When you want to teach them all the lessons

my girl #2 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

They started rolling in half-way through my morning run. I saw them light up my phone screen as I clipped along on the treadmill. The texts came from my daughter who left for school fifteen minutes prior. I glanced over without stopping, and when I read “MOM I FORGOT…SECRET SANTA…GIFT…HELP” I stopped reading and kept running. Despite the ALL CAPS, an emergency on her part did not constitute an emergency on mine. Then she began calling. My cell phone, the house phone, then my cell again. I finally stopped running when she texted MOM PLEASE PICK UP!!! While I admired her persistence, I stopped because I reached the point where my desire to yell at her exceeded my desire to finish my run.

I called her back, all breathy and annoyed, and when she picked up the phone, her voice sounded so small. It reminded me that even though I have to crane my neck and look up when I speak to her, she’s still my little girl. Her “Mom, please, I’m so sorry but…” sank like a pin into the balloon of my irritation. One swift jab of her sweetness and I deflated. Don’t get me wrong, I felt totally and utterly frustrated with her, but what little is left of my tenderness from the kids’ early years, took over for the hardened mother I’ve become, the one that wants to teach them all the lessons.

My husband, a marshmallow on most days, suggested I let her feel the pain of her irresponsibility. I usually jump all over these opportunities–never let it be said my kids don’t learn from their mistakes. But something about her plaintive voice, and the thought of some poor child at her lunch table not receiving a gift, and the fact that I need bailing out repeatedly, stopped me. I realized, my kid has a lifetime to learn from her mistakes. Seriously, an entire lifetime of adulthood where she will screw up, and will find herself on her hands and knees wiping up her own mess. God knows, I’ve found myself with hands and knees raw and chapped from the constant bending, cleaning, humbling from cleaning up after my own mistakes.

I brought her the secret santa gift, which she’d wrapped all wonky and crooked, scrawling the name Brie across the top in her childish hand. I even stopped and picked up a warm bagel for her lunch. I thought of how little time and opportunity I have left to make things right for her, how few things I can truly fix. She’s at an age when the cracks begin to show in the lives of her friends, when relationships fall apart and heartbreak becomes a reality. When eating disorders and drugs and depression and drinking present a very real threat. I can’t mother away the pain of her friend’s illness or the friend whose dad left and whose life is falling apart. I can’t mother her into good grades and a stellar college. I can’t mother her into a relationship with Jesus. All I can do is show up when she needs me, and mother her in the small places.

When I arrived at the high school, I walked in with two other parents carrying what appeared to be forgotten lunches. We lined up at the welcome table manned by two volunteer mothers. Papers, bagged lunches, and crumpled athletic uniforms piled up on the table, and in the middle sat the sign-in form for the forgotten items. One mom handed me a pen and a sticky note with a wry smile. She sees this all day long–mamas doing the best they can to parent in the small places left to us, before we’re crowded out altogether.

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Do you wish you had someone to clean up behind your messes sometimes? I know I do!

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Where the wild things roam

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When I close my eyes in bed at night, the images come to me. They flash like pictures from a reel of film, a flicker and they’re gone, moving straight away from one to the next. They vary from the beautiful to the grotesque. A piece of jewelry, a man’s face, a low slung moon, a woman’s hands, an unknown location. Sometimes they match snippets of thought or conversation or my experiences throughout the day, but often they come from someplace deeper. I like to think of it as my own personal version of where the wild things roam. Apparently, they roam in my subconscious if my nighttime routine is any indication.

I often wish I was an artist so I could paint a rendition. I wish I was a novelist so I could tell the full story. I wish I wrote lyrics so I could create music to accompany the visions. But, I am none of these things, so I try to make sense of them with as much logic as I can summon when the gatekeepers leave and the wild things enter the picture. There isn’t much logic to be had at this particular point in the evening. Just ask my husband, recipient of many a meltdown and illogical reasoning, from his spot in the bed next to me.

