Saturday, December 17, 2016

Humbled Creator, a Poem by Hannah

Christmas isn't about the presents
Christmas isn't about the tree
Christmas isn't about the food
Or the stockings by the chimney

We celebrate Christmas because of a Manger
In a stable dirty and old
Inside lay the maker of the universe
But he wore no crown of gold

He came to earth as a child
Tiny, crying, weak
He humbled himself to a baby boy
Who couldn't even speak

But He made the mountains
He made the sea
He made the oceans
He made you and me

The aspens show
Even the mice know
He is the creator
We should be awestruck

by Hannah Eby, age 10

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmastime, a poem by Naomi

At Christmastime we wish for snow
To build, play in, and have some fun
It's funny to think that in two months
We'll wish spring weather would soon come

At Christmastime I like night drives
We listen to carols on radio
And watch the houses flying by
Bedecked with lights that softly glow

At Christmastime we decorate
By hanging wreaths and strings of lights
We hang our stockings in a row
Then add the tree, oh what a sight

At Christmastime I love to watch
The twinkling lights hung on its boughs
As if they know the secrets wrapped
And can't help smiling at the thought

At Christmastime, family comes
Or perhaps we visit them
Grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles
They're always great to see again

At Christmastime we count the days
Until that day arrives
Then the gifts are opened, and gone is the surprise
Until again, it's Christmastime

by Naomi

Monday, November 7, 2016

Junior High Girls, You’re Missing Out on a Fantastic Friendship

Listen girls, I understand. I was a junior high girl once too. I know that you’re busy figuring out who you are and who you will become. You want to know which clothes will tell the world the most about your unique personality, which song lyrics ring the most true in your heart, and which other junior high girls are the most like you. You are naturally drawn to other people with similar personalities, similar tastes, similar goals, and similiar convictions. It feels fantastic to be surrounded by people who are like you—the kind that you instantly click with—I understand.

But can I be your older sister here and help you see something you’re missing? You’re missing out on a fantastic friendship with someone you’d least expect: the quiet, somewhat odd girl who sits by herself in the back of the classroom, the back of the lunchroom, or the back row of your church..

Ah, you think you’re on to me now, you think I’m writing this to tell you that she needs you to be her friend, that you need to perform an act of community service and selflessly reach out to her even though it’s painfully hard and you have nothing to gain, but you’re wrong. I’m telling you that you’re missing out on a fantastic friend for YOU.

That girl is my daughter, and I know some things about her that you don’t know. I know that she’s actually only quiet and awkward until she gets to know you, and that the initial few weeks or months that you might have to spend on helping her develop a friendship will be an investment well worth making. I know that she is actually fantastically smart, and you’d never guess it, but she can be quite witty and crack some hilarious jokes when you least expect them. But more important than that: she is kind. She is genuinely, from the heart, kind in a way that is rare among your age group. She is loyal and would never turn her back on you, never trade you for a newer or more popular friend, never speak hurtful words behind your back.

It’s true that there are ways you could help her. You could take her by the hand and patiently lead her into the dizzying world of junior high friendships. You could overlook her sometimes-awkward laugh, or the way she blinks back tears whenever she feels strong emotions, or the small awkward silences that happen when she’s not sure what to say next. You could help her learn what to say next. You could teach her that it’s safe to trust and that you won’t abandon her as a friend when a more popular girl comes along. But I want you to know that she can help you too.

She can almost certainly help you with your math and science homework. She can teach you to draw shockingly beautiful horses, and recommend a long list of good books to read. These things you might have guessed. But did you know that she is the best listener you will ever hope to have in a friend? She will listen and listen with the goal of truly understanding your heart instead of jumping in with her own stories, and she will actually care about who you are, how you are feeling, and what you are going through. She is wise. She thinks deeply behind that quiet face and, if you are patient enough to wait for an answer, she will offer you advice that is mature beyond her years and yours. When you least expect it then, she will crack you up with wit and humor, you never would have guessed that she hid. 

Do you know what an investment is? It’s where you pay an amount first in order to gain access to something that will be worth more in the end. Some friendships are like investments—they don’t come as easily as others, but they offer greater reward down the road. You may have to be willing to do most of the talking at first or think of lots of questions to get her talking. You may have to patiently wait for responses from her as she organizes her thoughts.  Be patient. Keep trying. It’s worth it.

After you have spent a few weeks and months learning to understand each other you will realize that she taught you some of life’s best lessons: that people are not always as they seem, that some of the more rewarding relationships take work, and that a loyal friend is often more valuable than a popular one. You will begin to see the other quiet or awkward or disabled people in your life in a new light too—as unique, valuable, enriching, human beings that are worth the effort to welcome into your life—and that is a lesson you will benefit from for as long as you live. You can never repay her for that.

Trust me on this one. It took some work for me to get to know her too, but you will never regret that you did.

With love to you,

That Quiet Girl’s Mom

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Afternoon October Road

I caught you on an afternoon October road
Past large white houses and large white barns
Set in sunset fields of drying heirloom corn
And autumn green pastures with short-cropped grass
Where proud draft teams rest from harvest
Past mum-lined porches and bonnet-dressed clothes lines
By gravel driveways where wooden wheels clatter
Behind lean brown horses minding their reigns

Soft cattails and red sumac swished in the ditches as I passed
Reminding me to watch the road, and not the oaks
Not the fresh tinted shades in the afternoon glow
Not the rising, beating arrow of geese
Sweeping my soul up into flight
Straight back to the garden gate
Back to the guarded gate

I drove grazing, grasping for the sweetness here
Spilling over, lingering behind you
The sent of your presence after you left
While the hero poets sang to me
To let me know they'd caught it too
They and I, we wait for you

I wanted to bring it home with me
Hoarding manna sun on autumn oaks
Home with chores, with stress, with vacancy
Home with biting, careless words
So I held my tongue and let it hurt

I didn't mind at all today
To drive again the same October road
To find the sun still lit the cattails
Still swishing reddened Sumac lining fields
And remember we're both on the wrong side here
Both pounding on the back side of the the gate
Both digging for the well, scraping bread from sand
And sometimes it doesn't hurt to let it hurt

I caught you on an afternoon October road
With the mum-lined porches and the poets
The scent of your presence, enough for today
Trickling rock, sandy wafer, a sigh in the ache
Just please come back soon and open the gate

Friday, September 30, 2016

Little Brothers, by Naomi Eby

Only I can tell you the impossibleness
When I yell at them to come pick up their mess
And they give me the hugest of grins
They're little and cute and they make me laugh
But sometimes I forget about that
When they wake me with their din

Those terrible two, what mischief they make
That thing you had perfect, it's sure to "break"
Sometimes I really do wish I had none
But then the smaller one, close to five
Asks, "Will you play?" and it's sure to revive
The spirit of adventure of being young

And yes, they annoy me and get into my stuff
And sometimes it seems they can't grow fast enough
But soon they'll be gone, turned into young men
Then I might sleep in, and they'll not be in my way
But then I will yearn for the days when we'd play
The simple games we used to, then

by Naomi Eby, age 12

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Before You Get a Parakeet, by Hannah Eby

Here are a couple tips to having a perfect parakeet. Please read through before you consider getting one.


