Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie Houses, The Slacker Version

I am ignoring the emails that scream LAST CHANCE FOR FREE SHIPPING! ORDER NOW OR DIE!!!!!!

I am not making the gingerbread cookie dough that was on the docket for the evening.

I am not even wiping the freezer out after a tragic exploded-bottle-of-carbonated-beverage incident.

Instead I am telling y'all about a funny little tradition that sneaked up on me, and became my favorite much like the quietest kid in the class makes his way into the teacher's heart.

Cookie houses.  I know.  I know:  the minute I type that phrase your insides clench up like they do in an particularly mortifying episode of The Office, and you think gaaaaaaaaah. no.  NO COOKIE HOUSES.  ARE YOU INSANE?  




I'm not.  Really I'm not.  I'm nowhere near an over-achiever, and my perfectionist streak has been handily beaten out of me by 3 kids, and old house, and an extremely phlegmatic husband. So.

We are talking cookie houses of the non-threatening variety.  Cookie houses made of graham crackers, and Royal Icing.  Now hang on, don't start hyperventilating on me.  Royal icing is simply that really hard, bright white icing that they stick gingerbread houses together with, and I'm here to tell you [I'll whisper, in case Martha Stewart's listening in]:  it's really easy to make.

Here's the super secret recipe:  3 egg whites, 1 lb of confectioner's sugar (icing sugar, for all my Euro pals),  and 1 tsp Cream of Tartar.   Whip it.   And I'm not kidding - you have to whip the heck out of it.  Like, way way past the nervous 'is it getting stiff yet?' stage.  You really want it to be, well, stiff. (I'm such a juvenile.  Am I really the only one sniggering when reading these directions?)


So you take a graham cracker, snap it in half, then cement the two halves together with a dab of the icing.  That's your first wall.  Do it again, that's your 2nd.  Glue them parallel to each other on a paper plate/fancy platter/piece of cardboard with more globs of icing,  then finish your house shape with two single squares of cracker.  Snap another in half,  and use the two pieces for a leaning-against each other roof (see, a fancy blogger would call it Cantilevered.  ooooh.)  And you're done.

Really.  Let it dry - a few hours maybe.  Yesterday I needed to speed it up so I stuck it in my oven at 100 degrees, and it worked a treat.  Then, give your kiddos all the leftover icing, a bunch of different candies & sugar cereal pieces, and let 'em have at it.  My rule was 'no candy in your mouth until your house is done'.  This left the 3 year old's house very minimalist, and gave her a head start on 'tasting'.


Do it with just your kids, or do it with 11 like we did yesterday.  It really is the simplest, happiest little exercise that makes you feel virtuously domestic, them happy that they got to play with frosting and make a house, and everyone a little bit cheerful-er about all this holiday nuttiness we get into.

Try it.  You won't be sorry.  (Unless the royal icing gets in your shag carpet.  Then you will be sorry.  But you should already be sorry that you believed it was back in fashion. So. There you have it.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow, and stillness

The Worries clamored like a pack of hungry preschoolers at snack time.  I stood in the shower this morning and let myself be assaulted by every single anxious thought my brain could manufacture in the space of ten minutes and the shampoo-soap-razor routine.

Forgot to... why didn't I... need to pay... have to remember... what IS it she thinks Santa is bringing?  this bill... that list... those emails.  On and on the siege raged.

Out of the shower, drying off, I noticed the very first snowflakes of winter swirling past the window.  I peered out into my backyard, and saw the faintest dusting on the kids' swings, on the Adirondack chairs, on the picnic table.


Funny, how often it is that nature will speak to us when rational thought eludes.  Stop, Kirsten. Enough. Enough. Be still.

Once dressed, I went outside to take photos, my kids fully occupied by sweeping off the front lawn. [Bizarre, I know. They're just goal oriented, I guess.] The heavy snow-filled air demanded silence of me, and I obliged.  I watched as the white flakes covered all that remained unfinished - the abandoned toys of summer, the leaves of fall - and I was still.  I silenced my anxieties, and chose peace.


Enough. There will always be more, always be not-quite-right. But for now, especially now, I will simply be still. I will find quietude for my head, for my home, for my family.  The stillness of the snow came early enough to teach me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And so goes November

In November, at winter's gate, the stars are brittle. The sun is a sometimes friend. And the world has tucked her children in, with a kiss on their heads, till spring.
- Cynthia Rylant, In November

If you're a lover of children's picture books, check out Cynthia Rylant's beautiful text. It is a beautifully illustrated meditation on one of the simplest months of the year.
November closes feeling exactly as it should - ominously cold, anticipatory of winter, and austere enough to be peaceful.
May we all find quiet peace in the next few weeks.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Tightrope


Random fact: I am completely obsessed with tightrope artists.  Funnily enough, this doesn't come up often in conversation.

This weekend, friends shared with us that they have hit a bit of a rough patch in their marriage.  Along with the heartache that quite naturally springs from a revelation like this, I was left with a vague sense of imbalance.  I went to sleep troubled, and woke with the vivid image of a tightrope walker on my mind. 

A tightrope stretches in front of each of us, in any relationship that matters.

You begin your journey in confidence.  Of course you step out in confidence!  How else could you be convinced that this was a reasonable undertaking, if not for your blind faith that you absolutely have the skills and abilities to reach the other side?  As you inch your way out over the chasm, your confidence is so great that the twist of rope beneath you feels as solid as a twelve inch plank.

You get a bit further out, and the winds pick up.  Maybe it is a single gust, that blows you momentarily off balance.  Maybe it is a steady breeze that makes each step, each inch forward a challenge. Maybe your legs simply start to tremble.


Whatever the reason, all of the sudden you are wobbling, way out on this woven cord with nothing to hold onto. Every rule of tightrope walking tells you not to look down - never look down - but maybe it's the looking down that made you start to sway in the first place. Maybe you took your eye off the far side, and started focusing on your toes curling around that stupid skinny rope instead.

So you're wavering, and you know good and well that you are the only person who will steady the rope. It won't happen by looking down, it won't happen by flailing your arms around helplessly. The only thing - the only thing - that will stave off disaster is a change of focus. Pulling your eyes up, and finding the far side again.

Maybe some of us won't be able to pull it back. Maybe some of us won't be able to withstand the buffeting wind, or maybe the sway of the rope will have gotten too far out of control. Maybe all that can be done at that point is to consciously look down, to keep looking down, and believe with all your heart that the safety net of those that love & care for you will be there as you fall.

Some of us...some of us will make it through those vicious winds. Some of us will find the steadying stillness, and we won't be sure quite how we did it. The only way through the swaying is to continue: stopping - standing still - is simply not an option. 

So, whilst I've had that vague swaying feeling all day, having heard my friend's news, I will choose to continue along the journey on my own rope, stretching out over the void. Inch by inch, my toes will creep across the twisted cord. 

