Basic Rules of Flying –My Messy Beautiful

Apr 6 2014

We sat at the wedding, my husband and I, paying sporadic attention to the ceremony while my folding chair rested catawampus on the grass, one leg oozing into the soft earth, threatening to collapse and dump me like Bambi on the ice. I played with the pop-up veins on the back of Greg’s hand while I leaned into his side to keep myself steady, waiting for his response to my comment, ill-advised and ill-timed.

“You’re not serious,” Greg said just a little too loudly over the strains of the violin.

I was serious.

I wanted another baby.

“You can’t be serious,” Greg said, and I knew why.

Our family plate was already full to overflowing with the three kids we had by way of adoption, two with special needs. Add our recently resurrected marriage, my history of unsuccessful pregnancies, and an iron-clad agreement forged in the fires of Small Child Hell to have absolutely No More Kids lest we abandon them all and run shrieking to Mexico with its long, blissful beaches and blessed, mind-numbing tequila, and I didn’t blame Greg for his alarm.

Marital and young kid aftershocks still hit us from time to time, and our emotional footing was occasionally unsteady as we warily watched our home and each other for fissures or cracks.

But we were mostly safe. Mostly stable. Mostly sure of our foundation. And, since mostly is as good a guarantee as any in this life, I was ready to roll the dice. Ready to play big. Ready to gamble that we wouldn’t burst if we stretched ourselves again to add one more new person to our mix.

I admit I tend to jump before looking for a place to land. Whereas Greg’s a thinker. A processor. A long-term contemplator. He needs some solid lead-time to get out ahead of an idea, watch it from all angles, probe it for weak spots, make mathematical projections, test its speed and velocity, and analyze for theological implications. All that before deciding, “probably not.” Playing Scrabble with him is a total nightmare.

A wise woman and a thoughtful wife doesn’t just spring the idea of Kid Number 4 on a guy like that. I knew he needed time. I knew he needed reassurance. I knew he needed to amortize the cost of our potential, future dairy liability. Nevertheless, I needed to grow a baby, and, wedding processional or no, I was at that moment incapable of keeping it to myself.

Are you serious?” Greg asked, this time a question that needed an answer.

“Yes,” I whispered, although my throat caught on the s.

My chair was sinking fast. My heart was sinking faster. I knew when I blurted it out that it was a mistake. I’d approached it all wrong, like ten years of marriage, three years of therapy and seven years of kids had taught me nothing about the man sitting next to me.

I froze. Utterly still. Already trying in my heart to forgive Greg for crushing this one-more-baby dream. Trying to put myself in his shoes. Trying to shove the hurt of his imminent, incredulous guffaw deep, deep down. Already working internally to raise my heart’s defenses so I could find my breath and a way forward without damaging either of us.

“OK,” Greg whispered back.

That’s all.

No wondering or wandering. Just “OK” whispered in the summer sun with no roof overhead to capture it while it floated up into the sky.

“OK?” 

“OK,” he said, eyes straight ahead like mine, watching the wedding and not seeing it at all.

“Like, ‘OK OK?’  Or, ‘OK, I heard you?’”

I wasn’t sure yet that I understood, and it was suddenly, desperately important that I be sure.

“OK OK,” Greg said, and he squeezed my hand too hard.

“OK,” I said.

I extracted my hand and picked up my chair, moving it just off-kilter to find firmer ground which is, after all, where firmer ground is usually found.

OK OK; my whole world inside one word, repeated.

One more baby if we could manage to make one. One more little person in our house. Just one more to make a grand total of four kids, all of them our very own, and the maximum we could possibly handle.

Fifteen months later, our twins were born.

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Dad5I’m the daughter of a pilot.

My dad’s flying career was varied, perhaps messy, as a Marine pilot, then a missionary jungle pilot, then an airline pilot, but my parents taught me by example to follow my heart, even when it leads into the wilderness with no clear exit strategy. There, struggling in the jungles of our own making, we find ourselves. And if ever there was a jungle I created, a wilderness to try my strength and reveal my failings, becoming a mother was it.

My dad’s love of flying taught me some practical lessons. 

Dad’s Basic Rules of Flying:

  1. Try to stay in the middle of the air.
  2. Do not run past the edges of it.
  3. The edges of the air can be recognized as ground, sea, and interstellar space.

As Dad likes to say, bad things can happen past the edges of the air.

Now it seems to me that Dad’s Basic Flying Rules are a lot like the basic rules of life.

