Monday, September 19, 2016

The Faith of a Chicken

Dear Mrs. Cushman,
I've never forgotten hatching chicken eggs under heat lamps in the corner of our kindergarten room, right next to the easels. After 30 years of remembering it fondly, I decided I could not let my children grow up without knowing the same sense of excitment and wonder I felt the day I came in with my backpack and saw their fluffy bodies where once there were only hard shells.

Since I don't own a farm, I've been stumped how to make this happen. This summer I began a search for a farmer who would let me hatch his chicks, care for his chicks and return his chicks when they weren't chicks. And after a dodgy google search where I foolishly entered "I want to rent a chick" I did come up with Hatch the Chicken. It would cost me hundreds of dollars, but a woman would bring me an incubator, a cage and seven eggs and let me keep the hatched chicks for one month.

After racing to my husbands office to ask "persmission" and after getting an amused smile that said "you're crazy and I find it entertaining" I handed over my credit card numbers and announced to my children, "We are hatching chickens!"

We picked out our favorite eggs from the batch the farmer had, put them in the incubator and started doing this
and this:

For about four weeks.

We had a special light to watch them grow and we would peer in wonder, whispering words of encouragement. In our very hands, beneath a translucent shell, a new life was growing and becoming. It was startling.

And after twenty six days there was this!!!
And our entire family squished into a two foot space between my daughter's wall and bed (she insisted the eggs stay in her room at all times) and waited for hours. That is not an exaggeration. We got sore and tired, but the battle waging in front of us was stunning! The tiny bird would cry out and rock its egg and we would talk back, promising we were there and ready to love it. Sometimes the eggs would call to each other, their tiny peeps whispered in their dark, crowded eggs. Every single one of our seven eggs was twitching and preparing for life.

What would they think of light? And human touch and the feel of grass beneath their feet? What made them so brave to try? How did they know what to do?
And then:

Buster came first, our little trailblazer. The first touch was thrilling. To put our own fingers on a brand new life. To be the first faces he saw and the first voices he heard. 
And then:
and then some more:

When the hatching was finished two days later we had five busy chicks and two silent eggs.  While they all grew and developed in the eggs, there were two, at the very last hour that never emerged. I sat next to the incubator, and found myself pondering over the still eggs. Had they been too tired? Too frightened to try? Had they lost faith that the next peck or scratch or wiggle would be the one to free them? Should I have helped them? The mysterious answers stayed hidden inside those unbroken eggs. But when I looked at our five chicks I felt new admiration for their faith and courage. It wasn't easy to break into this world and make a go of it. Their siblings died trying. But they fought on. 
They started to explore:

They even made their way to sweet husband's office:

They got bigger and stronger:

And made us happy!

(This is me getting ridiculously attached to chickens! I would sit in the yard with them for an hour at a time, just watching their antics. We all did.)

And then they grew their combs and it was time to say goodbye.

But they taught every lesson I hoped they would. They filled us with wonder for the miracle of life-  even the tiniest lives. They filled us with hope. And they taught me about faith. The faith to struggle. The faith we have to have when we think we are entirely alone and in the dark. The faith it takes to realize that beyond our fragile shell God waits and watches and encourages, and knows what we are about to become because of our struggles. 

Now when I am afraid, I wonder if I can have the faith of a chicken.

The faith of a chicken is believing in tomorrow. It is believing in something beyond and better than ourselves. It is trusting that we are part of a plan that is perfect and miraculous in its details.

So Mrs. Cushman, wherever you are, thank you for hatching those chickens in our kindergarten classroom. I probably had snot-stained shirt cuffs. I probably talked when I shouldn't. I probably cried when I got my feelings hurt. I probably interrupted a good lesson with a pointless fact. But you taught me anyway and are now the reason I am teaching my children the same lesson.
You knew, didn't you? About the faith of a chicken?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Homemaking- our remodel revealed

I married an artist.
He married a nester.
Between the two of us we can't leave good enough alone. Every unattractive things makes us almost giddy. We are fixer-uppers. Ugly is just a chance for transformation. He wields the power tools. I nod and point, like I am being helpful.
I tell him what colors and textures will work. He doubts me until he agrees with me.
We are having fun doing something completely impractical.
This isn't about resale.
This isn't about entertaining.
This isn't about portfolios or bottoms lines.
This is about high-fiving each other at the end of the day and saying, "I love this home we built together."
And that, really, has very little to do with the colors or textures or power tools. That is all about the people and the love in our four walls.
But while we're working on building the love, we're working on building the style, too.

