“I know a Pretend Mama,” announced the four-year-old over peach pie and ice cream.
“Who is a Pretend Mama?” I asked, wondering what in the world sparked this thought.
Pointing to me with a sticky finger and a smile, “You are,” she answered.
“Me?” I queried back, momentarily stumped.
“Yep,” said this pint-sized daughter of mine, and arranged another spoonful of ice-cream and peaches.
I couldn’t help myself. “Then who is the Real Mama?” I asked in a casual voice, hoping it didn’t betray my keen interest in the answer.
Again the sticky finger pointed at me, “You,” she confirmed, unaware, it seemed, of the catch-22 she’d just created. If I were the pretend mama, I could not, in fact, be the Real Mama. And if I was the Real Mama, I could not possibly be the Pretend Mama. Further investigation seemed necessary.
“So I’m the Pretend Mama and the Real mama?” she nodded, her attention, at this point, narrowing toward her bowl. “But how can I be both?”
With the confidence of Ann Landers answering the great problems of the world in a few paragraphs, she explained, “You’re a mixed-up Mama.”
I waited a few moments for further explanation but she seemed to be done with this session of psychoanalysis, so I left her to the last soupy bites of ice cream.
How did she know, I wondered?
Do they all know, I pondered further?
Maybe the fact that I am both a Pretend and Real Mama is the white elephant in the room that we lift up and dust under on chore days. Maybe we’ve all silently agreed that it will be our little secret.No comments
Each year as I watch the Oscars or the Tonys, I am fifteen again, dreaming. I imagine the style of dress I’m going to wear when my name is announced (my mom will sew my gown since I can’t afford high fashion). And, of course, I practice my acceptance speech. I thank my high school theater teacher, I’m witty and make people cry, and for my speech only, the orchestra holds the music to allow the power of my speech to finish in awed silence.
The inkling of these dreams began when I played a pointy-toed elf concerned for Santa as he contemplated leaving his job in the classic 5th grade play “Santa Goes Back to the Future.” That same year my teacher gave us the weekly task of concocting a short story with our vocabulary words. The assignment sharpened my youthful writing skills as I blended Hamster, Circus, and Automobile into the same story. That year, as I stared at the clouds with a wall of stiff bangs usefully blocking the glare from the sun, I saw glory in my future.
Two decades later when glory still eluded me, I thought to myself, “Now they’ll no longer say ’I can’t believe she’s so young!’ when I write my first play or book, instead they’ll say ‘Wow, she’s sixty!”. The abundance of my years will be my legacy, instead of my youth, I lamented.
Nowadays, I continue on in the land of Mamahood but remain open to the possibility of being discovered. When I saw Kevin Costner in our local pancake joint last year, I stuck around after the pancakes were gone to give him a little extra time to turn on his movie spy senses and notice me. I gave him time to saunter over in his scuffed jeans and cowboy boots and tell me I was perfect for his next movie or that he’d like to co-write a screenplay with me (clearly I was attributing a strong spy sense to him). That day it didn’t work out, but I like to keep my options open.
Last week I met with a friend. She’s a friend plus a Real Writer. I showed her a few pieces of writing I’d been working on, she gave me some positive feedback, and between our next meeting time, I dreamed of exactly how my Big Discovery would happen. Maybe she’d encourage me to write a book or in the very least ask me to write something for her blogging community. Oh the possibilities, I dreamed.
This week we got together and we talked again about those pieces that I had handed her last week. Last week those pieces carried a little gleam around the words because they were filled with promise. This week unraveled a little differently. The first piece was solid but as she gave me her honest feedback about piece number 2 and 3, the glowed dissipated. These were not the pieces of promise. It turns out, I’m much closer to the beginning then the middle or end of getting to my Big Discovery. Her words were truthful, and even as she spoke with grace, I knew every word was true.
As the hope of the Big Discovery grew cold like my forgotten cup of tea, my heart swung into motion to close-up and close-out. But the Lord had already been at work in my heart all week, getting me ready for this moment, and I was able to recognize the gift of this friend. She had taken a risk. Did I wish that she’d told me my mediocre work was actually brilliant? Instead she told me how to begin the process of moving from mediocre to great (or at least better).
In the weeks since the-day-I-didn’t-get-discovered, I’ve been working my tail off to improve. When I thought my skills were better than they were, I didn’t work very hard to improve them. So it was also the day that I discovered that I could, and would, stick to the process even if wasn’t the instant gratification of striking gold, but an extended excavation, a painful process to get the work done. So, I’ll work.