In the past, I allowed my fear and my worries to consume me at night. Now, I try to deal with them in the light, so when darkness falls, I make room for all of the other things left unwritten and unspoken. I’ve discovered much of what I see behind my eyes is really a mirror of the work going on in my soul. The strangest fears come out of hiding, the desires I can’t yet speak of find their place, and the little details, the nuances of emotion I seem to miss during the day, have their way.

I want to pay closer attention to the wild things, to what’s happening at my soul level. I want to let go of the daily distractions and get to the heart of the images that flash behind my closed eyelids. Who knows what might be hiding?

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Does something similar happen to you when you close your eyes after a long day, or am I just a little bit crazy? What’s one wild thing roaming around in your heart that wants to come out of hiding?

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Home at last

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A friend mentioned her daughter wants to attend university overseas, and she wants my daughter, her best friend, to attend school in Europe with her. In spite of all our moving around, her daughter and my oldest girl have been besties for almost eight years. I didn’t have the heart to tell my girlfriend that I plan for my daughter to live at home forever and ever or, if pushed, I might allow her to attend school one state over. Maybe.

The desire to keep my kids close is universal to motherhood, and yet I know her independent streak will get the best of us in the end. No one explains the downside of raising children who know how to make a home wherever they land. We raise children who leave us. They see the world as an open book and they want to turn the pages. I understand this urge. I’ve experienced my share of page turning, and while I still possess frequent wanderlust wishes, I want the book to gather dust for a while.

My husband made an off-handed remark recently about moving to another location at some point in the future, and I whipped my head around so fast I almost gave myself whiplash. For the first time in a decade, I feel well and truly settled. I don’t hear the incessant clock ticking away deep in my belly, counting down time until our next adventure in moving. I don’t think it’s gone entirely, but the clock sits in snooze mode indefinitely.

Last week, we removed all the metal poles supporting the foundation of our house from the basement. First, the construction company placed a steel beam the length of our house to support the weight of it, and then they removed the poles one by one. When the last pole gave way, the entire house gave a deep sigh, and relaxed into the settling. This season of life, feels exactly like the deepest, most comfortable sigh. I too, feel myself falling into a settling. This year, my soul exhaled one great big breath, as if to say, Home at last, and this constancy continues to surprise me.

In the past eighteen months, since our move to New Jersey, I find one pole after another knocked out from under me. Some of our friendships, our church location, place in this town, family goals, and even our own desires no longer provide the same structural support they offered since living here previously. The ones that no longer support our family gave way to something better. The ones that have gone the distance with us as a family, have become more precious, more supportive, more life-giving. They are the backbone of steel in our family’s foundation.

I am infinitely curious of what it means to put down roots, and to commit to truly living, not just existing somewhere. This doesn’t come naturally to me, but I feel myself adapting to the idea of Home at last, with a solid foundation in the making.

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What kind of foundation have you built around your home and your current season of life?

This post is part of an ongoing series. You’ll find me here writing about Home every Monday. To receive these posts straight to your inbox, sign up below. As always, thanks for reading!

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Saving my sanity: A list

book and mug via kimberlyanncoyle.com

You should know, I am not my best self around the holidays, I’m probably my truest self, but certainly not my best. This time of year sends me into a frenzy of holiday distraction and people-hangovers and shopping madness. I have multiple virtual carts loaded with items I don’t need, and I spend hours running fool’s errands. At the start of the week, I created a self-imposed writing deadline for a new project. So naturally, I spent 40 minutes yesterday looking for kid’s knee socks at Old Navy. Then I braved the grocery store for imported spreadable butter. Then I got a pedicure. Oh, alright, I got a mani/pedi. Really? Do I need to buy knee socks and buy imported Irish butter in the crushing crowds of this season? No, I do not.

I also waited until the very last minute to complete my annual photo books on iPhoto (cue the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when I realized this year doesn’t include a single photo requiring an airline ticket or suitcase), and we decided to “update” the basement in time for Christmas. Mr. Coyle’s idea of an update includes major construction and too many trips to a DIY store that shall remain nameless. Today, we paint. Pray for me. Home improvement Saturdays create trying times in our marriage.