How we found it six years ago:

Buying a home takes vision. We had to erase everything we saw and just keep the walls. Okay, most of the walls. The home we chose was beautiful and pristine and well kept. It was lovely. It just wasn't... us. And when you just can't leave well enough alone you have to make something your own.

Our home the day we moved in 2009:

Traditional kitchen circa 2009:

traditional living room circa 2009:

The front room that is supposed to be a dining room but we don't do dining rooms so we didn't know what it was circa 2009:

Fast Forward to 2015:


We took out the old oak planks, put down six inch hickory floors, painted the cabinets, installed frosted glass in the front of the upper cabinets, installed stainless steel countertops, a rock backsplash, new lighting fixtures, and a bank of floating, live edge shelves for our every day dishes.

Our Living Room:
We tore out the fireplace wall, did a solid stone wall, painted, and put in hickory floors

Our non-dining room:
There is nothing formal about us. We walk around the block barefoot and kiss other people's babies. We love eating our meals in the kitchen and want our guests to feel like one of the family. In the old dining room we tore up the white carpet, installed hickory floors, painted the walls, and turned it into a living room with a television and piano for our little ones and a cat tower for our four legged family member.

We still have a huge to-do list of projects remaining: bathrooms, staircase, landscaping, basement. But it is all just for fun. We do it because the feeling of seeing potential where others don't, making beauty where others wouldn't, is just a little addictive. There are a million things I can't do- sew button holes, quilt, make gourmet jams, get my eyeliner right- but  for me, this is one thing I feel like I can get right if I keep trying. 
 It's not a fashionable title to say you are a homemaker. You don't get  any sexy points or looks of admiration, but I honestly don't understand why.

In my book there is nothing we crave more than a true home. A place where we belong. A place we understand. A place where we feel safe. A homemaker is someone who creates that out of nothing. Someone who transforms sawdust and wires and cement into memories and birthday parties and family dinners and bedtime stories. For every moment I spend trying to make my home look good,  I hope I spend a thousand moments making it feel good. And if you are doing that, I think your home is beautiful! 
And to tell the complete truth, I would take a one room sod house in a heart beat if this was what I came home to every day:

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What I wish I'd known about colic...

I met a beautiful, young mother today who is going through the agony of raising a baby with severe colic. I write this post for her. Just a few words exchanged between us and our eyes were wet because... we know.
If you've never had a baby with true colic this won't interest you. It might even horrify you.
If your baby only cried for a few hours at a time, or slept more than four nights in his or her first year of life, this just won't make sense.
Because babies cry, right?
Man up and be a mom, right?
Every mom has a baby who cries. Don't try to make everyone feel sorry for you. Right?
I might have thought that was right.
Until I came up against this monster that they call colic. Or as a specialist explained it to us- a five letter word for "we don't know."

It's hard to see all the medication on the counter in this picture. It is difficult to describe how hard it was to open the pedialite, measure out the medications, make a bottle, all with one hand while she shrieked into my ear, wetting my shoulder with her spit and pain. This picture doesn't show the way she would suddenly arch backward with all her strength and scream and the medicine bottles went tumbling across the counter. It doesn't show how I knocked everything over in my desperate attempt to keep her from throwing herself out of my arm onto the hard tile floor or crying while I put her on those hard tiles because I had to right the medicine bottle before it was all gone. It doesn't show that this scene was identical four hours later and four hours after that and four days after that and four months after that, except the baby got bigger (huge, really) and harder to save when she jerked and screamed.
It doesn't show the forty pounds I lost ( forty pounds from my PRE-baby weight) until I was a walking stick or the time I took her to urgent care (again!) and the nurse put the thermometer in my mouth instead of hers. I tried to protest until she told me I was running a fever of a 104 from mastitis. I had no idea because every moment of every day felt like a fever of 104. I was in the refiner's fire. And let me say, I wasn't burning alone. My husband was in there with me and our little family seemed to be crumbling to ashes before our sleepless eyes.
So, here is what I wish I had known. What I want to say to every very tired, very confused mother.

