And, because I can only wrestle with a hot glue gun and and scalloped scissors and fuzzy stickers for so long before my soul begins to die, I knew scrap booking wasn't going to be an ongoing way to capture memories for my kids to look back on.
But writing a few paragraphs and posting pics every now and then? I could handle that.
So here I am today, seven years after starting this small trail of family anecdotes. And today - TODAY ladies and gentlemen - I am treading off the familiar path and turning all writing efforts over to my man.
"Hey Babe? I have an idea," he casually says while our kids are all on screens in the backseats while we are roaring down the highway on our latest family road trip.
"Yeah?" I ask, ready to listen. And listen for a long time. Because when my man has an idea, its not usually a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing, but an I've-thought-about-this-and-chewed-on-this-and-now-I-want-to-do-this-unless-you-can-convince-me-otherwise kind of thing.
"I've written a few pages about our family and I want to post it on your blog. Kind of like the typical family Christmas letter, except this won't be typical. Are you okay with that?"
And the conversation took off because, of course, this atypical family Christmas letter was only the entry point to his barrage of ideas.
So, without more details and introductions and reasons, I proudly give you the following. (And for crying out loud, I sure did marry up when my man walked into my life, chose me, and asked me to run hand-in-hand with him forever and ever.) (And, get comfy.) (And, grab a tissue if your name is Grandma or Grandpa because for some reason these things make you cry.)
It’s dusk on a weekday. Two weeks before Christmas. A typical December day in the home of a young suburban family is winding down. The chill in the air is getting sharper, and it’s sneaking into the kitchen as the door between the kitchen and garage swings open and nearby there is commotion of children.
There’s a woman in the kitchen. She’s a little taller, a little more composed, and (in my mind) a lot prettier than the average woman. She’s halfway through preparing a family dinner. It’s not a complex dinner, but time-consuming nonetheless. It required preparation well beyond picking up a phone or tossing something frozen in the microwave. There’s intention and care in the meal, the type that is part duty-bound, part privilege, part love, and part this-ain’t-happening-unless-I-make-it-happen. She’s tired from a long day, or perhaps more so from the thought that a full day is not over and won’t be for a few more hours. But it’s a tired-yet-satisfied type of feeling. The kind of feeling that says I worked hard today and I’m content because I gave my best effort.
A 10-year old walks in the kitchen door. Loudly, because there is no other way. He walks on his heels, pounding the ground. He chews his gum with his mouth open, making a smack-smack noise with each chomp. It’s both obnoxious and innocent. Obnoxious because… well, it just is. Innocent because he doesn’t realize he is doing it. His clothes are full of leaves and dirt from playing tackle football outside in the grass with the neighborhood kids. He likes to compete, especially when the competition is shorter, smaller, and lighter. And in this neighborhood, it generally is. But he likes to do a lot of stuff. In fact, anything active hits the top of his To Do list. Taking surfing lessons during the family’s summer beach trip and successfully riding a few waves. Playing Little League Baseball while being the starting pitcher on his team and cranking hits to the fence. Running around the woods and creek behind the house and building forts. Loving and hugging on any animal or critter that is unable to scamper away before it is clasped in his grasp. Reading book after book because, as he says, “I just can’t put it down!” Performing any school work that involves exploring, searching, and examining. But avoiding any schoolwork that involves math.
He’s been impulsive since birth. His limbs seem to act before his brain thinks. It leads to wrestling matches in the house, and stress for the mother who is tasked to protect other kids in social settings, like their weekly co-op home school program and Bible study. He also eats like a champ, which is why he is in the kitchen an hour before dinner. The woman gives him some crackers, then sends him back outside. She watches him go and wonders how 10 years flew by so quickly, and what the next 10 years have in waiting.
No sooner has he walked out the door then a six-year-old girl skips down the steps. She’s been in her room playing with dolls. Some of those dolls were purchased with her own money; money she saved for over two years. There’s pure joy radiating from her, another shining example of how brilliant her mother was when she decided that Joy would be her middle name. Skinny, floppy-shoulder-length-blonde hair, with a beautiful smile, she seems to both bounce and flow into the kitchen, like Anna from Frozen, who was the character she most enjoyed seeing on the family’s trip to Disney earlier this year. She’s not there for food, because everyone knows she won’t be eating much for dinner tonight. The picky little girl rarely eats more than the required couple of bites for dinner. She’s there to be social, and to join her mom in the cooking process, even if only momentarily. She’ll stand on a stool and help mix some batter. Or pour an ingredient into a bowl. Because it’s social and because she loves to model the actions of her mommy. Who could blame her? Her mommy is worthy to be modeled.