- You'll need one small pack of normal seed mix and 200 large packs of millet sprays (still, you'll be out of millet before you're out of normal seed mix).
- Fruits, veggies, and cheeses, which will just sit and rot because your parakeet will freak out and act like the food is going to murder it. (Forget healthy foods!)
- Your parakeet will probably end up on a diet of basically millet and your own Chex cereal (very unhealthy for your parakeet).


- Nail pillows across every single window in the house to avoid your bird trying to go through them (this may result in a fractured skull or broken bones).
- Avoid having anything hot (ovens, light bulbs, etc.) or anything sharp (scissors, knives, etc.) in the house.
- Uninstall any ceiling fans or window air conditioners.


- Take out the cage tray every two minutes to avoid a feather/seed-shell/dropping mess.
- Also manage changing the bird's water every two minutes as well.
- Spread newspaper or any other poop-proof material over everything in the house.
- Change the poop-proof cover three times a day.
- Wear a protective suit (an astronaut suit or a diving suit are some suggestions) whenever holding or handling your bird in any way to avoid being covered in poop and feathers.

Now that you have seen what you need to do to have a perfect bird, make sure you still want one. It's a BIG responsibility. Maybe your bird will just have to live with a not-perfect home.

By Hannah Eby, parakeet owner, age 10

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Simple Joys, A Poem by Naomi

Morning peace, evening cuddles
Watching the boys splash through puddles
Sitting with sisters near midnight
Reading together by flashlight
Watching the sunrise at seven a.m.
Playing with brothers and joking with them
Reading with the cat when no one's awake
Seeing the geese out by the lake
Being in nature, full of quiet and peace
Jumping in piles of autumn leaves
When the gerbils do things that make you laugh
Such as rolling so comically in their dust bath
Even hearing Avalynn as she sings
Simple joys are found in so many things

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Summer's End, A Poem by Naomi

It is now the end of August
And summer's coming to an end
I really like the breeze
But don't look forward to the leaves
It tumbling to the ground will send
Because of what that will mean
That winter's drawing close
With many layers and dull gray skies
With freezing snowstorms that arise
And a cold wind that always blows
It also means that school's begun
And soon will come the frost
But fall's still fun
And when spring comes
Anew will be the things we lost

by Naomi Eby, age 12

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Up and Running

For years I lived in fifth gear, red-lined my RPMs, and never stopped for maintenance. I was good at multitasking, enjoyed activity, and flew like Super-Mom with my train of littles behind me. I kept my sense of humor and laughed about the stress and sleeplessness in my blog. I had it together.

I noticed a small slow-down with my pregnancy with Toby, and noticed that I couldn't recover even with a good night's rest after he was weened and sleeping through the night. But I managed.

My pregnancy with Elijah was much worse, and about six months after he was born my body felt like both engines were stalling at 30,000 feet. I fought pretty valiantly to keep everyone flying for another six months. I was always, always exhausted. Everything felt heavy. My brain felt foggy. I had to lean on the shopping cart just to push it through the store, and then I stood in the aisles unable to remember what I had come to buy. My reaction times felt slow. I felt unsafe driving. I could barely make it up a flight of stairs. And then one day I tried to spread peanut butter on bread and felt like I couldn't even lift the knife. I tried again and my arm said "no." And that was when I realized that we had crashed.

We went to doctors and doctors, but most test results looked great. The tests that were off were odd and inexplicable. Diet changes didn't help. Sleep didn't help. I hated feeling like I couldn't manage on my own, but finally caved and accepted other people's offers to help me on a regular basis. Things got worse that year until I couldn't hold my head up in the car and had to rest it on a neck pillow. I couldn't hold my arms up on the steering wheel for more than a few minutes and had to alternate resting one arm and keeping the other at 6:00 while I drove. It got to where I couldn't hold my foot steady on the gas pedal for long and had to use cruise control in ridiculous places it was never designed for. I gained over 20 pounds from both inactivity and from eating in an effort to find energy somewhere. I felt like the energy mortgage company had come to collect on 10 years of missed payments, and had decided to foreclose on my body.

Finally, a neuromuscular specialist in Indianapolis took me seriously and ran every test imaginable. They all came back normal, except one. My coenzyme Q10 levels were very low. CoQ10 is needed for energy production in every cell of the body. I have no idea why my levels were so low, my dietary intake of it was normal and the body is supposed to be able to manufacture it anyway, but this was something to go on. After 6 weeks on a high-quality CoQ10 supplement I noticed the brain fog lifting. After 3 months, my arms and legs felt lighter. I was functional again, but nowhere near healthy.

That was three years ago. Over the last three years my schedule has gradually eased as my children have grown. I have decided to prioritize rest. I have felt gradually better, but I haven't really felt healthy yet. I tried multiple times to lose the weight I'd gained with no success. In fact, I continued to slowly gain, topping out at over 30 pounds heavier than I'd been since I lost the baby weight after Elijah.

At the beginning of this summer I decided I was finally at a place in life where I could take care of myself again. I had no babies or toddlers anymore. We weren't moving houses or in the midst of any other major life upheaval. I decided this was my chance to help myself.

I used an online calorie counter to figure out how much I could eat and still lose weight, and then I held myself to that, which means I've felt hungry most of the summer. I said "no" to stress this summer because I've learned that I can't be stressed and energetic at the same time. I let myself sleep without guilt. I prioritized activities that made me feel mentally healthy, like writing again. I prioritized getting my kids out to the pool and made sure I actually swam. I got my kids out for walks and bike rides. Matt and I started walking a couple miles almost every evening. And one evening we started jogging.

Jogging. Ugh. Those first two blocks I jogged were painful. And that was all I made it: two blocks. We didn't jog every night, but we kept trying off and on. A little here, a little there. And we walked a little faster.

This summer, since June 1st, I've lost 16 pounds. Last week I decided I could actually start jogging with Matt more seriously. I didn't even own a decent pair of athletic shorts, so I borrowed some from Naomi. I laced up some almost brand-new running shoes I've had since college, (since college!), and we ran. OK we jogged, but it felt really fast to me. The first night I made it 0.6 miles. The next night 0.8. I was so sore the next day we decided to take two days off from jogging. But last night I actually ran (jogged) an entire mile.

It's been at least 12 years since I've done that. Matt timed it and my time was 10:10. I was a little discouraged when I heard that I nearly died in order to finish a mile in 10 minutes, but then I remembered that my body has birthed and nursed five babies, and gained and lost 30 pounds six times since the last time I ran a mile. And then I remembered how weak I had been three years ago, and I decided that last night's mile was a pretty amazing milestone.

