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.

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.

spring growth

What a slow spring we’ve had.

And even as I type that, I realize how many things we can learn from observing the course of nature. Sometimes promised seasons of vibrancy and fruitfulness are slow in coming — but they come. Lilacs two weeks behind, peonies nowhere to be found, furnaces getting a break for the first time since October — this is a northern spring, for sure. And yet, green is bursting forth in all of its June glory, shade upon shade, dazzling and sumptuous, rejoicing to take its place on the stage of time.

It comes. He makes all things beautiful in its time — and somehow, in a soul-deep way that you and I both know but perhaps can’t quite understand, that beauty and marking of seasons makes us aware of the eternity set in our hearts. We long for more, for what the New Earth will be.

Snow melts, grass grows, but more amazingly: legs stretch long into girlhood, muscles grow hard into the density of manhood, babies forsake infancy and begin the efforts of talking and interacting, new skills are learned and workloads undertaken. Grades completed, books finished, fresh horizons are scanned in the continual longing of children for tomorrow.

There are springs when the heat comes before I’m ready, and I find myself scrambling in a panic to get ahead of weeds and voracious perennials that have enforced their dominance while I was unprepared. I am feeling a bit like that in this garden of motherhood. Gorgeous new blooms are ready to burst alongside the mayhem of weeds and untidy borders and pruning (and did I miss my chance? Is it too late?) Sometimes I wonder if I’ve turned a bit more sod than I should have, and if the garden dream has outgrown my reality. In this garden of motherhood, I’ve always been in over my head. Shape a person? Love them well, teach them well, train them well? Me??? I can fumble around with fertilizer and cuttings outdoors without too much fear of messing it all up (there’s always next year.) But what about this? This immense task of nurturing people?

It’s more than I can do. It’s what I was made for, and at the same time, it’s a calling that demands I do things I simply cannot do on my own.

But you know what? It’s not my garden. There’s a Master Gardener at work here, with a beautiful scheme in mind, and He’s asking me to work and learn alongside Him. My work is like 2 fish and 5 loaves — which is to say, not much at all in the face of the enormous calling — and He does miraculous things when instead of hiding that, or putting a limitation on it, I offer it all to Him.

The sun is shining hot this morning. Rain is forecasted for the next [as many days as my weather app will load]. But today, soaking in the warmth and and joy of gardens growing by leaps and bounds and the sound of children laughing and running and blooming.

another month

I get busy — busy with my time, but busy in my mind, too — and suddenly it’s been a month and there are only a few pictures on my phone, nothing written here, and life has just slipped by again.

A month ago, the boys were off skiing with Ryan on an epic (to them) three day tour of three mountains, thanks to tickets Ryan was blessed with. Today I’m looking out rain-spattered window panes to a new color — one that sprang up overnight, as pouring rain drenched the earth and awakened dormant life. Green. Green is hard to even remember in February, and by the end of March I’m wondering if it really ever will come, and then suddenly it’s here. Robins are here, leaf buds are here, crocuses are here, kids in mud boots laughing and running and rediscovering are here — it’s all here.

Can I be honest? I was sad to watch the sledding hill melt. The path they walked every single afternoon and the trails they had carefully established for their sleds were the last to go, and I took a few deep, shuddering breaths that bordered on sobs as they caught my eye day after dwindling day. A whole winter gone. I love these warmer days — love to watch them scatter this way and that, dribbling balls and riding bikes and exploring in the woods and carving out new “houses” under bushes — but they scatter, and in the winter, they are a little tribe of playmates, always together, always inventing games they all can play, helping one another and laughing together and being my little brood. And so I sigh each year when it ends. Happy for the warmth of sunshine and hours of fresh air and ready to dig into the work and maintenance of summertime, but there’s a special quality of being hemmed in that winter brings. And now we have said goodbye to another year’s snow and are hurdling headlong into the outward days of summer.

A month looks something like:


Skiing!


Snow disappearing.


Three days away with Mama and Daddy for a work trip.


Five weeks of a Bible study and sometimes her cousin came to play.


This one on the go, but also wanting me so much still.


William calling me from my task of switching clothes from winter to summer, and finding this waiting for us. Wow!


She’s off and running, about 6 months ahead of the Dunphey standard.


Neighborhood games of “box ball”.


So eager to try some carrot.


This one! I could write a book about her.


Naptime every day looks like this. It will be gone before I know it, but for now, she nurses and drifts off every afternoon.


This week: Easter preparations!


Flowers!


I gave the hydrangeas a serious pruning. I love working outside and watching kids play!


My littlest and biggest. He loves her so much!


Every chance they get, long into the evening.

marking time with celebration: Beatrice is 7

Beatrice turned 7 on Friday.

She cried the night before, as she usually does. This girl feels deeply and is uniquely aware of how precious and fleeting childhood is. Of course I want to cry, too, but someone has to pull her out of her melancholy and so I remember for both of us: Every new morning, every new year in God is a blessing. Being alive and serving Him is a gift! We can be thankful for what He’s done, and let that shape our expectation for what’s to come. Ephesians says that before we were even born, He had good works planned for us. And so she finally slept, that sweet girl of mine.

And no more tears upon waking! She eagerly dressed and as soon as we could, she and I slipped away for a special breakfast outing and errands. I had asked her the night before (during our pep talk) to share with me three things she loved about being six and one thing she’s looking forward to. And so without any prompting, she rattled them off as we ate: working on the renovation with Daddy, watching Enid be born, and being part of the ski program at CFA. And she’s looking forward to 2nd grade.

A simple day of hanging out with siblings (inside, due to rain), and even a movie in the middle of the day! Big treat. Finally a couple of friends arrived and they played something silly and fun with teepee and play food. Tacos for dinner with Nana and Papa, too. Brownie with ice cream and whipped cream and sprinkles made her day.

We shared some of what we love about our Beatrice as we sat around the music room. She’s so easy to appreciate — the list is long, from dimples and freckles to quick forgiveness and tenderheartedness.

And then just like that the day was over and she was officially launched into her next year of living.

*****

Stopping to celebrate, even simply, helps us to communicate and cultivate value. We are not happenstances. There is a beautiful design in us, and worth we can’t quite imagine. (The cross tells us so.)

And as my children grow older, I become more thankful for these simple days when I can make a special effort to prepare their requested dinner, find a gift I think they’ll love, and look in their eyes and echo the words of their Creator: You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are loved with an everlasting love.