This girl is cautious, but exploratory. She likes her schoolwork, but takes it at a slow pace, seemingly savoring the experience more so that trying to actually learn anything. But she still learns. She learned to ride a bike this year. On her first try. She is learning to read; sounding out the words slowly and meticulously, but making progress. She played on her first soccer team, and had a blast, but it’s clearly not a sport that will stay in her future much longer. She is the social butterfly of the family. The highest benefit of this family’s home school weekly co-op might be letting this social butterfly run into the gaggle of same-aged girls as they get ready to start class, where giggles commence and seem to never end.
Her visit to the kitchen was a short one. The objective was a connection point, and the mission was successful. As she flutters back upstairs, her mom watches with admiration, knowing that this is a girl whose imagination is going to take her places.
Suddenly, there is loud wailing from outside. Not your run-of-the-mill crying, but a piercing scream that will likely cause elderly neighbors to call their doctors due to irregular heartbeats. The woman continues her work in the kitchen, waiting for the inevitable. Two or three kids ago she might have rushed outside, but those days are over. A three-year old boy barges through the kitchen door, crying a desperate claim of “Oooowwwwiiiieeeeeee!” The woman checks out his knee and realizes she can barely see where his knee was scuffed. But she makes a big spectacle of telling the boy how tough and brave he is. After all, this kid is cute. Even when he’s crying, or perhaps especially when he’s crying. He might be cute because he just is, or it might be because he’s the last and littlest of the family’s littles, and he’s got that sentimentality helping his cause. He seems to know the parents feel this way, and milks it for all its worth.
The woman affixes a Cars band-aid, because band-aids heal everything. They call this kid the tornado. He’s a whirlwind of activity. From wake up to sleep down, this kid is moving. He wants to do everything himself and keep up with his older brothers. He can throw and hit a ball better than any three-year old we’ve ever seen. He runs around the house racing cars. He rides his scooter up and down the sidewalk. He tries to jog with his dad and brothers as they train for the 5K on Thanksgiving Day. Even as he is being put down to bed, he fights for more activity as he slyly asks for just one more book to be read. His mother scoops him up.
“Give mommy a hug,“ she says in her silliest voice. “Are you my buddy?”
“Yep,” he replies as he squeezes her neck.
Just then the front door opens. The little guy squirms out of his mother’s arms and sprints as fast as his little legs will carry him. “Dadeee’s ‘ome!!!” He shouts. His dad gets down and gives him a big hug. He remembers that the three older kids used to race to him when he got home. They still greet him, but it’s not quite the same. He savors this hug more deeply knowing this type of moment won’t be around much longer.
The dad is home from his accounting job. A good job. Respectable. Usually enjoyable. Sometimes downright fun. Challenging, but not in the bring-work-home type of way. He has to focus when he’s there, but can leave it behind when he’s not. It’s a good situation when you have small children in the house. He loves traveling, and this job gets him around to all the major cities in the country, as well as a few cities in other countries. Germany, Switzerland, Korea, and Colombia being the most recent international visits. Great cultural experiences, cool sites, and his woman got to tag along for a couple of them.
His diet is weird. Six days of strict meals of protein, legumes, and vegetables, and a seventh day of absolutely anything. He takes full advantage of the anything day. But it works. Combined with his regular exercise, he’s in almost the best physical shape of his life. And he’s leveraged that to get himself involved in activities like whitewater kayaking, surfing, mountain trail biking, rock climbing, and more. He likes trying this stuff out, but he mostly does it because he knows his kids are only a few years away from being able to do all that stuff too and he wants to be in a position to do it with them.
