lulled by gleam of fluorescent lights on the white tile.

A niggling sensation crept up as I glanced over the shelves: I don't belong here.  Too many options, too many unknown products, too fancy. 

Even though I enjoy fashion and wear makeup, something about a salon-setting makes me feel like I'm a child in an adult world.  Blending eye shadow?  Choosing a skin care line?  Do I even know how to properly wash my face?  Suddenly I'm all thumbs, certain that I'm inept at the most basic grooming habits.

I almost left the store, but something -- who knows what? -- made me stay a moment longer, just long enough for a stylist to ask if I was finding everything alright.  My response surprised me.  Before I could reconsider, I sat down at the makeup counter and let her work some smoky-eye-shadow magic on me.

I don't do these types of things.  I don't pause in the middle of a normal Saturday to get a free makeover. 

And I really don't do what I did next: I paid for a mini-facial.

This is absurd, I thought, as I settled into the reclining chair and the esthetician began to gently wash my face with a cleanser that smelled like lemongrass and sage.  Absurd, and somehow deliciously wonderful.

I forced myself to focus, to enjoy the moment, to revel in the whim --  not rationalizing the $20 it would cost, worrying that I'd arrive home a half hour later than I originally anticipated, or mulling over how I'd revert to my regular Dove soap routine the next day.  I simply let myself be pampered. 

Later in the evening, I was wearing an old tee shirt and athletic shorts, sporting a ponytail, and finishing a messy project in our garage while Joel pruned bushes in the back yard and the girls played with their neighborhood friends. 

I stopped working when my neighbors walked across the street to pick up their kids.  One took a good look at me.  "I just can't get over your eye shadow!"

I couldn't quite get over it, either.  I love that I had taken the plunge and done something against the grain, something so unexpected.

Besides, I've never looked so fine while working in the garage, ever.  Entirely worth it.

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