My big girl has been nine for awhile now. We’ve just been busy, partly with schlepping her around to soccer practice and games. It’s been a sacrifice for the family, but she loves it and has never once complained about soccer or even the plyometrics she has to do during practice. Without further ado, I present her annual birthday letter:
I’m not sure if I can call you my little girl anymore. Daddy and I were recently watching some old video clips from when we first moved here. It was just three years ago, but watching you bounce around on the footage (remember how we used to call you Hopping Cricket?) with your shorter hair, softer features, and baby voice makes it feel like a lifetime has gone by. When we arrived in our new home, you were a little girl. Today I look at you, and I see a young lady. Of course, you’ll never stop being my sweet, little girl (no eye-rolling allowed, Missy!).
You’re annoyed with me right this very minute because I found a trail of your clothing on the floor and so I took your book away. “It’s not even my bedtime yet,” you argued. Tough luck, little lady. Welcome to the real world.
In all seriousness, you do sometimes roll your eyes at Daddy and me, but it’s more of a joking gesture and there’s even a hint of affection because you almost always grin at me once your eyes stop dancing around. Besides, I’ve realized I eye-roll right back at you. It’s like we’re having an eye roll contest. Watch out. From what I hear from Gaba, I was a professional eye-roller back in the day.
We do joke around a lot, and you never fail to make me laugh with your great sense of humor. Just the other day you had me chuckling when we were driving home from soccer practice. You had your first big tournament this year. Your team is very young, and you guys don’t have any subs so it’s been a bit of a rough season. You’ve lost more games than you’ve won; yet, you always leave the field with a big smile spread across your face. Well, you were telling me how apparently your team was ranked second going in to the tournament.
“Really?” I said. I don’t think I sounded too incredulous.
“I know,” you said. “The other teams must be horrible.”
You said this with not a hint of regret or disappointment. You love soccer. You love your soccer peeps, and it’s not about winning to you. It’s about enjoying your time on the field.
That’s just how you approach life. The glass is almost always half-full. Things could always be worse. You have a way of reminding me to look for the light when I find myself groping around in the dark (and griping about it, too). You get knocked down, and you get right back up again. Really. You’ve taken a ball to the face hard several games; yet, you shake it off, smile, and get back to playing. Once, you even snagged possession of the ball, dribbled it down field, and scored a goal all immediately after the ball had smacked you hard right in the face. You’re tough.
Let’s see what else there is to share about you right now. You’ve got braces on the top and bottom now. You have such a lovely smile. You’re tall for your age and athletic, too. The boys at school are always picking you for their teams during recess. I know because I sometimes volunteer to help out, and you’re frequently the only girl out there playing hard and holding your own.
You’re stubborn. You like to be in charge. You lead more than you follow, but sometimes I do sense that things bother you more than you let on. “I’m not sensitive!” you’ll firmly tell me when I ask you if it hurt your feelings when someone called you a brace face. Or you’ll say, “I don’t care.” And oftentimes, I don’t think you do care, or you know that the person who may have called you a name is wounded on some level and that you’re above all that. I love your confidence and how things don’t rock you to the core much. I’ve often thought you are more self-possessed and confident than I am even now and certainly more so when I was 9 years old. I was (am!) the sensitive type. Teasing did hurt my feelings. I wasn’t so sure of myself and desperately longed to fit in when I was younger. You want people to like you but not at the expense of being your own person. I admire your resilence and your willingness to be yourself; however, I also do want you to know that it’s perfectly normal to care or to be hurt by others’ name-calling or zingers. You don’t have to grow skin so thick you don’t feel anything. Be yourself, yes. But don’t be afraid to open up to me either or to admit that you’ve been hurt. And just because you don’t like pink doesn’t mean it’s wrong for other girls (um, like your little sister Mary Elizabeth!) to be drawn to very girly things. I do love it that you can look graceful in a dress one minute and then be hurling a football across the air the next.
I’m sure I’m going to get more eye-rolling at this point, so I’ll move on. We went birthday shopping and had to get size 12 corduroys for you. You can wear some of my shoes depending on the style. I suspect you’re definitely going to be taller than I am in a few years. Your hair is thick and has a mind of its own; it’s a lot like you. Like I mentioned previously, nearly every day you make me laugh with your spunk and matter-of-fact approach to life. Just last week I put your snack for school in a brown paper bag rather than the reusable bag I usually use, and you said, “Oh, you’re going all old-school on me.”
When you had your recent slumber party with a few friends, you came in to the kitchen at one point and sighed and said, “I’m a little overwhelmed. I think I’ve met my match when it comes to being a control freak.” I grinned and stifled my laughter, knowing it was hard for you to relinquish control to a strong-willed friend of yours.
