These days of small things


how to enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

We’re at the North Carolina State Fair on a perfect October night. The sky is cloudless, speckled with stars. The air is crisp, cool but not cold. It’s a night for pumpkins and bonfires, sweatshirts and cider. It’s also a Saturday night, which means that the entire population of North Carolina has been inspired by our same not-so-brilliant idea: “Let’s spend two hundred dollars buying deep-fried candy bars wrapped in bacon, and then get on rides that simulate standing inside a blender, and try not to throw up!”

But the October sky will not be ignored, so now here we are, fighting our way through a heaving river of humanity to find the kiddie area. Kevin is muscling our double stroller through gaps in the mass of people, parting the crowd like Moses with the Red Sea, only with more shouting and carnage. I’m right behind him, clutching fistfuls of the two older kids’ sweatshirts in my hands, praying we don’t lose any of our four struggling, goggle-eyed children in the swarm. Over the crowd, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I keep flashing each other this forced, crazy-eyed smile that means something along the lines of: “Maybe if we keep fake-smiling we’ll trick ourselves into believing we’re having fun, even though we’re terrified—and for the love of all that is good and holy how did we talk each other in to spending our kids’ college fund on rigged games and fried candy?—and by the way, we are never doing this again!”

Finally the wave of people dumps us out into the kiddie area—along the way we’ve mowed down twelve love-struck teenagers and one giant stuffed banana wearing dreadlocks, in between dropping sixty bucks on kettle corn, elephant ears, and a Lebanese dish we can’t pronounce but that tasted like glory—and by some miracle, all four kids are still with us, and no one has thrown up (yet).

I convince the three older kids to ride the giant swings with me, and all through the line they do a dance of delighted terror. You’d think they’ve never been on a ride before, the way they’re gaping at the swings, hugging each other and hiding their eyes. I’m worried they might chicken out. But the minute the ride starts and our feet leave the ground, my six-year-old throws both arms in the air and laughs like an experienced roller coaster rider, like she was born for this. (Recalling her habit of flinging her body from terrifying heights in an apparent desire to become BFFs with the local emergency room staff, I suspect she was.) We stumble off two minutes later, giddy and giggling. I’m starting to feel like the fair wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.

And now it’s the two-year-old’s turn to ride something her speed. We ease back into the torrent of people, searching until we spot a merry-go-round of glittery miniature cars. At first we hesitate, hands pressed against our ears, because the ride’s designer, who has clearly never met a child, thought it would be clever to equip the cars with ear-splitting horns, which the happy toddlers are honking as aggressively as their fat fists can manage. But Sawyer’s eyes light up, and we all sigh: She must ride this ride. She must honk a horn. We must sacrifice our hearing for her happiness. As the girls and I get in line, Kevin pantomimes a message over the relentless horns: he and Blake are going to save their eardrums and go pay a fortune to throw weighted darts at unpoppable balloons. I stick my tongue out at them, because they’re totally getting the better end of the arrangement. Besides, they might win a stuffed banana.


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When it’s finally our turn, I stand behind the Parent Fence as my nine-year-old, Cassidy, helps buckle Sawyer in, and then folds her own long legs into their tiny car. Cassidy’s knees are bent almost up to her ears, and she throws me a dimpled, self-deprecating grin—a grin that says nineteen, not nine. Sawyer attacks the horn with gusto. Avery, my six-year-old adrenaline junkie, scrambles into the car in front of them.

Lights flash. Music blares. Horns crescendo. The ride jolts forward, and Sawyer squeals her delight. Cassidy leans in close, showing Sawyer how to turn the steering wheel. For a moment, their twin grins are all I can see, but then I notice Avery. She’s still young enough that she should be swept up in her own ride—spinning her own wheel, honking her own horn—but instead she is twisted backwards, shining brown eyes locked on Sawyer. She is ignoring her own ride so she can watch her baby sister experience hers. Avery beams at Sawyer, a proud, knowing smile. The same maternal smile I feel lighting my own face.

