On a walk I saw…

We walked early this morning, just after breakfast. No toy vehicles allowed- which elicited a wave of fury from Everett and Mae. The sky was blue, without an interruption of cloud, a blank canvas rather than a finished painting. Cohen walked 100 feet ahead of us, and Soph decided to stay home camped out on the roof of the playhouse with Jacob instead. But even still- there was peace. Everett held his planes as we walked, and Mae cradled Elsa in her elbow. Ellie noticed a small bird on the corner of garage roof and we stopped to watch it for a while.

We came home to sit outside on the empty patio, winter’s fallen leaves still covering the corners of the deck, small green shoots of perennials nearly invisible along the fence garden. Cohen swung on the giant swing listening to music while Soph and Ellie perched on the playhouse roof with notebooks, pencils, and baseball caps to indicate they were “spies.” When the older girls would vacate the roof, Everett and Mae would acquire the space, pulling themselves up like monkeys and then calling for help to get down.

We spread a large green blanket across the cement, and I brought out paper plates of cucumbers and carrots and chicken nuggets for lunch. Afterward giant piles of books were hauled outside, and everyone found a “nook.” Cohen returned to his place on the swing, Soph and Ellie found chairs on the pool deck, perched with The Penderwicks and a 2016 Briargate yearbook respectively, and Mae and Everett pulled up small chairs next to Jacob while he worked on his laptop.

Reading only lasted a few minutes for the twins, who quickly found a new game to occupy their attention, and “baseball matching” was laid out on the ground. We called Gaga Jayne and didn’t need to talk. She rocked on her swing and listened to us find matches. Everett would flip each small circle to discover a different MLB logo. “Miami Mah-lins,” he would say, “Not, Cah-di-nuls, SAINT LOUIS Cah-di-nuls.” We called Papa Gary and heard about his hearing aids but mostly just put emojis of skeletons and bears on his forehead.

We came inside to bake a box cake- funfetti. Cohen cracked the eggs, Soph measured the water and oil, and Ellie nearly sprayed her own eyeballs out with the PAM. They fought over who got to lick the bowl. In our foray through the pantry, Cohen found a tub of powdered Countrytime Lemonade and quickly managed to get all of his siblings to chant for the beverage in unison. “LEM-ON-ADE! LEM-ON-ADE!” I walked up from the basement steps and found them huddled in the doorframe, giggling, knowing they had the one-cup-of-juice-a-day rule beaten.

There is the temptation to write something profound today, something that will satisfy this thirst we are feeling for answers, to discover a new truth that has been gleaned from these uncertain times. But more often than not, we remember rather than discover, we remember that what we need is really very little, very simple, and has indeed been with us all along.

A few nights ago, on a walk by myself, I saw what was in front of me. So many people looked me in the eye. The first man I passed spoke with a direct address: You have a good day he said looking right at me. The next woman I saw from afar, walking slowly. Her gray hair blew in the wind and she found my eyes and said with triumph “we will not be defeated.” I watched a dad play baseball with his son in their backyard. The boy was in full uniform, white baseball pants, jersey, cap. There were no bleachers, stands, or fans. Just his dad, poised and ready with a bat, waiting for the surely off-kilter pitch.We held eye contact for longer than normal, these strangers and I, perhaps because these changes remind us of what is constant- of that which never changes- that we are here together.

And as I walked a little bit further, I thought about how we are typically like horses pawing our hooves at the ground, ready to burst forth from the starting gate- itching to go, to be any place but where we are. But the Now is pulling us inward for the time being, back into ourselves, back to the discovery of the still small voice that has never left us. It is the spark amidst all sorts of change that remains constant. It is the voice that says I AM.

Last night the boys crawled in bed together, and Jacob snapped a photo. He told me as he showed me the picture: “God help us if that’s not the cure to everything in the world.” Which of course, it’s not. But in other ways, perhaps in the ways that really matter, it surely is. Grace upon grace to you in this uncertainty- in the boredom, pain, and beauty of it. May we have eyes to see what is in front of us, and ears to hear the Voice that has been there all along.

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Stonehenge

About a month ago, the kids and a friend spent some time playing in the snow on the hill across the street from our house.  After quickly discovering that the slushy powder was useless for sledding, they realized it was just about perfect for fort-building, and proceeded to roll several giant snow-boulders together in odd formations. I sat there and watched them in a foldable lawn chair, shivering but glad to be away from the weekend laundry.  The three older kids each began their own fort, hoping– I think– to eventually combine the formations into one large structure, but they tired before actually connecting them.  The snowballs loomed tall for the next month, weeks after the snow had melted around them, our own little Stonehenge on the hill of Cimarron Drive.  We would drive past them marveling at the mark we had left, until today when that mark was nearly gone.  We were there— I would think as we drove past.  And some other thoughts lingered out there on the edge of language, some thoughts that I couldn’t quite express.

