Home Takes Work

Home Takes Work

What does the word “home” mean to you? Is it the place you walk into, shut the door, and take refuge at the end of every day? Or the place you travel to a few times a year to see family or loved ones? Is it a treasured memory in a country far away?

The idea that there is someplace we’re fully able to belong, to relax: that’s home. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Home takes work. It takes constant maintenance, and effort, particularly when there are children in our home and we are the adults loving and caring for them.

I don’t always appreciate that work and effort enough, or give it enough weight. I think of it as lesser work. But it’s important.

It’s important for giving our kids (and ourselves!) a place of refuge. Most parents strive to create homes for our children with memories that will hopefully give them a strong foundation, and joy, when they’ve long since left that home. It’s a place where a framework for their futures is built, and on which their values, their priorities, their abilities will be formed and then deepened.

So home is important. But for those of us who follow Christian teachings, home is not everything. It’s certainly not the biggest house we can buy, furnished with the nicest furnishings and the most up-to-date technology, clothes, etc. It is, rather, the place from which we launch, striving always to complete our mission, whatever form it takes, and the place to which we retreat when we need to rest and recharge.

As I type this, it is snowing outside, threatening to make a very long week go out on a yet more hectic note. And so rather than dwell on all the worries that tomorrow could bring, I think I will call it a night, grateful that the kids are all sheltered, warm, and sleeping, and safe, and give myself that same respite.

Standing on the Edge

Standing on the Edge

Recently, I came across an unfamiliar word: koselig. It is the Norwegian word for coziness, and it resonated with me. I’m not sure why. It’s certainly not because I have any desire to be anywhere near anything wool, fleece, or fuzzy. Indeed not: it’s currently 28C/81F.

But this post isn’t about the weather. It’s about koselig, and the fact that as a couple and as a family, we are currently at this odd juncture of waiting for a pretty significant change to come into our lives (in the form of baby #3) and at the same time anticipating a settling in. A settling in, or a “koselig:” a finality, a completeness that brings a psychological coziness.

This time around, parenthood is surrender. I know there is little we can control about this child: how good a sleeper s/he will be, or how loud a crier. Later, what and who will this little person of ours love? Who will s/he become? (There is, of course, a lot we can and will influence, teach, discipline, etc., but from where I stand now, the unknowns overwhelm that which is within our  control.) How will our older kids adjust to the change in our family dynamics? How, exactly, will our day-to-day lives change? I’m a lot more at peace with not knowing the answer to this last question especially than I would have been even one year ago. That has everything to do with trusting that God will see us through whatever this new chapter brings.

“Koselig” is also reminiscent, for me, of rest, and comfort, and a sense of being sheltered. These are sensations that are too often lacking in the do-something, be-somewhere nature of our lives. We–and I’m not sure whether by “we” I mean Americans, most humans, or simply people like me–seem to always be seeking the extraordinary and exciting. But I would posit that the richest moments of our lives, and the ones which we look back on when we need comfort or the memory of happiness, are moments that are ordinary, homey even.

Cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving. Note the stylish cereal necklace, compliments of a certain 4-year-old.

Simple pleasures: swimsuits drying on a clothes line after a day at the beach, a mighty hug and good night kiss from a child, the smell of a home-cooked meal when you walk in the door.

What if we learned to savour these things, instead of always seeking the next sensational thrill? That thrill, depending on one’s personality and preferences, can be the latest purchase from a favourite store, or that newest, rancor-filled political article, or the next meal or vacation on a recent “best-of” list, or any number of other thrills. At some point, I think excitement and novelty became overrated, and small, ordinary joys became under-rated.

As we stand at the edge of this new chapter in our lives, my hope is that we–I–will learn to right that balance and embrace the koselig that is waiting right in front of us.



Five Things No One Tells You About Being a Parent

1. Parenting is Acting. Perhaps this component of parenting will change as the kids get older, but in these early years, I find myself donning a much more enthusiastic version of myself than is natural for me.
“Christmas lights, Mama!”
“Yes, there are the green lights, Maddie.”
“CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, MAMA! GREEN!” Apparently, my initial response was not adequately animated, never mind that this news has been delivered every day since those lights went up.
“Yes! I see the green Christmas lights! Wow! Very pretty!”
Satisfied now, she concludes: “Green. Wow.”

Then there are the days that I wish I could act more convincingly. Those days that I am tired, frustrated, grumpy from having to listen to whining and squabbling all day, only to then have them snap into the best mood ever and wonder why I’m not doing the same.

Maybe in later years, the acting will be more like controlling my irritation at a teen’s insolence, or controlling an overreaction to something. Either way, I think those skills I learned in that fun little acting class in college will have to be revived.

2. Parenting is Heart-breaking. I often look at my children, so innocent and loving and so able to live in the moment (they know no other way), and wish I could protect the happiness and simplicity of their lives. Instead, I know that my heart will break a hundred times as I watch them grow, because I won’t be able to protect them from everything. (Unless we move to a remote corner of Montana, cut off access to TV, internet, and other people. Maybe I need to give this option more thought…) They will lose that innocence. They will be hurt by others. They will encounter hard situations. They will be challenged and doubt their abilities. It’s only as a parent that I’ve learned how hard it is to watch someone you love so fiercely experience hurt or disappointment.

Still, I will be able to protect them from many things. And I think E’s and my role as parents is to steer them away from wrong, and, as they get older, teach them how to endure life, and do so with grace. More accurately, it is our role as parents to teach them reliance on God, and to model it. But that is a post for another day.

3. Parenting delivers a brutally honest look at yourself. No other job, degree, or endeavor has pushed my limits so far and so constantly. And in so doing, parenting has made me see, with brutal clarity, my own shortcomings, tendencies (good and bad), and how they affect my choices and reactions. It is a humbling lesson. The other thing I would say to parents is: watch yourself. I’ve often been surprised by some facial expression that my 5 year old will make, or something she will say, only to realize that she is mimicking…me. Talk about a wake-up call!

