Saturday, October 27, 2018

Summer Knits

My travel project this summer; begun on the airplane, frogged in a cafe in the south-west of France, (never start a lace project on an airplane), re-knit on the terrace of my in-laws, and bound-off in Ireland. Blocked back home and mailed back to my mom-in-law, a knitter who appreciates the gift.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Pre-Heading-off-to-school Messes

There are always a few; discarded remnants of yesterday's lunch box or this morning's breakfast, tissues that did not make it all the way into the waste paper basket (pet peeve!), and papers...from school, from activities, from the mail. This morning's mess was almost artistic in its color and form, almost a pretty bit of clutter. How they have time to get so much...accomplished, before even starting their official day, is a mystery. I sorta wish part of the mystery was how tidy they left everything before leaving. Alas.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


August 20, 2018:

"compulsory", obligatory", "done" seem to be the words which first come to mind when speaking of duty. Often these are accompanied,  by an adjective even less flattering; "grim, determined, bound." Today, I find happiness in the term, as I see my children off to their first day of school, knowing that their lunches are packed, their summer was as good as one can offer, and that they have had years of homeschooling to make them look forward to spending their days among peers instead of with me. Or at least that is what I am telling myself.

October 20, 2018:

I have been exploring the meaning of surrender and resistance, of should/must/need amidst this freedom of sorts that has appeared for a few hours a day.  What is it that I owe to my family, to the world? What do I owe to myself? Is there a difference?

Some things can be both  duty and  privilege, depending on how they are viewed. The act of voting carries with it this dual sense. It was in France that I heard for the first time; "There. Voted. We did our duty." I had never considered it that way; it was drilled into our young American minds to remember the privilege it was to live in a democratic nation, where we had the right to choose who governed. I would say that both sides of the question are of value, but the feeling that comes with completing a duty may be of longer and more profound duration. Can we say there is a lower meaning to doing dishes and keeping up with the laundry? Which comes first, the completion of 5000 words today or keeping away the dust bunnies? When you are working from home, the angst can weigh on you; first things first...but which is which?

As for France and our family there, all concerned with this summer's trip seem to have the same regard for it; the grandparents are back to their daily routine, happy to have taken care of us and happy to have their house back, I suspect.  I approached this visit to France with a sense of this before leaving. I would do everything I could to be helpful, uncomplaining and grateful. It wasn't that I was regarding it as an ordeal, well, maybe the traveling part; security and long hours cramped in tiny quarters, followed by mad dashes through airports, only to be met with long lines to go through security or immigration. Was the effort simply monumental? Yes. Was it hard for the grandparents to host six people and serve them two meals a day every day? Terribly!

I was not needed in the kitchen, Mamie Coco has her own way of shopping, meal organization and serving, keeping out of her way was the best thing to do. However, setting the table, and doing the dishes after each meal, became my own. Once in awhile, one of my older kids would take over, and you could find them singing as they washed and wiped. It must be the novelty of having no chores at all, and taking over one giant task at one meal that gave them the same sense of "I did something to help".

Many hours were passed before and during the trip, planning to visit certain places or certain beloved friends and family. How we looked forward to those experiences! They were fun, elucidating, exciting, but the feeling that struck me yesterday, walking in the woods with my pup, was much deeper and noble, and...satisfying. We all pitched in, we remained on good terms with each other, despite the close conditions, despite the heat, in spite of the difference in child-rearing philosophies and generational gaps. Back home, the house is in a rather decent state, meals are cooked, flowers watered and alive.

Duty fulfilled, go in peace. (Without too much back-patting-of-self, really. I tripped on a branch right after that.)

Friday, October 19, 2018

First Dates and Old Traditions

The pumpkin patch picture, in the Burke Family, is the one where we all squish in for a photo, or fifteen, after choosing our pumpkins and gourds. This time,  everyone made it, except for my nephew who is stationed in Alaska right now...too bad, because he has a darling family too!

This next one was the first time all of us have been in the same car in a long time; road trip! on the way to Dubuque. Back row; Duncan, Cate. Front; Charles, Gael and Valentine.

And, my father, with his great-grandson (my little sister is a grandmother!!!)