I have to believe that my friends' toes will keep them moving across the rope too. If not, I sure as hell am one of the people who make up the net underneath.

*********

There are millions of blogs out there - funny, frank, or starkly painfully honest - that will freely discuss our failures as parents. But I find that when it comes to our failures in relationships, we are less able to open up, to admit that we are wavering.

Just for today, let Your People know that you love 'em, no matter where they are on (or off) the rope.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful: for Family, Trees, and Friends

In the middle of handing out mini-Snickers and Reeses Cups this Halloween, I was busy snipping pieces of kraft paper into a vague sort of tree outline:


It's our Thankful Tree.  I ran across the idea somewhere in the blogosphere last year, and it was a big hit here in the Yellow House.  The concept is simple:  each night, we go around the table and each family member names one thing they're thankful for.  If certain 2nd graders insist, they are given rights to the coveted brown Sharpie marker to write their own leaf.

The 2010 tree was extremely prolific:  as the leaves tumbled off the oaks, maples and poplars in our backyard, the paper leaves grew and grew on the Thankful Tree.  Some of my happiest moments this month have been craning my neck to check out all the funny little things my kids are grateful for.  Except, not so funny:  many of the adults' and kids' leaves turn up with some version of  'grandparents' or 'my friends.'



Ahh, friends.   Today on Classic Play I am guest posting all about a Friends Thanksgiving - the meaning of a holiday spent with The Other Kind of Family.   Let us never forget the gift of our families, crazy as they might be, but also?  Keep those friendships on your Thankful Tree.  There's nothing like 'em.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Blinding Me With SCIENCE!

Hey readers out there!! As if the scintillation of the every-other-week posting around here weren't enough, I have something SUPER exciting for you this evening.

The brilliant minds over at Classic Play have published a new issue of their e-zine, and this time it's all about SCIENCE. There are the gorgeous crafts, activities and gift guides that you always expect from Ellie Bellie Kids, and of course there's the writing. The writing! Classic Play have rounded up an eclectic team of contributers from all over the globe, and you. do. not. wanna MISS IT!!!


Scamper scamper scamper to check it out - and make sure you leave those people some comment love, because darn if they don't work hard to make our lives lovelier with that magazine.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grandparents

My eldest got really sick this afternoon, really quickly. She arrived home saying she felt 'tired' and an hour later had spiked a fever of 102 and was shivering on the couch in pajamas. She didn't ask for ice pops, ginger ale, or even Barbie movies. She asked for Grandma.

As I drove home from driving her to my mother's, I tried hard not to feel insulted. I mean, aren't kids supposed to want their MOM when they're sick?

Then I thought about my husband, travelling to Norway this week for his grandmother's funeral. I thought about the stories he told us at the dinner table, the night we heard she'd died: stories of cousins, of chocolate cakes, of a laughing, loving woman.

I thought of my own grandmother, who died in November 2006. My own memories were visceral, tonight - of her kitchen table, of her beautiful white hair, of her long graceful fingers on piano keys. She is present in so many of my day-to-day choices.

Today is November 1: All Saints Day. A day to remember the "great cloud of witnesses." Today, I am grateful for grandparents - those magical people in our lives who have the extra time, the extra space in their evening for sick little girls or the surreptitious morsel of cake to share.

Today I focus my heart on the gifts and wisdom of those who have traveled the path ahead of me, and I'm not insulted. I - we, we who have had loving grandparents in our lives - we are given the most profound gift.



The Grandparents of NilsenLife on the beach in the Lofoten Islands (and lil ol' me)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Here Comes the Sun...

Autumn arrives in early morning, but spring at the close of a winter day.
Elizabeth Bowen

Does anyone else notice the light changing? I was looking back through some summer photos and observed the 100-watt bulb quality of the afternoon sun: strong shadows, a yellow-white light that makes you want your sunglasses, even looking at photos late at night.

Early in the morning (I am so well acquainted with the early-morning sun right now!), before my eyes have fully opened I am aware of the golden quality of the sunlight. Its liquid gold pours through my east-facing windows, glowing in my terracotta laundry room like treasure in a red velvet bag. The summer light was more of a hyper-shiny platinum, urging you out into the day, spurring you on to activity and accomplishment. The autumn sunrise is less... activity oriented. It invites you to take time with your coffee, to savor the warmth of the day, to enjoy wearing a sweater with your shorts that afternoon.

the view through my laundry room window

This fall light is gentler, cozier. 'Mellow' is the word the poets keep tossing around. To me it feels more....nostalgic. The afternoon sun has a regretful quality to it, as if it were urging us to get outside while we can. The light seems to apologize for its nearing departure, and as it prepares to go it lingers in the rosy skin of apples, in the golden sheen on the pumpkins - I swear you can even taste it in the cider from our local farm.

Youth is like spring, an over praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits.
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

Fall isn't the hyper young Spring, gamboling on the lawn, it isn't the glamorous and impossibly gorgeous Summer wearing nothing but a bikini. It is the slightly older Autumn who has seen enough to know she doesn't know it all, who is more forgiving for that knowledge, who has the wisdom to treasure the fading light. This makes her gentle, and ineffably, more beautiful.

It's Thursday, my readers: a gorgeous fall day in which we may all gain in fruits. Enjoy.

**************

This is a repost from October '08, but just so perfect for this morning I wanted to share some Samuel Butler all over again. Apologies to the 2 readers who've been reading since then.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Being a Hater

If you read any so-called mommyblogs - heck, if you read any new media whatsoever - you are bound to come across an essay here or there about how us moms need to be gentler with each other.  More gentle, less judgmental. Usually the article will make some version of the point that all of us are doing our very best, and needless criticism, holier-than-thou opinions, and general negativity isn't helping any of us parent any better.

Agreed.  WHOLLY AGREED.

But I have this problem.  No matter how supportive, affirming, and positive my mom friends are, there is always going to be that one person who will pronounce the icy words of judgement on my most recent parenting efforts.  When at the end of the day I review the high and low points and, let's face it, start to obsess over the 'distinctly low',  there is always the one individual I can count on to remember every profanity [accidentally] uttered, every pointless accusation I threw at my small offspring, even my failure to provide nutritious and/or balanced meals. Remember?  Remember how you served mac n' cheese TWICE today? With HOT DOGS?!?!

That reliable individual is always me.

There is a simple name for what I pour upon the ash-heap of my day's failures:  condemnation.

What a loaded word, condemnation.  When I say it out loud I can't escape instant associations with over-zealous televangelists, with loud pronouncements from an anonymous pulpit, with memories of The Scarlet Letter in the 10th grade.

