Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Monday, December 30, 2013

To All the Tired Mamas

Photo by Ellie Holman, age 10
A while back I was chatting with my dear college roommate, Jackie, or Princess Gorkel, Daughter of Terri-lou Punk Frog of the Kingdom of the North, as she is known to me.  She was telling me how much she enjoys reading my blog when she is feeling down.  I told her that I sometimes picture myself writing to all the tired mamas at the end of the day, and what they might need to hear.  Now, I know that not ALL the tired mamas read my blog.  Certainly one or two go straight to bed.  But I bet all the mamas who DO read it ARE tired, because, well, duh... they're mamas.  It's tough work.  So this, my weary women, my tired-to-the-bone can't-fold-another-load friends, is for you.  And most of all, it is to Jackie.

To all the tired mamas at the end of the day,
I see you.

I see you up way too late, knowing that your day will be starting way too early again in the morning. I see you as you empty dishwashers and dryers and load them back up for a second, then a third run. I see you folding tired old towels with shredded ends, and breathing a sad sigh as you pull a little shirt from the basket to put in the donation bag, surprised at how fast it was outgrown by a not-so-little child.  I see your fury flare as you step on a lego, only to be extinguished by a sweet, sleeping mess-maker.  I see you turning out lights and locking doors, always the last one to bed.

I see you in the morning as you make your bed, though you'd rather climb back into it. Making lunches, planning meals, watching for sales to make the money stretch impossibly further. I see you clean a room over and over, only to come back through and find it destroyed. I see you welcome your children home, putting on a smile just for them, sometimes felt, sometimes not, but you smile anyway because you don't want them to think that what is troubling you is them. I see you batting the to-do lists out of the forefront of your mind as you listen to the chatter of a small one, telling you the plot to their favorite show. Again.

I see you.

I see the way you wrestle with how strict to be about a rule broken; the balancing act between justice and mercy. I see you fretting as you look into brooding eyes, worried because you aren't quite sure if there is more to the story than you are getting.  I see you trying to find teaching moments- to know when to leave it alone and when to speak up.  I see you wishing a hug and a kiss could take it all away like it did when they were small, and knowing sometimes the only thing you can do is pray for them.

I see you cooking and cleaning and helping with homework.  I see you rocking a feverish child, cleaning up what came-up, and offering comfort through a blur of sleeplessness.  I see you helping a friend, bringing a meal to someone in need, and giving your lose change to the woman at the corner, all the while feeling that you are not quite enough; wise enough, thin enough, organized enough -charitable, loving, kind- enough.  

I see you.

I see your heart of gold under your spit-up stained t-shirt, your beautiful face beneath a few lines of time and a few streaks of grey. I see your strength as you power through days and months and years of the sameness of tasks, and then take on tomorrow as well.

I see your eyes well with tears over ones you have lost, or never got to have at all (which is a loss all the same, is it not?); ones that were never born, or never grew older, or were never free of their own demons. I see you protecting your children from the world when you can, and comforting them when you can't, and carrying their pain as your own either way.

I see you.

And I know you.

And I am grateful, because when I see you, I learn.  I am inspired.  I am encouraged. 

When I see you,
I am free to make mistakes, because I see your grace as you try again. 
I am free from judgement, because I see your forgiveness and I can forgive myself.
I am free to follow that voice inside that whispers to me how to mother, because I see you follow yours.

I see you, Tired Mama.  You are doing a great job.  Now go to bed and try to rest.  It all starts again tomorrow.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Album and a few Merry Musings

When I was a kid  there were two days during Christmas break that I just loved.  Christmas, for obvious kid-ly reasons, and New Year's Day for the annual Collins Family Reunion.  My mother's sibs took turns hosting every year, and with armloads of yummy food to share, we gathered around card tables and sat on piano benches and had a blast.  We hugged aunts and uncles and measured ourselves against growing cousins.  We got to eat cookies and skip the veggies and have whole cans of orange and grape soda all to ourselves.  I loved it.