And so a Stonehenge of words… to remind myself I’m here…

Cohen- now eleven, has started showering every morning before school.  “Because hygiene” he says.  Samples of Old Spice and Degree line the top of his dresser next to his collection of plastic baseball hats, trophies, and the small camel his uncle brought him from Egypt.  He’s going through the annual jaunt of sleeping in his closet, feeling the safety of the three walls around him, Everett’s clothes shoved to the side, blankets piled high in a cozy nest.  He watches Clone Wars with diligence and plays football with Everett almost as much- gently tackling him as they both bound across the living room carpet.  He’s been saving diligently for a new pair of slippers, and recently made enough to buy a pair (size 8- 2 sizes too big so  “I’ll grow into them”).  He still refuses to eat nearly all types of meat and vegetables- but he’s trying to appease us by putting kale in sugar-stocked smoothies.  He’ll eat buttered noodles and ice cream by the gallon, and no one can infuriate Sophie and Ellie like he can.  His laughter can fill a room.

Sophie wears her patterned palazzo pants and “Yellow Submarine” t-shirt at least once a week and pumps out drawing after drawing of comic-like sketches.  After starting a game of Risk (which we obviously wouldn’t finish), she discovered “Chad” was the name of a country in Africa and later wrote in her journal that this fact “had her in hysterics.”  Before bed she must confirm that Jacob and I are still awake, and requests that we watch Parks & Rec  because the theme song has become a make-shift lullaby for her.  She’s fierce in basketball and has mastered the dribble-while-pushing-up-glasses maneuver.  Often she prefaces her stories with, “Mama, I have three things to say about that,” and goes on to list the details in numerical order.  Nothing is harder for her than practicing piano, but she finds chords that sound good together in a way that I never could.  She’s always up for a game of Horse, school, or “writer’s club”– the latest fantasy game they’ve made up in which they spy on me and Jacob. (Or- as we’re known in the club- Lynette and Clifton.) [sophie is amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!- edit added by Soph]

Ellie turns 7 at the end of this week and has confirmed no less than 10 times that we must wake her before we leave for work to help her style her hair for “crazy hair day.”  For two weeks she’s been frustrated at dance class, unable to master the “shuffle-ball-change-shuffle-flap” until recently when she discovered she can do them in circles around our island.  She pumps out drawings as fast as Sophie, and our kitchen table is a near constant home for blank paper and markers.  Like her siblings, she can throw down some pretty epic meltdowns; in a recent passionate outburst she spread every article of clothing she owns all over her bedroom floor.  She is the quickest to help Everett and Mae when they struggle, and doesn’t mind playing all by herself on the “snow mountain” at the edge of the cul-de-sac.  Her friend wrote her a letter that said “You have such a big heart.”

Mae somehow weasels her way into our bed without us noticing nearly every night.  When inquiring about the time she asks “How time is it?” and still randomly puts “k” sounds in a variety of words.  “Mommy- can I have some kassert?” This afternoon she danced to jingle-bell rock in the front hall. From my spot on the couch I could see her side-stepping back and forth in the foyer, entering and exiting my gaze like an actor crossing an unmoving camera.  She loves to help with ANYTHING- her latest escapades have been fixing the bathroom wall with Jacob (in which she was rewarded with a paintcan-to-the nose, poor girl) and helping me make baked mac n’ cheese (fistfuls of parmesan and panko breadcrumbs in her mouth during that one.)  She and Cam and Everett play “belly squat” at Grandma’s, a game in which they run shirtless around the house like barbarians.  Every story is typically addressed to Everett, opening with an enthusiastic “Hey Look!”

Everett recently went through a bucket of misplaced game pieces, and upon finding three separate hourglass sand-timers, lined them all up in a row.  He kneeled on the floor, eye-level with the timers, and chanted “Go geen, go geen.”  “Geen is gonna win!!”  When he doesn’t like dinner, he’ll bolt to the pantry to find an Oreo before any of us knows what is happening.  He plays game after game after game after game, Uno, Bugs in Kitchen, baseball matching, Candyland– over and over again, sometimes electing to play against himself.  At least the “cinnamon roll” (aka chocolate bonbon) card has been ripped to the point of no-return so we can no longer accuse anyone of cheating.  He hates putting on chapstick and clipping his nails and shows us just how strong he can be when we try to get him to do either. His hand perches gently on my shoulder as I read to him, the warmth of it stretching to my heart.

Last weekend, walking from the grocery store to my car, three plastic bags dangling from my arm, the rest of my cart full to overflowing (“I have a lot,” I warned the man who got in line behind me at the checkout.  He smiled kindly and said “You must have a lot of mouths to feed.”) Bright sun warmed the cold February air, the sky a palette of blue above me.  After I finished loading everything into the trunk of the Expedition, I caught a young mother and father walking their toddler into the store.  I could only see their backs, but I noticed both tilting their heads toward the sky, their arms pointed up in the same direction.  I followed their gaze along with the child and found the tiny airplane in the sky.

I got into the front seat, slamming the car door behind me. People still stop, I said quietly to myself, releasing a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.  They point to the sky and say look.  They see something quite old as new because they know that is what we are here for.

 

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Little memories (Co-written by Soph)

Memories from Christmas break:

After most of the presents were opened, Sophie hands me a slip of paper that says “go look at your desk.”  I went up to find several notebooks full of her stories.  For the past few weeks whenever I would go in her room, she would yell for me not to look at the left side of her bed.  Apparently- she had been busily preparing her work.  Titles included: “A Year in the Life of the Schafers”- a big family whose older brother Ben comes home from his job as a “construction worker” and his sisters like “Rita Book” and “Petunia” go trick-or-treating.  Other titles included “Jolly Old St. Nick” and “Write”.

