Monday, May 14, 2018

Boom (Vava's Method)

"I ate a rock once. And here I am, still alive. Boom."  She dropped her line matter-of-factly and then spun off across the beach in a swirl of celebration.

After I stopped laughing, my heart purred a bit.

She's got it, you know. She hasn't yet forgotten the secret that all babies know: that celebrating our own victories is the way to win.

Pascal recently mastered the 2-feet jump.  He claps every time.

And me? I'm over here comparing myself like crazy, mentally standing beside one of you after another, and almost always coming up short.

It's a doozy for the old mental health.

But Vava's method?

"I ate a rock once. And here I am, still alive. Boom."

Yeah. I can do that. I can victory-dance over my own small successes.

I got sucked through a dam once.  And here I am, still alive. Boom.

I lost a baby. And here I am, still alive. Boom.

I take care of four kids every day. And here I am, still alive. Boom.

And here we are, still alive.


Friday, April 13, 2018

First Spring in Smiths Falls

And it's spring,
so we put on our boots and go squelching through the backyard, out the gate, into the woods
A big little boy on my right,
A small little boy on my left.

A blue jay startles and swoops up overhead.
A rabbit leaps over a tiny stream, and tries to hide its enormous softness
behind a few bare branches.
Robins squeak and flirt and hop.
"Hi!" Pascal calls, waving eagerly, "hi!"
And there is nothing in the world to match the wonder on his face.

Through the bare branches, I can see a run-down hotel.
A yard full of boats, still wearing their winter covers.
The grass is still brown, still lying down from the weight of recent snow.
The rumble of traffic echoes across the river.
We are solidly in the center of town
and, yes - here, in the smallish and ugly backside of things,
Spring is bursting beautiful to life.

So far we've seen a turtle,
Maybe twenty snails, and one school of fish.
Geese overhead, and mourning doves on the telephone wire;
Robins, jays, grackles, crows.
Bunnies playing a fierce game of tag.
Dogs, on leashes.
And a raccoon, twenty-five feet in the air, clinging to a bare tree.

We spend the morning throwing rocks into the river
(one of those activities that grows more absorbing the longer you do it)
And at noon we scramble half-wild up the bank
Noses dripping and hair a-frizz, ravenous for lunch;
Startling pedestrians, who haven't yet succumbed
To the sweet messy earthy song
Of spring.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ancient Hebrew Soldiers, on Parenting

I don't often look up from these short minutes.

Wake time runs into
Breakfast time runs into
Bus time runs into
Cleaning time runs into
Playtime runs into
Snack time runs into
Reading time runs into
Playtime runs into
Lunchtime runs into
Naptime runs into
Bus time runs into
Snack time runs into
Playtime runs into
Homework time runs into
Chores time runs into
Suppertime runs into
Bath time runs into
Cozing time runs into
Bedtime runs into
Cleaning time runs into
TV time runs into
Packing lunchbox time runs into
Bedtime runs into
Wake time.

And the liminal space is filled with diapers and dirty socks and Band-Aids and making sure to connect with each little soul on the deep and happy and true place where they live and washing hands with soap please.
And diapers.

The days are mashed together like a package of stuck liquorice and I just pry off

So when I read today in the book of Joshua about tribes building an altar to remind their children's children about the covenant between them, it made me look twice.
In the middle of their journey home from war, they thought about their children's children.
And they stopped.
And they built a monument to remind the future generation of their story.

It might seem like this to them, they thought, we must make sure they know it was like that.

Their bigger story was important to them.
Their multi generational story mattered.

And tonight when Kachi threw up and threw off suppertime at the end of a challenging day, my stuck-liquorice heart threatened to wring its hands at the delay.  But the long view whispered of bigger things and I'm not on a sprint here. I don't get medals for serving supper at precisely 6.

They built their monument in the middle of their journey. On their way. They stopped.

There are children's children to think of.

And I want those kids to be raised by gentle hands and tender hearts. By happy parents who know and are known. By parents who make room and practice patience and go slow.

By parents who weren't rushed and sighed at when they were sick.

(Hideously obvious now that I'm writing it! But when I've got the short view, I'm just thinking of the next thing, instead of the important thing.)

And I found that the long view is a good view in the middle of these short minutes.

PS bedtime was late, but awesome. Complete with slow cuddles and belly laughs and Kachi thanking God for mama.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Sam is almost seven. Seven!

