The Princess Has Left The Room

Holding the silky white pieces of fabric, shaped like medieval banners, tinged in pink with golden symbols and connected to each other with soft pink ribbon, was causing my heart to ache. This fabric of childhood dreams and fantasy, once the subject of delight and joy needed to be folded and put away. This banner accompanied by light purple, gauzy draperies wrapped around the posts of a four poster bed, once daintily draped the top of my daughter’s white canopy bed. The fabric, slightly faded and stained, was showing it’s age.

I embraced the solemness of the moment as I folded. I gave myself permission to reminisce and honor the princess who once slept and dreamed of her kingdom in a bed adorned by princess draperies, It was time to accept the princess was no longer in residence.

Watching little princesses grow into strong, confident women is not a new experience for me. This was the fourth princess in my life to disappear. I knew to not be shocked or even surprised, but darn it if this moment didn’t catch me by surprise and take my breath away for just a moment.

This casual moment of redecorating, changing the princess canopy out for shiny, colorful marbleized globe lights, was placed too close in a week’s timeline that began with dropping the next oldest sister at college in North Carolina. Time, slippery and unforgiving, was continually marching forth, changing princesses to teenagers to college undergrads. I was feeling the full force of it and it was causing my heart to hurt.

I calmed my heart and finished my work. I took a moment to survey the bedroom and understand I needed to make space for new memories. The princess may have left the room, but a beautiful, artistic, blossoming young woman was taking residence. She is making this former Princess bedroom her own. She is in the process of finding her voice and unique sense of style. If I’m lucky, if I pay attention closely, she will invite me to her world and show me all the goodness that can be found there.

The princess may have left, but the kingdom remains cloaked in globe lights, photos of friends, dirty clothes, books, an overstuffed school backpack, pointe shoes, strength, and beauty. She is destined for greatness.

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I love you but your room is a mess…..

My youngest daughter Sierra has a beautiful gentle soul and loves to draw. She composes poetry, short stories and essays as ritualistically as breathing. She has the voice of a songbird, delicate, light and often imperceptible. She is blonde, beautiful, long-legged and swiftly surpassing me and her sisters in height. Sierra’s beautiful, uniquely wonderful qualities are beginning to mix with a disastrously messy room. She is standing on the brink of womanhood alternately embracing then running from the experience. She is thirteen going on fourteen.

My youngest son, Aidan helps me through the transition of his slightly older sister. His is 10 going on 11 and sees the world with clear, introspective eyes.His hormones have not erupted into a drill sergeant directing his thoughts and actions, at least, not yet.As the youngest of six, he has observed his teenage siblings with awe, wonder, and compassion. He understands them in a way many parents can not, and routinely offers me advice.

Aidan and I developed a little game to entertain ourselves during our journey between his sisters’ school drop off and the 15 traffic lights (I’ve counted them) to his school. A typical morning drive to school generally summons a reminder to play.

Slam! our car shudders in response to the departure of Sierra and her 17 year old sister. Hunched by the weight of their backpacks, they slog up the few steps to the school door. Disgust and exhaustion compete for top billing on their faces. I watch them briefly, sigh, and remember when they would skip instead of slump. The game commences.

“Have a nice day!” “Thanks Mom for the ride!” “Love you!” Aidan and I chant appropriate responses for the girls. We offer up the thank you for them, knowing it has been buried in the temporary darkness invading their hearts.

Aidan finishes the round of play. “I will never be that way Mom, I promise. I will NOT get the teenage disease.”

The Teenage Disease: Aidan’s artfully coined term that guides one needing to learn to live with young adults in transition.

The teenage disease grants perspective. I can detach from the emotional onslaught of anger, bitterness and joy that often shows up in waves within a short 30 minute car ride. These emotions are only symptoms. Remembering the afflicted reminds me to offer compassion instead of judgement. It summons portions of the endless amounts of patience required of a mother of teens.
The teenage disease.

It has many symptoms: depression, moodiness, exhaustion, hunger, disorganization, strength, intense focus, deep introspection, and creativity. The often troubling concern with the teenage disease is that these symptoms can all be experienced within a 24 hour period, and often with great intensity. As a care provider to sufferers of the teenage disease, I generally measure its level of influence by walking into a patient’s bedroom or glancing into their school backpack. Each venue offers a true reflection of the internal struggle. The morning car ride often also serves as a quick assessment.

What Aidan and I discuss as we drive past those 15 stop lights is that this disease will not win. It is not terminal. Sure, it takes hold, often raging body and mind for years, but it does subside and the patient will be restored. Mercifully, the victims of the teenage disease often experience short periods of remission, little futuristic glimpses of a restored whole person more incredible than anything we could ever hope for. It’s a long, arduous battle fighting the teenage disease, but with love, patience, prayer, and lots of pizza, we always win.

