The astonishing things I heard

Today I heard I have a brand-new niece. I feel radiant with joy, especially that I got to see her and snuggle that sweet bundle in my arms.

Today I heard that the silly little gift I sent on request to my friend Luci yesterday was helpful. She remembered a song my parents sang years ago, but not well, and asked if I would send her a brief-solo-by-way-of-facebook-messenger. Wow, that stretched me. I stepped out during church to record it, and because of the time difference, she and her husband learned it in time to sing it for their church to match her husband’s sermon on identity. Can you believe that? Modern technology is amazing.

Today I heard that my dear friend and mentor’s father passed away, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I feel happy for his successful end of life, and sad for her family.

Today I heard that I get to host a delicious giveaway on this blog, coming soon. I feel excited.

Today I heard words of comfort from people who know about difficult things. I feel encouraged.

Today I heard that the twins we love and fostered are finally free for adoption into the home of our friends. I feel wistful, but also delighted out of my mind.

Today I heard that if I don’t speak until I have something to say that will astonish the whole room (cf. Pride and Prejudice), I’ll never find it easy to say anything at all. I am not sure what I feel about that.

Today I can’t help hoping I don’t hear any more news. You never know what it will be…


What was your news of the day?

Summer

Watermelon, fireworks, new barbecue sauce, a child’s wagon, homegrown tomatoes, rose petals

Day lilies, cantaloupe, orange dream on a stick, campfire coals, a shocking sunset, ripe peaches

Sunlight on my skin, black-eyed susan, sea shells, the heart of a daisy, full moon, buttered cobs of corn

Fresh mown lawn, leaves making merry, mossy rocks by the streambed, bits of sea glass, grass stains

Rows of denim jeans against the wind, still water, a robin’s eggshell fallen, open sky

Bright bunting wings here and gone again, blueberries, iridescent dragonfly wings, hydrangea clusters

Concord grapes, ruffled fuchsia blooms, bruised bare knees, black raspberry ice cream, twilight

The great bear sighting

Guess who came by my house on Sunday morning?

Yes, truly. And he {or she} is too beautiful not to share.

No, I am not a stupid and I did not go out chasing him to ask for his autograph. I videoed from my own porch, within arm’s reach of my door, with my husband right beside me. Our guest came to within 15 yards of us.

His presence is considerably more alarming because of the fact that my children regularly play in this space. {shudder} And this was his second visit in two days. But he was awfully exciting all the same, and we have not seen him since.

Enjoy.

Questionnaire on parent-child relationships

If there’s one thing that’s being made increasingly clear to me about mothering, it is that my frustrations are not unique to me. We’re not as alone as we think we are.


The other day I wrote a questionnaire for my kids, out of vexation with a few of our relational rough spots. I made it with my oldest in mind – he is turning twelve next week – but then the other children wanted in on things too. My kids have always loved filling out stuff like this; I guess because I do.

The bulk of it was written on a Likert scale: On a scale of one to five, how strongly do you agree with these statements?

As children grow, parents should allow them increasing choice, even when their decisions are not wise.

If parents ask unreasonable things of a child, obedience is not required.

All children should be treated equally.

One parent is often more sympathetic than another, and more likely to agree with you.

I added a few open-ended questions. If you could choose five words to describe the relationship you’d like to have with your parents during your teenage years, what would they be?

I wanted the document to become a launch point for discussion after they filled it out, and it sure enough was. Their answers were enlightening. (Okay, I also wanted to prove a few points to my oldest. I admit it.) We each saw briefly from the other’s perspective, and had fun doing it.

I made a simpler version for younger children, questions like

Daddy and Mommy usually agree.

Yes? No? Or sometimes?

I feel like my family listens to me.

I feel really stressed out when…

I don’t know, maybe it was silly. I don’t model my home on what my children think, I already told you that. But sometimes I want to invite them to say what they feel about “us” – who we are as a family, and what they wish could change. I really loved hearing what they thought, even though it stung in a few places.

I’m sharing the questionnaire forms here for you, in case you want to use them too. They were written quickly, and have a few problems which I am not in the mood to fix. For me, this was about reaching to learn and grow; if you think it’s a sign that my children are deeply heard and perfectly cared for – well, meet them. They will have a few things to say about that.

Questionnaire for Parent-Child Relationships in our Home

Questionnaire for Younger Children

To all mothers in the trenches – Grab a coffee, give a hug, start that laundry. You’re not alone. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not either.

Glimpses of summer

Confession: I remember why I love and hate summer. This one is, as usual, an even mix of peaceful and chaotic.

My roses are blooming, their enchanted petals slick with rain and glory.

My children are home, and we have a break from all external worries like math and friendships. But someone is always talking, usually at high volume and tempo. Always.

