Monday, February 27, 2012

On Being Present

I haven’t written these past weeks, but I’ve been thinking – thinking lots on knitting and being present and not missing a stitch here in this life of mine. I hadn’t picked a word for 2012 yet, as I have in some years, and yet this thing about being present keeps popping up in devotionals and readings, and in the faces of young ones so full of stories to tell and games to play and wanting a story and just one more tuck for the night.
I’ve been pondering as I read The Rule of Benedict for Beginners, which talks extensively of listening, paying attention, responding, and sticking with it – remaining committed to a course of action.
          “The important thing is to bloom where you are planted, in your situation, in your family, in your organization, where you have given your ‘yes’ and not somewhere else.
How much escapist daydreaming we spend on thoughts such as: if only it were next week, I wish that this thing was ready, I wish I worked someplace else, if only the children had left, if only I had another partner, if only I could start all over…not only are such daydreams unrealistic (since they conflict with the situation here and now) but they draw away attention and energy, so that what the present situation demands of us receives insufficient response. Literally, that makes us irresponsibly busy.”

It is surprisingly hard work sometimes, this effort to avoid escapist daydreams and dawdlings and engage in the business of life around me. There is a neediness in so many voices wanting to be heard, narrations to be attended to, bellies to be fed, disagreements to mediate with patience and prayer rather than the snappish reply that comes naturally. I remember how a mother duck pulls feathers from her own breast to prepare a nest for her littles, and I am working to pluck with grace; will I perhaps get it someday?

In the meantime, as I pull myself away from escape and missed stitches, I often feel I’m reawakening to a beautiful dream. There is neediness, yes, in the voices constantly calling out, but how incredible a gift that I am the one they seek to hear their stories and share their joys! There is constancy in the requests and it is good to take time to recharge privately, but how great a privilege to be sought out to play a game, to share a snack, to look at a drawing just made.

Today we started the morning with Scrambled States of America, me present though not fully caffeinated; we gathered together to learn about Mozart, and during the sunny afternoon, enjoyed an hours-long walk through a nature preserve with friends. Boys scattered along the stream and examined the crazy ice formations left by a wind storm, and called out excitedly so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. See the ice that looks like small shaved sheets? Feel it, here! Come see this ice unicorn, you have to see it!

These days are short; I know this. I want to sear these memories into my heart – the boy streamside singing to himself, calling out, “To Narnia,” as he tosses ice into the water; a boy steadying his younger brother as he labors down a narrow path; daredevils who proudly scale a steep, muddy hill; a little one who catches my hand on the walk back, holding tight. This day – this one day – I think I paid attention.
“Because your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise you.
Thus I will bless you while I live;
I will lift up my hands in your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
and my mouth shall praise you with joyful lips.”
Psalm 63:3-5

Giving thanks tonight for:
-         Sunday dinner with big kids and their friends
-         Games with boys
-         Friends who encourage on this walk of faith and family
-         Muddy nature walk (in February!) and the good friends who always get us out of doors
-         Joyful dog and the kids who gave her a bath
-         More good food than we can possibly eat, even with food restrictions
-         Books, books and more books
-         The library (books!)
-         God’s word that never fails
-         Our God who never, ever gives up on us and meets us where we are, again and again. 

Trusting in Him,


Saturday, February 11, 2012

On Knitting and Life

            I’ve begun learning to knit, finally. I tried once before, with abysmal results, but I’ve reminded myself that second graders at Waldorf schools can knit, and so shouldn’t I be able to do this? A young lady from our homeschooling co-op has mercifully offered to teach a group of us all-thumbed mothers to knit, and I think we’re doing better than she expected!

After our first class, I spent the week knitting along at every opportunity. I chose a variegated brown and turquoise yarn, and I’m inordinately pleased at the orderly rows of stitches in the growing scarf my needles produce. There’s something soothing in the repeated actions – knit, click, knit, click, and I can easily knock off a few rows while a child reads aloud or narrates or I listen to piano lessons.

