Every Boy’s Fondest Wish

Aug 11 2014

Sometimes, kids say the most profound things when we least expect them, and we must keep our ears open lest we miss their dreams and wishes, their longings and desires.

photo 1 (73)This morning, my parents and I loaded 3 littles into a canoe and a kayak, and we took off together down Oregon’s Willamette River. The sun was brilliant. The skies azure. The water simultaneously lazy and strong and achingly beautiful, like a mother, tired by her labor, taking a rest, and working, still, powerfully beneath the surface.

We stole downriver, startling Great Blue Herons from their slumber at the water’s edge as we giggled and played and soaked each other with paddles and plastic water toys. 

My son said he had to pee then, and so, without a landing or another boat in sight, we said, “Now’s your chance, man.”

He took it. 

My son’s urine cascaded into emerald waters, yellow droplets glimmering in the sun as they fell next to the gliding canoe. He experimented with the arc and trajectory. With force and precision control.

And at the end, he shook his head sadly and said, “I really wish I had better range on this thing.”

Which, I think, sums up every boy’s fondest wish:

I really wish I had better range on this thing.

The End

When I Think of You, It Is Always Gladness

Aug 8 2014

I have a friend named J who lives life and loves people well. I hope to be more like him when I grow up.

J sent me a message, and it looks like this:

Beth, sometimes I’m having a shit day and find you on the internet and feel like “eh, ok. I feel not as terrible.”

Sometimes I’m having an ok day and see you in person and remember I’m not alone, even when our words are few.

Sometimes I’m having a kickawesome day and I remember how gregarious you can be and still call yourself an introvert, and I flaunt a passing smirk sitting alone in wherever I am.

All to say, yer neat, and when I think of you, it is always gladness.

J

It was a nice note, and it made me feel seen, which is, after all, what I think each of us needs – to be seen. To be known. To be loved. To be liked. To be valued. And to have a sense, somehow, of belonging and community and that being ourselves boldly is enough. Is, in fact, exactly who we are meant to be. Which is why the end of J’s message choked me up. What an extraordinary gift, I thought, to hear that when someone thinks of you, it’s always with gladness.

photo (86)

 Yesterday, I told you I feel a little lost sometimes, wanting so very much for all of us to feel valued and loved without limits and not knowing how or where to begin. Today, I wonder if this isn’t the perfect way to start… by encouraging each us to think of people to whom we can send this simple and extraordinary message.

Will you join me, friends, in sending these words to 5 (or infinite) people? You can link here or not. Say the words in writing or in person. Send it over Facebook or by email. On the phone or by carrier pigeon. On a card. With flowers. Via sky writer or in sign language. 

I just think it might make a difference for all of us to know…

When I Think of You, It Is Always Gladness

……… 

And, P.S., When I Think of You, who hang out here in this space with me, It Is Always Gladness. <– True story.

When You’re Sinking Fast

Aug 6 2014

Oh, friends.

When we sink, we sure can sink fast, can’t we?

Like lead.

Just a slip off the ship or a trip at the edge of the cliff and, with a splash, KAPLOOSH, we’re on our way to the depths, stone tied to ankle, confused and plummeting down and down and down into the water, wondering if we’re done for.

…Or we sink so slowly we don’t even realize we’re under water until we can’t find breath. That happens, too.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter how quickly we sink, does it? We die without oxygen either way, whether we’re just barely beneath the surface or in the darkest waters.

I hope you’ll bear with me here. I know I’m usually a Pollyanna-style optimist with a side of sass and sarcasm, goofy and grubby in life and in writing, but I’m burdened today with the sorrow of friends who are suffering, so this will tend more toward the grit and grime and, perhaps, by the end, if we’re lucky, to the good again.

In the last two days, you opened up your hearts to your fellow mamas in the wild. You were honest. Transparent. Sweet and sad. Lovely and lonely. Hurting and hopeful. You wrote that you are frustrated. You wrote that you are angry. You wrote that you feel stuck. You wrote that you’re grateful. You wrote wondering if it ever gets better. You wrote to say that it does. And your vulnerability was a gift to us all; to us, the people of the wilderness who are searching for the Village and holding hands in the dark until we get there. 

At the same time you were writing your words of transparency and truth, friends in my small town were processing the sudden and surprising loss of one of the Mama Tribe to circumstances we don’t yet – and may never – understand. 

