Friday, August 29, 2008

in the your table...milk and cereal

Last night, I went to K-mart for like two hours to be alone. It was exactly what I needed. While there, I picked up some items for our last trip of the summer, which starts tomorrow. I got batteries for the portable cassette player, water bottles, a gift for my godson (Happy early Birthday sweet Thomas!) and at the last minute, remembered we were all out of milk and cereal for this morning's breakfast. It was near closing time, and so I hurried back to the other side of the store where I initially reached for Cheerios but then...I don't know, maybe it was the excitement of getting away for a few days as a family, I changed my mind and grabbed the biggest box of Honey-Combs I could find.

This past month, I've stayed up till all hours of the evening, planning lessons and getting chores done that I can no longer do in the mornings because in the mornings, I teach my kids from home. I've spent so much, s-o-o-o much time agonizing over the choices that I've made as a mother. I pray unceasingly for forgiveness, wisdom and patience. I work my tail end off to just barely keep on top of the details - the logistics of raising young children, and I've grown accustomed to the reality that such herculean efforts are almost always either ignored or resented, especially if they limit: sugar consumption, video-game playing, or the wearing of fur-lined moon boots in the middle of summer.

I knew when they woke up and headed down the stairs for something to eat - something boring and grainy and unsweetened, my little ones would be shocked to discover the treat I'd impulsively purchased on their behalf. I waited from the hallway, expectantly, for what I knew would be a celebratory, grateful, and squealy type of response to my breaking of the rules just this once, on this special occasion (the eve of our mini-vacation), and I was not disappointed...

"Mama, Mama thank you! You're the best!"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Adventure

Two months ago, my parents took Elijah and Priscilla on a trip to see my grandmother, which included a funnel cake scented adventure at the Dollywood amusement park. They brought me home this photo as a memento. It hangs in my kitchen, pinned to a cork board, and every day I giggle to myself (mostly in appreciation of the exuberant guy, alone in the back. Surely he and his perfect "A-h-h, I'm flying down the hill of a roller coaster!" expression should be included in everyone's Tennessee Tornado picture) and marvel at my little girl and her stubborn fearlessness. That particular ride, I was told repeatedly by Priscilla, went upside down three times. It was CRAZY scary, for other people, but not for her because she's supernaturally brave like that. What I've learned about my second born over the past seven years is that even if she was freaked out (as her own expression and white knuckles seem to indicate) , she would never admit it.

I can claim her chin, her narrow face, the shape of her rounded eyes and the paleness of her lashes, but the fire that burns behind them belongs to her and her alone. In this one sense, she is not her mother's daughter. There's no doubt I'll have to stretch myself to keep up with the pace of the strides she is taking, that tiny daredevil, our potent Prissy - my force to be reckoned with.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

We own this moment

I wanted to get you a card, at least a card. I had planned to extract myself and the children this afternoon from out of the bowels of this cluttered house where we've been holed up for days now, reconfiguring. But here it is, nearly 4:00 pm and the baby is still sleeping, my stamina waning; I'm already beating myself up for this, and for many things. When I'm sinking, flailing, drowning in my own expectations, it is you - your stability, the feel of you on my skin that helps me regulate my breathing and reign in the wandering thoughts that only circle round and round the same old tired apprehensions. I can see it in your eyes: the strain, the drain of providing for a family. It takes a good man, a strong man to love with sweat and prayer and time - to stick around when things get tougher than either one of us imagined they could be, all those years ago when we agreed to make a go of things together. I'm empty-handed, darling, but my heart is full - full of stars and glitter and odes to you.

Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Return to Innocence

After overhearing my conversation with Priscilla, in which I was discouraging her from checking out an armful of Barbie and Polly Pocket paperbacks, our kindly librarian directed the both of us to a series of stories starring a trio of yellow haired, sweet and wholesome Swedish girls - three sisters named Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka. Originally published in the mid-1950's, the plot lines in this vintage set of books are simple, peaceful, and uncomplicated (Flicka, Ricka, Dicka Bake a Cake, Find a Dog, etc.). I am drawn in, fascinated by the colorful illustrations. It has been such a long time since I've seen little girls depicted as...well, little girls, as opposed to miniature sized women starring in rock bands, setting fashion trends, or treating parents, neighbors, and teachers as peers. Was there really a period in history when childhood was cherished, protected even, by a responsible and ethical society filtering images, ideas, and aggressive marketing techniques deemed "too mature" for that magical yet fleeting season of lightheartedness deserved by all young children, before the onset of puberty and the "enlightenment," passion and turmoil that accompanies it? Am I so naive to wish that pokey puppys and burnt baked goods were the only type of dilemmas our kids were exposed to - ones solvable without the aid of prescription medications, G-rated, age-appropriate, innocent?

Monday, August 25, 2008

this is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein...

The summer I turned fifteen, we went on vacation to Colorado. I have memories, all fond ones now, of a leaky tent, an elderly waitress serving our meal and then returning moments later to take our order, an amateur dinner theater performance, and Paul Simon, whose album, Graceland, was the soundtrack for a road trip marking the end of our childhood and the beginning of college debts, scholastic enlightenment, and weighty decisions concerning the future. That spring, we'd move from California to Illinois, my brother, Bobby, would commence with his four years of higher education and I would long for some independence of my own. I couldn't wait to get away, to carve out a little life for myself in a world that seemed too titillating for staying put for all that long in just one place.

Ask me tonight about roots, about freedom and family and I'll remember how twenty-four hours ago, when we were celebrating Mary's birthday with my parents and my brother (pictured above with my dad) and his wife and daughters, I'd felt settled. There are thrills to be found in changing over and over again our scenery but I believe, now, (after wading a bit in rushing currents a tad more forceful than I'd anticipated) there can be quiet, sustained tranquility in surrounding yourself with loved ones and standing still.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

all the birds of this day sing a song, sing a song

In August, I stock up on candles. "What is it, exactly, about November that is so-o-o romantic?" I often think to myself (counting nine months back) while signing card after card for various friends and family members celebrating their own end of summer birthdays within just a couple of weeks of each other. Today it was three-year-old Mary's turn and she drank in the attention, the serenading, the icing, and the presents with such delight.

Oh, undeserved sweetness and light,
stay by my side.
We will go out in the morning now,
a crown of maple leaves, a crown of flowers
circling your sweet head.
Happy birthday, beautiful,
in the streets of this day
play a song, play a song.

- Innocence Mission

Friday, August 22, 2008

it's my birthday too...

I was born on this day in 1974, and so of course my children got up early to tip-toe through the hallway and make the coffee before tidying up the living room and then waiting on the couch for me to saunter down the stairs in my satin robe. "Happy Birthday to you, dear mother," they sang - harmonized, even - on key. It's been one big festive blur of flowers, balloons, and sentiments so sweet they've made my head spin, my heart race, my mouth ache from smiling.

Oh, please don't be jealous...I'm sure your own kids would do the same.

So, my fellow parents, have you finished laughing yet? Did you correctly surmise that my "snapshot of the day" depicts with an impressive degree of accuracy (I must admit) how birthdays are actually celebrated throughout these childrearing years? For some reason, it reminds me a bit of when I was in hard labor with Mary, and Priscilla wandered into the bedroom where all was hushed and tense and excruciating (I had home births remember) because she was hungry, and wondering if I could please uncurl myself from that fetal position and get her a bowl of cereal. I've become less of a "person" over the past decade and more of an "environment" - one, I pray, that is nurturing, faith inspiring, and creative. I'm a maternal amalgamation of night lights, band-aids, hot meals, and warm skin; I'm the soil that feeds the buds now stretching upwards toward the light, toward the sun.