Against all odds, and despite the fact that we hurtle along in figurative tin cans, held aloft by invisible forces our physics and Sunday School teachers insist are real, we work very hard to stay, somehow, in the middle of life and not go too near the edges. We know, those of us who’ve lived at the margins, pushing ourselves, our friends, our marriages, and our kids too far – or being pushed there without our consent – that bad things can happen when we run out of air. We know, because we’ve seen the crashes and dealt with the aftermath and picked up the pieces and somehow figured out how to launch ourselves again, hoping, this time, we’ll stay where we need to be.

But.

Oh, but.

But the takeoffs and the landings, right? The takeoffs and the landings of life happen always, necessarily right there at the edges. From the ground and back to it, all the new chapters in life must be launched or concluded.

Some landings are perfect, and they touch on artistry, so seemingly effortless and light.

Some landings are bumpy and leave us breathless with fear, exhilaration, and a tiny bit of whiplash.

Some landings crash and burn. And the takeoffs can, too.

Every airliner crossing an ocean has a Critical Point, or perhaps several, written into the flight plan, and every bush pilot has what we laymen call a Point of No Return beyond which he is committed to a course of action, because there are places in the jungle where there are no do-overs. No go-arounds. No chances to execute a touch-and-go or to get it right the second time.

In the jungle, with air strips carved crookedly into the sides of mountains or sitting precariously at the edges of cliffs, the pilot’s choices past the Point of No Return become land or crash.

Soar or plunge.

Do or die.

That’s all.

……….

Becoming a parent is like jungle flying. There’s preparation. There’s planning. There’s checking equipment. There’s second-guessing and am-I-crazying? And then there’s actually launching.

Straight out. Straight up. Holding fast to courage and stupidity in equal measure and taking off into the unknown. Hoping to stay in the middle of the air. Praying bad things don’t happen past the edges.

This is the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. This is incredible. This is awful. I am going to die. I just shit my pants.

And there comes a time when we blow past all the Critical Points and wave adios to the Points of No Return. When we’re committed. Locked in. Engaged. And the only path left is to fly through to our destination and hope – dear God — we don’t crash.

That’s when we find ourselves focused on the flight. Determined. Because passing the Points of No Return causes all our training, all our knowledge, and all our strength to come to bear, even if we fear our training, knowledge and strength are woefully inadequate. Everything we’ve learned becomes distilled. Our purpose becomes survival. There is simply no room for anything else.

We have to do or die, and rely on our Jedi training. Like Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

………

I didn’t know once upon a time, like I know now, that the advent of each kid meant more than just one Point of No Return. Or that passing the Critical Points, over and over, would come with the extraordinary blessing of release. Of letting go.

As the days and weeks and years passed, I began to realize – and name – which extraneous things didn’t matter anymore. I was, frankly, willing to sacrifice all my former expectations to make our survival possible, and, perhaps, to win us a way to thrive. Everything I thought I knew about pursuing a worthwhile, fulfilling life was up for grabs, and nothing was too small for critical examination. If it might make my flight fail, if it might make us crash, I tossed it, and I was surprised at what landed on the jungle floor.

I learned in that place of letting go what wiser, more joyful mamas already knew in their bones: I learned when we redefine perfection, happiness, control, wholeness, and balance – when we embrace our flaws, discover grace, and enter the wild – we find, somehow, a path to the illusive Village where there’s beauty in the broken and dancing to the rhythm of life.

And that, it turns out, is what this story – this life – is all about.

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This post is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project, a blog link-up for the paperback release of New York Times Bestselling memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Melton of Momastery.

Glennon said to write a “short essay.” I’m very, very bad at following directions.
It’s not you, Glennon; it’s me.

You can play, too! To join the link-up, click here.

If you enjoyed this post, check out the column to your left, full of links to readers’ favorites.

Announcing: Ad Scholarships and Our Secret Weapon for the Zombie Apocalypse

Apr 5 2014

There’s a kid who’s a year younger than my 7 year old twins, and my boys idolize him. I mean, the sun rises and sets on this kid, and if there’s anyone they could be like, it’s him. Because, dude, this kid has the coolest – the COOLEST – thing in world. 

A prosthetic eye.

Do you know what this means?

This means Hudson can pop his eye out of the socket and play kickball with it or marbles. You know, theoretically… and if his mom isn’t watching… and if he didn’t already misplace his eye, which I hear happens from time to time.

When the zombie apocolypse happens, Cai and Cael have plans to groom Hudson as humanity’s secret weapon, because, assuming he can be trained to drool, groan and drag one foot, he can walk right into the pack of zombies and not get eaten before he has a chance to wipe them out. As soon as the zombies get suspicious, he just has to squeeze that eye out, and they’ll be all, “Oh! I guess we didn’t smell brains, after all,” ’cause, let’s be honest, zombies aren’t all that smart. 