Sophie and I went to see Little Women.  She snuck little upward glances at me especially when she noticed me sniffling during the scene with Jo and Beth on the beach.  My favorite line was when Marmee told Jo “There are some natures too noble to break and too lofty to bend.”  Sophie ate M&Ms and I drank a giant diet coke and the winter air was warm as we walked back to the car.  I squeezed her shoulders and said “That was so fun.”  (Sophie is watching me type this and she just asked: “Why do moms squeeze shoulders so much in serious books?)

Some great quotes from Everett:

(After opening his fifth dinosaur shirt/ slightly rolling his eyes and sighing): Why I keep getting dinosaur clothes?

Looking outside this morning: “Hey- it’s sunny! When t-ball start?”

Responding to Mae’s delighted and giggly observation that we were in Chicago as we drove back from the planetarium.  Mae: “We’re in the city!” Everett: “Everbody know that Mae-Mae”

Looking up from the downstairs as Jacob comes down in the morning and notices crumbs around his mouth: “Somebody left the chocolate chip cookies out.”

Walking out of pantry (on multiple occasions) after we can’t find him for a few minutes. (Smacking lips): “Uh- I had uh Oreo”

We must have asked him 50 times before Christmas, “What do you want Santa to bring you?”, knowing full well that his response would be a “mighty pups tow-uh”  On Christmas morning we were poised and ready with the camera as he opened a large box, his last present of the morning.  As soon as he pulled down the paper, Sophie and Ellie quickly claimed “Oh- it’s not a mighty pups tower.  It’s the lookout.”  Jacob and I exchanged glances.  Apparently Santa had goofed- there’s a difference between the look-out and the mighty pups tower??  For the next two days we faced Everett’s upturned brown eyes questioning “Why I not get a mighty pups tower?”  Thankfully, he’s moved on quickly and is content to play with the look-out.  When he plays with Marshall you can hear his little voice say “I’m ready for a wup wup rescue!”

We made Christmas cookies one of the first weekends in December– the same weekend our washing machine broke and Jacob was down for the count with a fever.  As my dad was helping us install the washing machine, he’d occasionally glance back into the kitchen and notice the flying flour and the demands for the rolling pin and the food coloring staining everything.  At one moment he looked straight at me and said “You’re brave.”  Or very very crazy.  But we were going to make cookies! Cohen made Santa a “pizza cookie” and Sophie made classic holiday favorites like “Nancy with the fat lips” and “Bob the cranky old man in suspenders” and “Jimmy the super smart guy in green underwear.”  Everett and Mae ate plenty of dough.  Ellie made a pair of mittens that Mae  sneezed all over.  Aside from the mittens- the cookies were utterly delicious.

Everyone but Cohen taking a thousand selfies on our echo show.  Everett made his classic  “raised eyebrows pursed lip” face that made them all laugh.

We went to breakfast with Santa at Cary-Grove.  Cohen asked for Jedi Fallen Order, Sophie asked for a real dog, Ellie asked for a stuffed dog, Mae asked for a frozen castle, and Everett asked for- you guessed it- a mighty pups tower.  We were the first family to be called, but Mae would only go at the end of the event, after she had watched all the other kids go up.

Since Christmas has come and gone, we’ve enjoyed having no where to be.  I’ve found myself breathing deeply a lot. We have time for nerf battles after dinner. We’ve played more rounds of Chick-A-Pig, Dutch Blitz, and Bugs in the Kitchen than I can count (Ellie, Soph, and Everett’s favorite games respectively.)  We watched Lord of the Rings and ate Chinese on New Years Eve.  Sophie made up a game with a time listed on little sheets of paper and we all had to search for our matching “Time” and when we found it we got the candy that was attached.  The big kids made it to midnight and we watched a suspender-clad man doing circus tricks on a long metal pole on the Chicago NYE special.  He looked like he stepped out of Fiddler on the Roof, which made the circus tricks kind of odd.  Sophie and Jacob have now affectionately dubbed it the New Years Eve of the “1830s Jewish pole dancer.”

After the Merry Cary Parade, the kids performed a show to all the songs of Frozen 2.  Sophie directed from behind the scenes, shouting things like “louder” and “speak up” and “everybody on the set!”– earning her the gift of a megaphone at Christmas.  Halfway through Everett walked on set in a giant pair of construction boots making everyone burst into a fit of laughter.  Cohen was the camera man, filming everything.

Mae pronounces “ka-sert” and “ka-jamas” for desert and pajamas.

Christmas night we sat around a bonfire at my parents.  We didn’t need coats– the air was so warm.  There were lights strung across the top of the pergola, and you could see the stars.  Sophie stumped me with “Into the Unknown” as we played hangman.  The cousins ran around the back yard playing what Ellie eventually dubbed “tree tag”, hopping from ice chunk to ice chunk in the grass.

Soph says my last line to this post should be:  “It’s a wonderful life.”

