Monday, September 24, 2012

birthday week

Birthday week is over. I am currently sprawled out on the couch nursing a birthday week hangover... maybe finishing the birthday cake for breakfast wasn't a good idea.

Both my girls celebrated their birthday within 3 days of each other, turning 4 and 1, and I am rethinking the strategy that went into planning it that way. Wait, it wasn't planned that way. As I recall, last year Sommer chose to stick around in my womb for a full TWO weeks past her due date. And, no, I have not fully forgiven her yet.

Today the balloons are settling around us, the presents are gradually migrating into the bedrooms, and then migrating right back to the living room, and I am reflecting on a few birthday discoveries made while we celebrated these two wonderfully special little girls.

Discovery #1:  The first magical birthday is turning four-years-old. This was the first year Annike got excited in anticipation of her birthday. Easily more than half of the fun was looking forward to it. We celebrated with a few special friends and an Under-the-Sea themed backyard party. The kids hunted for treasure around the farm and discovered treasure boxes filled with all kinds of silly things that kids think are fun, (and with a baby around, I think of as choking hazards.) Annike had a ball.

Discovery #2:  Children are pleased with the simple things. Strange that I have this rediscovery every year. Annike's party was a few days before her actual birthday. By the time her special day rolled around, I was feeling pretty tired. She asked me for a special dinosaur cake and I was tempted to let the request slide because, seriously, dinosaurs are not my specialty. In the end I decided that if a dinosaur cake would make her feel special, it was a relatively cheap and simple gift I could give her that took minimal effort and a little creativity on my part. Those are the kind of gifts we want to encourage. So, a dinosaur cake is what she got. We topped it off with a visit to the grandparents house and this day was every bit as special as the day of her party.

Discovery #3:  Cake decorating has been forever changed by the invention of pre-packaged Fondant. I admit that it is somewhat bland in taste, but it may have revolutionized the look of my cakes. I spent quite a bit of time baking and decorating cakes this week. The ladybug cake was for Sommer's birthday, and the mermaid cake was for Annike's Under-the-Sea party.

*Please note that after frosting dozens of cupcakes, I decided that I did not have time to make the mermaid cake I had been planning. As I was ditching the idea, my husband decided of his own accord to tackle decorating the mermaid cake. The decorating job you see below was done entirely by him. I was fighting off over-controlling urges to "adjust" some of his ideas, but in the end I let it all go realizing that not many little girls have a dad who will decorate a mermaid cake for them, and that was worth something in itself.

Food for thought: Is it more important for a birthday cake to look good or taste good? My husband and I may disagree on the answer.

Discovery #4:  A one-year-old's needs are in her number of years.  One friend, one sister, one piece of cake, one balloon, one candle... these are all she needed to be happy on her birthday.

Discovery #5:  It is not easier to throw two separate "small" birthday parties for the girls. Maybe this Momma isn't good at small. Maybe when I get an idea in my head that seems totally do-able, I just can't let it go. Maybe half the fun for me is planning the party. But next year we are going to do the combined thing and celebrate once.

Discovery #6:  Birthday traditions worth keeping are the meaningful ones. Our newest birthday tradition is a unique story told on Birthday's Eve (you know, the night before the birthday). It is a retelling of all the birthdays celebrated by the child, starting with the day of their birth, and counting right on up. Annike was captivated as she snuggled in bed next to me so excited to know what her 4th birthday would hold. Sommer's story was a bit over her head, but we started the tradition anyway.

Final and Most Important Discovery:  Loving these girls equally does not mean I will love them the same. I will have to elaborate on this thought more at another time because as I mentioned above, my brain power is toast right now. Let me sum it up by saying in my mind it seemed reasonable that if I threw a party for Annike's 1st birthday, then I should also have a party for Sommer's 1st birthday. After all, I don't want to be the mom who forgets about my younger children. But loving them equally is not equivalent to giving them the same things. These two girls are different in so many ways... one is rather serious and the other is not serious at all... one loves animals and one loves people... one likes to be alone and the other likes to never be alone... one is very cautious and the other throws herself at life... one is getting older and the other is still very young. Loving them equivalently is understanding their differences and loving them uniquely because of those differences. Loving them equivalently is giving to them as they have need, not as I have obligation. I love these two girls more than life itself. Party or not, no child of mine will doubt that.

Happy Birthday Girls!
(I hope you enjoyed your parties because next year you may not get one!)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

the harvest

The last of our summer veggies are being picked.  The corn is long gone. We tired of squash and beets ages ago. Only the tomatoes and a handful of cucumbers remain on the vine.

There is nothing like a good bite of raw corn, fresh from the garden.

At least no one can say that my kids are picky eaters.

"He told them, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.' "  Luke 10:2

My eyes are being opened to the plentiful harvest around me, and yet, I feel somewhat inadequate to be one of the workers.

I am a member of our church's ministry for women, and we are currently in the middle of a 3-night event called Conversations. It is a ministry formed essentially around giving women the time and space to discuss some heart-level topics, like the legacy that we leave, and how our past doesn't have to dictate our future, and our identity as women defined by love.  There is coffee, and dessert, and a different woman of wisdom from our own church community facilitating the discussion each night.

We designed this event to be small, thinking that perhaps around 20 women would be interested. Just to be safe, we would plan for 30. As it sometimes happens, God had other plans. Our very first night we had over 70 women show up. We did an emergency move from our cozy fireside room into the sanctuary.  The harvest blew us away.

