Bedside Manner

At the day’s end, when I’m most exhausted, our youngest still makes sure that I come to tuck her into bed.  As parents, this is something my husband and I have always been pretty good about.  No matter how the day has gone, we make sure the last thing the kids hear before they slip into slumber is some variation of “Good-night-sweet-dreams-I-love-you.”

The act of getting on my knees beside her trundle bed reminds me that it’s time to be here, now; it pulls me into the present.  Perhaps knowing that she’s about to be my sole focus, that she’s about to have my utmost attention, is what brings her to bed so giddily.  She is usually very excited and giggily, or, if truly tired, she snuggles into her pillows and covers with deliberate intention, placing her hands together methodically and tucking them beneath her sweet, plump cheek before closing her eyes.

Sometimes she beats me to it.

“I love you, Mommy.”

Are there sweeter words?  They’re like balm to my maternal soul that has been battered and wounded.  All is well.

“I love you, too, Precious,” I reply, knowing that attachment is a dangerous thing, but the Lord of the Rings reference has become a running joke around here.  She is, after all, very “precious to me,” precious to us.

Sometimes I linger a while, resting my head beside hers.  Eyes closed, I listen for her breath to slow, to deepen.  With older sister in the bed slightly above, I’ll send my love to her again, too — out oud if she’s awake, intentionally if she’s not.  I settle into this supplication of devotion.  It’s not a comfortable position, mind you.  Circulation gets cut off at one limb or another, but I stay.

My hope is, of course, that the children will remember we tried to send them to bed with our love, even on nights when we kept them out or up too late and when they had long since fallen asleep.  When they’re too big to carry, we sleep-walk them, guiding them in the right direction.  (“Honey, your bed’s this way.”)  Sometimes they need literally to be steered.

Every child wants his/her parent’s or guardian’s attention.  We all want an outward and visible sign of the love that is either said too much or not enough.  I suppose the nightly ritual we have going is like our parental sacrament.  If the kids could experience this paternal love and affection as an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace of God, then it would be, indeed — at least for us.  I’m okay with that.  It replaces the worldly attachment with a greater Love, one eternal and truly unconditional.  It’s not my aspiration to make every evening sacred.  It just is when it is (which is probably always), and some nights I’m more aware of it than others (and not nearly as often as I’d like).

Maybe I should start my days on my knees or on my meditation cushion, giving thanks for all that is and for the potential that is yet to be.

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This meditation led me to  my Lenten practice of extending my maternal blessing to my children, morning and evening.  I don’t always get to touch their foreheads, but even saying “bless you” or “blessings to you” somehow carries with it more deliberate Love than our vernacular “love you!”  I’m working on it.  As I said, it’s a practice.

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A Little More Fuss

I know the woman in the grocery store pushing the cart with the child in the top seat.  I have soft terry pants like that, and though I can’t tell from this distance, I wonder if her old sweatshirt is getting holes at the cuffs and seams like mine, aging from all the washes.  I’ve been this woman.

In another aisle I pass the woman carrying a couple of items in her arms.  She breezes by with a fragrance sophisticated and richly feminine.  She looks like she just came from an executive meeting, winning everyone with her charm.  Could she be as brilliant as she is beautiful?  I can only hope to be this woman.

What being an out-of-the-home working mom has taught me is that I can put forth a little more effort and feel tremendously different.  If I feel different, then how differently will others perceive me?

I style my growing hair.  (I do happen to have rollers from a post-partum drug-store visit for a massive amount of beauty supplies after our third child.)  I wear mascara along with my other makeup.  Occasionally I wear contacts.  I now have a whole wardrobe that can hang-dry only, including many pairs of knee-highs.  I bought a pair of boots (but do not plan to buy “skinny” jeans or “jeggings”).

Doing these small things, putting forth a little more fuss at the beginning of the day, reminds me that I am worth a little extra effort.  I am valuable, and I don’t mind if others appreciate me, too.  None of us really want to be invisible, do we?

Some days warrant the yoga/pajama garb, to be sure, but every day deserves a simple little beauty routine.  Simple can mean lipgloss and earrings or curled hair and a dress.

