So we have a few summer birthdays around here, and Rachel’s came first and here I am just getting around to posting it. I did write it awhile back, but I had to get some photos together for it. One of my favorite parts of writing these annual birthday letters is perusing photos from the past. It’s so easy to forget how much my children have grown and changed because I am caught up in the daily chaos of just making sure kids eat, sleep, read, get to soccer and to school, and stay safe and quasi-clean. I loved finding some photos of my sweet, contemplative, animal-loving Rachel. Another year has come and gone. She’s quickly approaching the decade-mark and is as funny and sensitive as ever. I love you, Rae-Rae…to the moon and back.
You’re reading beside me as I draft your annual birthday letter, your long hair sunshine-kissed, and that perfect nose of yours finely dusted in freckles. Oh, how I love the smattering of freckles that sprinkle across your nose and cheeks. I hope they don’t fade as you age. You’ve grown up so much in the last year, and I feel a mixture of happiness and sadness when I study your face and see the faint outline of the woman you’ll one day (too soon!) become.
Pop was watching you eat a bowl of cereal recently and he told you that you were going to be a beautiful woman someday, and you sweetly smiled and said, “Thank you.” You accepted his compliment graciously. I hope you will always do that. It’s so sad how so many women argue against complements or sheepishly brush them aside instead of accepting them as the gift that they are.
This has been a good year for you. You remain, passionate, sweet, and sensitive. You share my own perfectionist tendencies. Watching you carefully put on your long socks, shin guards, and soccer cleats is akin to watching someone perform the ancient art of origami. You are careful, intent, and you do everything with great purpose.
You loved school this past year. You found a best friend in Grace; your teacher encouraged your creativity; and you read more books than we could count and retained your “Top Reader” title. You really came alive on the soccer field as well and played tough and with unbridled tenacity. You ran your hear of your first 5K and came in third place in the 10 & under division despite being only 7 at the time. You laughed, you cried, and you told me lots of silly jokes. You whispered, “God bless you,” and gently made the Sign of the Cross on my forehead at night after night just like I do to you. You made your First Reconciliation and your First Communion. You were so ready for these special days. You told me you weren’t nervous just excited. You fell in love with horses all over again at horse camp and have been petitioning worry-wart Daddy to allow you to take riding lessons ever since. You take care of Speedy the hermit crab when your sisters forget all about him, and you mourned the premature and sad death of Speedy’s companion, Padfoot. You sang a duet of “Silent Night” with Grace at the Christmas Eve Mass, and the two of you really did sound like angels. You’ve read countless facts loud to me from your miscellany of almanacs and National Geographic fact books. You have a true desire to learn and gain knowledge not to prove anything but simply because you are curious and knowing more gives you intrinsic pleasure. Knuffle Bunny is still your lovey although you no longer sleep with him much anymore. Lately, you’ve been saying you no longer want to be a vet because you don’t want to see animals suffer. You’re thinking of being an animal trainer and maybe an actress. Or maybe a writer. You keep a diary and enjoy writing stories.
You’re currently working on mastering your dive at the lake and the pool. You gave basketball camp a try this year. You taught yourself how to do a flip on the trampoline. You’ve daydreamed, written me beautiful, heartfelt notes that have made me cry, and loved fiercely – everything from animals to books to God and to family.
You still will gobble up tons of shrimp, and the colors aqua and turquoise remain your favorites. You enjoy friends and playing with Madeline, Mary, and Thomas, but you need downtime and alone time like you need air. You have a great and witty sense of humor. Just recently, we were playing a family game of Cranium, and you and I were on a team. I had to spell KARATE backwards and since the yellow category is my forte, I was getting all cocky. “E. A,” I said. You looked at me like I was crazy, and I realized my mistake. Later, you joked, “When you started to spell ‘karate’ wrong backwards, I thought to myself, ‘Well, you learn something wrong every day.” Ha. Ha.
You feel deeply. And, Rachel, I love you deeply. You’re always making me proud as well as making me laugh. Sometimes when your beautiful, brown eyes shine with tears you’re bravely trying to hold back, you make me cry. Or maybe we make each other cry. You’ll always, always be my “Baby Rae,” a child carved from my own passionate heart and sensitive soul.
This eighth year of yours has been wonderful, and I look forward to everything that’s to come and to witnessing you become the special and amazing young woman I know you’re destined to be…
I love you, my sweet “Rae” of Sunshine. Happy, happy 8th birthday!
