Have Yourself a Festive Little Holiday.

Festivity doesn’t come to us. Festivity is Made.

I thought we would host my family on December 10.

I thought we would get out of hosting and escape to my parents’ for an easy Christmas dinner December 25.

I thought we would host my husband’s family on December 27.

I thought my husband would be working a lot around this holiday.

Instead, we got COVID-19.

“But you’re missing Christmas!” my friend said to me.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I responded, “We’re missing mass, but that happened in 2020 anyway. I’ve been in a hospital room all the way up until December 23. I’m home, all my children are with me, we have everything we need, even an organ or two or three and an organist. Our symptoms are mild. There are worse things we could face.

“The gifts are wrapped, the house decorated and quarantine is over next Wednesday, which, because we follow that Catholic tradition of the octave of Christmas and the 12 Days of Christmas, Wednesday is still just as much Christmas.

“My son had a slight fever on Saturday but it stayed below 100 and broke Sunday morning. Because of his condition, we would be in the hospital right now if it had gone up just one degree.

“And we just found out my freelancing husband will be given full pay by one of his primary contracts as a gesture of love and care towards our family.

“So, I’m grateful for what I’ve got.”

How will we approach this strange turn of events?

We asked for help. It was hard to ask, but we needed to do it. We are too rural and haven’t enough resources to do grocery or meal delivery. Friends and family filled in the gap. We have more food than we can handle and there is a feeling of comfort in that.

This morning my husband and I planned our Christmas Eve dinner, our Christmas morning breakfast, and our Christmas day dinner, all of which were subject to change now that he will be home for all of it. Every holiday of great importance has been a dance around his work schedule, and this year we are just home.

The children anticipated parties galore. They anticipated their play space, a vacant barn used mostly for storing tables, to be transformed into an event space filled with aunts, uncles, cousins, Christmas lights and trees. My eldest child grappled with the loss of the opportunity to sing in the choir on Christmas Day.

We are Catholic and nothing can replace being in person at mass on Christmas Day. But things being what they are, we have to make alternative plans.

So what did we do?

I happen to have a few church pews in that barn. I purchased them thinking they could work for event seating (they do not). The children call it their mission church.

Wednesday morning before Christmas, we strung unused white string mini-lights around the rafters of the barn. We hung finger-woven garland along those rafters. My parents provided an artificial Christmas tree. I brought in extra decor I thought too risky in a house with a two-year-old. We moved a $4 brass chandelier to the center of the barn above a long row of tables and draped it with battery-powered colored lights and a silvery olive leaf garland.

This isn’t Instagram Perfect

Christmas in the storage barn

The walls are grey with aged wood. You can see the marks of water that seeped through during the storm.

The dirt turned to mud where a metal roof panel blew off in the last rain.

The cement is uneven and slopes down to the sides.

In the corner, there stands stacks and stacks of styrofoam sheeting from medical shipments and old shop lights removed when we remodeled my husband’s music studio.

It’s cold without insulation, heat or glass in the windows. There is no other lighting.

Our puppy ran away.

We hear the lambs bleating in the barn next to us. The fevers and fatigue come and go.

But we are together. We are ridiculous enough to set up a 1200 sqft place for no one at all.

Except it isn’t for no one.

It’s for us.

Festivity is made. It doesn’t come to us. It doesn’t require luxury or met expectations. It requires a bit of adventurousness. It requires a bit of silliness. It requires a childlike-enough spirit to see the world with wonder and make the choice to delight in it.

I do not know what Christmas Day will feel like. I do know that on Christmas Eve when the sun goes down, we’re going to shiver ourselves over to “the mission” with candles lit and welcome the Christ child into our hearts.

Mistakes I’ve Made Hosting

and how I learned to overcome them.

I love to host.

Freely, I admit it. These days bringing the people together to our house is easier than the alternative between planning for five children, including one of those not-very-flexible toddlers) and a slew of animals on our growing farm. But even before that, I loved to host. Whether we lived in the country, in town, in the perfect house for gathering or a smaller subdivision house with a tiny backyard, to today’s farm with its quaint farmhouse layout, generous backyard and a barn which we plan to use for a gathering for the first time this year. 