Your child loves you. 
She can't tell you right now because her life is hard, but she loves you. You are everything to her. She will stop crying and she will adore you. You will be her best friend. I know this. I know this is true. I know because my baby grew up and out of all her tears and she loves me. We have a bond that is unbreakable because we started from the bottom and fought for every single victory. Every good day. And we never let go of each other. Now I know we never will.
You don't really hate your baby.
I know you've felt it and it scared you. How can anyone hate a baby? How can a mother?! The answer is that you don't. You are so tired, and the screaming is so loud, and your life is in such a free fall that you want to scream and cry back. You hate the trauma and the uncertainty, and the deep feelings of inadequacy and the fire in the middle of your soul that seems to be killing you. And somewhere behind that mask of agony and noise is your daughter. Your daughter. You made her. What a miracle you both are. The shocking part is not the "hating." The shocking part is being able to love right through the hate when every cell of you is screaming to fight back, run away, protect yourself. But what do you do? You hold her while she scream at you. Who has love like that? You do. That's amazing.

This is the hardest time of your mothering life.
Let me repeat that. This. is. the. hardest. time.

The cruelest (unintentionally, of course) thing ever said to me during our two years of colic was a mother who slapped my back and said, "If you think this is hard, wait until they are teenagers. You ain't seen nothing yet."
She walked away laughing and I sat in shock because there was no longer a reason to live.
If it got harder, if it got worse, if I would think this was easy, then death was the only thing left to wish for.
I know. Dramatic much, Tapper?
Yeah, well, you see how you feel when you haven't slept in 11 months. Not bad sleep like we have to nurse every few hours. Bad sleep like we regularly had to walk the block at 1 and 3 in the morning because the screams echoing off the walls were making parts of my brain melt. There comes a time when you think, "Forget freedom. Give me sleep or give me death."
Every month of every year has gotten easier and easier since colic. When mothers talk to me now I say, "I have no complaints. My life is ridiculously easy. I think pre-teen girls are awesome."
I slept last night. My child says I love you. I am a normal body weight because I can eat food again. Every little problem is just that- so, so little. After colic, you think you are cheating because everything else feels easy.

You are the mother she needed.
No one took of picture of me crying over the yellow pages looking up adoption agencies- not for my sake, but for hers. I couldn't help my child. Every day, all day, and all night, my child begged me to help her. And every day, every hour, and every night, I failed. I let her suffer. I let her scream. It didn't matter that I tried with all my strength and faculty- I failed and she suffered. There are no words to describe what that does to a mother's soul and heart. I thought she deserved a real mother. A better mother. Because a real mother would know how to help her child. A real mother would have the magic touch. A real mother would comfort her.
I took this picture at two in the morning one night after a bout of screaming. Eventually she quieted and took great interest in a hat and a stuffed animal. Because there were so few quiet moments of play for us, I pulled out all of her hats and all of her stuffed animals and helped her accessorize each and every one. 
We worked on it for about forty five minutes, yawning and whispering, until at last she fell asleep in my arms, where I walked her for another hour because every time I tried to put her down she would begin to scream again. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was her real mother. I was the better mother. I was who she needed. And she was who I needed. We survived each other and came out of the experience deeply appreciative of our moments together.

