how to prepare for a birth day

There’s the hospital bag, of course. Pre-registration paperwork. The Kegels you’re supposed to be practicing ten times a day. Delivery room playlist on the iPod. Deep breathing exercises. Child care arrangements for your other kids. Out-of-office email reply waiting and set to maternity leave.

But does any of that really prepare you for labor and birth?

Maybe I’m lazier this time around. (Ok, assuredly I’m lazier this time around.) But I can’t bring myself to motivate for so many pre-baby preparations that have typically consumed my thoughts by this point in previous pregnancies: cleaning and nesting, stockpiling frozen meals, setting up the baby gear, washing tiny onesies and newborn diapers.

Now whenever I get a free minute? I mostly want to sleep.

And instead of pouring over childbirth preparation books or crafting the perfect birth plan to hand to the nurses upon arrival at the hospital, I find myself shrugging whenever I think about Delivery-Day. It will come, it will be unexpected, it will be hard. And then it will be over and our baby will be here.

But just as I might have missed the opportunity for deeper reflection upon birth’s meaning the first time around when I was nothing but scared, I don’t want to miss the chance to explore the spiritual side of this huge transition simply because it’s my third time through.

Whether unknown or known, childbirth is a defining moment of a mother’s life. And I believe it is one of the “thin places” between heaven and earth.

So I’m wondering how to ready myself this time. How prayer can be part of the pain. How meditation can be part of my mindfulness. How each contraction can remind me that Christ is within me and beside me and before me.

I’ve already gathered a trinity of prayers for labor and birth. But as Lent surrounds me in the last months before baby arrives, I also find myself thinking about simplicity and surrender. How to let go of any lingering expectations and free myself to enter into whatever God has prepared.

prego

In my latest piece for Catholic Mom, I wrote about the journey from feeling terrified at the prospect of birth to finding peace in what will be a painful but powerful day of discovery:

I’m starting to see the spiritual side of birth in ways that I never would have dreamed when I headed to Labor & Delivery for the first time. Birth as beginning, birth as sacrifice, birth as rite of passage – God is intimately wrapped up in all these ways we understand this work that women do to bring life into the world.

Being intentional about this process – a sort of sacramental preparation – has helped me to bring hope, not fear, to the prospect of bringing another baby into the world.

Lots of ink gets spilled in parenting manuals and glossy magazines about birth plans, birth preparations, even identifying your health care provider’s “birth philosophy.” But approaching a spirituality of birth invites those of us who carry new life within us – as well as those who love and care for us – to view this work as prayer and to place our trust in God who accompanies us from the first contraction to the final push.

Read the rest at CatholicMom.com

And next week I’ll have the chance to enter intentionally into this deeper reflection, thanks to Peg Conway’s retreat on the spirituality of birth. Nell of Whole Parenting Family and I conspired to bring Peg to the Twin Cities (since both of us are now expecting #3!), and I can’t wait for this afternoon of exploring the prayerful parts of this sacred journey.

If you’re local and want to join us, please find more information on Facebook or at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul, MN, where the retreat will be held. And if you’re too far away to spend Saturday, March 22nd, with us, check out Peg’s wonderful book – Embodying the Sacred: A Spiritual Preparation for Birth.

a new year: what to treasure, what to trash

We’ve been playing endless rounds of Sorry!

Two, three, four games a day aren’t enough for my boy’s insatiable appetite. Maybe it’s the combination of cards with numbers (which he’s always loved) and games for a group (which he’s learning to love). Or maybe it’s because beloved cousins introduced him to the board game at the cabin over New Year’s, thus cementing in his 4 year-old mind the concrete connection of coolness that links friends and getaway and holiday.

Whatever the reason, we’re stuck playing Sorry! from morning till night.

There are worse childhood games to get roped into, as any adult who’s ever tried to cheat to end Candyland can attest. And I actually enjoy playing Sorry! (at least the first time or two) because it takes me back to sprawling on the living room floor as a kid, flipping over the dog-eared deck to crow at the cards that would send my younger brothers back home. Even more than Memory, this game offers enough surprise and strategy to hold a grown-up’s wandering interest.

