Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Friday, February 1, 2019

Beautifully blessed with four children

My youngest child said something more than a year ago that I have never forgotten.  It is seared in my memory, because it struck my heart. 

At his words I felt the pain and guilt that all mothers experience, because we’re human, and we fail sometimes. 

We cannot always wear the face of forbearance.

The day was a bad one, and I let it show to my four children.  It had been a rough few days.  I was feeling stressed from running around, sleep-deprived, and frustrated with the deficit of alone time with my husband, a matter complicated by the close quarters in our small home.

After picking up my two teenagers from their academically demanding middle school, we had only a few minutes at home before rushing to my daughter Analisa’s sports practice.  I’m sorry to say I was getting weary of the lengthy bi-weekly drives to and from hour-long soccer practice in another town.  And I needed to take Gabriella and Daniel with us, who demanded supervision when all I desired were several quiet and solitary laps around the soccer fields. 

On the drive I was thinking glumly of all the hard work required, sacrifices made, and freedom and sleep lost in parenthood.  I recalled the endless string of late nights with my teenagers as they attacked hours of homework, my perpetual struggle and failure to make sure each member of our family was getting necessary sleep, all the dashing back and forth each day to school and activities, the fussing and feuding between my children, and our cluttered, little home where even four backpacks struggled to find floor space. 

On that day or during the week, I must have somehow complained about the challenges of raising a large family, about how hard a job it is to rear and balance the needs of so many children – certainly not the words but something like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life saying, “You call this a happy family!  Why did we have to have all these kids?"

(I can't explain why I would complain thus, for my heart bears witness to the truth.  My children are the loves of my life, born of my relationship with the love of my life, Matthew.)

As we waited at another stoplight in rush hour traffic, I was still suffering from disgruntled thoughts  and my own less-than-perfect attitude when my eight-year-old son Daniel noticed an SUV ahead of us in the next lane.  It had stickers on the rear windshield representing the members of the family, two adults and two children.

“They must be a happy family.  They only have two kids,” he said quietly and simply.

My heart was pierced by his words.  It bled remorse for all I had said or done to make my youngest, my Danny Sam, think less children meant more happiness.  Contrition flooded my soul as I imagined my life without my two unique, beautiful younger children.

It was as if God took all the foolish, selfish ruminations of my mind on that car ride and throughout that bad day and flipped them inside out, making them plain and stark in the mouth of my own babe.  I was appalled, knowing acutely in that moment just what a gift my four children are. 

I reached back to touch Danny and began to express my love and my gratitude, slowly and painfully, to my little guy - and to God, too.

“No, Danny.  No!  Please don’t think that.  Less children doesn’t mean more happiness.  If we only had two children, I wouldn’t have you and Gabriella, too, and I love you both so much.  You children give my life meaning.  I thank God for each of you every day.  We have more love in our family because of you.  You all four bring me joy.  I’m sorry I don’t always show it.  I’m sorry I’ve complained so much lately.  Being a mother is hard sometimes.  It really is, but it’s the best job in the world, and Mama and Papa are very blessed.  You are every single one of you a gift from God. Don’t ever forget that. I don’t know what I would do without you in my life.  I love you.

Often remembering my little boy’s simple statement on that day, I try my best continually to show how deeply I love and appreciate our big, happy family.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Auld Lang Syne

When my kids return to school after vacation or break, I am not eagerly hurrying them on their way, shoving them on the back as they slouch out the door.

A weird mother maybe, but I'm sad. 

That goes for my husband returning to work, too.  

While we were all together the two weeks of Christmas break, there were squabbles and irritations and arguments over Christmas presents, and there was the stress and labor involved in party preparations and then the frustration when I realized I hadn't gotten to everything on my list.