Hosting can be hard and I have likely made all the mistakes that make it hard. Read on to learn my mistakes and the lessons learned. Maybe there will be something in there to help you, should you find yourself with one hand basting a roast beast and with the other calculating the guest list totals.

I obsessed over cleaning.

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

The ugly yelling kind of stress bubbled over as we struggled to clean up the kitchen, the floors, the toys, while still being in charge of tiny humans. 

A friend encouraged me when I shared the wish that I could clean my current house more or better. “I don’t think people really come to the country expecting it to be something other than country.” 

Now I try to keep perspective.

What is realistic cleaning?

What cleaning adds to my guests’ comfort (yes, clean the bathrooms, restock the toilet paper in a place clearly visible) and what cleaning is simply the cleaning I meant to get to in spring but feel I should do now? I do the essentials for the comfort of guests, and if we get to the rest – super, but I won’t sweat it if we don’t.

I was busy all night in the kitchen trying to get the timing just right.

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

It’s a pleasure for me to have people over. I am an extrovert. It’s true, I actually want to speak to my guests. If I planned to serve a hot meal with all the fixings, that probably meant piles of pots, pans, cooking tools, dirty floor, dirty countertops and on top of trying to get it all cooked, I wanted to tidy up as I went or after it cooked to make the house look nice because the kitchen is an irresistible spot for guests to gather.

If the event is a dinner, I make ahead whatever I can.

The day before Thanksgiving, we make mashed potatoes and store them in a casserole dish. I make cranberry sauce. My husband bakes bread. We assemble the green bean casserole. On the day of Thanksgiving, we pop the mashed potatoes and casserole into the oven to reheat or cook while the stuffing bakes and the turkey rests. The number of dishes I have to make Thanksgiving Day is cut in half.

But if the party is cocktail style, I put my money on the party platter.

Hawaiian rolls, ham, pepper jelly, and a few pickled peppers. Three kinds of cheeses (one hard like aged cheddar, one soft like brie or goat, one mild like gouda), cured Italian meats (try the Costco pack), olives (Trader Joe’s medley and crackers. I assemble my platters before guests arrive. Set up a buffet. And I’m done. I can visit with the folks who came to visit with me.

I moved nonstop before the party, I moved nonstop during the party, I moved nonstop after the party.

No matter how successful or unsuccessful the party felt in the end, I was exhausted and didn’t really have fun.

So now, the thirty minutes before guests are expected, I stop what I’m doing, accept the status of the house as it is, I get a snack or small meal, and I sit down.

I rest. I relax. This way, when guests arrive, I am, both in my home and in my heart, ready to receive them.

The rest is all incidental. It doesn’t even matter if we wash all the dishes that night.

Be realistic, plan ahead to save yourself tasks later, and remember that guests come to see you and yours.

That’s the stuff that matters. The dust bunnies in the corners can wait for spring.

Photo by Waranya Mooldee on Unsplash

When the Garden is Good

Gardening came with home-owning. Growing flowers came as therapy. A flower is a piece of art. A bouquet is a collection of art pieces, arranged to showcase the beauty of the feature star.

With our new home came new possibilities. It was difficult to keep the sprinklers running without their getting clogged. Perennial, drought-tolerant plants to fill large swathes of land, replaced wild geranium and nettle were called for. I planted lavender, Russian sage, salvia, chamomile, mint and dusty miller.

The ranunculus were on sale at Costco. They went in, along with irises that have gone with me from home to home, a sign (to me) of hope in bad times and generational love.

The roses bloomed. Years-old roses I had not worked for. In spring they came as a magnificent gift, creating a three-foot tall arrangement in my footed orange-art-glass vase.

Then I met Floret Flower Farm through Erin Benzakein’s first book “Cut Flower Garden.” Gardening became accessible. From therapy to hobby and even familial bonding as my husband grew the vegetables and I grew the flowers. Now my daughters are helping me harvest the greenery.

I arranged flowers for my home and posted photos on Instagram. Last summer, a woman from our parish reached out to me to order flowers. Orders trickled in. I sold potted paperwhite bulbs and sweet pea seeds at The Loreto Market in December.

Spring came again. Now there are more plants alongside the lavender and salvia than I can name.  Another flower bed of dahlias, zinnias, snapdragons and strawflowers sprung up where once there was dust and weeds.

