bake.

I was out with the pups just now, walking around the pool to get them to the grassy spots.  It’s my favorite view of our home, from the backyard. Every morning I look at it and think, pinch me that I get to live here with these people and these pups.  Even though the kids are, as I type, in my kitchen making something called “Not Your Mama’s Cookies”.  This will involve every bowl and measuring utensil we own and, even though there are only five ingredients, will call into active duty no fewer than three rolls of paper towel to clean up.  The shrapnel of this culinary experiment will fill both dishwashers and will require the floor to be mopped.  Twice.  On hands and knees because of sticky.  I hate having kids in the kitchen.  Did I say that out loud?  Yes, and it was cathartic.  I hate having kids in the kitchen.  I wish I were the mama who welcomed her kids in to her kitchen to experiment and who then stands on the periphery, smile on beatific face, as her kids learn that one half cup needs to be one half cup because measurements count.  Instead, I’m the mama who stands on the periphery, hands wringing the life out of each other and mentally thinking which norwex is going to be best utilized to get that molasses off the oven door.  I, with all my type A-ness, can barely stand it, this raping and pillaging of my pristine kitchen, my haven.  It’s terrible.  I’m terrible.

There is so much to be learned in the kitchen classroom: how mise en place saves you later, how using a knife to level off your baking ingredients helps keep things honest, why there is a difference between baking powder and baking soda, how to cheat and make your own buttermilk with regular milk and a squeeze of lemon juice.  I want my kids to learn these things, only I want them to learn them somewhere else.  Can we collectively build a teaching kitchen with a janitorial staff where we can release our kids to their creative genius without nailing our kitchens to the cross?  A sort of culinary dog park for kids.  Baking and cooking unleashed.  I’d throw money at that project all day.  Because if I have to mop Pam overspray off my floor one my time, I’m going to ban them all from my kitchen til kingdom comes.  Because lately every sentence starts with, “We will clean it up and we already have all the ingredients…” Because if I’m made to watch one more (ONE MORE!) Tasty tutorial with pleading eyes I will surely die of it. Holy Mother, help us in our hour of need.

I’m learning, slowly and with every muscle clenched, to be the mom who doesn’t say things like, “This kitchen is closed.  I’m sorry, but it is.” Who needs to do deep breathing exercises when she sees the army of small destructors coming at her with a newly printed recipe, sideways smiles on their cunning faces.  I’m learning to let them in, invite them in, mantra on loop-this is not precious.  This kitchen is not precious.  These ingredients are not precious.  But these people are.  Holy cow, are they precious.  And they need to learn or they will grow up to be helpless prats in the kitchen and none of us wants that.  So I teach them how to brown butter without burning and how to make the perfect meringue because who doesn’t love meringue?  I teach them to steam veggies and the proper way to use a chef’s knife, fingers curled under so you don’t lose them.  They learn how to make homemade Mac and cheese because at least then they won’t starve when they are grown up. And just the thought of them being grown ups makes me long to be with them.  Even if it’s in the kitchen.

this is me being real

thank. full.

It’s been a low key kind of weekend, soaking in the sunshine while putting the last pool supplies away for the winter and hours on couches chatting up family.  I’ve heard so many people say thanksgiving is their favorite holiday and I’ve never felt the same, honestly.  Thanksgiving has always made me want to run away and have an adventure with my people, not sure why that is.  Perhaps because it launches this busiest time of year.  And, while I wait with baited breath to welcome Jesus, I could do without classroom parties and dishes to pass and more on the calendar than can possibly fit.  Can definitely do without wrapping gifts and crossing fingers that everything is even.  I love this coming season when we prepare to usher in the Savior, but I often feel like the holy gets lost in the scurry.

Grant has this best friend who we adore.  He’s the politest boy ever.  When I go pick him up, he always greets me with a shy smile and, “Thanks for having me, Mrs. Vos.”  Even though he may be headed for the crummiest time, will certainly be surrounded by our chaos and kids climbing on him when he walks in the door.  He could be headed for the worst time ever. Still, thanks are always given on the front end.  And the back.  Like gratitude bookends.  He has it right, this teenaged boy: thanks first and thanks after.

