Real Life

December 23, 2008 @ 10:49 pm | Filed under: ,

I couldn’t help but grin today at the contrast between the cozy Advent post I wrote before the children awoke, the one celebrating the best moments of the past week, and the complicated, messy, full-of-friction day that commenced as soon as the first child staggered out of bed. The thing is, every day is complicated, messy, and full of friction. And every day has glorious or cozy moments worth celebrating. I seldom bother to chronicle the friction and the mess because writing time is fleeting and precious—and childhood even more so. I’d rather capture the small joys that I might forget—or take for granted—if I don’t take time to set them down in words.

Pondering this, something that struck me was the difference between blogging and real-life conversation. If a friend calls me on the phone, I’m unlikely to say, “We just had the loveliest half hour while Jane played carols on the piano, and I curled up on the sofa with a quilt and the laptop, and Rose was at the other end reading Betsy-Tacy, and Wonderboy was next to me looking at family pictures on an old cell phone that isn’t a phone anymore, and Beanie was dragging Rilla up and down the hall on a blanket and Rilla kept shouting, ‘Faster, Mama Duck!'”

All that is true; it was a lovely half hour, and I Twittered some of it so I wouldn’t forget it. But it’s unlikely I’d have said anything of the sort on the phone. Somehow that just isn’t how phone conversation works, or face-to-face chat, either. No, in person I’d have been much more likely to tell my listening chum about how my hips are killing me, KILLING me, to the point that by the end of the day I can barely walk, much less stand over the stove, which is why my children had to make themselves oatmeal for dinner tonight. And I’ve got this cruel little cough which has caused a bit of cartilage (so I’m told) to pop out of place in my rib cage, so that every time I cough there’s a fierce stab of pain, and I’m desperately hoping it goes away before I go into labor because the thought of pushing through this rib pain…I shudder to think of it.

Or: I figured out that the coughing started the day I brought home the Christmas tree, so we moved it outside and I bought a tiny little inglorious fake tree to replace the tiny little inglorious real one I’d picked up at Fresh and Easy the week before. And we decorated the outside tree—it’s by the front steps—with a beautiful string of fake cranberries I bought on clearance at Joann’s after Christmas last year. But then it rained. And rained and rained. And the deep red berries are now bright pink. And mushy. They’re still kind of pretty as long as you don’t touch them, but Rilla must touch them every time she passes by, and then she winds up with smears of fuschia-colored mush on her hands, and her clothes, and my pant legs, and anything else she can manage to touch on our way to the kitchen sink.

Or: You know how Scott’s car got hit in that parking lot last month? Big truck pulling into the lot caught his front bumper and peeled it halfway off? Would you believe the other guy’s insurance company says he isn’t at fault?? (Though he totally admitted it, himself, at the time of the incident: there was no doubt. Scott’s car was parked. The truck hit him.) And if we can’t get this decision reversed, we’re out $500 for the deductible? Can you believe that?

Or: So I went to Confession today and of course I had all the kids with me, and I left them in the cry room which is all the way in the back of the church, and I was all the way in the front where the confessionals are but I could hear Wonderboy shrieking. He was inside a soundproofed room, but I could hear him. So I got out of line and walked back to the cry room to see what on earth was the problem. Turned out Rose and Rilla were playing tag. Which would be okay, more or less, since they were alone in a closed and did I mention soundproofed room, and it’s not like Mass was going on or anything, but Wonderboy was totally shattered by this breach of churchy decorum and he was howling at them to stop. And then after Confession he cried all the way home because I am trying to ease him out of his fixation on this one particular Sing ‘n Learn cassette he expects to listen to every single time we’re in the van, and the rest of us are all sick of it (though we’ve all got the state capitals down pat, that’s for sure). But he is convinced that the sky is going to crumble and fall upon our heads if we do not listen to that rassafrassin’ tape every single second we’re driving. And then Rose brought up the question of how the seating arrangements will change after the baby comes, and she was furious to learn that she’ll have to move to the back row because the infant seat only fits in the middle row, and Wonderboy has to have the other middle-row spot because he gets into too much mischief if he’s sitting within pinching range of one of his siblings. But Rose despises the crowded back seat, and she is livid at the injustice of it all, disgusted that we aren’t getting a bigger vehicle, completely unswayed by such reasonable explanations as “with the economy the way it is, now isn’t the time to take on a new car payment, and the minivan is almost paid off.” “So we won’t be able to ride ALL TOGETHER as a family anymore?” Rose wailed—because the minivan seats seven and we’re about to become eight. And in case you’re wondering, a cheery pep talk about sacrifice and frugality and ‘just think of all the making-do Kit Kittredge’s family had to do during the Great Depression’ is not likely to meet with resounding applause at such a moment. I’m just saying.

