He’s tall like the mountains today.
The wind moves the world
while the sea roils black.
And time, like the tide…
He’s tall like the mountains today.
The wind moves the world
while the sea roils black.
And time, like the tide…
I used to be so tough.
A basket full of four children six and under would see me steely faced, jaw clenched, muscling my semi-truck cart through the store in firm, mama determination as I made my way through aisle after aisle with purpose and grit.
Now though? I’ve been at this shopping-for-a-family gig for awhile and quite honestly, I’ve kinda come to hate it. My once-a-month grocery shopping trips and Amazon have pretty much spoiled me for trips to the store, and lest you call me weak and wonder how I escape the mall at back-to-school time, let me remind you that we homeschool so clothes shopping isn’t a regular occurance round here.
Somehow, in thirteen years of mommying, I’ve never once clothes shopped at the department store with more than one of my children with me. The thrift store, surrre. But that’s different. At Sally’s there’s the fun little toy section where the kids can quietly play among all the busted up second hand toys that they think are all brand new and fancy because they’re NOTHING like we have at home Mama, and while they enjoy their holiday time on the Island of Misfit Toys, I can peck carefully through the racks of second-hands and find the perfect ones to bring home at a bargain price for my little people’s dresser drawers.
But today wasn’t a Sally’s day. Today was a day when they needed new clothes and they needed them now. Today was a day when I needed to know that they would walk into the store owning one pair of pants (albeit holey), two stained-up shirts, and three single socks, and walk out with enough clothes to look presentable for at least the rest of the week, but more aspiringly, the rest of the year.
So off we went. They were excited on the way over, no one had to climb into the way-back back seat, and everyone got a turn at talking since there was only three of us in the truck.
Just my two kiddos and me and there we were, clothes shopping.
And after filling up the cart with a healthy, hefty stack of girlie possibilities while brother acted the gentleman by waiting patiently on the beige pleather armchair (the kid-version of holding the purse), I pondered exactly how different these two children are.
Within seconds of parking the pile in the dressing room hallway, I remembered all these things from all the Sunday-morning fashion fiascos and I worked her pile into a color-coordinated assembly-line system of trying on structure and order, making her name each item with a No, Maybe, or Yes.
My other one built a pile of shirts in his size, ripped off his clothes and went one by one through the stack, yelling YES! for his favorites before the hem of the shirt even touched the waist of his underwear, or tearing them off within a millisecond if he didn’t care for it, tossing it into the No pile before the hair had even settled back onto his head. I don’t think we even got to the code-word game in his little room.
Four hours and hundreds of dollars later, I about laughed in mad-woman hysterics when the cashier told me that the 25% off Doorbuster coupon I’d been clutching tightly in my fist for the past three hours had expired two hours before, promptly at 1 p.m. just like it says right there in the small print ma’am. And then, I near melted to the floor in a puddle of mama mush when the big red honking siren-light at the exit doors went off.
I dragged my children and my bags back to the checkout line where the sweet elderly clerk went through every.single.item until she found the offending black magnet tag.
It was then that my son told me he hadn’t even eaten breakfast before we left the house.
My composure threatened to crack when I heard that, so I pasted on the everything’s greaaattt Sunday morning church smile at alllll the folks I met on the way out the doors and at the nice drivers who saw me clutching my children’s hands and bags of new wardrobe and figured I was either a sweet, smiling mom who needed a break in traffic or that I was a maniacal Mrs. Joker who was just about to snap so they’d better stay back. I held it together so much that I even managed a three-fingered wave and a head tip to one of them before I finding my truck and making sure all the clothes and both the kids were tucked and buckled.
We pulled out of the parking lot, it was near dark now, dinner time, so I rolled over to Taco Bell and ordered one of everything on the menu for my hungry, wilty children and got them each a soda pop, which only happens when Mama is besieged by guilt over somehow not feeding her child breakfast before subjecting him to HOURS of waiting outside the women’s fitting room while his sister deliberated over a pair of jeggings like a hung jury.
My knees were still trembling with Post Traumatic Shopping Syndrome but my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel helped to steady me and I flipped on the headlights and pointed the truck toward home.
We hit the highway and big sis passes out tacos and napkins and takes a big gulp of her Sprite and she sighs happy and deep.
“You know what? That was the first time I ever remember clothes shopping like that.”
“Mmmmh. Uh huh.” It’s barely a mumble from my throat but finally, my nerves feel like they might be able to come back and live inside my body again.