It has me thinking about how I approach this coming season.  How I need to bookend it with thanks.  The gift is coming and it’s going to be the best thing ever.  We know this.  So, thanks now in anticipation and breathless thanks on Christmas morning when we wake to find that little wooden babe in his manger bed, surrounded by adults who are worshiping him because he is King and they are in awe.  And so should we be.  Nestled amongst the turkey and trimmings on Thanksgiving should be groaning anticipation for the Baby and all He brings: life, light, salvation.  I’m committing to hemming him in with thanks, before and after.  Committing to making the preparation smaller so the event can be bigger.  Because this baby deserves the greatest celebration we can think up.  He just does.  But the best we can give is Christmas morning with the Smalls gathered around our manger scene and wishing him a Happy Birthday in word and song, and that is enough.  Enough as long as we give thanks before and give thanks after.  Enough as long as we remember that Advent is Jesus launching season and it’s the greatest release there ever has been or ever will be, this Baby who saves us.  Thanksgiving prepares us to receive Christmas for the holy day it is.  It’s our chance to say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for having us.” Bless it all.

this is me being real.

cope.

He made the team.  I should have told you that Wednesday, but I was so emotionally hungover I couldn’t even form words. For like, 48 hours.  My family was thrilled.  We would have been okay if he hadn’t made it, but we are okayer with this gift of a team.  He went on his team retreat this weekend and I listened to stories of pranks and hijinks and realized this is a part of his life he’s missed.  He has the greatest best friend, a boy we love like our own son, but he’s not been a part of a group for a long time and it is balm to all our hearts.

He made the team.  Which means I have an 8 day itinerary for a family of six to Arizona and Las Vegas if anyone wants it, because I have strange coping mechanisms.  So, when I wasn’t vacuuming, I was on Judith (laptop), googling “best things to do with families in __________”.  Our family, we’ve taken some hits this month and we are weary.  And so I spent my nights after all were abed doing what any rational mother would do: planning adventures to states we haven’t been to.  Because if he hadn’t made the team, we would have found ourselves with a lot of free time on our hands and we need more than ever before to get the heck out of dodge and catch our collective breath.  Before we meet with Abe’s cardio team in a few weeks and get a game plan.  Before possibly spending days or weeks in the hospital with him. And weeks at home recuperating, our family fractured and limping along.  Dan was understandably nonplussed when I presented him with our travel plans on Tuesday for a trip that was to start on Friday. He spends so much of our lives playing catch up.  Sometimes I feel sorry for Dan.

Instead we are home.  Right where we belong.  We are still hoping to get away, only on a much smaller scale.  And I’ve promised Dan that I’ll stick to vacuuming my stress away for the foreseeable future.  A promise I can make because now I’m one vacation itinerary in the plus.  Two if you count the $15,000 four days at Disney that I looked into also.  And that was without airfare but with possibly the most amazing Disney planner I’ll ever work with, if not just because at that price I can’t imagine we’ll never go. Sometimes having a big family bites us right in the tush. But when it’s really great is when daddy leaves to pick teenager up from last tryout and three ride along because they’ve been praying and they need. to. know.  And then when they call you with the news, they are all dancing in their seats and screaming. And they eat roast beast and ask questions and no one can stop smiling.  I think I’ll keep them.

this is me being real.

tryout.

You sports mamas, I don’t know how you do it.  We are on day three of JV basketball tryouts and my heart has been in my throat for days.  Tell me you’ve been in this place.  You put your kid in God’s hands, whispering trust, only to snatch him right back out with the next breath.  Because there is an ugly, deep down part of you that is worried this is going to be one of those character building lessons and you’re sick of those and want to move on.  Because you know how badly he wants this, needs this, and you’re terrified that your big man/child is going to walk through the door tonight, tears in eyes and defeat written on that face you’ve adored for 15 years and it’ll break you. You’ve learned that tears from toddlers are nothing compared to tears from teens, face a reflection of the war between letting it out and keeping it in.  You tell him this is not who he is, that sports don’t define him.  But you know that his longing is for this to be part of his identity.  To wear that jersey and represent.  He’s been trying for 4 years to make the team and you want to grab the coach by the shirtfront and beg for a chance.  Even though you know that this is not salvation.  It’s not poverty or abortion or sex trafficking or hunger.  This is a game and it doesn’t define him.

So you text your friend and ask to push carts at costco so you can glean her wisdom.  You rake it in like you’re harvesting heart cells and then she asks about these last weeks.  Asks how your heart is.  And you tell her that you’re more worried about your teenager making the team than your 6 year old with all his health problems.  Guilt dances across your face because what kind of mother thinks this way?  And she says, maybe teenager’s heart is more fragile than Abe’s right now.  And you thank Father again, for the millionth time, for giving you this dear one who is the wisest in the land and who speaks truth as a native language.  Bless it.

