Thoughts on 42

The little one's blonde curls gleam in the twilight as he peddles his trike fast. The young'un with new skates asks for help with a buckle, so I kneel before him while the gravel bites my 41-year-old knees.

42 next week.

I stand up slowly and watch the five children slide up and down the driveway as the daylight dims and can't help but recall the young, young years, when I thought I had all the time there was to do whatever I liked.  The days on our shady street crept by so slowly that I had plenty of time to wonder if Miss Piggy would be on my cake and whether Mom would make the seven minute icing so I could taste what love is.

I am almost 42 and my knees ache and every day I bow before skate buckles and laundry and bills and spilled juice on the new rug.  I have no more chances to decorate my bike with crepe paper and parade the block with all my friends in tow.

I am old and serious now.

I do not skip down the street to piano lessons while eating homemade cookie dough or play hide and seek in the wide gutters along my sheltered road.  I no longer daydream on a velvet couch about what my husband will look like and whether I'll have a girl and yes, if I do, I shall name her Amanda Jane and her eyes will be brown, just like mine.

Instead, I grip the phone in grief when I learn my best friend has cancer and bang my palm on the table when I hear about another broken-apart marriage.  I cry over private heartaches of those I love and the shortening breaths of a grandfather much adored.

The candles--they glow dimmer at 42.

So I feel content to sit in the strange coolness of a summer evening and watch happy children skate.  When they fall, I know gratitude that their only care today is a skinned knee and who is the fastest and what's for dinner. I watch the treeline darken and the sky glow blue and, when I see the jet shooting a glistening thread overhead, I am reminded of you, God.

At 42, I accept that sweet-smelling baby curls will never come my way again.  I have been entrusted with five treasures, and I will try to raise them to be noble men and women who eventually park their skates and board the planes and leave this home in a golden streak of light.

At 42, I know the answers to much of my story, making it easier to release the carefree days that were filled with childlike wonderings about the future.  I live here, in this house, with these children and their carefully-given names. I relish each day of marriage to a man who has loved me for 23 years and who has gained my respect through integrity and wisdom.

As I put away stray balls, I watch my husband turn into home and travel the long driveway with children running behind.   The car door flings open and the littlest one shouts "Dada!" and stretches his arms as wide as they can go.  Five sets of hands jostle for a touch or a hug and the dog barks from behind the glass pane because she knows who is home.

Following them inside, I walk up the porch, open the heavy door, and cross the threshold to begin dinner.  Inside I feel peace.

For the rest of the story, it's now only beginning.


Declarations in July

One thing I dearly love about Monticello is the relentlessness with which Thomas Jefferson pursued knowledge.  Visitors cannot help but feel this burning pursuit in the design of his home, his broadly curated collections, the forward-thinking gadgets he invented for each room, and the careful preservation and experimentation he conducted involving seeds and plants in his gardens.

I've toured Monticello enough to have a favorite feature:  the crafty method Jefferson employed to magnify the limited sunlight provided to his electricity-free dwelling by placing large mirrors in direct opposition to windows and even painting his dining room an 18-century equivalent of safety yellow.

Florescent paint plus unrefrigerated vittles and homemade moonshine--well, that particular combo sums up patriot courage, folks.

The most impressive sight is his personal room, which includes an odd niche bed and rows upon rows of leather bound books. Ahhh, they are quite magnificent.  He read in seven languages and occupied himself with every range and substantial topic imaginable.

"A mind always employed is always happy,"  he was known to say.

Upon consideration of Jefferson's July 4th claim to fame, The Declaration of Independence, plus my fifth (yes, fifth.  I basically lugged five infants and/or my pregnant self through this place. Mercifully the policy is "age two and under are free.") visit to Monticello has inspired four personal July resolutions, or "declarations," if you will:

  • Declaration #1:  I pledge to be more curious about the world.  I might not organize heirloom seed collections, but I promise to purchase other flavors of Goldfish than cheddar cheese, plunge my bare hands into murky pool skimmer baskets without hesitation, and actually examine the frog species presented to me before screaming.

  • Declaration #2:  I will arrange and re-arrange my home with an eye for function above all, yet still with the goal of beauty.  This declaration is not limited to preserving years of personal collecting by tethering up the towering Christmas tree with clear fishing line anchored to wall studs.  Why such lengths?  Only what's necessary to prevent middle-of-the-night collapses from all manner of sports balls that batter my favorite decorations.  (You know, those irreplaceable Baccarat ones dating to 1984.)

  • Declaration #3:  I will surround myself with books that I've held off reading because of the wee ones in hopes that I can catch a page or two each day.  "I cannot live without books," TJ would high-handedly tell you.  Currently stacked on my nightstand are Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton, Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by the slightly-creepy Dr. Seuss.  I also am kicking around the idea of reading everything assigned to my seventh grader this year, who will be entering an Omnibus class on early medieval literature.  Hey, Jefferson would be proud!

  • Declaration #4:  I will go to great personal sacrifice for my flowers to bloom beautifully.  That is, I promise to stand in fifty percent humidity under the sweltering Southern sun to water my pots, whisky barrels, and urns containing blooms from Home Depot that the salesperson may or may not have begged me not to buy.  I pledge a sister commitment to not disclose to even my husband when those browned, arid flower stalks are thrown in the trash bin and replaced by their fresh, dewy-faced twins. (Shhhhh.)