How could we have so drastically underestimated what God wanted to do with this ministry? The women I met that night were primarily new to our church, or new to church in general. These were women hungry for connection and starving to know that some greater purpose might come out of life's heartaches. No problems were solved or solutions provided, these women were simply longing to be heard.

Sometimes the harvest is ripe for picking so that it can join you on the journey. Sometimes the harvest has bumps and bruises and wormholes, but the fruit is sweet none-the-less. Sometimes the harvest just needs to know that it doesn't have to fit into a cookie-cutter stereotype before it can be plucked. Change comes later.

In the four evenings that we have hosted so far, I have met women who are freshly divorced, women who are struggling to exit a broken relationship, women who don't have a person in their lives they can call a "good friend", women whose eyes fill up with tears as they are answering each and every question, women who show up all by themselves without knowing a soul. I even met a woman who worked at the printing shop where we had our little fliers printed. She pulled one off the stack and came. Alone. Mostly, I've met women who are dying to have someone care about hearing their story. All of this was shared within the span of 2 hours.

The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.

Above all, I am floored by what God wanted to do with this casual night designed with only a few women in mind. I feel completely inadequate to be even a small part of God's big agenda for these evenings. But, sometimes the workers can be untrained, ill-prepared, and inept and they still get to help with the harvest. Sometimes the workers show up with broken arms, but it is good enough that they showed up. Sometimes the workers think they don't want to pick, but end up with wheelbarrows full. Sometimes it is unclear who is getting more out of it all... the harvest, or the workers?

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Christian was out one night last week and it was therefore my responsibility to put both children to bed.  After much longer than I had intended feeding and rocking Sommer (bedtime has never been easy with that child), I escaped the baby's room and went out to search for Annike.  I found her in the living room sobbing large crocodile tears into her green blankie while she rocked herself on the couch.

My immediate reaction was to ask, Are you hurt?

No, she said.

Why are you so sad?

I am thinking about one day when I have to go to school, she replied with all of the heaviness a three-year-old's voice can hold.

One day I will be five and then I will have to go to school without Sniffy.  And I will miss you, she sobbed into my arms. Sniffy, by the way, is her green blankie.  Named for why she likes it... sniffing.  Kids are funny with their attachments.

My heart broke as I listened to this little person and her giant worries. How can a small child carry around such a heavy load? Her fears about her future and worry about the unknown were big-person-sized.

We've had a few instances like this. In fact, every time we broach the subject of school, she ends up in tears. Once a very long time ago I told Annike that she would go to school one day and I would miss her. She has never forgotten that I said this and took it upon herself to prevent that day with vehemence. It is no coincidence that this particular night of tears came only a few days before her first day of preschool. Apparently all of the anxiety of anticipating this day has been weighing quite heavily upon her.

We talked about it. We prayed. We shared scripture.  Do you know that Matthew 6 came up again? (see my last post)
"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, 
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?... Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself..." Matt 6:26-34

It turned into a special time of bedtime-bonding. I have great compassion for this little person. She takes the world seriously, which will be both a help and a hindrance in her life. I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and tell her I will protect her forever, but it isn't true. Eventually she will learn that our troubles just keep growing as we do. I can't take her troubles or her worries away, but I can teach her how to handle them, and Who to go to with her burdens.

Preschool started on Tuesday and to everyone's surprise she did great! With a kiss and a hug goodbye for me, she let me leave with no tears. But clearly my prediction long ago was true, because I am the one who feels sad.

Here I sit reflecting on how precious my time with her has been in these years without school. I can never get that time back with her... that time when she was under my wing alone... that time of innocence when she was untouched by the influence of her friends... that time of freedom from schedules and commitments... that time of  never needing to leave the house before 10am... that time of having my little best friend around to keep me company and bring purpose to my days at home.

There was no rush to end that time together, and yet, for some reason, our culture says there was. I wonder, is there anyone else out there who feels that pressure to push their little ones out of the nest too soon? It is a mystery to me why this pressure would be pervasive, to get our children knowing more, learning younger, moving into the next greatest thing that would probably be just as great if we waited.  Then again, waiting has never been a human strong point. It doesn't always come naturally understanding the goods and the bads in the messages that bombard us.

I don't want to sound too dramatic, because it is only preschool for 2 days a week.  It was, indeed, the right decision for us at this point in time. But there have been quite a few extraneous influences in our decision-making.

Big sigh. This was Annike's first day of preschool, and it turns out that I cried more than she did.

Notice that green blankie made it into the picture. We decided she could keep it at school in her cubby, but when I picked her up at the end of the day, it seems that Sniffy had found its way out of the cubby, becoming a rather permanent accessory. But no tears, and that was worth something.

These are the only pictures we got because, seriously, who has time to take pictures on the first day of school? Did I mention that preschool starts at 8:30am? We somehow slept in until almost 8.  We live 20 minutes away. You do the math. My children are my alarm clock and it is against my strategy for self-preservation to awaken them. I am guessing it takes some practice to get out of the house with two kids by 8am.  As always, we are a work-in-progress.

In the meantime, I still have many days ahead of me with one or both children at home. I can spend those days wishing for some time to myself (yes, people, it happens to me quite often), or I can master my ability to treasure my children and my role with them while they remain under my wing. Like it or not, these days are numbered.