Twenty Years

 

Twenty Years

by Erin Kilmer

CEREMTwenty years ago today,
It was white lace and pearls,
A black tuxedo and so many flowers,
Two kids promising forever.

Twenty years ago today,
The whole future was at our feet,
And we stepped out hand in hand
With no idea what to expect.

Twenty years ago today,
We promised for better or worse
Without really believing we’d ever face
Anything that was less than best.

Twenty years ago today,
We laughed and cried and sang
And said words that were so much more than words
In front of God and loved ones.

Twenty years ago,
We did.

*

schnookiesTwenty years later,
It’s stretchy pants and homemade face masks,
Eye doctor appointments and working from home,
Stolen kisses in the kitchen.

Twenty years later,
We have decades behind us,
But we still face the unexpectable future
Hand in hand.

Twenty years later,
We’ve known better and worse–
Gray hair and laugh lines,
Joy and grief, full arms and empty ones.

Twenty years later,
It’s still you and I and the Keeper of the stars–
All my love shared with you, my friend,
Because great is God’s faithfulness.

Twenty years later,
I still do.

Ode to a Teacher

flowers

Ode to a Teacher
by Erin Kilmer

(artwork by Gracie)

This ode’s to the teacher who stayed up last night
Worried about a student’s sad plight;
To the teacher who’s tired but giving her best–
Teaching so much more than the test.

This ode’s to the teacher who refuses to quit,
Who faces each moment with courage and grit;
To the teacher who’s learning and doing new things
In the midst of the chaos that each new day brings.

This ode’s to the teacher who loves every child–
The dirty, the brilliant, the quiet, the wild,
The overachiever, the one who flips chairs,
Each child who’s craving somebody who cares.

This ode’s to the teacher, the hero we need,
Whose life has been given to serve and to lead;
For daily your influence is felt in my home,
And so it’s a privilege to write you a poem.

Today With Her

20200430_132132Her hair is pink and in dire need of a wash; her glasses are held together with masking tape, and there is nothing more beautiful than her out here in the spring sunshine, framed by just-budding trees, laughing her heart out.

She is eleven years old, somewhere between little girl and teenager, and she makes my heart dance.

We are throwing a giant purple frisbee back and forth, and we are terrible at it. I throw too high; she throws it into the trees. I make a dash to catch it and she laughs at the sight of her awkward, out-of-shape mom trying to run to catch anything. I throw it to her and she misses and flings herself into the grass, hysterical with giggles.

Sometimes you just need some mother-daughter bonding time, and today was the day. She wanted McDonald’s chicken mcnuggets and french fries, so we went through the drive-through in my stupid minivan with the driver’s window that doesn’t roll down. We found a place to spread out our fleecy blanket, and we enjoyed a picnic.

20200430_124645

She loves ketchup on her mcnuggets, so much ketchup that I was a bit in awe watching her. I only like a little bit of ketchup occasionally on my fries. She opened package after package, and I was thankful the fleecy blanket was already red. She chattered about her life and about our plans after lunch, all the time bathing her chicken in ketchup. I ate my burger and smiled at her and how she’s grown so much and become her own person.

We took a selfie and then she took my phone and took a whole series of goofy selfies, because that’s what you do when you’re eleven and Mom is dumb enough to give you her phone. Then we drove to the park and found a nice big patch of our own personally grassy space.

inCollage_20200430_163841459

I thought maybe we would throw the frisbee a few times and then get sick of it and go for a walk, but she loves this giant purple frisbee and keeps trying again and again. She laughs so hard at me, at herself, and the loud people we can hear but not see on the other side of the park. She is all flair and drama and giggles, and I can’t help but act like a goof just to hear that amazing girly laugh.

20200430_140101“The wind did that” becomes our excuse for every bad throw, every missed catch, every ridiculous thing, and a couple times I’m afraid she might actually stop breathing because she’s laughing so hard. We throw the frisbee high, low, sideways. We throw it way too far and not nearly far enough. One time I throw it and the wind catches it and we both yell out loud thinking it might land on the roof of the building next door. It doesn’t, and then we both laugh at how dumb we were. It wasn’t even that high.