The simple, honest sweetness steals my breath. For a few seconds my ears forget to hurt. I stand there, blinking tears, drinking in the beautiful sight of my three girls, adoring each other in this small moment.

I’m reminded of a scripture I’ve just rediscovered, a new-old favorite, Zechariah 4:10: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” The passage is a celebration of a quiet but significant event in Israel’s history, as God’s people are rebuilding the temple. The temple is still years from completion, but the plumb line—the guiding marker that will assure the building is constructed properly—rests in the designer’s hand. The building has only just begun, but it has begun the right way.

I think to myself, This may seem like a small moment, but it is not small. Not to God, not to me. My girls, here in this fleeting moment, are all that sisters should be. For these few seconds, the older ones care more about their baby sister than about themselves. They may have squabbled a dozen times on the way to the fair today, they may have begged too insistently for cotton candy and cheap stuffed animals, but right here, right now, in these sparkling seconds, they are loving each other, and how lovely it is. This is no small victory, no insignificant thing. It is the promise of things to come, the foundation of all we are trying to build in our family.

I put the night on pause: I will not despise this moment, this small thing. I will not let it pass by unnoticed, unappreciated. I will make it holy, sending a prayer of thanks up into the starry October sky. I will write it down and make it last. Like Mary, I will treasure this memory in my heart, storing it deep inside so I can bring it out and relive it again and again for the rest of my days (Luke 2:51).

And I will look for more moments like this, small blessings I might miss if I’m not paying attention. I will savor these too-short childhood years, this endless stream of simple joys:

Happy shrieks on scary rides, ice cream stains on brand-new shirts.

A night with no tantrums, a day with dry diapers.

A thousand silly but splendid firsts: the first time they whistle a note, tie a shoe, blow a gum-bubble.

I will not despise these chaotic days in my marriage—this stage of sleepless nights and zombie days, of stolen romance and secret smiles—these years that demand so much, yet make us better.

Family is a happy mess, life a hectic whirlwind. One minute is a disaster, the next a delight. But countless gifts glisten, hidden inside each roller-coaster day, if only we’ll pause long enough to notice. To open. To savor. And in noticing and opening and savoring, we sanctify these small wonders, these insignificant things.

Perhaps we find that small things are not so small after all.

That fleeting moments are not fleeting, not momentary, after all.

That simple days of small things are the best days—the biggest things—after all.


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Childhood’s a Blur…and So Are the Pictures


how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

We didn’t do the last day of school right.

All six of us woke up late—we had already started easing into slack summer bedtimes a few days early, and we all slept in.

So the last morning of school turned into a whirlwind of cereal-shoveling and lunch-packing and gift-wrapping, all to a frantic soundtrack:

“Please tell me someone found that library book!”

“Quick, tie a bow around that teacher gift!”

“Mommy, did you remember to buy water bottles?”

“I forgot—just grab your broken Thermos.”

“Mommy, you promised!”

“WHERE’S MY SHOE?”

We stumbled out the door, a flurry of backpacks and uncombed hair and teacher gifts with bows half-tied. We made it just in time.

After the kids sprinted to class, I knocked on the door of my son’s second-grade classroom for the last time, to deliver his teacher a gift from her students: a framed photo collage, our attempt to preserve a memory so she could keep it forever.

This spring she had organized a 24-hour “Skype-a-thon.” Mrs. L and her students camped out for 24 hours at school, Skyping other classrooms in time zones they could never contact during normal school hours. Mrs. L found a way to stretch class time long enough so her students could meet other children across the globe.

Overnight she helped her students “travel” to every time zone, to places few will ever visit in person—to Palestine, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium… 27 countries and 3 U.S. States in all. In those wondrous 24 hours my son and his friends met other students “face-to-face,” talking school and history and favorite soccer teams. They giggled and shared and built bridges, one cinderblock classroom to another, on cheap computers with unreliable Internet signals—but they did it. They pulled it off. She pulled it off.