Christmas in July

It happened in one quick moment. I was making the egg salad. My two youngest kids and I were chatting about the need to keep tabs on the dog who recently had taken to leaving “presents” throughout the house.

“I don’t want her leaving “presents” in the living room”, I said. “It’s just not good”.

“Yeah”, my 10 year-old son agreed. Always ready for a dose of potty humor, he added, “No presents unless you’re Santa Claus”. We laughed.

I paused before adding my signature dill. A parenting moment had popped up and was staring me in the face. It was actually waving its arms to get my attention. I tried to dismiss it, but knew it wouldn’t go away easily.

I never officially had “the Santa Claus” talk with my youngest two kids. I listened to my internal argument, “not now, you don’t won’t to steal their childhood”. I looked at my beautiful, blonde, almost 13 year-old daughter, and “I swear did he grow again” son and felt my mother’s denial lose its grip.

It’s July. I always addressed this issue during summer months with my older kids. It always seemed less traumatic six months out, rather than in the midst of the holidays. But surely they already know, I argued with the nagging prod logic to broach the subject. Should I even bother? My internal argument of denial revived, until I silenced it with one quick question.

“What do you guys think about Santa Claus”?

Silence.

I noticed my daughter steal a look at her brother.

“I mean, who do you think Santa really is?” I stirred in the dill imagining the despair of crushed fantasies.

Silence.

It was dreadfully awkward. My stupid question had lit a bomb in the kitchen and we were quietly waiting for it to blow. How could I allow the destruction of childhood fantasy to be served with a side of pasta salad and corn dog? I was an awful mother!

My dear, sweet, youngest son, ever conscious of my emotional state, stepped up and filled the void. He would throw himself on the bomb.

“I think…..” he said pausing just long enough to turn, face me, and produce a mischievous smile. “….it’s Mommy Claus and Daddy Claus.”

I began to relax. His sister, however, did not respond. She waited.

“And, what do you think?” I asked re-lighting the fuse, while she silently munched and stared at her plate. She is an artistic dreamer, a believer in fairy tales and fairies, the world is magic in her eyes. I felt the cruelness of pushing the issue, but I had to didn’t I? I looked away, afraid to watch the destruction of her child-like spirit. Waiting for the bomb to explode.

A bit of silence. She stared at her plate, I returned to the egg salad. I sensed a keen awareness of a unified, quiet dance around the truth. Were we both afraid to close the door on yet another landmark of child-like innocence? I had to take the lead.

“Sierra, who do you think Santa Claus is?”

“Well…. I don’t think he could possibly be one person”, she offered. I relaxed. She smiled at me. She knew.

I was so relieved. My conversation bomb was filled with feathers. Their pysche was intact.

“When did you guys figure out who Santa really was”?

“A few years ago”, admitted my son.

” I think it was the year that Santa’s presents were wrapped with the same wrapping paper that you used for Dad’s presents”, my daughter said.

“Why didn’t you say something?” I asked.

“Because it’s fun to believe”, she said. My son agreed.

We discussed logistics of Christmas presents. We discussed cultural traditions and the symbolism of Christ’s birth connected to St. Nicholas. We recalled the fun of “playing the Santa Claus game” as pre-schoolers and Kindergarteners. We ate the rest of our lunch and planned out our day.

After lunch, we went outside to mow, rake, and collect grass trimmings for our massive yard. Yard work provides lots of time for thinking. As I worked in the hot sun, side by side with my youngest children, I had a small revelation.

My babies, the “little kids” weren’t really little any longer. Somehow, without me consciously realizing it, these two slipped from childhood into the lives of young adults. Thank goodness for Santa Claus. He showed up in our kitchen unexpectedly today, and dropped off one last gift for me. Well done.

Sierra, Author age 12

My daughter, Sierra is 12. She is studying poetry at school.

I’ve been having a very bad week. Sierra is a quiet, pensive soul.  She knows me. She understands me.

Last night, Sierra worked quietly at our kitchen table while her younger brother and I chatted about his school science project. While we surveyed Pinterest with the help of my smarter-than-me phone, Sierra was writing.

Did you know you could make an a layered cake of the earth’s surface, or a model of the moon’s phases with Oreo cookies? Life is good when you can eat your Science project. Aidan shares my passion for over the top, crazy projects, so we filled up “Aidan’s Science Museum” board with one edible science project idea after another. We laughed at the absurdities. We watched crazy Youtube videos and plotted how to manage getting (and serving) similar projects to school. Sierra was thinking, writing and coloring on her paper. A quiet presence typical of a middle child used to waiting for opportunity to join dialogue of large family conversations.

And then, she spoke. “Do you want to hear a poem I wrote”.

“A poem?”

Her question interrupted our viewing and commenting of a Youtube video produced by a homeschool family. They were recreating the layers of the earth with M & M’s, Rice Krispie treats and chocolate Magic Shell ice cream topping. Perhaps the edible earth layer instruction could wait. We paused the video.