Of course, my kids don’t know that Hudson had cancer - retinoblastoma, a tumor that forms in the retina and grows – and so had to have his eye removed a week before he turned two. They’ve never asked. They just know Hudson is rad and that he has, in their firm opinion, a moral obligation to be a zombie for Halloween. We probably need to work on their sensitivity. Or maybe we don’t; I’m not really sure they’re wrong.

But for Hudson’s mama? Oy vey. 

Two days before I turned 2, a dog used his teeth to rearrange my face. Two reconstructive surgeries, two plastic surgeries and one oral surgery later, my face is reassembled. Mostly. As in, my nose is made partly from my ear, and doctors say I should have more work done to erase the scars that run from my nose through my lips and under my chin, but meh. I just don’t care enough to go under the knife again. Because my childhood was good. And my dating life was fun. And I made friends. And my husband won’t quit pinching my ass if I make the mistake of walking in front of him on the way up the stairs.

I’m OK with wearing scars on the outside; it’s what I do. It’s who I am.

But for my mama? Oy vey.

Like Sue, Hudson’s mama, says, “Hudson took it like a champ while I was a wreck.”

And yes. Of course. Of course Sue was a wreck. The mamas always are.

Because walking a child through cancer is tough on the mama heart, and watching him lose an eye to beat it? Something we want no mama or child to have to endure, no matter how TOTALLY COOL prosthetic eyes are. 

And her son’s cancer isn’t the only tough road Sue’s walked. Frankly, life gave her a real crappy hand to play there for a while, and I don’t know how many times Sue pulled the covers over her head, wanting it all to just stop, but I’m gonna make a wild guess and go with a lot. A lot of times. And probably a lot of sitting in the dark.

I asked Sue to share a tiny blurb about herself. Just a little get-to-know-you bit because I want you meet Sue so you’ll know where we’re headed.

Sue wrote, “I’m a missionary kid, a solo parent to 3 littles, and a Jill-of-several-trades who has finally found HOME. I lived in SE Asia from 7 years old until graduating high school. As a missionary kid, there’s an understanding that when you go back to your home country, you will never fully belong. I definitely lived into that reality for many years, and it wasn’t until we landed here in this little Oregon town in 2009 that things started to be different in a really powerful way. It felt a bit like God was having a good chuckle, saying “See, you thought you were just clumping around like a mismatched sock, but I was leading you here all along. Sneaky, huh?”

“My little tribe has been through some very rough waters these past few years and we would not have made it through without the love of this quirky, flawed and totally amazing community. My work week is a patchwork of cleaning, biscotti baking, babysitting and creating knit and crochet items. This chaotic assortment of things allows me some flexibility to be as present a parent as possible for my 9, 6 and 2 year old, which I am very thankful to be able to do in this season of life.”

I found it remarkable that when I asked Sue to share about herself, she shared about feeling like  a mifit and finding her place, and more about the importance of a weird, imperfect and deeply engaged community – and about belonging – than about tragedy. Because hello! Yes. YES. We all so desperately need each other.

I’ve thought about Sue a lot over the past few years, just like I’ve thought about a lot of your stories, and I’ve done what anyone in my situation would do: sat here feeling overwhelmed and a little hopeless.

Helpful, right? That’s me!

But I had an idea recently, and I’ve kicked it around for a while, examining it and fine-tuning it, and I’m excited to announce it to you today, because I think together we might be able to provide a little help. A little practical assistance to Sue and to other mamas and dads and people in need. And it’s not a great thing. It’s just a small thing. But like Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” 

This is the small thing I’d like to do together. As partners in a weird, imperfect and deeply engaged community.

Announcing: Ad Scholarships on the 5 Kids Blog

Many of you have offered over the years to support this website and my writing with donations, and despite the sincerity and kindness of your offers, I’ve turned you all down. It’s not that I’m opposed to websites that support their inherent costs with donations; I completely understand their desire to keep their space ad-free. It’s just that I’d rather use my space to provide low-cost ads to the people who need it most – home-based businesses, writers and artists. It’s HARD to find affordable ad space, and these are the people whose efforts I want to support. 

But no matter how low the cost of advertising here is, there are many people who still can’t afford it – often the people who need the ad space the most.

Today, I’m inviting you to participate in funding ad scholarships. Your contribution of any size will support the costs of running this site while allowing me to provide discounted or free ad space to people who need it.

SueAnd, of course, I’m very pleased to let you know Sue will receive our first 5 Kids Ad Scholarship. After this, ad scholarship recipients will be anonymous, but I’m grateful to Sue for allowing me to use her story here today. 

Sue owns and operates Sweet Evie Knits, where she sells her gorgeous knitted and crocheted creations. “Yarn weaves its way into the crazy chaos of life with 3 kids. Whether pacing all night with a fussy baby, watching my kids play at the park, waiting at appointments or watching a movie in the evening, my fingers usually have yarn running through them.” 

