Saturday, October 26, 2013

on creativity and motherhood

In this hectic season of early motherhood, I’m drawn to books on nurturing creativity.  I struggle in my heart (probably along with most mothers of preschoolers!) to validate my daily efforts at homemaking, mothering, cooking and discipling as true creative endeavors, although in my head I do know that’s what they are.

I’m hungry for time to exercise my writing and composing, but all I can find are leftover scraps in the margins… and some days they are so tiny and I am so tired, it just doesn’t feel worth it.    

But I order yet another book on creativity, ask my Mom to forward it across the ocean.  It sits on my desk for months after it arrives, and I keep making promises to it every time it catches my eye.  They’re really promises to myself, my creative self.  I will engage.  I will pick you up and tend to you.  Just not yet.  

Last week, I thumb through it, make friends with it.  What kind of commitment will this one require?  

But it turns out to be the good kind of friend.  Steeped in the Holy Spirit and truth, it’s a gentle book I can pick up or put down at will.  This week I’m beginning chapter 3, exploring my creative history - which periods in my life was I most creative, and why?  What’s blocking my creativity now?

Sheer lack of time and energy, I think, with a hollow laugh.  In this season of my life, there just doesn’t seem to be enough to go around.  Is it even worth it to try and pursue these “other” gifts, amid all my other more urgent responsibilities?

But, as I just told my almost-six-year-old, who woke up too early and came in while I was writing this post:

“Mommy, what are you doing?


“Writing what?”

“Just... writing.  I need to write for the health of my soul.”

I need to write for the health of my soul.  That’s the bottom line.  I’m finally figuring it out.    

“How do you spell 'Jesus'?” he asks, after seeing the word “just” in the sentence above (he’s still standing at my elbow, looking over my shoulder).  With a chuckle, he imitates the fast clickety-clack of my fingers on the keyboard, and then observes, “It’s good that your computer has lights [my keyboard is backlit]… then you can see in the dark!”

My second son is up shortly order, and I send them both back to bed with iPods to listen to Bible verse songs or the Jesus Storybook Bible… I grasp at a few more quiet minutes.

I hear the third one, imperious in her crib - “Mmmmmah?  Mmmmmah?”  I go pick her up, and here she is now in her pink fleece sleeper - blinking on my lap like a downy owlet, grasping my bread and reaching for my tea as I type.  She takes little mousy bites of the bread clutched in her fist, makes little tasting noises, smacking her lips.  Sighs with satisfaction.  Mommy’s lap, and bread.  

The day has begun.  

Time to make breakfast.  And time to be thankful for a post and a half written between devotions and pancakes… enough to be going on with today.

Four years old today!

October 26, 2013

Happy Birthday to my sweet Ben-boy!

You were born four years ago today, at 5:03 in the morning.  I remember when you arrived in this world, underwater, and Daddy lifted you up out of the pool and said, "It's another boy!"  We were so surprised, and so happy to have two boys in our family!  Now you love swimming underwater... maybe it stayed in you from your very beginning!

We named you "son of my right hand" and "one who seeks after God", after your Grandpa Tim.  We pray you know your special place in our family and in the world, and that you are one who seeks after God with your whole heart, just like your Grandpa Tim.

We've seen you grow so much this year.  You are still working on obeying, but every day you grow a little more and are able to control your temper and your body a little better.  You've been learning to pray for yourself, that Jesus would help you use self-control, and slowly you're beginning to understand that Jesus really does live in you, and He can help you.  You still struggle to submit your heart to Him and let him help you - we all struggle with that!  I pray you learn this lesson early on, and it will stand you in good stead the rest of your life.

We love having you in our family, Ben!  You are so perky and happy and full of life.  You are always looking for something new to climb on, to test your body on.  You have great balance and are always thinking up new tricks to do - like putting a 2x4 through the rope in our backyard and using it like a balance beam, or putting your whole body through the rope and zooming around in circles like an airplane.  You catapult yourself over and under and around furniture, people, buildings, trees - you love to be in motion!