“Sure”, I said. “Read us your poem”.

My gentle-spirited, daily blossoming, nearly teenaged daughter lit up the room with words.

Colored Pencils
by Sierra

I stare at the splash of colors in a box
I run my fingers slowly over the tips of the pencils
I have to do it!
I pick one up
And I start coloring outside the lines

And there it was. The power of words. While Aidan and I were looking for inspiration, Sierra was creating it. While Aidan and I were entertained and distracted by video and hyperlinks, it was Sierra’s words that brought clarity to the moment.

“Sierra”, I said. “That is really beautiful”.

I studied her young face amazed at the depth behind her eyes. Her wide smile reflected a countenance of victory and accomplishment.

“Thanks” she said.

It was that moment when the hardness of my week began to melt away. For regardless of what the world was trying to teach me about broken relationships, unemployment, death, and violence, love and inspiration were still present.  At that moment, that fraction of time, I felt the reassurance that it is okay to be different than the world expects. Despite the negativity, despite the opposition, there is a place for the rogue traveler, the one who craves a better world than the one being presented.

My young son, his goofy sense of humor, and passion for the crazy, and my artistic, deep-thinking daughter with her poetic inspirations were sitting at my kitchen table with me in the midst of a terrible week. They were a clear reminder of a better tomorrow. Life can be hard. Life can be cruel. But, during these moments of discouragement and despair, it only takes a moment to re-focus and learn it’s okay to color outside the lines.

Penguin Sweater

I got a penguin sweater for Christmas. My daughters and I were shopping at Kohl’s when I first saw it. With a fluffy white tummy and silver sparkly bow tie, I couldn’t think of any prouder honor than to sport this fat penguin on a cold, snowy day.

My teenage daughter, fashion consultant, cautioned against it.

“But, it’s SO CUTE!” I countered.

The Penguin Sweater

The Penguin Sweater

The older daughter, having lived through more of these episodes than her younger sibling, and having let go of the hope of transforming me into a fashion forward maven, said they would alert my husband.

I left the sweater hanging on the rack, secretly hoping we would meet again.

I’ve come to realize, that such a powerful fashion accessory as the coveted penguin sweater takes careful moderating. We’ve had, like most of the country, a particularly snowy, blustery winter. I could have easily worn my penguin sweater every day. Conscious of the cautioning of my daughters, I’ve had to choose selectively when to go all penguin. It’s been a struggle.

It’s now near the end of February and old man winter is not letting up. I’ve read the depressed Facebook posts of friends regarding winter, the braggarts’ posts of basking in the Florida sun, but I’m not saying a word. Sure winter has it’s downside, but when else can you wear your favorite penguin sweater?

So bring on the snow! Blow all the arctic air my way! Slushy streets, salt trucks, and icy patches? No problem. I’m rocking my penguin sweater!

Baby Books

Some things just slip off the radar when you enter Grad school in the midst of raising six kids. Cleaning my youngest son’s bedroom was one of those things. This past December, I decided the time had come to tackle this 9 x 12 section of my home that held enough contents to fill a room twice its size.

My son was at school, making it safe to enter the room with a large black trash bag, all-purpose cleaner, and paper towels. I was determined to downsize, clean and organize the remains.  After filling the trash bag, and two large plastic toy bin drawers, I faced the worst part of the job, a large, white, pressed wood, floor-to- ceiling shelf unit serving as toy/book storage.

As the youngest of six, Aidan had inherited all the children’s books and toys that ever graced the entrance to our home. His shelving unit was filled with a mass of childhood treasures, but mostly books. If I tossed old, long forgotten, and disregarded books, Aidan might have room for his burgeoning Lego collection. Throwing away old books seemed like a reasonable idea, in theory.

Fortunately, only my oldest daughter has inherited my obsession for books. The other children, when streamlining their bedrooms, rationally place outgrown, copies of Dr. Seuss or Corduroy the Bear, in donation bags with old clothes.  I routinely follow up by foraging through the donation bags, motivated by a desire to rescue precious texts. I helpfully suggest a more practical and responsible act would include giving the books to a younger sibling.  This “pass it on” practice saves me the agony of wrestling with bibliophile issues. Salvation ended, however when I ran out of children.  As I look at Aidan’s messy shelves, I realize they represent twenty-two years of childhood.

Sighing deeply, I know what needs to happen.  I begin to sort, wondering how I can part from board books filled with“special edition” illustrations drawn by former two year olds. Their worn edges and cracked binding tell a story of a different time. Countless Scholastic paperbacks with missing pages hold reminders of young children pouring over thin newsprint catalogs, dreaming of a new book to call their own.  A worn copy of Five Little Monkeys delivers a memory of distant bath-times and squeaky -clean toddlers with wet heads smelling of coconut. I remember the feeling of little warm bodies pressed against my chest as I rocked and read. And this. Moo, Baa, La, La, La– Didn’t I recite this for at least 1,000 naptime reads in the middle of the day, while guiltily wishing for a break? Even then I knew I needed to savor the moment. I knew this day would come.