And so I’ve spent the last few days pondering what it means to be part of this messy, muddy, magical mystery that is life. Pondering how few firm answers we have. Pondering how to be a deeper community. A more inclusive whole. A safer sanctuary. And better friends. 

We’re just so tired sometimes, aren’t we? So tired and done in. And some days the negative thoughts win. And we’re so hard on ourselves to boot. The grace we so easily give to others is so hard to accept on our own behalf.

I’ve suspected for a long time that this feeling or fear of not being enough is less about us and our ability to be all things to all people and is far more about our desperate need for community. For come-unity. For belonging. For being a part of a bigger whole. For being loved. For being valued. For being viewed as precious. Important. Worthy. Irreplaceable. Our feelings of inadequacy, I bet, are trying to tell us we need each other. 

I don’t have any answers for us today, except to say that you are, friends, deeply worthy of limitless love. Of extraordinary value. 

And I’ll end with words of wisdom from our community here, because they’re important to share. 

From G Arrow:

We are enough, my people, we are. This day we have done our best, no matter how much milk we have left. No matter that we told the kids to knock it off or cuddled them or shut a door and wept. No matter how much money we have or how little. And I tell you and myself, we are magnificent, … we are mighty as we curl up on dark nights and wait for the light of another dawn that somehow always comes. We have carried so much, have lost so much, have been stripped and have died over and over, have drowned and somehow found new lungs. We are a force, all of us.

And paraphrased from Mary:

Hang in there, friends. And yell at the moon. 

With love, truly,
Beth

Mamas in the Wild

Aug 4 2014

They sat at the table near us at dinner most nights of our cruise. A mama, a dad, a grandma and a baby. The baby was oblivious to semi-formal and formal nights and not at all impressed with the concept of a lengthy, leisurely meal, and so she cried sometimes. She cried like she meant it, full of gusto and heartbreak at being offered peas while she was tired or substandard potatoes when clearly only apples would do, because 11 months old is a hard age to understand your family’s on vacation and it’s time for fine dining. 

I wanted to go over to their table every time. To say, “She’s precious” and, “You’re doing a great job” as they cajoled and consoled her. To say, “You’re sitting next to a sympathetic crowd, friends.” And to say, as they looked around furtively, “It’s OK. Really. I swear it gets easier.”

Instead, we studiously ignored them because we wanted them to think we didn’t always hear the baby’s squawks of frustration, her hungry demands or her exhaustion. To maintain the illusion for them that no one noticed, and therefore no one was judging them harshly. And when they’d pass our table on their way out, leaving sooner than the rest of us, we’d only say, enthusiastically, “she’s so cute,” hoping, even though we knew it was inadequate, to send a You’re OK message with those words. An It Gets Better message. A We’re Here for You message.

I’m certain we failed, but there’s a fine line between acknowledging a common experience between parents and projecting all my new mama feelings on others. I wanted neither to disrupt their vacation nor their attempt at calm with my suppositions about what they must be feeling.

photo 2 (76)And then we saw them one day off the ship, as we stood at the perimeter of a grassy meadow, at the base of a wide hill covered with evergreens, at the side of stream where eagle pairs circled and a mama bear and her twin cubs sauntered toward the trees and back again. 

We saw the mama and the dad and the grandma and the baby, and we smiled again and said our She’s So Cutes, followed by We’ve Seen You Near Us at Dinner. 

The mama looked struck. Surprised and a little bit guarded in the way the vulnerable are; not wary, necessarily, but a little unsure of her welcome. She blurted, “She cries at dinner. I’m so sorry.”

And I said, “No worries. We have 5 kids. We get it; I promise. They’ve cried all over the world, and especially in restaurants. Babies cry; it’s one of their best things.”

She said, “Five kids? FIVE? How do you do it? I only have one, and it’s taking all I’ve got.”

So I poured it all out, floodgates style. I was incapable anymore of holding myself at bay.

I told her it doesn’t matter how many kids we have; any number of kids is a lot of kids.

I told her that parenting my first kid undid me.

I told her she’s dying to herself right now and she’s also being reborn and that birthing a new self is as messy and beautiful, as terrible and triumphant, as birthing a baby. “You’re giving birth to new life,” I said, “but you don’t know it yet because you’re still trying to gasp for that first breath. It’s coming, though, the oxygen you need. It’s coming.” 