And you have such an active imagination!  You are constantly making up stories and giving Will dialogue parts: "Ok, Will, you say: 'But I don't wanna leave!'
Will obliges, same inflection: "But I don't wanna leave!"
Ben: "Then I say, 'But you have to, Big Red.  You can always come back--' and then I drive away, and you follow me, ok?"
Will loves to act in your stories because they're so exciting.  (I remember doing the same thing with my sister when were little!)

You are also learning to love books.  When things get really quiet, I always go see what you're doing, and you're often completely absorbed turning the pages of a a book, usually a Richard Scarry one.  You love his pictures because they tell a story all by themselves.  And when you're coloring a picture or working on a puzzle, you are great at sitting still and concentrating - it just has to hold your whole attention.

One of the other things I love most about you, Ben, is how cuddly you are.  You've always been the one who loves to curl up on my lap for a cuddle, or have me crawl into bed next to you, or put your face as close to mine as you can, so we're breathing the same breath.  You usually have your thumb in your mouth, and you stop sucking long enough to grin at me and give a delighted chuckle, and then you snuggle even closer.  I love my cuddle-bug!  I hope you never think you're too big for me to hug (I will never think that!)

You have had a challenging fourth year of life, Ben.  Last birthday, you were in New Zealand, and you had just received a new baby sister, which rocked your world.  I was no longer available to spend much time with you, and we had left our home in Central Asia, which was all you knew.  You rejected NZ at first because nothing was the same - different house, different car, different people, different language... Eventually you grew to like it, but it took a while, and after Christmas we got ready to travel again, to America.  It was dizzying and tiring for you, and you expressed your frustration by acting out and trying to control the few things you could control.

But we did end up in Thailand for a few weeks in March, and there you learned to swim underwater all by yourself like a little blonde fish, with no floaties at all!  We were all so proud of you, Ben. Will (who would barely put his face in the water) went around saying, "My brother can swim all by himself, and he's only three!"

Then we came back home to this house, but we only had a couple months here before leaving again for Turkey, and then a trip to another city, and then another trip... we've been traveling pretty much this whole year, and I can tell your little heart is tired and very glad to be home again now in your own space, in your own bed.  This country really is home for you right now, and I pray as you grow up you understand why we're living here-- to tell people who have never heard about Jesus the good news that God loves them!

May you keep growing in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, Benjamin!  We love you so much!  Happy Birthday, my sweet son!


Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Ruby Grace!

October 9, 2013

Dear, sweet Ruby Grace,

What a precious treasure you are!  Today you finish your first 365 days on the planet - a whole year old! This year has flown by.  We’ve been traveling for almost all of it, and your little ruby-red bed has been in 6 countries in the last 12 months!  You have struggled a bit to feel secure with all this shifting about, but as long as “Mamam”, “Daddad”, and “baya” (brothers) “Wee” and “Beh” are here, you relax and go with the flow.

You love being part of our family, and we love having you!  You are so affectionate, giving hugs to everyone (esp. Daddy when he comes home from work).  You go find your brother in concern if one of them is crying, lay your little head as close as you can get - on a foot, a leg, a shoulder, whatever’s closest.  Then you pick your head up and grin at the sufferer, squinting your eyes in that adorable way you have, and then you lay your head back down again as if to say, “I’m here, I love you, don’t cry!”  Having you nearby immediately makes us all feel better.

The hair-clip you absolutely refused to wear... 
"Mommy, YOU wear it!"

You are already communicating up a storm, using every means at your disposal.  Besides our names, you say “ba” for bath, “buh” for book, “wee-me” for read-me, “shhh” for shoes, plus handsigns for please, more, and all done - which you use for diaper changes as well as for food!  I can tell you're going to be very verbal and relational (like your Mama!)

You have always loved music, right from the time you were a tiny baby and you quickly went from screaming in the car to fast asleep as soon as we turned on Vivaldi.  You start your jive as soon as you hear any sound - even just a rhythmic pat on a tabletop, but especially any lively music.  You bounce your knees, clap your hands, joggle your head side to side, grin at everyone - generally just get your groove on.  I can’t wait to see where this leads!

You love to be outside - if your brothers are going out, you shriek and hold up your hands and point adamantly at the door, or you go find your shoes and hold them up at me saying “Shhh, shhh” until I put them on you.  Once outside and down the steps, you scoot around on your bottom getting filthy, eating leaves and dirt and tiny rocks which you pick up with your pinchy little thumb and forefinger.  You love practicing climbing up the stairs to the front door, but you can’t get safely down yet, which is why I have to lay the stroller across the bottom to block them off.  