Mary did give me a phonics flashcard with a picture of a bow topped box on it ("P," "P," "Present!") . And Ben did help me blow out that candle on my coffee cake. Troy will bring home a movie of my own choosing, and probably rub my feet if I ask him too. I am, without a doubt, a lucky girl.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

all i want

Please be forewarned that the Sap-O-Meter runs a little high in this post. It's just that while I was watching my children practice their handwriting, math problems, science terms on the vintage butterfly TV trays set up permanently on our back porch, I began swallowing the enormity of this decision to keep them home, and though I'll admit there was plenty of indigestion (especially when Mary screeched about any and everything while I was trying to help with assignments), there was also this unmistakable taste of relief sweetening even the sour attitudes practically double dog daring me to stop with my bare hands the next school bus passing by in order to shove my crabby students through one of its open windows.

I was afraid, very afraid that by giving in to the dissatisfaction that came from rushing my kids out the door on weekday mornings, barking at them to finish their homework in the afternoons, exposing my Orthodox Christian Children to who knows what - I mean...really, who knows? I wasn't there! (Just a few weeks ago, Elijah looked me dead in the eye and said cryptically, slowly, "Mom, I learned a lot from the kids in my class.") - by devoting my "free time" to educating them myself, I would jeopardize my writing career, become resentful, and ostracize all of us in the process.

One can only fight so long, however, the naggings of the Spirit, which, let me be clear here, I do not believe are always universal or formulaic but rather intensely personal, specific, and revealed to open hearts on an "as needed" basis (or in other words, before every situation and conversation one encounters) before coming unglued. All my desires became oppressors when my role as a "mother who'd sacrifice anything for the good of her family" was watered down to a "woman with children looking outside the walls of her home for legitimacy."

Though I have no idea what the future holds, it is certain to be fraught with tears and trials - trials I will only endure if all I want, more than wealth or notoriety, is to be smack dab in the middle of the will of God, immersed in the lives of my husband and sons and daughters - living for others besides myself or my fickle, foolish, dreams of finding fame, fortune, and fulfillment (greener grass?) "on the other side."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Come on and take a free ride...

I can remember, when I was pregnant with Elijah, peering into the back seat of our Ford Taurus and trying to imagine a child, my child, staring up at me, all buckled in and asking repeatedly, "Are we almost there, mom...are we? ARE WE?!! It seemed impossible.

Just recently, I watched from my minivan another minivan pull into the library parking lot and then one, two, three, four daughters emerge from within it. "Whoa," I thought to myself, "that woman sure has her hands full," and then I turned around to grab my purse and saw this (see above photo) and for a second it felt so surreal. "Good Gracious! Did Troy and I have all these kids? When did that happen? I'd best not blink again," I quickly determined, "lest I turn around and find the van is empty, all my children grown and gone - my days less hectic, less tiring, less noisy. Less.

Don't wish it away.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stuck on You

So this brief post is more of a public service announcement:

If you ever find yourself in a craft store and pick up a black "Face Paint" marker then let your son play dress-up with it on a Saturday afternoon, you can fully expect that all the scrubbing in the world will merely lighten those darkened circles around his eyes into a grayish/blueish "bruise" color causing everyone you attend Church with on Sunday morning to ask with concern,"What happened to him?" But the upside will be that for once you can say, "Nothing. It's just a little face paint is all," as opposed to having to explain, for instance, that the burning smell emanating from his hair and skin and sweater is indeed from him having caught himself on fire with a candle or that the scratch marks on the back of his head were from him tumbling out of a second-story window.

I share all of this to remind you, dear friends, that washable doesn't always mean what we think it should.

Monday, August 18, 2008

She's got high hopes...