You’ve always loved animals.
And you’ve always had a lot to ponder and dream about.
When you’re happy, your brimming with joy. But when you’re sad, you’re really sad.
You have always loved nature and being outdoors. (That’s you on the left and a younger Madeline on the right.)
And you will always be my sweet Rae-Rae.
They’re everywhere. The promises of a new year and a new you. Now is the time to reinvent yourself. Get more organized. Quit smoking. Lose 5, 10, 15, or 20-plus pounds. Exercise more. Sleep more. Eat less sugar.
Personally, I really like my 5-year-old’s New Year’s Resolution: Be nice to people. Now that has eternal value.
Funny aside: My 7-year-old uses the least amount of electronics in the house, but she was the one who wants to watch less TV in 2015. She doesn’t play on the computer or even watch much television. She usually has her nose in a book (she read five fat books over the Christmas break), but she also is the one who always thinks she is worse than she is. I’m not sure where she gets that from. Ahem.
I’ve always been a goal-oriented kind of person, so I usually end up scribbling down a few New Year’s Resolutions. Once upon a time at least one resolution had to do with my weight. Even when I claimed I was just thinking of my health, I was guilty of subterfuge. But not this year. This year I want to pray more, write more, and listen more.
I am tempted to add more even though I know that while my goals seem simple, I’ll likely fail pretty miserably at them. Way to believe in myself, eh?
I like to accomplish, but I seem to accomplish big things pretty rarely lately.
Every week I scribble down a to-do list, and I get great pleasure from checking off each item. Look at how productive I am! I like to have things to work for, too, and things to achieve. What I don’t like is failure or feeling like I haven’t accomplished much. But this year has been a year of letting go. And not just for Elsa or her gaggle of pint-sized followers, but for me, too. It all started with the dreadful running injury. I can no longer call it a running injury because I am not much of a runner any longer, although I ran with a running peep this morning and experienced pure euphoria – more from the company than the actual physical exertion. The run didn’t provoke much pain, but walking around the rest of the day and just sitting to teach my child phonics did hurt a bit. I’ll think I’m all better and that BAM! I’ll feel a twinge in my high hamstring area, or my hips will start aching. On a bad day, both hips, my hamstring, and my bum hurt.
Sometimes my body makes me grumpy. Sometimes it makes me sad. But lately it’s made me grateful because despite my dreams of qualifying for Boston or even running another half again perhaps becoming wishful thinking, I feel strong. I am doing quite of a bit of Pure Barre. It’s a low-impact but challenging workout. I don’t weigh myself, but I definitely feel stronger and leaner. The first day I tried the class I felt like an old, uncoordinated dork. It was 80s day, which I didn’t know, and all these young things – who were born in the 90s, mind you – were planking and tucking and shaking in flashy, hot pink workout garb. I was all in black on the back, planking like an elephant probably.
As I tried to follow along and figure out what it meant to tuck, I mourned for my running life. Running was something I could do pretty well. This was new and scary and all the core work wasn’t easy for a mom of four, but I stuck with it. That was way back in early October, and I’m still sticking with it, and I’ve found my groove. When I was leaving my most recent class, the instructor, whom I had not had before, asked me my name. I told her, and she said, “Katie, you had excellent form all throughout class.” This is ridiculously silly, but I thanked her and beamed, and the afterglow lasted at least an hour. I headed out to the cold mist with a bounce in my step, no matter that my high hamstring was nagging me and I felt shaky walking down the stairs after giving my thighs a killer workout.
I went out to dinner with my running peeps to catch up recently as well, and it was a delightful evening. We laughed and chatted, and I was so grateful that all those miles covered had forged true, meaningful friendships. And, of course, I was nostalgic for those morning runs, wishing I could be out there, too, and maybe I will be (I have a pain provocation test tomorrow involving an injection into my hip bone), but what’s been such a blessing is I am starting 2015 totally and completely at peace with the fact that I may not be able to return to the kind of running I once did. This is where the gratitude surprisingly comes in: I am grateful there are other ways I can move my body. I am thankful I can shoot hoops with my daughters; my 10-year-old is playing her first season of basketball and loving it, and I’m enjoying playing Horse and having free throw contests with her in the driveway. I am thankful I can still be active even if I do hurt sometimes.
