Then I learned to mix Play-Doh colors

Chris calls me a rebel without a cause. Yes, I question. Everything. But in truth, I follow the rules.

As long as your rules aren’t stupid.

I color inside the lines (with the grain of the coloring going the same way and melding seamlessly). I sort the toys into the right bins. I clear away piles from the kitchen counter.

In high school, I once woke up in the middle of the night appalled that my bed had become so unmade. I smoothed out the sheets and comforter and slept on top of my bed (cold) for the remainder of the night.

I like the appearance of order. But don’t open my closets, inspect my filing cabinets (where all those piles on the kitchen counter end up willy-nilly in folders, sometimes marked), or try to find anything in my pantry. Don’t expect to locate a particular book on my shelf using any system based on genre, alphabetical order of author, or Dewey decimal. I shelve by instinct and love.

My existence flirts between the lines of order and disorder, tidiness and chaos.

Years ago at a conference, Jeremy Begbie introduced me to the term “non-order.” He called it “the jazz factor.” Something about this rang true, but I didn’t know what it meant to live it. I loved jazz music, but I couldn’t play it.

Then I had kids.

Before kids, I liked my scheduled days–writing in the mornings and early afternoon, reading during lunch, teaching music in late afternoons and early evenings. I didn’t watch TV until my tasks were completed. I maintained daily word quotas (in general, at least). The rhythms lent meaning in times of rejection. They fed my creativity.

My kids interrupted my rhythms.

My kids taught me to embrace untidiness, the unexpected, and hemiolas.* They taught me to enjoy laughter when dinner’s burning and I’ve missed a deadline and my ears are ringing from choruses of Five Little Monkeys sung with outside, mountain-top voices inside a three-foot fort.

They taught me how to riff.

We dance to coffee grinding, corn popping, and smoothies blending. We make a joyful noise unto the Lord with piano, drums, and kazoos. We don’t skirt puddles–we jump in them. As long as other kids aren’t zipping down the slides, I let my kids climb up the slides (which appalls a former teacher friend of mine). They regularly rearrange my Tupperware and pots and pans. And last week, I let them mix the Play-Doh colors.

Freedom washed over me.

Did you know you could do this? That you can mash the green with the orange? It didn’t launch the zombie apocalypse. Armies didn’t gather at Armageddon. Cylons didn’t attack.

When we tell people we’re expecting our third, it often inspires warnings of the coming chaos.

Bring it.

I’ve learned that life is not about balance. Some days I’m Wonder Woman. I can whip up a gourmet-ish dinner, edit a short story, and fold laundry. Other days, I survive until nap time when I crash and hope the rest will get me through until Chris gets home (either that or a special day of popcorn and Toy Story). I followed my new blogging rule of two posts a week for an entire week before missing a post, and I actually forgave myself.

God generates excess. Abundance. He created fasts and feasts.

I used to see parenting as a fast from the things of old–lazy Saturday mornings, last minute matinees, evenings at the symphony.

Now I understand that this is not an interruption of my regularly scheduled life. This is my normal, and it’s full, and it’s festive.

Sure, we still pick up the toys, and I’m pretty strict about bed time, but I don’t want my scheduled life anymore. I’ve learned to walk in both order and disorder, and I’ve grown addicted to the surprise of non-order. I now delight over unusual rocks, waste an afternoon when a certain little girl insists on napping only in my arms (still, at fifteen months), and don’t stress (too much) when flour goes flying because Keegan wants to help me make pancakes.

Heck, I may even learn to play jazz one day.

*Hemiolas happen when music is written in one meter but feels like it’s in another meter.

On Sabbaticals, And/Or Putting Myself on Maternity Leave

The little boy goes down for his one-hour nap, and I run-run-run (that’s how we say things in our house these days: “run-run-run” or “dip-dip-dip” when he wants something, anything in which he can dip his chicken or carrots or, you know, fingers) to the computer to write and edit and, of course, tweet.

But as I approach the end of my pregnancy, my run-run-running gets slower, and then the little boy wakes up and I want to lie down on the floor while he plays because not only is my body big and clumsy and not only does another little one sip all my energy through a big, fat Boba tea straw, but also I’m not sleeping well at night, and the little boy tells me, “No nigh-nigh, Mama” as he tries to pick up my head.

And some days I cry because I can’t do it all anymore, not now, and the little one crinkles up his face like his Mama’s face and says, “Mama?”

So here’s the thing: I’m putting myself on sabbatical. Or one might call it maternity leave. Either way, it’s time for this land to rest so that it can produce next season’s crop. And one of the perks of being a work-at-home mom? Sometimes I get to be in charge of my schedule. (Mostly the little boy takes charge of my schedule, but occasionally, I do.) I can’t properly take care of my family right now and do the work. Motherhood means contradictions: wanting this last month to pass quickly so I can have my body back and be me again (oh yeah, and meet the new little one) but wanting to savor every moment of just the little boy and me. Not all have the freedom to do what I’m doing, I know that. But I’ve decided to take advantage of this privilege.

I turned in a last writing project and a last editing project, and I put another writing project on hold.

And I’m putting myself on maternity leave.