Consequently, I find myself waking up before sunrise to write. I wrap a blanket around my shoulders, turn on the Christmas lights, and watch the sun emerge in  orange as the tree tops sit like black lace in silhouettes against it. I feel torn between my desire to read in the quiet and to write. I try to fit in a little of both. If you find yourself in a similar situation this Christmas, desperate for a bit of relief from your self-imposed crazy, here are a few things saving my sanity:

1. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (for families) and The Greatest Gift (for us). As we observe Advent for the first time this year as a family, I chose Ann’s books to accompany us on the journey. I can’t overemphasize how much we’re enjoying Unwrapping as a family. The threads of Jesus’ family tree usually come to my kids in bits and pieces, making it impossible for them to string the fullness of the story together. This book weaves such a tender re-telling. I’m reading the adult version in the morning to center myself on what truly matters. It remains up for debate whether or not this strategy is working.

2. Light upon light by Sarah Arthur. This collection is beautiful, including truly gorgeous words of scripture and prayer and poetry. More than anything, this draws me deeper into the mystery of this season. No “Flash Sale” signs pop up in the periphery, just lovely words that quiet my heart and spirit.

3. Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper. I know, this list is made up entirely of books. I stumbled across this at the library, and after I dog-eared a few pages (sacrilegious. hate me.), I ordered my own copy to mark up to my heart’s delight. She makes me feel as if every effort I make to put a few words on a page is worth it.

4. Frequent texts with my sister about everyday happenings. In the past, I’d best describe our relationship as tricky. I blame this on the five year age gap between us, and my complete inability to see her as a real friend rather than a pesky sibling. Sorry, Sissie. Despite all odds, she persisted in loving me through the years when raising little ones became all consuming, and living abroad made relationships even more tricky. Knowing she cares enough to check in on the little things is literally saving my sanity, one text at a time. Do you have someone in your life who might be floating in the background of your life, holding out their hand like an inflatable raft in a sea of crazy?

5. Satellite radio. My husband installed this in my car when I told him I can sometimes hear music while listening to static on my car radio. I can’t even describe the joy that is the Holiday Traditions station. A jazz version of the Nutcracker Suite? Bing Crosby and the Anderson Sisters? Seth MacFarlane as guest host? This beats trying to hear the latest news update on NPR through fuzzy airwaves any day. If you’re a Sirius fan, leave me a recommendation of your favorite stations in the comments.

6. Mugs with sweaters. Does it get any better? These make me smile every time I see them. I plan to fill them with peppermint hot chocolate, in a further effort to save myself from a downward spiral into holiday psychosis while waiting in line at Starbucks.

7. Daily exercise. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s the truth. At some point, you have to work off those peanut butter cookies because the Hershey Kiss melting all delicious and gooey on the top will not look as appetizing on your backside. Also, running is a sanity saver. In an effort to make my life even more over-scheduled during prime writing hours, I spent an hour at a new gym this week for a trial session. I can no longer move my top or bottom half, so thanks for that Get In Shape for Women. I think their goal is to make you so sore, it’s physically impossible to reach for the cookies in the kitchen. Job well done, twenty something trainer with no body fat whatsoever.

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Tell me, what’s saving your sanity this Christmas?

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To hold longing

jesse tree via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I hand-picked the peeling birch branches we cut off the dying tree in the backyard. They’re white and spare and beautiful. Last Christmas, I hung small white doves from every twig. They sat like tiny messengers delivering a promise of peace for the year to come.

This year, I chose those same spare branches to hang the ornaments for our first Jesse tree. Every day, I look at it and it feels unfinished, lopsided, undone. I miss the doves…

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Today, I’m honored to add my words to a beautiful ongoing Advent series at my friend Christie Purifoy’s blog. You might want to wander around her site for a bit, her writing is so life-giving and lovely. To read the rest of my Advent story, click here.

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