However, I’m still open to discovery over pancakes or maybe at this Starbucks as I finish this sentence. And I plan to keep honing my acceptance speech.No comments
I said to my kids today, “A day with a Carla Sonheim art class is no ordinary day!”
Today we began the first day of a week long class in printmaking. As with any art process we’ve learned through Carla, this new process is forgiving and, therefore, exciting instead of stifling. In fact, she always encourages the imperfections as if they are mini-triumphs (how many voices do you have like that in your life). Also similar to other classes, the piece develops through the process, the next step is always influenced by the last step and it feels a little bit like magic.
We don’t know where we’re going with these pieces tomorrow or the next day, but here’s a peek into our extra-ordinary art day.
prints by our 10 year old
prints by our four-year old (yes, truly mixed and printed by her)
prints by our 12 year old
prints by the Mama
My own Momma’s day was lovely. It began with chocolate chip pancakes in bed. You would think that might be the height of the day and it could only go down from there, but the day soared.
From my twelve year old I received a poem. Not too long ago she wrote a poem about herself entitled “The Shape of Me”, and it perfectly descibed the inner heart of my oldest child. Here’s the poem she wrote for me (she says it’s just a draft, but I like it just the way it is):
The Shape of Momma
She is full of squiggly ideas,
waiting for the time to share them.
She is a gentle tangle,
reaching for everyone at one time.
She is a sculptor,
into beautiful works of art.
As a Momma I often feel like I’m seen only as the “food dispenser” person, the “drive me to that place” person, the “has to say no” person. This poem reveals that as she watches me in the daily tasks of motherhood she sees a woman striving for grace, love, and beauty. It’s a gift to be seen as the Momma I aim to be, if only a glimpse.
My ten year old gave me a handmade card with a list of things we do together that are special to her, like reading favorite books, doing art together and snuggling. Again, the gift is letting me know that I get some things right. There are plenty of days when I go to bed full of doubt.
My 8 year old boy gave me hugs and kisses. His expressions of love are always accompanied with full-body force and heart.
My 4 year old daughter began wishing me “Happy Mother’s Day” on Saturday and repeated the sentiment with sincerity and smiles at least 14 more times by Sunday afternoon. She left a small pot of roses outside of the bathroom door for me to find, and as she said goodnight she told me, “I enjoy you”. We also had a little date to the park and a bite of ice cream.
And together, they all gave me this little natural habitat of beauty.
Most days I think about the hard parts of being a momma, today I was reminded that it is a privilege and a gift just to be with these fantastic, miniature human beings.
I lean forward and turn off the hot water, holding the book up with my left hand so it doesn’t get submerged into the freshly filled bathtub. The novel I balance above the steaming water is three inches thick and I haven’t read it before. It’s an unpeeled story waiting in my hands, a complete world that exists as soon as I open the cover and flip to the first chapter. I make sure both sides of the shower curtain are pulled as tight as possible and a sigh of satisfaction escapes as I lean back into my aquatic reading room. In the new quiet, I think I can hear my heartbeat, a few extra noisy palpitations because it knows what’s going on. These kind of situations, the new book kind, can do that do me.
I don’t have to start a new book in the bathtub, I just know I’ll eventually wet a few pages there. Yesterday a new world began in the car, coffee at my side, stolen moments before the rest of the family arrived.
Because this sort of reckless, everything-else-must-wait, type of behavior doesn’t really work during the daytime as a home-school mama of 4, most of my rushes happen at night. Instead of sleeping.
Some people who love books just as much as I do, know how to pace themselves. Slow-release gratification. Not too long ago I read about a man who has more than once simply not read the end of story because he doesn’t want it to be over. So he just stops a few pages shy of the end.
I could never do that. I want the whole story and I want it fast. It’s that pitch downward from the top of the roller-coaster, the stomach-dropping, speeding into who knows what. It’s the acceleration of the motorcycle from o to 70, not the steady if still speedy pace of 65 mph.
Of course this method really works best with 300 page (or more) books. A book that has some meat on it means so that I don’t have to hold back, knowing it will just stop an hour later. The rush comes from knowing that I can sustain this world and sit in the same room with these characters for 6 to 8 hours straight, without any regrets about the pace. (For the record, I still read the short books the same way.)
Of course it’s deflating to coast to the final stop, and inevitably, there is no more story. But, in fact, there is still more, there is the second time I read it. I am definitely a re-reader. There is a different pace for re-reading, but I digress.
Does this behavior with books worry me?