Beauty is simple by nature, isn’t it?

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My Lint Bowl

Yes.  I have a lint bowl.  It’s quite small and irregularly shaped.  Actually, it’s from the first and only pottery class I’ve taken.  It wasn’t the first piece I made (that “gem” went to my mother), but it’s one of the first few for sure.

This little bowl sits atop our dryer, and after each load, I put the lint in it.  Or maybe I just set it there . . . or squish it on the top.  It started out in laziness, really.  The small trash can has a lid and is low to the ground and squeezed in between the dryer and the wall that has the broom and dustpan hanging there.  Why twist and stretch every time I switch the clothes?

Then I realized that I liked watching the lint bowl fill up.  The clean clothes these days have been dispersed rather quickly to where they need to go, but the lint . . . it fills up and becomes a little abundance of accomplishment, a monument of achievement.  When I think it’s time to dump it and start over, I do, knowing I can watch it grow again.

It’s the little things, right?  We are all working so hard every day to keep the wheels running smoothly.  Whether we’re working outside the home helping some company/business/organization to thrive or working in the home to make sure those nearest and dearest to us are thriving (and chances are, all of us are doing both, whether we’re paid for it or not), we are all working hard.  Sometimes we just need little signs to remind us that our work adds up.  What we’re doing makes a difference.

I have a lint bowl.  You might have a diaper pail, laundry pile, crossed-off checklists, clean dishes . . . who knows.  Keep tally marks on a post-it if you have to.  I’m telling you that you make a difference.  The work you do is appreciated.

And you will always be loved more for who you are than what you do, anyway.  So, as the card I received from a friend says: “be a beacon of fierce and potent love.”  May my family always remember how much I love them.  I know they won’t know how many times I empty the lint bowl.

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Mind over Matter

dumdumWe had barely pulled into the bank drive-through when my daughter behind me started asking for a sucker in her croaky, congested voice.  I couldn’t help but smile because she sounded so cute — a survival of the species tactic.  Fortunately, my maternal sense kicked in.

“Suckers are full of sugar, and sugar is not good for you when you’re sick,” I told her.

I’m not sick, Mom,” she said slowly, deliberately, downright emphatically.

I tried not to laugh out loud.  After I made my deposit, I gave her the little dum-dum.

“Of course you’re not, sweetheart,” I told her, and I decided to hope that at least for a little while she would stop coughing and make herself well by sheer virtue of will.

With her strong will, anything’s possible.

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What a Mother Should Never Forget

My youngest and her equally young friend pick raspberries in the autumn wind and sun, bundled in their jackets, their hands turning red.  Of course, on their return inside, there’s a heap of jackets, socks and shoes near the rocking chair/climbing gym.

My boys and their friend huddle around their DSes, plotting, sharing and exclaiming together as new levels are achieved.  A day home from school means anything can happen.  Today I’ll witness them conquer new worlds.

My oldest retreats to her room.  A house full of young ones is not her ideal.  Weeks can be stressful, especially when one has to balance living in the world with an old soul in a young body.  I should know.  She asked almost pleadingly if she could play on her DS today, too . . . after chores, of course.  I agreed.

Tonight we jump-start the Halloween celebration by dressing in costume and going to a classical concert of “spooky” music.  Tomorrow we celebrate a birthday, All Hallow’s Eve and our friendships at a couple of Halloween parties.  But as my husband remarked, we should celebrate the kids, with the kids, this weekend.  After he attended the three parent-teacher conferences, he was reminded (and thus reminded me) how wonderful our children are, how blinded we can be by being with them so much and getting muddled in the day-to-day routines.  This weekend, we celebrate.

And as their mother, I should never forget how holy each day is that I see the joy in their eyes, the fragility of their person,  the Light in their lives.  Whether we  birth our children in body or heart, whether they are with us in body or spirit, these things among many are what a mother should never forget.

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With a heart full of Love, I give thanks.

