The Joy of Sunday Mornings…

Sunday evening, and I am finally ready for the weekend to begin.  To begin again, that is.  How is it that we are able to completely press speed dial when it comes to Friday through Sunday, but the rest of the week is like waiting on hold with elevator music playing in the background?

Sunday morning is almost a distant memory.  Almost.  I can still feel the tension in my stomach in trying to get to church on time without losing my sanity.  I believe I lost it right about 11:00 a.m. when I walked in the front door, met the pastor on the way to the piano, where I was about to play a musical prelude, and he confirmed with me that it was my turn to lead worship this Sunday.

Apparently he sent me a memo via Facebook messaging.  I am not always the best at reading those.  My bad.

I don’t know about you church-goers out there, with whom I might share this problem, but I am perpetually late for church on Sunday.  It matters not what time I get up nor how much I have piled on my plate for that day.  I am always late for church.  It is a problem that I am now trying to embrace as a lifestyle.  Not sure if everyone else in my world is on board with this vision yet.  But one can only hope they soon will be.

Not only am I late, but I am usually in a foul mood from having been cranky at everyone in a  five-mile radius who did not happen to like their Sunday clothes, the feel of scratchy nylons, folding their pajamas, putting away their pajamas, or for not liking the shoes and coat I might have selected.  In general, if it can go wrong on Sunday mornings in our household, it usually does.  And right about 9:33 a.m., Sunday morning, to be exact.

So today, the day unravelled in this way.

I wake up before anyone else in the house, as per usual.  I peek in my daughter’s room to find her reading a book, but I scurry past her room to the staircase where I thump downstairs as fast as humanly possible at this early hour.  I rarely try to disguise the fact that I am up.  No one usually gets the hint.

As today is fellowship meal day at church, I am aware that I do need to get my act together, so as to make sure I am reasonably on time.  I have a casserole and dessert to make.  I am silently scolding myself for not having been more organized yesterday in starting preparations.  Another character flaw of mine.

By the time everyone in our family is up, breakfast is being served and dinner is starting to be assembled.  However, about a half an hour prior to church, I officially realize I will not be on time today.  Which is really just like every other Sunday, but I always like to give myself some room to prove  my usual late self wrong.  So, the children are dressed and their hair is done, all the while Mommy is still in her pajamas.

Now, usually, I can pull things together and we are all in the van heading off to church with the knowledge that we are only a few minutes late for church.  But today, my in-laws call and offer to take my husband and kiddos so as to ensure some of our family is on time for Sunday School.  The offer is too sweet to resist.  So, I remain in my overnight apparel as I send them all out the door to Grammie’s waiting van, with the hopes that I will be able to get my act together in the next hour and thus be on time for morning worship.

I do get to church.  Late, but I get there.

After I have parked the van and breezed in the side door, fully dressed with casseroles stacked one on top of the other in a delicate balancing act, all while grabbing the door  with my free arm, my daughter’s Sunday School teacher comes up to me and says, “Little One told me that Mommy was home today in her pajamas.”  Note to self: always remind the children to keep family secrets just that, a secret.  I feign horror at the thought of her spreading this story all around the Sunday School, but secretly I am impressed that she is so observant and detailed in her storytelling.

Just as I am starting to relax, because I am here now after all, I am again informed by a different friend of yet another detail I have overlooked.   Today is my Sunday in the nursery.  That is, the nursery that was just held the hour before, while I was home slouching around in my pajamas.

So, I am feeling knocked down quite a few rungs, and just about that time is when the pastor and I meet near the altar, at the front of the church, while I am heading for the piano.  I could use an answer to prayer right about now, and I am sure in a good position to get one.

It all worked out in the end.  But it sure was a rollercoaster of a ride in the process.

Which leads me to this conclusion: while I agree that Sunday corporate worship is the ideal, there are some days when I wish for a television remote and a good, ole’ T.V. evangelist.  It would certainly be hard to be late for that service, and I think pajamas are encouraged.

Sounds too good to be true.

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Joy and Saturday chores…

Saturday morning, chore day.  There is a to-do list as long as my arm, and I am trying to decide where to begin.  The girls had a sleepover the night before, and the boys are attending a Men’s Breakfast.  I relish a few precious minutes to sit, think and read before the rush.

