Parkie Park and the Blue Moon.

Dear friends,

I had a magical day yesterday.

There was, of course, a blue moon and I stood outside in the cool night air to bask in its rare glow. It was a lovely, peaceful moment, standing in my yard in the moonlight while listening to the quiet hum of my home from just beyond its shadow.

Then I came inside and took this photo of my boy.

parker

He ate an after-school snack then fell asleep on the sofa and stayed there until bedtime. After snapping this photo I rubbed his head because I can’t help it. Rubbing the head of men I love is a compulsion. Then I thought about how when he was seven he used to hold my hand and tell me stories, and now he’s nearly seven-feet tall and still tells me stories but won’t hold my hand. So I rub his head when he sleeps and I touch him whenever I’m within arm’s reach because I can’t help that either. He’s nearly grown and sports a beard but he will always be Parkie Park to me and I can’t imagine not reaching for my beautiful boy every chance I get.

Then we all turned in, and just as I was about to fall asleep, Mr. Mom said very quietly “I love you, Bunny. I figure I ought to tell you at least once every blue moon whether you need it or not.”

It made me smile because we say “I love you” almost every single time we fall asleep together. Sometimes I say it, sometimes he says it, but we almost always say it, one then the other. And not in that perfunctory “luv ya” way you might say as you hang up the phone.  We say it in a quiet, deliberate way. Almost like a prayer because it’s that important.

I fell asleep thinking there’s no greater blessing than loving mightily and being loved in equal measure. Under any kind of moon.

With gratitude {for the magic of big moons and big hearts},

Joan, aka “Bunny,” and various and sundry pet names that shall not be disclosed

In the nest.

Dear friends,

nest

Kate came home last night. When she and Mr. Mom drove up just as the sun was going down, my shoulders relaxed a little and I couldn’t help but sigh in relief. I gave them both big hugs in the driveway and thought about how lucky any mother is to experience a homecoming of loved ones.

We spent the evening hauling boxes, unpacking, and listening to her funny college stories — all four of us plus her boyfriend, Jake, and her dog, SweetPea, piled on her her bed as if it were a life boat and we might drown if we left her side.

I couldn’t be more content to have her back in my nest for the summer. I hope we’ll make time for all kinds of fun, like watching old episodes of West Wing, going on float trips, participating in our annual girls weekend, making shopping trips to St. Louis, and engaging in any other activity that sparks our mutual interest during the glorious 90 days of summer she’ll spend in Missouri.

Kate’s looking for a seasonal job and enrolling in two summer classes, so her schedule will no doubt be tight. Still, just the opportunity to cook a few of my special “Sunday Suppers” while she’s home will satisfy this hen’s need to fuss over her chicks. Oh, and I hope to finish her quilt so she can go back to school knowing there’s nothing better than a mother’s love in which to wrap oneself tightly.

By the way, we had a fabulous time in Phoenix. Kate’s team lost in the “Round of 16″ but they gave the #3 team in the nation a run for their money in a very competitive match. Given the ordeal our girls have been through, I’d say just qualifying for the National Championship was a victory. They only lost one player to graduation, so they’re a young team with a highly promising future.

As you might imagine, I took a ton of photos during our four-day trip.  I won’t bore you with a travelogue, but I will share with you this favorite from the tournament awards banquet:

teamphoto

With gratitude {for my favorite girls, tennis, travel, vacation time with family, and all things summer},

Joan, who would love to hear what you’ve got planned for your summer

So long sweet summer.

Dear friends,

This is how I spent my last weekend of summer –

Cooking (grilled salmon, pasta, assorted salads, barbequed chicken, baked french toast, biscuits and gravy, green chili enchiladas and more) . . .

baking (apple pie, apple-pineapple crostini) . . .

decorating (tablescapes, new arrangements for the mantle and buffet, flower arranging) . . .

and mothering (big hello and goodbye hugs,  staying up late for long talks, relaxing on the sofa with every person and critter in our household piled on with me, watching movies, passing out money and, of course, all that cooking).

It was three days of bliss I won’t soon forget. I even worked in a couple of naps, some leisurely reading, and lots of the US Open. It was the perfect end to summer, a much-needed respite before the busy fall, a luxury for a homebody who’s called away all too often.

With gratitude {for 72 hours of full-nesting},

Joan, who feels a new sense of energy and says bring on the fall

The Js.

Dear friends,

Three sweet daughters in their matching outfits before they got old enough to just say no.

Every summer for a very long time, I’ve gone on a trip that I look forward to more than most anything else in my life.

