So I know this guy.
I wrote this about a week ago, in the midst of our packing:
I have just gotten Elvie to stop crying and go to sleep and am sitting for a couple of minutes in the silence. It is late for the boys–usually they are up by this time–but they must be especially tired to be sleeping late. And as if on cue, that thought is followed by the appearance of Ephraim, bleary-eyed and bed-headed, dragging his blanket over to where I sit. We exchange our good mornings, huge and kisses; he goes back out, and Clive comes in for the same morning treatment. After he wanders towards the bathroom, I get up to get Anselm out of his crib, where I can already hear him protesting his brothers’ absence.
When everyone is changed, dressed, hugged and with teeth brushed, we head downstairs for breakfast, a chatty row of ducklings still clutching their favorite blankets and talking about oatmeal. We eat–I’m last because I’m waiting for my coffee to finish–and one by one they ask to be excused and trot off upstairs. Once they are all squared away with toys and a show so I can focus on another day of packing, I hear Elvie begin crying from the other room.
Some days are just like this. Not every day–yesterday wasn’t–but some days I seem to bounce from child to child to child to child, kindergartener to preschooler to toddler to infant, in a sweet and essential cycle of hugs and kisses and meals and ouchies and nursings and what’s this? and where’s that? and sorries and forgivings and several other words I could also make up right this moment. There’s no exasperation in days like this (well, except for when Elvie is inconsolable for no apparent reason) but it certainly feels very busy.
Our oldest, Ephraim, is about to turn five, and it wasn’t very long after he was born that I felt a tug on my heart that I wasn’t sure what to do with.
We attend a church with a children’s program run by devoted, loving church members who prioritize the spiritual health and wellbeing of the kids in our congregation. And yet I was feeling very strongly that our kids needed to stay in church with us.
It was just days, I think, before Ephraim was born, that I was talking with a friend about his name; she, full of concern, confided in me that she hoped I had some sort of nickname in mind for him, because it was a very grown-up name for a little boy.
I was perplexed then by this, and it still perplexes me now. It was an interesting step into the judgement and self-doubt of parenthood, for sure. His name was too grown-up? He was going to grow up some day. We had named him for then, not for this fleeting season called childhood. We knew he would need to grow into it, but we also knew that he would. I’m not sure what the alternative would be–giving him a child-appropriate name for his life? Surely that would be worse than the inverse?
As it was, we did have a nickname in mind and we did use it for him, interchangeably with his real name, for the first couple of years of his life. We stopped for no particular reason other than I just really liked his real name better–I don’t think he has ever suffered for the change.
Last month I took the boys, by myself, to a Sacred Harp singing down in The City (that’s what we call it in our house; that cluster of gleaming buildings to the south of us.) I was daunted before we even went. I had avoided singings since Ephraim was born, simply because I had no idea what to do with a child during them. It is a very communal event–there is no childcare. Everyone participates. I couldn’t wrap my head around what taking the kids would look like.
Clive was rewarded a treat for good behavior today. (To protect his dignity, I won’t say what it was for.) Because it was a favorite treat, Ephraim joined in, too. Thankfully Clive is of the age where treat sharing is of a “the more, the merrier” mindset, and not jealousy for the fact his special treat is being enjoyed by someone else. He was so excited, and even more ecstatic that Ephraim would be able to partake.
Interesting tid-bit: the boys call popsicles “stick-in-the-holes”, because there is a hole at the bottom of the popsicle where the stick goes in. It has, like “chicken milk” (eggnog), become the vernacular in our home.
See that little bandage on his forehead? That’s from where he ran headlong in the corner of the kitchen bar and split his head open. Thankfully it was a clean tear (very clean, apparently, since the nurse kept commenting on that) and they were able to glue rather than stitch it shut.
Here, Ephraim was asking me about what spiders say to flies, and vice versa. It’s time to read him that poem.
3:43 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon; outside a storm is rolling past. Just some thirty minutes ago, thunder rolled so loudly that our little office in the basement seemed to shake. I went upstairs to listen and hear if anyone’s nap was disturbed, but there was no noise to tell that the three children were not still sleeping. Outside there was no rain, and while overcast, the sky was not nearly as dark as I would have expected from such a great noise, though a glance at the radar showed a menacing cell looming just to the north of us. If not for that one great rumble, it would have passed undetected by our quiet little afternoon.
You may be here to see what there is to make up for my soon-to-be-marked absence from Facebook. I’m sorry to say there is not too much, yet, though am highly idealistic that this space will not disappoint for too long. I am not promising anything Earth-shattering, nor too novel–just attempting, really, to be more intentional about what is shared, and how it’s done.
I’ve gotten a few messages after my announcement that I would be leaving Facebook. Some have been encouraging, others disappointed, others curious. “Why?” is, of course, a main question. It’s a hard one to answer without rambling for hours. Years of misgivings and yearnings can’t really be summed up in a few neat sentences, but I will try: For all its good (and I do think it is good) Facebook has become for me a means of stifling my creativity, of distracting me from important things around me, of sucking the joy of relationships from “real life”, of forgetting how to be gracious with people. Not to mention that, after nine years with it, my attention span has been whittled down to basically nothing. If I had the self-discipline to limit it, I’m sure most of these things wouldn’t be a problem. But, I don’t, and I’m tired of wrestling with it.
