I Remember

I don’t know my children’s birth dates.  I realize that most parents know these rather insignificant little details about their children: height… weight… eye color… and curiously I’ve also discovered that most parents are expected to know these things.  I’m always being asked befuddling questions like “how old is she” and “what grade is he in” and I so try to seem like I’m being diplomatic when I look to the child in question and allow them to answer for themselves.  I’ve also found it imperative to take a cheat sheet with my children to the doctor’s office because approximations are apparently not medically appropriate answers and “let me call my husband” is evidently not socially appropriate, if the looks I get are any indication.

But that’s what happens when you have eight children (and also when you’re a somewhat unorganized, forgetful, easily-distracted kind of person.)  All those little details just start getting fuzzy. You buy the shoes that are a little too big and stuff toilet paper in the toes, grateful that they’ll fit a few more months.  Cooking with missing ingredients becomes an essential (ie. daily) part of your homeschool curriculum – Creative Cooking 101 – and you consider rice and spaghetti sauce an excellent choice for lunch (extra points for ingenuity!)  Socks become optional and wearing two different shoes out in public is simply a mark of your family’s innovative sense of style (it’ll catch on one of these days, and when it does I say to parents everywhere: you’re welcome.)

But there are some things you do know. Some things you’ll never forget. You remember that your oldest daughter bought you plastic flowers every week for months, because she knew how much you loved flowers (but not how much you hated fake ones) and that your youngest son can kill a fly on the ceiling with a projectile rubberband.  You know that your youngest daughter’s favorite song is The Bandit, by Jerry Reed and her older sisters favorite doll is named after a character in Les Miserables (you even remember which character!) You remember which of your children to hide from when you have chocolate in your mouth and you never forget to dig deep into your meager reserve of courage when your 6 (or is she 5?) year old shoves a closed fist into your face and announces she has “something to show you.”  You know that your kids can process an entire deer in about two hours, milk 8 goats in less than 15 minutes and that your family can work together to sew over 250 pads from start to finish in just two weeks.  You know that when one child finds a new hobby, seven others will follow suit and that your children will always be best friends. Those are the things you know, the things you remember.

The important things.

 

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Boiling the frog

Is it wrong to admit that sometimes… just every now and then… once in a blue moon… not often at all, really… I’m just a teeny tiny bit amused when my super-organized, neat-and-tidy friend with two children complains about her messy house, her broken appliances, her general and seemingly never-ending exhaustion?  Is it wrong that I say to her, every now and then, “NOW do you understand?”

Now do you understand the fossilized banana peels under my couch?
Now do you understand the ring around the bathtub?
Now do you understand the funny smell?

Not that my friend was ever hateful about these things, just that I think they truly baffled her.  She would come over to help me clean (bless her heart) and then suggest “systems” and “schedules” by which to stay on top of things.  These would always work really well… for about two hours before my household descended into chaos once again.

But a funny thing has happened, the longer I’ve been a parent and the more children we add to our clan.  I find that these things just don’t phase me anymore.  The seemingly impossible adjustment in the beginning gives way to acceptance and even pleasure as time goes by.  What once overwhelmed now entertains.  What once irritated now amuses.  And so this is what I say to my friend, so newly on her parenting journey: Welcome to your new normal.  Settle in.  Hang on for the ride.  It gets so much better… no less messy or chaotic, but so much better.

They say a frog can be boiled alive without ever feeling any pain, if the temperature is increased slowly.

It’s a lot like that.

 

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Lisa

Six years ago, my Aunt Lisa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  I started this post with the intention of writing about a fundraiser for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation but instead I sit here struggling to find the words to express how much she means to me.  Because the thing is, I don’t just want my friends to donate to her cause, I want my friends to know her.  I want every woman I love to be blessed by the knowledge of who she is.

It’s impossible to adequately express what Lisa means to me.  There just aren’t enough words in one short blog post to convey what kind of person she is.  Not enough words to impart her warmth and light on those I wish to see and feel it.  For years, my own immaturity kept me from being as close to her as I wish I had been, but even during my darkest times, she served as a silent inspiration to me.  When faced with a difficulty a quiet voice inside would ask “how would Lisa handle this?”  When challenged with a hardship: “what would Lisa do?” Knowing her blood ran through my veins made me hold my head a little higher, enabled me to face life’s difficulties with just a little less fear. Her courage made me courageous.  Her strength made me strong.