More orders. Bonus bouquets. And then, a flower stand.

Each day, I arrange a handful of pint-size jars of flowers, careful to select for color, shape and complementing features and set it out. I photograph, post, and hope people will come by for $10 jars bouquets. I hope they will ask questions. I hope they will place a special order.

“The money goes to pay for the hobby,” I tell my friends. But truly, there is something deeper at work when I handle, contemplate and arrange the flowers. I have written over the years about how gardening is a microcosm full of life lessons. I feel that even more now.

Because now, we have bugs and powdery mildew; and I lunged with a garden tool at a gopher who had just eaten the rhizome off of one of my new irises.

And my daughter received her First Holy Communion, a big deal in the life of a young Catholic girl as she goes to the Church dressed like a bride That day my younger son was hurting.

“Does it feel like a step back since he was doing so well?” a friend asks, with compassion in her eyes, in response to my tears.

“No,” I said.

Because somehow I could feel in my heart that gophers exist alongside the flower stand. The roses look mighty pretty, even as the gardener clips off damaged leaves and hopes the next flush of buds will be protected.

The weeding still has to be done.

It is hard to remember this when the going is good and I have just set out seven little floral arrangements on a Monday morning. Yet, when faced with it, if we can accept the bad along with the good, the rocks along the otherwise smooth path, the weeds along with the vegetables, without thinking that the garden is doomed, that this year is a failure, that success will crumble, then we have got something to hold on to.

Then we have got a garden.

Then we have got a family.

And those are the times, more than any other, that we can feel how good it is.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Draw Back to the Garden

Motherhood is work.
And work is play
Until the demands of my duty
Fill the hours of the day

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Melville’s sea and my garden

My first flower order of the year came at the fresh and breezy beginning of May, after the first rush of rose blooms, before the dahlias, pincushions and zinnias start their takeover of my morning hours. The calendula is beginning to speak up. The snapdragons are showing promise. Here and there new flowers are whispering that they are ready for their first bloom. Some garden beds are a disappointment. Some feel more like an investment in the future.

“It will look amazing next spring!” I say, pointing to a bunch of transplant-shocked plants. I know I should transplant in the fall. I know it. But when the plants are healthy is just when I can see they are crowding each other and where its creeping roots might be severed to fill in the gaps of another bed. 

With the first flower order complete, and with ten more bouquets besides to sell bound or  The Loreto Market, an outdoor market we hosted outside our home. As the market progressed, my stand emptied out until the last bouquet sold.

After hours of clipping, cleaning, and arranging I thought how welcome a break would be. Let the bees have the blooms for a few days. Before two days passed, I was back in the garden, gushing over my third peony plant in bloom. Its scent wafted up my nostrils as I tied the arching stems to a stake.

“Motherhood is work,” a priest reminded me.

The simple words spoke volumes to my soul. Motherhood is work, and I do not need to make the other projects into work right now. I’m tempted to ambition, to dive deep into the next project, to go and go and go until I reach the boundary of what I can do, simply because I have the energy to do so. I have the energy, but no longer have the time. 

The thing that was a fun hobby then becomes a strain. Other duties call my name: a five-year-old, a toddler, an emerging 6th grader, field and flower. 

After balancing life and projects last week, I thought with satisfaction of letting the weeds go and leaving the blooms to the pollinators. But then a mystery flower was covered in frilly orange faces, the yarrow burst with sunshine, the bunny tails wiggled in the wind. I must collect them. They all move so beautifully together.

This hobby takes effort, but the effort is sweet. Its work balances my duties within the home. It draws me outside, into the wind, the sun and the dirt. I pause and contemplate. My senses spring to respond to the stimuli nearby. Pathways in my brain flicker with excitement as I draw relationships from color theory. 

I cut, I clean, I arrange. 

And my home is filled with flowers.

The woman who placed the special order listened to my gardening story, that story that begins in sadness and grief, but grew a garden. “You’ll always have this as the gift she left you, your love of gardening,” she said.

Many days of motherhood are filled with laughter and tears. To find the fruit of both, I go out to the garden.

