Dawn, November the First

IMG_1143The rivulets of rain etch crooked patterns down the screens, filling one tiny square and then the next, in an oddly geometric path down. She had slept with the windows open, welcoming the temperamental storm. It rained, then stopped, over and over. Gusts of leaf-ladden loamy wind traced the sills, the curtains billowed, settled again in the thick, silver moonlight and she rolled over, seeking the shelter of sleep. The veil is thin, and rest uneasy.

Her ancestors, centuries before crossing the ocean to the new world, would have lit fires and danced among the standing stones, honoring the dying of the year and those who lived beyond. Today, bearing their name and embers of their fire still, she dresses her children as creatures to scare and watches their joyfully celebration. The plastic pumpkins overflowing with sugar are remnants of meaning, shadows of ideas imagined by old human hearts to captures the elusive idea of spirit, of embodiment, of god. She shakes off the rumination. It doesn’t matter. But the veil is thin, and rest uneasy.

In the new world, ancestors of others also felt the call to remember. Graves visited, swept, washed, and cared for— while children bring treats, and mothers pack careful picnics to share with those who live beyond. It is a day to honor, remember, speak the names of, and love one’s ancestors. These are not her traditions, but they are humanity’s tradition. The world over, during this time, something in our souls know, and hear. The veil is thin, and rest uneasy.

It perplexes her. She knows her history, she knows the rapidly approaching holidays are based on pagan traditions that were co-opted by conquering crusaders. She knows the symbolism of the winter solstice, and the human desire to find the light in the darkest hour. She understands the impetus to place the celebration of the birth of the penultimate Sun King, despite His spring birth, at the time when the sun itself reemerges, at the nadir of the year, and regains again, it’s place of dominance in the heavens. The symbolism is powerful, thick and heavy with meaning.

There are depths, layers without end, to delve into, untangling the gossamer threads of meaning, direction and divinity. She shakes her cloudy head again, and gazes out the window. The air is wet, but the rain has stopped and is now thick with birdsong- from every direction, a symphony in the leaves- the avian musicians invisible, but their song full of power, joy and undeniably. The veil is thin, and there is nothing to fear.

Pseudo Psychoanalysis

My children are different. Well, I suppose most evey mother could make that statement- but, with confidence, I can say that mine are like oil and water. And nitro-glycerine. A case-study:

Riding in the Car:

Jeffrey– did ok in the car, but would often projectile barf without reason or warning. Would frequently fall asleep and be amendable to being moved to his bed, thus continueing his nap in the house.

Beanie– Hated riding in the car, starting with the ride home from the hospital, and never ending. Buckle baby in carseat, commence screaming. And screaming, and screaming, and screaming. He NEVER stopped, as long as he was in his seat. Forward, backward, moving, still- didn’t matter.  Never, ever fell asleep.

Abby– Likes her carseat just fine. Cooperates with buckles, and claps happily and coos to self. Enjoys looking out window, and watching her brothers. I can’t think of even one time where she has cried in her seat- although she did barf once.

Eating:

Jeffrey– voracious appetite- would drink 40oz. of breasmilk a day, had I let him- but had a sensitive tummy. Barfed a lot. Daily- until he was over two. Loves food- much like a goldfish, will eat until he is stuffed and Goldfish are coming out his nose.

Beanie– Hated eating. Refused to nurse. Cried. Would not eat babyfood, and formula made him sick. Would not even taste new things, cried some more. Now, almost four, he eats PBJ’s for all three meals, and milk. Occasionally some butter.

Abby– nursed great- accepted me or a bottle, loves to try new foods. She likes spicy things and ethnic foods and loves fruit and veggies and fish and just about anything we put on her plate. Tummy tolerates everything.

Sleeping:

Jeffrey– co-slept with us until he was nine-months old. Still likes nothing better than to be nestled under my arm sharing my pillow.  Sleeps like a rock once he is asleep. Quit napping when he was 18 months old, and hasn’t napped since.