I agonized over ending homeschool and sending you to school, but I see how you’re thriving, how you’re a little light to others (“Mrs. L says we are the clay, and God is the potter,” you remind me periodically), how much you enjoy being around other kids, and how you tell me everything about your day. You’re not afraid to be your own person, to read books, play soccer, and to bring flowers to your teacher. That doesn’t mean that I don’t miss you terribly. The house is definitely a little too quiet and less lively without my Hopping Cricket. I also miss your help with all the littles. You really do have a gift with interacting with younger children. I was not nearly as nurturing as you are when I was your age. I was more worried about sitting at the grownup table whereas you’re content to play with the little ones and help take care of them. You used to want to be a marine biologist and an artist. These days you want to be a teacher.
Your heart is so generous. We were recently getting ready to go to your soccer tournament and for some reason everyone was pining for Daddy. Mommy was relegated to shark chum. We had to take two cars because we weren’t going to keep everyone out at the fields all day, and no one wanted to ride with me. You started getting into Daddy’s car and then paused for a moment. You then hoisted your soccer bag over your shoulder and headed in my direction.
“I’ll ride with you, Mommy,” you said. You sweet girl you. I’m not going to lie. I was so happy to have your company. I was even happier that your heart was receptive enough to know that it would make me happy to tag along in the minivan with me.
You’re so good to me. When I made your peacock birthday cake, which most definitely looked homemade and was not Pinterest-worthy or anything, you beamed with admiration. “That is so amazing, Mommy!” And I think you meant it, too.
Speaking of the cake, you also were such a good sport when I showed you the destroyed remains. Fortunately, we had already shared the cake with friends, and you’d made your birthday wish, but around 3 am I discovered Thomas noshing on the cake. He’d dragged a chair over the counter, figured out how to open the Tupperware cake caddy, and was using a knife (scary!) to cut pieces. So the next morning this was all that was left of your beautiful cake:
You were very understanding and laughed right along with me (he also got in to some of your Halloween candy that same nocturnal eating frenzy, and you were a good sport about that, too).
Oh, more evidence that you’re growing up: I’m not always Mommy these days. I’m sometimes “Mama” and occasionally even “Mom.” Be still, my heart. When did you get too old to always call me Mommy?
I have a friend who says you’re 9 going on 30. That’s about right. You hate to miss anything and want to be a part of the adult happenings. But it’s not just that. You say very adult things sometimes. One day not too long ago I apologized for an unfair outburst directed at you and Rachel. You sat down beside me and rubbed my back for a minute and said, “There’s nothing you can do to take our love away or to earn it.”
My eyes get all watery just writing that and reliving that tender moment. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your mercy. Thank you for sharing your sunshine disposition with me, with all of us.
Here’s a less serious anecdote illustrating your precociousness. The teacher who is in charge of the pep rally squad of girls was trying to recruit you while I was within an earshot. You thanked her and then promptly said, “I’m not really built for cheerleading.”
I’m sure she thought you’d heard that from your parents or from one of your friends, but you came up with that yourself.
I love you so very much, Madeline. These past nine years have been such a joyful, amazing journey. It’s hard to believe you’ve gone from an I-refuse-to-sit-on-the-potty-and-poop-despite-an-adult-dosage-of-Miralax-or-go-to-sleep-ever-toddler to an I-refuse-to-not-be-myself-even-in-the-midst-of-my-peers-young-lady. I once was a poop doula, a micromanager of your everyday minutiae. Now I’m having to take a step back and act more as a consultant. Luckily, we still have ample time for hugs, back rubs, and cuddling while reading together. I hope that never changes.
Madeline, you are funny, beautiful, athletic, brave, a total bibliophile, a lover of blue, a carb monger, goofy, nurturing, kind, energetic, loud, optimistic, creative (you’re currently working on a Thanksgiving play), and an absolute joy to raise. I thank God every day for the privilege of being your mother. You make me so very proud.
Happy 9th birthday to a lovely, young lady who will always, always be my little girl!
This morning my sweet 2-year-old boy delicately cupped my chin in his dimpled hands, widened his bright, brown eyes, and said to me, “Do laundry. Make dinner.”
I have to admit I was expecting him to profess his unfettered love to me, not give me a to-do list.
I laughed at this unexpected moment but if I’m completely honest, my heart felt an ounce heavier, too.