SweetEvieKnitsLegwarmers2You can see Sue’s work on the Sweet Evie Knits Facebook page or at her Etsy shop. The Etsy shop is light on merchandise right now because Sue just finished displaying her work at a church; now that she has everything back, we’ll see updates to her site in a few days. 

To Donate to Ad Scholarships on the 5 Kids Blog: Send any amount to fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com via PayPal with “Ad Scholarship” in the memo line.

To Request an Ad Scholarship: Send an email to me at fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com with “Request for Ad Scholarship” in the subject line. Include:

  1. “Request for Ad Scholarship” in the subject line
  2. a brief introduction of yourself and your business
  3. links to your business (websites, Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, etc.)
  4. why you’d like to be considered for an ad scholarship
  5. the scholarship amount you’re requesting (a percentage or dollar amount, up to $30 which is the cost of a one-month ad)

All scholarships will be awarded on a one-month basis. Once approved for an ad scholarship, I’ll send further instructions, you’ll be placed on a first come / first served wait list, and your ad will be placed as funds become available. All requests for ad scholarships are anonymous and scholarship ads will appear on the blog the same as paid ads. 

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It’s Saturday, so it’s time for our new feature:
5 Kids Reruns

FB.socialmediaHere’s What Happened This Week on the 5 Kids Facebook Page:

I discovered my kid’s been using my earplugs as nose bullets; turns out, he’s kind of a butt.

We played fill-in-the-blank, and a chorus of congested weedwackers won.

My parents celebrated 43 years of not killing each other, not even once.

And I decided it’s foolish to continue to buy toothpaste when there’s another, obvious solution. Not baking soda; this is WAY more economical. 

Some Favorites Pulled From the Archives:

An Open Letter to New Mamas: For all the mamas (and dads and fellow humans) who are lonely and isolated and wondering where that illusive Village is. This is why so many of us who hang out here at the 5 Kids blog wave to each other in the dark.

On Not Doing All the Things: In honor of all of us who are plugging away and still Not Doing All the Things

This Is My Body, Sacred and Scarred: Because I’m feeling a little uncertain today, a little caved in on myself, a little small, but choosing to be brave anyway. This is to all of us, because we are, every last one, sacred and scarred.

5KidsHand180x180Here’s What Happened This Week Here on the Blog:

New Post. A Call to the Edge: Dedicated to every one of us who’s living a life different than the one we planned. Than the one we imagined. And who felt, at first, a little lost, navigating our way from the Way Things Should Be to a Life That Is Free.

New Post. I Dream Dreams. HELP. “I dreamed the other night that Greg grew very tall – perhaps 6’4″ or 6’6″ or something – which, obviously, enraged me.”

New Post. Abby made a special picture to show me how I look in the morning. She isn’t wrong.

We wrapped up the Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Features. Our 5 winners and 2 runners-up are:

Winner: Between My Naked Toes by Jen Hulfish of This Life Unconventional
Winner: Who Are You? by Lora Lyon of My Camo Kids
Winner: Foster Mother by Dawn Reed
Winner: All I Have to Do Today by Jenny Roth
Winner: On Doing It All, Not on My Own by Mandy Smith of Smith Silliness
Honorable Mention: Enough by Michelle Ruth Frindell of Maple Leaf Kitchen
Honorable Mention
: When Imperfection Looks More Like Love by Dominique Dobson of Entertaining Morsels

Our compiled list of 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects is up to date! This is a miracle.

RSS.socialmediaDon’t Miss a Thing

You are the driving force behind the 5 Kids blog. This space is about community; finding each other, finding ourselves, waving to each other in the dark until the dawn comes, and always – always – about Love. 

Stay connected. You can subscribe via RSS, Email, Facebook and Twitter. (Psst… I suck at Twitter.)

When Imperfection Looks More Like Love: A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Runner-Up by Dominique Dobson

Apr 4 2014


A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Honorable Mention

When Imperfection Looks More Like Love
by Dominique Dobson

I feel like I’m in rehab. I have spent the last 16 years convincing everyone, myself included, that my husband and I lived a near-flawless life. Oh, we struggled with the standard first world problems… “Frontier can’t get out fast enough to repair our Fios,” “Dance and soccer have practice at the same time,” “I don’t want to do Thanksgiving with your mom – she always burns the turkey.” But as far as those around us knew (and as far as I did, for many years), our relationship was idyllic. It never occurred to me that the bumps in our road were any bigger or different than those of any couple around us – those bumps were just something you don’t share with friends and family. You keep them hidden away in the dark and put on a shining face for those around you.

