I wrote this and tried to post it on my first leg of a journey– alas it never posted, but I’ll post it now for good measure.
After a month of dusty house demolition and dreary gray winter month of January in Michigan, it was time for a breather. Thankfully I know I will reach this stage and had scored a good deal on a flight before Christmas. The day finally arrived. My friend drove me to the airport very early and I boarded a plane and dozed on and off for a few long boring hours on said plane. I arrived to visit my cousin and her family in sunny Phoenix. Let me say this, a house with four rambunctious and delightful kids (ages 5.5, 4, 4, and 1) makes for a lively and somehow still relaxing weekend. We didn’t “do” a lot, per se, but there wasn’t a dull moment. There were books on the couch, early morning snuggles, lots of entertaining battles and games in the backyard, lively meals, and wonderful conversations with the adults. We went on some nice bike rides, did a project together (with all four kids helping– which is just as efficient as you might imagine) and played some games. We ate fresh grapefruit and oranges and lemons. We saw the sun. We laughed a lot. This is the good stuff in life, the very good stuff.
Just a few funnies, because there were too many to recount them all:
I was talking to Josiah, who will be 6 in April, about something and brought up Geno, my nephew. Josiah knows Geno because we all vacation together every year but I was trying to give him context.
Me: “You remember Geno, right? From Lorien? The big guy with the red hair? Well, I’m his aunt.”
J, puzzled look on his face, “Well you ARE Aunt Weenie!”
Right. I’m basically everyone’s aunt or practically their aunt. No wonder it is confusing when I use that to clarify how I’m connected to people.
I had a proud moment when I managed to convince the kids I was in their game while not moving off the rocking chair on the patio for a good 40 minutes. The way to do this is with convincing imaginary armies. For instance, J tells me he is a flying mouse and I’m the bad guy trying to get him. While not moving from said rocking chair, I issue an order for my army of flying cats to capture him. Racing through the yard, J turns into a flying dog with an army of flying cheetahs. Moments later, he returns and puts his hands out in front of me, “You captured me! You have to take me to the jungle jail (our favorite thing all weekend apparently).” “Captain!” I called to my invisible captain. “Take this man to prison and make sure he doesn’t escape.” J goes willingly with said invisible captain, only to go tearing by a few minutes later, announcing that he killed my captain and escaped jail. More escaping of flying cat armies ensued, all from my comfortable and relaxing spot on the rocking chair. Please don’t tell the kids I wasn’t actually physically chasing them the whole time.
The kids love a good story. “Tell us a stowy about me and Abby and you and Suzie and Daisy.” Seeing as they have spent exactly 20 minutes in the company of Suzie and Daisy in their whole life (and it was long ago they don’t even remember it), what they want is an imaginary story of what might be. You can start with an actual story of some fascinating (or not) thing the dogs do, but then you have to weave the kids into the story. “Tell us a stoooowy!” My favorite was telling them about Stick Day, because now they believe Stick Day at Aunt Weenie’s to be a magical, unforgettable experience, even having never been there. (Muhahahaha)
“Once upon a time, there was an aunt who lived in a little yellow house…”
“AUNT WEENIE,”” they yell in unison.
“When the snow all melted after a long winter, she went outside and looked around. There were HUNDREDS of sticks on the ground (I’m not making this up). “What am I going to do?” She said. “How will I ever pick up all these sticks by myself?!?!””
The suspense grows. The girls are wide eyed imagining the horror of poor Aunt Weenie faced with such trials.
“So she invited her favorite kid friends to come over.”
“AND US!!!! WE WERE THERE!”
“Yes, and Abby and Lydia were visiting.”
“AND ‘SIAH. AND CWARA!”
“Josiah and Lydia and Abby and Clara were all there.”
WE WERE THERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“First Aunt Reenie had all the kids line up and she divided them into teams.”
And I won?!?!?!?
No I won!
Wahhhh but I want to win!
Thankfully, the wise Aunt Reenie in the story put all three kids on the same imaginary team.
AND WE WON!!!!
The story continued … “Aunt Reenie gave each team a blue tarp and said “On your mark… get set… GO!” She set her timer and all of the kids picked up sticks as fast as they could, putting them onto a big pile on their tarps.”
L: “I picked up sticks SO FAST so I COULD WIN and get socowate (chocolate)” makes her crazy eyes at me – clearly this is the second time she heard this story.
J: “And I picked up sticks the FASTEST OF ALL!”
A: “And I was pwetending I was a baby picking up sticks.”
“All of the children picked up sticks as fast as they could. The piles of sticks on the tarps grew larger and larger…”
L: “Bigger than me???”
“They were even taller than Lydia!”
THE STICKS WERE BIGGER THAN ME!!!!!!!!!
Aunt Reenie looked very carefully at all the piles of sticks to see which one was the largest.
AND WE WON!!!!!
The children had all picked up a lot of sticks and ALL of the stick piles were very large.
Lydia’s eyes get very wide, nervous for the outcome.
“But in the end, the pile that Geno and Josiah and Ly…”
“WE WON!!!!! AND WE GOT TO PICK DA SOCOLATE OUT OF THE JAR!!”