Speaking on a purely creative level, the ease and swiftness of sharing on Facebook has cut me off at the knees. I can’t count the number of times I stopped writing something or deleted a blog post because, compared to a Facebook post, it felt wordy and superfluous, and that no one would read it because of that. Or the times I’ve decided that something I’ve shared was worthless because it didn’t garner the amount of feedback in the length of time I thought it would. Or, again, the times where I thought I would expound upon a thought, but decided that a short and sweet picture on Facebook would be easier. Over the course of nine years, I’ve forgotten how to write, how to finish a thought, how to even communicate without an emoji.
A few days ago, I literally fell on my knees in my sitting room, burying my face on the sofa and crying out to God, appealing to Him as the Master Creator, to help me in my fractured, frustrated creativity, in my ideas that never reach fruition, in my energy that is spent before I’ve even started, in my thoughts that leap everywhere but the path I need them to follow.
The next morning I talked with Jeremy about my frustrations with social media and what I feel like it’s doing to my life. He suggested I cut it out. I worried about staying in touch with people. He gently reminded me that there are many other ways to be in touch with people. I worried about sharing about our family. He gently reminded me that that is what the blog is for.
He was right, and I started mentally preparing myself for the transition out of what has been a way of life for the past nine years. It will not be easy. I don’t know people’s phone numbers, their addresses. I haven’t sent a real birthday card in years.
In short, Facebook has been a means of artificiality for years. I am ready for something a little more real, for my sake, and for the sake of the little people who look to me for their example.
Tonight we’re taking the boys to a Sacred Harp meeting for the first time (well, Ephraim went to one when he was at 20 weeks gestation; I doubt he remembers it.) It’s been nearly five years for me, since I’ve been to one. They’re familiar with the music because I do listen to it at home every now and then.
I have literally been waiting years for this–to be able to go to a singing with the boys. These meetings are, to me, the antithesis of something like Facebook. They’re rich in history, in tradition; they’re face-to-face with living, breathing people, singing songs that have been sung for generations of believers. They remind me that there is something that transcends what is trending. They can’t be shared in an instagram post (though I will probably try.) I have never seen a photo or video that captures completely what it’s like to sit in that square, with people not singing for an audience, not leaving anyone out, not separating the musical Can and Can-nots, singing our beliefs and our tradition.
I’m not planning on singing, not taking pictures, though hopefully I’ll have something to share on the experience soon.
Each December for the past five years, we’ve been blessed with the use of a veritable Cabin In The Woods for a weekend getaway. The first year it was just us, then the second I was nearing the end of my pregnancy with Ephraim. Each visit has seen our family expand and grow. It’s been an eventful five years.
Usually we spend the weekend enjoying the winter feel of the place–sitting by the fire, watching Christmas films, cooking and eating an embarrassing amount of food, and watching HGTV while the kids nap (hey, I only get to do that twice a year, so it’s a real treat.) This year, the freezing overnight temperatures gave way to afternoons in the 60s, so we made our way down to the river for a while.
GrandMaggie stayed in the cabin while Anselm napped, but the rest of us climbed the winding staircase down the hill and to the water.
From a photography standpoint, it was sort of a nightmare (full sun next to water) and from a mother’s standpoint, it was nerve-wracking (two small children on slippery rocks next to moving water). Despite all that, it really was a beautiful spot and the temperature was perfect.
The day before your middle son’s birthday, browse the cake recipes you have pinned, skip all the ones with chocolate in them, and you’ll be left with one white cake recipe (that you’ve made before and was quite good.) Make sure that you have all the necessary ingredients (you don’t, and your car is blocked in by mounds of gravel and a mini-bulldozer thing; you won’t be able to get out without driving across the neighbor’s yard.) End up searching again for another recipe. Find a yellow one that is fairly straightforward and decide to go with that.
On the morning of your son’s birthday, set out the butter for the frosting and cake itself. Realize you actually don’t have enough for both. Briefly consider halving the recipe and decide that you don’t want to do math. Ask your husband if he can run out for butter and eggs later when he has a minute. He will say maybe.
Meanwhile the Birthday Boy will manage to get his first wasp sting on his thumb. It will start to swell a little. Put ice on it and call pediatrician. Leave message (with Birthday Boy screaming in the background). Text your good friend who knows way more about all health things than you do. She will give sound advice, including giving Benadryl. You don’t have any. Birthday Boy will now stop crying and just play. Your husband will drive the van across the neighbor’s yard while they’re not a home so you can go get Benadryl. Bonus: now you can get butter and eggs for the cake, too.
Walk through the store with your butter and eggs and Benadryl and pass the birthday cakes. Briefly stop and wonder if you should just get one here. Feel intensely guilty that Biggest Brother had homemade cakes on his birthdays, but Birthday Boy has only had storebought thus far. Buy butter, eggs, and Benadryl and leave.