It is a sweet, simple outing on a beautiful spring afternoon– nothing fancy, just cheap fast food and a giant purple frisbee– and it is exactly perfect, exactly what we both need.

She is growing so tall, so beautiful, so unique and talented and funny. She is my girl, and days like today are the ones I hold onto when the drama is less funny and more frustrating, when both of us are hard to live with, when hormones take over hilarity.

She is a treasure, and today with her is a gift.

 

Heroes

viking strongThree years ago we decided to put our kids in public school. It was such a hard decision, fraught with so many doubts and fears. When you spend years in the homeschooling community, you are exposed to a lot of negative ideas about public schools. It goes both ways, of course. Many public school families and teachers have negative ideas about homeschooling. So much of this comes from a lack of personal contact with the real people in those situations. Here’s what I know.

Two of my kids have been enrolled in public school for nearly three whole years now. From the very beginning of this experience, I have been so impressed with the teachers and staff at our school. After years of going it alone with homeschooling, suddenly I felt like I had a whole team of people on my side for the education and growth of my kids.

Last year I started subbing as a para, and immediately I was impressed with what I was seeing within the school. Because you know what? Every single day these amazing people show up and love on these kids. They patiently teach and deal with children who don’t want to learn, who are hungry, who have terrible home lives, who are just having a bad day. They challenge  the super smart kids and they get face to face on the floor with the kid who has shut down. They encourage, inspire, and motivate.

As a sub I have seen teachers crying when challenging special-needs kids with major behavior problems were pulled out of school. I have seen teachers patiently repeating the same instruction over and over until the students understand. I have seen staff members greet my children by name and with a genuine smile. I have had a teacher give me her cell phone number so I could contact my daughter easily during the school day. I have seen even the most difficult kids get hugs and high fives and encouragement from multiple staff members as they walk through the halls.

And then the world shut down. And I have seen my kids’ school come together in amazing and surprising ways to support my children and my family. I have seen teachers come up with plans to meet unique learning needs at home. And I have read status after status on social media about how brokenhearted the faculty and staff are about the way this school year has turned out. This is what I didn’t expect when we chose to enroll Ryan and Gracie– that my children would end up so very loved by people who were, three years ago, strangers to me.

My situation is unique in that I’ve been homeschooling for all these years and being home with my kids doesn’t really intimidate me. It hasn’t been that hard for us to fall into something of a routine. And I’m in a much better place emotionally than I was when we decided for my mental health that something had to give. I’m glad for this extra time with my kids, even as I’m sad for the loss of what might have been.

But with that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that my kids’ teachers and the staff at their school have become heroes to me in a new way in the last month. I’m so sad that my kids are missing out on time with other adults who see them as amazing and who challenge them to be their best selves– and who understand common core math. We’re okay, and we’ll be okay, but this homeschool mama would like to say this– my kids’ public school teachers are my heroes.

A Morning Comes

cross-4062996_640

A Morning Comes

by Erin Kilmer

A day comes
Between death and life,
Between destruction and healing,
Between defeat and victory–
A silent day
Of waiting,
When hope seems lost,
When faith seems like foolishness,
When joy is an impossible dream.

A day comes
Silent as the grave,
Wrapped in the winding sheet of grief,
Locked within the tomb–
A fearful day
Of uncertainty,
When death stings,
When the grave has its victory,
When weeping endures.

But . . .

A morning comes,
Bringing joy with it–
Arms flung freely around a friend,
Hope recreated!–
A glorious day
Of resurrection
When the grave is swallowed up in victory,
When what was lost is restored,
When what was perishable becomes imperishable.

A morning comes.
Thanks be to God!

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Overwhelmed

rock-1245952_640The cursor blinks at me and I stare at it blankly, because I guess I just don’t feel like writing today. Overwhelm was the prompt that jumped out at me from all the choices in our 30-day family writing challenge, and I guess that’s understandable, considering what life is like right now. Life is overwhelming, a stormy sea constantly, daily threatening to knock me down and drag me under. Wave after wave of bad news, of loneliness, of questions, of hard days, of uncertainty crash against me, and I know afresh what it is to be overwhelmed.