Would that we all could find the hobby that energizes us, that balances us, that helps us find a central space around which we can pivot, flexing our muscles and growing in virtue is ways that pour over into all aspects of our life. This gift is not something only I can receive because of some privilege. It is available to everyone. And its path takes us through, not just the garden, but the good life.

The most important advice I could give to a stay-at-home-parent

You know, there is no such thing as a full-time stay-at-home mom. It just sounds like a tidier answer to those who work outside the home full-time. For the woman or man who makes that choice to leave full-time employment, the answer changes, the act now is one of a full-time gift.

With little children, the days begin earlier. For spasms of time, it will feel more hectic, then calmer, then hectic. Not preparing little ones for daycare or school or yourself for work or your husband for his day slows things down considerably. We are busy, but the pace is different.

My husband imagined the perfect wife and perfect life with many children and that wife doting on him as she wears heels and a tea-length skirt with a lacey apron. We tried keeping me at home until finances dictated otherwise. The off to work I went.

To and from the workplace I went after child, after child, after child. The financial need rekindled in me how I loved to work. The back and forth allowed me time to find how much work worked for our growing family.

When I began to expand with our fourth child, it was time for the tables to turn. My husband’s side gig was now the main hustle, so without the heels, without the tea-length skirt, without the apron, I headed to the kitchen.

The full-time stay-at-home life was not for me. I started my own business.

Then came a diagnosis. A hospital visit. 15 more hospital visits. Another diagnosis.

I closed the business.

I stayed-at-home.

I wept.

In my grief, I saw the world up before me. “The world will be saved by beauty” and beauty saved me.

I took a watercolor workshop, a calligraphy workshop, a macramé workshop.

Poetry became my favorite subject with my daughter.

I wrote like I was running out of time.

Even now, when things are calm, I know what I need to do, and this is what I encourage you to do.

Write or read or create…do something.

Do it for your home.

Learn to sew a straight line and make curtains. Finagle thrift store rejects into Halloween costumes. You have time for this type of work now. Create artwork for your home, whether photographs, paintings, repurposed fabric or farm tools, put the energy you have saved from commuting into making your home an enriching environment, not in the preschool way, but in a human way.

Photo of living room

Do it for yourself.

Self-care is actually self-preservation when matched against a gaggle of children under the age of reason. Look hard for the routine you need, whether morning or night, to make yourself as put together as necessary so you do not feel like garbage. You may not leave the house, but you are still a person, and whatever level of investment that means in your looks, I encourage you to make it.

Photo of at home bathroom countertop

Do it for your spouse.

This might be my weakest area. I hope you like cooking. I hope you like cleaning. I do not mind cleaning, but I still do not succeed in serving my husband from the kitchen. It is a nice surprise when it does happen.

Photo of toddler girl at home reaching for a stack of miniature pancakes.

Do it for your soul.

Read. Read books. Spiritual books, art books, great literature. Read at naptime or before bed. It opens you to the whole wide world and imagination and helps your thoughts to continue processing long after the noise of beautiful children have numbed it into submission. Read real print books. Go to the library.

Rely on routine. Rely on a schedule of chores. Set goals. Adjust goals. Every day is a work in progress. As soon as you get the hang of things, it will change. The name of the game is flexibility, everything in your life is flexible now, except your income, which may be tighter than ever.

Above all, stay inspired. Whether your home or side job or crafts motivate your activity, always be working on something, hopefully, your soul, but if not for a time, then greeting cards are a good, albeit temporary substitute.

And when the kids are older, volunteer. Your community needs you.

How to celebrate motherhood for what’s worth

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Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

 

I want to celebrate motherhood for what it is. I want to be aware of the trials and the heartache and that not everyone is a mother (some are men). Some women chose not to become mothers and maybe they are satisfied or maybe they are lonely or feel regret once the time to change their minds has passed.

Some women are mothers but do not know it because of an abortifacient in their contraception, or some women chose to abort their children, “terminate their pregnancy,” or some women had to choose to leave their 8-year-old boys to fend for themselves as they all starved and moved through the mass of bodies as refugees. Some women still grieve their miscarriages, some refuse to acknowledge their miscarriages. Some women are mothers by surrogacy, either her own child that another woman carried or carrying a child who genetically and contractually not her own.

