Friday, December 09, 2016

The Stressy Tree? Why You Shouldn't Stress About Your Jesse Tree

What is it with us Catholic moms and Jesse Trees? We are Paul in this scenario and the Jesse Tree is the evergreen thorn in our sides. Does canon law address this issue? Is there a commandment?

Thou shalt not neglect a Jesse Tree in thy house during Advent lest thy descendants die in utter ignorance of Scripture while clutching only a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Loads of us think we should do a Jesse Tree.
Loads of us hate doing the Jesse Tree.
Voila! Loads of Catholic Mom Guilt.

We've done a Jesse Tree for a long time now, but -- listen to me very carefully -- it was a process. Here's the thing: Don't do what I did. Don't think the Jesse Tree has to be perfect (or perfectly executed each and every Advent) for it to do what it was meant to do.

The Jesse Tree readings/activities have a cumulative effect. Do enough imperfect Jesse Trees over the years, and eventually your children will absorb some perfectly wonderful Scripture and knowledge of salvation history. (Or don't do one at all. There are lots of ways to learn things. But this post is for the mom who wants to do a Jesse Tree and simultaneously stresses about said tree.)

Here's our current Jesse Tree. My girls and I made the ornaments (many moons ago) out of salt dough. I use a small, artificial Christmas tree and I arrange Christmas books beneath the tree.


But this whole Pinterest-y approach didn't come together overnight.

When my girls were little, our Jesse Tree was generally a hit-and-run mess. But it's when they're little that you start stressing, right? ("They're little! I have to do it now! They'll never learn if I don't start when they're three!") Wrong. You can mess up a Jesse Tree for years, and they will still eventually learn stuff.

One year our Jesse Tree looked like this:


I was pregnant with Ramona that year, and I was old and tired and I gave myself extra points merely for breaking out the glitter. 

Another year it looked like this. (I think Ramona was a toddler? I was old, I was tired.) That is the worst looking construction paper tree I've ever made or seen. We didn't even finish the Jesse  that year: 



Another year our Jesse Tree looked like this:


Yup. That's right. Nothin'. I searched in vain for the perfect tree branch to place in a pot as I tried to follow a friend's example. I tried so hard to be perfect that year that I frustrated myself completely and abandoned the entire activity. Anne-with-an-e was 11 before I finally decided to use the little artificial tree.

Still not perfect. I'd never made salt dough before and made it wrong, so the first set of ornaments regularly indulged in cracking and breaking habits. Then there were the times we had to make more ornaments because -- who knew? -- dogs love to eat salt dough.

And, what readings did we use? That took time to figure out, too. I couldn't find an easy, workable, all-in-one version of the Jesse Tree anywhere. (I think your odds here have gotten better. There are loads of resources out there now. Sheesh, I'm feeling like a pioneer or something.) If one source had ornaments I liked, it didn't offer neatly corresponding readings. If I found a set of readings I liked, suddenly my ornaments didn't match.

So after a few years of trial and error, I finally started using The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean. Atticus read the stories in the evening, after dinner. Sometimes we missed a couple of days. Or a lot of days. Eventually, we'd catch up in the book, and add a few more ornaments to the tree.

The thing to remember about the Jesse Tree -- the thing that will keep you from despising it -- is that not only does it not have to be perfect, I don't think it should be perfect or perfectly executed. It should be like the human and divine history it's teaching: messy, full of skips, jumps, and mistakes, but with a gleaming, golden thread running through the whole thing, tying it together, proclaiming that God is there for us in the mess, always. Year in, year out.

So, don't do your Jesse Tree every day, on schedule, legalistically. Have a Miss Frizzle tree: take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!

The knowledge of Scripture that a Jesse Tree teaches is cumulative; it's supposed to be. It's like doing the same kinds of math problems every September. It's review.

Over years and seasons of Advent, you'll discover that it doesn't matter which tree you chose, which ornaments you made or bought (or slapped with glitter) or which set of readings you used. It won't matter that some years you couldn't even face the thought of a Jesse Tree and you skipped it. What will matter is the irreplaceable, imperfect time you spent you with your family and God's word.

And while you're at it, read the Grinch, too.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Advent Reading Recommendations from Nancy Piccione


Many thanks to the lovely Nancy Piccione* for her review in The Catholic Post and her recommendation of You Can Share the Faith for Advent reading.

