Saturday, December 31, 2016

That Little Candle

The highlight of our holiday season was "lights." 

The first set of lights came when we toured the luminary-filled fields of Antietam. When we entered the park, four rows of luminaries flanked the road. One light for every fallen and wounded soldier at the battle of Antietam. Twenty thousand lights total. But it wasn't until we came up over the first ridge and saw an entire field alight that we began to grasp the sobering reality of the battle. Then came the next field, and the next, and the next. Field after field. Hill after hill covered in lights. 

When we were about half way through the park Charlotte said quietly, "I wish the drive was shorter." At first, we thought maybe she was bored. But then she started to cry, and we realized she understood exactly what she was seeing and the magnitude of loss was overwhelming.

I have never seen anything more beautiful and haunting. It stirred my soul. The experience led to a spontaneous discussion of the plan of salvation and questions of how so many people can call on the same God and be heard. When I think back over our holiday experiences, this one stands out most clearly. 

The second moment of "lights" was at the National Cathedral Lessons and Carols by Candlelight on December 23rd. This was our second year to attend the program, so I anticipated the symbolic lighting of the candles with excitement. The light spread through the cathedral as each person lit their neighbor's candle. Candles were lit by a family member, a friend, or stranger. And as the music and light filled the the cavernous room, I felt joy and light and peace.  


William Shakespeare wrote (in Merchant of Venice), "How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world."

When I look back over the 2016, I can't pinpoint any huge accomplishment. My personal journey was a series of small steps. Mostly supportive steps. In order to support Dad's job change, I side-stepped, and gave up some things I usually enjoy. My life was a cumulation of making hot breakfasts, going on runs, squeezing in work, driving kids to activities, and cheering other people on. But there were definitely moments of light. Small "little candle" moments. Seeing my children overcome obstacles, serving in the church, watching a friend enter a chapel to play her violin, running errands with my kids and just talking with them, asking for forgiveness, presenting a rare good lecture where I taught Truth (with a capital "T"), having friends accompany me to my scary doctor appointment, seeing a student learn, feeling humbled by the cancer work I do, and actually finishing reading a chapter book to my children...these were the little lights.

My hope for 2017 is to keep looking for the light and in whatever small way possible, keep lighting my little candle.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Charlotte Turns Eight

Oh Charlotte, how can you be eight years old already? You are still the sunshine in our family. You sing in your room, at the dinner table, and in the car. You play best with Truman. I've looked in Truman's room to see his floor covered with legos and the two of you busy building. On special occasions, Elise gets out her American Girl doll and you play tea party or birthday party together. Recently, Amelia helped you sew your own dresses for Mary Ellen.

You also like your own imaginary play. There have been afternoons or Sunday mornings when I realize I haven't seen you in an hour, and then I find you deep in imaginary play--usually with shopkins or petshops, a miniature town built with carpet squares and calico critter furniture.

I have to add that you can delve out a powerful thunderstorm too! You've got your own trademark sass. That's the firecracker personality you've had even as a toddler.

This year was a family birthday party. You asked for lemon cake with lemon frosting. When we sang the birthday song, you waved your arms conducting the song. As the youngest, the one who gets dragged to soccer games, school concerts, and xcountry meets, you relished the attention as we celebrated you!
Both sets of grandparents attended your baptism. Grandma and Poppy traveled all the way from Washington state, and Grandad and Nana drove 16 hours one-way from Mississippi. They love you very much. Aunt Allison and Gage also came--so you were surrounded with family! Even though there was a BYU football game in Washington DC, we were surprised how many of our ward friends made it to the event. The primary room was full.
Madi and Truman played the piano and Grandma led the music. Sister Davis gave a talk about one of your favorite princesses: Rupunzel from Tangled. She talked about Rupunzel wanting to see the "lights" and going through challenges to reach goals. Elise, Madi, and Truman performed a musical number. You requested "For the Beauty of the Earth" for the opening song and "How Great Thou Art" for the closing song. I was a mess during the closing song - I gave up trying to sing and just cried.

Dad baptized you and Grandad and Grandpa were the witnesses. When you came into the changing room afterward you kept saying, "I feel so happy! I feel so happy!" You looked beautiful. We hugged and hugged!

