The Ministry of a Mini-Van

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My husband sat in the driver’s seat and popped his head out of the window, saying, “Say goodbye, this might be the last time you see your car!” I touched the side of the sliding door and said, “Goodbye, faithful friend.” I tried to summon tears, but really, that’s a bit dramatic, even for me, and he drove away. He was right, he came home from the dealership without the mini-van, without the car stuffed full of a decade of goldfish crumbs and half-eaten lollipops. He came home without the car that carried my three walking hearts for the last ten years, the one that drove us endless miles across America, that captured every argument, every sweaty post-game crowd of kids, every morning goodbye.

My son recently told me when he thinks of his childhood, it’s colored with memories of Splash Mountain, eating at Cracker Barrel, and the smell of despair (his own) from too many hours spent at the mall. When I think of my kids’ childhood, I think of the mini-van. It sat at the heart of everything. I was a mini-van mom, a role I rejected and complained about initially, but one I grew into. I expanded with each deep conversation and each extra carpool kid and each trip to a new, unexplored location.

There is nothing like the ministry of a mini-van to our kids and our community.

We have entered a new season, with two teens and a tween. One kid is months away from driving. The five of us are rarely together in one place, but I still spend most of my time on the road, shuttling each one to their own activities. The mini-van served us well, but we have put that season behind us, before I feel ready. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’re in a new season before you’re knee-deep in the muck and mud of it. We have entered a new season of parenting, with our oldest only one year away from flying from our nest.

It is strange to think I’m no longer the mom wrangling three littles, or shuttling kids to elementary school. I’m no longer the mom who cuts out paper hearts or buys teacher’s gifts or takes photographs at the Daddy/Daughter dance. I’m the mom who cheers from the sidelines of their lives, while they run and run and run towards their future.

This is the goal, isn’t it? To work oneself out of a job. To move from season to season and let ourselves and our children expand into them, and grow with them, rather than fight the change.

The mini-van is an impermanent thing which gave us permanent memories. The lacrosse sticks, school books, and dirty clothes strewn around my house will not litter the floor forever. But the memories are the scent that rises, the one that brings us back to times of love and frustration and growth, this sweet smell is a fragrance we never forget. It smells like sacrifice and permanence and chocolate cake.

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Wishing all of you who love a child, and love them well, a very Happy Mother’s Day. DNA isn’t required for making a difference in the life of a child, and you dear auntie, teacher, mentor, friend, you are. So thank you for mothering our children! I’m sending many blessings and roses and virtual naps to you.

 

How to See: Finding the Holy Hidden in the Everyday

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Whether she missed the ball or caught it, her eyes slid my way afterwards. She turned them to where I sat on the bleachers, seeking my thumbs-up approval or my better-luck-next-time shrug. The ball usually caught her by surprise mid-sentence or when flipping her hair or readjusting the little knot on her t-shirt. Had I ever possessed the courage to stand on a court, I would’ve missed a sure shot in lieu of flicking my ponytail too. This was the longest hour of every week, and also one of the sweetest. She ran like a gazelle with long, strong legs that kicked the sky when she made a basket. Big eyes like glowing orbs caught my own to make sure I saw it. I saw her.

An hour later, the older boys immersed themselves in their own game. There was no conversation or singing of Taylor Swift lyrics on the court. There was hustle. They offered small crooked smiles at mistakes, pumped fists at a three-pointer, but also, the same searching eyes asked the question–did you see me? My boy scanned the seats during every game to find my eyes fixed on him, and I gathered all of his nearly imperceptible nods like tiny treasures.

At some point during every game, Coach Coyle and I met eyes across the gloss of the gym floor. We sent small signals–I see you, I see them, I see us right there on the court singing or dribbling or looking for our approval. They were the holiest, hidden moments where we saw ourselves clearly through each other’s eyes–we are seen, we are loved, and we offer the same gift to our children.

I never thought I’d see love written in glances across a basketball court. But, every winter Saturday, I sat in my yoga pants in a crowd of mothers and fathers listening the the squeak of sneakers across a gym floor, waiting to catch eyes with the ones I love. Waiting to acknowledge their wins, accept their flaws, and watch them kick the sky with joy.

Why Making Time For Family Matters

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My brother lives in the country, in an old farmhouse built in 1833. Original, wide-plank wood floors run throughout the house, and the kitchen displays a fireplace I can stand up inside at my full height. At 5’2″, that’s not a huge accomplishment, but it gives you some idea of the scale. Every window in his home offers a view worth capturing–old, paint-chipped barns, stone outhouses, tree-lined country lanes, and corn fields for acres and acres. I have a serious case of old-house envy.

When my sister-in-law gave us a tour of the house, she saved the best for last. We click-clacked up the attic steps, and after warning us that a snake lived up there (Help me Jesus, she wasn’t kidding. A snake skin lay swept into a pile of dust in the corner. This was not the best part), she shut the attic door behind us. While my husband looked for something with which to mimic a snake and frighten me, and I looked for another exit, she pointed to the back of the closed door. Scripted in three shades of paint, and then in black sharpie, were the names and dates of the various people who had a hand in painting the farmhouse over the years. Nicholas Peters 1834. W. Boyd 1886. GWB 1905. Then a gap of 99 years before a long list of modern names written in sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law will add their own names to the back of the door soon. Perhaps another family will add their own signatures, nine or 99 years later.