Here is a picture of me looking about 40% more optimistic than I actually feel regarding the 2,000 things I need (OK, desire) to get done before I start homeschooling three out of four of my children. Did I tell you that? That I'm homeschooling? Because I am...homeschooling, that is. This is a huge diversion from the master plan I presumptuously concocted two years ago, which goes to show that there's truly no telling what changes a month or even a day will bring with it. So here I am, sorting through old books and papers and magazines and dried-out markers to make room for this gigantic new endeavor and its myriad of educational supplies. Am I scared, you ask? Um...YEAH! But deep down (w-a-a-y deep down) in my soul, I am peaceful - confident about this decision we've made as a family. Just promise me that you won't stop by for a visit until after Friday or I'll be horribly embarrassed by the inevitable chaotic mess that somehow always precedes a good cleaning. Meanwhile, I will plaster this goofy smile upon my face and thank God for the faculties at my disposal for lifting, labeling, stacking, and donating boxes. Now if only I could find that darn Sharpie!!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A dream is a wish your heart makes...

"Does it look like I dyed my hair?" she asked.

"Um, does," I replied.

And then I watched from my kitchen window as she pranced around the yard like a character from a story book come to life. A lost little princess with flowing synthetic curls taking refuge in the home of a kindly spinster woman (that's me). She waited and waited in her prettiest ball gown but alas no stallion straddling prince came galloping through our neighborhood to whisk her away into paradise. The dress was itchy. Her scalp was sweating. "I think I'll change back into play clothes," she finally said.

And thus her fairy tale concluded without the messiness of evil stepmothers or wicked spells to drive her naively into the arms of a man she hardly knows.

And she lived sensibly ever after.

The End.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Daisy, Daisy...

Mary Catherine Sabourin - age 3 (next week)

You may have to click "PLAY" twice, but if you're into super cuteness it will be worth the extra effort.

Friday, August 15, 2008

O living! always living!

Throughout the morning we observed with rapt attention this cicada emerging from its former body, now a dried-out lifeless shell. The following Walt Whitman poem played over and over again in my mind:

O LIVING always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,

O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;

O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;)

O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and
look at where I cast them,
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eat Steak

Well, its here! 500 lbs of grass-fed organic meat (at $2.79 a lb) were stuffed into my parents Ford Explorer and then driven to my home where mom, Paige, and I divided it up between us. My freezer, is FULL, FULL, FULL of Rib Eyes, T-Bones, Sirloin Steaks, and every ever other cut of beef known to man. You're getting a whole lot less of our money this year, Jewel/Osco, Walmart, Wiseway! It's time to take back some control of our health and budget.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

You've got to make the morning last...

At 9:00am yesterday morning, I said "C'mon kids, get your sandals on. Mom has an errand to run."

"You mean we're not driving?" they groaned.

"That's right," I responded cheerily, foolishly assuming my enthusiasm would be infectious and convincing, "I think we all could use the exercise."

And for the next FULL hour, we debated the benefits of walking vs. bike riding; we filled sport's bottles with water; we poured pretzels into bags and apparently some pockets (I know this because last night - gasp!- I washed and dried a load of laundry); we changed the tiny pair of pants on a certain almost three year-old who hadn't quite made it to the bathroom despite her genuine efforts to do so in a timely manner; we searched for shoes. When at 10:15 am I finally locked the front door and we started inching our way toward the quaint and placid storefronts of downtown Chesterton wearing grimaces and identical annoyed expressions, I asked myself again for the thirtieth time in thirty minutes (trying my darnedest to limit the scope of my questioning to the situation at hand) "IS THIS WORTH IT?!"

At the utilities office where I paid our water bill, there was a bowl filled with candy - not boring Tootsie Rolls, mind you, but Starbursts, and Gobstobbers, and Charm Pops. On the way back, while my children sucked, chewed, and licked their unexpected booty of sugary goodness, I had fifteen minutes of silence away from the mess of dirty dishes and scattered game pieces to clear my mind and quiet my soul. When we walked across the street, Elijah linked his arm in mine just because. It took a ridiculous amount of time to get home, which, it turns out, was no big deal, really, because I am blessed enough to have hours and hours at my disposal to be tested, stretched, humbled, and redeemed by way of motherhood.