“The children played in the yard all day and at the end of the day, they made a bonfire with the sticks they had collected, and everyone roasted marshmallows. And that was the magic of stick day.”
With a long sigh, Abby says “I can’t wait for Stick Day.”
“Me neither,” said Josiah, “I wish Stick Day was today.”
“I LOVE STICK DAY!” said Lydia.
They asked for the Stick Day story several times over the weekend, and with each telling, the magic of the day grew. I do believe Aunt Weenie may be having an impromptu Stick Day in August that coincides with their visit to Michigan.
The third telling when something like this:
“Once upon a time, in a little yellow house…”
AUNT WEENIE’S HOUSE!
“After a long snowy winter, she walked outside…”
And then it went much as the first and second telling. And in case you’re wondering, Stick Day IS magical.
I convinced Jeremy to do something halfway on the play structure kitchen we built, and gave myself some long overdue half ass points. It might be that I can only encourage that kind of thing on other people’s project, but I’m giving myself the points anyway. (Sorry Jer).
I arrived home late Monday night, a good friend staying up way too late to get me home. I open the door to excited pups who spent the weekend with two of my cousins, who obviously took good care of them. I’m so thankful I got a few days away from the office, a few days away from the home project, and a few wonderful days with people I love. I am so blessed to have family that are such good friends.
And now on with regularly scheduled winter…
I spent this past weekend in Phoenix with my cousin and her husband and their four young kids. Last summer they talked me into visiting in February (the season I need to run away from in Michigan and a particularly lovely season in Arizona). Perfect. So I used some remaining frequent flier points I found from long ago and booked my visit.
It honestly could not have been better. Not a minute of it. A couple of times they asked if I needed anything, wanted to do anything particular. No. I am perfectly content. Truly. From the minute I stepped off the plane until I took off again, the visit was perfect.
The weather was delightful – sunny, warm (high 80’s). The kids were hilarious and funny and snuggly and insane. The new baby is one of the sweetest little people I’ve ever met. And spending time with my cousin and her husband was just delightful. Jeremy humored me and let me go to Home Depot with him and the kids and we did some of the framing for a shed roof. And they let me paint a dining room bench. (That’s right, projecting is my love language).
The kids and I played pirates, cowboys, doggies, and more. They are such an energetic, smart, questioning, and imaginative crowd – my favorite kind of people. Oh there were meltdowns and fights and broken hearts and scraped knees about every other minute- and it feels weird to say this- but that feels very much like real life. I am most comfortable and most myself in the midst of that kind of chaos. Watching my cousins as parents is also delightful. They do such a beautiful job of parenting – time outs, hugs, games, boundaries. Truly an inspiration. And then once the kids were in bed we talked work, politics, family, friends, community, church, and more.
On Sunday I went to the nearest Catholic Church which was a huge blessing. It was a large parish and the 11 am Mass was well attended, though not packed. I was struck by the diversity of the people there- older people, middle aged, young people. Families, singles, men, women. The music was beautiful and the priest gave a wonderful homily about using Beauty to evangelize. That Beauty is one of the ways we can talk about God and a relationship with God with people who don’t understand it. We all experience Beauty and it leaves us with an ache. We don’t want to leave it or let it go. We want to stand in that beauty forever. And the gospel was the Transfiguration and he talked about Jesus allowing the apostles to see a glimpse of his glory and majesty to strengthen them for the journey ahead. So they would know and remember who he was. The whole homily left me wanting to just stand and cheer. Yes. Yes. YES!! (You can listen to it yourself if you are interested: http://dev-staphx.org/podcasts/1LENT-02-14-2016-frb.mp3)
I’ve been intentionally looking for those moments of beauty in my life: encounters with people, the beauty of silence, beauty in nature. This parish was such a wonderful experience of an engaged congregation, wonderful music, and it felt like home. It helped that they sang the Mass parts in Latin, just like my home parish and even prayed the St. Michael prayer at the end of Mass. But more than that, I’ve noticed that the older I get and the more I travel, the more I am convicted of truly being home and among my people when I’m at Church. Jesus is there and He is our true Home, our origin and our destiny.
Spending time with Naomi and Jeremy and their little people was a constant experience of Beauty. In the chaos of living with young kids – the tears, the fights, the corrections, the mealtime messes, the time outs, the absolute insanity of it—there was just this overwhelming sense of being part of this beautiful mystery of family. Of embracing the joy in this moment and letting it change me, comfort me, and delight me.
The whole trip was just a balm to my tired self. I am so very grateful for the gift of family who are also such dear friends. As Anne of Green Gables would say, Naomi and Jeremy are kindred spirits. They are my kind of people and I enjoyed every minute I spent with them.
One of my favorite kid quotes from 4 year old Josiah, who is fascinated with the natural world. We were talking about my mom’s free range chickens, particularly the scary roosters that chased Abby last summer. I said my parents butchered two of them themselves to eat them (large fascinated eyes from Josiah) and that I thought the remaining roosters met their end with coyotes. Coyotes? I explained that if the roosters don’t go into the pen, and coyotes are hungry and walking around, they will help themselves to chicken for dinner. Completely serious and engrossed he asked, “May you please say more about that?”