I'm honored to be in such great company -- Nancy also recommends books from Emily Stimpson Chapman and Colleen Mitchell (and my Amazon list just grew.)

You can read Nancy's column here, at Reading Catholic.

~~~~~

*I did an interview with Nancy a few years back about After Miscarriage. You can read that interview here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Gift to Sing


James Weldon Johnson was a treasure. 

The Gift to Sing
James Weldon Johnson

Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
And blackening clouds about me cling;
But, oh, I have a magic way
To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
I softly sing.

And if the way grows darker still,
Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
With glad defiance in my throat,
I pierce the darkness with a note,
And sing, and sing.

I brood not over the broken past,
Nor dread whatever time may bring;
No nights are dark, no days are long,
While in my heart there swells a song,
And I can sing.

~~~~~

The Poetry Friday round-up is at Wee Words for Wee Ones

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bits and Pieces of Our Days: What We've Been Reading


Ramona and I just finished The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly's delightful* sequel to The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. We did it together as a read-aloud and were both sad to reach the end of our time with the Tate clan. And who needs a science curriculum with books such as these? Love them.

* ETA: Just fyi: It does tackle some serious themes, too, so some of you might want to preview it and/or be ready to discuss those. 

~~~~~

While we're on the subject of science, though, we're working our way through Fruitless Fall together. If you've never fallen hard for honeybees, you need to pick up this book. 

~~~~~

Betsy is doing some reading aloud with Ramona, too. Last night they finished The Son of Neptune, from Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series. 

~~~~~

Her own stuff: Ramona recently finished Andrew Clements' Things Not Seen, which she said was "fun, and interesting, and there was more to it" than she thought there would be. She recommends it. 

Then she moved on to Tanita Davis's A La Carte, which she desperately loved. It left her with a book hangover, drifting and unsure of what she wanted to pick up next. She just wanted more time with Lainey. 

She eventually moved on, though, and is currently reading The Importance of Being Earnest

~~~~~

Last month I read The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood, and it was lovely and sad and uplifting. Recommend, recommend, recommend. 

I just finished Connie Willis's newest book, Crosstalk. It's basically a romantic comedy, lightweight fun. I think the story could have been told in a shorter book, but I still enjoyed it. I've been told I need to read To Say Nothing of the Dog, so that's on the TBR list for lightweight Willis. I think Doomsday Book (not lightweight) is still my favorite of hers. 

Right now? I'm rereading Madeleine L'Engle's A Circle of Quiet. I adore her Crosswicks journals. 

~~~~~

Final book note: 

Did you know that yesterday was, as my friend Beth at Endless Books calls it, the Literary Day of Days? November 29th is the birthday of Madeleine L'Engle, Louisa May Alcott, and C.S. Lewis. 

Why did I not have this day highlighted on my calendar? Why are there not banners and fireworks? I assure you, next year the Literary Day of Days will be celebrated to the fullest extent allowed by law and bloggery. 

For this year, I will simply rerun this picture of a note I received from Madeleine L'Engle many years ago. (The story behind it is here.) Happy Belated Literary Day of Days! 




Friday, November 18, 2016

Poetry Friday: Any Common Desolation


This is all I can muster this week. 

Any Common Desolation
by Ellen Bass

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
....
(Read the rest here, at Poets.org.)

~~~~~

The round up this week is being hosted by Friendly Fairy Tales. 