Lisa is one of those rare people who is truly an inspiration to everyone blessed enough to know her.  She is a woman that every woman can be proud of, that every woman can look up to, that every woman can learn something from.  She is one of the most kind, courageous, compassionate, stubborn, strong-willed, considerate, generous, relentless, loving people I have ever known… that probably anyone who knows her has ever known.  She is the essence of what it means to be a “phenomenal woman” and one of those rare souls who touch the lives of everyone she meets.  Lisa has been an inspiration to me my entire life and her words of encouragement and guidance have served as a beacon of light on my path. She’s my own personal Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, Cheryl Strayed.  In short, Lisa is who I want to be when I grow up.

And now I’m hoping you’ll help me to give back.  Lisa has been battling ovarian cancer for 6 years.  She has never given in, never given up.  She is a board member of the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation which has been able to provide approximately $546,000 in financial assistance to Tampa Bay area women in need who are suffering from ovarian cancer.  Last year, Lisa’s family and multitude of friends helped her to raise a little over $10,000 for the foundation and this year her goal is to raise $15,000.  This is incredibly important to her and to all those battling ovarian cancer and I’m asking all my friends to please consider signing up as a virtual participant under Team Alfonso.  I’ll be participating this year, and if you’ll let me know you’ve signed up, I’ll wear your name and take you with me.  Please help me to give back to this incredible woman.  It would mean so much to her and to me. Please help us touch the lives, in some small way, of those who are battling this disease.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

If you would like to participate (please do) here is the link:

One Step Closer to the Cure

Virtual participation in the race is $30.  If you’d like to donate a different amount you can donate at this link:

http://www.ovariancancerfoundation.org/donate/

If you use this link, please enter “Team Alfonso” in as the name of the person you’re donating in honor of.

NO amount is too small, and please let me know if you’ve donated!  I don’t need to know the amount, but I’d love to wear your name and take you with me!

 

Posted in Family History, PERSONAL | 4 Comments

Sanctuary

In my dream, a man was acting inappropriately toward myself and a friend.  Panicked, I searched my friend’s face asking myself “is she okay with this?  Is she okay?”  In my head, I heard a voice respond:
“Are you?
Then I woke up.

The dream became both a revelation to me and a call to action.  I felt that God had spoken directly to my heart, encouraging me to respect my own inner voice, to stand up for that deepest part of me I so often ignore.

I recently started reading Joan Didion’s book Slouching Toward Bethlehem.  In it is an essay entitled “On Self Respect.”  There she writes:

“If we do not respect ourselves we are… peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our own self-image is untenable – their false notions of us.  We flatter ourselves by thinking this compulsion to please others an attractive trait: a gist for imaginative empathy, evidence of our own willingness to give.  Of course I will play Francesca to your Paolo, Helen Keller to anyone’s Anne Sullivan: no expectation is too misplaced, no role too ludicrous.  At the mercy of those we cannot but hold in contempt, we play roles doomed to failure before they are begun, each defeat generating fresh despair at the urgency of divining and meeting the next demand made upon us.
“It is the phenomenon sometimes called ‘alienation from self.’ In its advanced stages, we no longer answer the telephone, because someone might want something; that we could say no without drowning in self-reproach is an idea alien to this game.  Every encounter demands too much, tears the nerves [and] drains the will… To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves – there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect.”

I’d never before considered what the words “self-respect” really meant.  But as I sat there, meditating on the lines before me, it occurred to me that self-respect was just that: respect of self.  It’s the act of asking myself what actions I’d most like to take and what roles I’d like to play.  It’s the act of divining my own interests and meeting my own expectations.  It’s the act of respecting myself – my own thoughts and feelings, wants and desires, just as much as I respect others and being just as willing to meet my own needs as I am to meet theirs.   Self respect is the act of paying attention and giving myself a voice.