We gathered at my brother’s–all eight adults and ten kids of us–to celebrate my mom’s 65th birthday. There was pizza and a pink cake and little ones running around with soaked pant legs from creek wading. We didn’t have piles of gifts or scrap books of memories to share. We didn’t even sit around and say nice things about my mother (which in hindsight, sounds a bit anticlimactic). Instead, we sat around and ate together and shared ticking minutes, which stretched into autumn hours. I think it was everything my mother ever wanted.

Spending time together as a family reminded me of all the names painted across my life. All the people who made a difference, who made me who I am. They leave a signature behind, and sometimes they leave a soft imprint and sometimes they leave scars too, but their names have significance and a lasting effect on the life I’m building.

My mom wrote her name across my life before anyone else. CLH 1975. Carefully crafted in permanent ink, she wrote across the foundation, making beautiful the rooms she tended, molding me into something a little more like her, a little more lovely for her having been there.

Traveling With Kids: Headless Photos not Included

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I love history and art, and I really love museums. I love tourist attractions that have lots of little informational placards, and I like to read each one. Slowly. I also love old stuff. Any kind of old stuff, but especially old stuff that tells a story. This has earned me the reputation of being a bit of a nerd with my family. Boring might be the word my children mouth behind my back, but I’ll own up to nerdy.

My husband shares some of these loves, but mostly he indulges me. When we travel, it’s all museums and historical sites all the time, preferably on foot and in weather conditions guaranteed to make everyone miserable. My children took a three hour guided tour of the Vatican before the age of ten–twice. I can assure you they do not thank me for this. My son still calls it the worst experience of his life, and considering we lost him for a good half-hour in Disneyland Paris, that’s quite a statement.

For years, they begged us for a real vacation. They use words like “relaxing” and “fun” to describe their ideal get-away. They also had the nerve to request three meals a day, a policy my husband largely ignores when traveling. We still haven’t figured out why, but we think he believes it adds to the excitement of walking for hours through an art museum if he “keeps us hungry”. I keep this policy on my list of items to discuss when my husband threatens me with marriage counseling.

This year, we decided to indulge the kids, and we took them to Turks and Caicos for a relaxing, fun, food-filled break. In the first two hours, I had to swim into the ocean with my sunnies and my hat on to save my youngest from drowning, and the oldest had to be rescued at sea by a resort employee manning a powerboat. I have misgivings as to whether or not my children understand the meaning of relaxing, and judging from the above, their idea of fun is dubious at best.

After a generous helping of Fruit Loops and Chips Ahoy Cookies for the kids and a few glasses of prosecco for me, we finally got into a more mellow groove. I indulged my inner nerd by reading a lovely stack of books and taking photos of the sunset on repeat,  my husband fed us (mostly) three meals a day, and the kids enjoyed five days without an informational placard in sight.

When we arrived, I asked my son to please take some photos of me at some point on the vacation, so we have proof I was there. As the official family photographer, I usually stand behind the lens. On the ride home, as I scrolled through my phone, I found ten or so shots of me. Almost entirely headless. There’s nothing like a close up of one’s abdominal area in a bikini at forty to make one reconsider well, everything.

I guess he hasn’t forgotten about that parenting faux pas in Disney after all.

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Where do you like to go on family vacations? What memories stick with you? And, more importantly, have you ever lost a kid there?!

*Follow along on our occasional travels and everyday life-keeping over on instagram. It’s my favorite place on the internet. You’ll find me there a few times a day, much to the mortification and chagrin of my teenagers.

I do

the dress via kimberlyanncoyle.com

My husband and I spent hours cleaning the basement yesterday. I should preface this by saying, the basement is where all the things we’ve collected over our multiple moves go to die a slow death by suffocation. Boxes upon boxes, trinkets upon trinkets. Visual clutter brings out the worst of my anxieties and pessimistic tendencies. I say things like “We’ll never make a dent in this! It’s a nightmare! I hate everything! I married a hoarder!”  I think I need a counseling session to recover. I know my marriage almost did.

In the course of our purge, throughout which I cursed myself and my abiding love for knick-knacks that serve no earthly purpose, we came across the suitcase I used to store my wedding dress. That’s right, I store a custom-made, peau de soie wedding gown in a tired green suitcase. Seamstresses everywhere may need a whiff of smelling salts. I brought it upstairs and discovered that, at some point during one of our moves, the packing company felt my dress needed some company. So, they added a few christmas lights with the muddy stakes still attached.

Outrage. Name calling. Deep breathing.

On realizing the muddy stakes hadn’t caused  damage, I recovered from my blinding rage, and began to unfold layer after layer of white tissue paper. They made a crumply sound as I  lifted each sheet, revealing my wedding gown after eighteen years of quiet waiting. I held it up, thinking of all the promise wrapped up in this bit of silk and lace. Each thread and knot and pearl a deposit on our future, on vows made, the whole of a marriage sewn together with a single promise.

I slipped it on, and twirled in front of my husband, and his eyes lit up just like they did on our wedding day. It felt sacred somehow, like the dress was our Ebenezer, a memorial to God’s faithfulness to us over the years. We laughed and took photos and I tried to remember what it felt like to fit into a bodice the size of a thimble. We decided to surprise the kids, so my husband threw on his tux and we marched down the stairs amid peals of laughter. The kids all agreed–we grow increasingly weird in our old age.

We stood in the living room surrounded by everything we love, everything we’ve built for eighteen years. Our three kids and our home and the memories they hold, as countless and bright as the stars in the night sky. By the grace of God, my man kept his promise and I kept mine. And this dress, with its trails of pearl and lace, is a symbol of our commitment, and every good and imperfect thing we’ve experienced along the way.

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Do you still have your wedding dress? What kind of memories does it unfold in you?