Mamas, our kids are nursing fragile hearts.  All of them.  And it’s ok for us to hold those delicate organs in our hands and worry over them, but we have to find our way to the handing off place because that is where the good stuff happens.  Like trusting that what Father has for them is so much better than we could ever plan.  Like believing that if he doesn’t make the team, it’ll be because he is being protected from something or someone who could hurt him.  Or because he just plain isn’t good enough.  In this world of participation ribbons and everyone winning, we have to hand feed them defeat sometimes.  Your kid can’t be the best at everything.  Winning everything is the precursor to being a conceited prick who no one can stand to be around.  We want better for our babies than to be that guy.  And so we let them tryout for the 4th year, knowing they are up against kids who have been balling since they were toddlers.  And we commit to praying for fragile hearts, theirs and ours.  We put a roast in the crock pot so that when he walks through the door tonight, elated or defeated, there will still be food and shelter and there will be you, waiting.

this is me being real.

redo.

He deserved champagne and balloons.  A pajamagram at least.  He deserved a day, a week, a month to do whatever he darn well wanted.  Instead he got a wife too sick to get out of bed and so inherited her work as well as his own.  He drove down to the Children’s Hospital. Twice.  Met with docs, asked the wrong questions and forget about the ears, but he was there. He spent his evening eating Kraft Mac n Cheese that he made himself and driving 6 different times to school to pick up or drop off.  He handled middle school conferences and picked up new prescriptions and received exactly zero presents.  Yesterday sucked.  And so today called for a redo.

We hung balloons filled with confetti, wrote cards with stick figure drawings, blobby hands and appropriately colored skin because that matters to some of us.  There were amazing steaks and potatoes smashed with black truffles and parmesan cheese.  And asparagus that Abe called beans because he can never bring up the right name for stuff. There were brownies with whipped cream and berries that everyone ate while waiting for the steaks to come up to temp in the oven. Sometimes you’ve gotta let dessert lead and the nutritious stuff follow. And we sat around the table and did our Pows and Wows and ate like carnivores and my wow was him.  Because he loves us so well and he deserved so much more than a crappy redid birthday, but he was happy just the same.  With his special spot on the couch, blanket my mom made him in high school at the ready and slippers close by.  He could sit there all evening and watch his shows and not do dishes or drive or put kids to bed.  And I washed dishes watching him watching his beloved This Old House Hour, Lulu fresh from the shower and curled up in his arms and thought, you are my Wow.

Sisters, perhaps this week was crappy for you too.  Maybe you missed some big or small things because you were sick or busy or you just plain forgot.  Maybe you didn’t show up, in spirit or in person.  This weekend is calling for a redo.  You just turn that clock back because you refuse to let it go down like that.  Throw the party, make the giant nest of blankets and pillows and wear the jammies and snuggle in, pile them in and drive to that special spot.  They won’t remember that you didn’t show up yesterday; they’ll only remember that you did today.  And if this week has nearly kilt you and you feel like you’re about to have a come apart, then give yourself a pass and wear grace like your softest bathrobe.  Tell them you wanted to show up, wanted it so badly your teeth clenched and your tummy hurt, but you have limits and man, you hit yours this week.  Ask for forgiveness as you tuck them in bed and then refuse to pay guilt a visit.  That guy can go live somewhere else because the inn is full. Mama, you are enough, despite what the voices in your head keep telling you.  You are enough.  It’s the weekend, girl.  Go get er.

this is me being real.

done.

Mamas of medically complicated children, you are my heros.  No, seriously.  I’ve been at this for less than a week and I’m dead.  Two weeks of picking up the teenagers snot rags have netted me the worst cold in modern history.  I’m 5 parent-teacher conferences in and I no longer care.  I sit in teeny chairs across from beloved teachers that are killing it, a line of drool connecting me to my shirt, and take in about a fourth of their words.  Which means my kids are basically acing school.  That’s what I hear.  Don’t take it away from me. Grant’s conferences Monday night, Smalls in tow, were conducted over flimsy card tables in the commons.  Each teacher graciously held their side of the table with both hands and teeth clenched, while the Smalls repeatedly bumped it, jeopardizing their laptop and coffee.  I distracted them by sending them over and over to the Gay/Straight Alliance bake sale, which means we’ve personally funded their Pride teeshirts for the coming year.  The little ones asked what the rainbow flag was for.  I told them Noah.  This is the best I can do today.