It was a herculean feat, a one-of-a-kind, world’s-first type event. It was worthy of a photo collage, and so much more—maybe a World’s Best Teacher award, or better yet a Nobel Peace Prize. In lieu of a Nobel Prize, Mrs. L’s students did the best they could: they made a photo collage. The pictures were blurry, taken by weary parents with cell phones in the middle of the night; the kids’ signatures were sloppy, scrawled in their second-grade style… but somehow Mrs. L got teary-eyed anyway. I left to the sound of happy chatter, as she tried to hold on to a few last hours with her students.

But halfway across the school parking lot, I stopped, stricken. I’d forgotten to photograph the moment. I’d been so caught up in it—wanting her to feel our gratitude, wishing the kids could fully grasp this great experience she had given them, this lifelong gift—that I forgot to take a picture to memorialize the memorializing. I stood debating: Should I go back and interrupt, waste their dwindling class time, embarrass my son for the sake of posterity? Or just let it go?

I decided to let it go, but the memory-maker inside me died a little.

And so there will be no Last Day of School picture of my son with his second-grade teacher and the gift we gave her. (Really, the gift she gave him.)

And thanks to our family’s hectic morning, there will be no cute split-screen, first day-last day pictures of my kids on social media, the ones that show how much they’ve grown during the school year. There just wasn’t time.

And that’s the trouble with time, and with childhood… there’s never enough. Not during the school day. Not on the last day of school, or the first, or even in the summer. Because even today, with six vacation weeks stretching out ahead of us, sparkling with possibility, I feel the tug of the real-life calendar: the work that still has to be done, the summer reading list I should probably enforce, the dozens of fun family memories we want to cram into such a short span.

And sad as I feel today about the last day of school, in six weeks I know I’ll be mourning the end of another blink-of-an-eye summer, wishing for more. Wishing for more lazy mornings; for more days that end with sand in the bathtub and wet towels on the floor; for more long stormy afternoons when everyone’s bored and it’s all I can do to keep them off electronics and using their imaginations instead. Those days too will fade, faster than they should.

So it all has me thinking: How do I want to spend these glorious, too-few summer days?

And how should we have spent that last day of kindergarten, second, and third grades? Should we have gotten up a little earlier? Rushed a little faster, pushed a little harder to do it all right, take the pictures, mark the moment?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Because the thing is, on that last morning, somehow the kids made it to school with clothes on—clothes that weren’t photo-worthy, but were perfect for one final romp on the playground with friends. All the teachers got gifts from the heart, and most of the gifts even had crooked bows on them. And all my kids had lunches in hand—composed of weird, end-of-the-paycheck-so-the-pantry-is-bare kind of foods—but still, food. More food than some of the students we met in the Skype-a-thon will ever see in their lunchboxes.

My kids rushed out the door that last-day morning, true to youth. Rushing, rushing—over too quickly, gone too soon.

No, I didn’t stop to photograph it, this fleeting childhood moment… instead we fumbled it together, raced through it together, tried to make each other laugh when we all felt like crying. I didn’t photograph it, but I experienced it with them, as present as time would allow.

Maybe that’s the way our morning should have gone after all.

It’s the way I hope our summer goes, minus the running late part: all of us together, trundling along in a sandy minivan, off to make a mess, and maybe new friends, in a new place. Embracing the chaos, forgetting to take pictures because there isn’t time for anything but each other—anything but now, this moment, this memory-in-progress. Making the most of what time we have. Knowing that even if we stopped to take pictures, they’d turn out blurry anyway.


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 how to slow down and enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

 Photo credit: Sara Engel of Sara Engel Photography


For Mothers, and Grandmothers, and Great-Grandmothers


In honor of mothers everywhere, but especially my delightful mother, and her irrepressible mother, who have taught me to laugh (and sometimes cry) my way through this crazy-wonderful ride they call motherhood . . .

LITTLE THINGS

It’s the little things I love the most,
the little things that make the good life good.

It’s brushing fingers with the boy-turned-man
I once begged God to turn my way,
And he smiles, twinkle-eyed,
And it’s still all for me,
and still my heart stands still.