And then came the day. The day my husband called my son a fucking idiot. He’d been under strain, so when he’d previously referred to our son as a moron, or a loser like his dad (yes, my husband is my son’s father), I took it as a sign that he was struggling with himself. But when he said our son was a fucking idiot, I told him to get help…and, long story short, the help wasn’t sought and we eventually moved out. And the perfect life I thought we’d been leading was left shattered on the side of the road.

My life with my kids now is far from perfect – we’re broke after a $50,000 divorce; we live in a much smaller “fixer-upper,” a house built in 1988 by a woman who was apparently color blind or madly in love with Dusty Rose (and who wasn’t in ’88?). The house, which was previously supposed to be kept tidy at all times, is consistently in disarray while I paint, remodel, and change out light fixtures. We’ve added two hamsters and a dog to our family (or to our zoo, as I now like to think of it…) Our whole life has changed in ways I never saw coming.

But as I tell the kids on a regular basis…our life is now perfectly imperfect. Whereas before I was “white trash” if I left things in disarray, now those messes are a sign to me that my priorities are in the right place. Each little pile signifies time I spent with my children instead of on menial tasks. And every time I hear one of my kids talk about things they can’t do right – things that might, for example, make my son “a loser like his father,” it’s another chance to talk about how those imperfections are what makes him the whole human being that I absolutely adore.

At one point, I believed I held perfection in my hand. We had perfect jobs, the perfect home, perfect finances, and the perfect relationship (from the outside). And yet, every month, I had to endure a spouse who gave me the silent treatment, who adored one child and seemed to despise the other; one with whom we walked on eggshells for fear of setting off the hair trigger. The perfect shell was cracked and flawed where no one could see. Now, with our (rather messy) divorce behind us and our mistakes and flaws out where everyone can see, I find I’m happier now. I’m no longer trying to keep up that “Facebook image” of the perfect family; no longer trying to convince everyone that we were perfectly compatible at all times (we never fought, but that didn’t make us perfectly compatible).

Coloring Outside the linesMost importantly, though, through this process, I have taught my children that it’s okay to be imperfect…to color outside the lines, to swear sometimes, to be noisy when you play, to defend, loudly and vehemently, those things you most value – like your child’s self-esteem – and to stand up for yourself when someone demands a false perfection of you. If nothing else, I hope that when they have children, they can see in them the value of being “perfectly imperfect,” and teach their own children the value in being yourself…flaws and all.

My daughter asked today if we divorced because of that time that Daddy said the mean things to big brother. I told her no – there were a lot of things that contributed, but they were NOT to blame. She said, “you know…if anyone else ever talks to E like that, I’ll kick their butts. He might drive me nuts, but he’s MY family.” I’m glad to know she’s learned the importance of loving your not-so-perfect family.

Perfectly imperfect

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Dominique Dobson is a writer, brand manager, and most importantly, a mom, in Portland, Oregon. She loves pressure-cooking, good coffee, and the idea of packing up and moving to France with her kids…although she’s not sure how well her sarcasm would translate. Dominique blogs at Entertaining Morsels.

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I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the honorable mention entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Dominique’s story:

Korie.Chocolate

Korie: “What a courageous person you are. Your story is inspiring; thank you for writing.” 

Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.

MeghanRogersCzarnecki2Meghan: “The vulnerability and bravery here is inspiring and touching. I feel like this is so many people – living a life meant to look perfect and terrified to have that fall apart. Bravo for telling it like it is, and loving where life has brought you.” 

Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart. 

AjSchwanzAj: ““At one point, I believed I held perfection in my hand.”” 

Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. :D Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press. 

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And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.

Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net

A Call to the Edge

Apr 3 2014

I used to be afraid of the edges of life.

The questions about faith.

The death and resurrection that is parenthood.

The heartbreak and heartmake of marriage.

They were just so … edgy, you know?

Different and uncomfortable.

HIGH.

And scary.

And peppered with warning signs telling me to stay well away.

“DANGER: EDGE APPROACHING,” the experts said. “There’s a slippery slope there. Beware! Just listen to us. Follow our lead. And ssshhhhhh… don’t worry your pretty little head about a thing.” 

So I listened.

And I stayed away.

And I followed the rules.

And I stayed inside the carefully crafted boundaries.

And I was fine.

Fine.

Fine.

But the edge beckoned.

Wild and free.

And pregnant with possibilities. To fall. To fly.

To fail. To soar.

To crash. To collapse. To careen. To collide.

To glide.

And I knew at the edge there was life and death, raw and hungry, unbridled.

But I was dying anyway, a soul in captivity, away from the edge, and so, full of fear and doubt, I crawled away, leaving behind the rules, the cage, the guarantees, and searching, instead, for bounty. For grace. For beauty. For my place.

I crawled and I walked and I stumbled.

I was bold. And I was afraid.