Beanie– would only sleep swaddled t-i-g-h-t-l-y. Wakes up at the slightest noise- even if I check on him before I go to bed, the whisper of the door sliding over the carpet wakes him. When he woke, he screamed. And screamed. Then he screamed some more. Now days, is an insomniac, and finds every reason under the moon to get up. Does not, and has never, napped.

 Abby– toss her in bed with her favorite blankie, close the blinds and the door, and she’s out. No fussing, no crying no special tricks, just a peaceful sleeping baby. She may chortle and talk to herself for a while, but that’s it. When she wakes, she chats and plays quietly until someone comes to get her.

Playing:

Jeffrey– Hordes his toys. Collects random things, like “Blue”. Meticulously catalogs his belongings, and subscribes to the “tyrant” method of playing with others. Has a wild imagination and loves to take things apart.

Beanie– Loves to have friends over, but quickly becomes overwhelmed if there is too much chaos. Finds quiet places and plays by himself or with mama. Loves to be naked and run around in the rain or wind storms. At the same time. Elemental child.

Abby– turns the pages of a paper book, even as a one-year old, without eating or tearing them. Will content herself with following her brothers, but is just as happy playing with her toys by herself. Loves water and being outside, but doesn’t fret when brought inside.

 Temperment:

Jeffrey– Stubborn streak a mile wide. If he can’t win, he doesn’t want to play. A very tender hearted boy who really watches out for younger kids. Has a strong sense of justice and fairness, and isn’t afraid, sometimes to his detriment, of speaking out. Loves the mythos of the Hero, and intends on being one.

Beanie– A stubborn streak a mile wider than Jeff’s- coupled with a strong desire to be independant. He wants to do things beyond his abilities and gets frustrated when he can’t.  At the same time, he has great capacity for tenderness and really wants to be snuggled with and loved. He needs lots of physical affection- even though he shrugs it off.

Abby– just goes with the flow. She doesn’t push herself all that hard, and lacks the insane drive both her brother’s share. It has manifested in later walking, talking and general accomplishments. She just doesn’t seem to mind waiting, which is a whole new ballgame in this house. Small things make her happy, and ready laughter is always near the surface.

So how much of any of this is nurturing, and how much is nature? Is Abby the laid back babe she is because of the tidal waves that are her brothers? Is Beanie full of will and force in order to survive having such a strong older brother? Is Jeff just the natural first-born bossy boy?

The thing is, no matter how much you try and sell the “nurture” card to me- I KNOW these kids all came out of my body with these personalities intact. Yes, they’ve manifested in our home and in the environment of our family, but they were not, and never have been, blank slates.

What’s the deal in your families?

Night in Bethlehem

Yesterday at around four o’clock, I ditched the costumes for the party. Both the boys’ were done, as well as DH’s, but mine and Abby’s were just piles of fabric. No way my boys were going to dress up if mama wasn’t. Carefully weighing it out- should I stress and yell and cry and try and make two more costumes inside of an hour, or should I ditch and go to the party and have fun? Hmmm. Yeah, I went upstairs and cracked a Fresca and put my feet up. Maybe next year for costumes…

The party was fabulous. Truly the best church party we’ve ever attended. When we arrived, there were luminaries lighting the way to the front of the church, and Roman soldiers standing guard and brusquely pointing the way. The idea was that we were all going to Bethlehem to be counted for the census, and the soldiers were a nice touch.

Inside, we were herded into the dimmed chapel, masses of people in biblical garb surrounded by soldiers- we milled around, while some young women sang hymns at he front. The Roman soldiers came in a banged their standards on the ground, and instructed us toward the back to be counted. The folding doors were cracked just enough to let people through, where more Romans were standing guard, collecting our “taxes” (canned goods) in order to be admitted to the city.

Once inside the gym (It’s a gym, not a cultural hall!) the lights were low, and twinkling Christmas lights had been strung all around the edge of the room. A marketplace had been set up, and we were each given a small bag of coins and a basket. With our coins, we got to purchase our dinners. There were no tables or chairs set up, and we spread our blanket on the ground. (There was a bower with chairs and reclining couches for older folks).

