Dave, the kids and I drove to my sister Lucy’s place late Saturday and spent the night. We stayed up too late talking and laughing, telling stories and watching Lucy bake cookies. Lucy makes the best cookies.
Sunday was a great day. The entire family: my mom and dad, all my siblings and theirs spouses, along with all 10 of our kids, spent the afternoon at Lucy’s. We were together to celebrate the Confirmation of one of our nieces.
We don’t get together enough, all are busy, and although we all live within 5 hours of each other(we are the furthest away, here in Madison), it is hard to find a time when everyone is free of commitments. Work, kids, sports, church, all these things take a little piece of each of us.
But for 2 hours on Sunday afternoon, the puzzle was complete. The kids played outside, the adults talked and laughed and told stories. We all ate cookies. Every piece was filled in.
The fall soccer season has ended for my boys. For the last 6 weeks I have dutifully driven my blue mini-van here, there and everywhere. I, somehow, became keeper of the team ball bag for Kjell’s team, and consequently was required to show up at each practice. This was good for me. I knew nothing about soccer. I learned a lot.
It was not so good for the boys on Kjell’s team. A couple of times I ended up filling in for the coach, I knew nothing about soccer, but I am really good at yelling at kids. They survived these episodes, not entirely without tears, but they did survive, and some of the parents still talk to me! I am thankful.
Broder’s games were always early on Saturday mornings. Parents arrived with coffee in hand and hats on their heads, it was way too much work to get up in time to shower. For the last couple games we sat in our chairs, bundled in sweaters and blankets, mittens and gloves: fall mornings can be quite chilly!
Kjell’s games were later on Saturdays. The crowds, though smaller, were a bit more alive(like a lizard in the sun, I suppose). Parents chatted more, caffine coursing through their veins for several hours now. Younger siblings ran around. We all relished this forced bit of time outdoors. Fall afternoons in Madison have been glorious this year!
I was reluctant to enter the world of “soccer mom”, but I did, and I have emerged on the other side, mostly unscathed.
But she doesn’t have a sister, and the probability is that she never will.
Sure, she will make friends, and they will be close, and (thankfully) she has “girl-cousins” just a year or so on either side of her, and I pray that they will be closer still, “sister-cousins” perhaps.
Like my daughter, I am the youngest, and I have 2 older brothers. Unlike my daughter, I have sisters, 2 older sisters. When I look at my little girl, and realize that she will never truly know the beauty and pain that comes with having a sister, I can’t help but feel she is missing out on something inexplicably wonderful.
Carol is my elder by nearly 10 years, and Lucy by over 6 years. Because of this age difference I can’t testify to what it was really like when we were growing up. Both sisters went off to college right after high school, so truly, I was still pretty little when they were out of the house. They came back for summers, busy working. Then I was working, really never home, so that part of our lives together is a bit fuzzy. (My brothers and parents would say that there were a lot of bathroom wars, and a lot of yelling. I suppose that is true. Maybe I have blocked those memories out).
But eventually I grew up. And got to know my sisters. How lucky I am to have them. They are the women I hope to become.
Sandie, Lucy, our mom and Carol(with her baby)
The emotion has literally driven me to my knees.. Sometimes to embrace a child (or three), sometimes to cry out to God, wondering once again how someone as completely unworthy as my self could have been entrusted with so much.
My kids play hard, really hard. They climb trees, and fall out of them. They catch frogs and lizards. They dig in the dirt. They swim in lakes, in the spring, summer and fall, with or without swimsuits. They fight wars, hunt bear and moose, stalk squirrels and wild turkeys. They roller blade, ride bikes, throw snowballs, swing too high at playgrounds. They get dirty, quite dirty.
This seems to make some people nervous.
A few years ago, a woman who has known me for a long time (20 years), but who does not know my kids at all (she has seen them, at play, a few times), made a comment that wounded me, and made me doubt my parenting. It still hurts. Her kids are always clean. Their clothes impeccable. Her children are quiet, reserved, not unfriendly but not outgoing either.
My younger son had just started kindergarten, and I was asked how he was doing in school, if there were any behavior issues. I was a bit surprised, but replied that he was doing very well, seemed well liked by his teacher and his classmates(adoration would be a more apt description of what his classmates felt, he is a charismatic kid). Her response was near shock, and certainly what was said shocked me. She told me that her son had learned to steer clear of mine at an early age, as my son was so aggressive.
I had never heard my son referred to as aggressive. HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THIS IN HIM? What kind of horrible parent was I? I had heard a lot of other things about him, extremely bright, energetic, tireless, stubborn, strong willed, inquisitive. But never AGGRESSIVE.
I started doubting what I knew about my beloved boy. I would ask his teachers, with alarming regularity, how he was doing in school, not academically, but socially. They would tell me he was wonderful. I would talk to the principal, asking the same questions. I would get the same answer. “He is a delight; he is kind to others, always the first to help another in need, polite, respectful”. I didn’t believe it.
I started warning others about my son. I don’t know that I used the word aggressive, but surely it came across that I didn’t fully trust this kid. His teachers got taken aside and told to let me know if there were ANY problems. Back-talk, and disrespect were not to be tolerated. I volunteered in the lunchroom and the classroom, sure that I would catch him in the act at some point. I never did.
Friends and family have always reassured me that my kids are good kids, but I thought they just had to say that, you know, it is in the friend/family contract and all, right? So I did not believe them. I just knew that the “bad” was there somewhere.
I don’t know what changed, but earlier this year I started to believe:
I DO have great kids.
They are not perfect, they fight, they are messy, they get snotty with us, and they try to push bedtimes and baths as far into the future as possible. But they are great kids. They love and they care, about each other and others. All three of them are kind, to people and animals, they work hard in school, they are polite to their teachers and adults they encounter. Each of my kids will go out of their way to befriend those in need.
So all this to say, I am done apologizing for my kids. I am proud of my children. One may have hair past his shoulders, another sports a Mohawk, and the third is regularly attired in equal parts pink lace and black dirt. They all have bruises and calluses from playing hard, and huge hearts, the consequence of loving hard.
I am hopeless when it comes to recording life via visual images, so this blog won’t be photo heavy, just wordy. That said, unless otherwise noted, just assume that any picture seen here has been taken by Cathy Stanley-Erickson. She takes pictures on an average of 1 every 6 minutes, every waking hour, of every day.
This morning my lumber (what I do on those trails by the lake cannot be called “running”) was interrupted, fabulously interrupted. The sunrise was bouncing off the lake and buildings of downtown Madison, providing the perfect backdrop for the UW women’s crew team as they glided past me. Two long, low crew-boats, filled with strong women, working together in near silence. They were close enough to see the power in their arms and backs as they rowed.
I was struck anew by the beauty of strength. I ran a little harder and a little longer.