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Magic of Family

All that’s left of last night’s magical family dinner is a heaping bit of ashes in our backyard make-shift fire pit.  Reheated leftovers and fresh canteloupe might not sound magical, but a quick meal for mom is.  Partner that with fading light, newly-mowed yard and crackling fire; you can almost hear the twinkle in the children’s eyes above their giddy laughter and chatter.  To top it all off, we had s’mores.  Yes, even on a school night, and I pretended not to notice how many marshmallows the kids were really eating, though I did close up the bag and keep everything right beside me.  It was a perfect dinner together.

Right now I’m reading a book called The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle.  This “Emergent Christianity” talk has a way of getting people talking for sure.  Where I am in the book at the moment, she’s talking about the different points in history that change our perception and understandings of our reality.  At this point, she’s talking about women’s rights, on up to the point now where both parents in the family are working.  Family dinners together are no longer the sacred time they once were.  The family works to pay for the house.  Both parents work to have a sense of personal, social and financial freedom.  The house is a resting place for both parents and the children who are exhausted from a full day at school and/or day care.

I’m not further than that right now, but if, like my kids do in their reading classes, I were to make a prediction, I would say that she’s going to say our next shift has to be from working to the point of exhaustion to working at that which brings us energy, fills us up.  If we work solely to pay the bills, it seems we do sell ourselves out.  We’re draining that which invigorates us, and not only from ourselves but from our families as well.  Our children sense it.  We sensed it from our parents, right?  Precious few of us, and maybe there are actually more than I realize, got to witness our elders doing what they loved.  The work ethic from the Depression to the Consumerism of the 80’s led to the workaholics we know only too well.  But now there’s an employment crisis, partnered with this seeking, this longing.  People wonder what they’re “supposed” to be doing.  Yes, pay the bills, but what’s my “purpose”?

Michele Odent, a renowned OB-GYN, was quoted in The Business of Being Born as saying that, like a traveler who realizes he/she is lost, you have to go back to where you were on the path before you took a wrong turn.  He was talking about midwifery care being the right path, and the alienation of them being the wrong turn.  The analogy works for us, though, too.  Families striving to accumulate material wealth doesn’t cut it anymore.  Yes, both parents or both partners need to work at something.  Both need to feel appreciation, accomplishment, success and a sense of service to others, but it doesn’t always have to be outside the home.  It doesn’t have to be white collar.  It would seem that we are on the brink of realizing that the place of judgement isn’t ours.  We have to work to help each other.  We need to realize that we all have gifts and help each other live into those gifts as fully as possible.  How do we do that?  I haven’t the foggiest, but I’m sure my children will be part of a generation that learns to live that way.  I do hope so.

I’m curious to see what Tickle says about our current era, where she sees us going and how.  I know it seems like my husband and I have a rather traditional relationship; it works for us for him to work and me do what I consider my work from home or through church.  But now he’s out of the corporate realm.  We share home tasks.  We’re showing our kids what a partnership is like.  We also revel in the blessing of extended family.  Hopefully we’ve been able to keep the right things on our path as we’re moving forward and find that which keeps us invigorated.

The only thing that would have made last night even more perfect would have been if dearest and I had had enough energy after getting the kids to bed to go back out by the fire and watch the coals burn down, just the two of us on the quilt, wrapped up together in my shawl.  Maybe next time.

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Let Them Eat Cake

Some weeks are just going to be hectic.  A big project, a big event, any reason for excitement and borderline anxiety will do it for this family.  Not only is this upcoming weekend the retreat I love so much (and for which I am also the speaker), but this week is also the week I wanted to start monitoring my son’s diet, eliminating gluten and dairy (reasons are for another post).

Amidst all the busy-ness, I do what I can for the kids.  Sometimes, they will eat cake for lunch (after a healthy, hearty, late-morning snack, of course).  This won’t be the day we eliminate gluten.  Cake sounds good to me, too.

During my phone call with my friend, my youngest — nonverbal — child comes to me smelling like mint, more precisely like toothpaste, showing me her white-covered hands.  It looks like it could be icing.  After all, her mouth is still blue and green.  No, she smells like toothpaste.  A bathroom check and hand-washing confirms that she has, indeed, squirted out quite a bit, smearing it into the sink.  The good news is that her toothbrush is out, too.  Bless her heart!  She wanted to brush her teeth after all that sugary cake!  This is the comfort I give myself.  Naturally, I’m hoping she didn’t eat it.  I’ve made that poison control call before.