The dad drops his stuff off in his office and wanders to the kitchen, where great smells and a beautiful woman await him. She looks as good as she always does. Not overly done-up with makeup and accessories and fancy clothes, because she doesn’t need those in order to look fantastic. But not done-down to a sloppy look, because she has self-respect and wants her husband to find her attractive. They smile at each other as they approach. They can sense each other’s long days, and because of that there is more said in the embrace than just hello. There’s a sense of I-don’t-know-exactly-what-challenges-you-faced-today-but-I’m-with-you-in-spirit. He nuzzles his lips to her neck where he knows it tickles. She pushes him away playfully, but loves it, savoring the simple and sweet play that is as strong today as it was when they first married almost 16 years ago.
The woman looks forward to his arrival home each day, and while she’s happy he gets to travel, it's not easy when he’s away. The family made an intentional choice to home-school their kids, and while they believe that choice is the right one for their family, there’s no escaping the sacrifices, especially for the woman. Teaching four kids at each of their grade-appropriate levels; tending a house that includes all the grocery shopping, laundry, and cleaning; building and maintaining a marriage with her best friend; and volunteering at a local organization to help new mothers that have chosen life for their babies. These add up to a lot of responsibility and little time for herself. Still, she finds great joy in friendships through her church and home-school community that share in these life experiences. And she is reinvigorated with simple things, like a quiet candlelit bath by herself, a stop at the coffee shop, chats with moms who are sharing the experience or have already been there, and date nights with her hubby.
They embrace again, and the three-year-old who has followed his dad tries to pry his way between their legs, because, of course, he needs to be the center of attention. They let him in, then lock him in, then rock him around while he laughs hysterically and pretends he wants to get out.
Dinner is ready and everyone sits down. But there’s a problem. One chair is empty. One boy is late. It’s not unusual. The empty chair will eventually get filled by an almost-nine-year-old boy. This is a kid who takes his time to do anything. Dressing. Showering. Chores. Eating. Even showing up to eat. Lazy should be his middle name. Except for when he decides he wants something. Then the ambition gene takes over.
This season he started his career in kid-pitch Little League, where you can take leads and steal bases after the pitch is delivered. It was a whole new world of fun for him. He’s pretty fast for his age, and there are no catchers in this low-skilled league that can throw it quickly to second base. So the boy aggressively stole on every pitch. When he got to second, he performed a trick his dad taught him. After the pitch was delivered, he took a big lead; at least half-way to third. Numerous times he baited the catcher to throw it to second base in a pick-off attempt. As soon as the ball left the catcher’s hand, he coolly trotted over to third base, laughing the entire way.
This boy is the most out-of-the-box thinker of all the kids in the family. He likes to do things differently. He wears his shirts backwards, just to be different. He wants a spike in his hair, just to be different. He cheers for the opposite team that the rest of us cheer for, just to be different. He’s not a genius in the normal genius sense, like a nine-year-old that can rattle off obscure facts and figures about math and physics. But he figures stuff out in his head fairly quickly, and he seems to be a bit more street-smart than most kids his age.
The final member of this clan finally wanders to the kitchen table.
This is not one of those families where everyone sits quietly and speaks in turn. After the father thanks the Lord for the many blessings this family experiences, including the food, the table erupts in noisy chatter. Everyone tries to talk about their day, or their interest, at the same time. Each kid tries to finish the sentence of the other. Each tries to be the one to tell dad the stories of the day.
The dad and mom take it all in. They lock eyes and exchange a knowing look, one that speaks volumes after almost 16 years of marriage. One that says, at the same, we need a vacation, and, we don’t deserve this much blessing. Four kids under 10 years of age. Dynamically different personalities, skills, and interests. Each a challenge to shepherd. It’s tiring, as any parent of multiple kids in single digit ages can understand. But it’s also a blessing and a joy and a privilege.
And this, the Christmas season, is a great time to appreciate these blessings. Yes, this includes the blessings of family, friends, local church, health, experiences, and plenty of material things. But far more importantly, it’s a time to appreciate the blessing that God provided when He sent Jesus to this earth two thousand year ago to live, die, and resurrect so that we could have a relationship with Him. It’s not cliche to say that it’s truly the greatest gift ever given.
This family of six - Grady and Sarah, with children Grady IV, Micah, Annalyse, and Jax - finish their dinner and move on with their night. It’s a normal night of showers, stories, games, and bedtimes.
It’s been a normal year of activity and growth. And it’s a wonderful Christmas season with all the traditions of the season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!