Not like I’ve never been overwhelmed before. Every year, December finds me nearly drowning in activities and concerts, financial anxiety, baking projects, gift wrap, and low-level guilt that I’m not joyful enough. But December has a foreseeable end. I know that I will spend Christmas Eve relaxing in new pajamas with my favorite people, eating far more food than is advisable. I know that Christmas day will be slow and merry, with gifts and more good food and plenty of time in my favorite chair with a new stack of books.

This is nothing like that. The days are slow, with a simple rhythm. There is no rushing about, no activities, no special dresses needing to be ironed, no parties to plan or gifts to buy. I cook meals, read to the kids, teach algebra and grammar. I give thanks for my kids’ public school teachers and for the internet. I do workout videos, read books, cook more meals. I take naps and post things on the library’s facebook page. I wash laundry and break up arguments and wonder how strict I should be about screen time right now. I text friends and go for walks and try to do all the right things to keep everyone as emotionally healthy as possible. I spend time with Jesus and rejoice at the sweetness of His Word. I stay busy all day long, doing the same things again and again, trying to run the race with patience and love my people well.

And every day I feel afraid of what the news will say, of what might happen to people I love. Every day I worry about my kids and the effect this is having on their lives. Every day I grieve the losses I hear about and the loss of my own plans for spring 2020. I get angry when I think about the time I’m missing with my parents right now. I feel helpless as so many of the ministries I have worked so hard on are just– cancelled. I feel overwhelmed not by busyness, but by all of the negative feelings that come during a time like this. And unlike the Christmas season, I have no idea when this will end. And maybe that’s the hardest part.

Will they go back to school this year? Will we have VBS? What does this mean for Gracie’s birthday, for summer camp, for vacation plans? How long can we all live here together like this before we all start hating each other? My heart and my thoughts become so quickly overwhelmed by all the wild uncertainty. This is the kind of storm I don’t know how to weather.

And that is why the faithfulness of God is such a sweet fact of His character. He does not fail. When I can’t weather the storm, He most surely can. When my heart is overwhelmed, He is the Rock that is higher than I. He reminds me that all the things that happen in my life, even these simple, quiet, routine-filled days of fear and anxiety, are put into my life to do me good. He builds character, endurance, deep faith, and maturity into His children as we lean forward into the hard times and press on. He holds us fast and helps us remain steadfast and upright, no matter how many waves crash against us– or for how long.

He knows the race that is set before me today, this month, this strange year of 2020. He knows the ups and downs of my emotions and the constant stream of bad news from the world outside these four walls and this small town. He knows exactly where the finish line is, even when I don’t, and He has promised to be with me as I keep moving forward. He invites me to look at Jesus and to keep going, to trust that all these things will work together for good.

He invites me, when my heart is overwhelmed, to go to Him as a child runs to a Father, and He rescues me from my fear and anchors me as I face another day.

He is overwhelmingly faithful.

 Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Notes from the Quaranqueen*, Episode 1

blog 3.19aToday is the third day my kids have been home from school and my workplace has been closed, and I think we’re handling it pretty well, all things considered. I have the benefit of previously homeschooling all three of the kids, and the added benefit of all of them being old enough that they don’t trash the house in five minutes anymore, and I’m very thankful for that.

Our days are scheduled out so that there is time for schoolwork, time for creativity, time for exercise, time for family fun. And of course time to stare vacantly at screens for hours on end, because what would a break from school be without zombie children for at least part of the day?

blog 3.19c

I decided this would be a good time to tackle some of the big projects I’ve been procrastinating, so every day a kid or two and I have headed into the depths of the basement to battle the spiders and dust and general mess. If they help me they get screen time before lunch, but they don’t have to help me. Today we found the book Rolie Polie Olie down there, so of course we had to have story time and I read it out loud to them.

I’ve been spending most of our read-aloud time reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which both of the boys have read lots of times but the QuaranPrincess hasn’t read yet. It’s pretty hard to find books that appeal to two sci-fi loving teenage boys and one realistic-fiction, graphic-novels-loving tween girl, so I’m open to suggestions. I have A Wrinkle in Time on tap but I think it might be a bit beyond my daughter’s interest level. We’ll see.