The booths were made from hewn beams (we happen to have a few carpenters in the ward, and this was apparent from the beauty of the booths!) with canvas tops, grape vines, pottery, and even small “fires” lit the evening. (The fires were cauldrons with up-blowing fans, orange light-bulbs and fabric, but the ambiance was great.) There were booths selling grape juice, honey cakes, beggars purses full of wheat and herbs, dates, tangerines and dried fruit, a cheese and olive stand, a bakery with unleavened bread and other goodies. You took your family and your basket, bought your food, and sat on your blanket to eat. I have never seen so many people socializing and having so much fun… The kids were having a ball, and the blankets spread everywhere seemed to really open up the conversations between different families.

As dinner was winding down, (we have a DJ in our ward, with the requisite Bill Kurtis voice) a man began to read from Luke, and a spotlight shone on a young woman and man walking among the families on their blankets. It was Mary and Joseph, amid the crowds of Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay… A hush fell over the room, as we watched Mary and Joseph make their way, narrated by radio-voice guy.

The Holy couple were of course turned away from the booths, and made their way to the stage, where a barn (again, fabulous carpenters at work) was constructed, and they had put up gauze curtains, so the Christmas lights shone though the firmament over the barn. Nice touch.

There on stage, the rest of the story was acted out, including a choir of angels all in white calling the shepherds to be not afraid. Of course, Mary had a real baby- three week old Mason S. stood in for the Christ child. We finished by singing O Holy Night. There were tears in my eyes.

As we left, the three wise men were at the doors, along with the Roman guards, and they were handing out small, hinged wooden chests. Inside was a red velvet bed with a piece of gold, some frankincense and myrrh resin, as well as a parchment with the meaning of the gifts given to the Christ child.

The activities committee outdid themselves on this one, and our kids never even asked about Santa Claus. Like I said, it was a fabulous night.

Trusting the Spirit

My goal this holiday is to step outside my comfort zone and try and be a better example for myself and my family of caring for others. This year I want to make Christmas about loving and caring for others, and about honoring the teachings Christ. 

Sometimes I get an idea, and I am afraid to follow through with it. I second guess myself, over-think the whole thing, and maybe chicken out, even if my intentions are noble.

Today I got such an idea. A good idea, I felt-  and instead of thinking and wracking myself, and trying to figure out what the other people would think, I took a leap of faith, packed my family in the car, and tried to do something good.

It didn’t go perfectly smooth- and I admit, even after the good deed was done, some doubts crept into my heart- I wondered if I had stepped on some pride, or inadvertently overstepped a boundary. I’m not so good at boundaries- kind of like a big water buffalo, and sometimes I inadvertently step in someone else’s carefully tended pastures.

But I’m tentatively pleased that I followed my heart anyway, hoping that my friends love me enough to forgive any big footprints in their flower beds.

Go to Your Studio and Make Stuff!

When I hear the birds start chirping, I know I’ve stayed up a tad too late for my current starring role as a mama. *sigh* I can’t help it- all my life I have preferred the solitude and quiet and productivity of the wee hours.

Between ten and three, the amount I get accomplished is astonishing. Those also tend to be the hours my creativity, ideas and pondering peaks. It must be the quiet. The dear, sweet, rare, lovely quiet so scarce to a mama of young children. Time to stare at the paint, if I so chose. Time to let the cogs of my whirling brain wind down. Time to sit with myself, hear myself breathe, and to remember who I am- besides a human napkin.

Time to go to my studio and make stuff. Never chores, never housework. Wasting my precious solitude on dishes only happens when the dishes are crawling from the sink by themselves. And even then, it’s a quick once-over and on to bigger and brighter things. This is a fundamental need for me… to be alone. To be in quiet, and most importantly, to have the experience of no one needing me. Everyone else is settled in, kissed, tucked, watered, and off to the Land of Nod. The only person who needs me right now, is me. *deep…sigh*

Having this time, I firmly believe, helps me be a better mama. Oh, sure, I’m tired when the Monkeys bound out of bed at 6:30- but I would be a real wreak if I didn’t have anything that was just mine. I don’t stay up so late every night- I would be a wreak then, too. But once or twice a week, being tired the next day is a price I’m more than willing to pay. And Friday nights, sweet, sweet Friday… when I know my lovely, wonderful husband will take care of the kids in the morning, and I can actually take my time, and get to sleep in.