I've always been daunted by seven. One of my favourite authors says a person's character is more or less set by age seven.

I don't feel at all like I've done enough or prayed enough or led by example enough to build in him a strong character in these brief and precious years.

And every now and then I worry a bit. He doesn't like to talk about his feelings, he'd rather learn from watching another kid than listening to an adult, and does he really know, deep down in his soul, how much I love him?

Yesterday, his friend, E, came over to play.  At lunchtime, Patrick asked him if he plays any sports.
E said, "hockey and sockey."
Having heard E struggle with the "er" sound before, I knew he meant soccer.
Patrick, not noticing my frantic eyebrow-signals, asked, "is sockey an indoor hockey game?"

E squirmed, unsure of what to say.

And Sam spoke up matter-of-factly, "E has trouble with saying "er." He plays soccer."

And the conversation rolled on.

I was so proud of my boy.
So proud.

He was kind and forthright. He didn't tease, and didn't ignore the confusion, but he set it right and moved on.

I love my Sam.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


My two best friends in the whole entire world moved away this week.

My heart is sore and tired and afraid.

Life has been so good with them close. They love so comfortably, so easily. They don't demand or expect. They help. They laugh. They give.

They're fun and kind and without a single shred of pretension.

They're amazing.

And now they're gone.

And the yawning emptiness they leave behind makes my heart tremble.

I know I'm a wimp. I just can't picture  life without them.

In church this morning, we were reminded not to be afraid.

Not because our troubles are small.
Not because they don't matter.

No, Jesus never trivializes our pain, our fear.  But He tells us not to fear because He is with us. He does not leave us. He walks with us, all the way through it.

I needed that today. 
And maybe you need it too - the reminder that whatever you're going through, whatever makes your heart ache, whatever leaves you in tears - He is with you.

All the way through.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the stable
There was no place to rest
 - not even a table.
Mary lay on the hay
And she looked awfully sick
As the baby inside her
He kicked! 
The baby was coming
But there was no crib;
No teddies or bottles,
Not even a bib!
Joseph was worried
And pulling his beard
- a baby from God?
It was good! (it was weird!)
Then over his shoulder
A huge star unfurled:
The Messiah had come,
The Light of the World!
The wise men, they saw it,
And set out to travel,
A new star in the sky,
A new truth to unravel!
The Lord's angels sang out,
In awe shepherds huddled.
And Mary?
And Joseph?
And baby?
 - they cuddled.

Merry Christmas, friends! 
Thanks so much for reading along with me for another year.
God bless you & yours.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Night-shift Field-hands

Know what I want to know?

Why shepherds?

Of all the people around Bethlehem that night (and there were lots of people, crowding in for a Caesar's census), why did the angel of the Lord announce Jesus' birth to shepherds?

God was writing this story, so it could have been a little foreshadowing of the fact that Jesus had come to be the Good Shepherd, to give his life for His people, His sheep.

It could have been a nice balance, a nice juxtaposition with the kings who came bearing gifts - the recorded visitors being the night-shift field-hands and the wise men, to show that Jesus had come to all of us, rich and poor.

It could have been one of many reasons, but the one that makes sense to this tired mama is in Luke chapter 2, verse 8: "And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."  They were there, and they were awake ... so he gave them this special treasure.

Being awake when the whole world sleeps is hard.

A few nights ago, Vava came into our room at 3am and wimped and whined and started to cry.  I was so tired.  I couldn't figure out what she was saying.  Kachi had already made his way into our bed around 1, and I was worried Vava would wake him up, so I took her back to her room and cuddled into her bed.  She finally cried out that she was too worried about bugs (we'd had a lice-letter from school, and I had checked everyone's hair carefully before bed).  I asked her what would help, and she told me she wanted me to check her head again.  So we tiptoed downstairs and sprayed her hair and went through it with a fine-toothed comb.  It was clear.

So we tiptoed back upstairs and snuggled back into her bed.  She laid her head on my shoulder and nestled into my arms and fell asleep.

There's magic in that, even when you're beyond exhausted.
There's something heartbreakingly sweet in comforting a fretting heart to sleep.

I have good sleepers, I do, but there are four of them and even if each of them only needs me twice in a week, that's eight wakeful nights out of seven :).  But there are treasures on the wrong side of the clock - extra snuggles, extra conversations, extra closeness.  Sometimes I don't have a chance during the day to whisper "fear not" over a particular child's secret worry, but at night - it's just us.  We can whisper, snuggle down, and I can hold them close and pray with them until their fears cease and they sleep in my arms.