An hour passes, and my son comes in the door.  He looks crest-fallen as he was invited to go to his friend’s house for the afternoon, and his father decided against it.  He asks me to use his video gaming system, and I remind him of the weekend rules.  Video games are off-limits on Saturday mornings in lieu of chores or other activities.  The face turns from downcast to angry.  He storms off to his room, and I find him a few minutes later crying.  In his mind, there is nothing to do (when one is not playing video games, that is), and thus everything in life is boring and at the bottom of the barrel. He says negative things impulsively that I know he does not mean.  But still.  I don’t know quite what to say to all this.  So on a whim, I distract him with a project.

Cleaning his room.

We begin to sort through his belongings and then start the process of de-cluttering his room.  Surprisingly, he enjoys this activity as I have promised he can sell at the flea market what he discards today so as to buy a new bike.  This works for him; I now have a committed, eager helper.

Two birds with one stone.

Slowly, a pile of items fills up the center of his bedroom rug.  One thing after another is placed either back on a shelf or on the discard pile on the floor.  We straighten bookshelves, vacuum under his bed, fold clothes and move furniture.  The project takes the better part of two hours.  When we finish, we are both in a better mood.  I am happy the room is clean.  Ever the business man, he is happy that he has so much to sell.

The remainder of the day goes better because of this one pivotal moment in the day when he chose to make an attitude adjustment from moping around and feeling sorry for himself to getting busy and keeping his mind off his current situation.

I can’t help but think of my own responses to life’s roadblocks when things do not work out as I plan them.  How often do I get discouraged by the circumstances in my life that cause my path to twist and turn?  When things don’t go as planned.  When I am hurt or wounded, intentionally or not.  When I feel lonely and isolated.  When communication breaks down.  When I don’t get my way.  When I suffer.  When I am downcast.  In all these, it is easy to throw in the towel and just make blanket statements that life is awful or that nothing ever works out.  What is the point in trying to feel joy when there is always going to be another roadblock along the way?  Or, to put it milder, we sometimes say that life is a bowl full of cherries: it’s the pits.

It is hard to feel joyful. Most of life is hard, and a fair bit of life is down-right difficult.  But, joy is not a feeling.  It is a choice.  We can choose to embrace it or not.  Through our actions and by our attitude.

I spoke with a woman the other night about my interest in joy.  When I told her that joy is what I am pursuing, she said to me, “You mean exuberant joy?”  Not quite.  Although that may be possible the close I get to knowing.  What I am really searching for is a joy that is based on peace and contentment.  Gratitude.  Acceptance.

“No,” I replied.  “That’s not what I mean.  I am choosing joy even when it is not how I feel.”  It would be nice to feel like I had laughing gas inside me for a while.  If that is what exuberant joy entails.  But, I would get tired of laughing continuously after a while.  Life is not always that funny no matter how hard we want it to be.  Exuberant joy.  That’s not the kind of joy I’m after.

I want to feel that in the midst of my daily grind, there is something more that keeps me going.  I can give in to the situation and allow myself to deflate or I can fill myself with a joy that allows me to see the best in whatever circumstances I might find myself to be.  That is joy.

I want that kind of joy.

I watch my son in the pool tonight.  Our family reward for a hard day’s work. He is happy and not showing a bit of the earlier sadness I saw this morning.  He shows me his front crawl that he has almost mastered.  I marvel in his strength.  His eleven year old boyishness.

I do not ask him for I know.  He chose joy.  And for today, it has made all the difference.

Friends and joy…

Four little girls are snug as bugs in a rug under blankets and surrounded by pillows on my living room floor.  They are eating me out of house and home, and what they don’t eat will go in the cupboard for Daddy’s late night snacks.  They are watching Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  Every once in a while, I hear a belly laugh.  A comment.  A request for more popcorn.   The living room is littered with remnants of these snacks, along with various stuffed animals, sleeping bags and other overnight accoutrements.  It takes me back to another time and another place.  A time when friendship seemed so…uncomplicated.

How innocent are young female friendships, how free of baggage.

When do our friendships become more complicated and harder to keep?  Is it when we hit our preteen years and begin to discover our identities and how we relate to others?  Is it in high school when we are trying to figure out who we will be in life and how we will accomplish that goal?  Is it in our young adult years when we are getting established and starting to become that sought after persona?  Is it beyond that point of no return when life becomes more complex due to marriage, children and the general busyness of each day, week, month and year; and as a result, our female relationships become complicated as well?