So here I sit, 2:15 a.m., fresh from my studio- covered in threads and fibers (my kids call it mom-fuzz, and it trails me wherever I go), my fingers stained with ink, back burning a bit from bending over my cutting table all night, pencils and paintbrushes stuck in my messy knot of hair (it works great), and my heart is content.

That, and hearing the soft breathing of my sleeping babies on the monitor… Life is perfect.

The Virtue of Chick Music

Kinda like little white convertibles and movies with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, there are certain artists that I think of as Chick Music. And, like a Ryan/Hanks movie, sometimes Chick Music is exactly what I need.

Nothing to hard on the royal ear, nothing to demanding of my total attention, something I can definitely sing along with, perhaps with a dash of righteous angst, that is what I want from my Chick Music. Sarah McLaughlin, Natalie Merchant, Alison Krauss, Tracy Chapman, John Denver (Yes, he IS too Chick Music!), Loreena McKinnet, Hootie, Mary Black, No Doubt featuring the divine Gwen Steffani, Lyle Lovett, Alanis Morissette if I’m pissed off, maybe even Enya or Sinead if I’m really mopey.

These are bands that my husband just never picks up the CD and says, “Hey, babe, I feel like a little “Mirrorball” today!”- even if he does appreciate Ms. McLaughlin. (The possible exception might be Alison Krauss- because he really digs bluegrass) Hell will freeze over the day he pops in the “You’ve Got Mail” DVD, but he has watched it at least a dozen times with me… It’s a chick thing.

This music is like tonic water to my soul. Soothing, familiar, comfortable, an audio bowl of macaroni and cheese, if you will. Knowing every note, and singing along, off-key of course, while I do the dishes for the umpteenth time this week, helps me find my grove thing. Helps me remember who I am besides Mommmmmmmm! and brings to a happy place.

It’s no secret that when Mom’s happy, everyone’s happy, and I have noticed increased happiness in my kids when I play music and sing a lot. Not sure if it’s them responding to the music, or to the proverbial happy mom, but I’ll take it either way. That, and the quickest way to bring some yellow happiness your way, besides a lemon popsicle, is to dance. Dance with wild, abandoned goofiness. Let your kids see you act silly and make up funky moves; I guarantee you’ll be more interesting than any movie, game or fight they might be having. A dancin’ mama is a thing to behold, and every kid knows it.

So what brings out your groove thang? Go dig it out, pop in the CD, and show it to your kids! (Oh, and tell me, too. I won’t tell anyone!)

Unicorn Threads and Butterfly Wings

A box came today for Abigail. From Chelsea. A box from Chelsea is never just a box- it is a multilayered flower than unfolds in petals, it is a butterfly emerging from it’s chrysalis, it is tissue thin leaves of gold stitched with unicorn-tail floss. A box from Chelsea is nothing less than magic. Unadulterated, lush green magic. And Abigail got her first Chelsea box.

(I’ll just gloss over how the boys have been complaining that no one loves them anymore, because every time the UPS man rings the doorbell he has a box for (sneering) Abigail. Oh, waah.)

Well, since Abby is obviously too young to do it herself, I tore into the box with glee. What met the touch of my fingers, as I peeled away the layers of tissue and packaging, was the finest white porcelain. A teeny, tiny, delicate white tea-cup lay in my hand, with a handle so small my pinkie finger doesn’t fit through it. As I continued to unwrap, three more tea-cups emerged, then a saucer for each, and finally, the fat little tea-pot. On each delicate piece was part of a woodland scene, a squirrel in a branch, a spider spinning a web, a butterfly on a flower, and so on. The teapot has a tiny painting of two boys riding a wooden stick horse on one side, and a little girl sitting on a milking stool on the other.

