Thoughts after the holiday

Congratulations, everybody. We made it through another Mother’s Day.

All you dads thought of something heart-warming and appropriate to give your wives, or survived the humiliation if you did not.

All you church leaders and Sunday school teachers avoided the fraught topics, or not, but at least it’s behind you.

You women who wonder if you really qualify as a mother, because your mothering is non-traditional, smiled and wore something pretty and made it through. I honor you.

You who are grieving the loss of your mother cried the tears and braved the ubiquitous shopping displays (BUY THIS NOW!! FOR HER!! – while you thought if only I could). You who are grieving the loss of a child you loved – I know it hurt. I honor you too.

You who are still waiting for that special someone who will rock your world – you who sat quietly with no one squirming on your lap and putting sweet arms around your neck – you made it. We saw you, and the tears you could not cry. Our community would be so much less without you.

You kids who pulled off the breakfast in bed, the handmade cards, the first attempts at cooking – Good job, honey. You did a good job, even if it didn’t look like you imagined.

You moms, whom this day is supposed to be all about – I thought of you especially. Some of you ate it up and loved it. Some of you found it didn’t look like you imagined either.

The before-church messiness and bickering, normal on most Sundays, can be unbearable on a day like this because can’t they for once let it go, just once this special day?? All the usual, reasonable sacrifices of motherhood – being last at the food, washing those dishes, sweeping up the glass shards – seem more burdensome. There are babies screaming to be fed. There are adolescents giving you that face. There are grown children who do not reach back to say thank you. Mother’s Day can be a reminder that not all is as it should be.

But we made it.

If there is one thing I have learned in the last months about motherhood, it’s that it is a GIFT, surprisingly unpredictable, impossible, and delicious. You who felt swamped with work and worry yesterday, remember – some in your congregation would give several years off their life for that honor. Okay, maybe several hours, I don’t know.

I read two books lately that changed my views on mothering and homemaking. One was The Bookseller of Kabul, a difficult read I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. Besides painful glimpses into the oppression of women in Afghanistan, including sexual exploitation, the punch-point that impacted me most was that the author could not imagine a fulfilling life for her main characters, women who lived out their lives in service to the men they loved, sweeping daily dust that never went away and cooking for daily crowds that never went away too, and falling into bed at night exhausted. I thought Abuses granted, yes. But women have lived this way for thousands of years, and some of them have been very happy.

I’ll be honest with you though: it rattled me. For several weeks I was choked by my own femininity and cultural setting, and I even printed out Maya Angelou’s beautiful poem Caged Bird and hung it by my kitchen sink. That worked, and made me feel noble and queenly and misunderstood, until my sons who were emptying the dish drainer began reading it aloud in an outrageous mixture of British, Swahili, and Pennsylvania Dutch accent. They don’t even speak Swahili. But they had it down, and it nearly ruined the poem for me forever. “A CAAAHGED bird stahnds on the GREEAAAVE of dreams, his SHAAAYHdow shouts on a NEIGHTHTHMAHRE scream…” When I stopped laughing, and crying, I took down the paper and threw it in the trash can.

We are not in a cage.

We are not in a cage just because our lives revolve around other people and we serve a lot and wash mounds of grass-stained laundry without thanks. We are honored. Jesus said those who serve are blessed, and I can’t help noticing that his servants eventually grow into pretty incredible people.

The other book was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and in it the author, who is a self-professed liberated woman, mourned the losses of a generation of stay-at-home moms. She spoke of the food losses, particularly, in healthy eating and homey happiness, but she spoke also of the deception of a System that promised us freedom and then harnessed us with long-hour jobs as well as childcare and housekeeping and cooking (someone still has to do it!) with less time than ever. She considers it “the great hoodwink” of her generation. (Read a larger quote here.) So I am happy not to have entirely fallen for women’s lib, just yet.

Mothering is hard. We women have always struggled with comparison and jealousy, but in this modern age of invasive technology and picture-perfect online worlds, I am convinced we have a harder time of it.

I’m not sure – forgive me for being cynical, I don’t try – I’m not sure that a day to honor us is the best idea. Besides all the people on whom it puts pressure (those I spoke to above: men and children, and women with pain), it puts some pressure on all moms – to get our smiles on and make this look good, and bask in rather dreamy praise while simultaneously juggling a baby in one arm and a stack of Bibles in the other (which the kids forgot under the pews), and thinking whether that casserole we put in the oven for dinner will really feed fifteen. And showing delight in everything we are given, no matter how clumsily and preciously.

They love us, and they want to show it. That breaks my heart. The way I made peace with the day is that I said to myself, Shari – it’s a great day to be a mother. Be glad, and do your job.

I was given a lovely hammock yesterday from my favorite people, and the columbine they gave to me last year bloomed again in my flowerbed this year, just in time for Mother’s Day. That was awesome.

