Dear Seniors (and me)

Leila and I just biked through the College. The First Day of Classes has dawned in the traditional haze of fog and heat and people being on time, for the last time. I saw a mother giving  final instructions to her son who was  wearing a backpack, and at least 20 years old. Note to self: Do not be that mother. Go home. Stay there.

A friend wrote me requesting advice for Senior Year in college.

Look. Don’t ask the mother of three, currently defrosting chicken,  for advice on  senior year because it will inevitably involve one word exhortations: ENJOY! EXPERIENCE! LIVE! DANCE! TRAVEL! DANCE! TRAVEL!

Then I thought about it for another minute and actually remembered senior year. Filled with dance and travel, and tears and anxiety and confused awe at those Business School Majors  heading to job fairs in fancy suits. Wait a minute? That’s why we’ve been in this place for four years? To get a job at the end of it? Well if  someone had just told me that… 

So here’s my advice for Senior Year, in whatever form we all may be experiencing it:

Dear Seniors –

Live. Laugh.Dance. Travel. Learn. Love. Eat cheese fries like no one’s judging.

Leave a legacy. Otherwise, you just leave. 

If this is all you need to hear, great. I’ll see you at graduation, (or someday after because who has 17 hours on a Sunday in May?)

But some of you might need to hear this as well:

For most of you, life up to this point was school followed by more school. But, over the next few months, people  with whom who you have shared life  and meals and endless hours of non-productivity will begin making different decisions for the future. And if you’re anywhere near normal, you will be very tempted to feel very insecure.

But hear me now. Don’t waste your dancing time comparing.  Life only gets more varied. People you love spread out farther away, going in different directions, taking separate paths. You choose whether to be threatened or to celebrate. Each and every time.

In John 21, Jesus reinstates Peter, asking him to feed his sheep. He then talks about the kind of death Peter will face, only to have Peter point to John and ask, “Well what about him?”  There’s no mention of eye rolling in the Bible, but if that was a 1st century Greek expression, I think we’d find Jesus doing it here. Instead he responds with the ultimate checkmate in the comparison game “…what is that to you? You must follow me.”

It’s been my most favorite part of the whole Bible for about seventeen years. I wonder why?

One of my dearest friends, I met exactly six years ago. We had both just moved to Williamsburg. We both had crawling babies. We both had resigned from our jobs in June to stay home, an expression I’ve always found lacking, especially because we never wanted to be home. So we’ve spent the last six years at each others houses and all over this town with a cluster of blonde and almost blonde kids in tow.

She’s gone back to teaching this month and I couldn’t be more proud or excited for  her and the students in that fifth grade class. I’m also wildly jealous of them and am hoping for a Fifth Grade Puerto Rican Pride Day so I can be a featured guest.

But she’s gone back to work. I haven’t.  Life is changing. We’re both where we’re supposed to be.

The truth about  Senior Year, friends, is these parts never end.

When tempted to compare, celebrate –  always, always. (And dance, travel…)

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On Going Home

We were in Virginia Beach last week.  We rode bikes and swam and waited for the sun to come out but then decided to ride bikes and swim anyways.

We went to The Water Park Formerly Known as Wild Water Rapids.  They’ve renamed the rides and  now sell funnel cakes but I can still take you right to the First Aid room in case you lose a tooth.

I spent some time at my parents house around the kitchen island. At one point I found myself eating tacos with my 20-year old brother at three in the afternoon for no reason except my Mom made them for us and we were at the island. We followed them up with a few trips to the pantry for chips and the tub of chocolate covered almonds, all the while discussing, with fervor, a range of topics upon which we consider ourselves authorities. Or, at the  least, funny.

If  you’ve been to that island and you know only two things are required: an appetite and an opinion. The appetite can be forced and the opinion ridiculous, but you best show up ready to roll. And if you find yourself alone, just wait, someone will  join you. They may speak only Spanish, but those almonds unite us all.

My parents bought their house in 1990. Daniel was 10, I was 9, Ruthie was 5 and Peter was as my Mom would say, ” a twinkle in God’s eye”. My Dad had to do some significant renovations just for us to move in, and by significant I mean, the house was awful. But its purchase provided a return to the beach from their 4 year exile to suburbia. When I begin to wonder how I’ve made it in my teeny house I remember that “For sale, As Is” sign and our family’s deep belief in the three rules of real estate: location location location.

In 1992, Peter’s arrival was imminent,  my Dad renovated the room over the garage to become Daniel’s bedroom, and space was made for the small post-Christmas child.

During the winter of 1995, I was an eighth grade cheerleader, and we lived at Grandma’s house while my Dad (wait for it) added a sunroom,  renovated the kitchen and built the island.

Then my Dad rested.  No not really. He built a few boats, moved people in and out of horrid college housing, hosted a few weddings and built us a shed in our backyard.

In 2009 they hired contractors to do the biggest renovation yet: enlarging the family room, dining room, and adding a suite for my grandparents, who were moving in.

But by this point, four of his grandchildren were running around, so my Dad, at my Mom’s decree,  managed to throw up a custom playhouse in the backyard in 2011.

This year the grandchildren count has reached seven and last month my Dad, at my Mom’s decree,  built a 57 foot wheelchair ramp for my grandmother that wraps discreetly around the side of the house.

The island stands strong. The pantry remains full. If you need a salad dressing, any salad dressing, it’s in the fridge.

In recent years,  I’ve realized that my parents are radicals, and not just in their ability to stockpile condiments. When everything around says GO, CHANGE, FAR, FAST, They stay, they welcome, they make more room.

Travis commented on it with awe to  me a few years ago, “Do you know what it costs to be that stable?” We had just added one mouth to feed and would look at that tiny infant in our tiny apartment in our chaotic lives and feel exhausted.

