Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Beginning of the Best

Susannah is less 24 hours away from being four years old.

I don't think I ever imagined what it would be like to have a four year old. I was so focused on getting through my pregnancy, keeping her alive, nursing, figuring it all out. Oh I was so focused on that day-to-day, I couldn't look up - I couldn't imagine what was coming.

I remember her being born like it was yesterday. That labor was like a dream - my 6:30am wakeup call on a Friday, the long silence of Hypnobirthing labor, the hour and fifteen minutes of hard work pushing her out - pushing her out to Brandi Carlile's The Story (which I found from this birth video and story).

That first six weeks of her life is burned into my mind too. Such clarity of focus, such intense love and joy and praising: oh finally, finally! I had waited my whole life to become a mother and she christened me so kindly. I remember it all: the chocolate cake every day at 2:12pm, episodes of LOST always on, the sound of the chimes of my new washer/dryer as they ran ran ran constantly with new baby laundry, the cool air blowing in over Grandma Mary's vintage couch.

It's only gotten harder from there - and sometimes I get really scared when I think how much higher the stakes are going to get, how much more complicated the issues. I am afraid that I fail a great deal in being the mother I should be; I am, in fact, often stunned by the depths of my own failings. I am often shocked at you too - you, Susannah, natural heir to my occasional writings here.  You are suddenly...you. You are yourself. You are not me - although for so long you were, you were just an extension, as natural as my arm or nose. You are now yourself and claiming that boldly. I'd be more proud if I could stop being so hurt by the growing pains.

It's hard. You're the oldest child I have on this earth, so naturally I expect so much of you - sometimes, too much. I often fumble, I am reaching out a hand to find my bearings, and before I catch myself I'm trampling on you in the process. I worry, oh I worry, and your dad and I spend so much time talking, praying, talking, praying - for you, for help, for guidance, for the ability to give you whatever you need, for you to be shielded from our foibles.

It's good too. I love getting to know you, I love showing you the parts of the world that I love, I love that you get as excited about books as you do about toys. I love seeing your imagination develop, seeing how you crave stories, make up worlds, live in them and believe in them deeply. I know these stories, this newfound independence, this self I am helping you discover will lead you into the deepest and greatest mystery: union with the Triune God, who is all that is Good and Beautiful and True.

Susannah, your birth was the beginning of the best part of my life and every day, even when I am frustrated, I am beyond thrilled to be your mother.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

My Mother's House

The kids and I have returned to the home state for a couple weeks.

There's a great comfort walking into the house I've grown up in since I was 8 years old. At this point, I've been leaving and coming back to this house for 13 years - longer than I actually lived there. But it's still home, despite how many times my mom rearranges the furniture (read: quarterly). And now it's something even more special for my children - Grand's house.

Of course, my children are grandchildren numbers ten and eleven to come to this house - to try to avoid upsetting Linka the canktankerous German Shepherd, take walks on the golf course, and love the twizzler jar (but whatever happened to the M & M jar that was ever present during the potty training years? I miss that!). My parents are no strangers to welcoming little people to their home and like centuries of grandparents before them, have delighted in that special bond between the very young and the old.

But my mother has a special quality for welcoming children to her house. She is no ordinary grandmother. There is a warmth to her house that makes everyone want to be here. I want to try to remember it forever, especially since they'll be moving soon. My parents bought a new piece of property out on a beautiful lake and they're building a house on it, a house to retire in. I don't blame them, and I know that any house that my mom makes into a home will have that same quality. But this house holds so many memories for us, and for Susannah already.

It's true that both my parent's live here and my father's presence is no less. But it's my mother that's the homemaker and makes it a home, a fact I'm sure my father wouldn't dispute. Their styles are easily merged as neither of them is afraid of color and both have a distinct aesthetic sense. Yet it's true the home wouldn't be what it is without Dad: his bouts of "company is coming so I need to build a trellis on the back patio" are legendary. 

When we moved in, there was wall-to-wall shag carpet and horrible wall paper all over ever surface that would stand still. By the time we were done with it, it wasn't recognizable and I've never seen another house quite like it. For one thing, when I tell people I grew up in a house with orange walls and a yellow ceiling, I'm not sure anyone believes me that the affect was not circus-like. It sounds even more doubtful when I say the floor is painted concrete: terra cotta red and forrest green. But so it is. 