“And you know what else Mama?” She chomps on a bite of taco and looks at the dusk outside rolling by.
Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. Genesis 27:27
He’s always started his prayers just like his Daddy.
“Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for this wonderful time together.”
When I heard him mumbling those words quietly, I glanced across the shanty and saw him hovered over the basketball-sized hole, peering intently down into the icy water.
He prays when he fishes.
“Help me to get a big fish if you want me to, Lord.”
When we looked at the calendar and realized he and his dad wouldn’t get another chance to fish together before the derby ended, I looked into those big blue eyes, those eyes I’ve looked into every single day for the whole life of my mothering, eyes afraid to well with tears because Mom was there. Because he’s eleven now. Because he understands that with Daddy’s great new shift at work there are going to be sacrifices too. It’s a great new shift, he knew that. But his eyes misted over even so.
There is nothing this kid likes to do more than fish with his father.
“Could I do that son? Could I take you?”
“All of us?” He knows with Dad at work, the five of us are joined at the hip. He knows how wild our adventures can get with his three younger siblings. He knows how weathering the wildness can sometimes take a toll on Mama’s patience.
“I think we could do it,” I tell him.
And so it was, after he and his Dad, the night before, had packed up all the gear we’d need -tackle, poles, chairs, tent- and Mama and daughter had packed up all the goodies we’d need -coco, snack packs, water bottles, sandwiches- we called Daddy, working hard on a Saturday, and told him we were rolling out.
My boy prayed then too.
Prayed thankfulness for Creation. For this family. For Daddy. For low wind. For fish.
For Mama to have patience.
We had a blast. We were there early and our fishing friend who had planned to meet us to take a power machine-auger-thing and drill some holes for us wasn’t quite there yet. So my boy and I did it. We took the handles and we let the motor rip and we pushed and pulled and rocked and then whooshhh…the water appeared, a mini-geyser up over the snow volcano we’d made.
We cheered like we’d just won the Super Bowl.
And the tent only blew away once before our friend got there to check on us. He chased it down with his snowmachine, showed us how to screw the stakes into the ice.
My girl, not much for fishing, handed out snacks and told stories to her little siblings while they half-heartedly fished, kept them enraptured with tales of grumpy fish families, using tackle and bait as props, their eyes big and watching her every move.
My boy and I fished for real. For hours. Just like he and his dad do.
And even in the irritating midst of buckets scraping across the snow and big fish having a stare down with the bait before swimming off arrogantly and my preschooler being rambunctious and floppy and a reel falling off and diving down deep before I could finally pull it back up…
…I smiled big on the way home.
And my heart understood why my boy loves this time with his Dad so much.
Why most every weekend, and a few times in between, he wonders out loud if they’ll be able to go fishing soon. Why, on Sunday my husband will casually ask me what we’ve got going in the coming week and I know exactly what he’s really asking: “When’s a good time to take my boy fishing?”
It’s because when they’re fishing, they’re really praying too.
In the quiet, subdued, much-calmer-now-than-it-was-when-he-was-little way that my boy casually says “fish on” when his pole bends sharp, his heart is praying grateful to God, the One who made that fish, gave him that fish, the One who hears “Thank you for helping me catch that fish Lord” as the hooked catch flops up onto the ice.
In the tromping across the snow, the spruce trees black against the afternoon sun, rimming the flatness of the lake, a spirit prays free and content, breathes in the air, the Creation, the beauty…all hand designed by the ultimate Artist.
In the mercy of deciding which fish to keep, which one to throw back, my boy’s hands pray compassion and kindness as they quickly end the suffering of the gulping creature he’s been given, talking gently as he does it.
In the counting, the arranging, the packing, he prays marvel at the patterns of the fish skin, the colors of the scales, the shape of the fins, the intricacies of this aquatic masterpiece.
And in the cleaning, the bloody part, he’s praying gratitude for the provision, for the life of the fish and the nutrition it will provide, but also for Another too, whose body was made messy to forgive our sins and feed our soul when He gave us His life.
The undercurrent of it all is a heart praying thankful for the time he gets with his Dad. Praying thankful for this bonding that takes place on the ice, the love happening there, the hours that put down beautiful coats of memories…precious paint on the house of this family.
And Mama prays thankful too. Prays thankful to be part of this precious treasure my son has with his father. Thankful he’s let me into a world that has mostly been just theirs. Thankful he’s followed his Dad’s teachings; that he knew just what to do when it was time to pack the sled…when the fish weren’t biting… when it was time to clean the catch.