And it makes me wonder if there’s something to be said for saying Sorry! all day long.

sorry

. . .

Forgiveness is the thorniest bramble of the Christian life. Sometimes I dare to dream I could do a decent job at this Christ-following business if it weren’t for this aggravating truth: that love means forgiveness and forgiveness means love.

Instead, I’m much more inclined – as any cerebral introvert will understand – to brood over the times I’ve been wronged. To nurse secret, sullen grudges over the times I’ve been hurt.

I turn them over and over in my mind, these small slights or serious wounds, until my brooding polishes their jagged edges into smooth stones, comforting to hold in the warmth of my palm. Whenever an old hurt arises – when I’m back in the company of someone who hurt me, or when a memory re-surfaces painful words from long ago – I dig around in dusty pockets for these trusty rocks, to trace their familiar outlines once again, to assure myself that I was right in feeling wronged.

But to what end? What good does this brooding and turning and returning bring me? Perhaps it soothes the soft, small child inside who wants the world to go her way. Or perhaps it builds up a false façade of maturity, of look-what-I’ve-endured.

Either way it rings hollow.

There is no love in resentment.

. . .

I love the dawning of a new year: its hope of renewal, its promise of change.

Lately I’ve found the practice of resolutions to be an encouraging inspiration. As in New Year’s past, I’ve made a few that I hope will bring blessing, no matter how much or how little I end up pursuing them. (And since sharing resolutions here has helped me keep them in the past, I’ll try again.)

First, after a year in which I threw myself into a writing project that stole nearly every moment of my scant free time, I want to return to nurturing friendships that too often got pushed to back burners in 2013.

Second, in an effort to be more mindful of the way I spend time with my kids, I want to be more intentional about their faith formation at home. (An effort which you think might flow effortlessly from a theologically-trained mother, but too often tends to stumble over too much head knowledge and too much fear of screwing up.)

As in every year, both of these resolutions spring from an ever-growing desire for a slower, simpler life and the yearning to nurture meaningful relationships with those around me.

But in resolving to deepen love in these concrete ways, I wonder if I’ve pondered how much forgiveness this will take along the way. How often these happy-new-year prospects will ask me to pardon myself and others.

How often I will have to practice saying sorry!

. . .

On January 1st, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Maybe there’s something fitting for our own resolutions in starting the new year by remembering a woman who said yes to great change. Who made a decision that transformed her life. Who let herself be open to the ways God would call her to become something new.

For this feast of Mary, Notre Dame’s FaithND invited me to reflect on the day’s Gospel. As I studied the story from Luke, I found myself returning again and again to this line:

But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.

For a woman who must have known deep hurt, who surely heard the cruel words that others tossed behind her back, who had plenty of reasons to become bitter by brooding, Mary chose instead to collect the small gems of beauty and hope. She cast aside the trash of other people’s opinions. She smoothed into tiny treasures the words that she could cling to in darkest hours.

Here, finally, were words of wonder and hope—from the mouths of people just like her. Here were shepherds who stopped their daily work to bring her stories of angels singing glory. Here were strangers who asked to see her baby and marveled at what his birth might mean.

Of course she treasured their words, turning them over and over in her heart, wondering what they might mean. While she learned to care for her child, as squalling and sleepless and hungry as any newborn, she gathered strength from their promise.

Perhaps this prayer practice was what sustained her as a mother: to treasure and to ponder

I’m in awe of such wisdom and confidence, such trust and courage. What might it mean for my own habits and choices, my own decisions and resolutions?

. . .

A few months ago, I came across these words: “Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

Such an intriguing twist on our insecurities.

I’ve carried these words with me, trying to muddle out their meaning for my own bad habit of brooding. And I’ve come to this conclusion.

The judgments, comments, even whispers of others only matter to the extent that I respond with love (which is to say, 9 times out of 10, with a heart full of forgiveness.) The opinions of those I cherish, like my children and my friends, should certainly be my business – but only to the extent that I keep trying to respond to them in love, to allow myself to be changed in ways that draw me closer to Christ.