One of the best parts of my mother's house is that every chair has a lamp for reading and every table is actually a little vignette all its own. It's always been this way, but now it takes on a magical quality for my children. When they come in the door, there are any number of surprises - not laid out right in front of them, but tucked in around the house. On a window sill, a procession of elephants - a family of unicorns frolicking on their own table - a velvet rocking chair with two new books. My children discover these things over the days, as they explore the house, as they settle in to a routine of hearty meals and unlimited hours of imaginative play punctuated with long bouts of read aloud books. When they get a drink, the cups are orange with glitter and pumpkins floating about in them. 

Now as an adult, I know many of these objects personally - I buy items I know would appeal on my travels. I recognize that making a home is a life's work: there is no instant, no store to buy all a home needs. There's a tile from a great museum in Austin from the Edel Conference, a slightly rusted tin plate that was my father's as a boy, a print of a home Mass that they acquired from their Thanksgiving trip to Ireland a few years ago. Two of my favorites are the citrus crate made for them by my godfather and the didgeridoo my brother brought back from Australia when he was in the Marines.  

Much has changed over the years, there's no doubting that. When my uncle was still alive, I remember our Christmas's being much more Victorian with rich jewel tone ribbons. That gave way to an embrace of my mother's southern California roots, a great deal more of Mexican inspired art and elements, coinciding easily with half the household taking Spanish classes. After us kids left the house, Americana has crept in slowly to be a more dominant influence, though still coexisting kindly with the earlier vestiges of her evolving style. My parent's conversion to Catholicism has woven perhaps the brightest new thread into the home, a distinct theme - but perhaps the most interesting, in that far from alienating any of other, older elements, it has suddenly provided the unifying note to all that's gone before. Grace builds upon nature, in homemaking no less than in living. My mother's house is a beautiful testimony to the richness of a life that has come into full bloom, handsome and full in the light of grace.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Life When House Hunting

So it's been nearly six months in Michigan and...no house.

I thought, in a simplistic way, that it would all be so simple. We'd sell our house (by the way - if you want to buy our house- check it out here) Buy a house here. Boom. It's quite sad how hopeful I really was.

Instead, my days look like this.

Lay in bed until 11 or so, scouring Zillow or the MLS, looking for a magic house I haven't yet found that is 1) within our budget, 2) big enough to suite our needs, 3) cute/close to being finished. Find nothing new or, find something new that is 40 minutes away and save it even though I know Tom will veto, or find something new that isn't big enough or is too expensive or needs a ton of work and try to convince myself we could make it work (save it, even though it'll just cause a terse exchange tomorrow). 

Go to sleep. Dream of unpacking my things in a house - any house. Dream of Zuzu's birthday party being in a house she can get comfortable in since she'll know we're not going anywhere. Wake up a lot and go to the bathroom, banging the bathroom door into the awkward wall that protrudes into the 'master' bath. Curse the designer of our apartment. Chide myself for my ungratefulness. Go back to bed. 

Wake up. Love my children's wake up faces, think how lucky I am to have them and my husband. Go to the bathroom - begin to curse the apartment again. Feel bad again because it's such a #firstworldproblem. Go to the kitchen - miss my things again, try to avoid thinkings about my hatred of formica and beige cabinets. 

Get everyone breakfast. Step on the carpet in bare feet and cringe that it's crunchy feeling - think how dumb it is to put carpet in the dining area. Resolve to vacuum today somehow, even though it makes Davey scream. Go to pray - regain a sense of peace. Afterwards, do some morning chores while kids play; have Fixer Upper playing on my computer in the background. Wonder at the home prices in Waco and Joanna's use of bronzer. Consider, again, begging the Gaines to come help - remember that they don't do work outside Waco - wonder if I could do what they do. Wonder how the money aspect of the show works and how hard it is for the family's to get rid of all the designer stuff after the show is over and move in their old ratty stuff instead. 

Peruse Zillow before/after lunch. Analyze saved houses again - wonder which one would be the best pick. Think if it's worth it to go see the beautiful reasonably priced one that's 30 minutes away, or the shabby-needs-serious work one that's only 15 minutes away and whose price probably indicates it's located next to a drug den. Wonder why there is plethora of Catholic bloggers with chickens and if the homesteading life is inherently more holy, or if their Instagram filters just make it seem that way. Wonder where are the suburban mom blogs that showcase holiness without all the chicken poop and homeschooling. Remember Kathryn Whitaker. Feel better about looking at homes in neighborhoods - spent 30 minutes looking at houses that all look the same and getting irritated about the state of current home building. Change filters and instead look only at houses built before 1949; remember that although they're packed with charm, they're all really small and the laundry rooms are in creepy basements. 