Signing off! – Liz & Soph

 

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Chopping Ice

A few weeks ago the kids came alive chopping ice along the edges of a nearby pond.  The intensity of their effort astounded me, and as is the case with effort, joy quickly followed.  Papa Gary took them to the newly frozen water armed with shovels, hammers, and rakes.  We covered their little fingers and toes in gloves and snow boots.  Jacob and I followed to observe– first as supervisors, but quickly becoming students ourselves, unintentional witnesses to a lesson in wonder.  The kids would smash the ice along the edges of the pond with their rakes and hammers, grunting with effort to haul in oddly shaped shards of frozen water.  They would cry out what “state” the latest piece would resemble.  “I’ve got Minnesota!” Sophie would shout, “I’ve got Michigan!” Ellie would respond.   Again and again and again- they’d cry “Look it! Look at how much I got that time!”  They breathed heavily, cheeks pink from movement and cold and delight, never once noticing how frigid and wet they surely were. Jacob and I just shook our heads, initially confused by their joy, but eventually giving into it, taking our own pictures of the ice shards as if they were newly discovered diamonds.

For isn’t that the truth of things- that it is not in efficiency, production or even purpose that we find meaning, but in the experience of life itself.    “It is not meaning that we are seeking,” Joseph Campbell said, “But rather the experience of being alive.”  And aliveness- strangely enough- has nothing to do with what you can accomplish (futility actually might be its friend)– or what reason lies beyond the experience, or what will come of that moment in the future.  Aliveness abides in Being itself.  The ice would obviously melt, many of the states were split before we were even able to give them proper witness, and there was no way to transport or store the mini-glaciers (though Papa Gary surely tried.)

Later on, we ate dinner around a crowded table. Darkness closes in around us early now, making our home its own light in the vastness beyond, like the small, soft glow of a planet surrounded by a much larger darkness.  Cohen and Jacob hash out fantasy football, Sophie recounts how kids chased each other at recess, and Ellie tells us how she read the part of the “raccoon” in her class play. Everett recalls how somebody  “pulled Mae’s shawt at pee-school.” I asked him what he did when he saw it, and he said “I cried.” (Be still, heart, be still.) Most of us all speak at once- starting sentences and usually not finishing them. The kids leave the table too early.  They shove stools over to the refrigerator to dig through the drawers for shredded cheese and ketchup. 

One day it will be quiet. Trips to the pond will surely be different then, and it’s true there will be fewer interruptions at dinner.  In a new Avett Brothers song that made me cry, Scott sings “I’m bracing for loneliness, I know it’s coming”.  And I feel that.  Because I can see my future self sitting at an empty table; the scrape of chairs against the floor and the clatter of dishes and the cacophony of voices will all be echoes then– and now vivid faces will eventually turn into mirages or ghosts.  It’s like I’m seeing my own eventual nostalgia- and those ghosts and those echoes make tonight’s voices and fingerprints and tears heavy with aliveness.

But don’t you see? (My soul asks me)  In The Now there are no ghosts- that me in the future will still be me- those moments just as real.  Surely– the moment will be different, but not lacking.  The moment has meaning not because it will end (as it surely will), but because it is here now.  And I think I am wrong about the ghosts and echoes, for that future empty table will have its own Being, just like piling up the ice had meaning, even though we knew (did we? did they even consider for a moment?) it would melt.

Now- even now!– table quiet or loud, chairs full or empty– this moment is calling you to wonder.  And though I cannot escape bracing myself for loneliness, I’m reminded that I cannot escape from a universe that is filled with the wonder of being, as long as I am.

 

 

 

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Snapshots

A snapshot:

We drove to Royal Oaks yesterday- windows down, listening to The Shins and The National, breathing in air so sweet it demanded I close my eyes to savor it.  We played on the giant (but somehow smaller now, since the kids are bigger)- tractor and firetrucks.  In the bottom of a large toy boat I peered through a porthole to ask Mae where the ship was sailing, and she said “Mackinac Island.”  The ship’s imaginary concession sold M&Ms and Skittles.

A tractor pulled a large wagon and its riders toward the back of the orchard, and we tasted our first bites of the late August crop: Zestar apples, which I kept miscalling “crispers”.  Cohen- always wary to step out of his daily regiment of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, bread, and noodles, described his reaction to the taste: “I love these,” he said, “It’s like I’m eating an apple for the first time.”  He would come home and help his dad and siblings make an apple pie, and later when he had friends over, he’d declare he “made the apple pie for them.”  (A few weeks ago, as he insisted on making cornbread muffins for dinner, he called from the kitchen “Did Bing Crosby sing in White Christmas too?”  He’s a 10 year old boy going on 60 year old gentleman and I love him for it.)

And another…

This afternoon I watched Mae attempt to “jump” on her scooter.  Upon the quick discovery that it’s difficult to get a scooter bigger than you are completely airborne, she completed a two-footed jump on the ground and then lifted the scooter up with her arms.  She’d repeat the routine: jump off the ground, lift scooter, jump off  the ground, lift scooter.  In her mind– she was jumping just like her big brother.  And the work it took to complete this task over and over again!  That’s what we’re all doing, it seems, piecing together each task as best we can, and ultimately determining for ourselves when to say “That’s it. That’s what I intended, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”  When you look from above and see the whole story, we’re jumping on the sides of our scooters and then lifting them and then taking pride that we jumped.  And I actually think the Storyteller finds this delightful.