A deep breath.  There’s no real harm done, even after she takes the cake server and mutilates the rest of the cake.  I can’t be everywhere at once.  She has reason for angst.  I have reason for cake (though it doesn’t look nearly as appetizing anymore!).  We’ll just have to see each other through this, and I’ll have to remember that a mother’s sense of calm is sometimes her best coping mechanism.

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Guest Post: A Journey

by Maggie Beason, wife, mother, student, Army gal, aikidoka, hair stylist, runner, woman-extraordinaire shares her latest adventure after the Hogeye Marathon.

It is hard to fall asleep when you’re flat on your back. It’s
especially hard to sleep when you have a pillow wedged between your
legs in a desperate attempt to keep your knees from either touching,
straightening or bending too much while still trying to maintain a
modicum of comfort. You wrap a blanket around you, tucking in the lose
ends around your aching body while carefully avoiding your toes; any
weight on your toes is almost unbearable and the thought of donning a
pair of socks is simply out of the question. You close your eyes and
will yourself to fall into the blissful slumber that continues to
eludes you–a side effect from having eaten five packets of Gu (Energy
in goo-form. Necessary, but rather unpleasant.) earlier in the day.

The five medals that hang on your bedpost make a jingling sound as
you fold your arm underneath your pillow to support your head as you
stare at the ceiling replaying the day’s events in your mind. Today you
added one more medal to your small, but growing, collection. It took
it’s place at the headboard with the other four medals, your goggles
and your Buddhist prayer beads. You’re not actually Buddhist, but you
are a runner. A slow one, but a runner nonetheless.

Distance runners are usually depicted as “crazy” or “nuts” and
people often say something to the effect of Willy Wonka’s famous line,
“If God had intended us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented Roller
Skates.” Silliness aside, there is something about running that gets
people in the way that shoes get Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in
Sex in the City: you just get addicted.

Once you get bit by that bug, you will run–by your own
choice–through the pre-dawn chill of a ten-degree January morning. You
will run through rain and snow for miles and miles with glee. You will
relax (or try to, anyways) in an ice-cold bath with a drink in your
hand, a smile on your lips and joy in your heart because you just ran
eighteen miles. “Uphill both ways. Man, that was a great workout,” as
you’ll later reminisce to whomever will listen. If the idea of
running for five hours over the hilly terrain, thirty-something mile an
hour head wind, freezing (or at least what feels like it) temperatures
seems like fun and you don’t mind that you are the last person to
arrive, you are a runner. If all of this seems like fun to you, well,
need I say it?

My latest addition to my collection of medals, is from the Hogeye
Marathon on April 5th, 2009, at the beautiful downtown square of
Fayetteville, AR. The race started out like any other: cold, windy and
in the company of old friends, new friends and friends I hadn’t met
yet. Two of my companions were running the half-marathon, and judging
by the hills that they had to run up on their return trip, I was
thankful that I was doing the full.

I stayed in the back of the pack for the majority of the race, and
once the half-marathoners broke away, it was safe to assume that only a
handful of runners were behind me. I was focused on taking in the
scenery and enjoying my first hometown marathon–plus, in a town
renowned for it’s outstanding University of Arkansas track and field
program, I knew that it would be a marathon composed entirely of elite
runners and myself, about as un-elite that you can get.

For the first thirteen miles the roads wound and wove their way
through subdivisions, back roads, and running trails. Spectators and
volunteers dotted the course and brought with them supplies,
refreshments and cheers (I must say, the aid stations and volunteers
were phenomenal. Well done, Fayetteville!).

Between miles thirteen and fourteen, some friends had set up a
celebration station of sorts. Bringing with them were gifts of
oranges, water, Gu and a surprise: a bratwurst and a beer for my return
visit at mile twenty.