I'd still like to lose another 14 pounds, and I'd like to be able to run that mile without wondering if I was having a heart attack afterwards. But what's amazing is that these things seem like real possibilities again. And that is energizing.

Young mamas out there, take note. Please take care of yourselves. Your body will only run on nothing for so long. Eventually it will give you a foreclosure notice, and it will take years to repay your debt. Even super mamas need their rest.

Sunday, July 17, 2016


In the midst of the sleepless, diaper-changing fog that was a good eighty-percent of the first decade of my parenting career, I couldn't fathom that parenting would not always feel that way. I didn't see the end of nursing babies, potty training, toddler tantrums, and lining up five slices of homemade gluten-free bread to mass produce sandwiches like I worked at Subway. I saw no end to the laundry and dishes, to feeling stressed over the thought of getting five miniature tyrants all buckled in a minivan at the same time.

The end of that era has slowly crept over me like a gently fading evening when you look up from the flowerbed you've been weeding and realize the hot sun has cooled, and the fireflies are out, and you can see the first stars. The past ten months since we moved to our new house have felt like the east turning slowly from black to deep blue, to brilliant pink. Like a sunrise of parenting, or maybe just my soul.

I sleep now. I sleep in almost every day because the kids can make their own breakfasts. They play Legos, or Kinex, or Settlers of Catan and it's unlikely that anyone will die or permanently damage the house, and I sleep. I sleep like the land of Israel slept during the Babylonian captivity, enjoying all the sabbath rests I have missed. And I missed a lot over the last twelve years. I feel zero guilt in taking them now.

When I wake, if I find oatmeal and syrup drizzled around the floor and the table, I can call the guilty parties to the kitchen, and tell them to clean it up themselves, because they can do that now. They're getting all grown up, and it is wonderful.

I make exactly one bowl of oatmeal when I wake up now, and I pour one glass of orange juice--my own. I take a shower whenever I want to. I still have to cook most of the food for this family, but I can cook in peace, and sometimes I have help. Hannah especially likes to be in the kitchen. She likes to make cookies, and apple crisp, and little pizzas on thick-sliced homemade bread.

Naomi would rather quietly fold laundry while she hums by herself in the living room. She likes working by herself, making things nice and neat, and saving up the money we let her earn so she can buy another Lego set. Recently I have gone entire weeks without touching any laundry at all because she's been collecting it, washing it, drying it, folding it and putting it away for the entire family without me ever saying a word to her about it. Most days now, I find a fresh stack of my neatly folded clothes sitting on my bed. I put them in my drawers, and that is the end of my laundry duties.

Emma is a star during evening clean-up time. She is quiet and steady, working to make sure all the toys are picked up and the rooms are neat before bed. I never have to ask her twice and she usually does far more than her fair share of the work. I can't say the same for the boys, but they have definitely improved. They eventually clean up their room too now (sometimes after a consequence or two), and they've begun stepping up with chores. Elijah is the newest dishwasher unloader at my house, and he does a pretty good job.

Sometimes I still make large family meals, and we still sit down all at the same time and sing a Psalm together before we eat, but if I am in a hurry or just need a break, the kids can make their own sandwiches now. Every single child is capable of finding food for him or herself, and of cleaning up the table after they eat. When I need to pack a day's worth of food so we can take a trip, I can call Hannah and Naomi to pack the sandwiches and the zip-baggies of chips and dried fruit, and they willingly help.

What does all this mean for me? It means I am resting like it's my full-time job this year, and I am learning to play again. It means that I wake up with energy and sometimes look at a whole day ahead and realize, to my perpetual amazement, that I can enjoy that day with my kids.

We can go to the pool and it doesn't feel like work anymore: they put on their own swimsuits and sunscreen, four of them know how to swim and I'm not frantically trying to count five heads and make sure they're all above water. No one throws a public temper tantrum. While Elijah plays happily with his life-jacket on, Hannah and I can take turns throwing the diving sticks way out in the pool to see who can swim the farthest under water and retrieve them. We come up spluttering and laughing and do it again. Going to the pool with my kids is something entirely different now. It's fun.

We can take long walks in the county park, and enjoy feeding ducks and getting a little lost. I don't mean the way a preschool teacher enjoys walks in the park with her class, but more the way I used to walk in the woods with my seventh-grade friends. We imagine together, we explore together. We like each other's company.

We can come home to make sandwiches together and then settle down to a game of Scrabble, or Monopoly, or Settlers of Catan, and I don't go easy on them. We try to beat each other, and we love it.

This new phase of parenting feels a bit more like being an RA in a college dormitory. I still have to pull out my authority on a somewhat regular basis, and I'm certainly not afraid to do that, but most of the time we're making cookies and heading out on adventures together. We stay up way too late and talk about deep things, especially with Hannah. She is my new deep-thinking, somewhat irritating, but incredibly fun friend.

Friends. My children are my friends now. Real friends--the type you want to spend time with, even though they sometimes drive you nuts. The type you want to hurry and tell when something exciting happens or to hug when the news is terrible. They make me laugh, not with adorable baby faces and toddler antics anymore, but now with witty humor and quick puns and budding unique personalities. I like these people that they're growing up into. I'm so glad I get to spend my life with them.

My first sleepless nights with a newborn weren't exactly a surprise to me. I'd heard that sleepless nights happened. But somehow hearing didn't prepare me for the realities of parenting: not the sleepless nights, not the potty training, and not this newest phase either--the friendship.

Twelve years ago, ten years ago, and eight, and seven, and four years ago, I planted seeds. And oh, they've needed lots of water, and lots of weeding and protecting, but oh, how strong they've grown. Sometimes they now offer me shade, and protection. And the view on my farm is breathtaking.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Walk in the Park

Hannah decided early on today that we needed to go for a walk in the nearby county park. She asked, she pestered, she promised to pack a picnic lunch, and she sat silently beside me, staring quietly while I tried to work. I will admit that by the time I finally decided we could go this evening, I was so annoyed with her that my heart was not in it. Emma elected to stay at home with Matt because she didn't want to put down her book, and I didn't feel like pestering her to come.

Naomi, Hannah, Toby, Elijah and I walked through our subdivision and into a back entrance to the county park around 7:45pm. The weather was a perfect 72 degrees with low humidity and few mosquitos, and I began to feel glad to be out for a walk.

"Don't touch any of the weeds on the sides of the trail!" I called out, cautioning them about the poison ivy on either side of the narrow foot path, like I had warned them a hundred times before. We moved carefully along, single file, until we came out on the clearing by goal 19 of the frisbee golf course and skipped down the railroad-tie-lined stairs to a wooden bridge.

Filled with excitement, Elijah called out, "Hey, Toby! We're going down agent stairs! Agent stairs, Toby!"

"Really?" Naomi asked Elijah, "I didn't know these were spy stairs."

"Can you all stop yelling," I grumbled, "I'm afraid you're going to pop my eardrums."

"Don't worry, Mom," Toby comforted me, "it feels great when they pop."