And another…

At school, I have a young man who struggles with a slight stutter in class.  The first week of school, I received the most polite e-mail, with a short formal request in which he shared how he stutters and to “please be patient with him.”  My heart burst in my chest.  Of course.  Later that week, as the class circled up for discussion, he was one of the brave few to respond.  In front of everyone, patiently sorting his thoughts– patient with us, trusting we’d listen, and so patient with himself, waiting for the words to come.   He’s teaching everyone right now, I knew without quite thinking it, “He’s teaching us what it means to be human.”  Later on, as kids sat in small groups, he asked a simple question requesting clarity on some instructions I had given.  I listened, watching him work through the words, and all I could think was “there’s Jesus.” I struggle to recapture the experience with words– as the word Jesus comes with so much Evangelical and religious baggage (I find it difficult to speak about him– Jesus– with the same brazenness I’ve had in the past.)  But it’s the word I have and the story I’ve been given- and it was the only word I could muster. The boy was so perfectly teaching me what is means to be human– which of course, is all we need to be to see the Divine.

And finally…

Friday night we had friends over- and as I sat telling Sophie “just one more story” I reflected on how our first “First Friday” gathering was likely about six years ago this month.  “You were three,” I sad, not quite believing it.  Something that seems so brief to me has now been shaped into something that is her life.  That’s what is happening now- her childhood.  Her struggles, her joys– Eggo waffles in the morning and hastily completed homework sheets, good-bye kisses and midnight tugs on my shoulder in bed–  all the scenes coming together, becoming the reel that upon reflection, will simply be one Life.  There is something being shaped, something larger than myself, calling the script forward, spinning us ever-increasingly outward, like the tail of galaxy that can never quite catch itself in orbit.

“Mommy!” Cohen just called.  He runs upstairs.  “What?” I ask.  “Just touching base?”  He sighs and says “Yeah.  I just didn’t know where you were.”  I’m here, buddy, I think as I type.  Let me always be where I am.  I get to be here.  So does that boy in my classroom, the trees reaching heavenward in an orchard, even the apples that have fallen and lie decomposing on the ground– even in entropy, simply being themselves. I get to be here. So does my oldest son, and the growing  hearts and limbs and spirits that are my kids downstairs.  Like Mae, we pretend to jump and discover we’re not really pretending, and we’re patient with ourselves and others along the way.  We stare at the sky etched by the branches of  trees yearning skyward and see Life for what it is: Blessing.

 

 

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snapshots of July 2019- mostly for family

Cohen’s latest loves include hashing and rehashing the most over and  underrated players in the MLB.  He talks with Jacob in a language I understand only slightly more than Star Wars.  He loves to imitate the champs in Ninja Warrior- and I spied him doing their signature moves as he made his way off the high dive the other afternoon at the pool. (He wasn’t with anyone else he knew at the moment- so the moves were just for him.)  He can’t go to bed without reading his Snoopy or Big Nate comics, and if his friends are over, he’s making them play wiffle ball.  Jacob introduced him to Weird Al Yankovich and we lost him to the computer for over two hours.

Sophie is able to capture all the cute things the babies do and tell me the stories of everything I miss or don’t hear because sometimes it feels like there is everything going on all of the time (and other times like nothing– which is strange.)  “Mama, mama,” she says as I unload the dishwasher and wipe down the table, “Guess what Everett just said.  Guess what Mae just did.” (Well- usually flip those two subjects)  She’s constantly drawing and starting stories.  She recently just started one entitled “Teddy: My Life with the World’s Greatest Pup” and left a blank square where she wrote “Place picture here.”  She’s taking a creative writing class where she doesn’t know anyone else– and she said she loves it but she “can’t wait to write long stories.”  Her two favorite questions are: Who is your favorite Disney princess? and Who is you favorite character on the Who Was Show?    It think I have answered these questions approximately 42 times but that doesn’t stop her from asking them. She also made a map of Cary (after coloring several collages about different cities in a coloring book she and Cohen constantly fight over)– and she made sure to include the Drive Thru Burger King after Cohen suggested it.  She still hates tying her shoes and still love reading books.

Ellie shifts between playing with the big kids and the little kids.  Her latest summer loves are playing Uno (sometimes regular, sometimes Uno Attack), and War— usually with Everett.  Everett’s common lines during this experience are “I gonna win!” or “Ooooooo-no”   She loves to swim (favorites in the pool are jumping competitions and hand stand competitions).  She is also obsessed with doing head stands that always make me worried.  She dances some weird tribal dance called “Umba-lay-ahh” and we’re not quite sure why- but it’s funny.  The other night at dinner I caught the utter captivation in her eyes as Cohen and Sophie argued over something.  She hangs on their every word.  She looks more grown up than she ever has before.  She wants to explain and say so much more than she can- which often makes her sound crazy or like a sage.  This morning it was “Mama- I know how to see everything.”  Sage would have stopped there- but then she started describing pulling her shirt over her face and then taking her picture in front of a mirror and I lost the storyline.