No matter.  It is hard making, being and remaining friends.  It takes work, perseverance and tolerance.   It takes time. Patience.  Understanding.  And so much more.  How can it be accomplished when so much is required?  We have so little time and resources with which to expend, we who are mothers, wives, daughters, sisters.  These latter relationships alone demand more than time allows .

While at a yard sale this evening, I watched the camaraderie among friends.  Other women enjoying one another’s company while shopping and selling.  It is one of the ways we accomplish friendship in these busy days overrun by demands of family, work and parenting.  We multi-task.  Because we need our friends.  And we must find creative ways in which to keep them.

I stopped by my own dear friend’s house after work today and we had the better part of an hour in which to connect.  She and I can get right to the heart of things in zero to sixty.  I love friendships like that. They bring me joy.  We all need friends that meet us where we are, who we are and how we are.  Accepting that we might not always have a lot to bring to the table, we take and enjoy what is there in that moment.  We delight in that pure, unadulterated joy of another woman’s understanding heart.  We don’t have to explain, for she knows.  She is woman after all!

We should all be so blessed.

We make decisions about how best to spend those precious few minutes of every day when we have a spare second.  Precious time.  Do we try to finish up a project?  Read a book?  Run an errand?  Call a friend?  It is the measure of what we prioritize by which we make our choices.  Our relationships are precious.  We give to our spouse, our children, our extended family.  We give to our friendships in different ways…we shop together, walk together, chat on the phone while multitasking at home.  We share in each other’s accomplishments and disappointments while our wee children play at our feet or our older children are kicking a ball on the soccer field.  We stimulate and encourage each other to be better people, to be more tomorrow than we are today; all the while, we accept one another for being exactly who we are in this given space and time.

A friend came to me this week.  She prefaced her dilemma to me with this phrase: “I need a friend right now, can we talk?”  So don’t we all.  We need these kinds of friends in our lives.  We need to carve out time from family and the demands of our busy lives to care about those friends with which we have been blessed to know, who are living a parallel existence to our own.  Other women like us.  With similar concerns, demands, and priorities.

So much of what I learn,  I learn from my children.  I see in them all that is pure and innocent and for the most part, very good.  My eyes are wide open.  They are my reason for living well.  Those bad habits they learn are often impressed on them by the adults they observe.  We, as adults,  are their example and they watch us carefully.  They see what we value and cherish, and they in turn work out their own ideas of what is important and good.

My little girls love their friends, love spending time playing, dreaming and chatting with friends; they are still in those precious years when friendship is simple and yet so profound.   When friendship is what it was meant to be: a joy.  Joy in being and knowing.  Joy in sharing.  The joy of friendship.

The Joy of Cousins…

They urgently run in the door looking for cousins.  No formal greetings made, there are games waiting to be played and stories to share.  Some gather in the T.V. room and get sidetracked with a show while others rush outside to the swings.  Two wait impatiently for a game of Risk, two go upstairs to share secrets while straightening each other’s hair and applying make-up.  The little ones are out playing with Reimo, the black Lab.  Charlotte comes running in looking for a treat to offer him for good behaviour.  He is impressing everyone today by not jumping and yelping for attention.  The Aunts are in the kitchen helping Grammie get lunch in order.  It will be everyone’s favourite, hamburgers, with ice cream for dessert.  Grammie does her level best to keep things running smoothly in a cramped pantry, not spacious enough for the number of women now working in it.  Lunch time, sounds the call, and children come running from every direction.

Afternoon, and bellies are full for the time being.  Aunt Dianne says in passing that we will have about an hour before they all come looking for more food.   The adults sit for a spell and chat about this and that.  Coffee is served along with a slice of blueberry loaf.  We savour time when the children are content and we can just sit, relax.  After a bit, Grampie finds his old red boxing gloves and sends the boys outside to burn off energy.  Grammie gets a word in first: One boy against one boy and no pouncing on one another without the gloves.  The wrestling match in full swing, they declare grand champions, one match after the other.   Andrew pummels Matthew into the ground, and he cries for mercy.  It is all in good fun, and Matthew gets off the ground no worse for the wear.   Grammie comes to the door to check on things every so often, less out of curiosity and more as a safety precaution.  All too soon, it is supper time, and there is a scurry in the kitchen again.  Meal time comes quickly.