Who is forgiveness, love, and peace.

So I launch into the new year with these questions in mind: What do I treasure? What do I trash?

What serves God and what serves only me? With my resolutions – and Mary’s courage – close to my heart, what changes could this fresh start hold?

from mama to mommy

He picked it up over Thanksgiving, the inevitable result of spending the week with two older cousins he adores. All their echoes of “Mommy” must have kept ringing in his head long after the plane touched back down in snowy Minnesota, because ever since then I’ve been “Mommy,” too.

And it takes some getting used to.

I never meant to be anti-Mommy. It’s what I remember calling my own mom in my earliest memory, so of course it’s a name filled with love. But when it came time to babble at my own babies, Mama came more naturally.

Blog 002Maybe it was all those Romance languages bubbling around in my head, with their lilting “a”s and their sharing of these most basic words in every tongue.

Maybe it was because its two-syllable cadence closely mirrored my own first name, and I could adjust more easily to the title (and the idea) of motherhood when it reflected what I knew best.

Or maybe it was because it echoed my babies’ own first words, the mouths of little ones full of repeating sounds that over time smoothed into recognizable language.

Whatever the reason, I always loved Mama.

And now, with him, I have to let it go.

. . .

I am starting to learn a few strong truths about parenting from these early years that I suspect will endure till my own children are bringing their families back home for Thanksgiving.

One of these is that I cannot control who my children are or what they need. I can only respond to them as best I know how, with the love and wisdom I’m given at that time.

He does not need Mama now. Of course he needs me, but he is becoming his own boy, full of his own view of the world and his own playful use of the language he is coming to command. He needs to move on when he is ready, and he needs me to catch up.

He needs me to let him go, little by little, word by word. So that when the bigger steps come - the kindergarten bus and the solo bike ride round the neighborhood and the sleepovers and the middle school dance and the driver’s license and the high school graduation – I will be practiced in all these smaller releases.

This has always been the way mother love works.

But every goodbye is a tiny sorrow, too. A turning from the comfort of what was to the unknown of what will be.

. . .

For a few days my husband kept wrinkling his nose every time he overheard “Mommy.”

“When’s he going to drop that?” he grumbled, himself the bearer of “Babbo,” an Italian endearment for daddy. Maybe he saw himself next, losing that link to his own father and the family he loves.

(Or maybe the nasally whine so easily attached to Mommeeeeeee was starting to grate on him, too.)

“I don’t know,” I shrugged as we each stood at half of the kitchen sink, rinsing the dinner dishes.

“Maybe it’s just a phase.”

Or not, it seems. Every day the insistence grows stronger: Mommy, can you help me? Mommy, can you get my breakfast? Mommy, what’s 72-31? Mommy, will you read my story for bed tonight?

Once in a while when he cries, from a bumped knee or a brotherly wrong or the sheer exhaustion of being four, he still calls out for Mama. Old habits die hard, and the earliest words are the easiest to wail. The hardest to root out completely.

But we seem to be firmly planted in the new land of Mommy. My ears are still adjusting. Clearly my heart is, too.

Someday, I remind myself, I will be mourning the loss of Mommy for Mom – so short, so crisp and curt, so easily tossed over the shoulder on the way out the front door. Then I will long for one more syllable to pull him back towards childhood, back when my lap could be enough and my kiss could heal his hurts.

This is only one more first step. Only one more last. 

Of course there is still his younger brother who clings to Mama with a koala’s claws. And there is another on the way who has yet to babble a single syllable. Mama will still echo off these walls for years to come.

But now we have new words, and every linguist knows the subtleties mean new realities.

And I always have to squirm a bit before I settle into someplace new.

. . .

This week I’m reflecting on Advent and the power of names at CatholicMom. What does it mean to choose a name? To be given a name? To live into what a name might become?

Perhaps it’s a dreamy part of pregnancy, this playing with possibilities, this lying in bed at night wondering what we’ll call him or her.

But I find it a daunting prospect each time, to name another person. To shape the beginning of identity by vowel and consonant. To help mold their life by the meaning of what they are called…

I wonder what Mary and Joseph and Zechariah each thought when they received a mystical announcement of their child’s name.