Or: Is it just me, or are your kids bickering a lot more than usual too, the closer we get to Christmas? And why, why, WHYYYY, was I ever so foolish as to begin the gingerbread house tradition? Because every year it becomes a giant sticky thorn in my side. There’s no going back, though, not after the precedent was set ten years ago. But at least this year Jane did most of the hard part, the housebuilding. We’re going to decorate tomorrow but this is a kit I picked up in that same after-Christmas sale at Joann’s last year, and the gumdrops are hard as rocks, and if you can’t eat half the decorations as you’re working on the house, most of the fun is gone. So I guess I’ll have to run out tomorrow and buy some new gumdrops. Arrrgh.

So there you go. That’s what you’d get if you were Alice, calling me on the phone. And you would very satisfyingly commiserate by firing back with similar anecdotes of your own. (“I’ll see your hip pain and raise you four sick kids, a doctor’s appointment, and a car encased in ice.” At which point I fold. Because the cranberry-melting rain is gone, and we had a gorgeous blue sky and sweater weather again today.)

Life is messy, and complicated, and full of friction. That stable in Bethlehem must have smelled like manure. Was the manger clean? I had to scrub so much grime off the infant carseat yesterday, and it had only been sitting in a closed garage for a year. Not even a real garage—it’s just a storage room, really. But the parts of the Nativity story we celebrate are the shining star, and the awestruck shepherds, and the singing of angels. The image of the baby swaddled snugly, sleeping in the hay, with His mother smiling down at Him in wonder, oblivious to the muck and the grime and the prickling straw and the snorts of the livestock: that’s the image we’ve carried in our hearts for two thousand years. That doesn’t mean the muck wasn’t there. It’s just not the important part of the story, the thing worth holding on to. The muck is always there, always here. But so is the radiant star, the heavenly choir, the sleeping Child so full of promise and hope.

My children may bicker, and I may—almost certainly will—complain. But the bickering and the griping are chaff, and what’s left when the winds of time carry them away are the golden kernels I want to savor: Carol of the Bells ringing out from Jane’s piano; my little boy leaning against me and laughing for joy at a picture of his daddy; a girl-child lost in a beloved book, her fury long forgotten; riotous squeals up and down the hallway from a toddler on a magic carpet pulled by a giggling, curly-haired Mama Duck. Colored lights gleaming on a cute little tree that, if you squint just right, almost looks real, and doesn’t make me cough. Headlights in the window: that dear red car, its bumper restored, pulling into the driveway next to a soon-to-be-too-small-for-the-very-best-of-reasons minivan. An infant carseat, scrubbed and ready, waiting to be buckled into place and filled with our own little bundle of promise and hope.

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47 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Kim says:

    Boy, did I need to read this today. Thank you!

  2. sarah says:

    I laughed, I cried, I send you many ((hugs)). Funny, the priest at church this evening talked about the fleas in the manger.

    Have a very merry, even if messy, Christmas.

    PS, does Alice have sick children? If so please send her my prayers.

  3. Sandra says:

    Such a beautiful post Melissa, and one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much. I’m going to try and focus more on the moments worth remembering and not worry about the muck so much.