I am also thankful that I am finally able to approach new ventures – even things as seemingly insignificant as a new barre class – without perfectionism as my sidekick. I lost out on a lot of fun in the past because I would park myself on the sidelines of any activity in life if I knew I wasn’t going to excel at whatever it was. I’m far less afraid now, probably because I fail all the time and motherhood more than anything else has taught me just how little control I have over my children or anything else in my life. I am so glad I’m learning these lessons because I want my children to try new things and to not be afraid to not be the best at everything. I want them have to work hard at something, to know that what starts out tough may one day become easier simply because you stuck with it. And I want them to dust themselves off when they do fall, forgive their own failings, and start again.
I’m talking a lot about exercise these days and my inability to run, but this has been a year of growth in the mothering department as well. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that my mothering life (so far) hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would. I remember when Madeline, who is now 10, was just 2 years old and I found a network of Catholic homeschooling moms, and one of them would always talk about how she could see me having 10 kids and homeschooling them all. That really stroked my pride. I envisioned myself as this super mom effortlessly juggling at least a half dozen kids while still taking daily showers. I have four kids, and I won’t tell you the last time I washed my hair.
And these days, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be a mom of a super-sized family, and I am homeschooling only one child now with plans to have her join her big sisters in that place I once feared so much: REAL SCHOOL. That first year of REAL SCHOOL I felt like an epic failure. I’d run into a friend of mine who still homeschooled, who probably had more kids than I did, and I felt like I was lacking or that they were better than I was. All my comparing and feelings of worthlessness only robbed me of joy and blinded me to the fact that we were all doing okay. I doubted myself and my husband’s decision on a daily basis. At the start of this school year, I still was approaching the year with some trepidation, but something has happened. I see how happy we are, how this is working for my own little family, and I know I didn’t fail at anything. The girls returned to school this morning, and Rachel hopped out of bed this morning and said, “I can’t wait to go back to school!” This doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy her time with me. We loved our lazy break and the slower pace, but she’s happy there, too.
I also don’t care (too much) what others think any longer. I did have a handful of well-meaning homeschooling folks (although the vast majority offered nothing but support) say some hurtful things when I first decided to send my two oldest to school. It wasn’t easy to digest what they said – things like, you only get one chance at mothering your children and if you can homeschool, why wouldn’t you? Of course, these people did not know the clinical depression I was grappling with or the fact that my husband’s hours are unpredictable or the temperaments of my lovely but feisty children. Many times we mothers dole out our opinions in an effort to validate our own choices. We’re not really looking to criticize the other mom or her choices; we’re just trying to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is the best for us and our families.
Now I joke about being a homeschool dropout. I don’t worry so much about if we appear all put together because the truth is, we’re not. We’re a messy but fun bunch. I let my kids choose their clothes – even what they want to wear to the Christmas Eve Mass, providing it’s the right level of decorum. I peruse our thousands of archived photos for the perfect family photo for our Christmas card and instead of becoming frustrated at the dearth of photos where even half of my clan is looking at the camera, I laugh at the wonderful energy this family of mine has, and then I create a Christmas card that is authentically Wicker. And lo and behold, I get more compliments this year than any other year. People crave authenticity.
That’s what I really want to be in this life more than perfect. I want to be authentic. I want to be the kind of person you can come to and reveal your dirty secrets and dirty dishes and know that I’ll love you anyway. I want my children to know in their deepest souls that despite the times I fail them as a mother, despite the chaos that is our life, I love them just the way they are.
One of my daughters, who happens to share my melancholic tendencies, was recently divulging all of her bad memories. She then went on to point out the ways I am not a very good mother. A year ago her diatribe would have made me cry. Or I would have acted strong, but I would have crumbled inside. I would have wept to my husband and sought his reassurance that I was a good mother and that I wasn’t screwing up my children. But tonight I calmly hugged this child. I reminded myself she was angry at me because I had taken a privilege away as a consequence for less than desirable behavior. I told her I was sorry she felt that I wasn’t a good mommy right now and that I knew I was far from perfect and had a lot to work on but that I also knew I was a good mom who gave her very best and who loved her children with an open heart. Then I calmly left the room. It was bedtime, and my child wanted me to stay beside her for longer (ironic that she wanted a monster of a mother to be in such close proximity to her in the dark). She started to rage against the injustices of the world. I told her I’d come check on her in a bit. And I did. I slipped in beside her in a nest of blankets. She threw her arm around me and she whispered, “I am so, so sorry.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For acting like you’re not a good mommy when you’re the best mommy in the world,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” I said, and I squeezed her hand.
