beatrice + becoming a mother

We celebrated with a brunch birthday party, since the church had an all-site service and picnic planned for the afternoon and evening. I could tell she wasn’t sure if that would be quite okay, but I promised it would be special.

We set the table the day before, and she carefully made place cards and chose napkins from my stash. I did my best to add some feminine and fancy, and I could tell the girls were all starting to feel that this was something special.

She woke up early, just as I was about to head into the dew-damp garden to cut flowers for the house. She happily joined, and we chatted as I gathered. She loves this kind, oh, and that one. Could we please have some gooseneck? And two kinds of hydrangea! She loves flowers and wants to help me every time I pull on my gardening gloves. She asks all the names and watches for beetles and exclaims over new buds and little baby plants, just like me.

I pulled out a new tomato red dress for her to wear on this, her birthday. Her eyes glowed, and a few minutes later she came running to find me, wearing the new dress, exclaiming at how twirly it is. I laughed as she twirled and twirled. I told her she could wear any necklace, as the neckline is unadorned, and she came back with pearls. Just like me.

She opened her gifts and exclaimed over them all — and had them almost all opened and tried out by day’s end. Ryan asked her what her favorite gift was, and I heard from the other room when she answered, “The cross-stitch kit from you and Mama.” Because she is desperate to learn to sew. She watches and hovers any time I pull out a project. I try to explain as I go. Give her little things to make. She just loves the quiet creativity of it all, just like me.

This all surprises me, somehow. I know I am her mother, their mother. I gave birth to them, I have nurtured and fed them, I keep them clothed and clean and teach them to read. I know they love to have me near and they tell me I’m the best mother in the world, but somehow I still feel not quite like a real mother. You know, not real like my mother. Maybe they don’t know I’m still just fumbling through, watching my sisters and friends, calling my mom, reading a book, praying desperately for help and wisdom?

And so somehow as yesterday unfolded, and I saw this little girl whose arms and legs are lengthening into older girl, whose heart is always in her eyes and whose words are so frank and uninhibited by insecurity or pretense, this precious girl who is such a gem and a gift to my life — when I saw her so honestly loving all that I love and imitating who I am, I was undone. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, my mother always said (when I was protesting about another little sister who was copying me!) For good or for bad, I seldom consider there is much about me special enough or worthy enough of imitation, and yet, here she is. My little friend in the garden, a string of pearls to match mine (“someday I’ll have real ones like you, Mama!”), eagerness to not just learn cross stitch but to sit with me and be taught by me.

It made me pause and remember: that’s how I looked at my Mama. She was my standard of elegance and fashion. Her hobbies were enthralling to me. What she knew I wanted to learn, because I couldn’t imagine anyone better to learn from. And now, somehow, someone looks at me that way.

I am a real mother. Nurturing was hard coded into me when God formed my life, and mother became my name because a baby was born, not because I felt I had earned it or grown into it. What kind of a mother will I be? These clear blue eyes, full of love and adoration, call me to once again evaluate my heart. They require me to look around at the six people who look to me for comfort and nurturing, training and discipline, teaching and empowering, and to see them as a worthy investment of my life — the best of my life. I think of the moments in the garden, or getting ready to go out, or finishing up a sewing project when those six people were treated as an interruption to my goals. How very wrong and backwards. How clear it all is when I see a little girl who wants me to use all of those things to grow her and train her and shape her. Yes. That’s the goal, always, in it all.

Oh, these children. How precious they are, and how I long to be the sanctified and wholehearted disciple that they need as they are shaped for their destinies.

blessed by Beatrice

Reminiscing this morning, as my oldest little girl turns eight years old. I don’t know exactly where all of those years went, but skimming through photos and old blog posts, I am overwhelmed by how many wonderful moments I have been able to share and even provide for her. God is so very good.

A little trip down memory lane for you, if you’d like: the post I wrote celebrating her first birthday.

(And her very first birth day, too, is here.)

*****

Dear Beatrice Elaine,

You are one.

Today, under a canopy of brightest blue punctuated by clouds of white, you stood on your own in the middle of the sea of grass that is your yard. You smiled, laughed, at your proud accomplishment, giddy with the sense of how big the world was around you. You are leaving babyhood behind.