I gave a talk about the Holy Ghost. I showed the picture of you and Yuli and talked about how she helped keep us safe, made us feel happy, and took care of our family. Then I compared that to the Holy Ghost. Every member of our family cried because we miss Yuli, but also because we could feel the spirit.

It is a strange experience as a mom to watch my last child be baptized. It is a celebration, certainly. A bit of a relief too. But there is also a sadness...not in the event, but in the passing of time and the end of an era. I don't have small children in the house anymore. Everyone is accountable. The next big celebration in our family will the transition from home phase to college phase with Madi's graduation. I'm definitely not ready for that phase!

Thank goodness you came to our family, dear Charlotte! You've extended my "mothering" years and increased my mothering joy. You are loved!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

When the Past and Present Meet

It is strangely wonderful to return to a place from my youth…twenty years later. With five of my own children; two the ages I was when I lived there. To see the same familiar sights with adult eyes but remember the feelings and impressions I had as a teenager.

To drive through Sandwich, past the Grist Mill, turning slowly. A steady churn. The white steepled church gleams in the late afternoon light.  We stop across the street from the black antique carriage forever parked in front of the Daniel Webster Inn. The weathered gray-shingled houses nestle cozily in their yards. Deep purple hydrangeas drip from window boxes.

We drive to my old house and park the car along Shaker House Rd. It is evening, and the neighborhood windows glow from inside lights. Some windows hold twinkling candles. Ah the charm of the Cape! 

We pick our way across the grass to the narrow pathway onto the creaky dock. My children sit at the end of the dock…the very dock I visited regularly, during Sunday afternoon family walks or solo evening escapes. Shawme pond is still calm. The same calm I remember from my youth. The trees still hide any sign of residence. A place to reflect. A thinking place. Tiny fish – the size of my finger – jump, sending ripples across the grey surface.

If I would have known as a teenager what life had in store for me, I would have worried less. I would have cried less. The loneliness of teenagerhood would have been bearable. The pond that provided solace still speaks to me.

There is a single moment of stillness. My children look at the same view I had looked at countless times. And time stops. Or overlaps. Or stutters somehow. My two selves meet--the worried teenager with dreams and the adult who now sees her five children sitting there. This is joy. 

And then my son pulls out his giant squirt gun. How did he slip that past me when we were getting out of the car? The quiet erupts with squeals as he shoots a stream of pond water and threatens his sisters.  

This too, is joy. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

My boy and his chickens

On Easter Sunday, my husband surprised the kids with ten baby chicks. They were so young their feathers looked like fur. They were chirping, hopping balls of fluff. Although all the kids enjoyed them, we knew the chicks were really for Truman. He'd raised chickens before we lived overseas, and he was ready to raise them again.

Fast forward four months. The chicks are now full grown with beautiful glossy black feathers and rust accents. Truman loves his chickens. And it seems, they've imprinted on him. They follow Truman around when he's outside, bobbing their heads and making their cheerful clucking noises. Truman takes time to find worms, kneels down, and hand feeds his chickens. He puts them away to roost each night, and gets them up each morning.

So when it was time for Truman to leave for a week at scout camp, his only request was that we take extra good care of his chickens.

The first Monday night he was gone, we decided to go to the drive-in theater in Stephen's City.  Just as we were ready to go, sitting in the car, with the engine rumbling, we realized we should probably put the chickens away to roost for the night. Unfortunately, it was only 5pm...three hours earlier than their normal "bedtime." After some furtive attempts of chasing the chickens around the shed, and out from under the cars, we decided to go ahead and go...postponing the chicken catching until we got home.

We returned at 2:30AM.

Three of the chickens were missing. A few scattered piles of feathers dotted the yard, the only clues to their demise.

We felt horrible. Charlotte cried.

When Truman returned home a few days later, I was the one who told him what had happened. I confessed my lapse in judgement and apologized. I feared he would be either devastated or furious. But he surprised me by being neither. Yes, he was sad. And although my son had every right to be angry with me, he chose to forgive, love, and look on the bright side. "I still have seven, Mom," he said. And then he hugged me.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

From the Porch

I went back and forth about whether or not I'd like having a teenage driver. Of course, it's not like I was really going to have a choice about having one. But would I like it? There was the whole "milestone" and end of childhood issue. Then there was the logistical bonus of having an extra driver to help with all the comings and goings at our house.