The kitchen is buzzing.  Decisions are pending about how much spaghetti to cook.  Grammie wants to have enough to feed all thirteen, so another bag is opened and added to the bubbling water.  One Aunt stirs pasta, while another makes a salad.  Grammie works her way around the extra bodies in her kitchen, checking on casseroles in the oven and setting out items for the spaghetti.  Children are served first, they inhale noodles with and without the crimson sauce.  MaryAnne gets sidetracked and leaves the table before eating much on her plate, and Thomas is last to finish.  When the adults sit in, there are streaks of chocolate and tomato sauce along the edge of the tablecloth, and everything feels sticky.  We bow our heads in thanks for the spread set before us.

Supper over, the noise level picks up.   Keith points out object after object , his baby voice full of emotion, while others play on the floor with cars.  Conversations are lost amidst the confusion of children playing and the television on in the background.  It is decided that there must be a photo session, so children pile on the couch.  One little one does not wish to have his picture taken, and runs off crying, while others try to coax him back.  Pictures are snapped in rapid succession in the hopes that one will be exactly right, capturing the joyous mood of the occasion.  Suddenly, everyone piles on top the few remaining on the couch.  All is chaos.  Children running, laughing, crying, wrestling and jumping, aunts and uncles observing in amazed wonder at the intensity of it all.  For a moment, no one knows quite what to say, what to do.  Children pour from one room to the next, and the noise level is deafening.  And then, as quickly as it began, it is over.  Grammie speaks, and children listen.  Things begin to settle down to a low rumble, like a train gradually coming to a stop.  It is soon time for us to go, we do not wish to wear out our welcome!

Children say goodbyes, tearful at times.  These are difficult, these parting words.  It will be another year before we all gather at this house again, spend afternoons in one another’s company.  Hugs shared, we gather our belongings and walk out the door.  There are precious memories to keep in our hearts and time will pass quickly, until we meet again.

Joy…and unexpected tag alongs

Rushing, always rushing.  I grab a bag of snacks and wait impatiently the three minutes it takes the corn to pop.  My oldest daughter opens the side door of our house and hollers that one child is pulling another’s hair inside the van.  It will be an all-out brawl if I don’t get out there.   And get out there fast.  I move away from the noise and quicken my pace.

As predicted, a quarrel is certainly underway.  One child is crying, another is looking smug and still another is keeping track of the score.  The youngest is scolded, adding bellows to the fray.  Soon, her crying reaches a fevered pitch, and we have not yet pulled out of the driveway.  I glance over the barn yard and see my father-in-law tearing rotten shingles from the old milk house, looking like he wished he could melt into the woodwork.   I wonder what thoughts are going through his head as he watches this little scene.  I know what thoughts are going through mine.  I buckle seat belts, and we drive off in spite of the commotion.

The crying turns to screaming as I pull out the lane.  I am lecturing all the way, to no avail.  My youngest is enraged and there is no reasoning with her at this point.  I am sure my father-in-law is getting an earful as we turn and drive by him again to go up the side road.  I drive 2 kilometres before finally pulling over to the shoulder.  Warnings have been issued and this is the last straw.   Mama has had enough.  I turn the van around and we go home.  I am fuming, visibly beyond my breaking point.

And so it goes.  Life is full of moments like this.  My children quarrel, argue, whine and cry at different intervals throughout the day.  I lecture, negotiate, discipline and comfort in response to the ebb and flow of their behaviours and emotions.  Through it all, I look for blessed quietness in moments and find these moments where I might least expect them.

We take another road trip the following day, this time complete with Dad at the wheel.  I am looking forward to a few minutes alone to gift shop while the crew go to a park for a swim.  I unload towels, swimming trunks and snacks, moments from closing in on a deal.  I’ll be gone one hour, I promise my husband, Tops.  I turn to leave, and my eleven year old son says, Please, can I come too, Mom?  I try to mask my disappointment at his request, I know already that I cannot say no, but, oh, how I had so been looking forward to a few minutes by myself!  I begin to reason with him in the hopes of swaying him with the lure of a pool.  He is unmoved.  Can you and me spend some alone time together? he pleads.  I am touched, at this point, that he would choose me over all this.  I absorb his question, feeling the impact of my child’s petitioning.   And yes, I do open the door for him, and we drive off together to look through small shops.   I lead, and he follows.