My Valentine, with her homecoming date...which was her first "date".

(This was a hard shot to get, as four different high schools' worth of students AND their parents, had all gathered in about three spots, tops, for photo ops. I think the enthusiasm for this torture generates from otherwise only ever getting a glimpse of their little angels, as they run out the door in the morning, wearing perfectly disgraceful apparel, such as leggings, sweat pants and old hoodies. But maybe that is just in my house.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Authenticity and Reality

I may be the only one not having an identity crises, now that all of my children are in school. The question returns, again and again, "Wow, what are you going to do with all of your free time?" My children, my family, my friends, the homeschool group, the neighbors, the post man, all think I might just break down and have no idea what to do with my life. 

I thought I might be more attached to the persona of homeschooling mama, following that of nursing mama, and before that a dozen more "me's", but as you have probably perceived in your own life, roles change and mutate, they even disappear. As thoughts and definitions of who you are meant to be are stripped away, by choice, by circumstance, and the voices outside, but especially inside, are allowed to quiet down, it is possible to return to the essence, and there, nothing is missing.

It feels as if this stripping away is also the occasion for a rebuilding. My house has emptied out, my daytime hours have (only somewhat) emptied of their usual rhythm, but I have not hurried to refill them. Attention to the present moment and a chance for deep reflection are great gifts, and I am savoring them fully. 

Outwardly; the dog is happy that he no longer has to wait for his human brother to be up and ready in order to leave on his daily walk. The bus comes, we leave. It may also be easier for the court to schedule a French long as I did not promise to take someone to the clay studio on the only day we can still get there, or pick up someone else from P, Q or T. (Why do we only ever use X, Y, Z or A, B, C? After all, there are 26 letters in our alphabet. I suppose it's for that reason that everything has been "awesome" for the past 10 years, 20 years?)

If you'd rather not subject yourself to the description of my new, "free" life, feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you're looking for empathy with your own version of modern motherhood, you've got it, read on.

As any mother of five (or eight or one) very well knows, there simply isn't that much free time in a day, with or without school. The house still needs taking care of, laundry needs doing, meals need to be cooked, just faster, and the precious time you spend together is now scheduled by someone else. Not only are there doctor visits; lucky you, I shall spare you the details, voice and piano lessons, there is the unbelievable amount of hours OUTSIDE the school day that you and/or your child are now spending at school anyway. From waiting outside the football field for practice to finish, watching a football game, registration, orientation and unpack the dang backpack night (all before school even began), parent-teacher conferences (didn't we just see each other at orientation or registration or both?), choir concerts, plays, chaperoning events, parent meetings for organizing the events that need chaperoning, parent meetings for funding the events that need organizing and chaperoning, ice cream socials for two different schools, visiting student art galleries, volunteering to bring group meals to children during their show choir camp that goes from 3-9:30 pm, parent meetings to tell parents not to take their child to the ER if he gets hurt at football, just talk to the team medic/trainer, who can conveniently be found, out on the field, in the rain, during the hours that you might otherwise have had a chance to take your child to urgent care and have things straightened out two days earlier. Chances are, your offspring is incapacitated enough not to be able to walk out to the field, but that does not guarantee he will want to go see a real doctor because "coach said to wait and see the trainer, I'll just go see the trainer." Three sprained ankles (two kids) and one broken toe later, we have spent more hours seeing healthcare providers than there are stinky football jerseys to launder each week. (I know, I promised not to detail the doctor visits, but technically, in urgent care, one sees nurse practitioners, not doctors, and then physical therapists to fix it all). I have not even mentioned Boy Scouts; with meetings, canoeing practice, bike rides and camp-outs taking up now non-family weekends. Sorry, was I ranting? I know I am not alone.

I do not feel any less involved in my children's lives. I gave birth to and raised these munchkins. Although sometimes on my walk along the bike path, the echoes of my children, all in a line, marching through the tall grasses of the prairie and chanting, "Where will this road end? .....NEVER!" as they play hobbits and dwarves comes to haunt me, it is easy to remember that my life is sweeter because those moments were a part of it. When the voices fade, the day is still filled with the joy of the sun, the wind, the meadow and forest, and peace that comes from within.