Hannah had brought along some frozen peas to feed the duck family, so I tested Toby's navigational skills, asking him which way we should go to the find the ducks.

"Hmm…" he said, looking around, "my punctuations tell me that we should go this way."

"His punctuations?" Naomi laughed rolling her eyes, "I think you mean your calculations, Toby."

"Yeah," he nodded, "my calculations. Let's go!"

Toby's punctuations turned out to be correct and we soon arrived at the swamp, but the ducks weren't the least interested in our peas, so we headed off to explore some trails we hadn't been on before.

"I forgot to bring the map," I told the kids. Not the least bit worried myself, I teased them, "I hope we don't get lost in the woods overnight."

We soon found a long, wooden walk way that led us through a marsh, and followed a steep trail up a hill to a lookout.

We followed more trails and made our way farther into the park, but eventually I told the kids it was time to head home. The sun was getting lower and it was nearing bedtime.

"Let's see if the kids can lead us back home," I challenged them. "You can each take turns."

"Ooohhh, noooooo!" Toby whined, wilting like a parched flower, "I can't believe how lost we will be when Elijah leads."

"Hey," Hannah whispered, "Let's let Elijah lead us when we're on the wooden walk-way." They all giggled and agreed. Elijah was thrilled and never caught on to their scheme not to let him get us lost.

After the wooden bridge, it was Toby's turn to lead. The very first fork in the path that he came to, he chose the wrong direction. Naomi looked at me, knowing he was leading us the wrong way, but I shrugged and told her that it was generally the right direction. I thought I knew where he was headed and figured he couldn't get us too lost in a county park.

We happily traipsed along the trial beside the swampy woods in the dimming evening light. Toby soon realized that he had no clue where we were, and asked if we should turn around. "Nah," I said, "we'll pop out of the woods on the road soon. But when we finally did pop out, we were at a shelter house that I'd never seen before. That was the first time I realized I was turned around. The sky was cloudy, giving little hint of which direction held the fading sun. I could have called Matt and asked for directions, but I didn't want to have to do that, so I chose another trail through the woods that seemed to lead in the direction we needed to go.

By now Toby and Elijah were tired and worried. "Mom, is it possible we could actually get stuck in the woods all night?" Toby asked.

"No, buddy," I assured him, "I know where we're going." But I was losing my confidence. When that trail dead-ended at a "Private Property" sign, I actually started to worry. We had maybe thirty minutes of daylight left, and at least a mile to go to get back to our subdivision. We turned down another path with my steps quickening.

When we finally popped out in familiar territory, I sighed, "See, Toby, I knew where we were going. That was fun, wasn't it?"

"More like absolutely terrifying!" he retorted.

"I think I touched poison ivy," Elijah worried, "and you need to check me out for fleas."

Crossing a little bridge Hannah noticed a large, dead turtle floating upside down in the water. We all stood, peering over the bridge and trying not to gag at the rotting sight. "Where are its wings?" Elijah asked. I wasn't sure how to answer that.

Finally making our way back through the frisbee golf course, we met a deer, quietly standing and staring at us. We watched her and whispered, and quietly walked toward her. She flicked her ears and her tail at us and finally walked calmly into the woods.

Eventually we found goal 19 and the foot-path to our subdivision, stepping out onto the streets just as the streetlights were coming on.

"I can't believe Emma missed our adventure!" Hannah moaned. "We saw a really long wooden bridge, a huge hill, a deer, a dead turtle…"

"…agent stairs, fleas..." I added.

"…and we got LOST," she continued. Emma's going to be soooo sad!"

At last, after probably a four-mile walk, we stumbled into our home, only to find Matt and Emma happily challenging each other at a 1990s Super Nintendo soccer game.

"Oh man," Matt said, "You guys missed out."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Toby, Brave and Charming

When we moved to our new house last fall, we moved 20 minutes away from the nearest hospital. Given my kids' health history and semi-frequent-flier status at the ER, I was thrilled to see a brand new urgent care clinic being constructed this spring just five minutes away from our new house. Every time I drove by I thought to myself, "It won't be long until that's going to come in handy."

Yesterday all Toby could talk about was going to the pool. He wanted to go first thing in the morning when he woke up. Unfortunately, we didn't have much food prepared in the house, and I had to spend the afternoon cooking. I told Toby I would do my best to get us to the evening swim session from 6-8pm. He spent the rest of the day asking every few minutes if it was time to put his swim trunks and sunscreen on.

"Is it time to go to the pool yet?" he asked at 1:00pm. "Should we get our swimsuits on, just to be ready?"

"Buddy," I answered, while chopping red peppers and onions, "by the time I get done making the chicken salad sandwiches and flatbreads it's going to be 3:00, and by the time we got to the pool after that it would be closing for swim lessons at 4:00. We're going to have to wait until the 6:00 swim session. That's five hours away. Go find something else to do for awhile."

"Ohhhhh!" he whined, staggering backward with the pain of this news, which I'd already told him twice before, "I can't wait! I'm going to go off the diving board like fifty times! Seriously, I can't wait!"

"Toby, go away," I cautioned him, losing patience, "I will tell you when it's time to get ready."

He managed to spend some time playing in a cape in the back yard, but the heat only reminded him of how much he wanted to swim. He wiggled a loose tooth, and them came to me and begged me to pull it out for him. Growing more annoyed with the interruptions, I grabbed a paper towel and yanked it out, which made him happy for a good fifteen minutes. Eating chicken salad sandwiches on warm, fresh flatbreads cheered him up for awhile, but it wasn't long before he was back to pestering.

"OK, fine," I caved at 5:00pm. "You guys can go put on your swimsuits and sunscreen. Hannah, can you help put the boys' sunscreen on? Emma, bring me your hairbrush and pony tail holders. Let's get ready to go."

"Whaaaahooo!" Toby cheered, running back to his room. "Time to jump off the diving board!"

Within a few minutes we were suited up and lathered up, and Toby was begging to unlock the van. "Sure, buddy," I said, peering into the hallway mirror and smoothing the last bits of sunscreen on my forehead. Toby cheered, turned around, bent over like a track star, and ran full-speed-ahead around the corner toward the kitchen. One second later there was a loud crack, followed by a horrible scream.

All moms know their children's' screams. We can identify from four rooms away which scream means "She stole my legos," which one means, "Someone's chasing me with a squirt gun," and which one means, "I have a paper cut and my life is flashing before my eyes." I have sat calmly and sipped coffee in front of guests who are panicking when my children scream. "No, no, I assure them, that child just stubbed their toe on the bathroom door and they will appear hopping on one foot in three…two…one… cue the hopping child." There are very, very few screams which will raise my heart rate at this point in my mothering career, and when they happen I usually find myself scolding my wounded child with something  like, "Good grief, Hannah, I thought you were actually hurt. I don't want to hear a scream like that again unless you're missing a finger."