But we also played numerous games, of the board and card variety.  I learned that while playing Clue I will always be like that slow-witted police detective in crime novels who is forever confounded by the methods and the success of the sweet old lady or eccentric private investigator.  Diligently I would narrow things down, doing my grunt work, and as soon as I knew two things for certain,  someone else would win.  Daniel, who is only eight and had never played Clue before, won our second game! I was proud, not envious at all.

Santa brought Daniel a drift bike (the toy that caused the arguments), and Gabriella and Daniel, giggling, drifted on my tiled kitchen floor for what seemed like hours a day.  Even while trying to load my dishwasher, make homemade bread, or prepare food, I enjoyed watching them do donuts and didn't mind too much when they slid into cabinets, tables or appliances.

A racing video game brought by the man in the big red suit was a big hit with Berto and Ana, but my husband seemed to be the one who liked it most.  Despite not being keen on gaming myself, I actually had fun watching him speed down exotic dirt roads or paved highways, crashing through fences and pitiable trees when he off-roaded into an oddly realistic yet foreign environment.

What tale to tell from New Year's Eve? Nothing.  It was sedate.  In contrast, the snow that fell most of New Year's Day was a beauty that reminded me of the melancholy Dan Fogelberg song, "Same Old Lang Syne".  So I played it repeatedly as I quietly prepared a turkey with all the fixings for my family.  I listened and watched through my kitchen window as the lovely and gently transforming snow drifted for hours, feeling wistful and enamored by Nature's quiet, simple grace.  Tiny crystals almost too minute to notice until I peered into the gray day at just the right point were followed by large, fluffy flakes.

My children marched out into the freezing temps again and again, but I didn't have their bravery.  They even made a miniature ice rink beneath the swing set - something I told them they could do, having a gift for understanding and sympathizing with the sometimes dangerous schemes of childhood, but then regretted when our Phoenix kids tried to turn on the hose in below freezing weather.  (What were they thinking?!)

On one cold evening, I took a walk with my kids, endeavoring to find the sidewalk beneath the snow, trying not to slip or trip as we admired our neighbors' still blazing Christmas lights, greeting many of those neighbors, including some teenagers who were going about at their mother's behest or their own volition, shoveling neighborhood drives.

All the time spent with extended family around Christmas was cherished.  We caught up with my husband's uncle and aunt whom we have not had the good fortune to see in many years, and his aunt shared family stories and pictures with me.  My husband Matthew and I were both grateful to his brother Steve for making a point of spending a lot of time with his nephews and nieces, because our children enjoy his company so much.  Matthew's parents accompanied our family to Albuquerque's River of Lights, and though it was freezing, we got many keepsake photographs of them with the kids by huge, incandescent displays.

On the last weekend before a return to normal routines came the amusement of watching all my children and their cousins, including the teenagers, don crowns for Three Kings' Day while their parents snapped pictures.

The laughter, the aggravations, the snow, the craziness, the relaxation, the late nights, the long sleep ins, the boring stretches, the busy days, the craving for the company of family, and the moment when you want a break from them for months  - that's Christmas break.

And it was good.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Berto and St. Nick (in his own words)