Did they love the choice from the moment it slipped the angel’s lips? Would it never have made it onto their own mental list of possibilities? Did they have to grow into the idea just like they had to grow into the surprising prospect of parenting—one couple before they were even married, the other couple long after they thought the chance had slipped them by?

Click here to read the rest at CatholicMom.

mary & elizabeth: back booth, corner bar

We met up at a sports bar, around the corner from the dive where we used to dance until dawn, down the street from the stadium where we spent all those Saturdays every fall. The place was packed with football fans flocking inside from the swirling snow, beer flowing before noon, TV announcers barking out touchdowns and tackles on the sound system blasting overhead.

But in the back corner booth it still felt like our small world again – the world that was cozy enough for one college quint and wide enough for all of us to dream our ways into something bigger. The gift of friends who pick up exactly where we left off.

We laughed and caught up and cracked old jokes like we always did. Except this time when we hugged, we each bumped bellies. Four babies on their way to join us. How far we’ve come down this road together.

One friend is set to deliver in just a few weeks, and as my husband and I drove home we reminisced about the wonder of that moment, the tipping point when you sense your world is about to change completely but you can’t quite grasp the enormity of how.

Parents who’ve walked that path love to pile on the advice - sleep while you can! squeeze in one more date night! enjoy this time while you’ve got it! - but when you’re expecting your first, you shake off all the suggestions because they don’t make sense yet. You’re still in the awe of before, as you should be. And what you need most in the waiting space is solidarity and sympathy. 

The consoling companionship of others in the same boat.

I always think about this when I read the story of Mary and Elizabeth meeting – their bellies bumping, those babies inside leaping with joy. The Visitation is a tale of kindred spirits: cousins in two generations, a path and a plan unfolding that none of them could predict in the waiting time before. Surely there was wonder and joy, also fear and anxiety, but they were in it together.

That was all they needed for the present moment.

The hours we spent together this weekend were far from an easy Magnificat to pregnancy’s glows; there was much more griping about restless sleep and back pain and endless trips to the bathroom.

But for me it was still a soul moment, a sacred meeting of friends who have already journeyed through many changes together and are now on the brink of everything turning again. That time filled me with something that still sings – even after the football game was the bitter coldest in recent memory, even after the drive home was long and dark, even after the same-old pregnancy woes kept me from sleep again last night. There’s always Mary-and-Elizabeth in the meeting of true friends.

My spirit rejoices.

statue visitation

This week I’m wondering about Mary and morning sickness over at CatholicMom.com. Praying the Magnificat during this pregnancy has changed what I thought about Mary’s prayer, and I wonder if – once again – I have much more solidarity and sympathy with her than I realized:

For the Magnificat is a hymn of expectations turned upside down. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 

These are theological truths about the nature of a just God, but they are spoken from the lips of a young woman who never expected to be pregnant before marriage, who never imagined her child’s arrival would be announced by an angel.

Mary understood the upheaval of pregnancy on its deepest level, and so she could proclaim these prophetic words about God who defied the world’s expectations.

Click here to read more at CatholicMom.com – a new (even nauseous?) twist on familiar words…

oh, october

Some months of the year are almost too bittersweet to bear.

April is one. It teases, coy and cunning, with windows-down 45-degree days, full of more soft breezes than we remembered possible. Then the next day the blizzard dump another 6-to-9 and the interstate is piled with skeletons of cars spun out in six-foot drifts.

October is a heartbreaker, too. It starts so bright and beckoning, full of rich yellow light and red leaves splashing the treetops. But by month’s end we’ll be bracing ourselves against biting winds as we drag costumed kids through dark streets.

Too much change in one short month.

swing

Today as we colored with chalk on the sidewalk outside (or rather, as I took orders from the tiny artistic director barking over my shoulder: do a square, mama! now do a triangle!), I glimpsed again how the natural world mirrors our own seasons, each one slightly different from last year’s version.