Girls’ Weekend!!! (The exclamation points indicate a squeal.)

I know plenty of women who kick up their heels together on a girls’ trip. Heck, I think they made a movie about it — a little picture called “Bridesmaids.”

But my particular girls’ trip is more awesome (awesomely better?) than anybody else’s because I go with my childhood friends. And my childhood friends happen to have daughters who are childhood friends — and we bring our daughters on our annual trip. So we’re a group of BFF mothers with a group of BFF daughters, all having the time of our lives together every single summer.

The women in my life most dear to me are known as the Js. I don’t why the stars aligned in this way, but at age 10 when my mother moved us to our hometown, I became fast friends with Jamie, Johnna, Julie and Janet. We are the 5Js and we’ve remained close friends to this day. Until a year ago when I moved away, four of the five of us lived in our hometown.

In the early years, only three of us (and our daughters) traveled. Along the way, another one of the Js was able to join our summer trips. Our first trip was in 1993, only a few months after Kate was born. She just turned 19, so you get the idea how long the Js and our daughters have been doing this.

In the early years, we went to a lot of amusement parks and water parks in every major city within a day’s drive of our hometown. Our exotic destinations included spots like Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Branson, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Tulsa, and San Antonio. In recent years, we’ve spent most our time shopping and eating in those same cities — and always staying up late and laughing ourselves silly in our hotel rooms. We laugh at old stories we love to tell every single year (our daughters — two of whom are now in college — never seem to tire of hearing about the J’s high school adventures), and we tell a few new stories in our lives by way of catch up.

In the early years, we bought our daughters matching outfits and dressed them alike for our outings. I don’t remember at what age they declared “no more,” but I can’t help that I miss the sweet young faces of our daughters in their matching outfits gracing our trip photos. These days, we tend to buy matching t-shirts at one place or another.

This year, the girls are coming to my house because they haven’t yet visited me in my new place. We plan to hit a nearby outlet mall and take a float trip on the river. I’m going to cook something really yummy for them and show them the sights in our scenic new home, and I’m sure the seven of us will camp out in my den until the wee hours laughing and being girls.

In keeping with the new age we live in, I planned this year’s trip by text. And without fail, after the date was agreed upon yesterday, I got texts from all my girls saying things like I can’t wait! I miss you!!! Love you!

I love my girls and their daughters and I can’t wait to see them, too.

With gratitude {for friends who know the name of the first boy I kissed, who shopped for prom dresses with me, who hold a grudge against the boy that broke my heart in college, who stood by my side as I married Mr. Mom, who diapered my babies, who cried with me when my mother died, and who would turn heaven and earth upside down for me if I needed them to},

Joan, who can’t imagine what life would be like if her name didn’t start with J

Traces.

Dear friends,

Not long ago I was helping Mr. Mom clean house and, as I dusted the family photos around my desk, I lingered on the tiniest one — a black and white photo not much bigger than a postage stamp in a pink frame.

The young woman in the photo is both achingly familiar and long lost to me. In my mind’s eye, she is who I am. In the mirror, only traces of her remain.

I thought about my mother — about how much I miss her, about how I have stacks of photos of her at about age 5 right up until her death a little more than a year ago. And, yet, when I think of my mother, I instantly visualize her as she looked in her early 40s. The photos I have of her from that era are the ones that most say “Mom” to me.

Perhaps it is because that’s the age she moved us “home.”  I was 10 and my mother was 43 and she moved us from the city in which she had always lived to the place I call my hometown. I lived there until I went away for college; she eventually left, too, a few years later. But the pull of the place was so strong I moved back to my hometown 25 years later — with a husband and two kids and a passel of pets in tow. And, somehow, I think the way my mother looked when she moved us to that town — that town that became my true north — is how my mother will always appear in my memory.

I wonder how my children will think of me when I’m gone. Surely, it won’t be as the young woman in the pink frame that they never knew. The photo was taken in my mid-20s. I was unmarried. Shy, but confident enough to smile at a photographer. Happy, at having just presided over a successful professional conference (thus, the banquet table). Full of hope for my relationship with Mr. Mom and all that I dreamed a future family would bring.

I wonder — will my children think of me as the young mother of toddlers, a brunette usually sporting a pony-tail and who was perpetually harried? Or will they think of the mother of their middle-school years, the thinner red-head who dressed a little more stylishly but was no less harried thanks to graduate school? Or will they think of the mother I am now, the one who uprooted them from the town they loved growing up in as much as I did, but who was in search of a distinctly unharried, integrated life and who insisted they come along for the ride? Or will they remember me as a mother I am yet to become, who neither of us really knows yet but is somewhere to be found within the woman in my mind’s eye?