“I am so sorry,” she said again, and I realized she was me just a year ago, someone who was always sorry. Sorry for not being better, good enough, perfect. Sorry for not doing more. Sorry for being injured and not being able to run. Sorry for things that were utterly out of my control. Sorry for giving up on homeschooling. Sorry when I truly should have been sorry but not knowing how to open myself to mercy and forgiveness, so that I was consumed by guilt and what-ifs and mired in a despair I couldn’t shake even though to the outside world I was nothing short of a golden Pollyanna. Oh, the acting was exhausting. The guilt-mongering paralyzing.
“It’s okay, my love. I am not hurt. You are completely forgiven.”
“I am sorry,” she whispered one last time burrowing her head into me so that her honeyed hair tickled my face and her tears wet my shoulder.
I am sorry, too, that it’s taken me 30-plus years to let go of trying to be something that I’m not, I thought. And I am sorry that you, my sweet daughter, will have to learn this lesson on your own, that others and their careless acts and barbed words will rob you of your joy, that you might doubt yourself and remember the bad, the criticism, more than the good and all the praise. That you may be blind to beautiful you and not see that you have so much to offer others just by being imperfect you.
I can not make her believe any of this. Life will have to teach her all of it. I hope the wisdom comes to her sooner than it came to me, but it is a lesson she must learn herself.
On the eve of the Epiphany (yes, my tree and decorations are still up but if I’m truthful, the shedding pine needles and extra festooning is driving me crazy), I think of the Magi and what must have been a dangerous, tedious trip. The journey to truth is never straightforward or easy. But when you finally encounter it – even if it’s just a glimmer of truth – you are forever changed.
This new year, I’m not looking to be a new person. I’m just looking to make peace with the imperfect person that I am.
Reflecting on the past year I recognize plenty of moments of happiness and days when I was aware of the blessings that surround me even in the midst of life’s messiness. But far too often happiness was elusive for me because things that were out of my control kept happening, because I too easily let others, situations, things people said (or didn’t say), or self-defeating thoughts take my good feelings away.
Sometimes when I see my mom smile even as I am aware that her constant trigeminal pain is like hatchet permanently being lodged in her face, I can’t help but think, “Joy can always supersede our pain.” Because real, everlasting joy comes from something beyond us. Mean-spirited people can chip away at your happiness. So can everyday stress. So can a toddler who refuses to pee on the potty or an achy hamstring and wonky hips. So can a cancer diagnosis, a death in the family, a miscarriage. Life, no matter how hard we try to inoculate ourselves against unhappiness, will sometimes take good things and good feelings away.
But nothing, nothing can take Him away. He came to us on that first Christmas, and I’ve got to believe that He’s with us still.
All of these ponderings are nothing new. I’ve known them all along, I suppose, but they, I admit, have sometimes felt like nothing more than empty platitudes, cozy Hallmark-like tag lines to give me a temporary pick-me-up. But not right now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll forget this lesson when the laundry and sibling squabbles overwhelm me. Maybe I’ll lose my joy because I’ve lost Him. This is my human condition to be blinded again and again. But it is God’s condition to keep making me see.
And now a glimpse into our Christmas season:
Guess who was Mary in the Nativity play at church? And Rachel, my 7-year-old, sang a duet to “Silent Night.”
I don’t care if it’s a tad blurry. I love the joy personified in this photo.
We had a few spring-like days. Thank goodness because now it feels tundra-like.
I went on a date with my girl. We went to what she referred to as a “very fancy restaurant.” Layla (the dog) wanted to come along, too.
Puppy love. No, she’s not ours, but the kids sure do wish she was. This was one of Madeline’s best friend’s Christmas gifts from her parents. “Geez,” Madeline remarked, “she gets a puppy, and we get hermit crabs.” Yes, my husband and I got the kids two hermit crabs for Christmas. They’re named Padfoot and Speedy and to be fair, we do already have two fish, a cat, and a dog. And is it just me, or is my oldest child looking really, really old all of a sudden?
Here’s to a healthy, happy and joyful 2015!