This is our only fall with a four- and two-year old. No matter what the coming autumns bring us, it will never have quite this same configuration.

And each of my children – my blond-haired, blue-eyed eldest and my brown-haired, dark-eyed youngest – are crammed with so many changes of their own within these ever-evolving seasons. Favorite foods, toy obsessions, beloved stuffed animals, bedtime routines – they all shift so slightly as the weeks turn.

The first day of a month rarely resembles its last.

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I love change, that I’m type-B enough to breeze through without anxiety over the unknown. But these months of too-much-change always remind me this is false.

I cling to summer, squinting through September’s last golden days to make them masquerade as August. And as soon as the leaves start to swirl to the ground, I find myself frowning at the fact that fall is here and winter’s chill is right around the corner.

Maybe it’s the same with my kids, too.

I tell myself I want them to grow up, to grow out of diapers and into shoes they can tie themselves, to grow out of potty jokes and into academic interests to deepen our dinner table conversations.

But secretly I cling to their small selves, too – the way my toddler’s legs wrap around my waist like a koala when I scoop him up, the soft rub of my preschooler’s skin when we snuggle our noses together to say goodnight.

It’s the vertigo back and forth between the two – the babes they are today and the big boys they will become – that exhausts me sometimes. I watch it ripple over their faces in an instant as the light hits just so, and I see the glint of the men they will become and the memory of the newborns they once were.

So much to hold all at once.

But October reminds me that it can exist all together, this tension between summer innocence and weathered winter. That in the short plan of a month everything can shift around us, even while the same calendar page stays tacked to the wall.

Reminding me as we run barefoot through green grass to pick pumpkins that the only constant is change.

when pavement ends

This sign sits in our front yard. Since it’s covered from view by a line of trees, I rarely glimpse it from the house. But whenever the boys want to walk down to the creek, I notice it while we wander at the edge of the road.

The yellow steel diamond that screams this unmistakable truth in all caps:

pavement ends

And it reminds me again.

That everything certain ends.

Everything that seems sure and steady, ends.

Everything that spread out before our eyes, smooth and rolling, stretching on beyond our view – it eventually ends. Sending our wheels spinning and skidding as we scramble to reorient and remember how to travel this part of the journey.

But so, too, the road that was twisting and turning, ends.

Everything that was hard and unrelenting, packed down like pavement rolled by strong machines – it ends, too.

And there can be something comforting in the crunch of dirt and rumbling gravel we will meet ahead. A road that leads to an unknown adventure or draws us back to nature.

Back to the ground of our being.

. . .

Sometimes I wonder what it meant when Jesus said I am the Way.

Did he mean he is The Way: the one and only road; the strong, solid, shining, and certain street; the gleaming golden highway leading off into the sun?

Or did he mean that he is the way, the winding and wandering path, the trail that seems to shrink in the overgrown woods, the dusty trace of footsteps that trudged before our own?

Or did he simply mean that there Is the way, that light falls on our feet when we follow, that there is always something next if we keep going?

Sometimes we fool ourselves that we know what path we are on. We’ve chosen this career, this spouse, this address. And so our days are going to unfold accordingly, neatly tipping in a row like dominos we lined up with a careful eye.

But if the only constant is change, as the wise try to tell us, then the fact that pavement ends is the only sure truth. Today is a blink, this season is a phase. Tomorrow may be rockier or smoother, but it will not be exactly like now.

Maybe Christ meant that all of this is the Way – that he is both the level ground and the rumbling gravel, the reliable street and the meandering road. Maybe he is there when we glide easily, assuming we’re in control, and when we spin out helplessly, remembering we never were.

 . . .

The kids slap the bottom of the sign, grinning at its metallic twang. They run to the brush to find sticks to see how wood will sound when it clangs against steel. When does the world stop seeming so simple and wonderful, like one great science experiment waiting for our discovery?

This is the Way, too. Wonder. Listening. Joy.

I take one small hand in each of my own and we start to walk back up the hill towards the house, our shadows lengthening like giants in late afternoon sun. Suddenly they do not look so small, to my right and my left; they seem to stand at my same height, all three of us together with the sun warm on our backs.