What will they say is the essence of the mother they remember, the one they loved and hated, clung to and pushed away, idolized and vilified?

Perhaps it is a fool’s chore to ponder these questions, but I can’t help myself. Mothers must pine for immortality because we raise children and look longingly into their eyes for traces of ourselves.  Do we glimpse the best of ourselves or the worst? An amalgam of contradictions as confounding as our own?

Truly, I hope they remember a bit of my mother in me. After all, the woman in my mind’s eye is but a derivation of the mother I remember, the kind I strive to be, one so loved her absence is felt every day despite her frailties and failures, one whose heart spilled over with love for her children and the promise of their children.

One who reached toward every day with the knowledge the day is never enough and yet all there is to be a mother.

With gratitude {for today},

Joan, who knows missing her mother this much is a kind of a gift

Bam!

Dear friends,

My baby, my first baby, will turn 19 in two days. I don’t know how it happened. I went to bed and she was six, and I woke up and she was 19. Life is funny that way.

Thirteen years ago when she turned six, I was so discombobulated by it I wrote a story. She had been my baby right through five, then bam! Six was entirely different. My baby was gone, replaced by a young girl.

This week as Kate passes another milestone that feels like a bigger bam to her mother, I thought I’d remind myself I survived the last one. Not without a few tears, but I survived.

With gratitude {for the angel who watches over mothers and reminds us we can take the next step},

Joan, whose heart is bursting with love and pride beyond what she ever imagined possible

Six is Wondrous New

A six-year-old girl is a most precious thing. A contradiction, a charm, a sprightly smile of blush and pride.

Even at five, she is a baby, my baby, hand and heart grasped in mine, and not yet initiated into the world of team sports, sleepovers, all-day school.

But at six, she is all about risk and motion, and fields undared, a tumblebug of queries to be posed full speed.

And six is wondrous new.

New challenges, new friends, new dreams, new notions unfold before her, a splendid banquet of awe and fear to be carefully tasted, some savored, some spat. And I in the shadows, waiting to offer encouragement that is rarely required or even asked, ponder her journey and my place in it.

I am not ready to release my grasp, my being, my daughter to the life that is becoming hers. Hers, not mine, in a separate form I can shape but cannot mold.

How do I capture the essence that is her, that is six, that is all my dream can ever be, of a child that is each day new, when I want to hold the moments in my hands forever? Not in my heart, not in my mind, but in my white-knuckled hands where her sum and substance never slip or fade.

And how do I tell her that she is beautiful, and amazing, and strong, and smart without sounding like her mother?  Mother, she might say, making her disclaimer in a tone I perfected.

Independence.  It’s a good thing, right? She runs ahead, skips pages, makes no quarrel with uncertainty, and feels not the qualms I harbor on her behalf.  She stands tall and straight, offering a smile at times most needed, unaware of evil or life’s disappointments more severe than a lost opportunity for ice cream. Her freckles sparkle in the afternoon sun and her toes reach for the sky, outstretched on a flying swing that traces a menacing arc.

She is my poetry, and I struggle to remember full verse. Yet, still I cry at its reading, and it moves me to want another just like her, and another and another and another, as shelter from the dangers of her journey.

But when I go to her at night and reach to share a bedtime hug, she makes me who I am. We lay still, our hearts beating to a matched pace, and she is six forever.

And one time, she holds longer than I, and offers a whispered rhyme as redress for growing up.

“I don’t want to let go because I love you so.”

The post that wasn’t.

Dear friends,

Source: Allposters.com

Last night I was busy being a mother to children who needed me.

And so the post that was to be, wasn’t.

I know you’ll understand that I spent my time doing the thing that was needed most and that I always consider my highest calling, instead of composing a few pithy thoughts to share with you.

With gratitude {for the honor and joy of raising the two dearest souls I know},

Joan, who would like to offer you a few words on mothering she wrote in 1999 but are still as true to her heart today as they were all those years ago

On being a mother

I am a mother and that is all I know.

My children run through me like blue through a river and I cannot remember me before them.

Before little hands snapped necklaces off my neck in a shower of beads as sudden as a summer storm; before the bluest eyes I have ever known searched mine for traces of anger or love; before four dirty, bare feet raced across the backyard to be the first to greet me on a day when the office made me indispensable and made me late; before the sweet skin of my children became the only perfume I craved; before ten cold toes invaded my warmth at 3:00 a.m. and I awakened only to long for ten more; before I knew my dream could be a freckled girl and a sandy boy who take my breath when I watch them sleep; I did not know anything.