         I am 15 years old, and I believe in Santa Claus – although I haven’t always. When I was young, Santa was an intriguing topic for me. I believed in the jolly old man with an extreme case of dad-bod, dressed in a red suit because I trusted my parents. My parents told me he was real. Besides, what evidence did I have against them? Santa Claus showed up every Christmas. Every year, my siblings and I would awaken before the crack of dawn to wake up our parents, who we assumed would be well rested and willing to sacrifice an hour or two of sleep to see what Santa had brought us. The moment our parents stepped out of bed, we were in the mentality of an Olympic sprinter. Our finish line was just down the hall and to the left, where our presents sat under our 7-foot-tall artificial tree, with a blanket wrapped neatly around the base. Each year we experienced the rush of Christmas morning. But then I grew up.
            As I became older, I pushed the thought of the magical man to the back of my more logical brain, simply accepting but not quite believing. At that point, I found more magic in the presents than the man who delivered them. Around the age of 10, I began thinking about Santa again. My parents explained where St Nick’s magic came from by telling us that Jesus gave the jolly old man the power and ability to deliver presents because what he was doing gave so much joy to children all around the world. As a devout 10-year-old Catholic, it made some sense. After all, if Jesus had the power to do anything, why not? In my heart though, I knew. It was illogical. Santa Claus wasn’t real; it was my parents. After all, why else would I be unable to request one million dollars from him?
            I finally went to my parents, taking them aside as to not ruin it for my siblings by declaring I did not believe.
            “I have a question,” I told them.
            “What is it?”
            “Is Santa real?”
            My parents paused.
            “Do you really want to know?” My mom asked, in that moment unintentionally answering my question.
“Yes,” I said. “Well, I already know, but…”
“No, he’s not,” my parents responded kindly.
My parents continued to explain to me that now that I knew, I was “part of the magic.” Whatever I did, I couldn’t expose what I knew to my siblings. Each year I had to act as if I was just as steadfast about believing in Santa Claus as I had been five years ago. I assured them it wouldn’t be an issue. However, I didn’t really feel so magical.
            The first Christmas that I was in-the-know, setting out the festive snowflake shaped sugar cookies and milk in a bowl of ice (to insure it was cold), I felt a little empty. I didn’t understand why, but it wasn’t the same. The joy of Christmas had mostly filled me up, and the wintertime spent in our humble house in Chandler, Arizona, reflecting on the birth of Jesus was still thoroughly enjoyed. The topic of Santa just didn’t feel the same, however. Christmas Day, the presents came, taken out of their hiding spot in my parent’s closet. In my mind, I was torn. I saw how happy my siblings were, as was I, and I knew what my parents were doing was special. But it didn’t feel magical.
            Over the next year I matured. I became taller, more intelligent, and was able to wrap my head around more things. And I think that made all the difference that year.
            That year at Christmas I felt especially good about everything. As my family and I watched the Nativity Story, I felt the spirit of Christmas fill up inside me. I felt happy for my siblings, and my mind was free of any “stress” I had felt the year before. I went to bed excited to wake up the next morning and find presents under the tree. Sure enough, my siblings woke up before the sun on a once again frigid yet snowless Arizona Christmas morning. I felt a crazy sense of anticipation that felt almost nostalgic, as if it was from three years ago. I felt good, but the magic of Santa still wasn’t quite there. For the sake of my siblings I rushed out through the hall to the tree behind them, taking time to turn on the light so we could see our presents. But I still didn’t see the magic completely.
While we were opening the presents I looked at my siblings, pure joy lighting up their eyes in a Christmas fire as they tore through presents and stockings, and at my parents, looking tired yet completely overjoyed at the experience and feeling they were giving their kids by being Santa Claus. In those two seconds, something clicked. I recognized the magic. The magic was real. Santa was real. I was experiencing it. It wasn’t about the magic sleigh, or the immortality of Santa Claus – it was about the spirit of Christmas, the feeling of giving and receiving gifts, and the elation of it all. My parents were not obligated to be Santa, but out of a desire for us to experience that magic, they were. But it was not only them, it was me too. I was Santa. I was keeping the magic alive by convincing my siblings of the existence of the mythical, yet very real man.
            What I realized that year was very important, and made me truly believe Santa Claus was real. Believing in him will make all the difference. I will be able to keep that spirit alive for my children and all the little kids in a world where Santa’s magic is dampening, being smothered by newer generations who believe children need facts, not hope. Indeed, what would Christmas be for kids without the jolly old man?

Other posts about the Jolly Old Man and his magic:
Berto and St. Nick
Santa and St. Nick

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Home for the holidays

Snow on the Sandia Mountains

This time of year makes me think of Albuquerque, of the road trip from Phoenix through Flagstaff, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico  to this mountain town dominated by its peaks in the east, tinged an unusual shade of pink at sunset (hence their name, meaning watermelon in Spanish).