  4. Sarah says:

    I am by nature a glass half empty kind of person. My blog has really turned me around as I am more focused on the good and the beautiful of each day. It was a beautiful post.

  5. Sarah N. says:

    Beautiful post! It’s so true that when a friend calls I’m likely to focus on complaints. Thanks for the reminder to remember the beautiful moments. And I so hear you on the gingerbread house. I’m hoping my parents will help my 5 year old with it today while I do some final holiday prep. If not, ours will be a winter house constructed in January 🙂

  6. Marsha says:

    That’s funny, that’s the kind of things I DO blog about. Well, it’s a private xanga blog, so it feels intimate. When I talk on the phone, I am much more likely to talk about what I”m currently studying or working on and what accomplishments and endearingness the kids are working on and so on.


  7. Penny in VT says:

    Ah, reality. The good, the bad, the loud and the the glorious – those are the threads for weaving the beautiful fabric of family – thank you for sharing, and hopefully all those nasty pains will be gone the minute the babe is in your arms!

    I remember when my youngest was born her foot was stuck in my ribs – oi. I tried to focus on it being interesting instead of painful, it sort of worked. sort of. LOL

    Happy Christmas Eve – and many many blessings to you!

  8. Amy says:

    Thank you, thank you for this. We are all sick here, dh and I and the baby especially, I haven’t slept in forever, everyone is crabby, a host of other things are going on, and all day for the past week I kept wondering “Why doesn’t this happen to other people? Why am I especially picked on??” Guess I am not! I’m sorry it is all happening to you but I’m so glad you blogged about it. I feel like much less of a failure now.

  9. Amy says:

    Oh and about the rib pain, get thee to a chiropractor if you can! I had the same thing from a cough during pregnancy and the only thing that fixed it was a few chiropractor visits. Too bad it didn’t work on the muscle I pulled from coughing this last pregnancy! LOL

  10. Cay G. says:

    You are amazing.

  11. KC says:

    Great post, Lissa. Thank you! Merry Christmas.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Your ability to be real, without trying to paint on a perfect face is endearing, Lissa. I will be praying for your last days of pregnancy and for a happy, healthy birth. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  13. Anne V. says:

    Thanks. Just a big old, thanks. I needed to hear all that :)It makes me feel more “normal.”
    Blessings to you and yours!

  14. Karen Edmisten says:

    Just perfectly lovely and perfect.

  15. Jamie says:

    Lovely post.
    Have a blessed Christmas!

  16. mamacrow says:

    brilliant post, that I too REALLY NEEDED to read today! yes, my children too think that ’tis the season to bicker’

    a very happy and holy christmas to you all, and I wish for you to be as comfortable as possible…

    Son no. four will be three – THREE! on the 27th, and I remember THAT christmas VERY well!

  17. Theresa says:

    Beautiful, Lissa, all of it.

  18. Jennifer says:

    Great post Lissa. Praying that you feel better.

  19. Christie says:

    Wow, your complaining is so beautifully written and brings a tear to my eye.

    On that gingerbread house…. We never eat ours (or shall I say the only time we eat any of it is during the assembly when you wouldn’t eat any of the gingerbread anyway), so we hot glue gun the thing together. Takes 10 minutes tops and doesn’t fall apart. We can also assemble and decorate in the same hour.

  20. Kathy says:

    Merry Christmas and thank you for such a great post. We shared some of those wonderful moments you mentioned today, but we also had a bit of muck. It’s good to focus on the wonderful, and let go of the muck. Thanks for the reminder.

  21. peacemom says:

    Thank you, Lissa, for sharing so beautifully from you heart. What a perfectly wonderful post. Merry Christmas, and I hope you are feeling better soon.

  22. shelly says:

    Hi. I just happened on your site through Danielle’s – and I’m not one to pass on medical advise without knowing the person or the situation – but just in case this could help you.