You are almost walking on your own - just a little more confidence and you’ll be away.  Today we gave you a little pink stroller for your dolls and stuffed animals, and by the end of the day you were pushing it across the living room floor all by yourself!  Great job!  The best part about you learning to walk is how proud you are of yourself any time you attempt a new feat - and how you look around grinning for affirmation and applause whenever you put your hands up to balance - “Look at me!  No hands!” - or walk a longer distance to topple elatedly into our arms.

We all have our special names for you: Ben calls you “Ruby-Shooby-Dooby,” I call you my little “Sweetie-sweet”, Daddy calls you “my little Daddy’s girl”, Will calls you “Roooo-beee” in a high voice.  You are absolutely delightful, and we are all crazy about you, our little Ruby-girl.  Every single day I thank God for entrusting to me a precious little daughter as sweet and adorable as you.  I pray you grow to be a woman who loves Jesus with your whole heart and that you spend your life for him.  

Happy Birthday, my little Sweetie-sweet!


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

I blinked, and a year went by...

I take a long time over icing the cupcakes, smoothing pink frosting over each brown heart-shaped top.  I place them carefully into my white tupperware cake box, making the shape of a “1”, carefully pick up each brown crumb, each stray star sprinkle.  I take more cupcake photos than I need to, a few more of the Piglet and Minnie balloons on her empty chair, the string of pink and purple paper loops the boys helped me make this afternoon.  

It all seems so inadequate to celebrate her - this precious-more-than-words-can-say little person, with her squinchy-eyed smile, who has completely captured my heart - and yet I know she is only 1 after all, and she won’t even know what is going on tomorrow, or why all the fuss over her… 

It’s really for me.  

Taking all this time, icing the cupcakes, taking photos of every little thing?  It’s for me, to help me process that my little girl is already a whole year old - 12 months of days, that all went by so fast I feel like I barely drew a breath and she’s already practicing walking.  I feel if I can stretch these last moments before she’s officially one year old, make them last as long as possible, I might be able to grasp how fast the time has gone by… I just can’t believe it.  It feels like only this morning I was cuddling this tiny bundle with tightly closed eyes, tufts of dark hair, skinny little chicken legs, “sticky-outy” ears.  

Photo credit: Will Broughton

I have tried to stay in the moments this year, cuddle her close.  Drink in her scent.  Put other things aside, be with her as often as I could.  But the reality is, I have two other children who need me, a household to run, and - 75% of her first year we have not been living in our own house!  (Let’s see… last Sept-Dec we were in NZ, Jan-Feb in the US, March in Thailand, April-May here at home, June in Turkey, July on a visa run, August at home, September on a visa run… yep, I think that’s about 3 months at home out of 12…)  

If I take a deep breath, and hold it, will she go back to lying on her back and gurgling up at me while I change her diaper?  Can I catch her first smile all over again?  But I love the smile she has now - part of me doesn’t want to go backwards.  

I guess the only thing to do now is go to bed, and wake up tomorrow ready to savor every precious moment with my sweet, sweet girl.  Because these particular moments will never come again!  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"the camera smile"...

She's got it down.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

good to be home

{Written last weekend... yeah, it's a week old now but it still applies... enjoying being in our own space!)

A Russian disco beat from a local party floats up the hill on the breeze, into my banana-muffin-scented kitchen.  I haven’t been able to bake in a month.  Having something slowly turning golden in my oven feels good.  The timer beeps, and I grab potholders, open the oven door with a blast of hot air in my face, pull out my blue silicon heart-shaped muffin pan.  I balance it on top of the stove, letting the muffins cool in the breeze wafting in through the open window.  My red geranium sits cheerily on the windowsill, matching the red cherries my sweet Mom helped me stencil on the walls of my kitchen, during their visit two years ago.  Has it really been two years already?  

My little son sits contentedly at the kitchen table munching pieces of yellow apple.  Autumn is here already.  It’s hard to believe.  I feel like we blinked and missed summer.  My baby girl scoots across the kitchen linoleum on the seat of her pink pants, clutching a sliver of apple in her fist.  I sit at my kitchen desk, sip Earl Grey tea in my new china mug with the blue flowers, a gift from my thoughtful husband.  

