15 May 2013
Oak Park is a dream. When I close my eyes and try to remember when, I realize the colour of the floorboards is gone. I can't find the smell of the bookshop. We moved away from those tree-lined streets 12 years ago and I find myself still wishing we could go back, sit in the park across from Hemingway's old place, my head in your lap and the church bells ringing.
We would ride our bikes on those streets, looking at these old victorian houses, the craftsman porches. You had your favourites and I had mine, and we envisioned this prairie life in the city, where we'd walk our children to school. Sit on the porch swing. Knock down some walls and plant a lilac bush. Open our own bookshop.
There were all these Frank Lloyd Wright places and we could never decide on one. You know, just in case. You liked the one with steep, sharp angles. I like the one with the rounded front door. These were our Sundays, spent in the shadows of someone's masterpiece.
Oh, we had so much time.
I think about it now, and what we thought growing up looked like, what success looked like. I sit here, today, coffee in hand by the kitchen door. I see the carrots popping up and the hydrangea sprouting new leaves and how our children prayed for a tree. Who'd have thought He'd give us so many trees we'd have to cut down a few just to make room? I watch as the yellow sun on our garden turns to grey and the rain comes in. I smile when I hear it on our skylight, I'm so glad I haven't put out the laundry yet.
It's not Oak Park, not the dream of those houses, not the porch swing, no Chicago skyline. There is no mortgage here, no deed. Frank Lloyd Wright never came to Ireland and I don't think Hemingway wrote from behind these windows.
But we have covered walls with paint swatches. You fret over the lino-wood flooring. The tree out front is in bloom. And we sit in the bay window, in our landlord's two leather chairs, king and queen of our own masterpiece.
Not the house, not the city, not the country, nothing but His design.
I still cry over Oak Park, that we left and can't go back. I know it's all aglow in wistful unreality. I know we're changed and it's changed. I know these 10-plus moves in 10-plus years can really do a girl in. My homesickness is truly all over the map. But when you first brought me home a week after our wedding, with our quilt on the bed and the chest you built and your grandparents' old dresser, I didn't know I'd only ever want to live there. Frozen in time, forever. I didn't know that a dozen years later when I'd close my eyes, I'd still feel those floorboards beneath my feet.
And now that I can't see the colour, can't smell the books, can't remember what road that one house was on, I realize forever has changed. A dozen years from now, when I close my eyes, this is what I'll see: me at the kitchen table, coffee in hand, looking out on our back garden to the trees our children prayed for.
Not the house, not the city. I will only see the masterpiece.
12 May 2013
She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come. Prov 31:25
I have an amazing mother, who raised me and my sister on her own, working hard and relying on the family of church and neighbours when her own lived wide across the state. It's a testimony to faith, really, that when she was alone in a big city with two little girls, men of God came alongside her. Women of God looked after her. And we were not alone, raised by our mother, and the Church.
The Church, she is not perfect. There was a time or two when she was found terribly wanting and absent, when we were in crisis and the hand of help was withdrawn. My mother was not a widow, you see, and we were not orphans. Not in the technical sense, anyway. And though she grieved and cried, wounded, my mother held on to faith. To God. She forgave, and waited for the Church to come around.
My mother's story is the story of a million mothers. And our story, my sister's and mine, could've been told a million different ways. Runaways and lonely girls longing for a daddy's love, and now that we know better - the world knows better - we see those runaways and lonely girls for what they were: taken and abused and trafficked and worse. That could've been our story, too, for girls without fathers at home are easy targets. And who's to say that we did not have a bullseye on our backs a time or two?
But we had our mother, and the Church, and we were saved in more ways than one.
So when I think of mother's day, I think of my mother who held on, holds on still. Giver of life and love, firmly fixed on Him. My greatest champion and my oldest friend.
I think of the women in our church, who watched me walk down the aisle with tears in their eyes. I think of the men who took us mother's day shopping, helped us pick out necklaces and bouquets. I think of Matt who was prayed for by dozens of saints before my shoelaces were ever untied.
I think of my grandmothers - all still living - who mothered us from near or far, asking for strength and mercy, forgiving. I think of my aunts, who made room in their homes and hearts for two wild girls. I think of my stepmother, who is loved, adored by a mess of grandchildren. I think of Matt's mom, who filled in some of my chipped edges, still rising with the sun to hold a grandchild on her knee.
I think of all my sisters, brought together by pain or circumstance, flourishing through grace, my best friends and fellow warriors. I think of so many women, mothering me and my children in service, in teaching, in song, in prayers.
Women of valour. All of you.
That's the thing about mother's day. In one way or another, we are all mothers. We're in it together, not meant to be alone.
09 May 2013
So it turns out, I don't mind it all that much. Every night his chubby hand reaches for mine and he asks, "You lay down by me?" We've both settled into it nicely, now. And even though the sky is still bright as the days linger longer, we lay down. A few books between us, cars and trucks jumbled in blankets. I lay down by him and he turns to his side, snoring. Asleep in no time.
We are in the rhythm.
He's our last, you see. No more babies. It's a remarkable feeling, actually; freeing and contented. I didn't think I'd ever know with sureity. But the second he left my body and entered the world, I knew this was it. We felt complete and just like that, we were done.
I thought I'd correct all my mistakes, redeem all my failures with this third baby. I embraced the inner earth mama, waist deep in cloth nappies and pureed organic blueberries. I am gonna do right by this one, at least, I thought. But co-sleeping and nursing on demand was not as romantic as it sounds (what? that doesn't sound romantic?) and when he self-weaned at nine months, I was sad, but secretly somewhat relieved. I was done with all that now. I am done.