But this scream sent an immediate jolt of adrenaline into my mama brain. "Toby!" I called over the screaming. "Come here! Let me see it. OK, buddy, let me see," I coached as he came running with his hand clasped over his left cheek and blood dripping down his face onto his swim shirt and down onto the hardwood floors. Judging by the amount of blood I immediately changed my mind and told him not to take his hand off the wound while I rushed him toward the bathroom.

Of course, the bathroom door was locked, and the occupant was unable to unlock it at the moment. So I shuttled, poor screaming Toby toward the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood drips behind us. I must have had blood on my hands at that point because as I swung my hand up for the paper towels I splattered blood on the counter, the Kitchen aid mixer, the butcher knives, and the wall. I used the first wet paper towel to uncover Toby's face, and the second to dry the wound enough to examine it.

"OK, buddy, OK, " I repeated, "Let me see it. Shhhhh! Take a deep breath and blow it out like birthday candles. There you go. Blow it out again. OK." Trying to keep him calm, I looked at his blood stained shirt and joked, "Well, I don't think you'll be wearing that swim shirt to the pool today."

Instantly Toby's tears welled up again, "Well, can't we just rinse it out or something?" he pleaded.

But looking at the half-inch long, deep, and gaping gash on Toby's left cheek bone, I knew I had to break some tougher news to him. "Kiddo, I don't think we're going to be able to go swimming tonight. I need to let a doctor look at this. You might need stitches."

This is where poor, brave Toby lost it. Talk about adding insult to injury. All he wanted was to go swimming, and now we were heading to the doctor instead. Puddles of tears ran down into the wound and soaked the paper towel he was holding. "I'm so sorry, buddy. I know it stinks, but we need to get you taken care of," I consoled him.

"Do stitches hurt?" he asked.

"Not too much, they give you a medicine to numb your skin so you don't feel much, and sometimes they can just use a glue to hold the cut together."

"Glue?!" he asked again, with wider, wet eyes. "Does glue hurt?"

"Not much at all, I said. You'll be OK, let's get ready to go. Everybody change back into clothes!," I called out, "we're going to go visit the new urgent care building."

By the time we arrived at urgent care and were called back to be seen, Toby was calm and the wound wasn't bleeding much anymore. The doctor looked at the the gash and told me that it was too deep and too gaping for derma-bond glue. "I think it'll come together nicely with a couple sutures," she said.

"Sutures?!" a keen-eared Toby piped up. "What are sutures? Do they hurt?"

The doctor left briefly to gather her supplies and find an assistant. I held Toby's hands and bent down to look in his eyes. "Listen, bud," I coached him, "it's a lot like a blood draw. Remember how you sat so still and brave for your last blood draw, and everybody was so proud of you? Remember how it hurts less if you sit still and brave, and it hurts more if you fight? It's the same with stitches. We need to do them to help that gash heal well, and the doctor will be as gentle as possible. She doesn't want to hurt you, but you have to help her out and be brave, OK?"

He nodded, with his blood-shot eyes all brimming with tears, "OK."

The doctor appeared with a tray of suture supplies, and the assistant came in with a large sheet in her hands. "I think we'll just wrap this around him to help him hold still," she said.

I declined. "He'll be alright without that," I assured her. "He's a tough guy, right Toby?" Toby nodded.

I held Toby's hands, and the assistant helped hold his head still while the doctor washed and sterilized the wound. Elijah and Hannah kept crowding around, trying to watch and I kept shooing them back to their chairs.

"Are you a homeschool family?" the doctor asked. When I said that we were, she replied, "I knew it. I can always tell. They're so well behaved."

"Aw, thanks," I answered, "you hear that, Toby, you're doing a good job!"

The doctor smiled, "He's doing awesome."

The worst part was the needle with the numbing medicine. Toby tensed up. Tears welled up again. I coached him to take deep breaths and blow them out and he followed my instructions. Once he realized the the wound was numb, he relaxed and smiled. Then he turned on the charm.

"Can you feel that?" the doctor asked, pinching his cheek.

"Nah, I'm good," he responded cooly, and giving a thumbs up. He laughed a little as the doctor pulled the sutures through his skin under his eye and tied them up. We talked for a minute about how a third suture might help, and I told the doctor to go ahead and put a third in if he needed it.

"Yeah," Toby agreed, "go ahead. I'm good. I'm so good."

We all chuckled at his bravery. "I guess I don't need to hold his head," the assistant laughed.

"Toby, you've done better than a lot of grown men who come in here for stitches," the doctor praised him. "I have an idea, when you come back in five days to get these removed, you can just stay with me, OK? I'd like to keep you."

Toby beamed with pride and with relief when the stitches were finished. After a dab of antibiotic ointment and a dump trucks band-aid, which his mother would be way too cheap to ever buy for him, he was all set to go.

"Toby you can come back and visit us any time you want to, OK?" the doctor said, "We wouldn't mind  helping you again at all."

I thought that might be a dangerous invitation for a seven-year-old boy, but I appreciated the compliment and the grin it put on Toby's face. His grin faded a little when they gave us the final care instructions, which included no swimming for a full week, but he kept his brave face on, nodding, "That's OK, I'm good."

Everyone was chuckling as we left with Toby waving good-bye and thanking them for the stitches. After a popsicle, some Tylenol, and a cartoon of his choice at home, Toby was ready for bed. When I reminded him that the tooth fairy also owed him a dollar for that tooth he lost earlier, and told him I'd pay him upfront, since the tooth fairy is sometimes unreliable, he was all grins.

How's he doing today? He's good. He's so good.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Toby Finds His Flippers

Sometime about four years ago I looked at my five small children and thought: "This summer I HAVE to start teaching this rabble how to ride bikes and how to swim. I might just die before I ever get all five of my kids riding bikes and swimming, but I'll have to die trying. If by some miracle they all learn to ride bikes and swim to save their lives, my work on this earth will be done."

Now, teaching any child to ride a bike or swim is a challenging task, but you have to know that Naomi and Emma have extra difficulties with balance and coordination. Naomi, who has mild autism, also absolutely couldn't stand the feeling of water on her face, and Toby has been afraid to death of water since he was a toddler. He never wanted to be at a swimming pool, splash pad, or anywhere else wet. I had my work cut out for me.

And so, four years ago, I started running behind wobbly bikes, bandaging scraped knees, and encouraging discouraged hearts. I started forcefully holding screaming children in the water while they pled for their lives and lifeguards gave me questioning looks. I stood for hours that added up to weeks, coaching and coaxing my kids to put their ears under water, relax and float, coordinate their strokes, not panic if they got splashed, be brave, put their head under water, relax and kick...

And you guys, by some miracle, one by one, they began to ride on their own! And we cheered and grabbed the camera and threw little parties for each one. And this summer all five of my kids are riding bikes all on their own!

And one by one the girls began to swim. They began to pass the pool swim test and proudly get tagged with the bright orange tag that allows them to jump off the diving board. One by one, they began to gather up their courage and jump off the diving board and I would hold my breath each time until their head popped up above the water and they swam to the edge with ease. And we threw little celebrations in the pool and even the lifeguards smiled.