Then one year, who knows which, plans were differed to the summer, when it would be warmer, and that year, it all somehow...stopped. The reunion never happened, not that year, and not ever again.  The next time I saw my relatives, I was a married mama and it was at my uncle's funeral.


I didn't make a Christmas card this year.  

I let it go.

I have made a card almost every year since Guy and I got married, and it is "the one thing" I get done even if I don't do anything else.  But this year I decided that if it meant getting all stressed out, the card would not be worth it.  It was so much easier to let it go after the year we have had.  A few folks lament not getting "their card" this year.  To them I can only say, I love you anyway.

I didn't make many homemade gifts, or bake.  I didn't hang the Christmas cards on the wall like usual, or take a billion goodie plates to friends.  I started to worry.  Was I letting go of my traditions? Would I lose something that I would never get back?

The week before Christmas I decided to put up my village.  I hadn't gotten to it, or to much else besides the tree.  I thought about the fact that I didn't put it up last year, and I decided that it was okay to let some things go, as long as I didn't let go completely.

And the ghosts of Christmas's past poked their heads out of the box and said, "Hey, lady!  We're baaa-aack!"  And then I found him.

The gator.

The tiny alligator that lives in our village.  It roams the streets and climbs the porches, terrorizing the tiny townsfolk.  And if you are the lucky one to find him, you get to hide him again.  Long before the elf climbed up on any shelf, this little roving reptile has been wreaking havoc in Holmanville.

And as I put the final touches on my village, the gator gave me a toothy grin and I grinned back, because I knew he knew it was all okay.  Traditions are a wonderful thing, as long as they don't get in the way of the actual living, and living is all well and good, so long as you make room for a little alligator in your life 
once in a while.

and on that note...

Coming soon: 
 The Collins-James Family Reunion
 on New Year's Day!!!


Christmas 2013 Photo Album

Kathy and I made awesome little church bags for the kids that were a true feat of engineering for me, and turned out so well because Kathy's very presesnce made me pay better attention and not cut any corners.
They are the best thing I have ever sewn.

Ellie during her gymnastics performance.  She did great.

Pulla (pool-a), a lovely cardamom spiced braided bread from Finland,
 handmade by Guy, cuz he's awesome. 

And just to prove how awesome, look at the rest of our Christmas Eve spread!
Yes, those are Cannoli and See's.  Man cannot live on Pulla alone!

We spent the evening playing games, reading Christmas stories, and enjoying the yum.
Everyone got new jammies and an ornament to hang on the tree.
Guy will have to wait for his, I'm not quite done yet.
Our favorite Christmas stories: Luke 2 of course, The Christmas Candle,
and The Redneck Night Before Christmas.

"I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus!!!"

The Three Princesses

It's all about the Legos and Playmobiles, baby!

If you look closely you will find 6 human beings in this photo.
  It's like a Where's Waldo, but messier.

May your days be merry and bright!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and 

a year filled with peace and hope!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


I have deliberated over writing this post, but I think I will write it anyway.

Because this post is not about what we did, in some self gratifying way, it’s about effort.

Every year Guy tells me that we should have a present-free Christmas.  It is usually a pressure invoked response to nasty squabbling kids and stress-filled days leading up to a Christmas that feels more worldly, more self-centered and less Christ focused than Guy and I would like it to be. 

We got up early-for-us Saturday so we could go to the church Christmas breakfast.  Five tired, grumbling children staggered out to the van, complaining. They did have fun once we got there, eventually, but it took a bit of effort for them to relax and enjoy the event.  After that, Guy and I planned on braving some stores while the kids went to a Holiday cookie decorating party.  But the kids were being pretty obnoxious just before leaving, and though he tried hard not to respond, Guy was really feeling the strain.  Finally cornering him in our room, I asked him what was wrong.  He shared with me his disappointment over how our kids were behaving, and how much it was sapping his Christmas joy.  I gave him a pep talk, rehearsing to him all of the good qualities our children have, that despite how they could act, they didn’t really “always” and “never” do the things that we were noticing lately.  In fact, I don't think they are being any more lame than their normal everyday-lameness. We were just noticing more as Christmas approached.