This pavement, too, will end. But around the corner where I still cannot see, there will be some unseen wonder ahead.

That is the promise of way.

a love song to one and three

Calendar says it won’t be long till you’re gone, my darlings.

August is looming on the horizon, languid and tongue-lolling in the humid heat, and she brings birthdays. So our days together are numbered.

It’s been a good run, hasn’t it? Twelve months plodding along together, hand in grubby hand, stretching legs out of too-short pants and pushing toes to the ends of too-tight shoes.

I wonder where weeks went, where days disappeared when it seems like we were just frosting cakes and twisting crepe paper streamers to celebrate your arrivals. But One and Three, you are too quick to catch, slipping out of my hands like soapy boys squealing in the bathtub.

I can’t hold on to you.

I wonder what I will miss when you’re gone, you One and Three paired like stair steps that you slide down together, bumpety-bump to breakfast every morning.

One. You raced from crawling to toddling to walking to jumping to flying off furniture. You babbled from first words to first sentences to 24/7 running commentary. I’d be exhausted from watching you burst into bloom if I weren’t so tired keeping up with your energy.

You are baby personality turned vibrant in toddlerhood. You are kicking tantrum and knowing grin. You are Yes No Yes No all in one breath, boyhood dirt smudged behind the ears and babyhood curls still ringing round your forehead. You are an ever-shifting hologram: turn this way for the baby he was, turn that way for the boy he becomes.

One is wonder.

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Three. You curl up on the couch alone with books, and I startle to see the next stage unfolding before my eyes: in which the world becomes yours to explore and we are not your only guides. You obsess in phases – puzzles, numbers, music, reading – as your focus narrows to whatever captures your curious mind and its cranking gears. You need nudging ahead towards independence and cuddling back towards comfort. You hold back neither tears nor affection.

You turned the corner towards school, learned to let a little sibling tag along, and started to let love fall on friends and family beyond our walls. You are tumbling towards true boyhood with every somersault and flying leap off the swing set. You are already becoming what I am catching up to see: a big kid, tearing down the driveway beyond my reach.

Three is tender.

Europe 2013 187

But the beauty of you is not these ages alone. It’s the dynamic, deafening duo of you together: One plus Three equals exhaustion and exuberance.

And together you were my teacher.

You taught me patience. One plus Three equal four trips to the bathroom every time we try to eat dinner, four feet tripping over shoes as we try to head out the door, four hands grabbing at the same toy whenever we try to play nicely. I teach you deep breaths and you teach me forgiveness and we all grow in patience, at least a smidge every day.

You taught me to pay attention. Jetliners trailing through the afternoon sky, bright glints between clouds. Red stop signs and green cement trucks, squares and circles on the billboards. Flocks of ducks in the lake and hills of ants on the sidewalk. I would miss them all if not for your keen pairs of eyes.

You taught me to let go. Once Three was confident he could play in the basement by himself, One was sure he should follow. So now I let you totter down together, and I listen to you entertain each other from upstairs. Baby steps and time trials towards independence – yours and mine - are a beautiful thing.

You taught me the beauty of boyhood. Beyond babyland, this year broke me into the world of boys. One and Three, you brought me Matchbox cars skittering across the kitchen floor, nightly wrestling matches before bathtime, creepy crawly bugs poked with curious prodding, elbows and knees skinned and bug-bitten beyond my band-aiding. I am a better woman for it.

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Oh, One and Three. Only a few more weeks till we bid adieu.

I want to wrap you up in my arms and marvel at how those lanky limbs of yours spill out of the lap that once held you. But Two and Four are nipping at your heels. I already see them sneaking through, the even-more indignant tantrums and the ever-deepening curiosity. You are off and I will follow. It will be ever thus, it seems.

But I have loved you, together. And I suspect I will delight in what you become.

To Two. For Four.

Here we go…

how to let the fruit ripen

Full confession: our kitchen fruit basket is where produce goes to die.

IMG_5174

Maybe you have this problem, too. Each trip to the grocery store finds the counter fully stocked with too-firm bananas, too-green avocados, the occasional treat of a peach or pear waiting to be savored.