It reminds me of struggling to find presents for nieces and parents-in-law; of sewing felt ornaments in the form of stockings with stitched names during the car ride, scissors, glitter thread, and scraps of felt scattered at my feet; of favorite road trip music (country stations, Allison Krauss and Union Station, Gordon Lightfoot, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond, Journey and more) and holiday tunes by Jewel, Michael Buble and Nat King Cole; of a crowded, packed car and fast food lunches; of taking the same route through town to my in-laws house each time we came.

But here we are.  In Albuquerque.  Now.

No Christmas road trip necessary.  We can see family easily, scant preparation and only a few minutes of travel required.

I like road trips.  I'll miss taking the one between these southwestern sister states.

But, if pressed, I must confess that I like living here more than driving hours to be here.

It is a very good sign, I think - an indication of openness and happiness - when you move to a place that reminds you of every other place you've held dear.  While walking or driving around in Albuquerque, I have been reminded of the expansive park near my grandparents home in Idaho and of the many small towns in that state where my relatives yet reside.  I have recalled Tennessee, because I finished the first book about my childhood here, and I am again in an environment where the leaves on broad, beautiful trees hail the seasons. Of course, Arizona is present in my thoughts: the culture, history and landscape of both states are similar in several regards, and Arizona and all the loved ones there are just a reverse trip across state borders.

So this is Advent, and here we are already, in what could be characterized as our Christmas town.  The first snow has already come; snowmen were promptly built by my snow-starved children.

Gifts for relatives this year will be delivered on Christmas Day with smiles after traveling but a few miles from our own home, taking a fresh and already oft-traveled route.  Over the hills if not through the woods, to my in-laws house we'll go.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Gratitude is ne'er too late: holiday tables and runners (of the road)

On a small brick wall beside me was this guy:

I was walking my dog while my children played on the park equipment nearby, and I noticed something move and looked up.  Like a member of the paparazzi, I followed him around, snapping photos.  Though he seemed nervous, he couldn’t help but pose and show me his tail feathers.

His kind I have seen before, you know; I live in New Mexico, and they are the state bird for a reason.

Have you seen one run?  It’s charming.  Two were sprinting across the dusty expanse near the glass recycling bin one day when I was pitching my myriad fragile receptacles in.  Watching those roadrunners fly (not literally) across the dirt - as if they were in a race and had left competitors in the dust, out of sight, far behind - made my day.  Maybe they were being chased by Wile E. Coyote.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but I wanted to share that I’m thankful to live in the land of the roadrunner.

I’m also grateful that my father-in-law helped my husband and me build a grand table for our larger home that has room for the company of plenty of family and friends.  The new table in this friendly house is an entertaining dream come true. 

It’s pub height, so loved ones can stand or sit around it comfortably.

Of course, I wanted it pub height – taller than the original plans pulled from Ana White's website. 

Then I despised it for being so tall, as if it had chosen to be so against my will.  Without stools, it felt like a giant in my kitchen, devouring space while crowding the wall.  I argued with my husband on and off for weeks, practically demanding that he help me chop of its legs or at least bring me the ax.  He insisted that we would do nothing until we found stools for it; then, we would see!

It wasn’t until Halloween night when family came over for trick-or-treating, and all the adults stood around the behemoth with their sodas and pizza, gabbing, that I realized I had known all along what I was doing, and it was perfect.  The next day the extra-tall stools for it were delivered, and my table and I have had amicable interactions ever since.  It no longer sulks, pushed against the wall, out of place and under-purposed.  I no longer glare at it, wishing it were different.  My children sit at it every afternoon and evening, twisting on the swivel stools that look as if they were designed for it.

There are greater things to be grateful for post-Thanksgiving, beyond state birds and tall tables.