While putting Davey down for a nap, wonder why this area has to be so darn expensive. Look at houses in my hometown and realize I seem to only enjoy really expensive areas of the country. Fantasize about living in the middle of nowhere in a redone Victorian mansion that has land but also good neighbors and is close to a thriving Catholic parish. Remind yourself that holiness consists in living in the present. Sniff Davey's head and think, happily, how good and clean baby sweat smells and how darling his curly hair is. Feel bad that he has so much sun in his eyes, get mad at the apartment again, then reproach myself for not hanging curtains when we moved in 3 months ago. Remember that 3 months ago, I didn't think we'd still be here and thought there was no point. Mourn for all the things I didn't do because I thought there was no way we'd still be here - wonder if there's a point in doing them now. 

Come out and read with Zuzu while Davey naps. Answer her questions about all the things she wants that are still packed "in the big container." Entertain her fantasies about what the "new house" will have: she wants a pegasus farm close to her Grand, GG, and Auntie Jen (who live in Orlando, Indiana, and Washington DC, respectively). Try not to encourage it, but secretly think my own desires are about just as probable. Crabbily respond to my husband's texts because I've gotten into the habit of thinking that this situation is harder on me than him and that he really doesn't care and is being really flippant about the whole thing. Feel bad and remind myself how great a husband I have; repentantly clean our room. 

Davey wakes up, and I start dinner prep. Go to use a kitchen utencil/instrument I don't have and get mega-annoyed; think longingly of my crockpot. Pull up Amazon and swiftly, vengefully! fill my cart with all the things I don't have with me, but would really like. Cackle with the powerful feeling that gives me...but take it all out, because it just feels wasteful to buy things I already have even if I don't have access to them. Stare at water boiling and feel sorry for myself. Children screaming jolts me back to reality, snap at them. Realize they're probably just hungry and get everyone settled at the table with big glasses of milk and before-dinner fruit and biscuits with butter. 

Tom comes home. Try to be cheerful, although I've been stewing over unhelpful things all day. Start the crazy dinner-walk-bath-prayers-bed whirlwind where we are corralling chaos. Finally wrestle crazy kids in bed. Sit on the couch next to each other pouring over spreadsheets and house stats till way too late. Crunch numbers again - and again. Bicker. Feel stressed. Late night text my realtor (thank God she ignores me past 9pm and that we're friends). Apologize to one another (Tom and I, not me and my realtor) for not being our best; resolve to be better, offer each other comforting thoughts about it all being over soon. Crawl into bed saying oh yeah should've gone to bed hours ago but -

Start the cycle again.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Open to the Life I Have Now

"Open to life."

If you're part of the circles I am, you hear that phrase a lot. It's what we promise at the start of our marriages, it's what we pray about most every month of our married life until our child-bearing years come to an end, it can sometimes be the guilt that hangs over us if we choose to abstain for whatever reason, or the sorrow that plagues us if our openness is not fulfilled with a child.

In my own married life, openness has largely meant waiting. Whenever I have felt ready for a baby, I have waited...sometimes as short as seven months, or as long as fourteen months - still just small bumps in the road compared to those I know who are still waiting, years after they gave their "yes." Five years in and two babies later, I often feel we're on the "slow train" of openness to life...that if we had been given a child every time we said yes, we'd be one of those Catholic families with stair-step children in a row: we'd be in the trenches with those moms of large families, talking about all the awful things people say to us and pricing out 15 passenger vans.

But I'm in a different place right now. I have two small children that I endeavor to love and support through this cross-country move; two little beings that I try to be rock and soft place to, while we all mourn the loss of our home and find a new one in this place that is so different and so beautiful. It is requiring a great deal of me - sacrifices that I am reluctant to give. I am having to make peace with being temporary, when my role in this family is to provide a sense of permanence. I miss Florida and the surety I had raising my children in my home state. There was a strength I drew from its very soil, knowing that I was chasing diapered babies in the same land that my mother, grandmother, and so on did.

In my desperate attempts to find permanence, I sometimes cling to rigidity and mistake it for strength. God help me, it is making me more closed to my children - and here is where it comes in, again, that openness to life. Openness to the lives I have under my care, right now - that's a calling too, that's a promise I made too, when I invited God to give us life. Openness to teaching the same lesson, day after day, because learning takes time. Openness to a child's strong emotions and push back, without letting it ruin my peace and calm. Openness to silliness without mistaking it as defiance, to bluster without seeing it as rudeness, to a certain amount of chaos that I must be able to oversee and overlook with calm compassion.