 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

Some women are mothers because they loved and devoted themselves to a child whose biological mother and father betrayed them by drug use, abuse, neglect or abandonment.

I want to celebrate motherhood for its wildness, its recklessness, its boundless love. I don’t want to grieve, though I probably will because it wasn’t Sunday when I wrote this. I’ll probably start out fine then get all bent out of shape because I am ignoring that inner force that pulls me to the cemetery on every important day.

 

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In my first year of marriage, I wanted to stand up in mass indicating that I am a mother. I wanted that recognition. I got that recognition.

Not every woman does.

But lots of women do.

 

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Photo by Julia Janeta on Unsplash

 

Let’s celebrate that gift of self, no matter the outcome, whether you held your child or not, whether you held your child only after she passed, whether you held your child the night before her wedding, whether you held your child as she grieved the death of her child.

We aren’t just celebrating how great motherhood is, we’re celebrating how great mothers are for all they do, for all they sacrifice. We’re publically recognizing you because you are a mother, whether or not the world knows it, values it or rewards you for it.

Because for those who were blessed to change a million diapers, we know recognition is not inherently part of motherhood. Sacrifice is.

God bless you, mothers.

 

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Photo by Icons8 team on Unsplash

 

Thank you, mothers.

Weekend Links 8.19.17

No fewer than fourteen links to fuel your weekend frenzy.

Family First

  1. The answer people have looked for! How to adapt the KonMari Method of tidying to fit a life with children. We so often look for a clear-cut answer: do this and your life will be better. True enough, we have been worked over by advertising campaigns since the 50’s simplifying our needs to this message. The KonMari Method fit my approach (keep what I love, get rid of what I do not love). Her methods improved my housekeeping (keep all cleaners in one place, use cardboard boxes for storage, fold clothes and store upright instead of stacked). I never felt trapped by the method. She said herself, do not do it for others. I could fold my husband’s clothes but did not worry about his possessions. Same for my children. We just do our best. Where it was not practical, the method need not apply (maternity clothes). Still, many seem invested in getting the advice of so-called experts. Better we learned to take it as recommendations, and learn to listen to our own voice, to develop our homes as best fits those who live in it.
  2. I think our society does very little to support mothers. The American value of independence and individualism infiltrated family life. While it was perfectly natural for multiple generations to support young mothers, as families members became more spread out, this became more difficult. Add to it, the lifelong goal of retirement. With our working mothers who tried to have it all, when retirement comes, many grandmothers may not have anticipated their daughters’ or sons’ hopes they would be involved in some way. Liberal government wants to help be reducing the number of babies born, providing free childcare and free preschools. How about some ideas that allow the mothers to be with their babies? France has some ideas.
  3. Loved this soulful post from Julie Walsh. Motherhood is nothing, if not a paradox.
  4. For all these reasons, I’m grateful “to have my hands full,” “to be busy,” “to be crazy,” to have embraced life to the fullest.
  5. For some theology and motherhood, an article from last year on how Microchimerism defends the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
  6. Simple advice from Edith Stein, the best kind, the kind we need to learn again and again: to grow in empathy (1) get out of your own head, (2) notice others, (3) practice love and (4) see persons, not labels.

On the Faith

  1. While I have never desired to get a tattoo, I find the symbolism it holds for the individual who has it fascinating. Reading these motivations, of declaring oneself for God is just beautiful: a tattoo as a way of expressing who one is in the Lord.
  2. This analysis by R.R. Reno (one of my favorite writers) is a subject I will keep my eye on.
  3. This advice how to rest on the Sabbath was a breath of fresh air to my soul. In my family of origin, like many families, the weekends were for catching up on things around the house. In our home, we try not to do housework more than the necessary garbage bag to the bin, some dishes). I am aware of a weakness in my mental approach to the Sabbath. We may rest and spend the day together, but my thoughts are little more spent on God than other days. It is a work in progress.
  4. Catholic liturgy, architecture, and music can be breathtaking. Why do people not only practice but insist on the banal and hokey? If we want to transmit the faith, let us fight the good fight to not only defend the capability of the masses to enjoy quality, but to give God our absolute best.
  5. George Weigel puts it succinctly about how passing on the faith will take effort, an effort, he remarks, is taking place in Detroit.
  6. As Weigel will tell you, we are in a generational shift in the Catholic Church. Maybe your parish is forming a committee to revamp the interior of the church building. Check out these painted interiors in Texas for inspiration. For many of our ugly modern churches, referencing Eastern European traditions may be just what they need to work with the architecture, but bring back beauty.

