Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sleeping Bags and Stages of Life

My stage of life is best illustrated by the sleeping bags.

They are rolled up and tightly tied like well-behaved sleeping bags ought to be. Some are sleek, nylon, lightweight, and efficient--perfect for backpacking. Two are big, heavy, old cotton bags that would keep you warm in the Klondike. One or two are "mummy" shaped. Most are rectangular. Some are slipped into swishy nylon bags with drawstrings at the end.

They are piled on top of the two upright freezers in the back pantry and also on a shelf on the north wall. In among the sleeping bags, we have at least four foam mats also rolled up into cylinders.

Those sleeping bags have been everywhere: on the trampoline on lovely summer nights when siblings watched for shooting stars and cats came snuggling in the morning chill, spread all over the inside of a pop-up tent trailer out at the coast, down by the creek on boys' adventures [and washed down the creek inside a tent on one memorable occasion], up in the mountains, on road trips, on airplanes, across the country, and on youth-group camping trips.

And back home again.

Our son Steven moved home recently after living at a local fire station for two years and completing an intense out-of-state paramedic program.

I was happy to have him around again, and not only because he lifts heavy objects and comes up with good puns. Like all our offsprings, he is just a good person to have around.

As adult children do, he brought his things with him. And I felt an ancient panic rising.

Many many years ago, we moved to a 20 x 24 foot cabin on a reservation in Canada. We had three children aged 4, 2, and 8 weeks. We also didn't have running water, which I am saying only so you'll feel sorry for me and not because it is really relevant to this story.

A big challenge was Where to Put Things. I had pared down to the very basics of course, since we had to fly in all our belongings. But still. We had kettles, diapers, a radio, flour, soap, pajamas, and such things. And no dressers.

One weekend, early on, Paul went to Winnipeg for a teachers' meeting and managed to come back with a sack of shelf brackets and a stack of laminated boards. He lined our little restroom with shelves and put up a few more in the children's bedroom. I filled the shelves and put underwear and socks in our suitcases and slid them under our bed. It all fit. I was happy.

However. Whenever we got something new, such as when someone sent us a care package of clothes and gifts, I was happy for the much-needed stuff but a little panicky. Where would I put it?

For the next day or two I would fuss and poke and rearrange, and somehow I'd find a place. There. It had a home and a place to be, and I would feel settled once more.

In the last fifteen years, I've had grownup kids moving in, moving out, leaving for short times and medium times and long times, coming for visits, coming for summers, coming until they graduate, leaving again with a sleeping bag and sandwiches tossed into the back seat, 

Often, I've faced that little panic. Where are we going to put everyone and everything??

Before Steven came home at the end of December, I was nosing around the house like an agitated mouse, sniffing with quivering whiskers. How would we do this? What could I get rid of to make more space?

In the back pantry, I looked at those sleeping bags. Surely the time had come. "Everyone pick out which ones are yours, and we'll get rid of the rest," I said.

"But that one is good for backpacking!" they said. "This one is mine, and that other one is good for camping, and those are handy when we have guests, and you use that one on the couch when Dad snores."

So I kept them all.

That defines my odd and unusual stage of life, I thought, that none of my many adventurers are settled enough to take their backpacks into their own dwelling to stay. [Or maybe Matt has his, I'm not sure. But he is getting married this summer and then he will get whatever sleeping bags he has left here, the box of Calvin and Hobbes books in the attic, and all that.]

So Emily cleaned out her things in the sewing room closet and put them into her little bedroom. My book inventory and packaging supplies went from the guest room into the sewing room closet. The VCR went into Amy's room. Steven moved his duffel bags and gigantic fireman boots into the guest room.

It all fit. 

The panicky insides and the nervous whiskers settled down again. Everything had a home. All was well.

So it's a strange phase of life I'm in, with so many adult kids around. Very few women my age can relate, it feels like. But it is thick with humor, good conversation, and unexpected blessings.

Amy cooks delicious Thai dinners on Thursday nights. Emily clears dead iris stalks and live snails out of the flower beds in preparation for spring. Jenny leaves early and comes home late, full of emphatic hilarious stories. On Saturday, Steven singlehandedly put the old lamb shed on a wagon and hauled it out of the field for me.

We all have a home here, it is a safe place to be, and we even have hot and cold running water.

I am the Keeper of the Sleeping Bags.

Quote of the Day at a Sunday dinner:
Me: Fall-apart tender! That's exactly what a Sunday roast is supposed to be.
Jenny: Fall-apart tender? That's what my emotions are.
Ben: Did you just roast yourself?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Review: My Other Name is Mom

I was first alerted to My Other Name is Mom when Lisa the niece sent me a WhatsApp note: "Have you read this new Mennonite mom book on the market? It's one of the more realistic, relatable, and inspiring. I get tired of the type with formulas and cliches. This lady has . . . lots of hearty stuff to chew. It's mostly about the more typical young and middle stage of parenting."

"Interesting!" I said.