Feed everyone and put them down for naps. Make cake batter. Dye it green for no reason except your son’s name reminds you of that color (probably because it rhymes with “chive”. Forget one step, but don’t realize it until the end, when it’s too late. Hope that the cake comes out anyway. One layer does, but the other doesn’t.
Think for a second.
Remember that moment in the store with all the pretty cakes, already made and ready to eat.
Try to stop thinking about it.
Use the destroyed layer and the killer buttercream frosting you’ve already made to make little balls a-la-cake pops, except you have no cake-pop-stick-things, so just roll balls and stick them on a plate. Make a sugar glaze and drizzle on top. Then dye some sugar pink and sprinkle it on top because Biggest Brother is obsessed with Winnie The Pooh’s “little cake things with pink sugar icing” and asks for them all the time.
Decide while you’re making them that you’re going to call them “Birthday Flop Balls” and make them every year just because.
Test one assembled and pink-sugared Birthday Flop Ball (BFB) and decide it’s good enough, but you wouldn’t serve it to company.
After dinner, give BFBs to children. Biggest Brother will devour his and ask for more. Birthday Boy will take one nibble and spit his out. Decide that he will be OK with storebought cakes from now on.
If you frequent 18th-century forts, fireside chats, or trade fairs, chances are you’ve run across a dirty, raggedy, snaggle-toothed Irishwoman named Maggie Delaney who cheerfully demonstrates colonial laundry methods or educates the public on the horrors of indentured servitude.
If you haven’t met her, then you and I are in good company. I’ve actually never met her, either.
Now this is sort of complicated. Maggie Delaney is my mother. But no—she isn’t my mother. My mother is Carol Jarboe—who sometimes comes to my home wearing Maggie’s clothes, kisses me and my husband and my babies quickly before running upstairs to wash all that dirt off, then come back downstairs the lady I have known my whole life as Mommy.
But it occurred to me recently that maybe—just as I know of Maggie, but haven’t met her—maybe this woman I call “mom” is just as unknown to me. Not because I haven’t met her (obviously) but perhaps because my own naivete and self-centeredness has simply caused me to see her through a darkened lens. Like the child in that touching Mothers Day video, I have always seen her through the frame of my own life.
Let me explain.
Last week I was standing in the kitchen, cooking lunch for the family and reading this article on the growth of the homeschooling movement. According to research, the number of homeschoolers in the US has increased by 75% since 1999. (Aha! I think to myself.) Currently, 4% of the population teaches their children at home.
Woah, woah, woah. My kitchen and everything in it came to a screeching halt. 4%? That’s it?
Upon reflecting, it does of course make sense that the number would be small, but since I was raised in the homeschooling community and am still mostly surrounded by it, I never really considered how rare it actually is. And if the number of homeschoolers reaching 4% of the population is considered an “uprising”, then what must it have been twenty-something-odd years ago when my own mother took it upon herself to pull us out of our private school and teach us at home?
Suddenly I was doing a double-take at my memory of Mom teaching us the three R’s in our living-room-turned-schoolroom and it’s like I had suddenly realized she’s wearing brass knuckles and a leather jacket. Because taking on homeschooling when hardly anyone you know does it, when your family isn’t supportive, when there’s no blogs and no Pinterest and hardly even curriculum fairs because there’s only, like, three different ones to choose from anyway is NOT FOR WIMPY PEOPLE.
I would use a word right now, but because my Mama raised me better I’ll just say “bad-backside” instead. It’s pretty BAD-BACKSIDE.
Once my perspective shifted, I couldn’t stop it. When you grow up in a particular environment, you can’t help but take it for granted because it’s all you’ve known. But I could see now that things I considered normal or even commonplace were hardly that. Oh, I’ve known for a long time that Mom was different. Don’t get me wrong. But now I get it—I really get it. I get what she did.
When my sister and I were babies, she memorized a poem a week to recite to us. (Even today, when I read “The Willow Cats” to Elder Muse, it’s her voice I hear.) She went back to school to finish her degree so she could quit her job to stay home and teach us. She also ran the farm during the day while Dad was working full-time. She taught us the classics and exposed us to Music, real Music, the kind you can sink your teeth into and set your clock by, not “Devil Music” (that one is for you, you know who you are.) She taught us to swing dance in the living room with the green carpet and showed me how to make fried chicken. She drove me to ballet when I wanted to become a Prima Ballerina; later she drove me all over God’s green Earth to find a college with the major I wanted. Also, she once broke up a fight outside a mall when no one else would intervene. I’m telling you.
All this time my mom was a ROCKSTAR for crying out loud, and I didn’t even realize it because it was my “normal.”
Someone asked me recently what I had gleaned from my homeschooling experience and I didn’t answer because the answer was “EVERYTHING.” And that sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s true. For me, there is no line between what schooling was and what it wasn’t our home life was our school life was our work life and Mom made it her priority and without it I wouldn’t be the person I am.
And right there in my kitchen, I had to laugh, because all of a sudden I remembered Maggie and I realized I knew her all along, that cheery, wild woman who overcame devastating hardships for the education and betterment of those around her. She’s my mother. And I love her.