This afternoon, I've planned a trip to our local library; if only I'd thought last night to gather the books...or cards...or DVD's. "C'mon my dears, it's growing late - we'd best get started."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

kiss her like a sister

I never had this growing up - sharing girly-girl secrets, or a bed when the nights turned scary. Last evening, I found these two all snuggled in Priscilla's top bunk and I was suddenly very enamored with the idea that each of my daughters has a sister. It's not that I felt deprived as a kid because honestly, I was too busy pretending to be Boba Fett, getting socked in the gut with a ball while playing running bases, firing my battery operated machine gun, or re-enacting a Hulk Hogan vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestling match to ponder on the fact that my main influence and role model was an adolescent, braces-wearing, Tron loving, older brother. I was never as handy with a curling iron or mascara wand as my friends with more mature girl siblings, but my youthful obsession with creating stories, poems, and songs, my quirky sense of humor, my varied taste in music, and my motivation for biting off more than I think I can chew when it really matters, comes directly from crazy old Bobby, now a husband and a father and a phenomenal writer/magazine editor. I pray that my kids will also inspire one another to think outside of the heavily marketed secularized box and that later, when the dust from their arguments and squabbles has dispersed, precious memories of their years spent together will remain behind, like panned gold.

Monday, August 11, 2008

the lovers, the dreamers and me

"Well, good morning!" I told her, "Aren't you a vision of loveliness on this mild summer day." She looked past me, unaffected - her being play-do and all, but I could tell by the way her enormous magenta mouth curled up slightly at the corners that she was flattered.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Olympic Fever

We sure heart the Olympics over here in Indiana. On Friday, we oohed and ahhed at the Opening Ceremonies. On Saturday, my energetic and creative sister-in-law (Happy Birthday Paige!) hosted the Maddex/Sabourin family Olympic games in her fenced in back yard involving such popular events as: Pacifier Juggling, The Three-Legged Race, and Free-Style Dancing; above is a photo of the awards ceremony. Last night we held our collective breath as the U.S. men's gymnastics team tried their hardest to stick a landing. Benjamin and Priscilla began begging me for their own gymnastics lessons while awkwardly yet determinedly attempting splits, hand stands, and backbends - much like I did in 1984 while breathlessly witnessing the remarkable Mary Lou Retton earning a perfect ten (I dare you to watch this video without getting tearily nostalgic). If you have your own favorite Olympic memories, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, August 8, 2008


After a super rocky start several weeks ago, involving a fair amount of hysteria, tears, and cajoling, I was pleased to take the above photo this morning of my new hero, Benji, laughing and splashing and swimming completely on his own. There are many things we've tried that have not worked out as planned (i.e. T-ball, gymnastics, even Boy Scouts) due to fading interest or logistical complications, but our all summer long swimming lessons were a big hit and I feel good knowing three out of four of my children could at least stay afloat without panicking if they were to suddenly fall into a large body of water. Ahh...the many rewards of parenting!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chicago - that's my home town

Jen took this picture with my camera from out the window of our minivan last Saturday. I love, love, love, it because it captures exactly the Chicago I lived and worked in for over a decade. And while I was dying, three years ago, to get away from the traffic, the miles and miles of concrete and metal, the raucous 4th of July celebrations, the postage stamp size backyards and libraries, I can't help, when going to back to visit, feeling nostalgic for the sights and smells unique to one of the greatest cities ever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Learning to fly