I love that the angel of the Lord appeared to those who were keeping watch over their flocks.
He came with good news - great joy - in the middle of the night.

If you're up in the night this Christmas, I hope you find treasures and unexpected joy there.  Even if you have to break out the nit-comb at 3am ;).

"Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 22, 2017

For the Middle of the Night

I'm a mom, so I can almost always sleep.  I'm so sleep-deprived that I lie down in that soft bed and it doesn't require any effort at all - I just drift off to dreamland.

Also: I'm a mom, so I can't always sleep.  Once I plunge into the glorious depths of cozy dreamland, there's no guarantee I can stay there until morning.  Someone might be lonely, or have a bad dream, or need a fear aired and calmed.  Someone might sleepwalk or remember something funny or absolutely definitely right now need different pyjamas.  Someone might need a drink and have forgotten how cups and taps work.

And then there's the rare night that I lie in bed and yucky things from the news niggle in my mind and I worry about the future and what my kids will have to face and -

and I can't sleep until I remember what the angel of the Lord told the shepherds, who were also up, keeping watch in the middle of the night.

"Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Fear not.
The good news: Jesus is with us.

And I don't know what kinds of flocks you're watching over, friends, but I pray that the good news will meet you where you are.

Fear not. Jesus is with us.

Hunting for Presents

Sam has been hunting for presents for a solid week.

There are only a few under the tree, and he knows I bought more, so he's been prowling around the house, trying to unearth them.

Last Saturday, Patrick and I took the kids out to buy presents for each other.  Doing errands with four kids in Christmas crowds - well, a bit taxing.  By the time we got home, I wanted to hide in our room for a while, or better yet, jump in the car and just drive.  Patrick read my mind.  "Why don't you run up to the city and go to Costco?" he suggested. "I'll give the kids supper and have them ready for bed by the time you come home."

I grabbed the grocery bags and took off.  A Christmas shopping trip, alone!  I turned on the radio and sped off through the sunshine to Costco.

The store was busy.  I didn't have to take anyone to the bathroom when we got there.  I shopped in a blissful haze of kidlessness. I filled up my cart and then loaded it into the truck.  It was full.  Every carseat had something buckled into it - I was astonished to notice that I actually had a truck full of groceries.

There was a time not too long ago when Patrick and I were poor students, getting by on leftovers that we brought home from work.  We certainly didn't have a truck or groceries to put in it.  And suddenly I realized that this wasn't a truck full of errands.  So much more than mere groceries.  It was jam-packed with gifts.

Just like Sam's presents in our bedroom, in the front closet.  He can't find his presents because they don't look like presents.  I haven't wrapped them. They're sitting meekly in wrinkled plastic bags or brown Amazon boxes. They look like groceries.  Like errands.  He pushes past them every time, expecting something that looks different -

Sometimes God cleverly disguises gifts as groceries.
A few minutes to myself.
A thoughtful husband.

And I miss them, walk right on by, worried that He might forget me.
And the gifts actually are all around -

Merry Christmas, friends.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Chance to Give

Sam and Vava's school does the sweetest little fundraiser with the kids in grades K-2.

In December, the school asks parents for donations of gently-used or small, new items. Then, in the last week before Christmas break, they set up a store where the kids can bring in small change ($.25 - $2), and shop for two presents from the donated items.

The parents get surprise gifts, the school raises funds, and the kids get an opportunity to give.

Sure, every year we take our kids out one at a time, give them a little budget, and help them choose presents for their siblings.  But it's always with us. 

This is pure them.

Sam and Vava climbed off the bus today with gift bags swinging importantly from their hands.  They're usually falling all over each other trying to dump their backpacks on the stroller, but they weren't too tired to carry these - this was special.

They warned each other not to tell me what they bought for me - but they couldn't wait to tell me what they bought for Patrick.  As soon as Patrick came home, they dashed to tell him they bought surprises (and showed him what they chose for me).

They tucked their presents under the tree and grinned. 

I remember the first year that it occurred to me that I could give presents too - not just receive them.  I was way older than these guys.  And my gifts were always really lame - ahhh they still are.  Gift-giving is my least-fluent love language - I'm so grateful for Sam and Vava's teachers helping them to learn the joy of speaking it early.