Twice in the last year I’ve heard about an experiment done many years ago with some kids. The marshmallow experiment. A child is given one marshmallow and told if he can wait a certain amount of time without eating the marshmallow (that is sitting right in front of him), he’ll get two. The theory is this test reveals a certain rating of intelligence based on whether the child can wait for the bigger reward of getting the two marshmallows. When I heard about it again recently, the scientist had interviewed some of the children in the stages following their childhood and found that those who could wait for the second marshmallow, had all around been more successful with their life.
I think I would have passed the marshmallow test. I don’t really like marshmallows.
But what if the marshmallows were replaced with books? If they had placed a new (to me) book on the table, well, let’s hope I would have waited patiently for the second book as well. But most likely, what those scientists would have seen on their sneaky little video screens is a woman reading a book that would eventually get wet in a bathtub.
What does this anxiousness for book gratification say about my intelligence or potential for a successful life?
At least, when my story is over, they’ll say, “she read a lot of books”, which I think, speaks volumes.
I hold my fingers above the computers keys, wondering, will I have anything to say, or should I just read someone else’s book, or blog, or play.
I flip the pages of my sketchbook and remove my mechanical pencil, pause, and wonder, will the pencil marks amount to anything really good or original?
I watch the film, mentally moving the camera to a different angle and adjust the order of the storyline, as the movie plays on, I wonder-what if I put my own hand to theater only to find my work has no truth or beauty.
Would my heart be safer without dreams?
What about a world without dreams, I wonder? No dreams, only duty. No longing for anything greater than myself, just the reality of the hard and fast world in reach of my fingertips.
To dream means to hope and to hope means to risk.
As I enter a season of taking my dreams and unfurling them into the daylight, the door to my heart tries to close hard against the risk. To keep the dream a dream, nothing more.
What am I risking?
When I type the word it’s bathed in red light, it’s reaching out to me as vivid and invasive as a 3D, high-def movie.
This nauseous pit of fear lodged somewhere between my stomach and my heart has been with me ever since I said yes to test-driving one of my dreams. Well, the “yes” was exhilarating. The need to vomit came about 30 minutes later.
As the day approaches, I take out my fear and I look at it again and I send a searchlight out for my dream and it’s still there, pulsing.
I think of the parable in the Bible when the character buries his talents in the ground until his master returned, thinking himself safe and wise. Imagining my dreams inside of the cool, dark earth instead of the burning light of day sounds very tempting.
Which leads me back to my original question. Would a world without dreams be safer?
But this time a second question shoves it’s way in.
Am I called to lead a safe life?
Is a safe life an abundant life?
A world without dreams may be safe, it might protect me from rejection and heart pain.
But as I imagine this dreamless world further, I imagine a life without invention. Without beauty. Without poetry. Or stories. Without the grace that arrives when dreams die and are resurrected into a new hope that couldn’t have been born without pain.
A world without worship because a safe heart has no need to worship.
It’s a daily choice to keep walking toward the risk instead of toward the hole in the earth ready to swallow my hope as if doing me a favor.
It’s good to be both awake and dreaming.
I feel alive.
“You must once and for all give up being worried about successes or failures. Don’t let that concern you. It’s your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes, which are inevitable, for failures…”
Anton Chekhov, quoted by the character David in L’engle’s Certain Women
I drive past the overstuffed parking lots, trees tied to car roofs, and christmas lights blinking in the store windows.
Already? I ask myself, gripping the wheel tighter.
Is it time to shift the house into Christmas decorations? I’m still looking for a normal, kind-of-tidy house.
Is it time to pick an Advent devotional for the evenings? I’m still looking for normal, unhurried evenings.
Is it time to set aside some of our regular homeschool studies and pencil in special “Christmas time” unit studies and read-alouds? I’m still looking for normal school, when the basics all fit comfortably into our day.
Is it really time to make Christmas cookies every week? I’m still trying to get a routine of meals, and a break from extra sweets.
Is it really time to think about presents, service projects, and teacher gifts? I’m still looking a few free moments when I don’t feel tired.
I’m still searching for normal, I think to myself.
But what is normal? Have I ever had it? Does it mean balanced? No, I figured out many years ago that a life of momma-hood and homeschooling doesn’t equal balanced anything.
But I do remember a certain rhythm.
Rhythm, that’s what I’m looking for. A rhythm to our days.
Just as this lifestyle doesn’t invite balance, I know the rhythm of a season is temporary as well. Children move to new grades, birthdays bring new parenting challenges, new babies call for a break in rhythm and some improvisation.
But we usually find a comfortable rhythm for a period of months, and we haven’t found that for a long time now. Summer always throws me with its lack of routine, then our new homeschool year arrived with friction, and our first solid week of homeschool (that finished with hope) ended a few days before my Dad died. Weeks of grieving and planning a memorial, a few choppy weeks of school, and now it’s Christmas? Did we even have Fall?