As we were leaving the library this afternoon (yes, we have paid our hefty fine and the "WANTED" poster with my face on it has been mercifully taken down from behind the checkout counter) I came across this stunning looking cookbook in the "New Non-fiction" section and I nabbed it. It describes itself as a "cookbook for sustainable, seasonal, and local ingredients" and I was excited to find within its multi-colored pages, easy and fresh recipes divided up by seasons. I am embarrassed to admit that I am actually pretty clueless about which fruits and vegetables are ripe in summer, in spring, or winter, or fall, so I am learning, which is really half the battle. On a related note, I have decided that we will wait until Troy gets home from work (around 7 pm) to sit down and eat all together. For the last six months, the kids and I have wolfed down whatever pizza/spaghetti/taco meal I could assemble in the least amount of time possible without any sort of formality whatsoever. I have been less than thrilled with this arrangement and wanted to rework it as part of the overall makeover I was giving to our pantry, refrigerator, budget, and health. Last night, it felt comforting and right to set the table and gather as an entire family over a dinner of split pea soup, organic baby carrots, and homemade cornbread. Afterwards, Troy read to us on the couch and then we all said prayers before the kids went to bed. It was satisfying - such a fulfilling experience to bring nourishment in this way to those I love. I'm looking forward to our upcoming evening of black bean burritos and the Castle in the Attic (only three chapters left!) already.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I need your love

O.K, so maybe I was looking for an excuse to use this song I hadn't heard for, oh, a decade or so because...well, it's U2 singing Unchained Melody and how spine tingling is that? Anyway, of course when I thought of love and romance I knew I had to use a picture of my hard working husband who this past weekend, while I was gallivanting all over downtown Chicago, took it upon himself to pack a picnic and take the kids for a long bike ride, feed them lunch at a park, then come home, get them changed into swim suits and bring them all to our YMCA pool. I felt exhausted just hearing about it because when Mary is involved, there is no sitting on a bench or lawn chair and observing from a distance; no siree, park and swim time requires full parental participation. There was a season in my life when thrift store shirts, cryptic poetry, and good taste in music could make me dizzy with infatuation, but now, oh boy, nothing causes my heart to flutter like my man mowing grass or demanding that our children respect me. This one's for you, baby, you deserve it!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

your love is better than ice cream

It's not easy being the third born in a family of four children - you're never the baby or quite big enough to keep up with your older siblings. It is extremely rare for Benji to get alone time with me, which made this crazy fun weekend just that much more wonderful. Our good friends, Jen and Nathan, invited the two of us to spend the day in downtown Chicago with them to help celebrate their son Owen's sixth birthday. We went to the Field Museum, the park, two restaurants - it was all quite thrilling and magnificant to say the least. It felt good to watch Ben get such extraordinary special treatment and bond with the sweet child of a couple very near and very dear to my heart. He's a real spitfire, my boy, but I sure do love him.

Friday, August 1, 2008

You make me feel like a natural woman

So I figured you were probably dying to know what I got at Costco yesterday. Above is a but a portion of our booty. For my birthday (August 22nd, if you want to put that on your Blackberry) my very generous mother is helping me to establish a pantry of basic bulk items, such as rice, pasta, canned tomatoes, oatmeal, dried beans etc. I can use to feed my family healthier and cheaper than I do currently. We also ordered a whole, grass-fed cow to be split between my parents, my brother's family, and our own. Eventually, we would like to find a consistent source of local organic produce. Our goal is to step outside of a system that irritates me to no end. I was at Jewel (our Midwest chain of grocery stores) last week and nearly broke down in tears from spending so much on tasteless genetically modified fruit, hormone laden meat and dairy products, and high fructose corn syrup. I am T-I-R-E-D, tired of being at the mercy of an FDA who assures us that all the tampering being done to our food so that it lasts longer, looks prettier, and can travel further is A-O.K. for my growing sons and daughters. Now, I am the antithesis of a radical, but every mothering instinct I have coursing through my veins is screaming "hold up a minute, I am pretty darn certain this is not what God intended: for His children to become obese, pumped full of chemicals, and completely out of touch with the beauty and perfection of His health sustaining provisions within their natural environmental context and timetable."
And with those ranting thoughts (who knew I was on the verge of a rampage?), I wish you all a very lovely weekend filled with wholesome emotional, physical and spiritual nourishment!