On your first birthday, you already had mastered quite a string of accomplishments: standing alone, two wobbly steps in succession, a mouthful of teeth including 2 (almost 4!) molars to celebrate your momentous day, 5 weeks of eating anything I cared to share from the table, and climbing out of the basket in which you sleep. Your brothers, by the way, never felt any need to even try such a thing. But you are not quite like them, are you? Daddy and I are always looking at each other and saying, “Did the boys do all this quite so young? No, I don’t think they did!” You, in your very quiet way, are taking life by the horns. There is strength and determination in you.


A table of small, feminine things: my favorite.

You’re my little girl. Just by your tiny presence, wrapped in a pink blanket, you interrupted life as we had known it and demanded that we make room for a girl. Perhaps it was simply that fact, but you were the first baby to seem so much like a person right from birth. We hesitated with naming you too quickly, because you somehow seemed like, well, like you already had a name, and we were just trying to articulate it. We were delighted to welcome you as our resident princess, and to make room for all you would become. Family shapes us as individuals, and you brought a whole new nuance to the family we were.

You also brought whole new ideas about baby. I was flabbergasted to realize that you would, left on your own, simply drift to sleep for hours on end. You would let anyone in the world hold you. You would sit with me quite happily and just watch life. If life got busier when we went from two children to three, it was only because your brothers got busier: you were only ever happy and quiet. Taking care of you was like playing house. “Are you for real?”, I’d whisper to you, as you fell asleep with a smile, woke up with a smile, laid on the floor staring at the ceiling fan with a smile, ride in the car for hours with a smile… I looked forward to each evening, when I’d put the boys to bed and then just stare at you for an hour or more. You were beautiful, and you quieted my heart. A gift.


The boys’ gifts and cards, created and arranged all on their own. Such excitement!

The boys love you immensely, and have from the beginning. They still talk to you in sing-song baby tones, and fall over themselves trying to help get your bib, your highchair, your barrette — anything to take care of you. They oooh and ahhh over your pretty dresses and sweet shoes, and making you laugh is one of their greatest delights. You are very generous with your laughs, of course. You’re the first of our one-year olds to be so celebrated by their siblings: the boys had already made you cards and tied ribbons on their very favorite stuffed animals by the time you woke up yesterday, and you were greeted with an overwhelming chorus of Happy Birthdays — uttered along with plenty of jumping, dancing, hugging and kissing. I love watching you three smile at each other.

You’re Daddy’s girl, and you will do anything to get his attention when he walks in the room. Fake laughs, fake cries, silly faces, crawling over his laptop — anything. He can get more giggles from you than anyone else can, and when he scoops you up and takes you on an errand, your smile says that you feel like the most special girl in the world.

Oh, how I love you! My heart aches, wanting to go back and do this past year just one more time. Every single moment with you has been a delight. Now we’re moving towards Little Girl years, and while I’ll cherish memories of brand new you, I’m so excited to learn more about you and teach you more about Jesus. You were born just as the first traces of pink were lighting the sky, vanquishing the darkness of night. And you, Bringer of Light, will continue to do just that as you walk through life. You will bring laughter, strength, joy, and determination — but most of all, you will bring light to those who walk in darkness. And I’m excited to see that.

I feel so blessed and honored to have you to care for.

I love you forever,

Mama


I’m afraid I didn’t do well at getting many pictures, but here she is, surrounded by excited siblings and cousins.

school days!

While summer days are enjoyed — gardens watered, kiddie pools filled, camps attended, grill fired up repeatedly — my mind is already far ahead, somewhere in September, dreaming about new books and new pencils and new routines. Snippets of time have been stolen to toss old markers and used workbooks, choose and collect books for a new year, write out lesson plans and ponder new chore schedules, and generally prepare myself for a new exciting year of learning.

And I am excited! Want to see which books we’ll use? (Is there anything homeschool moms enjoy more than a show and tell? Please feel free to share yours in return!)

Math will be Teaching Textbooks for the boys and Bob Jones for the girls. Beatrice is old enough to begin TT, but I think the workbook format for one more year will better suit her (easily distracted) personality.

Handwriting will be Getty-Dubay for Fiona (as I’ve used with the others), and something new for the older three. I want them all to learn cursive well, so despite the protests from the boys who see handwriting practice as a bit of a pain, I am sticking to my guns. (Also, their handwriting clearly needs practice!)