I told her we’re weak and we’re strong in equal measure, and that’s how it should be, because there’s no other way to build strength except to begin from a weaker place. 

I told her we’re lost, sometimes, even while we’re being found, and that there’s grace in that place.

And I told her this life is more Both/And than I ever suspected. Both better and worse. Both bigger and smaller. Both higher and lower. So much wilder and far, far freer.

She kept saying, over and over, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear this. No idea.” But I think I do, because I am her. We all are.

I’ve thought a lot about that mama ever since, and the difference between when we met in civilization and when we met in the wild. 

We couldn’t meet in the formal dining room, I think. Not in any sense that’s real, anyway. There’s no room for the truth or our whole selves while we still have perfect manners. We don’t want to butt in. To intrude. To disrupt. To assume. But out there in the wild with the mama bear and her cubs? Out there in the beauty and the splendor and the rawness of the wilderness? It’s the place to take chances. To risk. To be bold. To be wholly ourselves. Because our survival can depend on it. And on each other.

So here’s what I’d say to us… let’s go to the wild with each other, friends. 

Which brings me to this:
How ARE you?

……….

photo 1 (70)And, P.S…. because I’ll always show you mine when I ask you to show me yours, I’ll tell you: I’m OK today. I’m away from home, at camp, getting ready to teach a series of classes to 200 high schoolers on questing for truth, forging faith, and living Love out loud, and I gotta say, I’m equal parts excited and anxious. Excited because I get to be a mouthpiece of Love and Grace this week, and there is no task in this world that makes me happier than telling people they are deeply worthy of unfathomable Love. And I’m anxious because I’m afraid I won’t do Love justice. 

UPDATED: Why the Internets Are RAD. Chins for the Win.

Aug 2 2014

My 16 year old friend, Elsie, and I played the Multiple Chins Game last night.

You know, where you post on Facebook pictures of yourself with as many chins as you can muster? And then shame your thin, gorgeous teenage friend for being unable to deliver as many chins as you?

It’s good times. I’m telling you. I mean, what is not to love about posting this on Facebook on purpose?

photo 1 (69)

And Elsie tried her best, bless her heart…

photo 2 (75)

…but I won. Clearly.

She thinks it’s not fair that I have a big dog bite scar under my chin and thus get an entire extra chin to my credit, but I say play to your strengths, man. (And you could stand to be a better loser, Elsie. Geez.)

And, because I KNOW you’re eager to play, too, I have found a way!

photo 3 (54)

You can upload your supah hot many-chins picture to the 5 Kids Facebook page here - and check out the fabulousness already there - and we’ll judge a winner on Monday morning (Pacific Time) based on the picture with the most likes.

There’ll even be a (totally pathetic) prize for the winner (like a summer sausage or processed cheese product.) 

And – oh my gosh – the pictures that are already up? Precious gems, every one. It gets funnier and funnier the more people play. You guys are ridiculous… and my FAVORITES. 

#ChinsForTheWin #IHaveAtLeastSeven #TakeTHATFakebook

……….

UPDATE: And we have a winner!

Congratulations, Emily!

This is Emily’s picture as originally uploaded – yep, upside down, which was a brilliant strategic move – to Facebook:

Emily

Emily wants you to know she’s not naked in this picture. 

:)

And here it is, flipped right side up, just so all the blood doesn’t rush to Emily’s head.

Emily2

Email me at FiveKidsIsALotOfKids@gmail.com, Emily, with your address and your preference of summer sausage or velveeta cheese. YUM, right??

Desolation, Consolation and Rising From the Ashes

Aug 1 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about two concepts lately. What they mean to me. And what they mean for our ability to create community. They are:

Desolation and Consolation

Desolation, of course, is sadness, loss, grief, devastation. Consolation: comfort, solace… hope.

For example:

Desolation: An exhausting day with 5 kids. Pfffftt.
Consolation: BEDTIME! (And a big glass of wine.)
Desolation: And then, of course, the preschooler wakes up with a nightmare. :(
Consolation: But he goes right back to sleep. 
Desolation: In my bed.
Desolation: Which he wets.
Consolation: On my husband’s side of the bed. :D

Or, after trying to convince my kids for YEARS that I’m a truly gifted living-room dancer, and they shouldn’t be embarrassed anymore when I bust a move in front of their friends or challenge them to a dance-off:

Consolation: My kid, watching me dance, says, “You know, Mom? You really are a pretty good dancer…” followed by
Desolation: A look of dawning horror, and, “…unless you weren’t dancing and you just have to go potty, Mom. Sorry, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.” 