I am surprised by the quiet and the ease with which I am able to work through my list with only this one child in tow.  We make small talk, and I realize how little time he and I have these days to just spend time together.  This, my first born, whom I played dinosaurs and blocks with, what feels like mere days ago, is now one interested in shoe shopping and gift selection.  I am so preoccupied with the little ones who need me most that I often overlook the older ones who need me also, but in different ways.  And I marvel at how this son of ours is growing up.  He is a young man now, and he needs to be acknowledged for the individual he is becoming.  We make our purchases and all too soon, the hour is up.  I head back to the park with a full heart.  I have been blessed by this unexpected glitch in my plan for the day.

Wise, we are, who understand that perspective is of utmost importance in the midst of everyday living. We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.  (Anais Nin)  If we are feeling rushed and frantic, situations will look like crises.  If we are relaxed and level-headed, situations will appear manageable.  When children cry and fuss, it is often a matter of my perspective how the situation is interpreted.   That, and a realization that sometimes I just need to get away from the craziness and experience quiet reflection.  Sometimes that is the best immediate fix.  When life doesn’t turn out as planned, my perspective can be one of finding the good in that situation or seeing the bad.  Attitude adjustments will get one closer to the best perspective every time.  The more I line myself up to what I know to be True, that sure and steady foundation on which I base my parenting and my life choices, the easier I am able to handle what comes my way.

Hubby driving, I turn to look into the back seat of our van, as we head back home after a full day in town.  I am… thankful.  To be sure, there will be crying tonight, of that I can be certain!  And before long, someone will instigate a fight; but it is quiet at present, and peaceful.  I have innumerable blessings, and there are five I can count by name, riding with me towards home.

 

Joy on the veranda…

I was cleaning up after supper, when he suggested that we sit out on the veranda for coffee.  I turned around and saw the box of chocolate truffles waiting as an invitation for something more, a date with my husband on the porch swing.  I could feel the excuses surfacing…remnants from supper lay hardening on dishes strewn all over the counter, crumbs scattered the floors, and bits of paper and pencils spread over the top of the kitchen cabinet, a medley of our children’s forgotten drawings and art projects.  Not right now were the words on the tip of my tongue, and other excuses would doubtless follow.  But, resisting the mundane, the ordinary routines, just for tonight, seemed within reason. His invitation to come, almost a dare.

He was looking out at the river, coffee cup in hand.  I felt silly sitting there beside him, as if this was what we always did after supper. I tried not to make eye contact, for fear I would start to laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of it all.  I am, in every respect, a creature of habit, but now I defy the mundane, the usual.  How absurd this feels.  Really. I sip my coffee and observe the view.

Our second oldest, our intuitive daughter, noticed us together, and beckoned to the other younger two.  I caught them spying on Mom and Dad, peeking at us from the archway covered in wild roses.  They brought us flowers, petals from roses, peonies and weigela, pinecones and bits of greenery, and laid them in front of us on the wooden railing.  To make it romantic, the oldest said with a delighted smile.  They were enthralled with the spectacle of their parents, on a date, sitting on the porch swing.  In broad light of day, nonetheless.  They never see us like this, my husband whispered, eyebrows arched.

I was struck with the thought that the greatest love story our children are graced with, in this life, is that of their parents’.  When we, as parents and married lovers, allow our children to witness our genuine affection for one another, we provide for them a healthy example of what it is to love and show love within a covenant relationship.  All too often, our children are observers of unhealthy relationships found in the media, among their peers or otherwise.  All around us are examples of what not to do.  Commitment is based on if it feels right or so long as it works for me.  How refreshing it is to see children looking to the committed love of their parents as the model by which to base their own relationships some day.

It was  a teachable moment for us all.  We were serenaded, entertained and photographed.  Under the direction of our daughters, my husband and I walked hand-in-hand as they captured each moment in freeze frame.  Walk hand in hand one called out and lean your head in on his shoulder.