It’s declining the invitation to the party I don’t want to attend.
It’s refusing to help with the project I’m too busy for.
It’s expressing my true feelings to those with whom I disagree.
It’s telling my date where I’d like to go for dinner.

Self-respect doesn’t mean I’ll never put someone else’s needs before my own but it does mean evaluating and honoring the needs of both parties equally.  When asked to do something I don’t want to do, there are two possible reasons I might do it anyway.  The first involves laying aside my own desires because I love and want to be there for my friend.  In this way, the “self” who at first didn’t want to help finds the desire to do so out of love.  The second involves laying aside my own desires because I feel obligated to help my friend whom I fear will be angry or disappointed if I don’t.  In this scenario, the “self” who didn’t want to help is ignored, bullied and forced into service… not just by the friend, but also by our own “outward self” who wasn’t willing to treat the needs of the “inward self” with the same consideration and regard as for the friend.   Ignoring our own inner voice in an effort to pacify or placate someone else is to attempt to take responsibility for the emotions or feelings of those we are not responsible for to the detriment of the only one we are responsible for: ourselves. In this way, we are not just neglectful of ourselves, but actively harmful – wounding our own souls and teaching ourselves that we are of less value than those around us.

I’ve come to believe that self-respect does not require us to think ourselves wonderful or better than anyone else. It does not require that we ignore our own failings or discount our own flaws.  Self-respect simply requires that we listen and respond.  Listen to the inner voice and be just as considerate and gracious toward our own desires as we are toward those of other people.  Listen to our thoughts and feelings and be willing to express them openly and honestly.   Listen to our conscience and follow the guidance that we find there.  It’s the act of giving ourselves permission and finding the courage to advocate for our own best interests.  It’s the act of loving and honoring our deepest, truest selves and insisting that our outer “self” protect and reflect our inner “self.”

It’s becoming our own sanctuary.

Years ago, I had a dream in which I stood unclothed before a friend.  I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, but compelled to stand there, exposed and vulnerable.  I had forgotten all about this dream until somewhat recently, when the image from the dream came to me with the following words:

“Some day I will stand before you, naked and unashamed.
Not because you have created a safe place for me,
But because I have.”

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Papa Le Pew

My oldest two girls have started making soap to help support their horse, for which I’m selfishly grateful. For one, I’m allergic to every type of artificial smell there is and I looooove homemade soap, and secondly, I love the fact that on the day they make soap, the house smells like lavendar or lemon or ylang-ylang instead of poopy diapers and spoiled milk.

We’ve had a lot of interesting smells in and around our home over the years… eight kids, a small farm, roughly 6,738 pets including one very large rottweiler with bowl control issues… I’m sure you can imagine.  (Actually no… you probably can’t.  It’s really better that way.)  I think the worst, though, was the time my husband killed a skunk… on our back porch.

I’ve asked him to share the story, in his own words:

We’d just moved the chickens to the new coop when a skunk started eating the eggs.  This went on for weeks and it was obvious the creature wasn’t interested in my attempts to negotiate. Had there been some type of diplomatic approach to the situation, I’d have gladly taken it, but since individual property rights were clearly being violated, another alternative had to be found.

Thus, the hunt began.

I started creeping out to the chicken coop each night with a pistol and a flashlight, waiting for the opportune time to wreak havoc upon my quarry.  But it seemed as soon as I began to hunt the skunk, he stopped coming around. Then one evening, just after Rina had left to go to town (which is the ONLY reason it was possible for ANY of the following events to take place,) one of my daughters pointed to the back porch and said excitedly “Daddy! There’s the skunk!” I ushered the small children to the back bedroom and quickly retrieved my weapon. Leaning out of the bathroom window, I fired one round which found it’s target. In my zeal to remove the egg-stealing marauder, it never occurred to me that executing a skunk on the back porch might not be the best idea. I really should have known better.  As a nurse, I know that smooth muscle relaxes with sudden trauma, but it hadn’t occurred to me to consider how this might affect this particular creature’s anatomy before slaying it so close to our residence. My private celebration over the killing of my prey quickly turned to dread as I noticed copious amounts of liquid stench oozing from the backside of my recently dispatched foe. The odor quickly filled the entire house. I returned to the children’s bedroom to inform them of the news only to find all three of them hiding their entire bodies under their covers, with just their eyes peeking out over the edge. They had only one question: “Daddy… how long is that SMELL going to last?” I gave the most intellectual answer I could think of at the moment: “I don’t know.”

