The Eye of the Storm

I do not even know what day it is.

We have a wild whirlwind going on right now – business momentum, home improvement projects, graduations and promotions, including an unexpected trip to urgent care (although with four sons, you’d think that by now I would have learned to keep a couple hours open on my calendar for that particular contingency), the usual stumbles and friction, some laughter and a few tears. We have so much good going on, but does it all have to happen simultaneously? I’m breathless.

Every time I sit down to one project, I think of a dozen others, an email I need to write to the school principal, an item I forgot at the grocery store, a form I meant to submit, a check I need to write and a phone call I should place right now. Before I start any of those, I look to the calendar and see that the day marks my in-law’s 59th wedding anniversary. I make that phone call first. After our conversation, I think about writing a note on my calendar to start planning a party for next year’s 60th anniversary, but decide I am frenzied enough with the tasks at hand. At the moment I am coordinating the logistics for our son’s college graduation. To get our family of six to and from the ceremony in Milwaukee this weekend will require two different airlines and transfers through Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Houston. Plus the trip to urgent care.

I’m dashing around between home and office and doctor, and I have this mental image of all the “hats” I’m wearing – mom, wife, writer, project manager, businesswoman, friend, PTA president, nurse and travel agent –strewn across the backseat, along with an insulated grocery bag, several empty water bottles and a 30-pound bag of dog food. I don’t know why I think I have 20 minutes to stop at church, but something tells me I don’t have time not to.

There are just a few other people here, and the chapel is quiet, except for the creaking of the pew as I sit down. I think, “All right, Jesus, I am here, but I am in a serious time crunch. Inspiration, please, and make it quick!”

My next thought: “Um… Charlotte, this might not be the preferred approach,” although I do believe that God is always pleased by any little movement in His direction. Instead of giving Jesus my litany of assignments, anxieties and hopes, I inhale and try to find silence in all of the noise. I sit still. I close my eyes and exhale. I throw out a mental Do-Not-Disturb sign to the many items on my list clamoring for my attention. Inhale, and exhale again.

Sitting in the hushed, reverent space, I find the still, silent space within. I hear this message: “Keep your eyes on Me.” I feel calmer already, and joyful, even though my to-do list hasn’t decreased and deadlines still loom. I whisper my thanks and return to my tasks, with a renewed confidence that the myriad details will fall into place.

Through the swirl of activity and celebration over the next week, I cling to this simple message and its reminder to keep my focus on the divine. There are travel glitches and delays, and we are exhausted and pressed for time. Yet, we are together and happy and grateful. We have all come a long way to enjoy this moment, and we do. A friend takes a family photograph – my personal favorite from the weekend – including cap and gown and diploma, six smiles and blue sky. In true Midwestern style, seven minutes later, the heavens open and rain pours down, but we are safely dry and warm. It is typical of how the weekend has been, eyes sparkling with joy, unaffected by the rainstorm.

***

I love flying into LAX at night, suspended in the silence, the city lights stretching unimaginably, bounded in the distance by the mountains and the ocean. As our flight descends into Los Angeles, our youngest son sleeps with his head resting on my shoulder. I kiss the top of his teenage head, and he doesn’t wince or make a face or even say anything rude. I kiss him again and breathe in this moment, because I’m going to blink and when I open my eyes, I will be flying home from his college graduation.

We hit the ground running today, our Monday travel-day puts our week off to a late start. As the pace quickens and the volume increases, I cling to that moment in the sky, all those lights shimmering in the darkness.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And quiet in the storm.

A Mother’s Day Reminiscence

From last year, but still mostly true. Now Thing 1 has graduated from college and Thing 4 is starting high school. The household appliances are functioning, but the car is in the shop… Happy Mother’s Day!

sushi tuesdays

If you are reading this, I must have survived Mother’s Day.

I love being a mother more than anything, even on the days that I threaten to put all four of my sons in a cardboard box in front of Ralphs with a sign that says “Free Puppies.” That might have worked well for me last Mother’s Day, because the refrigerator broke down the week before, and the replacement came in a box that was actually big enough to hold my puppy pack of boys.