Toby screamed for a full hour and a half last summer when I first forced him into the water. Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, he gathered up his courage and learned to float and almost swam last summer. I hated when the pool closed last fall because I was afraid I would lose all that progress over the winter.

Last week we got our summer season passes to the local pool again and started hitting the pool at least three days a week. I almost couldn't believe it, but Toby got right in and picked up right where he left off last August. In the last two weeks, Toby has learned to back float and swim on his back, swim on his front with a sort-of breast stroke, and tread water. He got up his courage and went down the water slides, even though that meant his head went under the water at the end, and today…today he gathered up his courage and took the pool swim test.

The lifeguard who gave the test, just happened to be one who had watched Toby for three years: watched him sit happily on the side of the pool with a life preserver on while I taught his sisters to swim, watched him scream and fight me last summer, and watched him grow his flippers this summer. "OK, buddy, let's go," he said. Toby clenched his fists and mustered his courage as he walked to the pool, then he floated, and swam, and treaded water in the deep end, and he passed that test!!!

Oh my word, we whooped and hollered, and all the lifeguards smiled, and Toby got tagged!

Ahhh! I'm almost done folks, four kids are swimming now. Maybe, just maybe I'll get Elijah swimming this summer, but judging by the way he screamed when I took his life jacket off today, I might still have some work ahead of me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

From Venus Until Galaxies

Not yet a year after I learned to form letters
In the wide glowing green of an evening backyard
The apple trees whispered to me
"Wake up"

"Sit still, little soul, and see"
"Rest from your play, learn to love awe, wonder at being"
It was then that I found my spirit didn't fit
Came squeezing out my eyes
And grasping for a something to catch it
I picked up a pencil and laid it in a notebook
"The apple trees are beautiful," I wrote
And it was enough

In seventh grade I stole the barstools from the kitchen
And draped them with a blanket so I could sit for hours
Beside my bedroom window after dark
Because there were stars beyond the apple trees
Because the stars and the trees and the mystery whispered
"Wake up"

There was a solitary tree in the plaza in the city
Bricked in it stood grieving beneath my dormitory window
Too burdened to whisper under the orange glow of city night
With ceaseless sirens and never a star

Sometimes the hills of Massachusetts whispered
Once in the fall the yellow leaves lifted my feet and my spirit
Down a settler's stone path to the ocean's edge
And the wide bright sky on the wide blue waves
Held my breath
And whispered, "Wake up"

In the irony of motherhood I never slept
And yet I slept for nearly a decade
Slept in the necessity, in the doctors and the dishes
In keeping everyone alive

Once in every while, usually with a child strapped on
I walked away alone and listened
Listened to the willows weeping where they stood
Sentenced to adorn retention ponds in the stifling suburbs
Listened to the endless cornfields ripple in the Iowa desert
And nearly screamed at the silent, treeless yard of the subdivision
Where no amount of fertilizer could make that green grass live

When my soul was nearly deaf from silence
We moved beneath five ancient battered pines
Beneath an ivy-drenched elm and an ash that had been lost to beetles
After a century of shading a farmhouse that barely remembered it used to be white
They solemnly watched a horizon where fireflies blinked
Where the sun always called to me as it left each day
"Wake up"

"Sit still, weary soul, and see"
"Love awe, and wonder, and being"
Until I gasped and breathed
Until I felt my soul couldn't fit
Until I found a paper to lay it in again

I rested there
Rocked my last baby long after he was asleep
From Venus until galaxies
Humming, thanking, grieving, writing

The pines turned their backs to hide their grief
When I left that porch
Left it for necessity
For a better place to do laundry and dishes
And keep everyone alive
"I can't see the sunsets here," I said
And my husband sighed
Because he's not the type to talk to pines

Sometime in the winter I stopped at the sink
Noticed the frozen branches of the plain maple against the sky
And marveled how the pattern differed from the oak peeking over the privacy fence
And from the half-dead elm with the holes in the top where the sparrows slept
When the green buds lined their patterns in spring
I marveled more and hated the maple less for not being a pine

"Did you ever have a favorite tree, mom?"
My daughter asked me today
"What did you name it?"
And I laughed to see that the apple tree's apples hadn't fallen far
"What is that maple's name?" I asked her
"That's Lucy," she grinned as if she knew her well

Tonight I took a paper and a pencil
Sat still on the new sunporch
That I thought a little too new to speak just yet
And looked to Lucy
"Well…" I said
To my delight she replied
"Wake up"

And when my spirit dripped over
I caught it here
And for tonight
It is enough

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In the Waves Below

Sweet baby girl with the hot tears brimming and streaking
Brimming and streaking as you swipe them with a cuff
Trickling down red cheeks because these feelings are bigger than before
Bigger than they were when you were six and all the world was right
And always would be

Sweet baby girl, now you are ten and now you feel
Deeper, broader, wider than you ever knew you could
Swept under by sadness that never more than lapped your toes
Never more than brushed your cheek when you were six
And all the world was right

You don't know how to brush it away anymore
Don't know how to laugh it off, how to forget
Telling me you don't want these emotions
Asking me to help you turn them off, and how to go back
To always cheerful, always smiles

Sweet baby girl don't give in to that, don't shut down
Let me stand beside you and let's feel this now
Don't be afraid of sorrow, grief, and last good-byes
I'll walk you down this path I've memorized by now
Down the path of broken hearts

Take a long, last, wistful look at innocence and childhood
Throw your head back to the melancholy waves, let the tears run
Down your face, and tell your your heart that it's OK to grieve
To grieve for all this world has lost, and all you lost today
Before you heal

So say it, please baby girl, let it all out now
It's OK
"Good-bye sweet Jim
I loved you with every space in my enormous little heart
I loved your head and tail held high every time that I would ride
The way your spunky steps made every other horse a bore
White socks prancing at the lead before the tired old guys
You were old, but you were never tired
I loved the way your spark matched mine
And I was always proud to be the one to ride you"

"Good-bye sweet Jim
My heart is breaking looking at you green pasture empty
Holding close the pictures that they gave me
Wondering if maybe 
I could visit your new home someday
I hope that you are happy"

Sweet baby girl with the hot tears brimming and streaking
Sometimes in the saying and the feeling lies the balm
Don't try to turn it off, let yourself feel it
Say it, write it, cry it to the stars above
In the waves below
Find healing

All the Little Poets

I've been listening to Andrew Peterson again lately. Matt likes to make fun of him. He says his voice sounds like Kermit the Frog. Admittedly, his voice does. So I have to smuggle in my Andrew Peterson time while Matt is at work. I don't listen for his voice, I listen for his heart that so often matches mine in this draining world.