In this season, the thought of another life is a bit intimidating - sitting here, in my 900 sqft apartment, with most of my things still in deep storage, and my heart still raw - but that doesn't negate my calling that already exists. I can be open to the life I have now and surely God can make this season one of fruitful waiting.

"The soul of woman must be expansive and open to all human beings, it must be quiet so that no small weak flame will be extinguished by stormy winds; warm so as not to benumb fragile buds; empty of itself, so that in order that extraneous life may have room in it; finally, mistress of itself and also of its body, so that the entire person is readily at the disposal of every call." 

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

David: One Year

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, what God has ready for those who love Him."
1 Corinthians 2:9

Dearest David,
Over a month ago, you turned a year old. I had wanted to write you a long tribute, but time got away from me! That is a good motto for your entire first year - it got away from me.

Unlike Zuzu's first year, I didn't have all the time in the world to sit and hold and rock you, but you wouldn't have tolerated it anyway. From the first, you have loved your crib and your space. No cosleeping for you, no lingering in my arms - I have so many pictures of you sleeping! in a crib! or a pack n play! or the floor! Because you'll sleep anywhere so long as you have your space.

You really did love your sleep from the first, a fact that has made me sob with joy. That combined with Zuzu getting older means I got some pretty decent sleep in your first year (until you started teething in earnest, but lets not dwell on the negatives).

Remember when we had thrush and you were a newborn and I was a total mess? No, thank goodness, you do not.

 Also unlike Zuzu's peaceful first year, you have been dragged all over in service to the family good: big sister's swim lessons -

Disney water parks - 

The Naples Zoo - 

The beach or pool - 

Even the cold and snow! (that was for the Christmas card photos, I admit) 

In truth, you are very difficult to get a laugh out of! You're sort of a taciturn fellow, not that the pictures I have of you reflect it. Oh it's easy enough to get a halfhearted smile, but a true belly laugh? That IS a feat! 

The three nephews on the Rogers side! 

Three generations of Orams...with a photobomb 

Oh, but you do smile. And your even-temperament is a refreshing change from your sister's steep learning curve on controlling her emotions.

Your unabashed sweetness has brought a tenderness to my mothering that was missing before. I can easily be firm, maybe too firm and a bit dismissive, in my dealings with you precious children and your worries (no doubt your sister can attest to that). You, however, give me a gentleness - you remind me to be merciful. Without you, this aspect of my parenting would perhaps be latent, slower to develop. There would truly be something missing in me without you.

You are such a gift not only because you have expanded my heart as a mother, but simply because of who you are. Maybe because I know now how fast it all goes, I marvel so much more at each step. I worry a little more though - I've seen so much more now, seen the heart ache and pains that can befall parents in their vocation to love and rear small children. Now that I see the fleeting nature of your childhood and the constant possible calamities, I am more worried, more watchful than when it was just Zuzu and I thought nothing would ever happen to us.

You were Jesus in the Christmas play, just like your sister! 

And yet your cheerful demeanor and darling face so often chases clouds of worry far from my mind. Instead, I relish being the witness to your life. 

Now, at just over thirteen months, you are walking all over - just working on your speed and stability. You try to say "all done!", you can wave and clap and drink from a straw. Your dark hair curls around the nape of your neck and around your ears, which when combined with your sleepy wake up face, makes my heart skip a beat. You have kept your deep dimples and the small indent on your right ear, both of which you had from birth. Your nicknames include: Dimple Dave, Davey Baby, Davey Dreamboat, Davey Bubblefish, Bubby Chubs, Davey Pavey, Dave-Dave-Woo-hoo, and Davey Doodle Dot. 

I cannot wait to see you grow up - and yet I can. I know one day, God willing, you'll be as old as your sister - you'll be doing things for yourself and we'll be talking about preschool. That will be so wonderful in its own way! But right now you're little and I get to be the one who rocks you in the wee hours of the night, keeping our own little vigil in those still small hours. In those quiet moments, that are more often now than they usually are for you, I try to pray (when I'm not dozing myself). I pray for many things, but I always pray for you. (That's why God gives children mothers, you know, so that they always have someone to pray for them.) Please don't ever forget that David: no matter how big you get, I will always be loving and praying for you. 

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