To all mothers who think they are not "real", or think they are failing, who cannot fix the problem or the heartache, just hold on! Hold on them. Your hands are magic. Your hands are the ones they need. You are the only one with the ferocity and tenacity and power to love her this much.
And here's the bonus:
You will come to realize that all those times you were holding a screaming baby, you were really holding your best friend.
( and no- she isn't holding a dead chicken. That is our cat. And it isn't hairless. It is nearly hairless. That is another post.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter without Eggs

I've had some interest from friends about a family tradition we've been practicing for five years now.
It all started when my oldest daughter was about seven.
We noticed that as Easter approached the conversation was constantly about dying eggs, hiding eggs, chocolate bunnies, real bunnies, fluffy chicks and new dresses. When I talked about Jesus she would nod and quickly return to her real concern- hunting for candy hidden inside little plastic eggs.
Hunting for candy is great. I fully support it. I wish our world was more like Willy Wonka and we could just go around licking trees. But candy doesn't sustain you. It doesn't give you hope. It doesn't make you hold on when you've lost the strength to hold on. It doesn't love you, or help you or teach you. Only the Lord does all of that.
So we decided not to let anything hijack Easter- not even adorable baby chickens and lop-eared rabbits.
(Or rabbits who are apparently minions of the underworld like this one- seriously, we only took this picture because we found this bunny equally horrifying and hilarious.)

Loving the tradition and holiness of Passover practiced by our Jewish friends, I decided to start a tradition to help us remember the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
(Don't worry- we still do eggs and bunnies.
On Saturday.
On Saturday we celebrate Spring and flowers and new dresses and baby animals. We celebrate our heads off.)
And on Sunday we wake up in an attitude of awe and reverence. We go to church, we pray and we talk as a family about the miracle of the day.
When evening begins to fall we prepare for our Easter Feast.

We begin by having each member of the family wash another member's feet. We speak of the dusty roads of Jerusalem, the sandals, the friendship between Jesus and his apostles, and how difficult it must have been for them to watch Him kneel before them.

We enter quietly into our sun room where everything is set with white dishes and plates. We light candles and take our seats. Our entire meal consists only of foods mentioned in the Bible. As we eat we take turns discussing each items on our plate, its meaning, symbolism or the stories where it appears.
So this is our menu and the references we discuss concerning each dish:
Fish: The fisher of men, the fish overflowing the nets, the fish with the coin in its mouth, the two fishes multiplied to feed over 5,000, the fish and honeycomb the resurrected Lord ate with his apostles.
Loaf of rustic bread: the bread of life, the bread of the first sacrament, the bread multiplied to feed over 5,000.
Flatbread (unleavened bread): the flight of the Children of Israel out of Egypt, the passover
Olive oil:  The Garden of Gethsemane (an olive vineyard), the olive branch of peace, the olive branch of promise for Noah, the parable of the olive vineyard, the oil of anointing
Vinegar: The sponge they offered to Jesus when he thirsted on the cross
Water: The living water, the Samaritan woman at the well, the pool of Bethesda, the Jordan River, the turning of water into wine, walking on water, calming the waves of the storm
Grape Juice (to signify wine): The first sacrament, the first miracle (the turning of water into wine), the grapes of wrath, the fruits of the spirit
Figs: The story of the withered fig tree where Jesus instructs Peter to believe.
Salt: The salt of the earth
Bitter herbs: the bitterness of Israel's enslavement, the spices brought to Jesus as a baby, the spices used to bury him
Two small birds: The parable of the hen gathering her chickens, the offering of Joseph and Mary at the temple when Jesus was born, the promise that God knows every sparrow and we are much more to Him than birds
Corn:  The story of the apostles picking corn on the Sabbath day as they passed through a field
Tabbouleh (wheat salad): The parable of the wheat and the tares, the field is white and ready to harvest

It is something that has given Easter very special and personal significance to our family. It has come to be one of our favorite family times together, despite the lack of sugar and games. This year as I listened to my girls tell their favorite stories of Jesus, as they interrupted each other with their favorite details, and held up their waving hands, desperate to say what they know, I felt immense gratitude for being their mother and for the precious gift of being able to teach them that they are Children of God. I am thankful to know of God's love and be able to teach them the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Terms and Conditions of Friendship