I forget how much I need space to breathe and regroup, and how tricky it is during this season. I push my bedtime late, and later, like a beached fish straining for the oxygen he cannot access. Some days I love the chaos too: baby toys have been replaced, for the most part, by Lego, crafts, tools, library books strewn around the house. There are many appointments, and enormous evaporating stacks of groceries.

I never did get the hang of being a sacrificial-mother-who-picks-up-the-pieces-without-complaint as well as an intentional-mother-who-requires-children-to-be-reponsible-for-themselves. I try to hit the happy middle: I pick up after them while lecturing intentionally about their irresponsibility.

Together, we eat up the summer – the watermelon and sweet corn, sold cheaply in the grocery, surprisingly delicious even so early in the season – the swim sessions with a whiff of chlorine and new friendships, or the sand and sun at the lake – the ice cream, melting down our chins.

I tried to take a selfie. I think it might have failed, but I’m not sure.

Our greatest success of the summer so far has been assigning one child per meal. He or she helps me choose the menus, prepare the food, and clean up the kitchen afterward. One child gets breakfast, one lunch, one supper, and we switch every week. I prefer to manage one child at a time, or I burn everything.

Kelly says when Jenny gets older she will have to make SNACKS.

We made a schedule for daily snacks, because of all the phrases I can’t stand, the second worst is “What’s for snack?” The worst, in case you are wondering, is a tie between, “Mom, help!” [while running away from a pursing younger sibling, after having relentlessly goaded him or her into aggression] and “Mom, I’m bored.”

Some say that if your children are bored, you should intervene with chores. Some say that if your children are bored, you should not intervene, and allow the boredom to push them toward creativity. I try for the happy middle. I don’t want you to even ask what that is.

Anyway, we have been eating high on the hog: fondue suppers, kebabs, cheese wontons, maple-frosted cupcakes, gourmet omelets, and all our favorite dishes. The snack schedule works fine (Monday morning pretzels and cheese, Tuesday afternoon a popsicle) until we get to something healthy. They hate when that happens.

Summer is lovely. We soak up the sunshine and hold new kittens and go see hot air balloons and argue about the hammock I got for Mother’s Day. The kids think I am being a pig because I won’t let them jump on it or push each other out of it. “You just want to keep it all for yourself,” they accuse.

You got it, honey.

I get tired of being the bad guy though. So we plan lots of fun stuff and do it. That helps to balance out all the times I say “no,” and “that’s not what our family does” and “get in here and empty this dish drainer like I told you.” They still think I am a big old meanie, and for me that is the most wearing thing about this stage of mothering.

We have more trouble getting in sync.

“Mom, what are you doing on the computer?”

I am sitting outside typing. “Writing.”

“Well, I’m bored. And now a bunch of dandelions will grow in your flowerbed because I just threw a big bunch of seeds in there.”

{See? Untreated boredom breeds creativity.}

“Is she actually writing this down? Everything we say?”

This is the hard part, and I hate how quickly it came – they don’t think I’m god anymore, and I require things that are painful for us both, and sometimes my ideas look to them like the stuff they sneeze out of their noses on dry winter mornings. Ugh, mom.

“You’ll thank me someday” hardly cuts it.

I wish there were a way to know that I’m doing it just a little bit right, but mothering as far as I can tell is mostly in the dark. Others’ mistakes are clearer; my own are deeply felt, but not easily corrected until it’s too late, indistinct until they appear with blinding clarity in the rearview mirror. Mothering is driving down a country road at high speeds after midnight, the potholes extra painful because I didn’t see them coming. The trajectory veers first one way, then another, because even when I know where I aim to head (which isn’t often), the roads are confusing and it takes a while to get there.

There are good things too. Sometimes we love each other very much, especially when I say yes to a spray painting project and am, briefly, the best mommy in the whole world. Then I pass around some more cupcakes, chocolate-frosted this time.

The delightful part about this stage is always having comrades, game for adventure. I am rarely alone. I have a salad-eating buddy, a shopping helper, a joke lover, and an enthusiastic gaggle of partners in reading, picnicking, boating, exploring, pretty much anything I name that does not involve work. It’s fun. They are fun. They are starting to have thoughts of their own, and can tell a good book from a mediocre one, and spin insights that make me laugh for the intelligent feelings behind them.

“You know what people in Middle Earth the Mennonites remind me of? The Ents. Because we don’t really pride ourselves on being that much to look at, you know? And we’re slower to take opportunities and get on board with new things. But if something we love is threatened or destroyed, you have to reckon us in.”

How did we get here? I couldn’t tell you. I thought he was busy with Play-Doh just yesterday.

“Mommy, I really like how you sleep with your fists. It makes you look like a baby. It makes you look sweet.”

Okay? I don’t know how we got there either. Whatever.

This is summertime at the Zooks. What’s yours like?


And thanks for your delightful comments and confessions on marriage. I enjoyed them very much.