Grace

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I miss this blog. I can’t commit to it and I can’t abandon it, which everyone says is the worst thing if you’re a writer. Commit or let go. Don’t waste your time or, on second thought, waste it over here, in this way, on this platform. Post pictures.

I throw things away. It gives me pleasure to fill bags with things to toss, things to donate, things to pass on to friends. I like empty spaces where my eyes can rest and blur. I have a very few items I keep without secret plans of ridding the house of them one day: my grandmother’s diamond studs, my cello, the photo albums I’ve put together over the years, the journal I kept in college (written in German and full of foolish things).

I tried to toss the blog, but I couldn’t. There are things that persist past their evident usefulness, things that collect dust and grow obsolete, you know? But I find as I get older I’m less inclined to scoop every, single thing into a bag at the first sign it isn’t earning its keep. I tell myself I need a few curled up, uncategorized placeholders in my life, that it’s OK if I don’t come back to sit with them except once in a long while, and then only because I want to.

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Back and Forth

We said goodbye to our four-year-old nephew today.  We’d kept him for a few days because his parents were out of town.  It’s amazing how much having a little one changes the dynamic in a family.  With two teenagers in the house (and one who’s almost there) things are different for us than they were an eyeblink ago.

These days our lives are marked by large swaths of the predictable.  There’s lots of quiet and a fair bit of angsty journal writing.  But four-year-olds need to yell, to jump straight up in the air, to be reminded to go potty.  They need eye contact and physical touch and snacks.  They need sleep.

As we re-arranged our lives to provide those things for our nephew I realized that my teens need a lot of the same things he does–still, after all this time.  I watched them hunker down and watch kid cartoons with the pre-schooler, wrestle till they were sweating, play hide-and-seek, and evil robots.  I watched them grab books and blankets during the little guy’s nap, giving in to the old relief of a time-out.  I watched them be kids, and also, I saw their rapidly approaching adulthood as they helped meet the needs of someone smaller.  Someone they used to be.

And I remembered:  deep down, we are all four-year-olds.

 

 

The One Percent

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As I type, my daughter lies sleeping next to me.  We’ve been up since 5:00 A.M, stuffed stray shoes in backpacks, filled coffee mugs one last time, because my sister and her kids left to return to their home in VA while our town still slept.  They were with us for over a week, a blessing we didn’t anticipate because we hadn’t counted on the winter storm that painted our city and theirs in clean, thick white.  We couldn’t have been more pleased.

We did a lot in our eight days of togetherness–a little homework, a lot of Netflix watching, video game playing, late night giggling, drawing, even poetry reading.  We took turns cooking our favorite comfort foods and tossing paper plates and napkins into a continually popping fireplace.  We stared at one another’s messy hair and naked eyes and smiled comfortable smiles.

We are rich in family.

I told all six kids that after they’d piled into one room to spend their last night together.  Rich as Croesus.  Not everyone is.  And just like with material wealth, those who live in abundance should seek out those who don’t, in order to bless them in small or big ways.   My prayer is that some of what filled our house this week will spill over into other lives that intersect ours–to pay it forward, somehow.

In the meantime, I’ll keep warm this winter from inside out, my heart stoked with the orange embers of sister love.

Life by Numbers

The first week in December came and went.  My sister and her husband and kids stayed with us for a few days, and it was Christmasy to have littles in the house again.

And then, in the middle of Amazon deliveries, Christmas movie marathons, and reminding preschoolers to flush, our middle son turned thirteen.

I won’t spend time dragging out tattered cliches about time flying and all that.  But he’s the second of our three kids to cross this invisible threshold in the last fourteen months, and I have to mention it.

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Yesterday, we visited my eighty-year-old grandmother.  She is still beautiful to me.  Her hands shake now, but her nails are painted red and she wears diamonds.  We sat out on her sunporch, overlooking quiet fields, and reminisced about my childhood and hers.  She chuckled to herself, talked about my kids and me as if we are the same age.

My husband and I haven’t turned forty yet, but we notice the signs of a new normal in the bags under our eyes, in our increasing fatigue at any hour past 9:30 PM.  We don’t feel twelve-and-a-half very often anymore.

Then we look at our kids, at how they’re leaving childhood behind at breakneck speed, and we feel older, still–but also younger.  Older because, how did we become the parents of two teenagers and one who’ll be there in seventeen months (minutes)?  Younger because we’ve crammed a lot of living into thirty-eight years, and, Lord willing, there’s more to come.

So I’m trying to stay present in these actual moments instead of looking back too much, or worse, too far ahead.  Because before long, these hours will be replaced by something new.  And then something else after that.

And I will miss my grandmother, and the house that used to have kids living in it.

On Catching Fish With Your Bare Hands

As a writer who educates three middle-schoolers at home, I have little time to stare at a blank screen in the mornings.  If the words don’t come when I need them to, if I can’t get things down in the early quiet, I feel the Pop Rocks of Panic start to fizz somewhere under my left lung.

Because, for me, the words I write are proof of life, as melodramatic as that surely sounds.  I don’t make actual things for a living, like some people do (if you don’t count that one season when I made three human beings in 32 months).  In fact, most of the work I do in a day’s time seems to evaporate into the ether with no real proof that I did it.

Except for the words.  This morning they won’t come, and my breathing’s a little shallow.

Writing is a lot like homeschooling, which, in turn, is a lot like trying to catch fish with your bare hands.  You keep grabbing moments, waiting, calming your breath, lunging again (don’t be so clumsy this time), repeating the whole thing–while trying to forget about how ridiculous you must look.

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When I don’t catch any fish right away (write any words worth keeping, or successfully explain, say, certain biological concepts), I have to trust that it’s the trying, the not-quitting, that equals success, at least in the short run.  Even if it seems like nothing is happening at the moment.

So, yes, the cursor is blinking, and the kids have knocked on my bedroom door, signalling that it’s onward and upward.

But it’s OK.  I’ll bide my time.

I’ve noticed that fish often come when you’re looking the other way.

Another Home

We lived in a dingy, Indian apartment for three years. We shared square footage with mountain monkeys, mice, and mongooses (mongeese?). The pipes leaked but only when we weren’t experiencing water shortages.

We ended up kind-of loving that place.

A dear family member visited us once and delicately called it a shit hole. After taking a deep breath, I looked around and tried to see it through his eyes in order to cut him some slack. I couldn’t. After all, the neighbors were living in tin shacks. Our concrete floors and lumpy walls had begun to look decent to me. My bedroom with the little porch felt familiar the way pajama pants do, the ones you wore after having your third baby.

Now we’re two years back in the US and we’re house hunting. I find that I’m at odds with myself and Husband about everything pertaining to domiciles. I mean everything. I look at ramshackle houses and love them (memory-soaked walls)/find them repulsive (why must the ceilings be so low and the walls so wood-paneled?) I visit new construction and salivate over stainless steel appliances and shiny wood floors while judging these Americans with their monstrous master bedrooms and cocktail party baths.

I decide that I want to stay in the cottage we’ve been in for two years, the one my parents own.  The one in which I crashed and burned upon our reentry into This American Life. But it feels itchy, like arrested development. I’ve got rocks in my nest, as good as it’s been.

I am propelled forward.

Husband will board a plane to Africa today. The kids and I will wave goodbye and then set the GPS to look at another house. I will imagine myself in it.  I’ll come away hopeful, then worried about money, then worried The One will slip through my fingers. Or I’ll come away muttering.

I will face the fact that I am uncomfortable searching for a home and that this is OK. I will remind myself of what Scripture says. Also C.S. Lewis.

I’ll find a house one of these days and it will be good.  Time will make it a (temporary) home.