To think, I almost lost precious memories and an opportunity to live out a testament to our married love, simply to wipe countertops and polish circles on the tabletop.Coffee on the veranda

Joy in cuddling…

She is finally asleep, that little ball of energy, my spitfire.

A half-dozen times, I have lost count now, my baby girl calls for me to do one thing or the other, always stalling for time.  It is a battle, sleep does not come easy for her.  I hear nothing for a glorious stretch of about five minutes, and I think she has finally succumbed to the Sandman.  Then, the pitter-patter of little feet heard coming down the stairs.  Mommy, I have to tell you something.  The tears falling freely now because she knows this is it. Her final appeal to a mother who has warned her that there will be consequences next time.  She sorrowfully pleads her case on the latest woe keeping her from slumber, and I am torn.  It is half past my own bedtime and I am beat.  It has been a long evening.  I re-trace the outline of today’s events in my head.

Day begins before the sun has yet risen.  I move quickly to get my own morning routines completed before the children awake, cherishing the solitude of early morning reverie.  I move quietly about, folding laundry, swishing toilets, wiping counters, making beds.  I listen for stirring, but as it happens, I will wake them today.  We have a distance to travel and must be on the road early to make our deadline.

The children are already skirmishing before I take my place at the wheel.  Their dad warns them to behave, and with a few last quick trips in to the house to retrieve essentials, we are off.  The daylight moves in shadows, and we watch for the sun behind the clouds.  It is shy, hiding behind a dense mass of cumulous.  We arrive at Grammie’s house.  Buns are sliced and buttered, summer sausage and grated cheese on some and jam and peanut butter on others.  MaryAnne requests that her sandwich be simply mustard.  The Kaisers hold egg salad, made with mayo and celery.  Sarah asks, Is that my sandwich?  in a dubious voice.  She looks distastefully at the yellow mixture I am spreading on the buns.  I shoo her out of the kitchen and finishing packing the picnic basket.

We arrive at a park where we will spend the day getting re-acquainted with old friends not seen in a year or more.  The children make tracks all around the park and are back in five minutes, hungry for lunch.  We feed, cajole, console, cherish these little ones in our care.  We wipe dirty hands and faces.  The children are satisfied, and run off. There is a tiny lull in the daily routine, and we sit back on blankets and enjoy each other’s company.  It feels good to have adult conversation under a now blazing sun, but our chat is short lived.  The gang are all back for dessert.

The children get tired of the play sets, and the pool becomes the next attraction.  Everyone wants to swim, but only half have brought swimsuits.  No matter.  Four wear the proper attire, one wears underpants, another sports his shorts and another yet wears long grey leggings that cling to her legs.  The children last ten minutes in the pool, rising from the water shivering and water-logged.  They are all soaking wet, and no one has thought to bring a towel.  One quick-acting mother runs back to the park and grabs the picnic blanket, leaving behind a trail of receiving blankets, baby wipes, a soother and sippy cup and various cans of half-drunk club soda.  None of these things get noticed again until late in the afternoon.  Our priorities are elsewhere.

The day is a blur of activity.  We eventually find the sprinklers, motion-activated, which leads many of the original children who were freezing an hour ago to shed their clothes once again.  One little lady take it upon herself to peel everything off and stands on a blanket in her birthday suit, to her mother’s chagrin.  Jonah’s Mom, who is pregnant and has a headache today does not notice that he is running fully clothed through all the sprinklers, pausing to take a drink at every second one. He is so delighted with this new-found pleasure that we cannot resist laughing at his antics.

It is mid-afternoon, and we must say our goodbyes.  The little girls hug and promises are made to write.  The boys clap each other across the back.  We head for the van, but take a walk back to our picnic spot  one last time.  My daughters have a parting gift in exchange for a few little toys their friends so kindly gave them on their departure.  There is another round of hugs before the final farewell.

We drive home, unpack the van, have a snack and then head for bed.  I am ready to unwind, and yet there is this little voice that calls out to me.  Mommy, Mommy, I have something to tell you. I fly up and down the stairs and feel my breaking point coming.  It has been a long day.

Mommy, I just want to cuddle with you, she says to me in her little four-year old voice.  I think about the busy day and the time spent tending to tasks that are necessary.  Were cuddles overlooked?  I kiss her good-night, smooth her hair back and tell her I love her.  Sleep is not long coming.