(Teachers deserve huge presents always, but especially this time of year!)

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Weary Mama Rejoices

This morning started in classic Janelle style - dashing like mad to the school bus stop, standing there for ages, winded from running the stroller through shortbread-dough-snow, before a kind mom drove by and rolled down her window and told me the school buses were canceled today.

I had to take Pascal to an appointment on the opposite side of town, so there was no way I could walk the big kids to school and then turn around and walk all the way to the appointment.  So we turned around and headed home.

I was trying to figure out what to do.  Taking all four on a trek through slush and then keeping them quiet through Pascal's vaccines - I wasn't really sure I could manage it. After having strep twice in a month I am not feeling terribly strong and I was already wiped from the morning bus-dash.  My heart cried please help, Jesus! And then my phone buzzed and my brother was texting to ask if I needed any help today.

Just like that.

Some people really are gifts from God.

So they drove all the way down and took us out to Pascal's appointment and the only effort I had to exert was climbing into the van.

I was so tired and overwhelmed and God heard my prayers and sent someone to extend His sweet kindness -

A thrill of hope, the weary mama rejoices!

The gospel is so beautiful, wherever it echoes, and today it rang loud in my tired-out heart.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Also Ordinary Days

When the kids come home from school, they sit up at the counter and have a snack while I prep supper. 

I make sure to have a snack all laid out before we leave to meet them at the bus stop, so they can go straight from boots-off to bar-stool.  Everyday I imagine them racing in the door, climbing up at the counter and laughing together about the funny moments in their day, including Kachi and Pascal in their conversation.

The real post-school-apocalypse is more like they fight over who won on the way home (because everything is a race), complain, demand additional snacks, and share absolutely zero details of their day. 

My kids are normal little humans who just busted their butts all day doing their best and need a little down time.  After being around people, Vava always craves solitude. Like her mama, she is a frustrating mash of introvert and extrovert.  Sam doesn't have much to say about his friends or class until the last ten minutes of his day, when we're snuggled in his bunk, whispering so we don't wake up Pascal.  That's so fine.  My kids are fine.

But my expectations are in serious need of adjustment.

You'd think I'd have adjusted them already.  This isn't the first week of school.  But here I go, day after day, planning on a smooth and blissful afternoon reunion that happens so rarely-

Actually, it happened today.
Today Sam climbed up on his stool (after complaining about it not being his favourite one), and picked up a paper-doll that Vava had made and left on the counter.
"Vava, did you make this?" he asked, waving it at her over Kachi's head.  She nodded, her mouth full of popcorn. "Vivian is so good at drawing and art," he told me, "I love all the things she makes."  And two stools over, two blue eyes were wide and two cheeks were flushed with joy.  Then she responded in kind.
"I love all the things Sam makes with Lego and on Minecraft," she told me, "he's really good at building."
And I was standing by the sink, eyes flooding with tears because this was magic.

But it is definitely rare.

I don't know if we'll keep on doing counter-snack after school.  They need to eat and I love seeing all their faces together after hours apart.  But whether we keep that up or find a different way to welcome them home, I know that expecting those golden moments every day is silly.  I need to plan for the reality that my kids are tired and hungry and will likely be rude to each other, forget their manners, and need some alone time.  Not that I shouldn't correct misbehaviours when I see them, but if my seeing them also includes disappointment of my absurd expectations, that's a lot harder for all four of them to bear.

And I get that way about the 25th.  I have so many happy golden memories from Christmas day that I start to expect the day to unfold in a feel-good montage of flawless ease.  (HA! It's like I forget I'm a parent!)

On her birthday, Vava lost her temper in the hugest way over a small incident.  On her way upstairs for a serious timeout, she let slip the reason why: "everything is supposed to be perfect on your birthday!"  And her outrage over the difference between her expectation and the reality made for a cranky and frustrating afternoon.  I sat down on her bed and assured her that her birthday is not a perfect day.  It's special because we're celebrating, there will be presents, and special company, but it's still a normal day where things might go wrong and we'll probably feel bored or sad or angry at some point and that's okay too.

And as Christmas approaches, God keeps using my kids to remind me of that, reminding me to adjust my expectations, to plan for reality.  Special days are also ordinary days.

Even Christmas days.

Merry (mostly) Christmas, friends!