Beginning the pictures on a new project... Watercolors make me happy!
Watercolors + Baby = Joy! This is your mathematical equation for the day.
Hope you find joy today, too.
Ok. I’ll admit it. I’ve got a secret agenda. For twenty years now, I have been trying to grow a cardiologist. I buy doctor kits, plastic stethoscopes, bandages, biology books…I promise to help with tuition.
It’s not working.
No matter how many textbooks I buy, no matter how many educational “field trips” to the doctor we have made, I got nowhere. I can’t tell you how many hours we have spent playing cardiologist. When I only had daughters, I deliberately chose only female doctors and dentists, hoping the girls could see role models around them. That didn’t work, either. Once, on an urgent care visit, a male doctor entered the room and my daughter thought he was a fake. In her experience, only girls were doctors. I did try hard.
For all my efforts, the closest I got was a child interested in the Boy Scout First Aid Manual. Then she got mad because she couldn’t be a Boy Scout. But that is another story.
The first Barbie my daughter had was a doctor. I finally caved on the whole Barbie thing, because she came with a lab coat and stethoscope. But you know what? Within a short amount of time, she was wearing strapless ball gowns and high heels. What a sham.
“Don’t worry, she’s still a doctor, Mom!” my then-three-year-old assured me. “She’s just a pretty doctor!”
My plans have failed.
Until this week.
Somehow, after twenty years of playing doctor and performing play surgery with spoons and dolls, the tide seems to have turned. Someone is interested.
For the last week, this child has awoken early, donned a white sweater that is her “lab coat”, and proceeded to give shots to the whole family. Dog included. I have had my “blood drawn” with her yellow Crayola crayon fifteen times. The box of Band-aids contents are dwindling, and the bathroom wastebasket is overflowing with plastic exam gloves. Really. She found my box of gloves for oil painting (I don’t like solvents on my hands, thank you) and I discovered she is using a new pair for every band-aid application. A roll of toilet tissue makes a very fine cast, did you know that?
It’s been an intense week.
Last night, I sat melting into the couch, exhausted from the busy day.
“Will you brush my hair like you used to, Dear?” I asked Small One.
“No, Mom. It’s time for a blood draw.” She responded.
I am losing. Twenty years of efforts, and all I really want right now is a little attention. Maybe a Mommy Makeover so I can sit on the couch in a coma and feel petted and loved.
But she wraps my upper arm in an elastic hairband, and tells me to make a fist instead.
“Gotta get a good one this time, Mom” she says as she feels my veins.
This makes me question all I have ever stood for. Who wants to play cardiologist, anyway? Isn’t it more fun to have your hair done and your eyebrows waxed than to have thoracic surgery? How did I fail to show them the importance of a good haircut or an occasional foot massage? I failed.
Ah, well. Perhaps this won’t last, either. No matter how we as parents promote and groom our kids for their futures, the bottom line is that the future is theirs.
It belongs to them.
When it comes right down to it, the choice to wear high heels or toilet tissue on their feet is theirs alone. My job is to keep on being Mom, because that is what I chose for myself so long ago… And to love my kids and support them no matter what they choose to become.
I have to go now. The doctor just called my name.
Yes, they are old. You may think that they are over, and they are done.
But these hydrangeas just keep giving. In the dark and cold and thirty degrees below zero wind chills, they give life.
The shrub feeds a pair of cardinals and other birds. It gives them a bit of shelter to hide from the wind... a bit of comfort in a sometimes frigid world. The birds are joyful about it, too. They fluff about and huddle deep in the branches, their clear songs ring out, breaking the silence of snow.
Hydrangeas remind me of my grandmother. She is gone now, but the seeds she planted and the memories she left still remain. They warm my heart on the cold days, reminding me that I was loved. The teeny tiny, gentle woman wore pastel and liked flowers and wrapped her fluffy hair in toilet paper at night to keep the style safe after she had it set at the beauty parlor up the road. She painted her fingernails pink, but she was fiercely strong.
She had wanted to be a nurse, but when the War came along, she worked in a factory instead. She married a soldier who she met when he was dancing, wrapped up in crepe paper in a pub on Halloween night. Then this woman, who had wanted to be a nurse and go dancing, lived the rest of her life taking care of others instead. She cared for her children, her mother in law, her mother, her grandchildren, and even touched the lives of her great grandchildren, showering them with love and food and a place to call home. She cared for the immigrants and the poor, she taught children and fed the birds. And come hell or high water, she went to Mass to pray every day.