A couple mornings later, I read a blog post about keeping our boys pure today, how to help them be strong in a weak world, turn their hearts away from the temptations our culture offers them daily and I think of my boy and his love for fishing. The love he has for his family. His contentment that comes just from having time with his father. With me. With his siblings.
As I read, I think of our day fishing. The monumental little day it really was. How it was the start, and the continuum too, of something big. Something that could be key his whole life, a focus of his heart. A place for him to go when he’s faced with less than godly destinations, impure opportunities.
The thankful keeps coming. For a husband who has taken all this time all these years to teach our children. To teach them gently and quietly and lovingly and manly. For a boy who loves the outdoors and loves his family, who’d rather be with us than anyone else, a boy who delights in doing things with his closest loved ones.
And I do just like my boy does, my son.
I pray thankful.
Thankful to the One who made the fish, the water, our son. Who gave him to us, who gives us glimpses into his heart. The One who gently leads those who have young, who showed me that day exactly how important and precious these times are for my son, for my husband. How faith-building.
I pray thankful to the One who has shown me what a good thing it is, what beauty takes place when we know the hearts of our children, when we know how much our boy loves to be with his people, when we get a peek at the urgency of this season with him.
“Thank you for this day”…
I pray thanks to the One who gave me the courage to take my little flock out that cold day. The One who has shown me how much He’ll bless this family…bless me…my husband…our kids …when we keep our boy right where he loves to be most…
…Out on the ice.
“Thank you for this wonderful time together…”
(C. Rankin, age 11)
I was fishing one day
that the fish might bite.
Maybe it will be big
and I might take home a prize and be proud.
But fun with dad, out on the lake,
just me and him and the fish,
there is the real prize.
Me and Dad
(C. Rankin, age 11)
The lake was bubbling with trout
and a few tan streaks of dolly.
I whip the shiny spoon into the frenzy
me and dad side by side having fun yelling fish-on
laughing at the power the fish have hitting our spoons so hard
our reels jump
shake like a snake
me and dad side by side having fun and yelling fish-on.
© This Crazy Little Farm
We sat at the kitchen table and both of us cried.
That was the day I quit trying.
The steam rolled out of my coffee cup and my tears fell and mixed with the hazelnut creamer.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
He hunched over the table, his mug untouched.
“Me neither Mama.”
Here we were, not yet halfway through the school year, both of us ready to quit kindergarten.
It was my fault. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was pushing him too hard. Or maybe not hard enough. Kindergarten was a lot more difficult than preschool. This wasn’t fun for anyone anymore. I was failing him.
The discouragement filled the house.
The tears rolled down our cheeks and we both sat slumped, me over my coffee, him over his milk, both of us resigned and weary at the kitchen table that early winter morning.
When we’d officially registered our boy as a kindergartener, checking “homeschooled” in the box on the paperwork, I was sure he’d be reading the Scripture passage for the Christmas program at church in December. Positive of it. I even told my husband that.
“He’ll be reading strong by December for sure.”
He was a precocious child. He’d been read to every day of his life. He knew his ABCs and he knew all his sounds. I was a strong reader. Why wouldn’t he just pick reading right up and take off with it?
But it didn’t come that easy. I began to notice the subtle cringe when we brought out his Pat and Nat books. I puzzled over why he couldn’t sound out the simplest of words, ones he’d already sounded out before. I pushed. If we could just do it enough times…
I’m ashamed to say, there were tears on the face of my little boy more than once when it came time for him to work on reading.
After weeks of popping in a Dora the Explorer tape for the toddler after putting the baby down for her morning nap, then grabbing him and cuddling up on the floor with his reading box only to have our session end badly, I was done. I’d had it.
Something inside of me died a little as I told myself I was wrong to think I could ever homeschool my children. I was sure I was doing them a huge disservice and the public school, the professionals, could do a much better job.
Part of me gave up.
Which was a huge blow to my mama heart. Because I really loved homeschooling. We’d done it the year he would’ve been in preschool…just to try it on. I wasn’t sure how it would all work, logistically, should we send him to the local elementary school. Having a baby, a toddler and a kindergartener to get out the door in the dead of darkness and at temperatures below zero would’ve made our mornings something I didn’t want for our peaceful little home.