My eldest son saunters in from the fresh air, hops into a kitchen chair, begs again to play our game of Connect-4. I had put it on hold while I kneaded and set to rise some rosemary-scented Tuscan flatbread which I want to tear and eat it, hot and golden, with our Sunday supper frittata.  (I’m inspired - I’ve been reading Marlena di Blasi all afternoon.)

“What color do you want to be, Mommy?”

“I don’t mind.”

“Ok, I’m red.”  The bright yellow and red plastic counters make a peaceful clacking sound sliding down their chutes.  He beats me, fair and square.  I reach for another muffin, sip my tea.  Consolation.  My son is growing up.  

My daughter pulls herself up using Ben’s chair for support, wobbles back and forth, loudly requesting more apple.  A few shaky steps and she’s clutching my pant leg, grinning cheekily up at me with cheeks bulging.  One little hand spread-eagled on my jeans for balance, she bounces her little knees and grins at me with each chew.  I blinked, and her first year went by.  

The second game of Connect-4 we fill up the entire board except for one final empty slot in the top right-hand corner.  He beats me again.  He’ll be smarter than me soon, I think.  Not much time left.    

I shoo us all outside to catch the late afternoon sunlight, grabbing Ruby under one arm, my kitchen scissors, the camera.  Ruby holds on to her stroller to practice walking.  I snip the last of the sunflowers and zinnias, snap photos in the slanting rays of light.  

James comes home, opens the gate, drives the car in.  Ruby sinks to her bottom, scoots to Daddy, holds up her arms.  He tosses her in the air.  She squeals with delight, flashing her lopsided dimples and enchanting little teeth.  

We trail back inside together, stepping over the detritus of our first full day at home - every available floor space littered with toys, the kids getting reacquainted with all their treasures after yet another month away from home.  I fill a Mason jar with water for the zinnias, place them in the middle of the chaos on the kitchen table.  The two tallest sprigs of sunflowers I stand up in a pretty china pitcher on the windowsill.  Behind me, the boys straggle in from throwing rocks in the canal, Ben whimpering over his latest war wound.  He pulls up his shirt to show me the scratch, I kiss his forehead.  

“Can we watch something?”  The inevitable, hundred-times-a-day question.  This time I say yes, tell them to agree on a DVD, turn on the player.  I go knead my dough, divide it into two oval rounds, set it to rise on a baking sheet under a clean towel.  The boys fight and bicker over the DVD, I threaten cancellation if they can’t agree.  I can hear Ben trying to pull the “wounded soldier” card: “I got an owie!  I want to pick!”  Finally, seeing no end in sight, I choose for them, and the strains of Curious George float peacefully from the living room.  

As I scrub the muffin pan, I think back over our summer.  Three weeks of June in Turkey.  One week at home, then a visa run which turned into a 25-day marathon saga.  The month of August at home, just 30 short days (10 of which, James was away).  Then we gathered the troops for a second visa run these first three weeks of September, finally climaxing last Friday with the grant of our long-awaited 1-year visa, the culmination of months of hard work and hassles….  

My soul feels tired.  

Even though we are only renting this house, it’s full of the things we love and the pieces of ourselves that make it feel like home.  The afternoon sun bronzing the walnut leaves outside, the sound of Curious George, the scent of rising rosemary flatbread, the familiar red cherries on my kitchen walls... 

The sum of all this leaves me feeling suddenly wealthy.  

The little local boy who tends to turn up at meal times pokes his brown head politely around my kitchen door.  “Assalam aleykum,” he greets me with a grin, adding, in his frank little way, that he’s just had a muncha (shower) - probably a once-a-week experience at best.  I grin back, and motion to the living room and the Curious George watchers.  He ducks his head and disappears.  

Ruby starts her pre-dinner shriek, and I rack my brain to think of what I can feed her as an appetizer… Oh, right.  Fresh-baked banana muffin.  

She grins her cheeky, toothy grin at me and presses one little hand to her bib - sign-language for “please”.  

Aaaahhhh.  It’s good to be home.