See you in a couple of months.

Because Sometimes I Throw My Blankie Over the Side of the Crib, Too

Some days Keegan does not want to nap. On those days, after listening to him play in his crib then whine then cry for Mama, I hear a heart-breaking wail: “Dah!” And I know he’s thrown his blankie over the side of the crib and regrets it.

I know I should leave him and leave blankie so he learns to stop throwing blankie over the side of the crib and that he can’t get out of nap time with such antics.

But I’m not different from Keegan. Some days I do not want to do what God has placed in my life to do and I avoid it or I whine or I cry, and then I throw my blankie over the side of the crib. And I regret it.

God should leave me and leave my blankie right where I threw it and let me deal with the consequences so I learn that I can’t get out of things with such antics. Sometimes he does.

But sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he gets my blankie and cuddles me and lets me know he loves me, and then he returns me to the situation because I still have responsibilities.

So I go in and retrieve blankie (named Dah by Keegan for some unknown reason) and cuddle Keegan, and then I put him back in his crib with blankie because he still has to take a nap.

Also, I know how important blankie is to Keegan’s well-being. After all, that blankie was made from the blankie I carried everywhere at his age.

And Sometimes It’s This

Sometimes this is motherhood: finding the spiritual in the ordinary, the sublime in the mundane. It’s the dance your son does to Coltrane and the smile just like his daddy’s when he teases you. It’s the prose that lingers in his laughter, the prayer that rises from his babbling.

And sometimes it’s this: he refuses to eat anything but bananas and bread, to let you dress him without a temper tantrum, to let you write (or work or dry your hair), and the load whirling in the laundry right now contains a pair of jeans splattered with pureed raspberry and yogurt and another pair of jeans covered with your son’s vomit, and the pink creeps in the grout because during those last few minutes of his nap after finishing your work project you can either take a shower or clean it, and the measuring spoons and cups litter the kitchen (and the hallway and living room), and the toys create an obstacle course that makes Home Alone look like Mary Poppins–and snap–took care of everything. It’s the broken plate in the sink and the broken chess piece from Africa on the piano, and you’re struggling to live in complete thoughts, forget poetically.

Then it comes to the end of the night, and you rock and rock and rock until he falls asleep, these nights fewer and fewer when he sleeps still in your arms, and you want to hold him all night long and listen to his breathing and feel his warmth against you, and none of those things matter, or at least they matter less, because despite how hard this day was and how tired you are and how can you be out of chocolate?, there is love.

To the Very End of the Age

photo taken by Christina Kieffer

Will you be responsible for seeing Keegan is brought up in the Christian faith and life? the priest asked. Will you by your prayers and witness help Keegan to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Then we–the parents, the godparents, the family and friends who gathered in this small chapel for the purpose of baptizing this child, of witnessing the sacrament of God, the grace he bestows on the little children who come to him–echoed the baptismal covenant, reaffirming our beliefs, our creed, our very identity. I believe in God, the Father almighty, we said.

Individual voices rang out, first this friend’s voice, then that’s, first this grandparent’s, then another’s, even as the sounds joined together as one voice, as one symphony of love. And tears puddled on my lower lids, for this family came together because of their love for us and for Keegan, to see that this child is raised in Christ’s love and mercy. Their voices wrapped around me like my mother’s homemade afghan.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and I know that the ministry to all nations includes this little one entrusted to our care. And I know that this is the beginning of a journey, of discipling our Keegan, our “little fire,” for this is parenthood, to spiritually form–we will, with God’s help–and I pray that one day he will confirm this truth, that he will trust Christ and follow him.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the priest said.

In Which Keegan Keeps Me up All Night by Not Waking

The past couple of days, Keegan’s been refusing to nurse, and I didn’t know how this would break my heart. Sure, he could be teething, and perhaps he’ll resume, but he could also be done.

I had no warning.

I thought I’d have more time to watch how he watches me, how he plays with my hair (pulls, yanks, strips it from my head) while nursing, how I cuddle him close to me, how he sometimes falls asleep. And this is motherhood: little goodbyes as they grow up and start walking then start walking away from you. How does a heart handle this?

So last night, I woke up when I heard him at 4:00, hopeful that he needed me, though at the same time hoping he’d sleep through the night, but he didn’t need me; it was the latter, and within a minute, after soft whimpers, he had fallen back asleep on his own without his mama. And I spent the rest of the night in tears wondering when this happened, and I thought he would wean, I thought it would be slow, first the mid-day feedings would disappear then the morning, then that last feeding before he goes to bed. But last night he didn’t even want that last feeding.

This is how it’s supposed to be, I know, yes, I know that, but my heart hurts because in this way, my little boy doesn’t need me anymore, and he’s not really my baby anymore. He walks, and he knows what he wants and what he doesn’t want.

So I mourn this passing, but I remind myself that this is not it, this is not all there is to motherhood. (Funny that a woman who thought she’d have to get through the baby stage has to remind herself that there’s so much more than the baby stage.) We have more cuddling and playing and learning and dancing in our future, and this is how life moves, this loss and gain together, and it’s beautiful, watching my son develop, even when it means saying goodbye.