Now she is gone and it is winter.
But the seeds of her love are here still. I remember her big pots of soup, homemade noodles drying on paper bags all over the kitchen. I remember her gentleness, her "Ach, Schatzie! You're such good kids!" She dropped everything and moved in with us whenever my mom was ill. She stepped in and adapted to our teenage lives, doing what she could to make it better. In cooking and cleaning and doing all the monotonous small things, she gave us structure and stability when life was tough. She surprised me once with a pink satin dress for homecoming, when my mom was in the hospital and my world was dark. She pushed aside my black combat boots, and said, "Put on a little pink lipstick, Dearie. The world is a beautiful place."
That's why I wanted to share my hydrangea with you today.
It may be old.
But it's a good place to find shelter from the storm.
“I’m giving up ice cream!” (says the one who gets ice cream only once a week, on Sundays.)
“I’m giving up video games.” (Maybe just the new one.)
“Well I’m giving up all technology.” (And that’s harder, so I win.)
“Why do we have to give something up during Lent, Mom?”
“Well…” I begin. “Look at this pencil. It’s nice and new, but it can’t do what it is designed to do.
It hasn’t been sharpened yet. And this older pencil… It’s getting a bit dull, so it doesn’t work very well. We have to take something away so it works better.
It needs to be sharpened.
Lent is like sharpening pencils, except for your soul. We need to take something away so that we can do what we were designed to do. See? The blade is strong, it won’t be easy. But if you sharpen your soul, you will be better able to do your job. The one you were designed to do.
So what are you going to take away from yourself during Lent?”
They looked at me seriously for a minute, thinking. I wonder. Did they understand? Do they know how important this is? Was my Mommy Sermon good enough?
“Mom? Can I have my pencils back now?”
Oh, dear. Clearly, I am the one who needs sharpening.
“Good Morning!” my friend sang out when I answered my cell phone. “Want to have a long distance cup of coffee?”
“Sure,” I say.
“Ooooh! Good! I’m sitting here in a lawn chair on the sandy beach. The Gulf air is so warm,” she beamed. “People all around me are playing and swimming. I’m wearing a sweatshirt, though, because I’m a little chilly.”
“What a coincidence,” I say, without a hint of sarcasm. “We are also at the beach.”
We chit chat for a just a few minutes.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Then my friend returns to the sunshine and her cup of plain, weak black coffee, just how she likes it. I turn back to our frozen beach, longing for the thick, caffeine-jacked coffee awaiting me at home.
Here at our beach, it’s minus 2 degrees with a strong north wind, which cuts through my jacket like a knife and makes my ears pulse. My fingers hurt and my toes are numb, but someone has plowed a rink, and my five year old is learning how to ice skate… And she is smiling. Her too-big boots do a shuffle-shuffle-glide across the frozen lake. Powdery snow blusters away on the wind with every step. Some years the ice is bumpy and pock-marked, but this year it is smooth as glass, reflecting the morning sun like a three-mile diamond.
And I am rich.
Not because I possess this three mile diamond.
Not because someone is on a balmy vacation, and I am not.
But because we are here, skating across the public beach on a winter morning, freezing our extremities off. And we are together.
Because we can say “I love you” and mean it.
“Hey, Small One!” I yell over the icy blasting wind. “Want some hot chocolate?”
I hold her hand as we make our way to shore.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you, too.”
And I am rich, indeed.
I found this flower out in the shadows of the woods. He faithfully turns up every summer. He stays in the filtered and dark places, the forgotten and lonely places, raising his leaves like flags to the world.
Jack in the Pulpit, they call him. Three leaves clustered together for the Trinity. He holds those Trinity leaves up all summer, in rain or in wind, even until the frost comes and changes the flower to a heart of bright, blood red seeds.
After that, he fades away in the snow.
But I know he'll be back around the time that Easter returns.
Sometimes, you may not feel it. Sometimes, you might even doubt it.
But you are loved.
If you can't see the truth in this, then perhaps you are looking in the wrong spot.
Because everywhere I look, I see how much He loves you, and how much he wants you to know that he does. It is written in the leaves, in the flowers, in the stars.
And if today, no one else tells you this, I want to be the one to give you the message. To deliver your beautiful valentines. To show you how much he cares.
You are loved.
He's whispering his love into the wind. He's writing it into the woods. Can you hear it? Can you see?
Happy Friday! I'm cartooning today at downsideups.com, see you there!