I was courageous. And I was fragile.

I was in motion. And I was unleashed.

And I was free. 

These days, I find myself sitting at the edge, with the experts in their pens behind me, living my life listening to the call of the wild, with my legs dangling, kicking at the cliff to watch the debris fall, and strangely at peace.

Who knew there was peace at the edge?

Peace in coming to the end of myself and to the beginning of the risky life.

Peace in knowing I will fall or fly. Or fall and fly. And fly and fall, up and down on the wind with just the boundaries of earth and space to hem me in.

“You can die out there,” the experts say.

“But, oh,” I reply, “you can also live.”

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I Dreamed Dreams. HELP ME.

Apr 1 2014

I dreamed the other night that Greg grew very tall – perhaps 6’4″ or 6’6″ or something – which, obviously, enraged me. 

It was one in a series of vivid dreams I’ve been having lately. Because… I don’t know why. Perimenopause? My chemical imbalance? Blue Moon beer? A change in barometric pressure? Bad theology? The proliferation of British television programmes? Sleep, finding a new way to mock me besides the usual withholding of quality time together? What causes these things, anyway? And, more importantly, what do they mean?

‘Cause geez. These dreams are weird. And I wake up feeling feelings. Which makes it difficult to, you know, continue to function like person capable of maintaining the illusion she’s not crazy.

“You seem mad, Beth. Are you mad? Why are you mad? Are you mad at me?”

“Yes, Greg. I’m mad. At you. Because you were tall, you jackass.” 

I dreamt the other night that I made sandwiches with Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman.

They were beautiful, color-rich sandwiches with precisely stacked layers of veggies and thin, accordion piles of deli meat. They were assembled according to blueprints provided by Ree, but with a whimsy that made them look casual, hospitable and endearingly haphazard. 

We had to make 74 sandwiches, but, to get to the barn where the sandwich assembly was taking place, we had to trek a mile through the pasture, and my boots kept getting lodged in deep mud, suctioned such that every attempt to dislodge them made enthusiastic farting sounds. 

And then I cut the sandwiches wrong, so we had to start over.

I thought we were supposed to cut the sandwiches like this.

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Obviously, that’s a napkin and not a sandwich. Who has time to make real sandwiches?? Not me. 

But then Ree explained we needed 2/3 sandwiches. As in, we had to cut out a triangle approximately 1/3 the size of the sandwich, leaving 2/3 in tact. This was, she assured me gently, the correct way to cut a sandwich.

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And even though she was nice about it, I was embarrassed. I mean, I’m a 40 year old mother of 5, and I don’t know how to cut a sandwich. I woke up sad.

I dreamed two friends moved to Arizona, so we had to move, too, but I didn’t know how to blend Northwest dark woods with Southwest patterns. I kept sobbing and saying that, if Ellen DeGeneres can make modern art and a love of nature work in her office, surely I could find a way to bring the western regions together. I woke up panicked and sweaty.

And the night after I posted that piece about being a Christian and an LGBTQ ally, I dreamt I wore a neon green hulu skirt, my grandmother’s pearls, and a waist-length Ariel the Mermaid wig to a speaking engagement, at which I discovered I had a pitcher of margaritas and a debilitating case of laryngitis.

Someone help me.

I need an interpreter.

What do these dreams MEAN?

If you tell me, I will send you a sandwich. Like, not a real sandwich, but definitely a napkin cut like a sandwich. Or a postcard with dotted “cut here” lines so you can practice sandwich cutting. SERIOUSLY. I’m on a Need to Know here, folks. 

Help me.

Enough: A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Runner-Up by Michelle Frindell

Mar 31 2014


A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Honorable Mention

Enough
by Michelle Frindell

He comes by when I am vulnerable and anxious and out of control.  Hormones fling wide the door.  Sleeplessness and hunger flash beacons to him.

You are not good enough.  Not smart enough.  Not selfless enough.  Not competent enough.

Sometimes he shouts, but mostly he whispers, insidious as a serpent.  You’re wrong.  You’re foolish.  You’re unworthy.  You’re not enough.

This voice has plagued me from my earliest memories, beyond the reach of reason.

The one who reduced me to the fetal position on my bed one day in November as my three babies ate and slept and cried downstairs.  You can’t do this.  You are not strong enough; there is not enough of you to go around.

The one who hisses at me every time I lose my patience with my kids, whenever I raise my voice or toss a sarcastic remark at them as I walk away from their tears because my gentleness has maxed out.

The one who tells me it’s your fault; you should be able to fix this when one of my kids’ anxiety about making mistakes is so strong that this kid now refuses anything but a sponge bath, refuses to have a diaper off at all, and is making limited progress sitting on a potty.