Except, now he's almost done, too. With babyhood. He's leaning into the preschool years, testing his speed and growing his words. And I'm beginning to grieve a little bit. For not getting it all right in the beginning, for the lost months of nursing, for the era that's now come and gone, too soon. Babyhood is waning. At three-and-a-half, it's actually mostly gone. We are done, and now I make peace with the grieving.
So, when he falls asleep in my arms as we cuddle after bathtime, I breathe in his hair. I take photos everytime those lashes stop moving. I lay down next to him in the cozy twin bed, listening as his snores sing me a lullaby. I am perfectly content to be here, in these fading moments of babyhood, committing his eyelashes to memory, the fullness of his cheek still round with baby fat.
I don't mind it, these final acts of co-dependence. I'm not allowing regret any more leeway. I will lay by his side, until we are done.
06 May 2013
There's this thing that happens when you move to another culture. You have a really great day, everything flows, you accomplish much and feel like things are finally clicking. You've been waiting a long time for this clicking, this normalcy, and victory awaits you in the wings.
Then you have dinner, a couple of hours at home, or even just a few lazy minutes by yourself. It's overcast out, the bedtime routine is drawing nigh, and the crash hits. This level of exhaustion where all your emotional, mental and physical energy is zapped clean out of your body. You don't know whether to run for the hills or crawl under the covers.
It's so surprising, given the really awesome day you just had. You feel like all the effort, all the success has been overshadowed by... well, by nothing, really. It is what it is. You could call it culture stress. Or maybe homesickness. Or plain old fatigue. But whatever it is, it's got you in a vice grip.
So what do you do? This is what I do.
1) Hide in bed. This seems counterintuitive, I know. But the first thing I really need is a quiet space where I can figure out why I feel so crappy.
For me, this is my bed; the one we bought our first year of marriage and shipped over the ocean and is all bent and creaky and mine. It's a cocoon of comfort and familiarity and when I feel all the feelings (loneliness and fear and frustration and tiredness and anxiety and...), I escape here to sort it out.
Living in another country, culture or region is literal, actual hard work. Find your quiet hiding place (garage, comfy chair, toilet seat), rest and search your heart.
2) Give the children something to do (in lieue of children, this could be your spouse, roommate or any other random people you happen to be living with). They will not suffer (long) if you place them in front of the telly, put a remote in their hand and flee the area. It could be anything: toys, food, games, but let's be real - electronic devices are preferred and will offer you the most time to recoup. Don't judge me.
By giving them an activity, you release yourself to take care of you so you can take care of them. And you allow them space from you so you don't freak out on them. This is key. Don't freak out on them. This they will remember. I know from experience.
3) Get outside. Just do it. Right now. Go outside.
Fresh air is a cure for all ills. If you didn't sort what's in your head before, do it now in the wide open. Pray or talk or do yoga. Again, it doesn't really matter what you do or where you go, but the big blue sky has a knack of recalibrating the soul. Garden, walk, sit, people watch. Be outside and be all there.
Fun fact: Ireland is awesome for this. We've got the sea, meadows, forest, mountains, and cities, all within an hour of our doorstep. And I've got a man who likes to kick us all out of the house when things get tense. We walk, the kids play, we rescue Ash from oncoming traffic, and we arrive back home renewed and nearly ready for the next big (or small) thing that comes our way.
4) Do the next thing. What is the next thing, you ask? For me, it's feeding somebody. Or switching laundry. Or replying to an email. Whatever you need to do, just do it. If you keep it small, all the better. It's usually so much easier, not to mention faster, to switch a load of laundry rather than menu plan for a month. Build up to it. Do the next thing, and then the next and then the next.
Free tip: if it's not on your to-do list, add it on after you do it. Then cross that thing right off. Tick. Done. Congratulations, you've completed your to-do list and you didn't even know you had one.
5) Write it down. What just happened here? Did you suddenly realize your mom wasn't close enough to drop everything and pop over with a diet coke? Did you get to bed too late and up too early and miss your third cup of coffee? Did the mere thought of shifting gears with your left hand just seem so exhausting you just couldn't leave the house one. more. time?
Whatever it was, even if you don't know, write out how you got here. Whatever you did today, whatever you did or didn't accomplish, wherever you went or whomever you saw, write it down. And when you've reached down deep and found the cause (not the symptom) at play, write that down, too.
A few weeks ago I was laying in bed. I just could not force myself to get out. We needed milk and cereal and an assortment of other things, and the thought of getting in the car and driving the 2km to the shop overwhelmed me to pieces. I emailed my sister to ask her to pray and in that moment it hit me. I knew exactly what it was the stunted me. The ladies at the shop don't smile. When I queue up to pay for my groceries, nobody smiles at me. Nobody is happy to see me, nobody knows my name... nobody knows me.
I needed just one face, one smile, just one person to see me. And I couldn't face leaving the house and coming back without that need being met. When I realized what it was, I could talk about it with people who've been here longer. They could tell me what smiling looks like here (it's in the eyes, in the posture, in the words being used) so I knew how to look for it. I realized the smiling thing was just a symptom of a deeper need for someone to know me.
And yes, people smile here all the time. My BIF - best Irish friend - Bronagh has a brilliant, loving smile and I really should just pick up the phone or meet her for lunch. (Ugh, see how much you discover just by writing it down?)
So, you know, I hide for a bit. Then I get out and do the next thing. I try to write it down and then I do it all over again. Because I want to have that feeling... the feeling of a great day, things accomplished, the peace and comfort and joy that comes with new rhythms. I want that feeling where things just... click. Even if exhaustion and discouragement follows soon thereafter, and it will. It's the clicking I remember.
That's the other thing I meant to tell you. You'll forget the exhaustion, the fear, the doubtful bit. It's shortlived. Tomorrow you'll wake up and you'll only remember the victory.
Ok, I need your help now. What am I missing? How do you cope with stress, of any kind?