And then, of course, there are the desolations and consolations that aren’t as fun. The desolations and consolations that are part of this very human life. 

Like the desolation of infertility and miscarriage and waiting, waiting, waiting to become a mama.

The consolation of a precious child.

The desolation of discovering a world that is lonelier and more isolating – more full of dark nights and dirty diapers and relentless crying, both your baby’s and yours – than you ever imagined.

And the long road to the consolation of birthing a new YOU who is stronger and more resilient than you knew.

Desolation and consolation. In sometimes quick and sometimes agonizingly slow succession. 

The desolation of discovering my son has special needs. The consolation of discovering his sweet heart. The desolation of learning I’m terribly self-centered. The consolation of learning to love others more than myself. And so many more desolations and consolations of the heart.

I think about the mythical phoenix sometimes, who goes through trial by fire… and doesn’t survive it. It’s not like it’s not that bad for the bird. I mean, the phoenix dies in the fire, you know? 

But which of us does survive the trial by fire, really?

None of us. Not one. Not in our entirety, anyway.

Not the same as we were before the desolation.

And I wonder if the phoenix knows, while she’s sitting in the ashes – just done in, dead – that she will rise from them?

I wonder if she knows it’s written in her very DNA, like the redwood seed that’s only primed for new life and growth after it’s given itself to the death of the forest, that she will triumph over the devastation?

I wonder if she knows she’s a creature of resilience? Or if the phoenix is convinced it’s done for?

Does the phoenix know what she is until she rises?

Does she know that dying to herself doesn’t confirm her weakness but is the path to a new life?

Does she know that desolation comes before consolation? 

Does she know that comfort and solace, hope and the ability to breathe anew, is on its way?

This idea of desolation and consolation is something we all understand because it’s so common to the human experience. And we who are the child raisers and the farmers and the community leaders, we understand especially, because we gamble every day on the potential of a child, the generosity of the Earth, and the bounty of our community. If there’s anyone who understands resilience – whose heart is with the phoenix – it’s us, because we know what it is to sow and then wait to see what we’ll reap. We toil and labor because it’s a worthy risk. 

But not everybody knows yet that they’re made of the stuff of the phoenix. And it’s our job to show them, because the remedy for fragmentation and isolation, for loneliness and despair, is, of course, each other. Community. And loving each other well. It’s rising as the phoenix and then reaching back into the ashes to give a hand to someone who doesn’t yet have enough ways out. To create a community of the reborn. To deliver hope. And to whisper, life is on the way

……….

afamilyplacelogo NEW FNLPrint

This post is a revision of my remarks at an event last night for A Family Place as they raise funds for another relief nursery in Yamhill County, Oregon. A Family Place is dedicated to reducing the number of families needing to place children in foster care by providing at-risk families with targeted support, respite care for children ages 0-5, parent education, and free at-home visits.

You can donate to their efforts here.

P.S. This post was not sponsored or solicited by A Family Place. I just felt that this community, of all people, would understand the tremendous need for respite and relief nurseries, the challenges specific to raising young kids, and the need to develop supportive communities for families in need. 

My Litany of Shortcomings and Why It Can Suck It

Jul 28 2014

“Hey, Mom?” asked the 7 year old.

“Yes, Cai?” asked I.

“Remember when you said all the swear words today?” 

“No, Cai,” said I.

“ALL the swear words in the world, Mom?”

“No, Cai,” said I.

“And the very BADDEST swear word, Mom?” 

“No, Cai,” said I.

“The one you said we should never, ever, ever tell Grandma we know?

“No, Cai,” said I.

“The one that starts with f and ends with uck? And sound like ffff – uck, ffff – uck? Can you put those sounds together, Mom?”

“Still don’t remember, Cai,” said I, although he was starting to jog my memory.

“But you DID, Mom. Remember? When the car wouldn’t start? And we were late to the doctor? And it just did CLICK CLICK CLICK? And you said crap and shit and you’ve got to be fucking kidding me? And then stop laughing, and SERIOUSLY; NOT RIGHT NOW, YOU GUYS, and SHhhhh… I have to call your father, and then you used your Not Nice voice to Daddy that you always say isn’t yelling but we say is yelling? Remember that, Mom?”