Some of our Language Arts will be covered with these books: Explode the Code for Fiona, who is still chipping away at basic reading skills; Bob Jones English for Beatrice, who would do creative writing all day and will love nouns and verbs as much as I did; and a surprise find (cleaning out the school cupboard can be awesome!) that will come in useful with the boys as we diagram sentences to review things they’ve already learned, as well as some poetry study and writing skills that we’ll incorporate into other subjects.

For science, my younger three students will continue nature study — observation, research, and recording their finds — aided by new books that I just love! Jameson will strike out on his own, doing Apologia’s Physical Science.

But of course, in my world, all of those things take a back seat to the real exciting stuff: history!! This is where we end up doing most of our literature, our writing assignments, our geography and social studies, our philosophy and ethics and poetry and art. This year we will tackle World War Two, and I am beyond excited. I’m also overwhelmed (so much to learn, so many direction we could go), sober (just an afternoon of preparation had me feeling so unbelievably sad), and expectant (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — these are important things to study and be warned by.) I have too many novels and biographies and resources and movies and songs collected, but I am starting to create a plan. To break things up, every six weeks or so we will pause and zero in on one of the major countries of interest (Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and Japan), and study its geography, learn a few words in its language, read a folk story, and make some food!

Of course I always dream so much and then there’s the reality of dentist appointments and toddlers crying and dinner needing to be made and that pesky thing about 24 hours and only 24 hours in each day.

But we’ll aim for the stars and hit the moon, right?

For now, I’m enjoying afternoons outside, reading my (you guessed it, WWII) novel.

august 3.


matching blonde friends

Saturday afternoon. The sun is shining, broad and generous, heating the world to a warm 85*, but there’s a breeze as I sit under the shade of an umbrella. The sprinkler the boys set up — perhaps an untimely afterthought on my part, but a last ditch effort to not toast my entire garden — occasionally hits the umbrella. How is it that the sound of water, any water, is so calming and refreshing? Except for the steady drip of a faucet left ajar. That is not refreshing.

Swim lessons, Shakespeare this past week, and then 6 days of Musical Theater Camp for four oldest — suddenly we’re in the countdown stages of summer. I want to wring out all the summer-living I can, quickly come up with a plan for more work and more fun, but today is hemmed in by feverish girls and I am reminded that life isn’t about wringing the most we can out of each moment, but about receiving those moments with thanks and offering them back as bond-servants. And so summer-living right now looks like watching a sweet 14 month old little girl in a flowered cotton dress and bare feet climb up and slide down her Little Tikes slide over and over, a baby monitor nearby to hear if one of those feverish girls should wake from her nap, boys who cheerfully helped me all morning with laundry and cleaning and baby-tending enjoying a bit of video game time. Do I sound like a broken record? Perhaps I am slow to learn this lesson, but I find it freshly impressed each day: my life is not my own, and grasping for it would be such short-sighted foolishness. There is a love song I’m living out. My part is the echo to a melody sung long ago, when my life was ransomed, rescued, redeemed.

Jesus, all I want is to be like You.

*****

Fevers tended once again. Fresh water, more snuggles, pillows fluffed and a movie playing for everyone to enjoy together. Twelve year old man child next to baby, and I notice their matching eyes. Beatrice smiles, dimples deep. Each face sweet, this moment catching them on their way to adulthood.

Trees wave their boughs as wind blows through, and I watch from the window. Blow over me, Spirit. May my life bend a move, dance and bow, a visible outworking of the invisible.

*****

july.

Time for a photo dump, as apparently it’s now August, July is somehow over, and except for pictures I’m not even sure I would remember what we did!