Maybe it is primarily a day to honor the women who are done. When I went to town on Saturday, the store was full of women in their forties and fifties, prancing around with carts full of flowers. How many mothers do they have? Do they buy their own presents? Instagram post: #mythoughtfulson #amazinggift   Anyway, I honor my mom, and mom-in-law. They are at the stage to rest; I am at the stage to rise up and call them blessed.

And then I need to wake up Monday morning and draw sudsy water for those dishes. And Tuesday morning. And Wednesday morning. I’m a lucky kid, and I get to be a mother, and although this job is not classy or romantic it is liberating, and worth doing.

Hang in there, everybody. We made it for another year.

xoxo

Shari


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What did you take for granted about your mother?

What to buy our husbands

Confession: After I wrote about kids’ gifts, Claudia commented “Now what to buy our husbands…..?”

Truly.

So I made a flowchart to tackle that conundrum. Sorry I’m not more help. Click to view full size.

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To all of you, a merry Christmas Adam, which is what Kelly calls the day before Christmas Eve…

And a Merry Christmas, from our family to yours.

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Love,
Shari

Kids gifts under $15

Okay, I’m glad you weren’t holding your breath waiting for this post, because first I got sick (that is, I fell unexpectedly into a vat of back pain) and second, my suggestions involve pretty basic stuff… the kind of classic, useful, and slightly educational gifts I love for my children to receive.

If you like to buy big gifts, use these as gift toppers or add-ons.

But thoughtful gifts don’t need to be expensive. There’s an endless array of lovely gifts you can give a child for five to fifteen dollars. When my daughter turned six this summer and unwrapped beautiful presents from many friends, I started making a list. Here are ten ideas to get you started.

1. Wallet ($5-10)

What child doesn’t want a special place to keep their change? There are awfully handsome varieties for both boys and girls. My daughters have also received the cutest purses, sometimes stuffed with treasures—tissues, gum, a writing tablet and pen. Slip in a dollar bill and she’ll love you for life.

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2. Watch ($10-$15)

Instant maturity advancement guaranteed. Besides the I’m-such-a-big-kid! factor, there’s no better incentive for learning to tell time. I always bought analog when my children were preschoolers and taught them the half hours, saving digital watches for the truly big kids.

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3. Sunglasses ($3-10)

It’s the end of the season now, but here’s another favorite. Plus they’re so photogenic.

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4. Clothing ($10-$15)

A cute sweater, fuzzy socks, a flannel shirt, a great hat, even a pack of undies patterned with Lego or princesses… Something that it makes them feel proud and happy to wear.

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5. Craft ($10)

I don’t even want to start the list under this category… it goes on and on. Weaving looms, beading stations, wooden models, paint-by-number, sand art, modeling clay or playfoam, paint-your-own toys, science kits and robot creators. Anything that gives a child hours of happy and wholesome play.

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6. Umbrella ($6-10)

Again, slightly seasonal—but adorable all the same. I try not to pep talk Walmart, but they stock the sweetest mini ones in their baby section. The only caveat is that sometimes it’s hard to avoid movie characters. I don’t object to all the movies, but I do object to becoming a walking advert.

In this case, the umbrella was coming to get her. Poor baby.

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7. Set of matchbox cars ($5-10)

Not just for boys, Matchbox cars provide endless playing opportunities from emergency vehicles to hot rods to construction equipment. At Regan’s last birthday party, we used new ones for cupcake toppers and let the guests take them home.

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8. Big pack of crayons or playdough ($5)

There’s nothing like art supplies to make me want to be a kid again. I love the giant packs of Crayola crayons, every imaginable color, with a built-in sharpener—or the sets of fifty different colored pencils. Washable paints and markers are another alternative. And new Play-Doh brings out the happiest, artsy creativity in a child.

(Don’t worry too much about the mess, moms. You know you have to let Play-Doh dry before sweeping the floor, right? Okay. Then it’s easy.)

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9. Personal care accessories ($10)

For a girl, buy a pretty hair brush and hand mirror, a new comb, some fun elastics or little clips. For either boy or girl, pick out some cool kid shampoos, tub finger paint, and bubble bath. Or a vibrating toothbrush and a tube of paste.

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10. Puzzle ($10)

Floor puzzles are great fun for toddlers. For puzzles our whole family loves, we pick designs by Charles Wysocki or Anthony Kleem, with their tiny details, bright colors, and homespun peace. We started a tradition of buying a new one before every Christmas vacation. (Older children may also enjoy Wysocki’s adult coloring books!) Our favorite of favorite Christmastime puzzles is O Night Divine by Richard Jesse Watson, a gift from our friends Bob and Jeanne.

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What would you add to the list?


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That means if you buy something linked from this page, I get rewarded by Amazon at no additional charge to you. It’s part of my unending and deeply personal search to make blogging worthwhile.