    I had a stabbing pain in my lower ribcage while pregnant with my 3rd child. I had had pnemonia and the doctor presumed I cracked my rib(s) and ordered me to do no lifting, etc. for a few weeks. The pain continued off and on throughout the entire pregnancy and quit once my daughter was born. It came back with the next 4. Turns out it was localized gall bladder pain – it can feel stabbing when you cough, can wrap around to the back, and sometimes just aches. I never had a problem with it during labor. I’ve never had it removed – although it got much worse last time (standard gall bladder problems – vomiting, etc.) that I’ve been told to have it removed before getting pregnant again.

    Anyway, you might want to consider eating lowfat/no fat for a few days and see if that takes care of it. If it turns out that’s what it is I made it through 3 pregnancy’s with just eating low fat/no fat for a few days while it calmed down and would continue to eat normally after that.

  23. Wendy says:

    Merry Christmas! When we had more kids than seats in the minivan, we discovered that we could get a second back seat (at a junkyard) and swap it out for the middle seat. To see if it will work for you, try switching your back and middle seats(ours is a Voyager/Caravan). The kids are still able to squeeze through or scramble over into the back.

  24. Mary says:

    This is beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing it.

  25. Lisa T. says:

    Thanks for another wonderful post about how beautiful reality is, bickering and messiness notwithstanding.

  26. Mary G. says:


    I sooooo needed to read this this morning as I attempt to keep Santa alive in this house of kids growing up too fast and always around when I’m trying to sneak around ….

    THANK YOU and hug all those little darlins and take care of yourself!

  27. Anne Marie says:

    I have never seen your kids behave poorly.

    That said, I believe you because we’ve had this conversation before–on the phone. 🙂

    Merry Christmas, dear Lissa.

  28. stephanie says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for being real. Such an encouragement for those of us young mama behind you in # of kids and their ages. 🙂 Merry Christmas!

    (As an aside, I’ve checked all the Martha books out from the library to enjoy during our Christmas travels.) 🙂

  29. Mrs. K. says:

    Labor and delivery? Hazy memories. But oh, how vividly I recall that hip/cartilage thing! The best part is that it always disappeared right away after childbirth.

  30. Hannah says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I tend to idealize your family and others that I read about online as virtually flawless compared to my own daily reality. 🙂 It encourages me to hear that you’re dealing with some of the same stuff … but that last two paragraphs, I think I’ll frame on my fridge.

  31. Ann Voskamp says:

    Blessed Christmas, Melissa…
    Such a post, this.
    Yes, my friend, yes.
    And so we blog a bit, and scratch it down, and see all these gifts.
    And give thanks that He washes down our daily mess in glorious grace.

    Much love…

  32. Kim says:

    Oh ouch Lissa. I will be praying you feel better long before ‘labor day’. I have had that awful stitch in the side from coughing and its a killer.

    I am so glad I am not the only one whose carseat had to be scrubbed within an inch of its life after a relatively short time in storage. Eew. It was bad. REALLY bad.

    We are well acquainted with ‘muck’ here. The stable variety and otherwise. I feel as you do though. While we can’t avoid it, and we certainly don’t want to whitewash it, we can choose not to wallow in it. We really must choose not to.

    Hang in there! Can’t wait to hear baby news!

  33. Jennifer says:

    that sounds like life to me! I just wanted to let you know that you are not the only family to stick with the minivan when baby #6 arrives. A good friend of mine is doing the same thing.

  34. Kim says:

    Thank you for posting this! Most homeschooling blogs make me feel like everyone’s kids are learning more than mine, are far better behaved and generally content. I read hs blogs to get ideas, but I generally feel like I can’t live up to what they’re doing. I love the balance of life in your post. You are so right;it’s all there, everday. It’s just where we choose to put our focus.