Between appointments, I come home, let the pups out and fall onto the couch  wrapped in my new blanket (Athleta…amazing) and sleep until my phone alarm signals it’s time for meds or appointment.  The dogs haven’t been walked in three days and are going to start eating the woodwork soon.  This cannot be helped.  It’s my beloved’s birthday today.  I texted him and asked for a lunch date, which he read as nooner.  I corrected him.  Then texted ten minutes later to say that Abe now has a 12:50 with Pulmonary, how about breakfast?  I’m all yours.  Until they called to tell us we needed to be at Dermatology at 8:30.  Still yours, only in between the hours of 10 and noon.  And I’ll be spending those bringing cake to his office because he. deserves. to. be. celebrated.  And I’ll take the pups and call it a walk because that’s a twofer and I need one of those.

Last night, while he was a bible study, we made a dessert involving jello, pretzels and a Christian Reformed Church membership.  He will love it.  Steaks are thawing and his new table saw is on hold.  He deserves so much more, this man who loves us so well even though we are almost never at our best.  This high school love of mine.  One of the teacher asked us what our evenings look like.  We laughed until my mascara ran. She doesn’t get it, her being sweet and young and no kids.  We told her it’s like feeding time at the zoo.  Only the animals are all schizophrenic. Waiting in line yesterday for a prescription, between ortho for teenager and ordering more dog food, I did what any busy mama does in lines: got after my eyebrows with a tweezers and unrealistic expectations.  This is what we call putting lipstick on a hog.  But waxing will have to wait until Friday at least.  Nails too and peeing. My prescription wasn’t ready, even though I’d called it in the day before.  I looked him in the eye and said, listen man, I am barely hanging on here.  This is not the day to mess with my Zoloft.  He backed up a step and repeated that it would be ready in a half hour.  In a half hour, I said, I’ll be miles from here and I’m not coming back.  In a half hour, I told him, I’m going to Australia.

So, if you’re a mama of medically complex kid you’re my hero.  When things die down here, I’m bringing yourself a casserole and a spa gift card. If you’re not the mama of a medically complex kid, you are my hero too. If you’re one of our teachers…hero.  If you’re just barely hanging on…still my hero.  And, hang in there, sister.  Because my head is too full of snot to know much, but I know this: that every hard/busy/overwhelming/awful/wrecking season gives way eventually.  To sun and warmth and rest.  It’s coming, I promise.  We were made to do hard things.  So roll up your sleeves and dive into the deep end of the crazy pool because you. can. swim. I’m already there, treading water, my nose just barely above the surface, but I will tread this water until my arms fall off because even my hardest days are all first-world problems.  Girl, you’re amazing and capable.  You’ve got this sucker all wrapped up.  I’m proud to know you.  Carry on.  And if we meet in public, could you just ignore how badly I need waxing and how I’m wearing yesterday’s shirt and smell of desperation and gummy bears? And I’ll do the same.  Bigger fires to fight, man.  Bigger fires.

this is me being real.

church.

I don’t know how to start, but I know what the gist needs to be: that church buildings aren’t perfect but they are holy ground and the nucleus of holy work.  This morning we bleed for the people of the latest church shooting.  You assumed you were safe, walking through the Texas morning heat into a building you’ve likely walked into hundreds of times before.  Waving to loves and thinking about what you’re going to bring to next week’s potluck and how the carpet really needs replacing in the foyer.  This is God’s sanctuary and therefor, yours. You get that God is everywhere and that there is nothing in the brick and mortar that makes this building different from a bank or a gas station, but you also know that what happens here is holy.  That when God’s people, who are called by God’s name, gather and raise voices and hands, it is holy.  They call church a sanctuary and this morning yours was shattered and we bleed with you.  But we link arms too and we say that even though this terrible, unconscionable thing has happened to you, to the Church, it will not stop us walking through the doors.  Not this week, not next, not ever. Because our God bids us continue to be the Church even when we are being gunned down.  What happens within those four walls happens even more so outside them and evil is powerless against it.  Because the God we serve inside and outside church has promised that he stands on the chaos, that evil is under his foot and that at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow.  That there is coming a day in which this awful world, with its suffering and shootings will be redeemed and will become a new earth. And it’s not here today, even though we wish to heck it were because then this terrible thing would not have happened to you, but it’s certainty is something you can take to the bank.  Jesus is coming.  And so we wait with groaning made even louder today as we read headlines and wonder when people will stop killing people in the name of hatred. Because hatred is not the name we proclaim. Instead, we proclaim Jesus who has all authority and all power and who will prevail.  So we will come and make casseroles and host funeral lunches and weep with you; the Church will stand with you as you grieve this horrible thing.  And we will say to evil that you can burn us out, shoot us out, drive us out, but we will never stop.  Because the Church is the people, led by the King and serving the World and you are nothing against that.  We cannot not make terror stop.  They won’t stop.  But we won’t either.  And we serve one who stands on terror and will crush it beneath his heel, squelching it once and for all. So we rise with Him and with you as you shore up your hearts, Texas, and continue the work you’ve already been called to do.  We stand and we pray and we believe.  Jesus wins.  Always.

this is me being real.

nap.