Fascinating, that I instantly have such, well, condemnatory associations with the word condemnation. Doesn't stop me from doing it. Honestly, I wouldn't dream of judging others in my community with the same words I use for myself.   Not others in my church, not others in my neighborhood, not even the mom I see in Target hauling off and smacking her two year old upside the head.  (Okay, I don't have kind words in my heart for this woman, but at the very least I have an element of compassion for what I perceive to be her 'limited disciplinary toolbox.'  Me? I know better.)

It has to stop, this judging.  As I said at the beginning:  none of this negativity is helping me parent any better.   In the immortal words of Yoda:  Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.  Condemnation encompasses all of that fear, anger and hate, and yes:  it leads to pointless and unproductive suffering.

Condemnation is the absence of compassion.  Can I really justify withholding compassion for the mother of my kids? When you put it that way.... I guess not.

**********

I've written about Condemnation today as part of the One Word at a Time blog carnival, and I am grateful that I waited to write it until having read some of the other posts on the subject.  It wasn't until I read other posts that I realized just how damaging my thought patterns are, how limiting my judgement is, and how universally all the bloggers who've posted seem accept that to live in love, we cannot live in a spirit of condemnation. For anyone. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Those Pants

No, don't shake your computer, or tap at your screen. Nothing's wrong with your Google Reader. I have in fact posted two days in a row. Outrageous, I know.

Well I'm just popping in this afternoon to tell you about a nifty little guest-post feature I did over at Mommypants. Cheryl hosts a Monday feature called 'Mommypants Moment', and so today I'm there talking about the first time those Mommypants dug into my postpartum flesh.

Ever worn something that fits you so perfectly that you forget you have it on? Something that you love so much that you wear it to death, but every once in a while you look down and can't believe you've still got it on?

Those are Mommypants. They're standard issue, and you can't be a mom without 'em.

So go check out the guest post, and then while you're over there you could look around - Cheryl is so damn funny that her incredible talent as a writer is almost taken for granted. If you visit, you'll definitely be back, so be prepared to bookmark a new fave!

Thanks y'all - I'm just going to go scrub the pizza sauce off the knees of these here pants.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Run Like a Mother...

Way back in January I told y'all I'd bought a pair of running shoes. Told you I wanted to be a runner again: not to lose weight, not to look better, not even to run fast. I just wanted to be the person who had the shoes to lace up, who had the willpower to roll out of bed at 5.30 on a summer morning to run through the steamy silent sunrise.

I wasn't sure, when I posted that here, whether I'd keep my word. Whether I'd grant myself my wish. Because life is crazy - I am up late in the night attending to details, adult details of my life that get ignored all day. I have three busy kids, one hardworking husband, and a million little things that demand my attention.

Well I have big news.


Yesterday morning I ran like a seven year old. I ran with abandon - up the hills and down the hills and around the lake and around the potholes and... I ran with unfettered joy.

I ran in a marathon relay: I was the fourth leg, with a run of 7.2 miles. This was the first race I'd run in 20 years. The longest distance I've raced ever. I ran and ran and ran and smiled the biggest goofiest smile you've seen on a mom of 3. I had a blast.

And guess what. Turns out, running for joy - for the sheer fun of it? Makes for a smoking fast time. Well, smoking fast for a girl who was planted firmly on the couch watching CSI reruns last fall.

What I felt yesterday goes beyond proud. Beyond 'accomplished.' Beyond happy. What I felt yesterday was Joy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It Feeds Me

The phrase was uttered quietly, that Thursday morning, without flourish. I am here, a fellow student told our class, because this is what feeds me.

That simple sentence has resonated all week. I am here because it feeds me.

The question started niggling around in my head as I ran, as I sorted laundry, as I spent an hour online. What feeds me?

I thought about McDonalds. I thought about how you can order an entire family's worth of food, have the crowd swarm around the table, stuffing french fries and picking breading off chicken nuggets and dripping Special Sauce from their chins and at the end of the meal feel ... unfed. I may feel bloated, greasy-fingered, maybe even full, but without fail, when I leave a table at a fast food restaurant I feel unfed.

Conversely, cooking does feed me. The act of sourcing ingredients, of methodically chopping the vegetables, of remembering that thyme tastes better in this soup than basil, of simmering beans and tomatoes and garlic and onions in a cast iron pot all day: this is feeding myself. The warmth of soup in my throat, the melting parmesan on top, the crusty bread to dip in, the appreciative humming of my companions: this is feeding my people.

Writing feeds me.

Cleaning does not.

My Thursday morning class feeds me.

Filing papers does not.

Teaching feeds me.

Running feeds me.

Sit-ups do not.

Connecting - genuinely connecting with people - it absolutely feeds me.

Funny: once I started asking the question, the answers came thick and fast. This feeds me, that does not. This feeds me, that........ meh.

Saturday morning dawned a beautiful autumn-y gold. There was so much on the schedule: tight timeframes, a lot of shuttling back & forth, parents juggling duties to fit it all in. I finally rolled up to the sidelines of the soccer pitch, coffee in hand, thinking This day won't feed me. It won't feed any of us. I said as much to Torbjorn.

So we ditched the day's agenda.

I made our apologies for unmet commitments, and we took off for the country, for a day in the fall sunshine. There was some time spent on our backs in a Virginia meadow watching clouds, there was some spiced cider and kettle corn, there was art and music and... simple. And there was soup at the end of the day.



Is it so much to ask, that your occupations will feed you? I'd argue that no, it isn't much to ask of your life, that you pursue those things that will make you full, sated, content. And yet easy, so easy, to navigate your days, mindlessly ordering the spiritual equivalent of Happy Meals, constantly 'consuming', and never ever feeling fed.

So let's do a little experiment, shall we? How 'bout you go through your day today and ask yourself what feeds you - ask if what you're doing feeds you, or if might be filling your life with psychic Big Macs.

I'd love to hear what feeds you.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Girls & Dolls

Nothing new under the sun - including girls who need a little time to wake up in the morning.

Annika 2010
Cecilie 2005
Kirsten 1975

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where I'm From

I am from ancient quilts reeking of mothballs, from lemony furniture polish and well-tuned pianos.

I am from suburban bricks on a cul-de-sac, from spaces filled with books and inherited furniture, from darkened rooms with flickering Super8 family movies on Friday night.

I am from the redbud, the azalea, the tall oak and maple - the riotous daffodils, the drifts of cherry blossom.

I am from Friday's meal of potato and beans and from the Family of Righteous Indignation, from Joan and Jack and generations of Klooster.

I am from the corner of Stubborn and Devoted - the two intersect in many places.

From a house where rowdy boys riled a peace-loving sister; where quiet quirkiness was venerated.

I am from a remnant church, a community in the world but not of the world. I am equally from the wider world that then found me. I am from faith, I am from love, and I am from a life that offers grace at every turn.

I'm from Malaysia, from England, from Veja-Links and cucumber sandwiches.