On top of the easily explainable, those logistical arguments for homeschooling, my heart just wasn’t ready to set my boy out into the world. I didn’t have to. So why would I want to?
I was his teacher. I was the one who taught him his alphabet, taught him how to bake cookies. How to count to twenty, the names of all the road signs, and the brands of all the different cars. At home we learned his colors, his shapes, favorite Bible verses, how to feed the dogs, how to open doors for ladies, how to make a bottle while Mama changed a diaper, how to gently hold a baby.
In the hush of our home, he was learning the foundations to the academic skills he’d need someday for college and vocation, but more importantly, he was learning all the character skills he’d need to be a good man, husband and father.
I didn’t want to – I wasn’t ready to- hand him over and let someone else be responsible for teaching him how to read, how to do big math, how our country came to be, the latest theory on the origin of humans.
It was my job. In a different situation or a different place, I might feel differently, but with this child, at that time, I saw it as my job and my husband agreed. We’d keep him home.
So when it didn’t go as planned, in my mind it was naturally my fault. I defaulted back to the “someone else could do it so much better than I” self-talk.
Somehow at the kitchen table that morning I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten that Scripture verse I’d underlined in Isaiah when the babies first started coming. That one that had greasy finger marks by it and wrinkly paper from the drying of teardrops. That one that always brought comfort, always assured me, right there in 40:11 it’d remind me…
…He gently leads those that have young.
How could I have forgotten that?
Over my coffee, God reminded me again that morning, and that was the day I decided to quit trying.
Pat the Rat was going up on a shelf, I told my son, and relief flooded his face. Before the seconds-ago tears of disdain were even out of his eyes, joy spilled through and pushed them rolling down his cheeks to the big smile waiting.
He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…
I gathered my boy close to my heart and we hugged long. I asked him to forgive me for pushing him so hard. Told him I wanted to be a good teacher and that I needed to figure out how he learned. The way I was doing it wasn’t the right way. Told him I wanted him to always love reading and that if we kept going this way he would hate it so we weren’t going to keep going this way.
I released him from my expectations.
And three months later he started reading.
Not the Pat and Rat books, they never came back to my boy’s reading pile. But his new book, one that proudly graced his nightstand, a complete volume of Dick and Jane he’d started reading at night with his Dad. A three-sentence chapter every night. Relaxed, cozy in his bed, close to his Daddy’s heart. Most every evening for six months.
By the same time the next year, he was on to emergent readers, excited to learn new words and read “big books”.
By the time he was in third grade he had a stack of chapter books as tall as him on the nightstand and carried one everywhere he went. His Hardy Boys collection was his prized possession and he’d proudly tell anyone that he’d read every single one.
It wasn’t that my boy couldn’t read.
I just had to figure out how he learned. And how to know when he was ready.
I had to know when to push to make it happen or when to quit trying so it could happen it its own time.
That’s my job as his teacher, as his mama.
Thankfully God doesn’t take a learning curve for His firstborn. He doesn’t have to travel through the hard lessons of parenting like we do. He knew what He was doing and knows what He is doing and He tends us like a shepherd and He gathers us up. When we’re not ready He knows, but when we are ready He’ll push gently and always, always, He carries us close to his heart.
And He’ll lead us when we have young.
Our fourth child just started kindergarten here in our little homeschool. I’ve learned some since that tearful morning long ago. I’m a drastically relaxed version of that first-year homeschooling mama. And thankfully, in spite of that first year, my firstborn is a relaxed and happy student. In the sixth grade now, he loves to read. He loves to learn. He loves to do his schoolwork in the home we learn and love in.
And my girls, my middle students, they delight in reading to their little brother and helping him make new words. Pat the Rat has made an appearance or two but there’s no pushing this time. When it goes back on the bookshelf, it isn’t because there have been tears involved. It’s because it’s just time for a new book. There are no high expectations of when my kindergartener will read or how he’ll read or what he’ll do once he starts reading. He’ll read when he reads.
Until then, we’ll keep on doing what we love to do. We’ll learn new things. We’ll play new piano songs and bang on the drums. We’ll stretch ourselves in math. We’ll study the foundations of our country and we’ll create beautiful art work. We’ll enjoy the Bible and we’ll love on the library and we’ll learn how to write better and we’ll grow in grace and knowledge.
And when it comes time to read we won’t cry.
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Life is Messy and Things Aren't Always Little on this Crazy Little Farm
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Life is Messy and Things Aren't Always Little on this Crazy Little Farm