When Guy and I finally made it out shopping, the store we entered was crowded and overwhelming to me.  I haven’t truly rejoined the human race yet, staying away from crowded stores, gladly welcoming my hubby’s propensity for bargain grocery shopping.  Everything seemed so expensive, and I felt awash in pre-buyers remorse.  Stuff just holds little meaning for me anymore.  Even so, another part of me wanted to offer my children a few nice things for Christmas.

Our plan was to hit a few stores, pick up the kids and drop them at home, then head back out.  Upon arriving home to drop off the kids, however, several quarrels broke out.  Soon the devil-spawn that are our children were taking turns performing demonic possessions on each other.  Guy threw in the towel on our shopping date. 

“Just go, take care of your shopping, and I’ll stay home with the kids,” he said, and walked me out to the van.  I pulled out of the driveway and headed down the block, the Christmas lights on all the houses blurring with my tears.  Guy was right.  I didn’t feel like shopping for the little monsters either.  Only I couldn't see how I could help the situation, and I knew crying about it wasn't going to help, and may get me into an accident.  I said a little prayer as I drove a few house lengths, and immediately felt like I should turn the van around.  I circled the block, calling Guy (hands free, of course) and said, “Get the kids in their shoes and coats, we need to go do some service.”

We went to the local dollar store, and began gathering things that someone who lived in the streets would need.  Only one rule: we would not look at or talk about anything for ourselves.  Every one helped, and soon we had a nice pile of non-perishable food and hygiene items in our cart.  As each item was suggested, the kids all talked about how it could be helpful, and what else might provide comfort or relief for someone who had no home, was not blessed as much as we have been.

When we got home we worked together on making bundles.  It didn’t take long.  Not the bundles, but the attitudes being changed.  And I don’t think it was necessarily the kid’s attitudes that changed, but Guy’s and mine.  We felt lighter and more appreciative of these 6 blessings.  Without the drone of a computer or television, we spent a mostly quiet evening together.  Guy read our nightly Christmas story, and as the evening came to a close, we prayed together as we do most nights. 

And I say most nights, because we try, but we don’t do all the things we ideally would do each day.  We are like all families.  We are trying.  And sometimes we are selfish and sometimes we are not.  No families are all bad or all good, just as no people are.  And there is no such thing as “always” and “never”. 
And it’s not only about what we succeed in doing or not doing, but the effort.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Remaking a Tradition

A bit ago Adam asked me if he could take the sleeping baby for me.  I told him I was fine, but what I really needed was something to prop up my leg.  He frowned at the thought of getting up from his cozy chair.  “Oh, so you were willing to get up to get the baby,” I teased, “but not a footstool?”

“Well, taking the baby benefits me.” He smiled back, and then got up and got both the footstool, then the baby.  He curled her on his chest and rocked her sweetly.


Tonight we had Advent.  All by our little-old selves.  For the past few years we have been invited along on the tradition with Kathy and Wayne’s family, but tonight they had plans with their extended family, so I announced to the family earlier this week that we would be having Advent all by ourselves.  

“But we’re not Jewish!”  Ellie argued.  *Sigh*.  Clearly, I need to work harder on teaching world religions in homeschool.  I’m guessing she meant to say German, since Kathy is, and her Advent traditions include a lot of lovely wooden decorations from Germany, but with Ellie, you never know.  I just
 laughed and explained it one more time. 

After church I snuggled up with Natalie and we took a delicious nap in the living room.  I awoke to see Guy putting up Christmas decorations.  “For Advent.” He said, simply.

And so tonight after a candlelit dinner of a simple rice and sauce, Guy prepared the goodie table for Advent following the traditions Kathy has shared.  At some point during my sale yesterday he had slipped out and bought fancy cookies and chocolates.  He set out homemade fudge, peppermint tea and cocoa, lit the candles in the humble Advent wreath I made last year, and turned on Christmas carols.