When you have some of the greatest friends and cheerleaders on Earth in your life, you're bound to wonder how you got so lucky.
So very, very lucky.
People who amaze me and inspire me and have all my admiration and awe turn around and call me friend. They call me and shoot me emails like it is normal. And I see their texts and read their words and wonder how in the world I managed to collect such amazing people in the circle of my life.
They reach out to support me, encourage me, laugh with me, celebrate with me and comfort me. They trust me with their tears and their secrets and their worries and their victories. They show up when I'm in the spotlight. They show up when I'm utterly lost. They show up.
So I thought I would share my philosophy of friendship, because so far it has netted me the most impossibly wonderful people I ever imagined could come into my life.
My rules for friendship are very concise, very simple, and utterly drama-free (and I wish I had figured them all out a long, long time ago!):

1. The job description of a friend is easy- be happy to see me, be sad to see me go. If you sincerely smile when I walk in and frown when I leave, like or not- we're friends.

2. You have no obligations of time or effort. You don't have to email me, text me, call me, give me presents or remember my birthday. If you are happy when I show up, you are my friend. If it has been years since we've talked- no worries- years go by fast. We're still good. If you do any of those very nice things you are going above and beyond the friendship call of duty.

3. If you allow me time to hibernate, hide, deal with my stuff and don't get offended if I don't call or come to a tupperware party, you are an understanding friend. Thank you for knowing I'm not brilliant enough to stay on top of everything. I love that you hold onto me when I can't hold onto anything.

4. If you want me to be happy and not sad, you are my friend. If you hope that life is kind to me and not not hurtful, you are my friend. If you don't wish me pain or misery, you are my friend.

5. If you say something that comes out horribly, but you never meant it that way- I don't take off points for articulation. It's what you mean and not what you say. I'm pretty good with words. I will edit for you and we are friends.

6. If I ask to help and you actually let me- that means we are really good friends.  Asking for a favor is a compliment. We are great friends!

7. If you get mad at me and talk to me about it and give me a chance to see my mistake and apologize, you are a compassionate friend. And if you accept my apology and keep loving me, I will always love you.

8. If you can help me laugh at my own absurdities, you are a priceless friend.

9. If you tell me when I'm way off base, but give me points for trying, you are a brave friend and I admire your honestly. I won't let go of you.

10. If I know how you will treat me, consistently, every time I see you, you are a trustworthy friend.

11. Once you are my friend it takes some pretty awful behavior to get rid of me. So I end this as I began. If you are happy when I am happy, I am lucky to call you my friend, and I will always be sincerely happy when you come and truly sad when you go.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To the Gentle

Hard days. Long days. Emotional days.
Every-moment-crammed-with-small-favors days.
Trying-to-remember-and-meet-every-commitment days.
Wanting-more-time-to-sit-and-process days.

As May rushes to a close the school year folds up. Not like a neat, compact envelope, but like a supernova taking a final breath before it implodes.

And in all the chaos there is a underlying stirring of panic.
The time is spent.
Another year spent.
They are taller and smarter, funnier and more beautiful.
And more gone.

When they put their heads in my lap I try not to move, wondering if I can count on one hand how many more times in my life they will sleep in my arms.
How many fingers will count the times they run from the school door with the word, "mama" on their lips?

It has been a wonderful week. A difficult week. A painful week.
The unkind things people did to me struck twice as deep.
But, let's always look on the bright side- the tender and loving things struck even deeper.
So many mothers wet their eyes with me, put arms around me, expressed their love.
I don't have fingers to count the friends I ran into at the store, sharing smiles.
The happy phone calls and compliments.
The packages from friends sent all the way from Paris!
I think I noticed every good thing because my heart is just raw enough to feel every touch.
And I know more now what I have always known- I live off of kindness.
Like air and food and water. That is how I survive.

I am so grateful for people who do not ration their kindness. Do not wonder if I deserve or need it. Do not assume I am fine. I am thankful for the women in my life who are gentle with me. Some days I notice with gratitude and a smile, and some days it is air. Water. Food.