It's been years since I last really listened, and I realized that I've missed a lot of beautiful songs. Yesterday I discovered this one:

All the Poets

To all the poets I have known
Who saw the beauty in the commonplace
Saw incarnation in a baby's face
And in a drop of rain, the stars

When there was mud and blood and tears
You sang a song at night to calm our fears
You made a moment last a thousand years
You are the poets I have known

To all the poets I have known
You built a kingdom out of sea and sand
You conquered armies with a marching band
You carved a galaxy in stone

You built an altar out of bread
And spent your soul to see the children fed
You wove your heart in every story read
Thank God for poets I have known

And you keep on dreaming when the dreams all fade
When friends desert me, you're the ones who stayed
To write the prayers when every prayer had been prayed
You are the poets I have known

You turned your tears into a string of pearls
You held your sorrow high to light the world
When I thought I was alone

In every man you saw the boy
The hidden heart the dark could not destroy
Slipped past the dragons with a tale of joy
Thank God for poets I have known

And you keep on dreaming when the dreams all fade
When friends desert me, you're the ones who stayed
To write the prayers when every prayer had been prayed

You walking wounded of my life
Who bled compassion in the heat of strife
You stood between my heart and Satan's knife
With just the armor of a song

You are the heroes and the brave
Who with a slender pen our passions save
And chisel epitaphs upon the graves
Of all the poets I have known

So keep on dreaming. . .

You can listen to the song here.

This morning I decided we needed more poetry in our family life, so today's one and only school project was to discuss this song and then to find one ordinary object in our house and write about the beauty or joy they found in it. Below are the amazing works that my little poets came up with.

by Toby Eby, age 7
(editor's note: Kiki is the name of Toby's white blanket that he's had since he was a baby. It got this name when he had trouble saying "Blankie" and said "Kiki" instead.)

Very comfortable
Since I was a baby
I like to cuddle with Kiki when I am tired
I feel happy

Lego Elves
by Emma Eby, age 8

Lego Elves
Oh, how I love to play with Legos
I love to pretend that I'm sailing out to sea
And Farran is flying on his dragon right after me
Looking up ahead, Aira is flying on her pegasus sleigh
And if I look down I could see Naida
Riding and playing with the dolphins
Azari is on the ship with me
And is trying to turn the water into fire
When I'm playing with my Legos
I feel so great

by Hannah Eby, age 10

A small well-loved blanket
Worn and dusty because of love
Since I was two years old, she has never left my side
Though people call her grey, I can see her pink
No blanket could be loved more than Blankie

They way her fabric feels is comforting in hard times
The small Piglet patch woven on from Winnie The Pooh
Has memories of cuddling with her
Clinging to it
I could never sleep peacefully without Blankie by my side

by Naomi Eby, age one-week-shy-of-twelve

Tiny little blocks that don't amount to anything
Yet they bring together siblings that otherwise have separate interests
Unlike other toys, they don't grow old
because you can always imagine and then build something new and different
There is no end to the adventures they hold

Something like WildStyle's motorcycle, driven by Lego Kai
Might be going on a picnic with Lego Friends
Or a stormtrooper in the latest flying machine
Might be pursuing Aira's Pegasus sleigh
There is no end to the laughs when Toby's driver, in the newest mobile
Says, "Can't catch me!" and then is caught unaware by Emma's driver
Who has crept quietly around the corner
And then when he flees right into the hands of mine

I love these little blocks
That enable us to have such good times

I am so impressed by what my children came up with today. I hope they keep on writing.

To all the poets I am raising,
And to all the poets who are reading,
Keep on dreaming.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Cost

Her bike gave way going around the corner
I found her with a bloody knee full of gravel
But not a tear in her eye
She limped home beside me
And we shared a laugh imagining the ruckus
That would have raised the neighbors
If it had been her sister with a gravel-packed knee

Only the next day her horse startled into a gallop
Threw her to the dirt
Jerked the arm that clung to the reigns
Bruised the tailbone that took the pounding
They tell me she got up, shook it off
Rode that horse back to the barn
Not a tear in her eye

Yesterday she pushed a lawn mower
Rickety and stubborn, heavy in the grass
Off and on we took turns for four long hours
Leaning in hard
Steps determined
Hands growing red and numb
With no complaint

Until the sun drifted just a little lower
Not low enough to bother me
Not yet even twilight
But a shade too low for her failing eyes
That no longer saw the line where she should push
Straining and squinting into the green blur
The tears rose up

Today she came to me for the third time
With the same bloodied knee
Scab torn off twice now
Not from a tragic fall from a bike or a horse
Those she can take with grace
But because her own feet had betrayed her again
Just walking down the driveway
And the tears rose up

"I can't even run around like a normal kid"
Stinging my heart along with hers
No ointments or bandages to offer for her real wounds
Except to tell her that such strength
Such tenacity
Such beauty
Come at a high cost
And that she was earning them well

Friday, April 29, 2016


From the time I found out I was having my first son, I wanted him to have a brother. When our life was in upheaval, and I wasn't sure I could handle any more kids, I leapt out of the boat and prayed, "Please, Lord, give us a healthy little boy. Toby needs a brother. They will have each other their whole lives."

God gave us Elijah Gabriel, and he gave us brothers.

I have loved watching these two grow together.

Sometimes having a brother can be a little scary...

But they're handy to play cars with.

When your mom dresses you up in a fluffy lamb costume, your brother understands.

And when she gets it right with Superman costumes, you can rock them together.

Soon you learn that pretty much anything is better with a brother.

There are blanket forts to be built...

Fair rides to be ridden...

Leaf piles to be buried in…

And they're all more fun with a brother.

You just can't learn to be a true Jedi by yourself.

Sometimes you need a brother to lead your horse.

If you don't want to wear a fuzzy bear hat by yourself, your brother will wear one with you.

Brothers are like Batman and…that other guy with a bike helmet and an Owen Grady vest.

They're like police and firemen.

They go together. Always.

From the moment their little feet hit the hardwood floor in the morning, these boys are together now. Most mornings they have to run up and down the hallway shrieking and laughing together at least fifteen times before they settle in to making oatmeal together for breakfast. I wake to find oatmeal bits and syrup puddles strewn throughout the kitchen, and two boys dressed in non-sensical arrangements of weather-innappropriate clothing and dress up shenanigans, begging to run free outside in the great backyard and in their endless imaginations.