“She’s always here,” he’d whispered in those first blurry months. What do my parents think about all of us?  Still crowding around their island on trips home? Still eating their food, and between bites requesting custom built furniture. It hasn’t been the two of them in a house since 1979.

This August time in Virginia Beach has become a tradition – a last chance to rest before gearing up for the Fall.  I wanted to come back with a short list of priorities that would provide a shape to these next months, perhaps a clear manual on “how to  parent a first grader for success and security.” What I got?  A reminder of what truly powerful lives look like, and how they are built on sacrifice, not success, and so often, staying, not going.



Yellow Doors and Crystal Lakes

Way back in April, some dear friends invited us to their family’s lake house in July. I’m in that swirling season where I have trouble committing to a lunch time, but every part of me exclaimed, “Yes. We will make this happen. We must make this happen.”

So a few weekends ago we loaded the van up with bikes, children, bathing suits, and a disassembled exersaucer, and made the drive to Crystal Lake, PA.

We were guests in a gorgeous old cottage, complete with a huge front porch, bright yellow door, and a long, wide picnic table. Our kids were the only kids, so our mornings were a bit earlier and a bit louder. But the house had no central air, providing, instead, large fans that produced a white noise so exacting, Leila slept her best yet. And each evening, worn out from swimming and canoeing all three little girls would be tucked into bed, and we grown ups would gather around that picnic table on the porch, covered with a tablecloth for formality, and dine. 

We laughed and told old stories and new stories, the only theme of which was total and complete self-deprecation. Remember that time…? Have we told you this one…?

We were known, accepted and overfed.

It was easy.

One of my adulthood axioms has long been “Don’t fight the hard.” Life is hard – relationships are hard, children are hard, jobs are hard, yardwork is…(you get it.) Fighting the hard wastes energy and it’s socially burdensome manifestations are self-pity and complaining.

But perhaps my newest lesson is “Celebrate the easy.” People and times that feel completely natural and right  become less and less standard, so lean in, eat up, get honest, laugh at the same stuff. 

(And be very very thankful for friends who know that planning for July must begin in April and are forgiving when this post publishes before they receive a proper thank-you note.)


These two…

are very different.

I can dress them the same from head to foot – but they are still different. (One will be protesting the matching for starters.)

One can color for two hours, quiet and focused, perfectionist. The other keeps a social calendar that would wear out Princess Kate…shows, parties, waving.

They flower-girled it up together last Saturday. Both arrived dressed and styled, both amazingly made it down the aisle. One carried no flowers, the other carried two bouquets. One posed in every picture, the other stood in the obligatory two and bowed out. Possibly of her flower girl career. Forever.

Then there’s this:

I know better now than to try and predict anything. We’re currently in that sweet sweet phase of “I-turn-my-head-for-a-moment-and-she’s-diving-into-the-toilet.” It’s probably best to suspend personality typing for the present.

But here’s the thing…that third one, has strengthened the relationship of the other two. It’s time consuming, washing off all that toilet water...So the older girls have turned to each other when they normally would have been after me. Sometimes it ends disastrously, especially with new bunk beds and all of their acrobatic potential. Sometimes it ends in a costume and tears. (Sometimes it ends with me yelling ” No one speak! It’s a new fun game called “No Interaction”!) But many times it doesn’t  completely end, one game flows into another, one repeated joke after another.

And lately, at night. They pretend they are going to bed and I pretend I don’t hear them. But Olivia crawls into that top bunk with Sophia and they read and look at their school yearbook and giggle. How do they already know how to do that giggle?

They’re smart and sneaky, these two.

But I still know some things they don’t know, like how they have each other for life.

Maybe one day that one sister will come out of retirement to be in the other’s wedding( and carry her own bouquet).

Vacation Bible School: Making all of my improv dreams come true…

VBS occurs the third week of July at our church. It’s a highlight of the summer, possibly  the year. I think my girls really like it too.

I teach or I wrangle or , as in this year, I led the opening and closing program as  “Queen Neen” a loud, repetitive alter-ego, who consistently had the program sequence scrawled on her left hand in green sharpie. Not my best work, but, wow, it was fun.

And so fun for all of us to be together. I think for the first two days, Olivia really believed I was a queen. She’s a great audience.

VBS reminds me, when I need it most what I love about the church. I get to be a part of the  community functioning in so many different ways with one clear goal. I see children welcomed with the enthusiasm level of an (appropriate) half-time show. I hear the children responding with the assurance that they are safe, they are loved and this is place of hope and possibility. 

The book of Matthew consists of five major sermons. It’s a manual of discipleship with solid, steady hard teaching that  marches on only to be interrupted, at  the very start of chapter 18. Right after Jesus discusses heavy topics like the temple tax, his death and resurrection, and is, you know,  transfigured, when questioned about greatness, he grabs a child and says “unless you change and become like children…you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I don’t know how your year is going but mine has required some heavy marching.VBS interrupted the complexity of it all. Each one of those catchy Bible points I needed to hear. I’m not sure, theologically speaking, there’s anything they leave out.


Every day, this same boy came up to me and said “Queen NEEN! What we really need to have is a dance contest!!!” I would nod “YES WE DO.” I was never quite able to fit him doing the inchworm in between the memory verse and Bible point but I love that he knew that this place, this moment was totally ripe for full body celebration.I have to believe when he, and all 400 of them, got their place on the stage the last night, that he found enough room to dance. He was such a reminder of all that is uninhibited childhood and why Jesus called desperately for more of it.

It was a great week. I guess, sometimes I just don’t know what I need until I find myself standing on stage in a robe, holding a scepter, trying to remember verses from the New Living Translation (impossible).