One of Everett’s most common lines is “I getting bigger now.”  Right now he and Cohen are running from the black book shelf in my room to the bed. (Well- Cohen was- and then Everett said: “I do it toooo”  He loves to play Uno and War as much or even more than Ellie- and he was the only one along with Cohen who didn’t wind up crying after a nerf war that the big kids prepped for for over 45 minutes. (All three girls were crying within one minute of starting.)  He wrestles with Cohen and serves himself ice cream and speaks in this slow falsetto voice that makes my heart melt.

Mae loves being “beautiful” (donning necklaces and eye shadow all across her forehead) and wearing ANYthing and pretending it’s a cape while singing to Frozen.  Capes have included actual costumes, towels, and long blankets.  When she talks she TALKS and makes my heart smile because every word she says defines HISTRIONIC.  She and Everett play “chase” and “baby” and they both love following the big kids around whenever they have friends over. (And strangely enough, the big kids like it too.)  She unwraps at least four bandaids a day to cover her invisible “squito bite” she got two weeks ago.

A few days ago at story time at the library I took a seat in the back because nobody needs to sit in my lap any more.  I watched a mom with her 6 month old- I caught her holding him close for a long time- her eyes closed, her breath slow, her nose just touching the back of his head.  She knew where she was and wasn’t anywhere else. She didn’t know I was watching, and I could still cry at the beauty of it.

 

 

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Slow, children at play

 

The practical tasks of our morning routine could probably be accomplished in eight minutes.  But it’s never eight minutes– as life (thank goodness) is never just practical.

After coming in from a run, hair frizzed to the max, dripping sweat, adorned with a glob of toothpaste I had apparently not wiped from my chin- the morning kicked into gear.  Cohen had the milk and Cinnamon Toast Crunch out and Everett requested the same.  Cohen and I argued over whether or not he should donate all of his old school supplies– I won out on a few items, and he won out on others.  Seriously- the kid needs to go into conservation. 376th pencil bin for his room, here we come. (+2 minutes)  Ellie came down in a giant purple walk-a-thon T-shirt and just needed to be held for a bit, so we rocked in the gray rocking chair for approximately 30 seconds before more frozen waffles were requested for the toaster oven.  (+.5)

Cohen told me about how his favorite spot to play is catcher,  and I ignored Mae  dumping out half the syrup bottle out of the corner of my eye.  (+3/ +2) We looked for misplaced toothpaste and hair ties and socks and delayed putting on shoes until after a few rounds of “Disney Queen” dancing were completed. (They all jump out from behind “backstage” — a blanket that’s draped over an overturned coffee table). (+5)

Everett chased Cohen and Soph down the driveway before they wrestled their way into Mrs. Poe’s van, and I dropped off Ellie, hearing her say “Hi Mr. Tony,” to her gym teacher as she exited the car. (Even though “We’re supposed to call him Mr. Bruno now”) (+10 seconds).

I drove the babies/twins to Home Depot for sand for their sandbox I will likely regret buying. Out of car, into cart, out of cart, into car.  Then we made our way to Target.  Both kids had to work together to haul the giant supply of toilet paper in the cart. (+1).   They bunny-hopped down the aisles and informed me about the correct bread “papa likes to buy.”  (+2) We found a toothbrush and headbands and they said “Let’s bunny-hop some more!”  (+2). We checked out our items, accidentally double-scanning the toothbrush, and Everett got to grab the card out of the card reader.  (+2). We returned to the car. Every time we get in the vehicle they demand to get in their seats on their own. “I do it!”   Everett scales the carseat like a rock climber and must reach for the coat clip in the ceiling. If any step is skipped in the process, he must begin all over again.  This works until it…. doesn’t. (+10).

That afternoon they emptied a toy bin and piled each toy one by one on the coffee table.  Mae proceeded to create “stations”. “This is a ‘pooter station (computer), this is the baby station, this is the doggie station, this is the pencil station…and I’m the mama!” Everything was said with such gusto and confidence.  So much attention and care– such purpose. All of the stuff would get put back later, and they knew it– but it didn’t matter.

They teach me that: that it will all be put back eventually, everything will be returned. But that doesn’t matter.  We will organize and play with purpose anyway.

Recently, I saw a sign I had seen hundreds of times before: slow, children at play.  “It’s not just an instruction,” I thought.  “It’s also an observation.  Because we’re not just the people racing– we are the children too.”

Even on my very first day of summer vacation last week- filled with anticipation and peace for the rest to come– it only took about five underdogs (or “funder dogs” as Everett likes to call them) for me to be done and ready to move onto something different.  There must be something hidden there- some trick of the neurons that only the mystics must have- the ability to repeat, find joy, and repeat again.

Because there really is no where you have to be. (Well there is, but not really.) There is no race.  There is no rush- except in the races that are just for the fun of it– which is to say– all the races.