“OK. Yep. I remember now. Thanks, Cai,” said I.

“You’re welcome, Mom. And Mom?”

“Yes?”

“That really was hilarious.”

 

Today was… I don’t know. Fine. It was fine. 

We did make it to the doctor. Eventually. Forty-five minutes late, using the car my parents brought to rescue me. If you’ve ever wondered who the people are who make your doctor late all the time, THEY’RE ME. All those people are secretly ME. I’ve booked all the appointments ahead of you, and I’m always late, and I’m so sorry. But we couldn’t reschedule, even though we did call and offer, because it was my kid’s post-operative appointment and the doctor said it had to be done today, dead car battery or no. 

We came home to find that the dog had helped himself in our absence to a few tampon treats from the garbage and scattered their slobbery remains throughout the downstairs. Here’s my advice for new parents: GET A DOG, and I swear to you your children will no longer seem so gross, because no matter where my kids have peed and pooped – which, FYI, includes but is not limited to the toy box, behind the beds, in the air vents, on the garage walls and under the front porch – they have never, to my knowledge, chewed on a used tampon. Kids for the win!

And there were at least two whiney kids I wanted to drop-kick over the back fence by the time we finished dinner.

So, you know. It was a day.

It’s easy to go through the litany of all the things I do wrong during the day. There are just SO MANY to recite. I was unkind. I was yelly. I was impatient. I was ungrateful. I said ALL the bad words in the world in front of my kids. I’m too heavy. I’m prone to panicking. I rarely floss. I’m selfish. I can’t get the knack of shaving my armpits without getting razor burn in the left pit. I go to bed too late. I don’t serve veggies with dinner. And I haven’t washed my bathroom floor with more than a towel and the water dripping off my showered body in more than a year. A YEAR.

I was in full throttle tonight. The Unabridged Litany of the Ways I fff – uck Up Life. 

Which is when I saw the message from Erin in my in-box. Erin who rescued my children and me on Tuesday. Erin, to whom I’d written:

I meant to find you and thank you in person for being so kind and gracious to me on Tuesday morning when I just blew it at kid drop-off. Rather than, you know, write about you in public and never say actual words to your face. But Tuesday was a mess and Abby had surgery Wednesday and I’ve been in practical stasis or go-go-going since then. So, in lieu of being socially appropriate, I just wanted to drop you a note and say thank you. Really. I was the parent who makes your job hard, and you were Jesus to me. I’m grateful.

Erin’s message back said:

Beth, You are welcome – although we all run late in life and feel overwhelmed by it I’m glad I could spin your morning in a new direction. Please know though that you are also the parent who makes my little summer job something I love to do each year. This is why – your kids are amazing! I got to be in Cai and Cael’s group this year and they both showed so much love and care for others. Cai continually reached out to a little boy at camp with some needs and offered to play with him and sought him out during big group times when we were together. Cael spent time with each child in our group and was always eager to include. I loved hearing Aden’s story of how she overcame her fear on the high ropes course and how she worked through it to accomplish it. Ian was my saving grace to a younger child who needed comforting. So – being late one morning is really no big deal – but having empathetic and compassionate children IS a big deal – and you have them and they were Jesus to me – giving me just enough encouragement to keep at this crazy week for the next year. I’m grateful.

And that’s when I realized I’m not so horrible after all. I mean, yes; the Litany of Shortcomings is true. I’m all those things. But only technically, because the Litany isn’t the whole truth or the full measure of me. And when the Litany is used, not to apologize or show ourselves mercy, but to wallow in shame, well, that technical truth becomes the lie we use to convince ourselves we’re without value and not enough. And that will never do. 

Instead, tonight, now that my kids are in bed and I’m of more sound mind, I will use the Litany to craft the apologies I owe, to practice forgiveness on myself, to show kindness, and to remember it is but a fraction of the whole person I’m becoming. I will remember that both in spite of and because of who I am, my children are learning to face down fear, to show compassion, to be inclusive, and to Love. And I will choose to believe, one more time, that Love really does overcome. Even the Litany. Even in me. 

……….

Here’s what I’d love to know, as a way to practice love together.
What did you do WELL today?

And also, what can you tell me about armpit razor burn? Because SHEESH.