Turns out hospitals aren’t the dens of rest I thought they were.  The room service was sub par, the linens had serial numbers on them and the nurses got annoyed when I used the call button to ask for more ice in my water cup.  Additionally, turns out Abe is too big for the nursery.  And so we are home, tireder, stresseder and with a wicked crying hangover (me and him).  But this isn’t about how crappy the news we received was or how terrified I was for a solid 12 hours that seemed like 129 or how overwhelming the next month is going to be. This is about how the weekend is here, signaling another week in which we. have. killed. it.  Mamas, you have made lunches, cooked dinners (knowing that most of your family would HATE it), matched socks, vacuumed pet hair and played chauffeur.  There have been countless hours spent packing backpacks, organizing costumes and attending school functions.  You have given every inch of yourself and you are spent.  Fair enough. Can we agree that maybe we deserve a little catnap today? Or a few minutes to sit in a sun puddle and dream spin about a trip or a cottage or the perfect pumps?  Or, and this is a must, a bit of time spent with Father, thanking him for the million ways he’s blessed your wretched self this week and asking him to intercede in the hearts of your children, your friend, your neighbor. Today, I’m refusing to give in to my compulsion to clean or run errands. I’m going to pray with my Sisters, take the dogs for a long hike and then treat myself to an hour on the couch.  Maybe two.  I have earned this and I will not wear guilt for it.  What are you going to do today to pamper yourself? Please tell me you will do something.

this is me being real.

cath.

It’s go time for us.  Admitted last night when Halloween costumes had been stripped off and thrown in the washer.  Candy bulging the sides of their bags, most to be thrown away in the coming weeks.  Cheeks rosy from the cold and pups exhausted from running with the hay wagon.  I pulled soft pjs on Abe and bundled him in the car, pillow pet and star blanket in bag, along with my blanket and pillow because I don’t mess.

Abe’s heart catheterization today determines how severe the blockage to his pulmonary artery is and therefor, how quickly he’ll need open heart surgery.  This boy, his heart is such a mess.  Picture a Mr. Potato Head.  Then picture random body parts sticking out of every orifice.  That’s about it.  Dude has a bum heart.  But he is miraculously healthy.  Like docs coming from all corners of the office when we visit so they can see this boy who has it hooked up all wrong and is still running us ragged with his activity level.  We thought surgery was years off, but this blockage is a big deal and as long as they are going to open him up, our surgeon wants a shot a fixing some of Abe’s issues.  And so we adjust a calendar we never actually had any control over anyway and in doing so, we remind ourselves that it’s better when Jesus runs our ical.  And we adjust expectations that were probably never realistic in the first place, and in doing so we remind ourselves that we are to have no cards on the table to begin with.  Empty handed we enter the world, empty handed we’re to live in it and empty handed we will leave it.  We own nothing.

And this evening when I drive away from here, sleepy boy in the backseat wrapped in prayers and star blanket, I will cry silent tears just like every time.  For the mamas and daddies who visit after work every blessed day as their beloved fights terrible diseases in  teeny body.  For the mamas and daddies who pull away from this beautiful hospital with an empty backseat and a broken heart.  Who must surely feel like they will never be whole again and who probably are right.  I will cry a little for the lavish gift of this hospital and the incredible people who staff it, knowing that around the world at this very second thousands and thousands of kids are dying as helpless parents stand by and watch.  I can’t even imagine.

Today, Lord willing, I will head home with my boy.  Home to 5 healthy kids and a husband who will surely be nearly dead by now.  I will bundle Abe into the house, surrounded by pups who will act as if I’ve been gone for days.  There will be a dishwasher to unload and lunch boxes to empty out and ready for the next day.  Everything I normally do during the day will not have been done and it will be ok, but my OCD will direct me to catch up before I can hit the hay.  Starting each morning with a clean slate is life to me.  And even these minutiae (a word I love but can NEVER spell) of my life are gift.  Grace upon grace upon grace.  Bless everything.

this is me being real.