Christmas giving

“To: GOD! From: Kelly!

Dear God,

I’m exitet For you’r Birth-Day, at Chrismas!!

Love, Kelly”

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I know it’s terribly uncouth to mention the word “Christmas” too early, but I waited as long as I could. Could we just call it “The busy season of merriment and festivities that fast approacheth” for short?

It’s coming.

It’s been years since I’ve looked forward to it with such joy.

For one thing, Kelly has been longing for it since August, when we heard a chorus program that shook her world. They’re releasing their CD in December.

For another, it marks my baby’s first birthday. Everyone told me how much I would hate having a Christmas baby, but I loved waiting for The Baby both literally and figuratively, and I loved having all the hustle behind me by the time Christmas came, because of my obsessive nesting and preparing. (I think I bought the last of my presents on Halloween.) It was a very gentle holiday, quiet and reflective and sweet. Now each year when we celebrate Jesus and Jenny, the house will be festive for a month, and music will be playing, and twinkle lights will be sparkling.

Buying presents always creates a mixture of happiness and angst for me. Giving gifts is one of my favorite ways to love people, but giving so many at one time, and suiting them perfectly to their recipients, calls for much thought.

Three things have simplified the season for me.

First, shopping ahead and shopping online. I don’t ever again want to spend most of my December hunting frantically through crowded stores for just the thing for Uncle Dan. I love having so many good things arriving at my door in mysterious brown boxes and getting squirreled away under my bed.

Second, having our children exchange names among themselves. Now instead of supervising the headache of three to five cheap presents per child, I can help them choose one nice one. We set a $10 guideline: each child contributes five dollars of his own saved money from allowances and odd jobs, and we parents match it. It’s amazing what you can buy with ten dollars: 3-D puzzles, science kits, board books, endless crafts, durable toys. (I’ll share more ideas next time.)

And third, finding a workable plan for extended family giving.

In my Coblentz family, we’ve designated a different couple to do the planning each Christmas, starting with Dad and Mom the first year, my oldest brother and his wife the next year, and so on down through the family. We can each plan whatever giving we’d like, within reason. It has worked like a charm. One year we pooled our money to give to a sibling who’d had huge medical stress and expense. One year we drew names and exchanged homemade gifts. One year we gave only to the children, mailing packages to those who couldn’t come home. This year we’re stuffing stockings, choosing small items for everyone. I love it—endless variety, easy planning, and very little stress.

On the Zook side, we couples give simple presents to each other, often homemade: bath scrubs, drink mixes, cheese and deer bologna, sweet treats, whatever.

It’s a season of joy, when Christmas gifts ought not to become synonymous with overspending and stress. How do you bring simplicity and joy to your giving?

Or is this too early to be discussing it?


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The string cheese incident

Once upon a time in the aisles of Aldi, I came up against a stranger at the cheese cooler.

She was tall and trim, with lush curly hair. She flashed a megawatt smile at my daughter and flitted through her purchases, energy oozing out of her. We chatted a little.

“String cheese, string cheese,” she said to herself. “Don’t tell me they’re out. I need some for children’s church tonight!”

I was looking for string cheese too, and helped her look. We scanned the shelves together. “I don’t think there’s any here,” I said. Suddenly her hand shot out and snatched (I do not think “snatched” is too strong a word) a pack of string cheese from the cooler right in front of me. A single pack had been sitting out of place on top of another cheese box.

She practically hugged it. “Oh my goodness!” she said, her face alight. “Jesus put this here just for me! Isn’t He so good?! He knew just what I needed!”

By now I was thinking two things.

  1. You are a beautiful lady of courage and charisma.
  2. Did He also give you permission to snatch it from in front of me?

I said something kind, since I don’t fight with strangers [only sisters and husbands], and stood there scanning the shelves one last time. On the highest shelf, out of its usual place, sat an entire box of string cheese packages.

“Look,” I said. “Here’s more.” And I took down a package for myself. “Do you need more packs?”

No, she only needed one. She bubbled on her way, a radiant lady.

I admire her still, and I do not tell this story to paint me as the good guy: I would have liked to snatch up that cheese myself. I tell the story because I began to feel, after a time—not at first—that what she did with cheese, I might be doing with quarters in Aldi carts.

I began to wonder if The Miraculous Provision of Jesus Just For Me is sometimes code for Being a Better Snatcher? We Christians have an easy handle on this brand of selfishness.

“Pass it on,” those liberal strangers at the carts always told me. And I did. But I wonder how often I found a cart outside the store without an owner, just sitting there waiting, as I said in my last post, and mentally added …for me!

I want to be a NonSnatcher. That’s why I started taking a quarter of my own. And if I want to walk forward another step and become a Giver, my little envelope could probably hold two…?