Early in the week I find myself hovering over the bowl, waiting for the fruit to be ready. But before I know it, bananas become spotted and soft, avocados squishy and dark, the precious peach or pear ready to rot.

It seems to take so long for the fruit to ripen, but if I’m not careful I miss my chance to enjoy it.

There’s metaphor hidden here, heaped upon the privileged problem of having so much food that it can go to waste. But when I meditate on this Sunday’s Gospel - the parable of the barren fig tree – the deepest truth it speaks to my life right now is patience.

Patience towards ripening fruit.

I look at these little boys running around my house, knocking into my knees and climbing all over my couches. It can be so hard to stay present to them, not to pull forward to days when we’ll be able to have two-sided conversations or leave the house for a whole afternoon without needing naps. Sometimes I want them to ripen quickly so I can enjoy them fully.

But I know this season of green, of tenderness, of waiting to burst into bloom is a fleeting time. I know that too soon they will be more than ready to wrestle out of my reach and rush into a world ripe for their discovery.

I don’t want to hover over them too closely or hold them too tightly. But I do want to witness their maturing and unfolding, not miss it in the blur of my impatience, always straining to see what’s next around the corner.

I want to cultivate patience towards their slow but certain growth.

. . .

This week I’m posting over at Practicing Families - a wonderful new resource for parents interested in exploring faith with children – with ideas for a family liturgy based on this Sunday’s fig tree gospel.

Simple practices to break open a parable about patience and forgiveness and second chances. Lessons I need to learn and relearn each day of this parenting journey.

Each day that I sigh and wonder why the fruit hasn’t ripened yet.

God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Open our eyes to see how we are growing each day.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Help us to forgive one another when we fail.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Let us offer each other second chances.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.
Wait patiently with us as we work to bear fruit.
God, be patient with us as we grow good fruit.

(a prayer for the Third Week of Lent)

when we all add up

31 + 31 + 3 + 1 IMG_8848

He’s obsessed with numbers now. All he wants to do is stand at his easel and scribble numerals in chalky pastel, then furrow his brow and punch the digits into his cash register.

Adding and subtracting have transformed his small world into an explosion of equations. He begs us to fill up the chalkboard or the paper with long strings of numbers he can add together. Then he greets the familiar ones as old friends.

70…that’s Papa’s age. 22 is my favorite song on the CD. 50 is for 50 states. 28 is the date.

This is how the world makes sense to him right now, at the still-small stage of 3.5. Neatly ordered by numbers, waiting to be added or subtracted at the touch of his fingers pounding the calculator keys.

It’s not my language – I love words and art and music – but I try to meet him there. (And try to remind myself as I struggle to scrape together interesting-enough equations to delight him dawn till dusk, that words and art and music sing with numbers all their own.)

But when he tires of adding up all the units of measurement I know and the phone numbers I can remember and the street numbers of family addresses and the birth dates of old friends, I always default to this one:

31 + 31 + 3 + 1

All the ages under this roof. Two parents, two kids. Added up together.

For a brief moment in time, our ages are caught up in a numerical anagram: they in us and we in them.

Back when my boy started this obsession with numbers, I realized for the first time that our ages would be patterned like this for a few short months. I’m no math whiz myself, so when I tried to calculate if and when this might happen again in our lifetimes, my brain got bored and slipped into pondering the grocery list. Suffice it to say, it seems a rare occurrence. (The left-brained engineer at my elbow agrees.)

But the rarity seems right for now – this slender sliver of a season when our lives are so intimately, bodily, exhaustingly bound up with each other. These months (because we still measure in months) when we’re still a clump of a family unit, not yet stretched by the sprawl of adolescents who strain to pull as far away as they can, or redefined by a Rolodex with separate entries for every adult child’s address.

Right now we’re all bound up together. 31 + 31 + 3 + 1.

Our two boys are their own selves, to be sure. But they are still so wrapped up in us, and we in them. Sometimes when these two squirmy worms are wriggling all over the couch and each other and my lap and the book we’re trying to read, I find myself wondering where each of us starts and the other ends.