Random Writing Thoughts

After my post this week at The Master’s Artist about motherhood and writing, I read this about Andrew Stanton, lead writer of the Toy Story trilogy and writer and director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E (my favorite):

You can feel his love for his wife and his son and daughter onscreen.

What a beautiful thing to say about an artist.

I read or heard something else about someone or something relating to this, but I forgot. Oops.

Also, good to know that my writing insomnia hasn’t left in motherhood. The other night, I couldn’t sleep until I got up and spent a couple of hours editing a piece. In Bible study yesterday, someone remarked about my ability to sound coherent after eight months of interrupted sleep. God prepared me for such a time as this with a lifetime of insomnia.

Also, I’ve started a new piece. I love the energy of starting fresh, but I hate the crappiness of first drafts and having to put these words down even though yuck, just yuck. But here it is and here I am, and I’m still writing.

I’m Still Here

“Maybe I’m not a blogger anymore,” I told Chris. Maybe it was time to give up writing these posts, reading blogs about writing and art and beautiful ordinary life so that I could write and create and live beautiful ordinary. Yes, I thought, this is the time for that.

Except the next night I cried myself to sleep, wondering what’s happened to me, wondering if I still have thoughts on writing and art and the beautiful ordinary, if I still have stories to tell, or if I just exist in this space. The following morning, after a 5:00AM feeding, I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I came to my computer, and I opened these collecting blog posts in my reader, and I meandered. I read about writing and art and the beautiful ordinary, and I found a space for those things I’m still passionate about. Then I jotted down a few thoughts, interacting with these writers, stimulated by their wonderings and wanderings.

When Keegan awoke a couple of hours later, greeting me with a smile, I gathered him in my arms, ready to spend the day playing with him.

I’m still here. I’m still me, and I’m still blogging.

Becoming This Living

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you’re young, whatever life you wear

It will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.

- from “You shall above all things be glad and young… ” by e.e. cummings

So I seek to become this living, embracing the ordinary until it becomes me, hanging just so around my figure like a favorite dress. Sometimes I fail. I cry and wonder what has become of me, for even in those few moments when boy naps and mother sits at computer, the ideas in my head refuse to be formed into words on page.

David dreamed of this temple, this wonderful, beautiful temple he would build for his God in a land where a king was nothing without a palace, was not truly sovereign until he rested in his house, and this was true of their gods, too, the true rulers, the might behind the victories. Shouldn’t he do this for his God, then? Honor his God, display his might and beauty for all to see?

But no, that was not the living God had for him, and I look at the beautiful ordinary living God has for me, full of laughter and love (and drool), and look to embrace this living God has for me, to spread my passion for the big into this small, meaningful space, for the steady burn of the coals brings more lasting change than the flames of a bonfire.

When the words run out, I have not become less of me, I tell myself, but I have become more of this living.

David did not build that Temple, but he prepared for it and he raised his son to build it, and perhaps I will not become that meaningful writer, or perhaps I will, but I will prepare for the meaningful living, collecting words and ideas and life, and I will raise my son to build a meaningful life, filled with faith, hope, and love.

Phantom Itches

I lie supine as Keegan crawls over me. The other day, I posted on Facebook that his theme song is “Climb Every Mountain” (except he’d sing it in a rock/jazz fusion style, kind of like Trombone Shorty or Jamie Cullum). I’ve given up attempting yoga or Pilates because have you ever tried to do crow pose with a six month old hanging on you? And this is fun, and I laugh, and he laughs, and I think these days are so short.

Except some days I watch the clock, three and a half more hours until your daddy’s home, and the days are long, and what happened to my writing? Am I still a writer?

They say women use 20,000 to 25,000 words in a day, and those words used to be put on page, words in a short story, in a novel. Now I use my words to sing “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” because Keegan loves this song and he practices saying “baa.” We sing our ABCs and our body parts song, and I laugh, and he laughs, and he sways his body to the music. But are there any words left for my story about Claire? Will she wait for me if I tarry long?

Here I am, an introvert spending all my day with another person, an adorable little person who loves to climb and plays Tupperware instruments and tells me “baa,” and I wonder is it wrong to want a day with no people except the characters in my head?

Love for this little guy overwhelms me, and I love being a mother, this new person–these new persons–I’ve discovered, Keegan and me, and I tell Keegan stories–stories of his parents, imaginary stories of a boy who jumps to the sun and of lightening that gets stuck in the ocean–but where has the old writer gone? What happens to the characters in my head if no one tells their stories?

And I know–timing, everyone says, life stages, and someday, but I’m no good waiting for someday. The characters aren’t good with waiting either. My fingers itch to type the words.

I think of another time my fingers itched. I called it a phantom itch. I’d given up music to go to seminary except music worked its way back in as I composed songs for classes and a musical for my thesis and I continued to teach, and now I sit at piano with Keegan on my lap and he plays and we call it abstract music.

So I make a decision today. I will wake up an hour earlier to tell their stories. (This is serious. I am not a morning person, but I will endeavor to become one, or at least pretend to be one.)

Wish me luck.
Renew Now