Lately I’ve felt like my life has been reduced to a list of menial tasks. Many of my friends have careers outside of the home or they at least work part-time. I’ve drastically cut back on the amount of freelance work I do. I have one chapter of the novel I say I’m writing, and it’s not a very good chapter either. When I homeschooled the older children, I at least felt like that was my job. I was a teacher. I was imparting great wisdom to these impressionable souls gifted to me. These days I feel like I am simply the person who cleans up spills, folds clothes, and makes sure permission slips are signed and returned to school.
I don’t write much. I blog sporadically and am always apologizing for my vapid posts. I don’t run (still resting…and hurting. Sigh). I don’t homeschool. Here’s what I do do: I clean. I nag. I wipe snotty noses. I schlep kids around. I worry that I’m doing it all wrong, that I am ruining my kids. I feel like no one notices all that I do. I feel taken for granted, used, and ignored. Wah, wah, wah. Please tell me you have felt this way before, too.
A friend of mine texted me a few weeks ago and asked me if I ever feel invisible. Um, yes. All of the time. I’ve wondered what would happen if I slipped quietly away. Of course, the world would still turn. But my household? It would be even more chaotic and discombobulated than it is now. I remember reading Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler before I had any children and being miffed with the heroine’s selfish behavior. In the novel, 40-year-old Delia Grinstead strolls down a shoreline and just keeps walking, abandoning her husband and three older children. The decision is not a premeditated one, and there was no big fight or breaking point that forced her to walk away from it all. She leaves more on an impulsive whim because she is tired of feeling like a “tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges.”
I didn’t get it then. I could not empathize with Delia. Today I have more insight. Today I sometimes feel like that gnat, too, that everyone is swatting away and doesn’t want around to bug them about picking up dirty laundry off the floor or being kind to their siblings.
I’ve taken two pregnancy tests recently (both were negative), not because I really thought I was pregnant (it would have been a miracle) and not even because I am desperately longing for another baby, although I would certainly embrace a new, little life if one was given to me. It was more out of a need to feel useful, to have a sense of purpose, and duty, to be more than a pesky gnat. I’ve written before that babies, while certainly physically exhausting, are beautifully simple to me. Their needs and wants are one in the same. I nurse them when they cry, and they are at least briefly satisfied. They want only mama. I have an excuse to “do nothing” except care for my baby. People allow you that when you have a newborn but when you have older kids, you need to be team manager for the soccer team and make homemade snacks. Or there’s the pressure – real or perhaps just perceived – because you’re “just” an at-home mom.
Lately I’ve found myself pining for those simple, early days of motherhood when it was just my baby and me in a cathedral sort of calm, cloistered off from the rest of the world and to-do lists. The miracle of what happened within my body – the laborious process of growing a human – was obvious as I held the baby in my arms. When I had that pregnancy bump, it was a visible sign of sacrificial love. Those first smiles were big returns for my investment. I felt needed. I had a great purpose. The babies needed my womb to house them. As newborns, they needed my milk and arms to comfort them. As my kids grow older, I feel more like a glorified waitress and maid. My job is to serve (and serve again) and pick up after them, and I’d better not forget to send water bottles with them to school or soccer practice. Sure, there are plenty of bigger teaching moments. I know mothers do far more than keep house, but I do struggle with this dying to self and all this quiet, unnoticed work. There has been a longing in my heart for little ones to nurture – as if I don’t still have young children underfoot (my oldest isn’t even 9 yet, but she’s getting very close!).
I could blame my internal struggle on society and the push for women to do it all. It’s easy to feel like a slacker when you only have four kids whom you no longer homeschool, and you don’t work outside of the home, and your husband even hired a house cleaning service to help you out for a bit. I mean, what exactly do I do all day?
I don’t watch TV. I don’t squander hours on Facebook. I do go to library story time with two littles. I read lots of books. I search for MIA shoes and socks. I bake muffins with sous chefs at my side. I make sure soccer cleats and shin guards are in their place for practice and that soccer balls are round with ample air. I meal plan. I wash dishes. I wipe counters. I kiss boo-boos. I encourage. I tickle. I wrestle wiggly toddlers into diapers.
But too often I am focused on all that I don’t do and on all that I lack. Or I look at my work and think it’s so mundane and useless. What’s the point? Many times I dwell on all that I do wrong: How I may have handled the emotional, raging child the wrong way, how I bark orders too much in the morning to ensure we make it to school on time, how I bite my nails, or ply my kids with Goldfish instead of making homemade crackers from the recipe I found when I was pregnant with my first. (I’m already forgetting about the homemade, healthy pumpkin muffins we made just this week.)
Then I discover notes like this: A “just because” note that should remind me that all this work I do – the routine stuff and the more important stuff too – has meaning that transcends hazardous waste removal.
