tending gardens (or, mothering)

Large family realities: Here, Cecily has dug a cantaloupe rind out of the garbage and is happily gnawing off every last bit of juicy melon. And I am just sitting and nursing the baby and glad it was at least from the top of the garbage.

I know I’ve already said it, but investing in my older children is beginning to pay off in ridiculous dividends.

It’s not just the actual work they do, although that needs to be mentioned and applauded. The environment of our home, while far from perfect and in daily (moment by moment?) need of realignment and repentance and renewed vision, is rich with cheerful energy and joy and a general spirit of friendship. Like a garden, the weeds continue to pop up like crazy if left for just one day unattended, but the plants we so vigorously guarded and hoed and watered and pruned and watched over and shooed pests away from day and night for so long — they are growing taller and stronger and bearing fruit.

“Invest” sounds like such a great idea, but I wonder if it sounds easier than it is to the one seeking help as they stand in their disaster of a kitchen surrounded by crying babes and temper tantrum-ing toddlers. Investment in those little years isn’t quite like throwing a few thousand dollars into a mutual fund and hoping it all goes well. Not quite.

There is so much work, defining the goals of your family, the standards you feel the Lord calling you to, and then daily digging in and working toward that end. I looked at my children on Sunday morning, all standing and singing nicely as they’ve been taught — even the 2 year old — and I thought, it wasn’t always like this. Not all of my 2 year olds just stood and clapped and sang and then sat down politely. The first couple had to be taught — every single Sunday, week after week, and with lots of practice at home in between. But now my little girls are growing up in the shade of these strong young men we’ve raised, and they just do what they see them doing. (They don’t seem to always notice that those young men stay in bed when we ask them to. Still working on that… among other things!)

But that particular moment, I realized, was a direct result of all the Sundays that Ryan and I did not throw up our hands in frustration and either just let the boys do what they wanted to do, or decide what’s the point, let’s just skip church for a few years.

It’s hard work to “invest”. But that initial breaking of ground — turning sod, picking out rocks, working in fertilizer, and maybe only then finally planting the seeds you now must protect and cultivate — that doesn’t happen over and over. At some point, a garden begins to grow, and it’s a wonderful, amazing thing to stand back and observe. Take a deep breath and savor the moment as your eldest son makes the burgers and the next son organizes a game for the younger set and your daughters set the table nicely, and you just think, wow. This was not my life when my third and fourth baby were born.

This past week I stopped to take pictures of William, who is hitting a great growth edge this summer. He’s taken up the task of mowing here at home, for the most part, and this week even ventured across the street to mow for my father. Blessing us, blessing others.

He woke up early on his first morning of appointed breakfast duty (a new twist to our summer routine) and learned how to make pancakes — and then, because it’s his personality, he did it again two mornings later in order to perfect the art.

And so many moments in between, he’s quietly working away at his assigned [boring, monotonous, done-it-a-million-times] chore. Bonus in this shot: Beatrice singing away as she vacuums, learning to cheerfully chip in just as her brothers do.

(And bonus-bonus: Jameson took this photo and my heart just melts. What sweet days these are, with a little baby girl curled up in my arms, wanting absolutely nothing in the world except to be near my heartbeat.)

from yesterday:

It’s Sunday, and we are Sabbath-ing here at the Dunphey house.

The daddy sent everyone to their beds as soon as our dinner table was cleared, and quiet reigned for a couple of hours, interrupted only by a crying 2yo who needed to finish her nap with Mama.

Rest is good, and it is a gift. Rest is different than leisure — a posture that says, I was made to work but I was also made with limitations, and so I pause despite the ongoing garden tending and inevitable entropy that never pauses. God will supply what we need.

*****

House in renovation mode for two weeks now, and the excitement over a project moving forward fills our days — but most of all, for sure, the joy of Ryan calling for a son to help, of inviting a daughter to join him on a dump run, and pouring out appreciation and affirmation on them as we gather for dinner each evening. They are all working hard, even if it’s simply by playing happily in the “den” (our small guest room-turned-living room) with the few toys Mama left out. This is an “all hands on deck” season, and isn’t that the best?

Jameson is rising to the occasion with a big project happening. He loves nothing more than donning work clothes and old ball cap in the morning and jumping right into work mode with Ryan. He’s climbing into the attic and doing small jobs unassisted, learning about electrical, helping to keep tools organized, and just generally an enthusiastic assistant who makes long and late nights more enjoyable for Ryan.

William is steady and dependable. He’ll spend several hours carrying debris out to the truck, sweeping floors, and holding lights. He cheerfully does house cleaning even if it’s not the most exciting task happening. He notices when the girls are getting needy and jumps right in to create a game for them or read to them or just keep them happy so the gears can keep turning. He does his best to stay up with his big brother but once in awhile disappears to his room, where he can be found fast asleep.