Goodbye for this year, Monticello. Thanks for your annual inspiration, and I'll catch you again when I'm twelve months older, much less gray, ten pounds lighter, have conquered new intellectual challenges and can claim to be significantly more well-read.....

~ ~ ~ 

 *All photo creds to Madeleine Roberts.  Alas, I was too busy chasing down a dropped binky, searching for a missing green Croc, and lugging around a fussy toddler to do much thoughtful photography.  

My most sincere apologies to anyone visiting on the 4:10pm tour that day.


Simply Showing Up

Those of you who subscribe to this blog by email know the mixed emotions I had about Vacation Bible School, for which I volunteered this summer.  I posted a lengthy exposition about my conflicting thoughts which has subsequently been squirreled away in the hidden "things I write but would be wise not to publish" file.

However, suffice it to say that I did have a lot of introspective questioning going on in my mind the entire week of VBS.  Forgive me.  I'm hard-wired to evaluate everything.

That said, I was matched with some precious 8-year olds who were pretty darn fun to be around and assigned a shy, mild-mannered middle school assistant named Luke.  All of these small folk were strangers to me before the week began but by the end we were hugging and high-fiving together.  They graciously looked the other way when I flung myself into the wrong hand motions and generally zigged when they zagged during the group song time.  Kids can be forgiving around geeky middle-aged adults if you give them plenty of snacks, smiles, and encouragement.

I finished the week feeling positive and hopeful but slightly unsure whether the little kids in Group #19 had moved forward in their spiritual walks.  Ever the pessimist, I am.

So imagine my surprise when I trudged to the mailbox tonight, tuckered out from a hot two-hour swim meet and the tedious drudgery of turning over my kids' closets all day, only to find a letter hand-addressed to me in creaky, unfamiliar writing.  Here is what it said:

      Dear Christin,

                I want to thank you for the love and encouragement that you showed my 
               grandson Luke at VBS this year. 

               You will never know what a positive influence you were to him.  

              God bless you for lifting his self esteem.  I am praying blessings over you.

                                                                                                        Luke's Grandmother

Luke?  Ahhhh--Luke, my middle school helper.  The sweet guy who I brought a cold Coke in my Vera lunchbag every day as a meager thanks for him playing soccer in the scalding sun when I desperately wanted to sit quiet in the shade. The person who clearly loved being around little kids and showed it by eagerly helping with their crafts and projects.  The fella I couldn't help but tell every morning how grateful I was to get to hang out with him and how terrific he was with younger children.

I didn't pay attention to any of that interaction.  I was too focused on the place I thought God needed me to be at work: the VBS children.  So....what if I wasn't there for the kiddies at all, but instead for a young man who needed a kind word?  I never thought much about it that possibility, but I sure am thinking it over tonight.

I am reminded for about the millionth time: service boils down to showing up with a willing heart.  It's that simple.  Next time instead of fretting, I'll  leave it to God about what he intends to do with my meager efforts.  I am pretty sure about one thing: it will not be what I expect.

In the meantime, I'll be squirreling this reminder away in another file, just to remind me when VBS rolls around again...


Move Over, Spider-Man

We're taking out annual end-of-June break from reality up in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of UVa, intellectuals, foodies, and the undulating Blue Ridge Mountains. Ahhhhh. A gal can breathe here (and gain a pound or two on locally sourced cuisine and craft beer.)

As it happens, we celebrate D's birthday each time we come, and this year he decided the festivities would include introducing his children to (yet another) sport: rock climbing.

I wasn't sure how it would go over. Rock climbing involves incredible stamina, strategy, fearlessness, and the willingness to cling by one's fingertips at high altitudes while covered in rivulets of sweat.

Wouldn't you know--my little people took right to it.  Yet again, I wonder if they were switched at birth.

Hmmmm, maybe I've been living with Spider-man's undercover progeny and I never once knew it. 

Don't tell.

How do they not fall? Because mom and dad have assumed the ultimate power position: the belayer.

(Belayer: the person maneuvering a system of ropes and pullies attached to a climber's harness that keeps them from from plunging down to injury or death.)

Oh my.

I've been on autopilot-mom mode for so long that when the instructor whipped through her belay directions for the double figure-eight knot I needed to tie that would mean the difference between life and death for my kids, I plumb froze up and stared blankly at her fast-moving mouth.  Wait up now.  How was I in the plans for this climb? Me tying fancy knots? It's like having a lifeguard who can't swim. Baaaad idea. 

I heard a small inner voice say "Brain! Put down your thoughts of craft beer and learn this, pronto!" 

The adrenaline rush combined with the thought of CNN's headline "Mother's Error Kills Children on Family Rock Climb" helped me push through and figure out the rules of belay.  

Folks, this is a public service announcement. Bone up on your knot skills ASAP.  You never know when they'll be required. 


Two hours later, everyone not only survived, but left so smelly, sweaty, and happy that they asked to come back another day. 

Next time, I'm packing my Wonder Woman outfit for this super hero work.