    And what is up with the worse behavior(bickering, etc.) and Christmas time connection?? Don’t they know Santa is watching? I kept reminding them, but it didn’t seem to help. :))

  35. Alice Gunther says:

    Absolutely fabulous Christmas post! You really know how to tell all stories–the sublime and the, well, less sublime but no less worth telling.

    All so very, very true!

    [And I laughed out loud when I got to the car encased in ice! That was a doozy, wasn’t it? 🙂 🙂 🙂 ]

  36. Elizabeth H. says:

    Beautiful post.

  37. sarah says:

    I’ve missed your day-in-the-life posts. They are my favorite. You have such a way with words. This is just wonderful.

    How many Sarah’s do you know????

  38. Beth says:

    Melissa, you don’t know me, but I’ve been reading your posts for a long time (and have even posted a comment once or twice, though mostly I just lurk). I had to write this evening to thank you for this wonderful post, which makes me laugh and cry all at the the same time. My family of three (hubby, me, and precious six year old daughter) just got back from a long week of Christmas travels that for various reasons had more muck and stress and strife (and coughs and congestion) than I would have believed possible in a scant five or six days. And yet of course there were scattered moments of beauty and grace. Thank you for reminding me that those moments are the keepers.

  39. Eileen says:

    I wish I could let a post like this sink in. I can say all day long that comparisons are never fruitful; since I know too much about our family’s foibles and almost nothing of anyone else’s, it’s impossible not to come up short, every time.

    Yet, for reasons I can’t fathom, this is so hard for me to grasp on an emotional, deep level. Even in a post like this you make the craziness of life sound beautiful! Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine you “losing it.” 🙂 Then again, we were watching “The Incredibles” the other day, and when Helen lost her temper with the kids (of course, they had just been bombed out of a jet plane and were free-floating in the ocean at the time; but I digress), my sweet husband looked at me and said, “See? Even superheroes lose it sometimes.”

    I think the (obvious) lesson for me is that it’s all really a matter of focus. Life is hard for everyone — for different reasons, and to varying degrees, of course; and nothing is gained by dwelling on that. Joy is in the beauty that really is all mixed in with the mess, there all the time, sometimes overwhelmingly so. And you’re right: That’s the stuff to savor.

    Thank you for being such a beautiful thinker and writer. Obviously, I need to come here more often!! 🙂

  40. Jennifer says:

    “But the bickering and the griping are chaff, and what’s left when the winds of time carry them away are the golden kernels I want to savor.” Lovely thought.

    Merry Christmas!

  41. Cheryl M. says:

    Lissa – what a great post – even on January 2nd. I am down today…disappointed by my siblings and some recent actions…oh, I’ll get over it and your post will surely help me do that all the quicker. Now to Christmas…what I didn’t blog about…the 20 year old and three trips to Urgent Care for sinusitis, an ear infection, and then a perforated eardrum…yes, 20 years old. Next, the ungrateful 18 year old…so ticked off with his family because he didn’t like his Christmas gifts. Yes, that stable must have been smelly…cause real life certainly is. I thank God for His Graces and Blessings and Mercy. Much love to you as you approach meeting your new little baby. 🙂

  42. mamas_arms says:

    I am a homeschooling mother of five and I have so little support in this endeavor that finding your site was a blessing! Although I have to admit that I was also a little depressed – you are a hard act to follow! Thank you for this post! It inspires me to push through those little difficulties that overwhelm me and to find joy in our pursuits! God Bless you and your family!

  43. Cari says:

    Great post!

    Check your minivan’s manual to see if the rear bench can be moved to the middle bench position. Ours (a ’00 Dodge) could, so we bought a rear bench from a junk yard and replaced our middle bench with it. Now our family of eight can fit, buckled in safely, in one vehicle, which is a huge advantage considering gas prices recently!

  44. Melissa Wiley says:

    We looked into that, but unfortunately it isn’t possible with our model (Honda Odyssey 2004). The new Odysseys do have an 8-passenger option, but the body is different so we can’t even buy a new-model middle seat and install that in our 2004.