It’s miniature pajamas hanging in an empty closet,
waiting,
and I never thought
we’d have someone to wear them.

It’s the utter exasperation of
folding tiny mismatched socks
I thought I’d only buy for friends.

It’s my chubby alarm clock waddling in,
well before the dawn,
lisping, “Mommy, can I snuggle you?”
In she climbs, and she smells like strawberries
and promise.

It’s a victory dance for that first-time triumph;
it’s a wacky dance
just ’cause we feel like dancing—
and the sillier we look,
and the faster we spin,
the harder we laugh,
and the better it feels.

It’s a monkey squeeze from a blue-eyed boy
who still begs Mommy to carry him,
and I’ll do it till my arms fall off
—which they may—
because I know it will end soon.

It’s the welcome sinking of the sun—just barely night—
and I’m so weary I can hardly cross
the toy-strewn tornado-zone
to collapse and prop up my aching feet,
but as I close my eyes,
I sigh a prayer of thanks,
and drink it in,
and promise never to forget,
never to squander
these little things.


**********************************************************

FULL CIRCLE

She hobbles past, every step an effort, almost painful to watch—
ninety years of walking and breathing, loving and living, caught up to her at last.
But they haven’t won yet. Not yet.
Behind her, a younger woman—a just-greying reflection of the older—hovers,
keeps a protective hand on the woman’s bent and crooked back.
The mother turns her head our way, just for a moment.
Her blue eyes, muted and milky with time, somehow still sparkle;
her white hair glows in the light from the window.
She glances at the tiny blanketed bundle, snug in my arms,
breathing now these nine days.
“Enjoy your baby,” she says with a knowing smile, and shuffles on.
“I will. I do,” I say.
And watching them pick their way—slowly, slowly—
through the lobby, past all the pregnant bellies,
until they disappear with the nurse through the double doors,
I am reminded
that she had her turn,
and now it is mine,
and one day,
this warm, blinking bundle I carry and shield and adore
will walk behind me
and do the same for me.

My grandmother, Jane, laughing at life at 93.

IMG_1182

My amazing mother-in-law, who can juggle many grandbabies at once!

My mom and her mom.

 


Princess


Little girl dancing

In honor of Father’s Day, with more love than words can hold…

Princess
by Elizabeth Laing Thompson

Twirling in a clumsy pirouette,
a carousel of pink lace, purple satin, spangled frills,
she whirls to a breathless stop,
her pixie face radiating self-delight.
Wiggling fingers stretched wide to embrace the world,
her cockeyed crown slips down over one twinkling eye.
Giggling, she sing-songs,
“Daddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
He nods, stifling laughter, and pulls the pile of princess jumble into his strong arms.
He nuzzles her baby-fine hair, inhaling the maple syrup smell of innocence.
“Always.”

A radiance of white, she squeezes his hand
for one last walk, safe under his wing—
just yesterday, he could balance her tiny body in his palm.
Her enraptured gaze is all for another;
his remembering eyes are all for her.
“Her mother and I,” he whispers, so the crowd can hardly hear.
Bending down, he gives one final kiss on her cheek,
flushed warm with dreams of the life to come.
She smiles, and breathes—he wonders if she even
spoke aloud—
“Am I your beautiful princess now?”
His words brush light against her ear—
“Always.”

He opens the door,
chaos tumbles in—
a litter of grandchild puppies, tripping and squealing, havoc-wreaking.
Over the melee, her arms filled with the newest chubby bundle,
she detaches greedy fingers tangled in her hair, gently shakes off an ankle-grabber;
with a happy-harried laugh and a rueful glance down at her wrinkled shirt,
she opens her mouth to say hello—
but a dancing blur of ribbons and skirts slams into his knee.
Throwing a blanket cape across her shoulders, the little tot laughs,
“Granddaddy, am I your beautiful princess now?”
Throat closing, he rests a palm on her bobbing curls
And winks up at her glassy-eyed mother—
“Always.”