Those little people do notice and they do love you even when their actions, their hurling of phrases like “I hate you” pierce your heart and cause you to collapse into a heap of self-doubt (or maybe that’s just me).
And you’re probably doing a better job than you think like this must-see video reveals. (Do watch it when you get a chance. My babysitter sent it to me recently, and it was just the pick-me-up I needed.)
I’m traveling through a rough patch right now. People said it would get easier as my kids grew older. I feel like it gets lonelier. I feel more powerless than ever before. There are all these unique people in my midst who have strong wills and their own ideas of how to live their lives. Pregnancy, nursing, babywearing – these were all more obvious signs of love. Now I am more hidden. And so is my work. Being a mom deals far more with that which is invisible. Love cannot be quantified, counted, or priced. It can only be given. Sometimes it’s given in more obvious ways like when you hold a tired child. Sometimes it’s doled out in meal after meal you serve day after day. Sometimes love is offered in a “no, you can’t have an iPod touch even if every other almost 9-year-old in the world has one.” When you give that love, you’re only given rejection and anger in return. Your work is hard. It’s tireless. It brings joy, but it hurts a lot, too. There’s nothing extravagant about it. I am not building skyscrapers. I am not piecing together perfect prose. I’m not saving lives as my husband does on an almost daily basis. There are occasional love notes and hand-picked flowers (thank God for those gifts of gratitude), but there are no raises, promotions, great accolades, and I’ll certainly never be up for a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, or even finish number one in a race. No podium climbing for me, but there’s another ascending, a drawing closer to Love itself. Motherhood is surely a path to sanctity, especially if we give our work – even the most tedious tasks a greater purpose.
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wisely stated, “It is not the nature of our work, but its consecration that is the vital thing.”
All that I have and all that I do, the visible and the invisible – from the bum-wiping to the limit-setting – is not only for my family but for the greater glory as well.
I had every intention of being prompt and posting Halloween and All Saints’ Day photos at the start of the week. You’d think that now that I’ve been resigned to a mostly sedentary existence because of that darn hamstring injury I’d have more time to blog (or clean or learn to sew or do something productive), but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
On Sunday my husband had to work, and Madeline had an out of town soccer game so Nana and Pop generously offered to treat Rachel and Mary Elizabeth to a sleepover Saturday night. On Sunday our resident monkey (M.E.) was climbing a tree, a favorite pursuit of hers, when a branch snapped. She fortunately was not far from the ground, but she lost her balance and she fell backwards, and Pop conjectures that her head hit some concrete. While I was cheering Madeline on with Thomas as my sidekick, my sweet 4-year-old was getting staples in her head. There are four of them (I counted yesterday to be sure; I don’t like looking at wounds on my children), and they really are big staples. A friend of mine asked how she was feeling on Tuesday of this week. “Fine,” I told her. “I caught her trying to climb another tree.” It’s apparently going to take a lot more than a busted head to keep that kiddo’s two feet safely on the ground.
There’s never a dull moment at the Wicker household.
But about last week’s festivities… We had a motley crew this year without any theme like we did in 2012 and in 2009 (Mary Elizabeth just loves it that I played a pregnant witch that year, and she was the one who was in my belly). Madeline was a peacock, and I have to say I was satisfied with this non-Pinterest-y mom’s feather assemblage. She definitely received many compliments this year including one couple telling her she had the most elegant Halloween costume they’d seen. Rachel wanted to a cowgirl. Bless her. It was so easy to throw that one together. Influenced by Madeline’s costume, no doubt, Mary Elizabeth chose to be a peacock princess. The princess part is very important. Madeline told me her favorite part of Halloween is having the grandparents come over. Mary Elizabeth, on the other hand, said the best part of Halloween is that she gets to wear makeup. She’s a girly-girl to the core. Thomas was the fifth child to wear the elephant suit my mom made for us. A friend borrowed it for her daughter in addition to all of my kids wearing it.
Now Thomas was a far more reluctant elephant than his big sisters and walked around headless for most of the evening. I happened to be wearing grey, so I made sure the mask didn’t go to waste.
What struck me the most as I was sifting through the few photos I managed to take on Halloween this year was how old Madeline looks. She’s not even 9 yet (getting very close), but she looks like a young lady. Here’s a photo of her with my mom. I see a strong resemblance.
The older girls had All Saints’ Day off, so we went to Mass with some homeschooling friends and had a saintly party and indoor picnic with them as well. It was a lovely day. Thomas wasn’t feeling 100 percent, so he stayed back with Nana. From left to right we have St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Cecelia, and St. Mary Magdalene.
I hope to write a more thoughtful post one of these days, but this will have to do for now.