I had help today.
Good thing, because it took six coats of paint (six!) to cover a brown wall in my kitchen.
Please don’t ever paint walls brown. You will live to regret it, six times over.
Brown tree trunks are nice. Brown dirt is nice. Brown chocolate is the nicest of all.
But brown on a kitchen wall is not nice.
Dark and cozy, but not nice.
Buttercups and Daisies are cheery and nice. Sunshine is the best cheery of all.
But we don’t have any of those…everything outside here is dead and brown. It’s that kind of winter.
I’d like to paint every room in my house a cheerful yellow. But the six coats of paint required to cover the brown frightens me off. And also, the family is rebelling.
“Claude Monet did that,” I tell my kids for the hundredth time, showing them internet photos of Monet’s happy yellow kitchen and cheery farmhouse. “You could grow up to be a famous impressionist painter if you ate your oatmeal in a cheerful yellow room.”
“Please no, Mom.” they groan.
I won’t tell you what else they said.
But it wasn’t cheerful.
I did have help though, as I said. Somehow, between coats 5 and 6, Dog took a leisurely stroll through the paint tray that I left on the floor. He then ambled all through the living room. Thank God it's not carpeted.
So, here we come to the point of my ramblings. It took me all day to cover up my small brown wall with a clean, joyful color. It’s a little wall. An accent wall. Maybe only 12 feet by 9 feet.
ALL DAY. And it was hard work. I was so tired that while making spaghetti for the crowd, I burned myself three times, the pasta welded together like a brick, and I cried.
So much work and exhaustion. During all this, in the dead, brown world of Minnesota winter,
God made it snow.
In ten minutes, the entire neighborhood, and most of Minnesota, was whitewashed a perfect, pure and glittering white. Ten minutes. What irony.
I try and I try to do my bit…make my corner a little bit brighter and better. To find the love, joy and peace that I know is hiding there, among the cobwebs and brown paint. In my own way. With old paintbrushes and leftover paint which I have to check for lumps because it is really old paint. My way stinks.
I need to step back, let go of my own ideas, and just let God whitewash my world. It appears to be outta my league.
Snow. He covered the dead and brown world with crystal clean purity today… made it all a beautiful place.
And he didn’t even need my help.
Cute little bunny! Watch out! The big hungry dog is coming!
That’s what you think.
But the truth is not always what it seems.
And you’ll never understand what’s going on in this picture unless I explain it.
This is my kids’ cute little bunny, Philomena. She should have a hutch in the great wild yonder somewhere, but instead, she lives in my living room. She is a two pound tyrant who likes to be the center of attention, and I’m an eejit.. So she wins. She lives in a play yard in my living room.
We also live with a yellow lab named Jack. Ninety pounds of muscle and strength… a big boy with a big bark.
Philomena is mischief. She sits around like a queen, shredding whatever she gets her teeth on. Here she has stolen my daughter’s paper doll, and is giving it a
toe amputation, er - pedicure.
My daughter is on her way to take it back. And here comes Jack. Is he a threat? Is little tiny Philomena safe? One might wonder.
But as soon as Jack, the lumbering oaf, sets one yellow foot into Philomena’s perceived territory (this day, it’s the pillow) Philomena strikes out in growls and foot thumps, charging at the impudent dog who dares offend.
Jack could eat her in one gulp.
But he is afraid.
Little Phil has biting incisors of death and destruction, and she ain’t afraid to use ‘em.
So Jack, the ninety pounder, is scared off by the two pound bunny. He retreats in haste, to lay his big head down in shame and submission.
Philomena wins again.
It’s hard for me to admit which of these animals I identify with more…
I am like Jack. My problems may be small, but I cannot overcome them at all. I’m so beaten that I don’t even try. One Perky little Problem sasses off to me, and I slink away with my tail between my legs, and lie down on the floor. Beaten. I don’t even have the gumption to try, to bark, or to lift up my head. I could be so much more than I am! I have power! But I’m down for the count. Poor me. I lost the fight before it began.
Some days, every once in a rare while, and only for a moment, I get to feel like Philomena. Sass and bravado in spades. I am a two pound fury that frightens away the bad guy. Problems flee like water down a cliffside. Who needs strength? I am Attitude with a capital A, and that’s all I need.
Watch out, world.
If only I could be more like Philomena, more often. Small, but brave. Petite but powerful.
Oh, my gosh. She’s looking at me. Oh dear.