The brat has been a dream of mine ever since I was denied one by
the vendor who had stationed himself inside the course at the
twenty-six mile mark at my very first marathon. He told me that I could
have whatever I wanted so long as I had the money for it, which of
course, I didn’t. Thus, effectively smothering my hopes of crossing the
finish line with a giant bratwurst in hand.

The next seven miles where spent with dropping temperatures, a
nasty headwind and having every single runner who was behind me, pass
me. I paused for a moment to celebrate the passing of my very favorite
mile, Mile seventeen. Mile seventeen is a huge deal for me as the
remaining miles are now in the single digits. Meaning: nine more miles
to go. However, the elation I experience when I realize this is often
diminished by the fact that there are still nine more miles to go!
Usually, by the time mile twenty rolls around I’m in pain, exhausted
and somewhat insane. But this time there was my tasty manna from
heaven, bratwurst and beer.

At mile twenty-three, a dear friend of mine met me on the trail to
offer her support, water and to snap a few photos. Mile twenty-five
found me running up Dickson Street, thanking the police officers and
volunteers who had stood in the cold for five-plus-hours. Mile
twenty-six found me on the corner of Block St. where I burst in to
tears when I saw my family cheering.

The urge to cry was replaced by the urge to vomit as I realized
that I still .02 miles left and half of that was up a hill. I trudged
on, more hobble than stride. Most of the bystanders (apart from my
family, the racing officials and the paramedics) had left by the time I
crossed the finish line at five hours, eighteen minutes and some-odd
seconds. I failed to break through my five-hour barrier, but was too
exhausted to care.

Running for five hours at a time allows plenty of time for
introspection and often your sanity gets called into question. After
four and a half marathons, I’ve stopped asking myself why. I know the
answer: it’s an almost-spiritual experience and a guaranteed way to
quiet an over-stimulated mind. It is a chance to commune with nature:
to watch the birds flit among the branches of trees, feel the rain on
our skin or the heat on our backs. And it is an opportunity to explore
what the saying “one step at a time” truly means.

So as I listen to the clinking sounds of my five medals from
Little Rock, Dallas, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Fayetteville, I
drift off to sleep smiling with a new appreciation for what my medals
really mean: it isn’t the destination, but the journey.

*  *  *

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Maggie.
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SpringTime Haiku for Moms

An invitation . . .
Sun beckons to come play now.
The dishes will wait.

The beautiful weather this day couldn’t keep us indoors, even after me having two fillings replaced at 8:10am.  Off to the woods we go so I can get another go at rock climbing and so the kids can enjoy the warm, fresh air and the dog a good swim.

A few minutes alone, walking along the upper trail to fetch the draws from a climb, I felt it– the presence of nature that speaks through the living things around you and whispers on the breeze.  It’s a stillness and peace, an acceptance of life as what it is, for what it is, and all is well.  All is beautiful.  Oh, that I could bring that presence into every breath.

I’m pretty sure that the potential is there.  We have within us the ability to be still and fully present.  But how quickly I forget how beautiful it can be, even in the storms, for when the sun returns again I wonder, was the green so brilliant just the other day?  Was it this amazing last spring; did the colors so vibrantly glow?  I don’t have to compare.  I don’t have to know.  My purpose is to love indiscriminately; it doesn’t matter what the weather’s like.  I always have a choice.

Will it rain or shine?
As you make each choice, you ask.
Is Love wet or dry?

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Ebb and Flow

As a writer by nature, it’s easy for me to put something down on paper or to type something on the screen, but I know the difference between feeling divinely inspired and rambling on with nothing to say.  So, in all honesty, this post will be short.  I’m not feeling it.  Thoughts have come to me for blog posts, but I haven’t been making note, following through.  It’s time for some soul tending.

For me, the tide may have receded for a bit.  I have a chance to get things in order.  It’s time for me to be very present to the needs of my family, home and self.  After much work within the unconscious, I’m not surprised by this; we can’t stay underwater forever.  Now is the time to set some goals, make some plans and follow through.

The water’s still here.  My feet are still wet.  The well has not run dry.

How are you doing this day?

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