If our local stores don’t get toilet paper in soon, I estimate we have maybe five days left before we run out. So that’s stupid.

blog 3.19bIn the last two days I have washed everybody’s bedding and vacuumed out the silverware drawer, as one does. I have had red lipstick applied to me by a ten-year-old girl with a rather shaky application style. We have gone for two family walks where we studiously avoided all contact with other people. We have played games and written stories and practiced instruments and sung silly songs.

It all sounds quite idyllic, and I’m thankful because I know other people are struggling so much right now. But of course this isn’t just some extended holiday. Every morning I wake up anxious. Every day we have to figure out how to live under these new circumstances. Every day we face the fears that someone we love is going to get sick. The extroverted members of my family miss their social lives, and the introverted members miss their quiet house.

Also I had to cut my seventeen-year-old’s hair and it looks like a four-year-old who had just gotten into the halloween candy did it. So yeah. That’s fun.

In the end, it’s worth it if it saves lives. It really is. And I am learning that I really do like these people and all their weirdnesses. There are hard days ahead, but I know my God is sufficient for every single one of them, for every single unexpected need and lonely moment. He is enough. His grace is enough.

Here is where faith is tested, tried, made strong.

I still believe.

*I know that technically we are not under quarantine, but rather self-isolating. However, Notes from the Self-Isolaqueen isn’t as catchy, you know what I’m saying? 🙂

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

Life is all kinds of crazy these days; I know I’m saying nothing new to anyone who might be reading this. Two days into our four-week-long experiment in required social distancing, I’m trying to find a new normal (one which suddenly has space for this dusty old blog) while dealing with how very surreal all of this is. So many voices shouting so many things. I don’t know, really, what’s true and what’s false. I don’t know what the consequences of all of this will be on our economy, on my family, on my future. There is so much I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. Every morning I wake up feeling nervous and anxious, and every morning God faithfully reminds me through His Word of His power and His promises. I know that He has never failed me, that He has provided for me and my family through so many ups and downs. I know that no matter what, He is for me, and He is good, and He is enough.

I know all of these things. I also know that I have read far too many books about apocalypses and the ravages of disease outbreaks, that my imagination quite easily runs to the worst case scenario, that Day 2 is really just a welcome break and an opportunity to clean the basement while Day 28 might be a whole different story. That’s why every day I have to come back to the Truth, to spend the time I now suddenly seem to have so much of pouring out my heart before God and casting my cares on Him.

My word of the year, chosen before I had ever heard the terms coronavirus or COVID-19, is endure. And as I have studied the concept of endurance in Scripture over the last couple months, I have discovered some biblical synonyms and related ideas– perseverance, faithfulness, pressing on, and patience. Even waiting on the Lord is a biblical concept that requires endurance, because sometimes we have to keep waiting on Him and working for Him while He holds back His answers and direction for His perfect timing.

Nobody would ever choose to learn the lessons of endurance through an outbreak of a deadly illness. Let’s be honest. If we have to learn the lessons of endurance, we’d just as soon God open up our skulls and dump the information into our brains without any actual work on our parts. Because life experience tells us that the ability to endure comes through hard training and repeated failures and painful strengthening exercises. It has been a test of faith to say to God, yes, teach me to endure. But it has been a blessing as well.

Because the one thing God keeps bringing back to me is that I am not learning this on my own, that I have a good and loving Teacher, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, who endured the cross on my behalf.

Day by day, my God reminds me of this truth– that even when I cannot endure, His steadfast love endures forever.

Rite of Passage

20190419_150058We are surrounded by a sea of pink and sparkles, girly things covered in unicorns and mermaids (but not, much to my daughter’s disgust, bears). She is nervous as all get out, but she refuses to let me comfort her or distract her. At home, I would grab her, pull her onto my lap, hug her close. But we are not at home. We are in public, and in public, I am a barely-to-be-tolerated, sort of embarrassing hanger-on, kind of like braces or an old pair of shoes you have to keep wearing because your mom said you don’t need new ones yet and they won’t let you go to the mall barefoot.