From the steel-grey and ever-elegant piano teacher who guided a crowd with laughter and poise through war, heartbreaks and car crashes, always taking the higher road. From the gifted and also-elegant elementary teacher who is everything and nothing like her mother, who has a heart forty three times her size.

I am from no place - I am from Family, located on eight hearths before I was eighteen. I am the books, the photos, the film reels, the stories: the memories of a host of genetics. At the core is Family.

***********

This post is linked as part of The Red Writing Hood, over at The Red Dress Club. The assignment this week asked us to participate in a long-running writing exercise in which we were all invited to complete the same basic form, delineating our perceived roots: where we are from. You can read more about the exercise here. I'd encourage you to try it, even if (especially if!) you don't see yourself as a writer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Complicated Fairytale

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved stories. She loved stories of families: Little Women, All 0f a Kind Family, Stuart Little. She loved stories of quirky mothers, of steadfast fathers.

As the girl grew, she did not suffer with a wicked stepmother, she did not lose her father to a mystical dragon or a noble quest. It could be argued that she lived an almost-fairytale life. The girl dreamed many dreams, imagined many things for her life, but one future was certain, in her mind: she would be a mother.

She would have babies. She would change diapers, she would wipe noses, she would read stories, she would bake her specialty chocolate chip cookies. She would sit at the table and work on homework, she would cheer at soccer practice, she would get through adolescence somehow.

Sound like a fairytale? Yep.

Once upon a time, this same girl found out her dream would come true. She read the books, she rubbed her belly, and she read Goodnight Moon aloud to the small being in her belly.

Then, one early morning in September, this girl-grown-into-a-woman got her first indication that the fairy tale may have an alternate ending. That dreams come true are complicated. Her tiny daughter made her appearance over a month early: arrived with dark eyes and huge feet, and a serious little face. She fixed those old-soul eyes on her mother, and her mother knew instantly that life would never unfold like it had in the stories, but would reveal itself just as it was supposed to.

I don't quite believe it either. Still.

What the young mother learned, on that stunning September day, was that her fairytale was just beginning. That she had no idea what her story would include, but that it would be full of mystery, of surprises, of uncertainty and magic.

My changeling transformed the narrative completely, as all firstborn babies do. My complex, enchanting and enigmatic child leads the way, is writing the story, and I am delighted - honored - to be part of the adventure.

Happy Birthday to my amazing daughter. Her day is also mine: anniversary of the birth of the real fairytale. We are living: messily, neurotically, busily, noisily, ironically, and yes, happily - happily ever after.





Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Hit the Trail

Oh, it was a hard bump back to reality. Today the rosy glow of our first weeks of homeschool turned into a harsh glare that highlighted the lack of schoolmates, the absence of a "Real Teacher", and no freakin' bus ride.

There would be no happy lessons today. No grin of satisfaction over a whole page of straight lines well done. No science 'speriments. He was having none of it.

That's it, I said. Put away the pencils. We're going into the woods.

Grumble grumble grumble.... I hate the woods. I don't wanna hike. I only wanna walk on pavement. I'm not going up the hill. I only want to go to the playground. SIGH. [Says the kid who would normally, and happily, play outside for 12 of his 13 waking hours.]


Not going on your dumb hike.

Oh FINE, I'll follow Annika just to that tree. Because I want that stick she's holding.

Ooh, this is weird, Mom. What's growing on this dead tree?

My guy triumphing over escaping from the girls again.

But littlest adventurer never gives up the chase.

As one of my Facebook friends commented, "there's a lot to be learned in the woods." Indeed there is. Not least, that sometimes the plans most carefully laid are those best laid aside on a day of I Don't Wanna.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Not Perfectly Thin, but Perfectly Happy

I dropped a fair bit of weight this summer.   (If you saw me in person and didn't notice, that's ok.  These things don't tend to be obvious when spread over six feet of me. And honestly? We're still not talking sylph-like dimensions here.)

It was weight that had hung around since Kid #1:  nothing dramatic, and I certainly wouldn't have made it onto the opening lineup for The Biggest Loser.  But it was a fair chunk of flesh that had over-stayed its welcome. 

Without any real plan for Losing Weight (I am extremely anti-diet), I started running more.  Working out more often.  June and July were spent at the pool,  and snacks were watermelon chunks, roasted almonds, and fresh raspberries.   All of the sudden, my clothes started to fit differently.  In fact, most of my wardrobe started to get really too big:  as a running joke I would tally the number of shorts and skirts that I could pull off without unbuttoning or unzipping.

But here's the funny thing.  I lost weight, and it didn't change my life, making me happy, successful, or, well, perfect. (I know. I was devastated to make this discovery. But there you are.)   The goal weight that I'd fixated on for so long was nodded at on the way down the scale, and passing it didn't change my life one iota:  my husband didn't love me more, my kids didn't find me a better mother, my writing didn't improve commensurately with the dropping numbers on the scale.

In one of those rare insights that Oprah calls an "a-ha! moment" and I call an instance of "well, duh" -  I realized - so freaking late in life! - that the lifelong pursuit of the beautiful body, of the elusive 'perfect' body was so much emptiness.   That having once been spectacularly fit, then not so fit, then outright chubby, and finally kinda-sorta-fit all means.... not much.

So what next?  Do I just stop running?  Do I give up, sit down with a bottle of wine, a slab of cheese and a half-kilo of good dark chocolate?  Because, after all, what we're saying is that being fit doesn't change your life, right?

Au contraire.  This fitness, the weight loss?  It DID change my life.  What changed my life was this:   The outrageous sense of achievement when running five fast miles.  Lifting weights whilst standing on one foot, knowing that my core was supporting me.   Hoisting my 30 pound toddler up and down behind my head in a sneaky attempt at a triceps workout.   Swimming laps for an hour and loving it.

Losing weight did not make me more interesting, more intelligent, or more loveable.  But the path towards losing weight has changed my perspective entirely. What has changed is that once again I know I am strong.  I am taking care of myself.  I'm not giving up and rolling over and getting old.  I'm taking time for me - even if that has to be at 5.30 in the morning.

When I came across this video on Facebook this week, my heart sank.  Because what the speaker - Jean Kilbourne - is talking about here is the opposite of all the things I learned the hard way this summer.  She's discussing the insidious idea that our girls continue to be sold:  the idea that if pretty enough, if thin enough, they will BE enough.



It would be disingenuous for me to pretend that I never dress my girls in pretty clothes, or marvel at the way my 8 year old looks in skinny jeans (the girl's built like a grasshopper:  she was meant to wear this particular trend, even if she hates 'em.)  But daily I pray that I am doing enough to let them know how valuable - how significant they are, regardless of outfit, regardless of accessories, regardless of body type. 

It may be the biggest gift I will ever give these girls.