Serendipitously, the author herself contacted me two weeks later. Could she do a guest post and introduce her new book?

I said yes.

Mary Burkholder talks to you like you're a grownup. You know how to think, and you don't need to be either patronized or revered. You might not have known what you were in for, but you chose this mothering path, and you want to do it Biblically and well.

This was the book I needed thirty years ago. It might well be exactly what you need right now.


Now I Am a Mom
by Mary Burkholder

“When I grow up, I want to be a mommy,” a second grader I know wrote. It struck me as very sweet. I don’t remember all my aspirations as a girl, but I know mommy wasn’t at the top of my list—though I did make preparation against that day by creating a list of twelve names, just in case.
I really wanted to be either an artist or an author. By the time I was eighteen, I had settled on author. I recall an alluring fantasy of remaining single, living alone, and producing best-selling novels. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a prime candidate for feminism; I craved independence. I wanted to follow my dreams. Why should I choose to tie myself to a family?
What if I never got to do anything I really wanted to do?
That was eighteen years ago. Now I am a mom. I do not live alone. And I have yet to write a novel. I still love to write, and I still dream of writing best-sellers, but somewhere along the way, my priorities have changed: being a mom has shifted into first place.
Do I mind?
Let me tell you about a night of my motherhood I’ll never forget; I remember it for two reasons.
The first is because we were taken unsuspectingly by an epic flu epidemic. Four of my five children were ill with the stomach flu on that awful night. I had tucked them in and gone innocently to my own bed for much-needed rest—rest that proved elusive. It seemed just a few short moments later that somebody called, “Mo-om!” Somebody was crying.
I have never seen such a wretched flu, before or since. It had no end.
I trekked upstairs and downstairs, into my bed and out of it again. I changed their pajamas and their bedding. I scrubbed the bedroom carpet and the bathroom floor. I situated buckets that remained largely unused. Even my breastfed baby—I always thought they’re not supposed to get sick—regurgitated everything all over me, the crib, and herself as soon as I stood up to place her back in her crib. After every cry, every call, every re-tucking in, I thought, surely this will be the end of it. Hope springs eternal, and unrequited, springs yet again.
The other adult in our home was incommunicado. Far, far away in another part of the house, he did valiant battle with his own insides. I suppose I should have been deeply grateful I was not sick that night. I suppose I should have joyfully consoled myself that at least one of the children was not throwing up. But at 2:00 a.m., fog-brained and lethargy-limbed, all I could feel was utter hopelessness when someone called Mo-om once again.
It was a night of despair and dismay; an unending saga of dragging myself up from fragmented dozes to stagger to the rescue. I longed for Mom to take over, but I was Mom. At one point, crouched on the carpet with Lysol-scented rag in hand, I had a single clear thought: I never signed on for all this. This is the second reason I remember that night.
This moment of clarity made me think about how I had gotten here: Is motherhood something I’ve chosen? Or did I blindly follow a path of expectation patterned for me by my mom and her mom and her mom? Did I fall unsuspectingly into a trap laid by a church group that promotes motherhood? Do I believe in the importance of my role, or do I just have to like the place I’ve found myself in? How did I get here?
It began when I said yes to a certain dark-haired, dark-eyed young man, and we went out for supper on a Tuesday night. He asked for a second date and I said yes. And much later, he asked me to marry him and I, enamored, said yes. Why had I ever thought I wanted to be single anyway?
We planned a small Friday-night wedding. We bought a little house on a hill in the woods. We honeymooned like the two kids we were and came home to try to navigate realities of an adult world. We were in love and happily unaware of ever-after affects. Children were on the distant horizon—little unknown someones out there who would likely enter my life at some point. I am not a big planner, and I did not have a projected timeline—insert child here. Temporarily freed from other responsibilities, I was writing.
As the years of our marriage went by, one by one, they came along: cute, sweet, funny, endearing, exasperating little additions to our family. And before I knew what was happening, I had become a real mom.
“Mom, help me,” they call. And “Mom, it hurts,” they cry. And, “Mom, look at me,” they shout.
I hug them and spank them and kiss them and read them thousands of stories. They eat up my time and energy. And I don’t want to imagine my life without them.
My children have stolen my sleep, worn me down physically, worried me, aggravated me—oh and they’ve puked in their beds—but they bring me so much joy, and I love them with my heart and soul. My only regrets about mom-life are times I did not show the love, did not feel the love, did not love the moment; because no matter how dreadful, moments are fleeting. I have found identity and security as a very loved, very tired member of this family—even through the gorier bits. I have chosen this. I keep choosing it. And I do believe in it.

Mary Burkholder’s new book, My Other Name Is Mom, highlights the importance of a mother’s
role in the home and in society and counters basic feministic ideology with Bible principles. The
book is refreshingly candid about the tough parts of motherhood, but joyously expresses the
fulfillment and identity found in embracing the role. Mary and her husband Lyndon have five
lovely children of which they are most biasedly proud. Mary has written other books which you
can find on her website.