The only social media outlet I really keep up with these days is Instagram so if you’re hungry for more Wickers, feel free to follow me over there.
Hungry Runner Girl frequently shares a Tuesday Tangent, and I’m jumping on the randomness bandwagon.
1. I had a wisdom tooth extracted yesterday. I felt a bit groggy from the twilight anesthesia (first experience with that and only my second IV; I had to get one when I went into preterm labor at 29 weeks with baby numero 4), but that’s about it. I’m kind of wishing I’d just opted for laughing gas, the cheaper option, since we don’t have dental insurance and our health insurance doesn’t cover any oral surgery, but the oral surgeon advised against it. However, the worst pain I’ve had has been in my hand from where the IV went in; my mouth feels super-duper. Prior to the procedure, I was honestly looking forward to a vacay and just being out of it and confined to the bed with a good book, but I feel pretty much normal. My 9-year-old caught me doing push-ups this morning and said, “Daddy said you weren’t supposed to exercise yet.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “I am feeling fidgety.”
This comes from the same person whose Dad caught her doing the Health Rider when she had a pretty severe case of mono her senior year of high school (liver was affected, I became jaundiced, spleen was enlarged, etc.).
“You’re grounded!” he shouted.
“I already feel like I am grounded!” I snapped back. It’s true I’d been confined to my room for about a month, doctor’s orders. (My parents never actually grounded me during my lifetime under their roof.)
My dad dragged the Health Rider to the basement. The next day he told me he’d had a dream (nightmare?) that he found my bed empty and ran over to the park across the street from our house to discover a glowing Katie (I really was quite yellow from the jaundice) running in the park. I realized then that he really was worried, and I needed to rest for his sake if not for mine.
Flash forward almost a decade, and my oldest child tsks, tsks me for ding push-ups. I’ve always been a stubborn one, and I wonder why my offspring can be so darn tenacious.
2. Last night I did treat myself to what I thought was simply a chick flick but ended up being much more. Do watch About Time if you haven’t already. Don’t let the whole “time traveling” thing stop you. This movie has heart and delivers an important message about how we really ought to live every day like we’ve already lived it because then maybe we’d do a better job at giving our best, noticing the person in front of us (the grocery clerk, the Starbucks barista, the child tugging at our clothes, the spouse lying beside us in bed), taking ourselves and life less seriously, and just being kind. I was weeping at the end of the film, but they were happy, grateful tears. I also happen to love Rachel McAdams, who stars in the movie, although actor Bill Nighy steals the show. You know when you like an actress and you just feel like she seems like a nice, down-to-earth person? Well, that’s how I’ve always felt about Rachel McAdams, and it turns out she is actually a quite likable person in real life. My uncle (one of my dad’s brothers) is an actor – John Pankow – and he was in Morning Glory with her and told me she was super friendly, lovely, and not pretentious at all. I’m glad I’m such a good judge of Hollywood actors’ characters.
3. I’ve been trying to eat a relatively clean diet lately, although I still do imbibe occasionally, love my morning cup of joe, and like me some chocolate every once in awhile. I recently tried this delicious Four Ingredient Protein Pudding recipe, and I highly recommend it. Yum!
4. Last night I realized that maybe two of my little girls (ages 7 and 5) had been a little scared about Mama’s “surgery” (I hesitate to even refer to it as that since it was so minor, and I feel so great). They were asking where they would go if something happened to me. I told them Daddy would take care of them, but that the chances of that happening were very small. They then asked what would happen if something happened to Daddy and me. I told them they would go live with Uncle Josh (my brother) and Aunt Megan but that, again, this probably would never ever happen.
“With Ellyn [their new baby cousin]?” 7-year-old Rachel asked.
“Yes, with Ellyn,” I said.
Five-year-old Mary Elizabeth then gasped happily and said, “Really?”
So much for missing Mom and Dad.
Rachel then started asking big questions about how I’d feel without the kids. “You’d probably have the time of your lives,” said my melancholic.
“No way,” I said. “My life would be awful without you.”
“But,” she argued, “it would be a lot more peaceful.” So maybe there has been some more sibling head-bopping lately, but I’ll take the chaos and craziness over having a quiet house and an empty heart.
5. Well, I had more to ramble about, but kids are hungry (actually, they’re more “hangry” than hungry. Some more head-bopping is going down.).