Or indeed, myself.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Skeered of Skype

I mentioned last week that the lovely editors over there at The Pear Tree have started a meme on Fridays, called A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words.   Now typically Fridays are reserved for my sometimes awesome, sometimes futile efforts at creative writing for The Red Dress Club (this week's effort was a tragic and trainwreck-y affair that I refuse to publish.)  However, I am assured by Mrs Pear Tree that out of the goodness of her heart she will allow me to join up very early on a Saturday morning.  If I'm very sorry and if I tell y'all about the meme.  So DO IT! (But please:  all the rest of you don't get my special dispensations, so really, you need to get your assignment in on time.)

Here's the picture this week: 


Now, you faithful readers who've been around for a bit may remember that I'm a little obsessed with air mail letters.  You could go back and read my post on bloggers as the new pen pal, and the art of the long-distance letter,  and my little ode to the aerogramme.

But today, I'm writing about the anti-letter.  Otherwise known as Skype.

There was a little conversation on FB yesterday about Skype - how everyone loves it so much for when their husbands are out of town on business, how the kids are fascinated with talking to daddy on screen.

I have blogger friends who Skyped each other loads before ever meeting in real life, and I'm sure its an incredible way to be friends.  In fact, my friend Jamie tells me he's up for a Skype convo, seeing as email isn't really his thang.

Here's the thing:  Skype STRESSES ME OUT.   I'm not great on the phone anyway.  I feel fragmented, inarticulate, and anxious to get the conversation over with.  Yes, even conversations with my husband or my mother.

Skype, in my view, makes all this worse.  Not only am I twitchy and unfocused, but the person I'm Skyping with has a full view of me in all my ADD glory.  They see me yawn, they see me staring at the ceiling.... I feel the pressure to put on a show.

My kids are obsessed right now with a tv show called Liberty's Kids - a cartoon about various stories from the Revolutionary War:  in one episode, we find out that Abigail Adams got exactly TWO letters from John Adams in his 18 months in Paris.  TWO.  Not two phone calls.  Two letters.  From the man who fathered your 6 kids, who is some big shot in the new American government, and who has swanned off to Paris for almost two years.   So to be 'limited' to "just a phone call" all of the sudden started sounding not-so-tragic.

I'll tell you:  I love my husband, and he is an incredible partner and father when he's here. Participates in pretty much everything.  But when he's away on business, it doesn't help me to chat face to face.  No matter how off-the-wall the kids have been, a little face time isn't going to change it.  I know he misses us when he's away, I know he understands all the challenges of parenting on one's own.  He knows he's missed in a big way. But honestly, to survive the long days & nights on my own, I just have to get stuck in, get on with it, and not spend a lot of time on how I wish I had some help around here.

Is this cold hearted?  Am I on a tragic path towards living in separate homes as old people, because we get along better that way?  I hope not.  Skype is a miracle.  A lifesaver for some.  For me, it is yet another technology I just don't get.

Anyway.  I know I'm a Luddite.  I know I need to get with the times.  I'll figure it out, just like I found my own little way on Twitter.  But I'm just sayin':  nobody wants to see the faces I make when I'm on the phone.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Doesn't Everyone Climb in their own Windows?

This a repost, from days of yore (aka April '09).  Got my day off to a great start by climbing into a window to retrieve my keys after locking myself out of the house.  This brought back such fond memories of a certain episode in my life, I thought I'd share the story with my newer readers.  This is the epitome of Nilsen Life, my friends. 

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Suburban Drama #6,793:  In Which I Mortify Myself Entirely


I should have remembered the warm weather before I started swearing.

You may be aware (by Facebook, Blogger, Twitter, Pigeon Post, Chinese Whispers or simply me shouting it from the rooftops) that I have a fine new door. It has a fine Baldwin handset on it, complete with a fine Baldwin Full Mortise Lock. What this means is even when one has opened and shut the door from the inside several times, the handle on the outside remains locked unless you press a tricky little button inside the lock mechanism.
I have been stuck outside on my front porch a fair few times, since the door was installed in March. Luckily, we are the sort of family who throw the sashes open with abandon, and as such I can often find a ground floor window to crawl through, or find a husband with a spare set of keys. But last Thursday, when Cecilie locked me out as we prepared to take off for the zoo and I realized the window right next to the front door was completely unlocked (thereby negating the incredible security of the new door lock), I resolved to be better at locking all the windows. And lock lock lock I did - checked the locks on all 12 of the downstairs windows.

This morning Cecilie had to be picked up from school at 10.30 and we were heading straight from school down south to Grandma's house, as she & the kids were headed for dentist's appointments in the afternoon. The timing was tricky - had to keep Annika awake until time to go to school, but then knew she'd sleep just enough on the way down. At 10 I got Lars to turn off the 729th viewing of Robin Hood to get shoes on. At 10.10 an extremely chatty acquaintance called to invite us to a cocktail party. At 10.15 I was hanging up the phone, having put all bags/purses/diaper totes/soft blankets out on the porch during the phone conversation. At 10.17 I slammed the door behind me, went to grab the keys out of my purse, and They. Were. NOT. THERE. Not in the diaper tote. Not in the kids bags. Not on the porch floor.

Really, I should have remembered the warm weather before I started swearing. Because dear reader, I hate to offend your sensibilities, but I did swear. And swear and swear and swear.

And then it started to rain.

Here is what I knew: we would now be late to get Cecilie. The extra car key was also inside the house. The other housekey was in a different state altogether, with my husband. All the ground-floor windows were carefully shut and double-locked. Annika was now very tired and would starting weeping any minute. If I got a ladder out to climb in an upstairs window, my 4-yr old and 16-month old would be right up the ladder behind me. And nope, no neighbors have any extra keys. It's a new door! (ish)

Stopped swearing. Called school, let them know I'd be late and hung up quickly before I could hear Cecilie dramatically lamenting whether we'd ever get into our house ever again? Went around the back of the house to get the ladder, with Little Miss Pink PVC Raincoat Jr. close on my heels. Dug out the extension ladder from the pile of rotting autumn leaves, set it up against the house, and considered my ascent.

Luckily, the ladder set-up was as noisy as my swearing. My kindly but very reserved neighbor (who actually grew up in my house), a man of few words, wandered over to the fence, asking now what's all this racket about? I sheepishly explained my predicament, and in his taciturn way commented, well now,  whenever I worked on the roof I always set up on the high side of the house. As in, DUH little lady, you're trying to use your dumb ladder to get in the highest window in the house. So I pick up the ladder, carry it around to the other side of the house, and sure enough, if I set it up against the porch roof, it's a mere ladder & a half high, instead of almost 3 stories. Like physics was ever my best subject.