I’ve since learned the answer to that question: Long enough to make me happy to donate a few eggs each night to the local skunk population in order to avoid ever experiencing it again.

.

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Time Marches On…

The wrist brace I now have to wear to prevent pain when I’m working at the computer or sewing machine. Talk about feeling OLD!

 

“Just wait until you’re older,” my friend, just a few years older than I, told me.  We were training for a half marathon and although it was grueling for us both, my friend was complaining of aches and pains that I wasn’t feeling at all. Inwardly, I scoffed at her warning and thought to myself “age is just a number! I’ll never let myself feel old.”

Ha.

Hahahahahahaahahahahaha!

Something seems to have happened as I move closer to the ripe old age of 40. Some cosmic light has switched on (or off, as the case may be,) and it seems that every time I look in the mirror, there is some new evidence of my slow degeneration. Wrinkles that weren’t there the night before. Loose skin under my neck. Bags under my eyes, super-sized pores and I swear my butt hangs several inches lower than it used to. My eyebrows, once my best feature, are now in full- out rebellion and must be trimmed and gelled into some semblance of submission as the hair that was once on top of my head migrates to all sorts of regions it decidedly does NOT belong. I have AGE SPOTS, GRAY hairs on my chin and EXCEEDINGLY LONG nose hairs.

But an interesting thing has happened as I’ve been faced with these changes I can do little about. I find I’m making peace with my body, exactly as it is. Because lets face it: barring surgery there is little I can do that will alter much at this point. My breasts, long and flat from nursing eight children, just aren’t going to get any perkier. My upper arms, loose and floppy, aren’t going to firm up any time soon. My stomach, stretched again and again from multiple pregnancies, will probably always look more like a lump of dough than a washboard. Time’s march along my body is, for the most part, irreversable. And you know what? I’m okay with that.

Maybe it’s because, along with the physical changes time brings, there are mental shifts that come along. Maybe it’s because… well, I’ve had eight kids, for goodness sakes, and it’s about durn time I give up hoping to look like anything other than the grand multipara that I am. This is the body the Lord gave me and every stretch mark, age spot, dimple and stray hair that I’ve picked up along the way tells a story. It might not be the story that I would have liked to tell, of hours spent at the gym, consistent healthy eating or regular spa treatments (ha!) But it tells the story of a woman, a family, and a little farm. It tells the story of eight beautiful, healthy children and a life lived, to the best of my ability, walking with the Lord. It’s my story. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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The Perfect Day

Sometimes God blesses us in unexpected and surprising ways. I was 21 years old and visiting my grandmother as I’d been doing every weekend for several months. She was taking a late nap and I was enjoying the splendor of the view from her front porch as the sun began to set over her many-acred farm.  It was a particularly gorgeous day and though I consider myself an “indoor girl” who doesn’t handle boredom well, this was one day I was happy to be outside with nothing at all to do but take it all in.  In a moment of girlish excitement, I tilted my face to the sky, beaming up at God and thanking Him for such a wonderful – almost perfect – day.  I could think of only one thing that could possibly make it more wonderful and I childishly told God so: “the only way this day could get any better is if I had a HORSE to ride!” Within seconds, I spotted a figure in the distance. As he came closer I saw that it was not one figure, but two, for emerging from behind a hill just up the road was a man… riding a beautiful chestnut gelding. I stood in silence, overcome by emotion, as horse and rider drew closer.  It was the first, and turned out to be the only, time I’d ever seen a horse on that road and when they reached my grandmother’s house the man offered to let me ride.  Ben Hewitt recently wrote that life is mostly a series of moments in which nothing very much is happening and so often the things that give us joy are not the things directly before us, but things that live in some unrealized future “and therefore do not live at all.” Perhaps he’s right. But that evening, in that moment, joy entered the present and flooded my body, carried by a crimson answer to prayer on the eve of a perfect day.

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