Excuse me, but I’m leaving now. Phil says it’s time to sit on the floor. So I’m going. Goodbye. I'll be brave some other day.
It's Friday, so I'm over at downsideups.com. Click image to see today's comic.
This winter, life has been a bit rough.
We’ve had one continuous Germ Fest after another.
After Thanksgiving, we all had the flu. After Christmas, the infections began: double ear infections, bronchitis, strep throat…Jolly good fun. January was topped off by a case of Mononucleosis, like a cherry on top a very large bacterial parfait.
I knew we had all had ENOUGH when the Mono was diagnosed. Everyone was sick of being sick. That week, Little Guy came into the living room wearing a home made Plague Mask.
A Plague mask!
You know, those beak-like masks, dark robes, covered in oily wax from the dark ages? They wore them when they came to collect people that died from the Plague. Does Little Guy really think it’s that serious?
“I’m not getting HER germs!” he snorted.
How does he even know what a Plague mask is, you ask? Oh, I don’t know. History books lie around here in bulk… We could probably construct furniture from surplus hardcover books. Can’t get enough history and art and literature, right? But I digress. Back to the Plague.
He was wearing two pairs of Spiderman boxer shorts on his head, a long, dark Obi Wan Kenobi robe from Halloween, and he was wrapped up in a scarf. With mittens.
Way to be proactive, Little Guy.
But isn’t he taking this a little too far? He had his share of antibiotics. Can I blame him for being wary? There has been a lot of talk about the measles at Disneyland…whooping cough, chicken pox, Ebola… How much disease talk can one little kid take?
How does a kid decide what is fine, what is trouble, and what is DOOM?
Little kids just don’t know. How serious is serious? I mean, we go to the doctor a lot. They don’t forget those shots easily.
“Okay, Mom. I trust you. You say I gotta be shot up with diseases today, then I trust you. I may scream and try to run away, but I’m still counting on you to take care of me. …Are you kidding, Mom? THREE shots at once? I’m gonna run. Will I die? Will I still know who I am tomorrow? Can I have a sucker AND a sticker?”
I know that’s what they’re thinking as I sign on the dotted line, saying I accept all possibilities and it’s my own fault if they die because of vaccinations. I know it.
They don’t have much control over their lives. So they take what they can into their own hands, and craft a nice little Plague mask for protection. How effective is that underwear hat going to be, Kiddo? I had to laugh.
But after I laughed, I realized that I do the exact same thing. No, I don’t wear boxers on my head for disease protection. But I do ridiculous things to try to make things better.
I could insert a list here: I avoid doorknobs. I (still!) buy antibacterial soap. I wash my hands compulsively. I call out “drive safely!” to everyone, even adults. Will this really make a difference? They do know how to drive safely already. But I still worry. I teach them to be careful with scissors (“Blades down!”) careful with pencils (“Oh, my goodness turn that around, you’ll poke your eye out!”). One of my older kids prefaces requests with “I know you won’t like this because you say I’ll poke my eye out, Mom. But can I please have a ________?” Fill in the blank with anything that any normal American kid might have. And mine do not. Like real darts or real bows and arrows or bb guns or sharpened blades and axes from the middle ages…
The truth is, I can’t control life, and I worry. Even though I make them eat vitamins and probiotics and gluten free bread, we could still get hit by a truck tomorrow. I can’t control life. It happens.
It does happen.
Eating organic isn’t going to save us from life any more than Spiderman underwear on our head is. We can’t save ourselves. Vaccinations, disabilities, illness, even the Plague… We can’t stop it. We just have to roll with it and love those kids as much as we can.
We need to hug them and love them and tell them they are worth it. They are worth all the sleepless nights and doctor bills and drawings on the walls and the yogurt in the carpeting and the headaches and the overtime. And no matter what happens, whether they get a shot or need surgery or are fighting cancer someday, I am here. I am here because I love them, and nothing can change that. Not Autism. Not Down Syndrome. Not a poor report card. Not two months of being sick. Not even the Plague.
I’m here because I love them. All of them. No matter what.
I’m a mom.
Yes, you still have to have the shot.
You still have to eat oatmeal.
But you are loved. So everything is gonna be okay.
Later on, after the Plague Mask Kid went back to play, the One With Mono had something to say:
“This is the life. I hope Mono sticks around for a long time. The doctor actually told me I have to lay around and sleep as much as I want to! No medicine, no shots. Just my bathrobe and the couch. Jolly.”
Life is good. So put that Plague mask away and hug someone.