I know she’s nervous because we just spent an hour and fifteen minutes in the car, during which she asked a thousand questions (“What if they fall out in the middle of the night?” “What if they get infected?” “What if they don’t have any cute earrings?” “Do you think the piercing person will be nice?”) and sharing the opinions of the real experts, the other girls in the fourth grade (“Sally Sue said it didn’t hurt at all but Susie Sal said it hurt really badly and then Sally Sue said that Susie Sal must be a huge baby and so then Susie Sal started to cry, but I’m not going to cry, Mom, because Junie Jo said that it’s not much faster than getting a shot and Joanie June said the piercing people are super nice and fast”).

Personally, I’m still shaking from the terrible traffic and construction on the way here; seven years in Tiny Town having destroyed me for city driving. I’m wishing the piercing lady with her arm tattoos would hurry up and put the third hole in the ears of the girl sitting in the chair, wondering why she has to give all the long instructions since obviously this teenager knows how to handle a piercing. (I know, I know, there’s regulations and stuff. But there’s only so many sparkly unicorn headbands a forty-year-old woman can stare at before you just can’t handle it anymore, and also my daughter is getting more nervous by the second.)

We watch the teenager get her holes punched, breathe deeply and then slowly let the air out just like I do every week when I give myself my arthritis shot. I’m thankful she doesn’t cry, or our traipse through city traffic may have been in vain. “You’re going to do great, sweetie,” I say to my girl.

“Mo-ommmm, stop saying that,” she says, eyes rolling. Almost ten, or almost fifteen? You decide.

Finally it is our turn, and G climbs up in the chair. Art shows her the teddy bear with its pierced furry ears that sits nearby. “You can hold her if you like,” the piercing lady says. “Her name is Claire Bear.”

“I don’t want to hold her,” G replies.

“Are you sure?” I ask. “There’s no shame. Or you can hold my hand.”

“I’m not going to hold her, or your hand,” she says, “but I guess she can sit next to me.” Claire Bear is moved to a precarious perch on the seat next to my daughter, and we turn to the truly important task of choosing earrings. On the way here, she had speculated about what ones they might have and hoped they had flower earrings, so I am quick to point out a cute, daisy-shaped, bejeweled pair. But apparently I am too enthusiastic in my endorsement because she immediately rejects them. “I like these ones,” she says, pointing to a pair of silver balls with tiny fake diamonds all over them.

We wait as the piercing lady heads to the back room to find a pair, and while we don’t have an audience I reiterate the fact that there is no shame in holding someone’s hand or squeezing a bear when one is getting holes punched in one’s head. I remind her how I always used to hold my dad’s hand when I was getting shots at the dentist.

She is unmoved. She is not a baby, and she is not going to hold anyone’s hand, even if it hurts worse than when she broke her finger.

When the lady returns, she explains to G that she will mark the spots on her ears where her new bling will go. We watch her carefully do this, and then we look at her handiwork. “They look a little different, because one of her ears is bigger than the other.” It is, and it’s adorable, but I wonder how many paranoid body image conversations will arrive from that offhand comment.

I try to head it off with a smile. “Well, I think most of us are a little lopsided!”

20190419_151307Finally the time arrives. The lady loads her two earring-hole punchers with the mini disco-ball earrings. She aims one at G’s ear, and counts backward. “Three . . . two . . . one . . . ” and then one ear has a hole and an earring in it where no hole or earring had been before.

“Oooh, ouch, ow!” G winces.

“You okay?” I ask.

“Yeah, it just hurt a little.”

Second ear . . . . three two one . . . punch.

“Oooch! ow, oof ouch!” this wince is slightly more intense than the last. She still won’t hold my hand, although at some point one arm has slipped around Claire Bear.

We finish the process, and we haven’t even made it out of the store before she’s saying it barely hurt at all, how it really wasn’t bad, how she wants more earring holes now. After a cookie break, during which she spews forth words in her relief even more loquaciously than she had in her nervousness, we head back to the van. I put my arm around her shoulders, tell her I’m proud of her. She smiles, allows the arm for a few moments until she sees other girls in the vicinity, and then we’re done with that precious moment.