Meanwhile, the third section of the ladder was left against the side of the house, and I hear my neighbors wife calling through her open window NO ANNIKA! Don't you go climbin' up that ladder! No NO baby, don't you GO up there! Little Miss Raincoat was three steps up in the time it took me to run back around the house and pull her off the rungs. Add that to her list (for the DAY) of narrow misses.

Back to the problem at hand. I have these cute little leather slides on, instead of the usual mom clogs, so I kick those off and bravely insist that I will climb up the ladder, onto the porch roof and attempt to break in to my own bedroom windows. But this then means my neighbor has to hold Annika, who is not at all sure she likes him, no matter that he is our Great White Hope at this point.

So in the rain, in bare feet, I try the first window. Locked. Second window: locked. I start to get a little nervous, and irrationally irritated at our rash & sudden window locking exercise. The third window was mercifully unlocked, and as I folded all six feet of me through the opening and the wood blinds, I thought to myself: surely this scene could not get any more mortifying.

Meet Steve downstairs, he hands over a traumatised Annika, and he says with a dry smile, maybe your first stop should be the hardware store to get some keys cut? I try to be graceful and smile, and he goes around to take down the ladder before Lars can get up on the roof. I thank him profusely, again, and as he wanders up the walk to head home he throws over his shoulder 'yeah, we heard all the swearin' and thought maybe you could use a little help with somethin' or other over here'. I kind of laugh, and then stop short. 'all the swearin'? No. Surely noooooo. But oh yes. Yes indeed. My kindly older neighbors, the ones with grandkids of their own, heard me sharing my own little reading from urbandictionary.com.

And thus completes my mortification.

But you know what Cecilie's take on the day was? I love this. She heard me retell the entire drama on the phone to my mom when we finally got on the road, and she pipes up from the back: "isn't it great Mommy? We got LOTS of people to help us today!" Indeed. It takes a village. Especially if the Village Idiot lives on your street.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm a FEATURE, dontcha know

Well I tried most of today to think of a clever way to introduce the shameless self-promotion I'm about to undertake, but, then I thought, why have a blog if not for shameless self-promotion?

I'm the Featured Blogger today over at The Red Dress Club, which is an inspiring and powerful blog gathering writers and aspiring writers from all over to stretch their writing wings and learn to 'fly' in different ways.


So being 'featured' is very cool indeed, but in my view being a part of that community is absolutely the larger gift. I have learned a huge amount just by reading the work of others, others who are practicing their craft each and every day.

Anyhoo, go on over and check it out: I've spilled the beans on how the blog got started, and what animal I think my husband looks like, among other things.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adventure

Say you're a girl who likes a routine.  Say you're the kinda gal who might run the same route every day for 2 years, just because you love knowing exactly how many miles you've run, how fast you've run it, and knowing right when the hills can be expected.

Say you're the kind of person who loves to know what's happening today, tomorrow, and the next day.  The kind of person who tries not to cringe when an acquaintance casually says, "Oh, we'll just figure it out when we get there."  What? No plan? Ack ack ack ack ack.

You may be the kind of person who is mortified by these tendencies.  You may wish daily that you were a fly-by-the-seat-of-yer-pants kinda gal.  You may wish that it didn't give you an ulcer to be lost in a strange city, or to rushing for a flight, unsure if you'll make it in time.    You may watch people who operate without a wristwatch with envy, wondering if it EVER bothers them not to know what time it is, or if they're late, or how many minutes it is until the next appointment.

It's funny how life works.  Because say you're that kind of person, and you fall in love with a person who approaches life in exactly the opposite way:  someone who always flies by the seat of their pants, someone who never knows where their watch/wallet/keys are, but lives in faith that these items will turn up eventually.  Someone who hates to brush their teeth the same way twice, much less drive the same road, run the same course, or wear the same shoes two days in a row.

These two opposites might get married, might delight in this particular element of opposite-ness, and might make a darn good life from it.

And then might come a cosmic event where the kids had a day off from school, the Farmor would be in town from Norway, and the forecast for the beach would be sunny sunny sunny.

Then the Seat of Pants Man may come up with the bright idea of taking off for the ocean - driving into the night, and then spending tomorrow at the beach.  Mrs OCD might struggle mightily with ditching her schedule, with leaving all of her routines at home, with just "throwing sleeping bags into the car" and driving off towards the coast.

But she will do it.

Because man oh man does she love the adventures that Mr Seat of the Pants comes up with.  She loves that he has passion for possibilities as-yet-undiscovered, and loves that he ignores (in the nicest way possible) her protestations of practicality.


So we're off, dear readers.  Off on our next adventure.  Look for photos of the Not-Plan soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Different Kind of Family

This post was written in response to two photographs - the first was over at The Pear Tree's blog, where they featured this image, and asked for our responses to it.  


Shortly after that, I came across the photo below, and decided I wanted to tell you about a family member who shares none of my genetics.  There is nothing else this person can be for me, except Family - Family in the most profound way possible.

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We met when I was 13 - a gangly, awkward and - frankly, ugly - 13.  He was 14, newly arrived in the country and at school.  The seventh and eighth grade were all a-flutter over his Australian accent.

We found out we were both into Oingo Boingo and Talking Heads when many of our peers were embracing Bon Jovi and Richard Marx.  And thus began a music geek friendship that would take us to concerts around the world - from outdoor festivals to huge stadium events to tiny grotty clubs in London.  My parents trusted him implicitly, and as soon as I assured them I'd be with Jamie!, I was allowed to go pretty much anywhere.

We commiserated over crushes as well as breakups through the years. He was best friends with my high school sweetheart, and yet he said nothing unkind when we broke up; he found a way to stay friends with both of us.

J and K, circa 1993? 1994?

He went off to England for college, and I missed him.  I'd get the infrequent letter scrawled on pale blue aerogrammes, apologizing for not writing more often.  The next year when I was utterly lost at the University of Maryland, his letter came:  Kir -  You sound really unhappy.  Get on a plane and come to England already.  I'll look after you!

Five weeks later I stepped off the plane at Heathrow and was met by his friend (thanks  again, Brian!).  Jamie had arranged it all for me ahead of time.  We adventured all over Europe - rode silly bikes in Belgium, slept in parks in Paris, stayed out all night in a club in Berlin.  Again, my parents were happy with only the occasional collect call because they knew - I was with Jamie.

We've seen each other at our our happiest, our saddest, our most inebriated.  I attended his eighth grade graduation, his high school graduation, his college graduation.  He once changed a tire for me, I cooked a fair few dinners for him. We've watched each other get into dustups with friends and partners, but I can't think of a single time we've fought.  (Of course, sarcasm and snide remarks don't count in that tally.)

I sat in the car with him the day he decided to leave America for good.  We knew it meant he'd miss my wedding two weeks later. We also knew we wouldn't see each other for such a long time.