The toddlers that once held these books are now in high school fretting over AP exams and college choices.  The pre-schoolers are in college fretting over GPA’s, tuition prices, and graduation requirements. The baby is eight years old. It is time to deal with reality and place these books, these memories, where they belong.

I realize I am fortunate.  By having six children, I have managed to extend cuddly reading time, the life of these books, way past a normal experience of the average family.  But now, the truth lies in my hands.  The books are aged and truly need to be discarded. The little children who once held them, read them, and treasured them have moved forward in life.

I survey the remnants of childhood and feel their power.  These pieces of cardboard, paper, ink, staples and glue are so much more. They are the gentle sway of a rocking chair and a warm, snuggling child on my lap. They are a Christmas morning squeal, a Spot the Dog birthday celebration, a naptime, and bedtime ritual. These seemingly insignificant, worn texts hold within their pages treasured memories; a record of childhood and early motherhood.

As I pick through familiar titles of stories once memorized, I am overwhelmed with emotion. The brevity and shifting evolution of life is an ominous foe. These little pieces of literature remind me of snuggles in bed before a thousand kisses and “I love you”s to chase away the monsters. They speak of giggles and joy bursting forth from a shared love of poetry and prose. They reflect long afternoons of “just one more story” that I thought would never end. These treasures are the captivating peace and beauty of a sleeping child whose breathing slows as you whisper, “And good night to the old lady whispering…hush”

I dust off the titles gently and place them in neat stacks on the floor. These books are my Velveteen Rabbit of mothering.  They are precious and loved because they no longer represent crisp, pristine copies of unknown stories and adventure. They are precious because they remind me of the power of language, the written word, and my great love of reading,. This love, shared and transferred to my children, is a powerful force. This love has transformed raggedy books into real, precious artifacts of life.

The streamlining of childhood toys will have to wait. I need to find a tote box to house the worn, tattered books. For some day, I hope to sit in a rocking chair and once again hold a precious child. I will smell their sweet, wet head and enjoy the weight of their body resting on my chest. I will gaze at the miracle of life and patiently recite the words held on the pages “one more time”. I will stroke their hair as they drift off to sleep and know what only a grandmother can know. Time races forward, but through written words we freeze it in a perfect, precious memory.

Poem in my Pocket Day

The other day I pointed my car at the interstate for another dismal, mad rush home. I hate commuting, dodging cars with distracted drivers, and the endless stops and starts. It was another dreary day in a string of gray, drizzly days, with lower than average temperatures. Northeast Ohio Winter is easily summed up with one word. Gray.

As my car gathered speed to join the pack, I sighed audibly, feeling the weight of oppressive, depressing weather and circumstances. Then my eye caught a flash of yellow peeking out of the brown grass beside the road berm. I merged into the line-up, but took the time to examine the little ray of sunshine that had caught my eye. Sure enough, there they were. A tiny little cluster of daffodils waving their heads with optimism to any fortunate passerby taking the time to notice. These little sprites of spring cheered me. Their image transformed my thoughts of drudgery to the words of William Wordsworth, I couldn’t help but recite.

In third grade, my teacher made the class memorize a poem! Such drudgery. Such uselessness. Or so we all thought. The words were strange and awkward to our young minds. “Who cares about daffodils”? We all asked one another. Our teacher not only had the audacity to make us memorize the words of a dead poet, but she also made us perform the poem for each other. We were convinced the adults in charge of our education had lost their minds. We were sure there would be no lasting benefit to memorizing a poem about flowers.

I cannot tell you how often in my adult life I have been ashamed of my 3rd grade attitude. I do understand where it probably originated. I believe we are a product of our culture more times than we would like to admit, and it is only through education that we overcome it. How often in American culture do we honor the poet? Why do we fail to realize the value of beautiful words, words that bring forth the rhythm of life and give birth to deep emotion and meaning? It is a shameful thing.

If it were not for Mr. Wordsworth’s gift of poetry, my heart and mind would not be transformed by a vision of tiny daffodils on a road embankment. My gray day would have remained lackluster and tiring. My thoughts upon an initial vision of yellow quickly passing my window, would not tap a memory engrained through the efforts of my 3rd grade teacher. I would not have perceived the hope, promise, and joy these beautiful words ignite:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

Today as we rushed out the door, my daughter announced, “It’s “poem in your pocket day”.

“It is?!” I responded. “How lovely. How absolutely lovely”.

Thank you Mr. Wordsworth for the poem that will always remain in my “pocket”. It enriches my adult life more than I could ever imagine .