We are navigating these tricky waters of growing up, of fighting for independence while still being so very dependent. I am trying to meet her needs for love and affection in ways that are acceptable to her, both in private and in public. It’s hard. We grate and bump against each other, and I try so hard to respect her need for independence without accepting bad attitudes or snottiness. I pray daily for grace, for the ability to love this child well, to accept her as nearly-ten and not hold too tightly to her. I try to remember to celebrate the funny, sweet, beautiful girl she is and not grieve too fiercely over the little girl she is slowly but inexorably leaving behind.

Motherhood is so hard. It breaks me, stretches me, leaves me desperate before my heavenly Father more than any other aspect of my life.

Later that night, I am getting ready for bed when G comes into my room. “Mommy?” she says.

“Yes?”

“You didn’t have to get my ears pierced today.”

“W20190421_082711ell, we told you we would do that when you turned ten, and it’s close enough now. We wouldn’t have time next weekend.”

“But, I mean, you drove a really long way and it cost money and you didn’t have to do those things.”

“But we wanted to, baby.”

“I know. You’re such a nice Mommy.” She comes in for a huge hug. I sit on the bed, with her on my lap, just for a minute.

“You’re my girl. I like to do things for you.”

She gets up, heading to her own room and her comfy bed and huge pile of teddy bears, not yet outgrown. At the door she turns around. “Mommy?”

“Yes, honey?”

“Thank you.”

Maybe we’ll survive this after all.

 

Thank Heaven for Big Kids

kids onlineIt’s summer break here in Tiny Town, Iowa, and you know what that means. It means that I have to take my kids places with me again, instead of running errands alone during the school day. This is possibly the thing that strikes the most fear into the hearts of mothers everywhere, but something magical happened yesterday when we all loaded into the van (my oldest in the drivers’ seat!) for a trip to the thrift store, the library, the grocery store, and the post office. I had a Thrilling Revelation.

Going places with my children is becoming less stressful as they get older.

I told you it was magical.

My big kids, y’all. They can try on clothes by themselves, navigate the library, meet me at the cash register in ten minutes. They can walk in parking lots without me being afraid for their lives, grabbing them, pulling them close, yelling “watch out!” and “get over here!” a hundred times. They can carry their own stacks of library books and read them on their own when they get home. They can assess whether a shirt fits correctly and sit in the van for a few minutes while I run into the post office. The boys can go off on their own without my worrying about them getting lost or stolen.

Sometimes my children’s growing independence, which seems so noticeable to me all of a sudden, causes me to catch my breath—just a little gasp of shock. How am I now the second shortest person in my family, instead of the second tallest? How am I sitting in the passenger seat while my son drives us around to our errands? How is my youngest now in the tween category of the summer reading program? How are we only a couple years away from senior pictures, college entrance exams, and scholarship applications? Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were all in carseats?

But mostly, I really just love the older kids stage. These kids are amazing. Yesterday, running errands, I never once felt stressed out (other than the obvious, continual stress of supervising a teenage driver). The kids just walked around with me in the stores, or went to look at their own things. They came when I called them, didn’t touch everything, stood quietly while we waited in line, refrained from interrupting my conversation with the librarian, and didn’t ask for all the candy in the line at the grocery store. We went in, we did what needed to be done, we came out; and that was the end of that.

It wasn’t very long ago that running errands with the kids was a highly stressful experience that I avoided whenever possible. I felt like I was taking seventeen octopi into Walmart, instead of three kids, like I was surrounded at all times by a whirlwind of grabbing, whining short people. I had to know where every single-seater bathroom in town was, in case someone had an emergency or an accident. At one point, when one of my children was potty training, I had to carry a plastic toilet around with me in the van, because said child was unable to use public restrooms for various, purely mental reasons. I had diapers and goldfish crackers and sippy cups in my purse and all over the van, and just getting in and out required more patience and agility than anybody should have to have.

We are in a new stage, now, and it has its own stresses that are sometimes overwhelming and terrifying and emotionally draining. But, man, there are good things too, and I don’t ever want to forget that. These kids are fun, and they’re easy to take places, and every one of them is capable of using the bathroom without me.

Thank heaven for big kids.