My babies crept inside me in ways I cannot shake. I delivered them into the world in crying, surgical fits and though they escaped my body, they imprinted my soul with a code I cannot crack.

They are me and I have forgotten the world in ways beyond theirs. I interpret meaning through routine and, as we march through days, I sometimes stop to listen to a rhythm that reminds me why my heart beats.

When my son asks me to sit beside him on the porch, only to climb onto my lap and describe the boundaries of his universe while his cheek is warmed by mine; when my daughter alters her path to take my hand and walk alongside me; when two small voices rise in pitch until they crack and tumble into the bath water amid soapy waves, I know that grace envelops me.

When my daughter says “I just want to make you happy” after I praise her for eating all her peas; when my son’s quiet song makes itself known only to me; when my daughter’s gift is a picture with the words “my mom is a great mom”; when my son grabs my neck and holds on as if I was leaving his life instead of his bed, I know that nothing I can do is worthy of their hearts or as precious as their love.

I know that the beauty of life is in small moments, not large, and that very precious, very small moments are to be unearthed every day by a mother’s hands from the roughest clods of her life.

I know that a child’s voice is the purest, and that no amount of noise can drown its innocence and love.

I know that wisdom is not in what may be had but in what may be shared.

I know that dreams are not discovered until a child enters your life.

I know that hope is unending as long as I am a mother.

Same song, second verse.

Dear Friends,

I’m still on sick bed duty. The bug that hit Parker is a nasty one and I spent all day Sunday pretending to be Florence Nightingale.

After he sat up in bed Sunday morning and ate, I figured we were home free. Not so much. There appears to be a serious flu bug married to the stomach bug so he’s still down for the count.

And with all that mothering and nursing to be done, who has time to do anything else? I’m pretty sure you’ll understand.

Soucre: Pinterest

With gratitude {for teenagers who still need their moms},

Joan, who took a short break to watch to the Superbowl Halftime Show and thought Madge showed them how it’s done

The downhill side.

Dear Friends,

A million years ago (actually 6,902 days, but who’s counting?) I birthed my first child. In the seconds after my Sweet Baby Kate first emerged into this world and I glimpsed her already-familiar beauty, I felt as if the whole world stretched before me like some endless yellow-brick road to a promised land called motherhood. When my child was born flawless and healthy, I was so euphoric I imagined, for one sublimely-cocooned moment, that this promised land was eternal and free of heartache, or fear, or worry. I felt like Mother Earth, solid and ageless and in perfect orbit in our universe.

And that lasted about a minute, until somebody prodded or poked my perfect baby sufficient to elicit a wail and my bubble was burst by a tsunami of abject fear. It’s pretty much been downhill from there, because every mother I know thinks she simply cannot bear another fever; another trip to the urgent care; another sleepless night worrying over The Teacher Who Doesn’t Understand; another snub from the snotty Girl Who Makes Her Friend-Candidates Try Out and, sorry, Kate, you didn’t make it; another lost tennis tournament; another boyfriend; another broken heart; another anything, because for Pete’s Sake, Can’t I Be Done Mothering Now?

And then one day recently I woke up and realized — all this daily bucking up I’ve been doing — holy crap, it’s almost over! I am being relieved of my duty because this fair-haired baby of mine with the delicate skin and chubby cheeks and sweet disposition has grown up. And, though I have pretended for months it can’t possibly be true, just last week two college acceptance letters came in the mail, pretty much proving she’s moving out soon.

And what will I be if I am not the Woman Who Mothers This Child? Don’t tell me I’ll be mothering her all the same (because those college kids need lots of loving support and encouragement, you know). Tell me how mothers survive children who move away because in all these years of bucking up, in all the books I’ve read about mothering, nobody told me how to endure The Day When She No Longer Resides With Me.

I’ve got less than 200 days to figure out how to be a Mother Who Lives Apart from Her Child. I welcome your advice. Well, let me be more direct: I desperately need your advice and encouragement and Mr. Mom has flat run out of words to offer the Woman Who Is Wholly Unprepared to be the Mother of a Grown Child.

With gratitude {for 7,000 days of cohabitation with my Sweet Baby Kate, even though it clearly wasn’t enough training for the likes of me},

Joan, who in those 7,000 days took hundreds of snapshots like this one, because the imperfect moments are the ones you really savor

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