It’s just that the logistics are complicated. We have five mothers to honor among our collective four sets of grandparents and great-grandmother. With all the families involved, our Mother’s Day negotiations begin before St. Patrick’s Day. Predictably, the day also coincides with the breakdown of a major household appliance. This year it’s the washing machine. Think about that a minute. Four sons. Stinky athletic socks.

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Brotherly Love

People often ask me, regarding our blended family, how our collective boys get along together. The short answer is that they get along like brothers.

The long answer is much the same. Like brothers, they quarrel and bicker and jockey for the shotgun seat in the car. They get jealous and snarky. They borrow each other’s jackets and earphones and telephone chargers and forget to return them. They throw jabs and hurl insults (and other blunt objects). They all duck when they sense I’m about to ask somebody to take out the trash.

They fight over who gets the keys to their car and who gets stuck driving the mommy-mobile. They hide the preferred xBox controller from each other. Even though three of them are six feet tall or even taller, they push over each other like puppies, dashing around the house searching for Easter eggs.

They almost always refer to each other as “my brother,” even when they are introducing the brothers with the same name, as in “Hello, I’m Michael, and this is my brother Michael.” None of them even bother to explain this apparent maternal glitch any more.

They protect each other. They all want to know the name of the kid who the youngest brother was playing basketball with when he suffered his concussion. But I won’t tell. Their hearts all sink when they learn of a group project in which one brother’s partner forgot to bring his model, and then they share their own stories of botched group projects, late nights, and strategies for recovery. They go see the Fast & Furious together, and they watch How I Met Your Mother and YouTubes of silly cat commercials.

One of the boys in particular will consistently throw himself in front of the oncoming train that is Crazy-Mom-With-Her-Head-Spinning in an attempt to save his brothers. Another shares his strategy for derailing She-Who-Might-Start-Yelling, “If you make her laugh, she forgets why she’s mad.” They drive each other around, and they all drive me crazy. I am crazy about all of them. I could not be happier.

They admire and emulate each other. They are embarrassed by each other. They tease each other. They amuse each other. They argue about who will be the tallest, or the most successful, or who would make the best priest. They share secrets. They all know where I hide my stash of dark chocolate. They worry about each other. They take pride in each other’s accomplishments. They race. They compete. They shove each other and then pick each other up. They bring out the best — and worst — in each other.

They are each so different. Even the ones who are biologically related. Even the two with the same name. Even the two who share the same birthday. My husband and I are amused by the fact that the two who – at first blush – look most alike are not biologically related. And we marvel at the fact that the boy who is uncannily like Tim is not his biological son. Then again, we cannot quite explain how very much like me the drama king is, when I am not the woman who gave birth to him.

I have modified the following segment of Sunday’s weekly liturgy to suit our daily purposes and taped it to the front of our refrigerator (the refrigerator being the most heavily trafficked location in the house of boys):

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should have blessed me with so many brothers under my roof, but only say the word and our relationship will be healed.” 

~ Revised Queen Charlotte Version

It is nearly six years now since the boys first met each other. Predictably, they were not sure about this whole Brady Bunch business. Nobody wanted to share his surviving parent with more brothers. Understandably, nobody wanted to compromise, or coordinate, or share a bedroom or the remote control. When I think about it, six years seems a relatively short time to reach this place where they love each other like brothers, even if on some days they don’t like each other much.

Brotherly love does not mean they never argue, it means they hear each other out, even when they disagree. Brotherly love does not mean they hold the same opinion, or goals or dreams, but it means understanding each other, or at least trying to. Brotherly love means showing up for graduations, and birthdays, and holidays. The boys do all these things. They share a special bond.

As a mother, I delight in that moment – no matter what has transpired the rest of the week – when the boys embrace each other and wish each other “Peace” at mass on Sundays, even if that looks like giving each other “peace noogies” in the process. It is the highlight of mass for me. That, and the silence.

On a really good day, it’s that moment when one of the boys makes another laugh and snort in church. Just like brothers will do.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And brotherly love.