The trick of adulthood is to find enchantment in repetition- or perhaps- to cling to the truth that there is no repetition as there is only the ever-enchanted now.  After all- at tonight’s bedtime the earth will have progressed in its orbit, (you are 1.6 million miles away from where you were last night), thousands of people who were here yesterday will be here no more, and thousands more will have breathed for the first time.  Your hair grows, bones stretch, cells multiply:  and just outside your window, the same thing is happening to a nearly infinite amount of beings large and small.  Cosmic and microcosmic– all changing, all becoming, all new. Perhaps part of finding contentment in repetition is knowing that nothing is ever truly repeated.

Maybe this is part of being able to do the 17th “funderdog” and still enjoy it.

Everett hums and pushes his car up and down the side of the ouch.  Mae flips through the pages of the book she does not yet know how to read. They race to the foot of the bed and back in the rectangles of late afternoon sunshine- over and over and over again.

 

 

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Frog, Toad & Snow

Two days ago the “babies” turned three.  It snowed.  Buckets.   This is disconcerting, I told my husband as I envisioned trash islands and swiss-cheese ozone layers.  In the morning we had marveled at the big, wet flakes.  In the afternoon we watched the nearly green grass steadily disappear, and by the time I was set to make a last minute run to the grocery store before their birthday party, we stared open-mouthed at the road which was predicted to simply be  “wet”  become completely covered with snow.

I made my way to into the grocery store determined to pick up the twins’ birthday cakes and balloons, sloshing through the giant, wet puddles of slush and snow in the parking lot. It was April 14th.  Snow in March you can complain about; snow in April you just kind of stare in wonder. As I struggled to evade the deep wells of slush and water, I realized people weren’t complaining, per se, instead they appeared to be too befuddled for negativity.  What?  Really?  Three inches of snow in April?  As she handed me the two birthday cakes (one Elsa, one velociraptor), the woman at the bakery noted how there was an inch of snow outside for every year of the twins’ lives.  The clerk who filled up the balloons said her friend had triplets, and now they’re in their 40s.  “She would try to feed them with separate spoons, but eventually she gave up and just went down the line,” she smiled to herself.  “I’ve always wanted twins,” she said.  Later on, as the cashier scanned the balloons and cakes, she advised that we “should take pictures of them having a snowball fight.”

The snow still hadn’t let up when I returned home.  “Ba-oons!” they squealed with delight.  I wanted to take their pictures, so Jacob brought in the small bench from the porch outside.  “We take your picture on this bench every year,” I told them, pointing to the one from their first birthday that hangs on our family room wall.  “Except this year we have to take it inside!”  “Yeah,” they said matter-of-factly, convincing me they understood. As I took their pictures, Mae volleyed between kissing Everett on command and eying the camera with her no-nonsense, diva scowl.

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I realized Everett and Mae are like snow in April too– maybe that’s how they get away with anything– with their shenanigans of snacking on whole loaves of bread and distributing orange peels over the carpet like bits of confetti and dumping small bins of matchbox cars for the fun of it.  Their antics are like snow in April– challenging and frustrating, yes– but mostly just a source of bewilderment to the point of wonder. Really?  You just worked on opening that bag of shredded mozzarella cheese with baby scissors for the past ten minutes to eat it by the fistfuls?  Really?  It reminds me of over three years ago.    The ultrasound tech’s nails tapping on the screen: It’s twins, she informed.   You’re sure, really?  Confusion, to shock, to wonder.

After the party we read Frog and Toad.  We read about how Toad cannot come up with a story to tell Frog when Frog lies sick in bed.  Frustrated that he cannot think of a tale for his friend who is feeling “green”, Toad chooses to walk back and forth on the porch in an attempt to find inspiration. He even bangs his head (literally) on a wall to come up with a story– only to exhaust himself with trying, winding up in the bed himself. So Frog, now upright and feeling better, tells Toad a story instead, and it is simply the story of Toad’s trying.  He tells the story that was there all along, because it was the story he had been given.  There is always a story- even if it’s just the story of what is.  How often do we discover that in our attempts to find a story, we have already been living one.

The night of their birthday, Mae fell asleep clutching her tube of M&M’s from her great-aunt.  Everett had to be replaced in bed several times.  I kissed them long and hard- my babies who aren’t really babies.  Clutching the moment so I could feel it, weirdly smelling their hair and smoothing their temples. They are the story I have been given.

Now, two days later, Sunday’s snow has melted.  Now, three years later, they walk and talk.  Yesterday- the middle day– between the beginning and the end– I noticed how the large clumps of wet snow on the newly budding branches might also be flowers in the right light.

 

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Holding the sand

Like sand through a sieve, time slips through my hands, and as I read to Everett and Mae, I realize I can no longer see over the heart-shaped space that is their heads meeting.   They’re too tall. Time sketches angles in Sophie’s cheekbones and broadness in Cohen’s shoulders and fullness into Ellie’s curls.  I pull into work and out of work and into work again, keys in, keys out.  I teach one year, five years, ten years.  I see the dashboard of my car;  I’m in the parking lot, reaching for the car handle, pushing the door into summer heat, closing it to the sting of winter, and opening it tomorrow for spring.  It’s moving that quickly:  in, out, open, shut, sleep, arise.