Thursday, November 10, 2016

5 Things You Can Do to Model Joy and Optimism for Your Children

I first posted this over a year ago, but it feels more fitting than ever today, so I'm sharing it again.

~~~~~

It's an ugly world out there. I don't even have to sum up headlines for you -- you can just pick the one that depresses you the most and we'll go from there.

When all the news everywhere seems bad and the future seems precarious, what do we do? And what do we tell our children?

My instinct is to look for the good (which is kind of funny, since by nature I'm a melancholic INFJ, or, in Inside Out Speak, the character of Sadness.)

Things have always been dire. From the time Moses despaired over the ingratitude of the Israelites ("Please do me the favor of killing me at once!") to the first-pope-elect who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, to the Church Militant (which has regularly fallen down on fighting the good fight), to each of us sinners in our fallen state ... the history of humanity is the history of a mess.

But kids are basically optimistic by nature and they're always looking forward to the Next Great Thing, so I like to try to help mine find it. Hope, after all, is one of the theological virtues:

"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1818)

With that in mind, here are five steps on the road to Joy and Optimism, aka Hope:

1. Remind Yourself and Your Kids What True Joy Is 

And it's not the stuff of this earth -- it's not about jobs, cars, money, success. (There is joy to be found here on earth -- witness coffee and books -- but it's not the main event.)

There will always be pain, challenges, and difficulties in this earthly life. Despite the struggles, the constant disappointments, the inevitable suffering, there is the joy that is my faith. It's something bigger than and different from happiness. It's the firm belief and the reason-defying knowledge that there's something more out there -- that He is out there -- and that everything He allows for me is meant for my good.

He is here with me. There's nothing more joy-inspiring than that sure knowledge.

2. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Jesus Started the Church and the Holy Spirit Is Guiding It -- i.e., He's Got Things Covered

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. Matt. 16:18

Free will, by its nature, allows the existence of evil and evil choices. That has been true since Adam and Eve, and it will be true as long as time exists. There will be many crosses to bear in this life, but we can't lose sight of eternal life, our final, and ultimately our only, goal.

"Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit." (CCC 1817)

The gates of hell will not prevail.

What am I doing to help build up the Church, this incredible gift, that Christ gave me?

3. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Prayer is the Best Reminder 

"Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire." (CCC 1820)

When facing a trial, when listening to the news, when pondering evil, when healing from pain, when wondering what to do ... pray. Remind your kids to pray. Stop what you're doing and pray. Pray alone, pray with them. Remind them to pray for a strengthening of their own faith, for your family's faith and unity, for all sinners (including ourselves), for the church, for the pope, for the world.

Remind them that prayer drives away hate and strengthens love.


4. Remind Yourself and Your Kids To Be Grateful (Especially When Things Are Going Wrong.) 

It's so easy to complain, and so easy to let our kids see us do it. I fail at this a lot, but when I'm being mindful, I actively search for things to be grateful for. When life is chaotic and I'm exasperated, it's helpful to seek out one tiny part of the situation that I can count as something good (or at least as something that could have been worse.)

For every time I ask Jesus, "Why do You allow ....?" He replies, "This is why, and here's why you can thank Me in the moment."  Or, if He isn't making the "why" of it clear, I can still say "Thank you" anyway. He always has His reasons.

Say all of this stuff out loud to your kids.


5. Look to the Gospel 

The Good News is simply, as St. Augustine said, this:

"Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man!"

When we remember that earth-shattering and humbling fact, then we can stop wringing our hands  and just get to work. Do corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Love our families. Give to the poor. Learn and live our faith.

As Pope Francis said, “Everyone is invited to enter this door, to go through the door of faith, to enter into His life, and to allow Jesus into their lives, so that he may transform them, renew them, and give them full and lasting joy."

~~~~~

Recently, something was going wrong around here (I can't even remember what it was -- nothing horrible, but just something really frustrating) and Betsy said, "Well, there's a bright side! At least we can be grateful for--"

I cut her off and said, "Why are you so chipper about this? I'm so annoyed."

"Hey," she said, "You raised me. I get this from you."

Model and embrace the joy and hope and your kids -- I'm guessing from experience? -- will have no choice but to do the same.

Friday, November 04, 2016

To Autumn



It has been a gorgeous autumn here. Unusually mild weather, with winds low, so that the lush palette of leaves has not been swept prematurely away. It's been a busy autumn, too. October gave us a trip to Michigan for a family wedding, a weekend away for Atticus and me, spent with old friends, glittering gems in the landscape of our lives. October gave us the 23rd birthday of my eldest daughter, and sadly -- but then happily, for she is doing very well -- a sudden surgery for my mother, her second double bypass operation. (She is home now, and recovering beautifully, I'm delighted to say.)

Ah, "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness," just as you "load and bless with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run" you load and bless my life.

Ramona and I talked yesterday about this weather, this extended warmth, the golden trees. I said, "I know that in a week or two we could have snow on the ground and only ten degrees," I complained. She philosophically reminded me to embrace what I have in the moment. "Just enjoy this warmth, and when it gets cold, enjoy that. Sweaters, and boots, and candles. Hygge," she said.

"Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?" writes Keats. "Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, --"

Oh, yes. Thanks to Ramona and John Keats for reminding me to seize the day and relax into the music of the beauty of the moment.

To Autumn
John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, --
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

~~~~~


Photo courtesy of FreeImages. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Poetry Friday: Gerard Manley Hopkins


Methinks it would not be autumn without a sip of the sublime nectar that is the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. 

You're welcome. 

Spring and Fall
Gerard Manley Hopkins

               to a young child

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

(Public domain.) 
~~~~~

Tricia is hosting the round up today at The Miss Rumphius Effect. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

"How I Miss Them."

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.

Atticus and I, the couple who married with the firm belief we'd never want children, lost five of our children to miscarriage. Oh, how we wanted those children.

Miscarriage doesn't get easier with practice. I crumpled every time. I needed grace, a God who would let me weep and scream at Him. A God who would let me collapse, exhausted, into His arms and then grant me the grace to somehow keep moving forward. To get up again the next day.

I needed my husband. He was devastated too, but was also my miraculous rock. We needed to cry together, fall apart together, and pick ourselves up together.

I needed my friends. Friends who listened to me, helped me heal. Friends who were bearers of light and love.

And I needed, years later, the beauty of all the stories that came together to become After Miscarriage. In gathering my own stories and those of others who were generous enough to share their lives and the too-short lives of their children, I experienced a new level of love and healing.

Here are the words of a friend, a father who contributed to the book, and they say it all:

If any blessing has come as a result of all this, it is the intense desire to see my children. We Christians believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. I hope that if I live my life as well as I can and come to know Him more each day in prayer, Our Lord may place me under His mercy, and after the resurrection of the dead, I will be able to embrace my children for the first time and forever. 
How I miss them. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why I Don't Read Much About Homeschooling Anymore

Ramona, when she was three. 

(I originally posted this three years ago):

I have a confession: I don't read much about homeschooling anymore.

Not because there aren't a million inspirational, wise, funny, interesting homeschoolers out there (there are, and you should definitely read them.) And not because there aren't terrific books, and stories, and ideas. They're all over the place.

And it's not because I've got everything figured out. I don't. I have my own blind spots, failures, regrets, worries, selfishness, and pride.

It's just that, well, I've got it figured out.

Not IT. Not "Life in all of its glorious meaning and the perfect way to live, breathe, and homeschool, parent, and exist on a day to day basis without stress or strife, pride, or judgement."

No, no, no. No one has that figured out, people.

The "it" I have figured out is my style. My strengths and weaknesses. My husband's style. My daughters -- their styles, strengths, and weaknesses. We took that stuff and ran with it, knowing the years would go quickly, there would be gaps, standards may have to be lowered, a la Dave Barry, that it will not be perfect, and there would be times I'd think I couldn't do it.

The "it" I know is this: one of the reasons we started homeschooling was to treat our kids as individuals, and individuals don't fit neatly into pre-cut boxes labeled "homeschooler." They will not uniformly love math, grow up to be astronauts, priests, or nuns, get certain scores on ACT tests, or live their faith and their lives so perfectly that they will be mistaken for the Blessed Mother. Not all homeschoolers will love reading, play sports, or even enjoy the company of other homeschoolers (because that depends on what kind of individual that other homeschooler is, right?)

My kids are just individuals. They're just people. Sometimes they're as weird and different and out of the mainstream as their dad and I are; sometimes they flow with the mainstream quite nicely. Sometimes they are helpful and giving beyond belief, sometimes they are selfish. Some days they're blissful and feel blessed, some days they are sad and feel put-upon.

Hey...they're just like me. They fit neatly into the box called "Fallen Human."

And homeschooling is just one way to educate fallen humans. It's a way we love, to be sure. It's a way that I think can work beautifully, despite its challenges, for a lot of people. But I also know it's not for everyone.

It is, however, a way of life that has allowed Atticus and me to stay focused on our main goal in life: relationship.

Our relationship with each other.
Relationship with our kids.
Relationship with God.

To sum it up, I guess the only thing I have figured out is that I love this busy, weird, individual life we're living, and I know that there's not a singly perfect way to live it. I long ago let go of caring what our homeschool looks like to the world. We know it's working out (in that fallen, messy way), and that's what counts the most to us.

Thanks, Atticus, Anne-with-an-e, Betsy Ray, and Ramona, for caring as much about our relationships as I do.