Madi is a good driver. A conscientious, responsible driver. But there was also the fear of putting her at greater risk behind the wheel...facing other drivers, who maybe aren't as careful or responsible.

In my mind's eye, I imagined the moment of her first solo drive. I pictured us having a serious heart to heart about all these swirling emotions: how happy I am for her independence, how I'm counting on her to make good decisions behind the wheel, and how proud I am of her accomplishment. I wanted to tell her the story of my Dad making me promise to never, never, NEVER drive without a seatbelt and have her make the same promise I did 25 years ago.

As it turned out, the day she was officially licensed was packed full of end of school year activities. I stood in the kitchen preparing dinner while simultaneously helping another child with a final school project. Madi remembered a meeting she needed to attend...and we both realized she could drive there herself.

I walk-jogged with her to the car. And without ceremony or more than a brief "here it is" pause, Madi got in the car. She quickly promised to always wear her seatbelt (without the story about my Dad) and to not listen to music for the first month of solo driving.

And then she was off. The gravel crunched under the wheels as she drove down our driveway. I watched her look left and right and then pull onto Sands Rd.

I watched her from our little side porch.

How many times have I cried on a porch as I've watched my children take big steps? The kindergarten bus. The middle school bus. The high school bus. A first date. And now a first solo drive.

My mom heart is happy for each milestone. But there is sadness too. I am happy for the accomplishments and growth. I'm super happy for the help! But I am sad for endings. My daughter will never need to ask me for a ride again. She will just ask me for the keys.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pink Tutus and a Mom Failure Moment

Every Monday, for the past eight months, when Charlotte walked through the door it was a sprint to eat a snack, change into her pink tights and leotard, grab the dance bag with the tap/ballet shoes, and fly out the door to attend her dance class.

The original idea was brilliant (it always is, isn't it?) As the youngest child, Charlotte has spent most of her life attending her siblings' extra curricular events. Soccer games. Basketball games. Plays. Concerts. So as a second grader, it was finally her turn. She chose dance. Most Mondays it went well. There were the occasional forgotten shoes, and the more occasional tights with a mysterious new hole. But all in all, Charlotte liked the chance to socialize with her dance friends and spend time with the her dance teacher (sweetest woman on the planet: Miss Amanda).

To this point, however, Charlotte hasn't caught the "fire" of actual dancing. She can feel the beat and loves music. But it was frustrating for her when her feet didn't work like she wanted them too. We practiced shuffle-ball-change on the asphalt while waiting for the school bus many mornings.

All frustrations seemed to disappear as the dance recital approached. The lure of a real stage, makeup, and a gorgeous pink tutu costume overshadowed all previous complaints.

The day of the dress rehearsal arrived, and I did my best to have everything ready so we would arrive on time - 6PM. With lots of help from my older girls (Elise put Charlotte's fine hair in a bun and Madilyn applied her makeup), we got in the car.

I parked and rushed into the high school auditorium...relieved to know we were even a couple minutes early. You can imagine my surprise when I found the auditorium dark and full of spectators, the stage lights on, and a dance already in progress. And you can imagine my horror when I found out the rehearsal had started an hour 5PM.

We were 58 minutes late.

Ugh. Major mother failure.

The good news is that the sweet Miss Amanda let Charlotte's group dance on stage again.

The day of the recital was much less dramatic - thank goodness. Charlotte performed with her quintessential facial expressions raging from concentration to scowling at the bright light to a fleeting-remembered-smile. It was all very entertaining. She looked beautiful in her pink outfit, and she clearly had progressed in her dancing skills this year. Our favorite dance was the duck waddle tap number. Darling.

When we asked her if she wanted to do dance again next year, she thought for a minute. It was as though I could see her contemplating the rushed, after-school routine, the challenge of learning the steps, and the glory of the applause and flowers. She answered honestly, "Maybe. I'll think about it."

Friday, April 29, 2016

Notes to Self...

Notes to Self:

1. Do not sign up to teach four classes at NOVA, plus work part time for non-profit organization, plus be the mother of five children. If you do, the following will occur:

A) You will go crazy.
B) Your house will look like a crime scene. Every. Single. Day.
C) You will be behind in all aspects of your life.
D) You will not write another blog post until the semester is over. (I taught my last class today, can you tell?!)