I've only seen him once since then. And every minute of that visit was like having all of our teenage years back again, only better.   That visit he brought with him the beautiful Justine, who was (and is) perfect for him.   The day it was time to take them to Heathrow, my heart broke all over again - knowing it would again be years before we would hang out.

Jamie has taught me much, but most important is this:  he taught me that family can be many things beyond shared genes, the same blood.  Jamie is my family, just as surely as my brothers are, and he owns his very own place in my heart.

Miss you, my friend.  Miss you so very much.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Letter to Kirsten, Age 21

Dear Kirsten

You live and die by the contents of your little mail cubby, and I'm delighted to offer a few minutes of distraction whilst you endure another mandatory chapel. I know that you love nothing more than a good juicy letter, and boy will this one be a corker.

It's funny, writing to you now, because there is so little I want to tell you to avoid. You have a pretty solid head on your shoulders, and you seem instinctively to make some smart choices - ones that keep your future wide open.

But this word - instinctively - it's something I really have to talk about with you. You need to start paying attention to your gut. (And no, not that completely-invisible-to-everyone-except-you-belly-pooch. Stop with that - its time will come.)

You come from a long line of strong, smart women. At 21, you fancy yourself a strong, smart woman. You're old enough to know you don't know everything, but you're still pretty confident in what you do know. So let me just tell you this right now: life is not so much about what you know in your head. Life - and living - is very much more about what you know in your gut.

Ms 21, after a muddy flag football game

You gotta start listening. 'Cause I'll tell you - right now you're getting into a relationship that you know, you KNOW isn't going to work for you. One of your very closest friends has given you the best warning he knows how - "be careful, Kir. I'm just saying... be careful." Even as those words sound a hollow echo in your heart - your heart that knows the words to be true - blithely, confidently you'll persist in pursuing this one to the ends of the earth. All I can say, because you won't be able to even wrap your head around the details of how badly you will get hurt, is that in your gut, right now, you know the right answer. It is all wrong for you.

In a few years, as the wounds from this heal into angry scars, your instincts will be refined. You will know that you should have listened to yourself. And still you will ignore your intuition - time and time again.

I am writing to you to say trust yourself. Listen to yourself. You know the answers - the intuition engraved deep in your DNA is yours to tap into, and if you are able to somehow start listening earlier - not waiting until your mid-30s to start trusting this sense, you will save yourself repeated disappointment, hurt, and frustration.

Intuition will guide you in early marriage, will guide you in career choices, will guide you in parenthood. Listen - train yourself to be still and to listen. Not everyone is born to this gift, but you are. You are.

Finally: I say with some authority that you are now as hot as you will ever be. Ditch the grunge threads immediately and buy yourself something cute. You are not now nor will ever be everyone's cup of tea, but if you're going to work the whole tall blonde thing, now's the time.

Signed with so very much love (and jealousy of your 21 year old thighs)
Kirsten, Age 37

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This post was written for Friday's Red Writing Hood, the prompt being "write a serious letter to your younger self." Luckily for me and my younger self, letter writing is something I love with all my heart.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy New Year!

It seems I tempted fate by telling the world I was feeling hopeful. The Universe is harshing on my hopefulness in a big way.

Got a brand-new washing machine installed yesterday, and found myself wading into lake of standing water early this morning - drain hose had un-installed itself. Darling homeschooled son wandered down at 7am with sleep still in his eyes and wanted to know if he could play the computer. Or watch a movie. Because, Mommy, I haven't had any screen time yet today. At all. [Homeschool crunchy-living fail. Bah.] Never mind the crown I'm getting next month, or the fridge that's slowly dying, or or or or....

Anyway. I'm still feeling the butterflies, believe it or not. The hope hangs in there, refusing to let go in the face of all beat-downs, kind of like Wayne's ex-girlfriend Stacey.

You see, it's my New Year.

September 1 of every year is the Beginning, for me. It may be a result of way too much schooling, may be the way that lots of book nerds think, but I'll tell you it's been my New Year as long as I can remember.

Traditional year-end New Year's Resolutions? No thank you. Honestly, who can think about self-improvement or ditching bad habits in the midst of too many drinks and a dark slushy January night outside? All I want to resolve to do is put the hurt on that crab dip and kiss MrNilsenLife at midnight.

Nope. Give me September any time. Yes, it comes as a shock to the system after a long lazy summer. Yes, it feels inhuman to send people to school with midday temps reaching 90 and the evenings still stretching so long. But you know the light has changed. You know the early dark is coming. And now it's time: time to buckle down and get serious about what you're gonna make happen this year.

The crisp morning air fills you with can-do energy like no summer morning does. There is a slight bounce of invincibility in your step as you contemplate the year ahead. The school year calendar stretches before you, and you see only possibility.


Look at this girl! That's the kind of First Day hopefulness I'm talkin' about!

You have 8 weeks until Halloween: what a great, timebound deadline! You will get it done before Thanksgiving. There's time to make a big change before the weather shifts - lose 20 pounds, pay off the credit card, learn to make your own yogurt. There are the long months of winter that give you the ideal chance to stay inside and finally sort those papers, to really start that novel, to re-organize the kids toys without the slightest guilt about 'wasting' the good weather. And then, to reward all that hard-core nesting, spring leaps upon you and offers early-morning runs with chirping birds, lengthening evenings, and the first ice-cream cones.

Yep, September is where it's at. I am filled with hopefulness for all that I will get done, all that will BE in the coming year. Go on - admit it: when you wake up and feel that nip in the air, rousing the kids out of bed in time to make the bus, you feel it. You feel that extra energy.

Go out there and make some resolutions. Have some passion about the possibilities. I promise you, it'll go better than it would in January.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Hopeful

Hope is passion for what is possible.  -Soren Kierkegaard

So I finished my first week of homeschool, and am staring the start of the second right in the eye.  As is my wont, I spent a large part of the week in pointless and soul-sucking introspection, wondering if in fact I was doing the right thing - especially when the whine of I'm BORED! sounded on the first afternoon. Let's be very clear, my dear readers:  it is not without conflict and drama-filled trepidation that we decided to go this route.

But it was a happy week when Madam Teacher forgot her navel-gazing for a few minutes here and there.  We found an easy pace: a cheerful energy of busy-ness, with workbooks, dry erase boards, and a few Dick & Jane stories.  We searched high and low for rectangles and squares in the house, we added [and subtracted! mmm..] cookies at snack time, and we learned about surface tension with a giant-sized bubble wand. 

At the end of every school day, I was filled with butterflies-fluttering nervous energy - very much like the feeling of riding a two wheeler on your own the very first time.  I'm doing it!  I'm really truly doing it!