Parenting brings about a strange and profound redefinition of self. You are at once the same person you always were and a new creation, birthed by the child before you. Magazines warn you not to lose yourself in the exhaustion of new motherhood, yet you can’t help but stare at the bleary-eyed stranger in the mirror and wonder what happened to the girl you once were.

And yet there is something of you in them, something of your younger self that glimmers back in their eyes or frown or laughter. You see your spouse in their smile, too, and bits of others in the shimmering hologram that is a child: the spitting image of grandma in this light, an uncle’s twin in that photo.

You catch your breath when you see it, and then it’s gone.

31 + 31 + 3 + 1. Scribbled on his dusty chalkboard, these numbers speak truth of this fleeting stage when we are so easily glimpsed in one another. When we are so closely linked to those who surround us.

When we all add up together.

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how i nurture my mothering spirit – roxane

The Healing Powers of the Pot Roast

In the early part of November 2012, I experienced a profound moment of healing by spoon.

It functioned like salve on my weary mother’s soul – a bowl of pot roast made by my sweet mother-in-law.

She’d prepared the roast and its accompanying vegetables in her Crockpot the night before, the overnight simmering of soup and juices from the meat producing a scrumptious gravy that would have had world-class chefs swooning.

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While the rest of my family was occupied in other spaces – the youngest of them splashing in a nearby hotel pool – I’d found a moment to steal away into the quiet of our dining room to eat what was left of the roast, most of which had been nearly completely devoured earlier by hungry men.

Sitting in the dimly-lit room, breathing deeply, slowly now, I prepared to consume the first homemade meal I’d had in months.

Comfort food, they call it, and this moment made it true for me. With each delectable bite, restoration was beginning.

For nearly a year I’d been trying to do the impossible, working outside the home with five kids still needing so much more of me than I could offer with my attention elsewhere.

But now, after weeks of discernment, I’d made the difficult decision to resign from what had seemed, by all accounts, my dream job. It would mean giving up a paycheck that had lightened our financial load but brought extra responsibilities that weighed down my heart, causing my middle child to utter one day, “You’re not a being a mom anymore.”

I’d done what I could to rearrange the pieces of my life to accommodate all, but came up short. The emotional, spiritual and even physical effects were manifesting themselves, and I had to ask myself whether the job was worth risking an illness that could remove me from life altogether.

Ironically, the kitchen, which I consider the heart of the home, was a room I avoided like the plague during that year. I knew that if I entered, I wouldn’t make it out without depleting the extra energy I needed to push through my busy days.

Fast food had become normal; my oven, a neglected appliance. The dining room was a place to linger only as long as was necessary to gulp down a slice of pizza or a burger.

But sitting before that bowl of real food made with loving hands, placed gently in a warmer and transported 120 miles to our home earlier that day, had reintroduced me to the place where my heart longed most to be.

A few days after leaving the job, I prepared my own slow-cooked meal, and as I scooped out portions to each family member, a surge of love and joy took hold. I was ready now to feed my family, both in food and through my presence in ways that had not been possible for far too long.

And in the midst of it, I became aware that if not for that wonderfully nourishing meal several weeks earlier, the moment would have passed unappreciated. In that gift of warm sustenance, I’d been given a poignant reminder that we cannot offer others something we haven’t first taken in ourselves.

In doing whatever is necessary to create space in our days to ensure we’re nourished, we’ll have something to offer back those we love. And they, in turn, will give to others when it’s time.

A potato, a carrot, a tender chunk of meat – the healing powers of the pot roast.

A bowl full of love that wooed me back to life.

. . .

roxane headshotRoxane Salonen lives in Fargo, N.D., with her husband and five children, ages seven to 17. A church cantor, book reader and coffee drinker, she also works as a faith columnist and features writer for her city’s daily newspaper.

Roxane is the author of two children’s picture books – First Salmon and P is for Peace Garden: A North Dakota Alphabet. Find her pondering on “faith, family and following the muse” at Peace Garden Mama: roxanesalonen.blogspot.com/