Our Advent looked different than when Kathy does it.  We ate and chatted about Christmas memories.  Adam reminded me of how we sat up late last year making an Advent calendar out of match boxes for our friends the Motts, whose new baby was in the hospital, wrapping each tiny box in pretty paper after emptying out the matches.  He then informed me he had taken said matches, scratched off the tips and made a pile, which he then ignited.  He claims I was sitting just a few feet away.  How did I miss that?  The girls talked about leaving carrots for Santa's reindeer.  Jonah ran around like a maniac, jumping, singing, taking his clothes off- the usual.  Soon we were singing carols, but since we don’t have a tidy little homemade book of carols like Kathy does, we just did our best from memory.   Ethan accused me of massacring Frosty the Snowman, which indeed was true.  The girls asked me to join them in a rousing performance of Rudolf, wherein I sang the actual song and they did all the “Like a light bulb!” parts.  Their version of reindeer games included Chutes and Ladders and Parcheesi.  

At one point I really wanted to share a song from my childhood that talks about the meaning of Christmas, but as I sang, my voice was being drowned out by Jonah and the big boys, who were taking turns being his personal trampoline.  “Never mind,” I said, “no one’s interested.”

“This is their way of bonding.” Guy gently reminded. 

And it’s true.  Just a few days ago I was lamenting that these last two little kids won’t have really “grown up” in a house of six children.  By the time Adam leaves for his mission, which in essence means he will have left our little next to strike out into the world, never to really return, Jonah will be 8, and Natalie only 5.  These are the memories they are making.  Right now.

And at some Advent years from now, the memories Jonah shares could be, “I remember how Ethan and Adam used to let me use them as a jungle gym during Advent.” 


Adam is asleep now in the chair, with sweet Natalie on his chest.  She won't remember tonight, but maybe he will.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Love Life

“Mama not lub me!!!!  Aaaaaa-haaaaaa!  Mama not lub me!!!”

Jonah has taken on “three” with gusto.  I am not used to it.  Yes, I have six rug-rats, but you have to realize that I haven’t had a little boy in many years.  

When Adam was three he threw a fit once.  Once.  I was so shocked, I said, “Who are you, and where is my little boy, Adam?” 

He burst into tears.  “Is me, Mama!  I me!”  I had broken his tender little heart. 

So, really, I haven’t had a wild child since Ethan was little, well over a decade ago.  I’m outta practice, man.  My crime yesterday was not letting Jonah play with my phone before his nap.  When he woke, the chant began.

“Mama not yike me!!!!”  he accused.  I wandered into my room and saw a lump under my quilt.  It whimpered.  I sat on the edge of the bed.

“I’m so sad,” I lamented, “I miss my little boy and I can’t find him anywhere.  I’m sad because I love him so much.” 

The lump began to cry, and insisted that his mama didn’t like him.  I curled around him, and lifted the quilt off his head.  I wiped big round tears off of his big round cheeks, and put on my best mommy voice, “What’s wrong sweetheart?” I was surprised at the depth of his sadness.  

“Mama not yike me.” He wept, as though he were talking about some other woman, some other mean mama, confiding his secret to a trusted friend.  I just held him close until the tears turned into giggles.

Tonight we had an encore performance when I said no to a third tortilla before bed (I know.  Call CPS.  I’m so mean).  But with tonight’s show he took it up a notch.  Now I not only don’t like him, I apparently don’t even LUB him!

I’m a mama.  I am other things too, but it’s my first and best job. 

In the past week I have been able to do a couple of other jobs, ones I also love.  When I do those tasks, though, it does take me away from job #1.  I got to help a dear friend this week as she welcomed her baby boy into the world (more on that later!), and I managed to get through the-day-before-the-first-day of my sale, which lasted until three AM and is way harder than the actual day of the sale (and more on that too!).  I've been busy in happy ways, even too busy to post here. But even though I am a doula, and an artist, and a wanna-be-writer, I’m mostly just a mama. 

And despite what some little boys might think around here, I lub my job.