Tonight I came across this video, and it stopped me short.  In it, Kirsten Dirksen talks about her slower-paced childhood, her constant conflict of busy-ness and stillness in parenting, and the critical importance of achieving a pace of life that fits for your child.  She uses terms like 'slow parenting', 'free-range parenting,' and 'idle parenting' - all of these phrases intended to describe the idea that perhaps our children need less - less scheduling, less focus, less playthings - rather than more.


When I finished watching this, I had the same butterflies-fluttering feeling again.  And I realized that what I was feeling was the fluttering of hope within me.  

Hope that as a parent I may be finding the path towards what Dirksen calls "a good pace."  Hope that we are creating the space to find the right speed.  Hope that my children will see more of me reading - reading to myself.  

Hope that by diverging from the Official Path in this small way, I will find a trail that is a good match for my little tribe. 

I am full of hope, all of the sudden, and that?  Is no bad thing for a teacher.

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I'm posting on Hope as part of Bridget Chumbley's One Word at a Time Blog Carnival. But keep your eyes peeled - hope is going to be a theme for the blog this week.  There's a fair amount I'm hopeful about these days. Again, no bad thing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Recognition

There are moments when you see in one glance the complex, awkward and profound thoughts that swirl in your child's head and you recognize them as your own complex awkward and profound thoughts, filtered through yet another layer of genes, DNA and experience.

There are moments when you are fully humbled by the wide world that is in front of your child, and by their ability to confront it with courage, with a quiet inner strength that is scared beyond measure and determined to go face the scary anyway.

There are moments when you see with piercing clarity the individual your child has become: the growth in their limbs is matched by the growth of their heart and the stretching of their mind.

There are moments when the fog lifts, and you see the fragile exquisite human that your child is, and how their heart matches your heart in so many ways. You see, and you know, how their heart crumbles when they feel they've gotten it wrong, when they feel they've been misunderstood, when they want nothing more than to make it right.

There are moments, a few rare brief and beautiful moments when the crushing knowledge of all that you must do as a parent is bathed in the light of a late summer morning - and the knowledge becomes a gift instead of a burden.



There are moments when you would like nothing more than to capture a few snapshots of a happy Back to School Morning, and instead you glimpse the depths and the heights of what it is to parent. Of what it is to have an almost-eight-year-old own your heart in a million ways. Of what Grace is.

I found all this in the face of my girl yesterday morning, and I am so profoundly grateful.

There are moments when you want to see the ordinary, and instead you find grace.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Affair

I'm starting an affair.

You don't need to hide your shocked faces. It's ok. In the spirit of over-sharing that is the hallmark of this blog, I thought I'd just come clean and let you all know at once.



Mr NilsenLife knows about it, and is incredibly supportive, if a bit worried about how it'll play out. My kids know about it, and as with most things I decide, they figure if Mommy thinks it's smart, they'll go along with the plan. My parents know too. They think it's the right thing for my family.

So: I'm starting an affair - an affair with homeschool.

I flirted heavily with homeschool last year. In fact, I think it's safe to say that homeschool and I got to third base: I bought a full curriculum, notified the school, made lesson plans. But at the last minute, I chickened out.

I couldn't go through with it. It's risky behavior - dare I say transgressive? Maybe not so much anymore. Maybe lots of people are doing it and as usual I'm late to the swingin' party.

When I tell friends about it, the 'holy moly, I thought this girl was sane!' thought bubble pops up momentarily. Then they smile and say "I'm sure you can do it. I'm just not the kind of person who could ever do that." They're not judging; rather, they're worried about me. They're concerned that I don't know what I'm getting into. They worry about what it'll do to my family.

But the allure of homeschool... so seductive. Slow mornings in pajamas, school outside at the picnic table on nice days, allowing time in the schedule for snow storms or beautiful spring afternoons, field trips every week if we want. We will indulge a small scientist's fascination with The Way Things Work, we will examine the Walters Art Gallery at our leisure, away from the weekend crowds, and we will take a tour of the fire station.

Everyone knows affairs have their dark side. Knowing you're flouting conventions, always wondering if you're doing the right thing: all of this will arise I'm sure. Perhaps by missing kindergarten in a classroom, my boy-child may be deprived of the experience of a lifetime. Who knows.

What I do know is that I don't enter into this without thought, without some serious prayer. I am following a mother's heart, and much of what's in my head backs my heart up. I have a little guy who isn't quite ready to sit in circle time and listen. A bright boy who is incredibly curious, incredibly thoughtful, and convinced it is not his right to demand any attention. A small boy, born with a full head of hair and a serious expression - both make him seem more grown up than he is. A boy who's learned to disappear in the noise and stress of a houseful of people - a boy who deserves his moments in the sun with Mom.



He will make his way in the world. He will do beautifully in school when he gets there. But for one short beautiful season in his life, he will be allowed to be just Lars.

I'm getting involved in this thing for my boy.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Capacity

I had a chat with a friend of mine today, about God-given gifts. I do believe we are given these gifts by the Divine. And then I sort of think that the Divine sits back, grabs a cold beverage, and waits to see what we'll do with them. (Rooting for us all the way, of course.) Let's just say I don't believe that the Gifts come with receipts for exchange or return.

So. God-given gifts. Turns out my gift is the capacity for great love. (Not great lovin'. Although maybe that too. I just haven't had enough wine to blog about it.)

Ahem.

Great Love.

This is the space in your heart to love someone - be it spouse or friend or sibling - with the depth and breadth of all emotion. Maybe it could be described as Super Loyalty: an unfailing belief in my people, regardless of missteps, ill-chosen words or outfits, even the most awkward of moments. (What? Kiss me and then vomit on my new shoes? No, I'm sure you didn't. I don't remember that at all!)

But this capacity for love can be crippling. Because to love that much? It hurts. And it is never more painful than when you are watching those you love grow, change, and do all the painful things that humans must do to become more - to get bigger according to the Existential Size Chart of The Universe. It hurts to be along for the ride, even if you're not the one doing the growing that particular day. Did I ever tell y'all about the year I grew 8 inches and woke many nights with searing pain in my limbs, as I literally felt my legs stretch into a 34" inseam? These are the same searing pains, just in your heart.

But equally, when you experience love this deeply, you will also live with transcendent joy. You will feel the moments of gut-busting pride, the seconds of evanescent enchantment when happiness trumps all, when dark and sad and bleak become mere grease stains on the hem of delight's napkin.

Come Monday, I will put my eight year old on the bus. I will send her to a new teacher, and trust my girl's sensitive loving heart to go out in the world and come back intact. Then, I will take my five year old and my two year old by the hand and we will walk a trail and look for the first signs of autumn, and I will show them "how this life became a miracle to me."

I came across this Dar Williams song this week - a friend posted it and commented that ''this is for all those parents sending their child out into the world this week."



Again and again the chorus muses "so when they ask how far love goes/ When my job's done, you'll be the one who knows."

This is what I do with my gift: I show them how far love goes.
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