And now? I'm tired, so I'm going to have another cup of coffee. Because I have a huge blind spot when it comes to whether or not I've had too much caffeine.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Poetry Friday: Golden Boy is Dying

I love Poets.org's Poem-a-Day. It delivers almost as much happiness as, oh, say, Hamilton. Or my favorite t-shirt.

Campbell McGrath gets that:

My Sadness
by Campbell McGrath

Another year is coming to an end
but my old t-shirts will not be back—

(You can't resist that lead-in, right? I know. Go read the whole poem here, at Poets.org.)

~~~~~

Jerry gets it, too:

Golden Boy is slowly dying....



~~~~~

Thursday, October 06, 2016

What Are You Reading?

So, I recently posted on Facebook that I had book hangover and couldn't decide what to read next. After finishing Far From the Madding Crowd, which I loved dearly, I was in a dither. I picked up The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood over the weekend, but in the meantime, ideas were piling up on the FB post, so I decided to share them here.

I didn't clean up the list -- just grabbed everything that was mentioned, so these are in order of comments. If you'd like to add anything on FB, go here. If you just need to head to Amazon and start clicking, well, we all understand.










books by Terry Pratchett
Ready Player One
Enders Game
Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard
Laurus
Three Men in a Boat
The Eyre Affair
Orphan #8
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
A Lantern in Her Hand
Bright Smoke, Cold Fire
The Awakening of Miss Prim
Dearest Dorothy series
The Confessions of X
Anne of Green Gables
James Herriot
The Muse, by Jessie Burton
A Canticle for Leibowitz
Lonesome Dove
The miniaturist
Hamlet
Brave New World.
A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett
The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffmann
The Death of Ivan Ilych
Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Bellwether
Doomsday Book
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Candice Millard's Hero of the Empire
The Meaning of Names by Karen Shoemaker
Flannery O'Conner
A Very Special Year, by Thomas Montasser
The newest Louise Penny mystery
Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
Taylor Caldwell's Grandmother and the Priests
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
I Am Margaret series,
A Girl of the Limberlost
Pride and Prejudice
Lawrence in Arabia by Scott Anderson
WWI diaries of Lady Cynthia Asquith
Jeremy Poldark

Podcasts that were mentioned:

What Should I Read Next? (My friend Danae told me about Anne Bogel's podcast awhile back. I was immediately smitten.)
Books on the Nightstand
Dear Book Nerd

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Poetry Friday: I'm Hosting!


Galway Kinnell's compact "Blackberry Eating" is precise and perfect for at least two things:

1. For the last day in September
2. For word connoisseurs who gather round blogs on Poetry Friday.

Blackberry Eating
Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making;
....
(Read the whole [very short] poem here, at Poets.org.)

~~~~~

Savor it, then sample all the Poetry Friday posts via Mr. Linky:




And thanks for stopping!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Poetry Friday: After Apple-Picking

(Photo courtesy of Free Images)

I didn't get a post done before we left this morning for our field trip at an apple orchard, but "After Apple-Picking" now seems the thing to turn to. A poignant thing, given my chat with the owner of the orchard, a kind and lovely woman who gave every child there today a bag and invited everyone to pick apples from all the varieties of trees she introduced us to. ("Free?" some moms asked. "Yes," said those of us who had been there before, "they always do this. Isn't it wonderful?")

As I was buying additional apples (so much apple crisp, just begging to be made) I asked her if the orchard would stay in the family, if any of her children would take over when she and her husband retired. No, she said, they all had other jobs and no one wanted it. And her husband, she told me, has cancer, and his treatments are so tiring....

I was so saddened by all of that -- the illness of that sweet man from whom I'd just bought the most delicious cider, the loss of the tradition of the orchard, that so many things no longer seem to last for generations. But I was heartened, too, by the kindness and generosity of these people ... the cider they poured for us all, the apple slices they'd prepared and chilled for the children, the leading of tours even when one is sick, and tired, and probably wants nothing more than a drawn shade and a soft, comfortable bed.

One of my favorite things about last year's Cinderella movie from Kenneth Branagh was the highly quotable quote, "Have courage and be kind." Those words came to mind this morning, after apple-picking.


After Apple-Picking*
Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.


*in the public domain. 