4. Parenting Changes Everything.
Where you used to drive by a playground with barely any recognition that it was there, now you make a note to add it to the list of possible kid activities within walking distance. And if the kids are in the car, you try to draw there attention away from it. No time to stop now.
Where you used to see a room’s decor, you now survey what is breakable, what objects are within reach, whether a surface is stain proof or not.
Where you used to plan the weekend around what you wanted and needed to do, now you plan it around what will keep the kids occupied and happy, and, therefore, you sane. Errands and cleaning will have to be squeezed in some other time and way.

5. Parenting is the Biggest Adventure you can embark on. Nothing else seeps into every corner and moment of your heart and time the way being a parent does. It demands the best of you, brings you to your knees, fills you with joy and pride, fury and shame, worry and love. I’m still early in my journey, but I anticipate the coming years knowing that I would have my life no other way.

Tree Branches

I’ve been looking at my hands a lot lately. They are my father’s hands. Since his death especially, I feel like they are often prominently veined, just like his were. Those of you who are medically trained may tell me it’s the heat, or something about my circulation, or whatever. But I think it’s simpler: the veins on my hands pop out like my Dad’s, with a frequency that they didn’t in last summer’s heat, or really anytime before Dad died. And that to me is a reminder that he lives in me. Literally. The map that created the cells of my body was made by his and Mom’s cells. The way I’ve learned to see the world was strongly influenced by the way he saw it.

I look at my toes. They are my father’s toes, with the second toe defiantly sticking out longer than the big toe. I look at my chin, and it is the chin that my father passed along to me from his mother.

I am comforted by these things. They reassure me that he is not gone at a time when I miss him and when his absence feels so absolute. They remind me of his lessons and his values when I need to be reminded. I don’t know what physical characteristics I will pass on to my children, but I know that one of the best things I can do to honor my Dad and his memory is to make sure my children know and learn from his spiritual characteristics. That, I’m finding, is a profound undertaking.

I remember a time when my older daughter was around two or three years old, and my Dad was sitting with her. She was looking at his hands and tracing the veins on them. He asked her if she knew what they were called. She answered that they were branches. He loved this response, and recounted it to me as evidence of how smart his granddaughter was. Indeed, veins are like branches; spreading out from their source, providing nourishment and life to their extremities. It occurs to me that this is what he did, and what each generation ought to do for the one after it: he and my Mom raised and nourished us, and provided shade from the world when we needed it. Now, as we raise our children, we take that nourishment and pass it onto them. And so the tree grows, providing shade for its youngest members, and for those with whom life has been a little too harsh, and who need the respite, however temporary, of family.

"The Days Are Long, and the Years Are Short"

My transition to motherhood remains among the most momentous changes of my life. Getting married was cakewalk. Finishing school and starting my first full-time job aren’t even in the same ballpark. No, those first few weeks, then months, then years of motherhood shook to the core everything about my life and everything I thought I knew about myself, my abilities, and my expectations. 

One of the assumptions I’d made early in my adult life is that the hours of my day exist for me to make the most out of each one. I mean in a how-many-things-big-and-small-can-I-check-off-my-to-do-list kind of way. I used to be a very efficient person, if I may say so myself. I could do things in a day that would now take me, well, a lot longer. I’ll get to that.

“The days are long, and the years are short.” I heard this adage only recently, and it has become my mantra. Any parent will tell you that your lives when your kids are young are full of monotony, routine, and stress. Each day takes such physical and emotional effort that you are spent by the end of it. The days are indeed long. Perhaps because of the monotony and routine, though, the years seem to fly; and the children grow out of each phase before you have a chance to fully savor it. Yet at the same time that I look forward to the day when interrupted sleep and changing diapers will no longer be a part of every single day, I know the funny things they say, the looks of unconditional love and trust they give us, and their unique and sometimes heart-breaking view of the world at this age is priceless, and that I will one day look back with a deep nostalgia for this season.  I know from talking to parents of older children that what is to come will cause us to remember only the sweetness and simplicity of the kids at this age.

One of the reasons that motherhood was so hard for me is that one has no control of one’s day as a mother of young children: the “plan” for the day regularly flies out the window. Think you can leave them to sweetly play in view while you pay some bills then get dinner ready? Think again. The plan will be thwarted by inexplicable fits of crying, accidents, the sudden ability to get into a cupboard she’s not supposed to, and/or whining that she needs a snack–no, she doesn’t want that snack! Planning a nice family trip to the zoo? Or even a routine, productive, day at work?  Sudden illnesses will arrive that only a mother’s constant arms can soothe. Need to make a “quick” run to the grocery store? An insistence that she can zip up her own coat and put on her own shoes–a process that began 15 minutes ago, mind youensuing tantrums, and then a diaper blow-out by #2 leave you in the exact same spot half an hour later. 

Ok, so I change my expectations of what I can get done in a day. Just maintain. Make sure we are all fed, clothed, clean, occupied. Make sure they know they are loved unconditionally. And later, one, maybe two quick tasks after I’ve put them to bed. Among the lessons this era has taught me is to be patient with myself, and that I am not superhuman. Sorry, world, you can no longer rely on me to be the WonderWoman of Efficiency. 

I shall strive to achieve other attributes during this season, though that is a topic for another day. It is amazing to me how much can happen in every season of our lives. It is amazing how much ground, emotional, intellectual, or even physical, one can cover in a single lifetime. For now, this season of young children is marked by sweetness and simplicity, and I am determined to appreciate it for the richness (and sleeplessness and clean-up and inefficiency) it contains.