Beatrice cheerfully chips away at her school and chores and piano practice each day, doing better and better at remembering all of those things on her own. She reads voraciously and plays her favorite piano pieces incessantly, and is always always cheerful. Our spring thaw last week meant bike riding began, and she somehow managed to be the only kid to tear or stain two pairs of pants in epic crashes. She’s tender and loving and flighty.

Fiona still lives most days in her own happy little world of make believe. She has doll babies to care for and ballet classes to go to and church services to lead. Generally quiet, she will suddenly come to life at the meal table and regale the other children with stories of “dreams” she had and imaginations that grow with the telling. She is up first or second every day and “reads” her Bible stories quietly alongside me.

And Cecily — jabbering away continually and thankfully even beginning to include some English in the babbling. She loves to play with Fiona, be in the middle of all of us all the time, go places with her Daddy, and if she’s ever grumpy or sad, a clementine or two will cure her. She has officially moved out of our bedroom and joined the girls’ room in her own twin bed. It’s been a learning process, as I think she was more attached to her basket and her Mama’s proximity than my other 2 year olds. The boys, especially, dote on her continually (which probably contributes to her lack of English. Why bother? They bend over backwards to get whatever it is she’s crying for.) She loves to be the center of attention and will pull some antic at dinnertime if she feels the conversation has excluded her for too long. We all laugh all day long, thanks to her, and she’s never lacking for someone to hold or hug her.

*****

Meanwhile, I’ve passed the 30 week mark with this pregnancy. It’s flying by, partly because I’ve been feeling really good. Tired, but good. Soon, very soon, I’ll need to think seriously about names and mental preparation for labor and figuring out what we need. But for now I just try to keep up my daily stretches and walks, while enjoying the increasingly strong kicks and flutters from within.

Despite the massive disruption of washing dishes in a bathroom sink, making meals without stove or oven, and carrying laundry outside and through the garage and to the washing machine, I’m doing my best to keep the essentials in place: short moments of prayer and Bible together, math and piano and reading, systems for clean clothes and [decently!] healthy food, and most of all, attitudes of thankfulness.

Because we are so, so blessed, especially in the common things that could so easily go unappreciated:

Girls who giggle together far more often than they quibble.
Boys who are best friends.
Child laughter all the time.
Chores that get done fairly well (ha!) and cheerfully by helpful children.
Repentance and forgiveness that flow all day long.
An immoveable Rock beneath us, giving stability and peace to the ebb and flow of life.
And so much more.

Beatrice’s birthday party

Birthday season has begun around here, and it was kicked off this year with an especially big celebration: Beattie’s “real” 6th birthday party!

We pick a theme — for her, a tea party. The soon-to-be-6yo can invite a whole table full of guests, and while Beatrice could have filled ten tables, we sorted it out eventually and mailed invitations. We pick a menu — in this case, heavily influenced by a mother who could commit to a variety of little desserts but not also an entire dinner. Games are selected and prepared. We decorate party bags and place cards and just make this day a big deal. There is one big idea here: to bless and affirm this child in a special way. I can’t do it every year, but we can do it once, and it is fun.

Beatrice loved it. She counted down the days and lit up with every incoming RSVP. She also kept trying to lobby for those 9 other tables of guests, but I held firm. She would see me gathering supplies and pretty things, baking ahead and preparing and just glowed.

And finally the day came, and we welcomed a houseful of sweet friends, from young cousins to high school graduates and grandparents, and we celebrated our Beatrice Elaine, bringer of joy and light.

Happiest of days to you, my oldest daughter and special joy.

*****


All in readiness


They’re here!


All the pretty girls!


Pin the teacup on the saucer.


Nana won!


Houseful.


Pretty desserts,


in tiers, because tea party.


Make a wish


Brothers who happily dressed the part and helped me out.


I love these three.


The birthday crew, including two incredibly generous young adults who made her birthday dreams come true by coming and and being nothing less than selfless in their interactions with these many young children. Hats off to them!


The aftermath… *sigh* All just memories.

memories

Mid August.

The sun changes, the air cools each night. And the scent. I love the subtle changes of scent as summer blossoms, then matures into autumn.

Nostalgia.

As this 30-foot long row of hydrangea bursts into bloom, its powdery scent filling the yard and wafting through open windows into the kitchen, I’m taken back to my Augusts of expectation, nine months pregnant with Beatrice, and then Fiona. I hear the bees buzzing, morning till night, in these sun-drenched blooms and am transported to those days of waiting, anticipating, and finally of bringing a swaddled newborn outside to see the hydrangeas for themselves.

On this day six years ago, I awoke still pregnant, overdue for the first time in my life, and I started to know what hope deferred felt like in a physical manifestation.

I listened to bees buzz and smelled the hayed fields and Queen Ann’s lace and brought in new bouquets of hydrangea, and waited.

This morning it all comes back to me. And I know the best is yet to come, but these memories — they are my most precious treasures.