The one who laughs in knowing mockery when one of my kids is still learning to handle Big Feelings.  This kid throws things or hits or runs, say, toward parking lots because the two-year-old psyche gets so overwhelmed by anger, frustration, sadness, powerlessness, that it goes Caveman.  And I know those impulses.  And I feel powerless to help.  They inherited your temper. You still lose it too, don’t you?  What kind of model are you?

I have come to realize that this voice is part of me.  I can’t outrun him.  I can’t stick my fingers in my ears and pretend he doesn’t exist.  I can’t evict him from myself.

But I don’t have to listen to him.

I say:  Enough.

I say:  Parenting is hard.  Raising triplets is hard.  I’m doing the best I can.  And that is enough.

It has taken becoming a parent to make me face exactly how imperfect I am:  how broken, how vulnerable, how human.  It has taken becoming a parent to show me that not despite my flaws, but because of them, I am enough. 

I am enough not because my counters are always spotless or my floor clear of clutter or birthday cards are mailed on time.  Not because I never yell or I shove shoes on the screaming, rigid kid because we-just-need-to-get-out-the-door-now or I need some grown-up time.

I am enough in the way I cheer for my kids when they do something well:  show kindness, try something scary, help without being asked.

I am enough for my daughter when she cries out for Mama after bedtime and, when I stand by her crib, leans against me, needing nothing more than a hug and the reassurance that I’m still there.  Night after night.  Call after call.  I always come.

I am enough because as I told my husband through gritted teeth how frustrating the potty training journey is, my son looked up from his dinner and said, “Don’t be frustrated, Mama,” then reached out his arms and called across the room, “Long-distance hug!”

I am enough for my daughter as she cares for her dolls and animals with the same compassion and often the same words that she sees me express.

I am striving to do better, always.  Reading and researching and praying and reflecting, but at my core, enough for my husband and my kids and my family and community.

If there is one thing I want my children to know, really understand with their souls of light, it is that they are enough.  Simply by being who they are, learning and becoming and growing, they are enough.

There is no lesson plan, no parenting expert, no researched strategies available that teach this. No matter which parent label I am failing at the moment–am I attached enough?  do I set enough boundaries?  do I let my kids fail enough?  do I praise them too much?–one thing I do is see my kids as they are.  Their beautiful smiles, their successes, their frustrations.  I know their favorite dinosaur is the Neovenator.  I know what songs help each one calm down.  I know their temperaments, their sleeping positions, the sound of each one’s voice over the monitor.  I know their hearts.

So they need to see me as I am.  A soul of light who makes mistakes and grows and changes and makes mistakes again, and makes amends. Enough.

0031_familyMichelle Frindell is a full-time mom to triplet toddlers, part-time high school English teacher, 3/4-time cook, half-time writer.  Her favorite place in both grandmothers’ houses was the kitchen table, where cookies were eaten, Boggle and Trouble games won and lost (not graciously), and Nana and Grandma stories were absorbed.  Her own kitchen table is likely covered in toast crumbs or play food or Duplos or all of the above, but you are welcome to pull up a chair, grab a chipped tea mug, and hang.  She is always appreciative of kindred spirits.  You can find her writing at Maple Leaf Kitchen.

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OldWoodPencil

I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the honorable mention entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Michelle’s story:

Korie.Chocolate

Korie: “What simple, true and powerful words; thank you for telling your story.” 

Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.

MeghanRogersCzarnecki2Meghan: “I loved this! Beautifully written, poetic, something I want to save and read in those moments when I need it.” 

Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart. 

AjSchwanzAj: ““So they need to see me as I am.” Hiding imperfection in public in one things; hiding imperfection from those you live with is another.” 

Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. :D Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press. 

…..

And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.

Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net

On Doing It All, Not on My Own: A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest Winning Entry by Mandy Smith

Mar 30 2014


A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
Winning Entry

On Doing It All, Not on My Own
by Mandy Smith

I’m pretty sure that when you walk into the OB’s office and tell everyone you meet as you check in, “Oh yeah, this is definitely the LAST one, because four kids under five is my limit,” you’re guaranteed to have twins. Because you didn’t already feel like you were drowning in diapers and laundry and making sure everyone got fed. 

Having twins is wonderful, and exciting and so much fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything… but those early days were hard. Waking up several times a night to nurse two babies, one of whom wasn’t gaining enough weight, and having an inability to nurse them simultaneously, hard stuff.  Mastitis – enough said. Having four, yes four – my children potty train late – kids in diapers and two in preschool (one in for speech therapy) and an almost two-year-old who liked to jump off of anything at any height, it was crazy. My “big” kids were lucky if they only ate frozen waffles for two meals in those early days.