The children were so excited about my progress – Littlest checks, fingers, exclaims over it at regular intervals – that they began begging to learn to knit. We trekked to the market and picked out yarn and needles, and had our first lesson – in which I learned something: teaching children to knit is nowhere near as relaxing as knitting by one’s self. By the end of the first session, I had cast on, untangled knots, unraveled rows that had grown by five or six stitches from the twenty we started with, and cast on again. And again. And again, each time with another voice calling, “Mom, I need help!”

I was not sure whether I needed more caffeine or less to complete this task, but their earnestness and a good deal of silent prayer kept me calm. Remember, I barely know how to knit! After an hour, we put aside our needles and moved on to math.  Throughout that day though, I kept seeing knitting and our session as a metaphor, a microcosm of our lives together and the faith that pulls us through it.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4:1-3

You see, I’m prone to want to escape a bit from this life I love, from tasks and routines that can just get so daily sometimes. Not a big, Thelma and Louise escape, but little escapes, perhaps into too many emails or blogs or a really good novel. And when I do that, I’m not sharing myself with the big and small people around me – I’m unavailable, a quiet back – and they know it. How easy it is to slip away and spend more minutes than I intended, instead of being fully present!

Now with knitting, I can’t do that. I need to be fully present, or I’ll miss a stitch (mind you, I only know one stitch), or pick up an extra, or let the whole thing unravel. My scarf would be full of holes or wavy along the edges or heaven knows what.  Makes me wonder what I miss or pick up that I don’t need, when I’m escaping, and how that alters the pattern of my life and that of my family.

And then there are these small people who so earnestly want to learn, want to be included in what I do. It is hard to teach sometimes – it means pulling away from what I might desire at the moment and engaging fully with each child. It involves patience that isn’t mine in an earthly sense.

In knitting, when I’m inpatient and tug a knot too hard, it gets tighter, and I’ve created a bigger mess to untangle. How often do I do this with my children, when they’re in a tussle or a tangle or a bad attitude? Instead of gently and prayerfully teasing out the motivation and the heart attitudes, how often I react quickly, tug hard and impatient, and then what a knot we’ve got.

“The exercise of patience involves a continual practice of the presence of God, for we may be come upon at any moment for an almost heroic display of good temper, and it is a short road to unselfishness, for nothing is left to self, all that seems to belong most intimately to self, to be self’s private property, such as time, home, and rest, are invaded by these continual trials of patience. The family is full of such opportunities.”

-         F.W.Faber, Daily Strength for Daily Needs

Throughout the day, children pick up their needles to knit a bit more, and look to me as they go – “Mom, help, please.” I help to find the holes in their stitches, fix rows, perhaps help them cast on again and start anew if they’ve made too much of a mess. As I finger the soft, tangled yarn and try to figure out what on earth they’ve done to it, how thankful I am for a heavenly Father who looks at the patterns of my life, helps smooth out the messes I’ve made, and puts me on the right track again, time after time!

That afternoon I’m tired, and there’s still Archimedes and the Door of Science to read. We gather in the living room, me weary and holding on to patience, boys and dog and cat spread around the couch and chairs and floor. It takes a moment to get settled - I breathe deeply during a brief conflict over who gets to sit next to the dog - and finally start to read. After a few pages, I realize it: to my left and to my right, two 11-year-olds have picked up their needles, and are quietly knitting as I read. Littlest lays on the floor next to the dog, and the Rower is lost in thought as the story progresses. I’m soothed by the knit-click, knit click, knit click coming from needles not my own, and as I read on, I breathe thanks again.

Trusting in Him,

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Invisible Special Need - A Broken Heart

There is one special need you won’t find in a waiting child’s file, and this is the one that often requires the most patience, the most nurturing and the most special handling: a broken heart. Our three youngest children came to us with this invisible special need, and walking through the healing process with them was one of the greater privileges we’ve been given.

Our Musician had said goodbye to two beloved foster mothers before he came home to us, and he was not, at first, willing to take a chance on another mother. After his initial rejection of my attempts to mother him as a little 21-month old new arrival, I began to take charge of all his feeding (big sister had to wait), wore him in a sling (goodness he was heavy!) and we kept him close to us at night.

          There were several weeks of days and nights when his rejection stung badly – I had longed for and prayed for this child for so many months – and on those nights I curled up with my now dog-eared copy of TheWeaver’s Craft and was reminded how normal this was.