I cannot imagine one without the other anymore. What are they up to today? Doesn't matter. As long as they're together.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

To the Beach

Frozen casseroles, shopping lists, stacks of snacks and sandwiches
Phone calls, Facebook messages, google maps, planning
Gathering, packing, packing
All worth the time we planned to have
Seeing family rarely seen, giving our kids a chance to build relationships
Showing our children the ocean for the very first time
And maybe the last time for two who may not see much longer
Coughing, coughing, crying just four hours into a thirteen hour drive
Just four hours into our happy trip
Impromptu stop for medicine, hoping it's a fluke
Maybe it's allergies
Until the second one starts in
Between the lingering coughs from a week-old cold
And the new frantic hacking coming on
We sound more like a mobile tuberculosis ward
Than a family on their way to the beach

Fevers just starting as we pull into my brother's
And the first words out of my mouth are
"I'm so sorry"
So sorry to bring with us whatever plague is ensuing
So sorry that I didn't know this was coming
That I can already see that this won't be the retreat that we had all hoped
And that there is nothing any of us can do about that now

Hand washing, sanitizing, "cover your mouth," "no hugging your cousins"
Wondering, should we go forward still? Should we go home?
High fevers, tears, ibuprofen, robitussin, nebulizer breathing treatments
CVS Minute Clinic confirms it's influenza
But we're already here, already in this too deep
So we push ahead, determined now
We're going to milk a few sweet memories out of this trip
In between the miseries
Hannah's cousin checks on her, lying listless on the couch
"Should I get you a cool rag for your forehead?
That's what my mom gets for me when I have a fever, and it helps a lot."
He kneels beside her, totally unprompted, praying
"Dear God, please help Hannah feel better"
And I see that we are making sweet memories
Though not the kind we had planned

Naomi's fever begins just before we are to leave for the beach house
I question myself again
Are we heading the right direction?
North or south? North or south?
We load the van, still unsure which way we will go
I call Naomi's doctors who agree to call in Tamiflu for her
We find a pharmacy at our destination that will have it tomorrow
Then abandoning safety Matt carries her to the car
Lays her in the front seat, reclined, while she whimpers
And I squeeze into the back seat in her place
We. Are. Going. To. The. Beach.

Coughing, coughing the whole way there
Four kids running fevers, me passing out ibuprofen to the kids with healthy kidneys
Tylenol to two with bum kidneys, and nothing for poor Naomi
She can't have either
She fights the fever the old fashioned way, with rest, cool rags, and prayer
I log temps, and medication doses in a notebook
Passing mess and charting like the influenza ward nurse on overtime
We. Are. Going. To. The. Beach.

Pulling in after dark Naomi is writhing now, crying that she just wants a bed
Fever is 103.5
We tuck her in, make her drink, drink, drink
Plug in the nebulizer, make the rounds to the others with albuterol, steroids,
Meds, charting, meds, charting
Go to sleep, little ones, we made it
Maybe you will feel better in the morning
Please, Lord, let us all feel better in the morning

The beach house is beautiful, smells fresh and salty and summery
A welcome reprieve from the Indiana winter we have invaded it with
Large and airy, decorated with flip-flops, anchors, sea-shells, trinkets
And pictures of a family always in white, always on the warm sandy beach
Wind-tossed and happy
We made it
Restless sleep, making rounds every few hours, checking fevers, passing meds
6:00 am coaxing Naomi into a tepid bath, hoping to woo her fever down a few degrees
Achy and exhausted at breakfast
A bleary-eyed Elijah looks over the bowl of oatmeal he refuses to eat
Looks out the window and wrinkles up his forehead
"I see...pine trees?" he asks, unsure
Laughter finds me then
"Those are palm trees, buddy. You've never seen those before, have you?"

With my four kids who are still (barely) standing, all maximally medicated,
And hacking all the way we finally make the trek to the beach
Matt stays back with Naomi
The cousins run ahead
Through the tree-tunnel foot path
Up and down the reed speckled dunes
Warm white sand slips under my toes
Then everyone is running
Running down the last dune
To the enormous ocean
To the cold, windy waves
Broken sea shells under our feet
Still coughing, but we don't notice it much anymore
We made it
Hannah, Emma, Toby, Elijah, and their cousins
All jumping up and down in the cold, frothy surf
Seagulls overhead
Yelling out to me about how big the ocean is, and how loud
How the waves pull the sand out from under their feet as they slink back into the sea
Asking if they can feed the seagulls
Clambering for buckets and shovels and the right mixture of sand and water
Bringing piles of shells to me to keep for their collections
Trying to convince me that a swimsuit is all they need to wear
In the windy, cloudy, 65 degree weather when they are sick with influenza
They have forgotten they are sick

Toby reenacts Chariots of Fire
Running through the surf, loving our laughter all the way
Elijah is unsure of the waves so I coax him out there
And hold his tiny feet in the cold water while he screams "No! No!"
Half-from cold shock and half from excitement
In a minute he is jumping and splashing with all the rest
Screaming with joy as the waves come in and wash over his little knees
Clinging to my arms, trying to pull himself out of the water
Laughing at the futility
Laughing even more when a huge wave washes over both of us and soaks us waist down

We cuddle under towels and watch the blue and gray horizon
I see a dorsal fin not that far away
Almost can't believe it, thinking "shark"
But it jumps, bent gracefully, joined by others in front and behind
I yell with my sore, broken voice over the pounding surf
Yell for the kids to look, dolphins!
For a minute there is a break in the jumping and screaming
While they all strain to make out the grey, jumping dolphins in the grey water
They see them. Just for a second, they see them with their own eyes
It is worth it all

Before long we need reprieve from the wind
We need food and medication and rest
Naomi needs me to check on her
But as soon as we can make it, we are back at the beach
Gathering sights and feelings,  glimpses and memories
Treasuring them up like little pearls of great price
So costly, still worth it
By the next morning, with Tamiflu and prayers, Naomi's fever has broken
But her cousin has fallen to fever and cough
"I'm so sorry, buddy" I say
"That's OK," he croaks with a smile
He spends his second beach morning at the island's urgent care
Naomi is weak, but I don't want her to rest, I want her to see the ocean
I bathe her, feed her, practically push her down the path
She has reluctantly agreed to go, saying she will rest on the beach
But the sea surf is magical
She too forgets her illness, rolls up her pants, and puts her feet in the salty, foamy waves
They are seeing the ocean, if just for an hour
Smelling it, touching it, feeling the wet grains pulled out from under their feet
Pelicans overhead today, gliding on the pounding wind
Suddenly diving into the water for fish
Naomi sees them, stands with her toes in the waves, and watches them
We are miserable, and happy
Wrapping towels and hoods over our sore ears
Coughing and coughing in the wind

Emma is determined to build a sand castle
Works diligently for an hour
Packing sand, placing sea shells
It is beautiful
Such a costly sand castle
We made it. It's worth it
Eventually they tire
The misery wins out over the joy
We trudge back over the dunes with heavy feet
Showers, laundry, dinner, meds, nebulizers
Packing up, hauling out
Brining with us those few precious pictures
Those few happy videos
Those costly memories
Running for home and safety and rest

One last night with the cousins
Followed by hours and hours back through the mountains and plains
Through the red-bud lined interstates and the bright green mountain pastures
Dotted with this year's new calves
Hours and hours of driving
Calling out to the kids to savor that rose-pink sunset over the appalachian hills
They are too tired to savor anything any more
And then we are home

But we made it
They saw it
Pray they hold those memories
Miles of grey waves against the cloudy sky
Tiny dolphins on the horizon
Pelicans diving
Cold foamy waves on the scratchy sand
Pray they hold them
Precious costly pearls
Safely wrapped their whole life through
We made it