2. Remember that teaching brings joy - this is important to remember especially when you are in the middle of grading 120 essays. A couple more hints:

A) Do non rewrite your syllabus because you are getting bored with the old syllabus.
B) If you are asked to teach an ENG 111/ENF class...say yes (unless it is the 4th class of a semester - see #1). The second language students work hard, struggle, and inspire. Your ENG 111/ENF class made you a better person.

3. If anyone ever asks you to participate in a 200 mile relay race, say...YES!!! This was hands-down the best thing you did this spring. The laughter, the middle-of-the-night legs, the bonding with your girls and friends, the handoffs, and the joy. 

4. Start blogging again. Stick with short blogs. One paragraph tops. Chances are, you'll actually blog more regularly that way. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Three Generation Race

Making a correlation between road races and life's journey is nothing new. However, on January 1st, the symbolism of the race tugged at my heart, making this year's Resolution Race all the more poignant and memorable.

For the first time, I ran a race with my parents and every member of my family (Charlotte and Owen did the 4K, but I'm counting it!).
In addition, we were joined this year by the Lush family--including Maria, my awesome running partner--and the Schoeny family.

Charlotte was the first to take off. She sprinted down the grass hill, her blond hair flying behind her. We cheered from the top of the hill. Oh the bitter cold! We hopped, skipped, and bounced to stay warm before our starting time. We followed the fitness trainer's instructions to dance to the music (some more enthusiastically than others) as we waited. Grandma was a dancing genius! She and Poppy were darling as they partnered up, danced toward each other, and do-si-doed arm in arm.

Right before our start, I frantically looked for Maria and was thrilled when she and her boys ran up to join us at the starting line. Madi and Elise started the race at the front of the line, pumped and ready to win. Gift certificates are powerful motivators.

The race wound its way on gravel roads up through Morvan Park to the beautiful mansion. For the 5K, it's a down and back which meant I was able to see Madi and Elise, give them a high-five, and confirm that they indeed were in 1st and 2nd place for the girls.

During, the final stretch back up the hill, Madi and Elise (who had already finished) ran back down to join me. Madi encouraged, "You can do it Mom! Start your sprint!" With their cheers in my ears, their shoes in cadence with mine, my breathing loud, and my heart pounding, I charged up that darn grassy hill. As soon as I took a minute to catch my breath, we all ran back to join Grandma and Poppy for their finish.

On to the awards ceremony! We cheered as each person claimed their prize. Madi 1st overall girl, Elise 2nd overall girl, me (yes, slow me!) 3rd overall girl. Grandma 1st in her age category. Poppy 1st in his age category. Paul 3rd overall for the 10K--he's the true athlete amongst us! My favorite moment was when Paul told the announcer, "I'm a friend of the Abbes" to round out the ongoing joke of the Abbes sweeping the awards.

We pooled our winning certificates and celebrated at Shenanigans in Leesburg for dinner.

Here are my race-life-connections:

1. I try harder when someone encourages me. 
2. I try even harder when someone stays by my side through the hardest part.
3. A finish line is better with friends and family. The shared-experience. The shared-accomplishment. The shared-celebration.
4. Family is everything. How I love sharing this race/this life with them! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow and Light

The snow is here. I watched the world outside my kitchen window transform this afternoon from a silent brown to a soft blur of white. Mother nature has given me a weekend to breathe, remember, and write.

December was a flurry of activity (all without a single flake of snow!). My parents came to visit for two weeks. We packed our schedule full of seasonal fun. One highlight, for me, was Carols by Candlelight at the National Cathedral. We arrived in a downpour. Rain fell in sheets, drenching my parents and hiding the tall stone pillars which seemed to disappear in the grey sky. My mom spent the evening literally wringing and shaking out her soaked skirt.

However, the music and glow of the evening warmed my soul. Near the end of the service, we lit our taper candles. From our view in the balcony, I watched as the light spread from person to person, down the rows until the cathedral twinkled like a starry night sky. The hope. The warmth of humanity. The light.

My hope for this coming, it's always my hope, my never-ending hope, is that my life (and the lives of my children) can be filled with light.