Finally, there was little sweeter than the night I lay next to him trying to get him settled, and he turned to me, stretched out his pudgy hand to stroke my cheek, and said, “Mommy.” Somehow, that made it easier to withstand the year of intense separation anxiety that followed for him, with him never wanting to be out of my sight, and crying to the point of vomiting when I had to go to the market (or the bathroom, for that matter).  He was happy during the day, but had night terrors frequently those first months, and wanted his arms clutched around my neck through much of the night. I had attachment parented my biological babies (and put in many long nights then!), and it seemed that this was a new baby-hood for this little person, where he needed the same chance to attach.

     We were pretty attached at the hip until shortly after his third birthday, when the Wrestler arrived home and they become best buddies, instant “twins”. Somehow, unexpectedly, the arrival of his new brother seemed to help him trust that he was staying, and our Musician became more peaceful and settled. Even then, for years there was a sleeping bag tucked under the foot of my bed, so that he could creep in quietly after bad dreams and sleep nearby. Was it hard? Yes, sometimes. Was it worth it? So very, very worth it.

An Easy Adjustment?

             The Wrestler, on the other hand, truly catapulted into life in our family, learning where everything went, our routines and habits, and before long it was as if he’d always been there. He continued to hold a bit of himself back, though, and through the years had several instances of unexplained, uncontrolled and uncharacteristic crying, during which he could never articulate the reason for his sadness. It was only within the past few years that he was able to put words to it, after an unrelated incident triggered an emotional episode. With patience, holding and prayerful discussion, he shared that the thing he remembered about being transferred to the orphanage – from the home of a foster mother who loved him dearly – was “scared.”
That had been evident in the pictures we’d been given, but we’d never seen a trace of it since he’d come home. That tiny, two-year-old boy had lost an “Omma” who showed him total acceptance and love, and for years, not only had he grieved her loss, but he had thought she really didn’t love him. I was thankful to be able to turn to the beautiful album she’d made, which we’d looked at often through the years, and show him again the letters she’d written expressing her love for him. We’d read them many times, but this time, as we both read through tears, he was able to understand that he was loved, and that it had not been her choice to transfer him to the orphanage. Thankfully, I watched as a bit of healing took place.

Time to be Somebody's Baby

When Littlest arrived at almost three, his broken heart was evident; his frequent moves and changes of caregivers, even good ones, had left him confused, afraid, and withdrawn. For six months, he was quiet and “good.” He watched us carefully to see what we wanted from him, waited anxiously to see if we approved, and disassociated if he thought he’d displeased us. After six months, when perhaps he felt safe, he stopped disassociating – which was great – but he started raging, which was actually also great; he was expressing his feelings.

I realized one day, as I held my wailing, screaming preschooler, that he had never, ever felt like anyone’s baby. When he was born, there were no balloons and flowers and visitors to the nursery; no welcome home party, no-one delighted with his every move. For three years my little boy had moved from place to place (we were the seventh), and it was time for him to understand what it meant to be home, and to be someone’s baby. Ours. We stepped up the therapuetic parenting and special quiet times together: several times a day of holding and bottles and singing, with eye contact, soft touches and sweet words. We kept our little man close, kept his environment predictable, and loved him up. After a few months, the rages stopped, and after a year or so, he was a different boy; one with a light in his eyes - one who knew he was someone’s baby.

When our first child was born 21 years ago, he’d had terrible colic, and we’d weathered that together over the course of many long nights; I later likened this to what we walked through with our children who joined us through adoption – they needed that time to be our babies as well. So when you look at a file of even a “healthy” baby, please know, adoption is exciting and wonderful, but it also involves goodbyes, usually too many for the children involved. Some become frightened, some try to be extra good, some become angry, and some, surprisingly, slip into family life easily, seemingly unaffected by the changes they’ve seen.

 We’ve seen a little of each of these responses, and we’ve researched and prayed and attachment parented each small person through the months of confusion and settling. And now? Our children are home. They are loved, and we are forever grateful for the privilege of being the ones who got to help them feel safe, to help them heal, and who get to tuck them in each night. We are not worthy of that honor, and we give thanks.

Trusting in Him,