Usually Christmas arrives as a change of rhythm from our normal routine.
I don’t have a normal to set aside to make room for all that arrives with the month of December.
The seven years of taking care of my Dad certainly felt like a constant break in anything routine, new challenges always presenting themselves. But looking back, I can see that visiting Dad every week, and meeting with nurses had it’s own rhythm of staccato beats. Maybe some rhythms can’t be recognized in the present moment, but only when the beat is lost.
Should I keep looking for our rhythm, and keep my hope tied to it?
Or is my hope better tied to something that doesn’t ever change? Something I might remember if I can make the shift to Christmas?
I’ve spent 13 years in Tennessee. The trade-off for the hill-topped horizon line and the simmering hues of the Autumn trees is Winter. Darkness and despair at 4:30pm and days empty of anything but gray. Rather than adjusting to it, I’ve grown more and more offended by it. You can tell me that I need the gray season in order to appreciate the pomegranate and apricot colors come Fall-you could tell me that, but I would wait until Spring arrives because right now I might have an unpleasant reaction.
At the moment I’m contemplating migration or hibernation. Neither of which were designed for humans. I’m still entertaining the possibility. Hibernation seems tempting since it knocks out any reason for grocery lists or cleaning the house.
Human Hibernation: A List Poem
One incredibly, cozy down comforter
An Electric Blanket (the color of a faded fireball just like the one I used as a child),
An occasional peppermint hot chocolate (delivered, of course),
Children (optional, depending on their need to be fed and ability to remain cuddled).
There is still a little time left to decide.
“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said, by me. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try.”
- Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet
After Hutchmoot 2012: Day 3
If New York is the place where everyone is really an actor, and just a waiter “on the side”, then Nashville is the town where every other person is a graphic designer, but what they really want to do is play music professionally. By this I mean that it’s a city of ambition.
One would think that if one attended a conference with musicians, songwriters, and authors, in Nashville, it would be one big schmooze fest of making contacts and getting oneself noticed. (I’ll admit, I wouldn’t have minded getting noticed.)
“When I came here I introduced myself by my professional name, but by day two I found myself introducing myself as Matt. I realized I was not making business contacts, I was making friends. When N.D Wilson introduces himself here he introduces himself as Nate, Andrew is AP and, Pete (the Moot Master) is just Pete.” These are the words of one Rabbit on the last day of Hutchmoot and they’re a great introduction to the atmosphere of this gathering.
“There is no backstage, we’re all out here together,” declared Andrew Peterson and his description was not just a pretense of humility. All of the musicians and writers were standing around in the general hubbub and there was no special table for Charlie Peacock or Steve Talyor, director of the recent film Blue Like Jazz. Is this possible in Nashville, where every artist has a clause for the kind of drink or furniture he wants in the green room? There is no green room at Hutchmoot.
In the same way that Jesus knelt down to wash the dust and grime for His weary disciples’ feet, I saw the leaders of Hutchmoot serving the guests.
“I want some water,” I said to my husband, getting ready to look for a cup of refreshment. Pete, who is not just a Head Rabbit but also the author of two outstanding books, apparated from somewhere to the space beside me and asked, “You need water?” How had he gotten there and why was he concerned for my needs out of the other 180 attendees? I tried to reassure him that, yes, I did indeed need water, but that, no, I did not need him to retrieve the beverage for me. He pointed me toward three locations where fresh water was available, then apparated to the bathroom to refill the toilet paper.
Didn’t these leaders find their self-worth in the artistry of their books, songs, and films? Weren’t we supposed to lift them up and remember that we humbly come with nothing but hearts to learn from their wisdom of the ages?
In session after session I received this heart-probing message,”Go use your skills, but don’t define your worth by what you do.”
In the theater session, a profession that begs for praise and adulation, Stephen Trafton reminded the room, “Your worth and identity come from God and will never come from anything you make or create.”
And in Phil Vischer’s testimony of broken dreams he quoted C.S. Lewis, “He who has God plus many things has no more than he who has God alone.”
The capital “R” rabbits were also quick to share their weaknesses.
In my first session, one of the pastors confessed readily that he struggles with the longing to boost up his vanity at every Hutchmoot as the other staff have books and cd’s to show on the tables but he doesn’t. “I don’t mean I used to struggle with this, I mean this morning, about 4 hours ago, I struggled with it.”
One musician shared openly about the many dark places of his depression, and all around I heard men and women release their breath as they realized they didn’t have to hide the mess in their lives to be accepted or prove their artistic significance in order to start using their gifts.
This is a new kind of community, or maybe, a very old one.