~~~~~

The Poetry Friday round up is at Reading to the Core

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"When They're Older...." (For my friends with young children)

(From the archives: When I first wrote this, Anne-with-an-e was 12, Betsy was 10, and Ramona was 4.) 

~~~~~

I got to thinking about something last night, just after I settled a dispute between Anne-with-an-e and Betsy (or was it between Betsy and Ramona? Or had Ramona been annoying Anne? Ahem. You get the picture.) I was tired, and when one is tired, even the littlest irritations loom large. A few tiny disagreements suddenly feel like near-constant bickering, picking-on, finger-pointing and tattling. Oh, my, the behavior of children. I mean, it's so ... immature.

I felt a little overwhelmed (did I mention I was tired? So much depends on a good night's sleep ....) Yes, I thought, this is the stage of life at which I'm currently parked:

My children are walking, talking, reasoning (well, mostly), sharp little tacks who delight me but are also capable of draining my mental energy. They're all quite verbose (exquisitely so on the good days and "Do-you-ever-stop-talking?!" on the bad) and that's what can get me. It's not a physical exhaustion, but it can feel like one. It's mental fatigue: the dragging of a mind forced to think of 17 different ways to say, "Be kinder," the sluggish tongue that must -- one more time -- wrap itself around the words, "Go tell your sister you're sorry." It's the ambushed brain that can't take one more joke that involves body parts or functions.

This is where we are, I thought. But when they're older ....

"Uh-oh, stop right there, missy," I told myself. "Don't start playing, 'When they're older,' because it's a lose-lose proposition."

"When they're older" is the trap that entices you to long for a different stage of life. I sometimes fall into it, but it's not a good place to live. Because if I live my entire life in the "When They're Older" trap, before I know it, they'll be older. And they'll be gone.

It goes something like this, looking back to infancy:

When she's older, she won't wake me up every night.

(But she also won't coo and gurgle in that delicious way. She won't linger at nursing and enclose me in her eyes, telling me I'm her reason for being.)

When she's older, I won't need to carry her everywhere, so my back won't ache all the time.

(She also won't be portable enough to be cuddled, held, and snuggled no matter where we are or what we're doing. She won't fit neatly into one arm and I won't be able to scoop her up to celebrate that she just mastered skipping.)

When she's older, I won't have to listen to "Why? Why? Why?" all the time.

(She also won't have that same awed look on her face that she got when she saw her first penguin at the zoo. She won't study caterpillars and ants for extended periods and she won't be delighted by pointing out water towers, having just learned what they are. She won't have that squeaky voice that personifies "ironic" when she says "Awwwww, look at that babeeee! He's so cuuuuute!")

When she's older, I won't have to listen to body function humor.

(Well, I can just keep hoping on this one.)

When she's older, she won't pick on her sister. She'll be too mature for that.

(And she'll be too mature to sit on my lap, play hide-n-seek, wear her hair in ponytails, jump rope, get that incredible shine in her eyes when she kicks a soccer ball and she'll no longer be more delighted by my company than anyone else's in the world. She'll have discovered there are other things and other people who are important to her.)

When she's older, she won't be so moody.

(Oh, wait. That's a woman-thing. That'll continue. That's okay.)

I've always found "When They're Older" to be counter-productive. Oh, sure, it might seem to comfort me at the time (and don't get me wrong, there's a place for the "This too shall pass" philosophy) but most of the time, "When They're Older" is the opposite of comforting -- it's agitating. It forces us to live in and for the future. And when we do that, we miss so much of today. This Moment.

Rather, I must embrace that my children are just that. Children. They're going to be childish. And my ambushed brain has to steel itself to take one more joke, one more poor choice, one more tattle. I have to remind myself that bad days make it feel as if this happens all the time, but I know that it actually doesn't. Because on the same day there's been tattling, a poor choice, and a joke that only a daddy can appreciate, there have also been cuddles and hugs and beaming looks of love. There've been discussions that run deeper than I thought a ten-year-old could handle and insights so moving that I've gotten a glimpse at the woman my daughter will become. There have been tea parties and read-alouds, girl-talk and cookies in the oven.

There has been the delight of "I'm so glad they're this age. I'm so glad for now. I'm blessed by today. I'm so in love with this moment."

Today, I won't fall into the "When They're Older" trap. When they're older, they'll certainly be more mature.

But they won't be here.

And I'll miss them. So very, very much.