In the News

  1. I find Google News searches useless now, ever since Trump was elected. Most of the news relates to Trump, or racism, or ISIS. Would you have read there about the terrible flooding in Sierra Leone? No, you would not. News bias.
  2. A moving post making real for those of us with lives that feel far removed from Charlottesville. Better than anything I have seen in the news trying to use this tragedy as another political weapon.

Weekend Links: 7.28.17

I find beauty means everything to me now. In this article from The Imaginative Conservative, Aaron Ames shares the great wisdom that our imagination is so important to our understanding of God because it is only through our imagination that we can possibly begin to glimpse what God is capable of and what God has in store.

I hear friends who blog debate, “I don’t know how much I want to share.” In youth group and professional work, I have seen those who want to bare all to get the reaction or attention they seek. This is an important consideration for those currently blogging or sharing from their lives with others. There several circles of intimacy around an individual. I share about my life here, yet there is a deeper level I will not share publicly. Maybe I share it with friends. Maybe I share it only with my spouse. Are you happy with where and how your circles lie?

If you are plagued by “shoulds” when it comes to writing, this may help. We tend to develop an image of what this type of person does and if we want to be this type of person, we had better check all out boxes. A bigger picture will yield different details.

With any project comes a level of vulnerability. Here is some practical advice on dealing with automatic negative thoughts. For me, the negative thought that pops into mind some when something goes wrong is “here we go again” or “of course,” as if our good times can never last or we could always expect something to go wrong. At least, with the latter, I am able to stop myself and count my blessings. A lot of things go right for us, even if some big things went in the direction of greatest difficulty.

Motherhood has a strange loneliness. This blog helps put it in perspective. The author writes, “For now, I’m viewing loneliness as one of the small (sometimes big) purposeful crosses of my vocation. It’s a cross that will turn me toward Our Lord if I let it.”

Think it is hard to manage kids in a pew? I rather resent pews on Sundays as my children pile on top of me and there is no place to put my feet. It brings me delight to know while there is a tradition of pews in churches, it is relatively new.

 

I fell off the wagon with Facebook and starting checking 2-3 times a day. I admist, it was relaxing. At the same time, I also stopped reading. My goal is unchanged. Time to start again. During the week we traveled to San Francisco for doctors appointments, visited the Legion of Honor and I contemplated the beauty of life and art. I am going to start practicing my Thursdays again, time away for reflection and short-form writing, and implementing writing days, 3-7 hours away from home to work on long-form writing. The husband and I also discussed a Writer’s Retreat (for both of us, separately). He could spend two nights away in the wood somewhere composing his heart out, and I could do the same on a different weekend of the year.

I hope you enjoyed these weekend links!

 

The Giving Tree

What is the Giving Tree?

The Giving Tree is the mother. She gives with joy when the boy takes with joy. She rejoices in his joy. As he ages, her gifts mature. They are more substantial. Yet his receipt of the gift requires him to leave. To fully use the gift, he must leave her.

He returns when his well is dry, when his ideas have failed.

His need is deeper.

His longing is greater.

And so she gives.

She gives until she is fundamentally altered. Her body is no longer recognizable as the tree she once was. She has substantially changed. What seemed to make her what she was when she was young, when the boy was young, is gone.

All that is left are the profound remnants of a life fully given. She is sad when she is alone.

Is she so old, so different than the things that make trees beautiful, that she has nothing left to give?

No, in her suffering, in her altered state, the boy returns again. He needs very little. In the end, his depth of need comes face to face with the love of an infant. He needs just her. It is not something he can take from her. It is not something that can be taken from her. He needs her. And she is glad to be with him, glad to have a gift.