Each and every one of these miniature peices of art was thrown on Chelsea’s wheel, glazed and painted with her own hands- Her mark is on the bottom of each little cup. It is a treasure, an heirloom. And I am without words to adequately thank someone for such a gift. It cannot be done.

I don’t know what I did to deserve the friends I have, but I am constantly standing amazed at the women and men who grace my life. So much love, so much to share, so many talents and gifts and spiritual giants- in so many  people. 

My feelings can best be summed up in the Hindu phrase, Namaste, which loosely translates to ” I bow to the Divinity within you.” Thank you.

Heaven Anywhere You Can

As a mama, we gotta take little slices of heaven where we can find them. I found one earlier, and while it’s blown to bits now, I can carry the sweet memory with me the rest of the day.

It’s been crazy hot here lately, as I keep saying (because I loathe hot), so I have the curtains closed and the windows open, the lights down and the house is in a comfortable state of twilight all day. The AC will come on later, but for now, I’m enjoying the windows being open and Mediterranean (as opposed to frigid) climate.

It’s late morning, Abby is snoozing, and the Monkeys are in thier room pretending to be Transformers. They are jumping on their beds and playing with their building blocks.

I flop down on my bed, fully expecting to be bombarded with exuberant little boy bodies, but, miracle of miracles, they don’t notice me. As I lay there, enjoying the peace with every fiber of my body, I relax my mind meanders off. The sound of summer birds twittering away floats in the open window, and mingles with the song of boys playing peacefully. I sink further down in my pillow, and savor the cool feel of the old, fine cotton next to my face. For a brief moment, I feel like a child again, escaping the heat in my cool, dark bedroom, listening to the world slowly go by.

In the distance someone is mowing their lawn with a push-mower, and someone else has a sprinkler going. The leaves rustle on the Maple tree outside my window, and make fancy shadows on the wall. I can hear my baby breathing on the monitor, and the boys continue to make happy noise and laugh at each others silliness.

Life is perfect, even if just for a few minutes- don’t let those moments of bliss go unnoticed. Touch them, breathe them in, savor them, and most of all, let the little unexpected drops of heaven carry you away.

Mojo Rising

Jeffrey gave his first “real” talk in Primary today. I love that even the smallest of our kids get up at the podium and say something– too many people are terrified of public speaking, and talks are a sure cure. He has given the prayer and recited the scripture before, but this was supposed to be his first full-fledged talk (what, about two minutes, right?). Supposed to be…

His topic was “Heavenly Father hears and answers my prayers”, and he made a cute series of drawings of him asleep in his bunk-bed, and then him asleep with a cartoon balloon full of scary dream monsters, and then a third picture of him praying and sleeping again with no bad dreams. (Bad dreams are a common preoccupation in our house these days) I thought it was pretty good for a 4 1/2 year old.

He sat at the front of the class waiting to give his talk (looking mighty small, as far as a mama is concerned). DH and I were sitting in the back row, smiling our encouragement. Earlier I had asked him if he wanted me to help, a-la whispering in his ear, but he assured me he was fine. He stepped right to the podium, and promptly shouted his topic into the microphone.

I’m not sure if it was how loud his words were broadcast into the room, or if it was the scores of little eyes looking at him, but he suddenly and completely lost his mojo. Ever so slowly, he began to sink down, the PP waved me up, and by the time I reached the front of the room, he was curled on the step behind the podium, trying ever so hard to be invisible.

We praised him for his effort, and he bashfully took his regular seat with class. Then he was fine. And the coolest thing is, when we asked him about how he felt later, he’s proud of himself! He feels like he did a good job. He got up there, he said his topic, and as far as he’s concerned, he aced it.

Next time, I know he will be more confident, and each time he will be braver, be less intimidated by public speaking- Hopefully, if he’s the valedictorian of his graduating class, he wont curl up behind the podium, but hey, if he does, we’ll still be there, smiling and waving.