Somewhat in order, with huge gaps because I did a horrible job remembering to take pictures this month, July was:

taking the kids to Norwood Lake (my one and only effort at “I’m going to get the kids to the beach this summer!”);

celebrating the 4th with no parade due to heat + humidity, but an enjoyable discussion of the Declaration around the breakfast table, and a long and lovely afternoon in Carina and Ricky’s backyard;

a trip to Maine where cousins are always the highlight, but beach trips and ice cream and pool time and baseball games are fun, too;

summer evenings of frisbee and reading and learning to do the slide by her 1-year-old self and somersaults and mosquitos;

starting the brain dump of school planning (if you follow Brietta on IG now is the time to laugh at her table of books vs mine. We all laugh over our kids and how “different each one is.” That never stops being true. My sisters all amaze me in so many ways!)

swim lessons that cousins did, too, and the fun day they stayed with us and we rocked the van all the way home to the tune of Newsies;

playground visits with a toddler who’s way less scared of heights than her mama;

waking up one morning to a lawn full of the tiniest, prettiest mushrooms;

slipping away from this one each afternoon (that we’re home!), and making myself pause to notice her sweetness — it’s always so tempting to rush to the list of things I hope to do in the one hour when everyone is napping/resting/reading!;

the summertime pleasures of juicy fresh fruit, free bouquets along the roadside that are yours for the picking, and a freckled daughter getting older by the moment;

a last hurrah with cousin Margaret before their big move, and laughing at all of her wild imaginations and antics and brilliance (they really are all so different, and I get to see that up close times 24, almost 25, make that 26… plus 4 on the other side… so many nieces and nephews to enjoy!)

Not pictured at all is my sister Camilla’s stunning performance in a community theater production that was so far beyond community theater quality; lots of work with Ryan as he keeps the ball rolling with his company; a church picnic that was lovely; play days with friends; lunches after church; lots of walks after dinner; chess obsession for the boys; Shakespeare camp; goodbye party for the Gilchrist’s; and beautiful sun-drenched mornings sitting with my Bible and journal on the side lawn, serenaded by a thousand birds and wishing it could go on forever.

July is over. Time to go inside and flip the calendar. A whole new month, another month of summer, although my thoughts are turning… Here, the past photo on my phone:

An invitation to fill those empty spaces with all the new hopes and plans for a year of learning and growing.

anchored hopes

I am sitting under the shade of an umbrella on a picnic table here in our side lawn. The fantastic blue of the sky is mimicked by the plastic blue of our inflatable kiddie pool, where two little girls in navy and pink splash and play. Their happy blue island is surrounded by wide open green.

It’s a familiar scene, a comfortable rhythm. They know to wash their feet in the rubbermaid tote before getting into the pool, and I know that we’ll enjoy our little side lawn resort more if I remember water bottles and a snack and some books.

Today the littlest splasher is new to the scene but is figuring it all out quickly. She won’t be left behind, our little Enid Catherine.

This is my favorite, and I feel so thankful to be a stay at home mom who can sit and lifeguard for an hour or four, depending on the day. And yet I have to tell myself all the time, this is it. Stop the engine that’s always hurrying to the next thing, because this is it. Being right here: this is it.

Last week was completely consumed by a mystery virus that overtook me. By day 5 I finally gave in and put myself to bed while the kids fended for themselves for the day. A fever blurred the days, but I was aware of them spending hours with one aunt, another beautiful afternoon with another aunt, a whole day away with a friend. The sun was finally shining and summertime had arrived, and I had a sneaking suspicion that just beyond my window view, my peonies had come and gone. That beautiful longest day of the year came and went without any sunset walk with my kids, without thrilling them with permission to stay up late with the sun.

When a second lovely Sunday passed and I wasn’t with it enough to enjoy it, I wanted to cry. “But — but we live for the summer, and I’m missing it!”, I wanted to complain.

But just as quickly I felt a wave of such deep relief: no, no I don’t live for the summer. What a disappointment that would be! Even in a year of perfect health, I find these days slip like sand, are either full of summer work or summer play but never enough for both, are either riddled with discontent or overflowing with thankfulness — and even the thankfulness has to acknowledge beginning and end and a yearning for more.

I’m so glad: I don’t live for summer, or Christmas, or when the baby sleeps better, or my house to be project-free, or my gardens to be complete, or cherry pie, or spontaneously precious moments with my kids or husband.

I get to live for Jesus, and He is the joy that is the more. He frames the summer sunset and the fevered nights. He delights over family ice cream cone runs and He soothes my soul when bickering has frayed every nerve. He invites me into each moment with Him, and suddenly the soul-ache we all know becomes a joy-anticipation of Promise.

So here I am, full-circle in my thoughts, I guess, soaking in the beauty of a hot June afternoon, watching daughters play, knowing that right here, right now, He is Emmanuel. And He is enough.