For one thing, I have the courage to keep writing even when it seems I may never be successful or have not worked hard enough yet or don't have the "right" ideas or the best methods of executing them.  And I am amazed by the support that my husband has and continues to give to me in my endeavors.  

More than anything I feel I am extraordinarily blessed to be surrounded by my family, so insanely, incalculably grateful to God for Matthew and our four children, Berto, Ana, Ella, and Daniel.  We are happy together in our new home.

And this year we spent Thanksgiving with extended family for the first time in many years, and in addition to our appreciation of the company of those loved ones, I'm thankful that I didn't have to make the turkey! (Mine always seems dry.)

Thanksgiving has passed.  This is my belated letter of gratitude.  I have done my duty. 

Come now, Advent.  Come Christmas.  My candles are lit.  I'm ready. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Post in Pictures: Why Albuquerque?

Nearly every afternoon during summer, storm clouds crouched on the Sandia Mountains, and then sprang upon the valley in the evening, hurling lightning bolts and sometimes hail. 

This autumn rain we've experienced this week, though, is just a persistent drench with no drama, like a sourpuss who stands around looking gloomy, bringing everyone down without saying a word.

Yet, the fall colors on the trees are heightened by this moisture, and that brings me again to a realization I had soon after we moved here:

I love Albuquerque.

Ironically, I believe I'm happier to be here than my husband is - and he was raised here!

It was a surprise to me how quickly I embraced this region, how easily charmed I was by the novelties and the enchantments that drew me in and helped me feel at home.

When I first had an inkling we would be moving to Albuquerque, I began to question it almost immediately with some anxiety. I wondered why God might want us here.  I couldn't think of a soul who needed us - whereas there were other places in which we could be useful. 

Why did I assume it had to be about necessity?  Though it isn't deserved, perhaps it's about Providence and these blessings:

My husband really likes his new job in town, and there are far more opportunities in his current company to grow than there ever were in his last place of employment.

My children see their grandparents almost every weekend, and their aunts, uncles, and cousins often (something that was missing for the first many years of their lives).  They have all made new friends and gotten involved in their schools.

As for me?  I am just plain happy.  Sure, I worried when we first arrived - about good friends for my children, about finances, about how I could best serve my family and the larger community.

But even if someday we roam again, searching out a new place to call home, I will forever be grateful to Albuquerque for one beautiful thing: here I finished my book, a story based on a childhood Christmas.  In Albuquerque I accomplished a long-held dream; I was successful.  

What are the other reasons I love it here?  Why is it "The Land of Enchantment" (New Mexico's state nickname) for me?

The Summer

We moved from Phoenix, so you can only imagine my awe and wonder when I was able to sit outside all morning until lunchtime quite comfortably, reading or jotting down ideas in my writer's notebook.  It felt miraculous not to be chased inside at 8 am by terrible, rapidly rising heat.

The Balloon Fiesta

There are few things that can enthrall and make one recapture childhood joy as swiftly as a hot air balloon gently riding a wind current.  Early each October here in Albuquerque, the city hosts its annual Balloon Fiesta, and people come from all over the world to pilot these lighter-than-aircraft or to watch their colorful shapes fill the expansive southwestern skies in the early morning.  I stood outside in the street and gawked unabashedly.

The Autumn Colors

It has been a very long time since I lived in a place where I noticed the change of seasons, because Nature alerted me so dramatically to their passage.

In Phoenix I strained and searched to find one tree that hailed the fall, and if I spied even the slightest change, I applauded it.  But Albuquerque trees put on a parade of hues as the weather cools: plum, red-gold, burgundy, orange, and even florescent yellow.  It thrills the soul.  I had forgotten the splendor of autumn.

The Sandia Mountains

I've seen these mountains before while visiting my in-laws for Christmas and never really cared about their majesty.  But things have changed, and they are there before me every day as I walk my Yorkie friend Taz, and I'm in love.  I've come to stay, and they will always be there.

I'm home.