We give and we give as mothers. We give with joy and with our bodies in those early years. Yet we are still recognizable. Perhaps there is a certain charm we have now as mothers that we did not have before. People smile in passing to see those names carved on our hearts and our bodies, held from danger in our hands. But the day comes when people no longer smile. Maybe they see a wasted life or a useless life or worse, perhaps they do not see us at all. A 60-year old woman rarely turns heads the way a 20-year old woman can. And so a society obsessed with youth writes her off.

But she gives and gives. She no longer just gives out of the usual way a tree or a mother can give. Now she must see the child she tried so hard to protect suffer and grieve and it hurts her all the more.

At some time there comes the time of loss. Maybe she was young, as I am, or old. But some loss occurs: the loss of a home, the loss of a child, the loss of a grandchild, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a marriage, and so on. Some loss happens. That suffering makes her forever different. She bears in her body the marks of the life she gave for her children. She will never be the same.

Children take and take. It is not folly but some thing written into human nature. In the end, though, there is nothing to take, just a nearness to experience, the rest of being in the presence of a mother. Whatever Mother gave, whether she gave well or often or with weakness, when she is present, her presence is so much more powerful than all the strangers in the world. And the presence of her child -the physical presence of her child- is more magnificent to her heart than all else. Whether the child is small or taller than she or dead, her body is complete when she is near that child.

I do not know what it is like to have grown children. I do not know what it is like to see them leave for college or start a new job or grieve a loss I hope they never would know. But I know what it is to lose. I know what it is to be separated. I now know a fear I can never “un-know.” And when I fear for my child, I fear in a new way. Then, I must let go in a new way.

This knowledge bears itself in my body and in my heart. I am fundamentally altered by the gift I have given, by the lives I have loved. I cannot know what the future holds, but I can say with the gift that I gave, that I am happy to have given it.

Evening Reflection: at home

And we did go home. We nearly did. We nearly stayed one more night. One more night was nothing to them, but to me, it was everything.

And here we are. We came home Thursday and it has been a whirlwind ever since. How strange the pace of home from the pace of hospital. It is quiet and methodical in the hospital, strict practice so where we put the diaper after and how to order dinner. I call into a schedule because it gives a predictable course to the day. It makes it feel like a day, rather than an endless series of nothing.

And how the reflection and the mood changes. From loneliness and keeping depression at bay, to impatience and anxiety. In San Francisco I carefully watched my son’s health and communicated to the team. Here, we are the team. My communication is no longer business but personal and I must re-learn how to speak to my spouse and my children. We have to learn how to live together again.

I gather information. I have not been here. I do know the current practices or current reactions. My job was ever to notice the patterns in behavior, report and give my professional motherly opinion on the best course of action.

It feels a little more like drowning, in the chaotic movie sort of way. Not the way drowning actually looks. No, that is how San Francisco feels, when your head just bobs below the water and above the water. Here it’s a panic and a fret and a frenzy. There is just quietly happens and the only way we notice is because I have to keep going and then I start crying. Here I just explode. Here i feel the anger. Here I ask, why God?

An injury in the family, a health concern for myself and then he will not eat orally. When will it ever end?

My two-year old is taking in life with mother. We have to build back our relationship. My four-year old is overly sensitive. My six-year old is desperate for alone time with me, and my approval. My body demands rest. My life demands activity.

Where is quiet and prayer and self-care? I know so well how to take care of myself in San Francisco where there is nothing to think about other than how to take care of myself. Prayer, exercise, writing, art and friendship. These are the powerful tools that keep me going (sprinkled with some shopping).

Prayer. I cannot even imagine. My mind flits from thing to thing here at home. It is so difficult to find the interior quiet. I could go to the adoration chapel. I could bike to the adoration chapel and kill two birds with one stone. But I am so tired. And it is so hard to leave the house unless it is absolutely necessary and I already have to leave for so many things.

Exercise. The tiredness, oh the tiredness. If I could only get on top of that, then maybe I would exercise.

Writing. Here I am. Bully for me.

Art. My home is my canvas. Here it is easier to create than there.

Friendship. We just need to make the plans to make it happen. It can happen here. Because they are here and I am here and that overcomes two obstacles.

Will I just run in circles or actually grow this time?

Time will tell. Let it unfold. The house, interior house, need not get clean in one day. We can go just a room at a time. For now, let us work on the family and living together again. And see some friends. Yes, I much desire to see some friends.