Everything is moving so quickly now; it always is.  We brush off skin and chop hair and clip toe nails. Growing and moving toward an end that we know is coming as surely as we know the eyes of our spouse.  That is to say- we know them, but we will never quite know them completely, as we also know within them is their own abyss, their own universe which is large and vastly unexplored.

I needed to write today.  I write to stretch  the seconds, stretch them out like a rubber bands, to create a space in the stillness between them. I see time slipping and I write to remind myself I’m here, to mark an unmoving space in this earth that never stops; I want to put a flag in that space and on the flag it will say: I am!

If I’m honest, I write to not be lost.

But perhaps nothing that lives is lost.

Since I have been, I’ve been breathing, and I write to hold the breaths, to feel them in my palms and observe them like small worlds, each one holding infinite detail.  I write to hold the seconds; perhaps I write to become part of the ever-slipping sand, since I know it is fruitless to hold it.

Words cannot capture the sway of Mae’s hair, how the light blonde strands swing horizontally like a pendulum.  Words cannot capture the gentle heat of another human hand or the vastness of a star or cell.  And try as they might, words will never be able to capture Truth.

And yet- the space between the words might.  There in that space we feel the hum of connection that sounds something like “I know” and “me too”.  The space in between the words will stretch out the seconds just long enough for us to be fully alive.  That space holds the moments, just like time holds reality, even though we know full well reality is too big to be held.

Right now, Cohen is laughing at something he read in Big Nate, a car’s wheels screech outside, and Ellie’s breath ebbs and flows like waves.

I write.

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Enchantment

Prepping a lesson on Norse Mythology—(do I google Thor?  I briefly panicked.)   I stumbled across this:  The Norse believed in an enchanted world.  That is, they didn’t “feel the need to seek salvation from the world, but instead delighted in, and marveled at, the way things are.”

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“How do you make a good pork chop?” I texted my mom.  I should really know these things by now- mid thirties, five kids, I’m a lady who should know how to cook a decent pork chop.  But I didn’t, and so I asked my mom.  I’m thankful I could ask my mom.  My co-workers who have lost their mothers have told me they wish they could text their moms all the time, with silly questions like how to make pork chops, and serious questions like what should they tell their daughters about dating and beauty and friendship.  But mine was here, and she answered within minutes, and I was grateful.  Coat it with an egg, breadcrumbs, and fry it up in olive oil, she texted back.

I made the porkchops while Everett and Mae scooped out ranch dressing with their bare hands from the center of a veggie tray.  They sat on the island in their diapers, and Ellie shaded in her “sets of ten” on her homework.  She asked me: “Do you think we’ll do boxes of twenty next?”  And I said, “Maybe you will even do addition.”  And she said “oooooooo” like she had just seen a cool magic trick (but only after asking what addition was first.)

Cohen and Jacob missed dinner because the poor kid was getting poked and prodded and made all kinds of itchy by his yearly allergy test.  “He was so mature,” Jacob couldn’t stop gushing when they arrived home.  “So tough.  I— I just couldn’t believe it.”  And his eyes got all watery at the thought of Cohen’s “grown-ness”. In fairness, Jacob’s eyes can get watery at almost anything. Just yesterday he recounted a commercial in which packages were delivered “from the viewpoint of the package.” He tried to explain more, except he couldn’t, because there was “just something about those people opening their doors for those packages.” (When we were first dating in college, we watched the Rock Island Labor Day parade, and an old man with kind eyes placed candy in each of our palms.  No one else could see it, but we did.  We cried then too.  Enchantment.)

After dinner– 15 minutes late– we finally arrived at Ellie’s “investiture” ceremony for her Daisy troop.  The five-year-old girls stood in a line, uncharacteristically quiet  because they noticed the four short rows of plastic folding chairs for the “audience” turned toward them.  The small church multi-purpose room had become a stage of sorts,  and their blue vests stood out against the flourescent-lit white walls; a space that had nothing personal about it became special, important.  The girls stared at the onlooking smiling parents and committed to uphold the girl scout law, and they got pumpkin and ghost sugar cookies to commemorate the occasion.  Do you know that kids still believe that it is special to pledge to be their best selves?  (Special enough for cookies!)

When we returned home, I showed Jacob our new “Daisy” and the babies quickly followed him downstairs, still naked from their baths.  I made up a weird song “We got a Daisy, [pause] We got a Brownie [pause] , We got two-ooo naaaaa-ked Babies.”  There was a rhythm, and the kids found it and danced.  After football, Cohen got dropped off by a coach who had bought the kid a quesadilla for dinner because there are good people who lead Daisy troops and coach football teams and even knit together in church basements on rainy September nights like this one.  (The wizened knitters were in the room next to the hopeful girl scouts, old and young, separated by an ordinary beige partition.)

Last weekend Jacob and I watched “Won’t you Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary about Fred Rogers. (Good Lord, if we cry at old men in parades and commercials about packages you might correctly predict we created a brief monsoon watching this one.) In a commencement speech, Mr. Rogers told the recent graduates that there was no need for them to do anything sensational, that they were loved as they are.  After a hell of an afternoon- in which I showed up late, added too much season- salt to the porkchops (Damn!)  and probably barked commands more than I listened– grace let me see there was something more to the story, something real.  Enchantment in it all, not beyond it.

 

 

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