I felt stretched so thin, but each day I held onto the whispered encouragement from my dear friend Amanda. She gathered me up in a huge hug that first week when my eyes were filling with tears and she told me to take it one day at a time.

Simple, really, but pretty much the best advice ever and exactly what I needed to hear in those days when I felt like I was falling short at every turn and there was no end in sight. When the dishes would pile in the sink and my temper was short and I begged the kids to watch one more episode of anything.  But, like I said, I wouldn’t trade it, and as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months it got easier.

When we were closing in on the one year mark, I started to finally feel like I could handle my life again. We were down to only three in diapers, no more nursing, and I could wrangle everyone into the minivan to run errands or go to play dates. We were settling into the sweet spot.

I’m also pretty sure that when you start feeling like you’ve settled into the sweet spot you get hit by your own car. Maybe that doesn’t happen to everyone, but it did happen to me.

Four days before my twins turned one, I backed my van out of the garage, thought I put it in Park to run back into the house for one more thing, walked back out into the garage, and saw the van barreling towards me.

Because, at this point, I was convinced I was super mom – being in the sweet spot and all – I tried to stop it from hitting the house.

I was only successful in slowing it down a bit by getting pinned to the wall. 

Luckily my Mom was babysitting and was able to save me and call the cavalry and considering that I had just been hit by a car the fact that I “walked away” (pun intended) with only a broken leg was a pretty huge miracle.

In case you were wondering I broke my femur (my thigh bone) which, I am told, is the strongest bone in your body and the hardest to break. Pretty impressed with myself right there. Since I had to wait 8 hours for the surgery that fixed my bone with a rod and screws, I acquired blood clots in my lungs. I figured go big or go home, right?  Really, though, I would have rather gone home.

I have always been pregnant at the first birthday party of each of my kids. This was the first party that I wasn’t. It was supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter of our lives. The kid chapter, opposed to the baby chapter. A moving on, of sorts. I wasn’t supposed to be in the hospital on my babies’ first birthday, hooked up to oxygen and injected with blood thinners, but I was. I wasn’t supposed to be hosting their first party from a walker, but I did. 

We set our guest bed up in our living room because I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my room.

For a solid month I couldn’t tuck my children into bed at night, I couldn’t make them dinner, I couldn’t pick them up by myself. 

I should have been teaching my babies to walk, but instead they were teaching themselves on my walker. 

If ever I had felt like I was failing as a mom it was then. If my children wanted to cuddle they had to stay on my left side and be super still; and I don’t have still children. I had to rely on the help of others to take care of my children, to cook for us, to help me get dressed.

My sister, Steph, and I at our girls night in at the hospitalIt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I can’t begin to tell you how many people helped fill the gaps and take care of my people when I couldn’t. Friends from church and MOPS signed up to bring us meals for TWO MONTHS. They took turns coming over and playing with my kids. They leant me crutches and walkers and shower chairs. My parents kept my children when I was in the hospital and when I was home so I could rest. My sister came to the hospital to keep our “girl’s night out” even when it had to be a “girl’s night in.” The encouragement and cards from friends and family was nothing short of amazing.

And, oh, how my children loved it. How they soaked in every visit from a friend and how excited they got when they could give a little thank you gift to each person who brought a meal. What I thought would be a deficit for them, ended up being a string of people pouring into their lives and making them feel more loved. 

As moms I think we all struggle with not being able to do it all, to do enough, for our kids. But I think the real struggle comes from thinking we’re supposed to be able to do it all on our own. I don’t think it was ever intended to be that way; I think we were made for community and when we rely on each other, that’s when we do our best.

When we feel encouraged, we can encourage our children. When we feel loved and supported we can love and support them. And when they see how much others care about them, they learn to care for others. And that’s what we really want in the end, isn’t it?

The Smith Family

Mandy Smith HeadshotMandy Smith is a wife, a daughter, a sister and a mom.  Her husband, Brandon, is a wonderful fellow who has put up with the craziness of being married to her for ten years now.  They have five kids, James (5-years-old), Katie (4-years-old), Shawn (2-years-old), Maggie (15-months-old) and Sarah (15-months-old).  Writing about the hilarious antics in her household has been a sanity saver for years.  She also loves reading a good book while eating cookie dough ice cream. Mandy blogs at Smith Silliness.

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OldWoodPencil

I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Mandy’s story:

Korie.Chocolate

Korie: “I loved what you had to say about the real struggle being us thinking we have to do it all on our own. Thank you for writing.” 

Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.

MeghanRogersCzarnecki2Meghan: “That’s an incredible story and a great message! I loved the image I got of a mama being supported by those around her during the hard times.” 

Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart. 

AjSchwanzAj: “When we rely on each other, that’s when we do our best.” 

Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. :D Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press. 

…..

And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.

Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net