olive | Every morning you brush your hair and tie it up on your own. Sometimes you ask to wear lip gloss, and when I tell you no, you respond, “but you do!” as if we are the same age.
blythe | You’ve been pushing some buttons lately, which has always been a flag that you need more quality time together. You’re getting older and, as such, our time together is growing sweeter, deeper. I’m grateful.
burke | You’re often like a cat, moving from one spot to another, lying in the sun. For a boy who barely slept as a baby, I can barely wake you now. You’re making up for lost time, I suppose.
liam | You entered a Lego contest this week, and on our way there, you noted, “I just realized a lot of kids might not know what this is.” I laughed at your old soul. You won a prize for the most sophisticated entry.
olive | You weren’t feeling that well this week, so I let you climb up on my bed and enjoy the ipad all on your own.
blythe | You began reading the Little House series this week, and I can hardly bare to think of how you’ll handle Jack’s death. We have a while before that though.
burke | After spending weeks (maybe months) sketching trees, you’ve moved on to eyes. “Aren’t eyes fascintating, mom?” You ask. They sure are, kid. As are you.
liam | You began The Lightning Thief series and are currently finishing one every other day. I have regularly wondered where you are, only to find you here or in the living room chair or outside with your book.
I think all mothers sense the fleeting nature of childhood at some point. We grow a longing to pause life just long enough to breathe it a little deeper, laugh a little longer, and enjoy right where we are with our children in that moment. Some mothers might feel that way in the first days and months following birth–the quiet moments nursing, the series of firsts as they unfurl from womb to infant. Other mothers enjoy the early childhood years more, when their babies can move freely and express and interact–or even later, as their children bridge into adult years, straddling two worlds at once. Regardless, a mother’s heart always rubs up against time.
We all respond a little differently to time’s slipperiness. I met an older woman last week who saved all of her daughter’s hair clippings. “I literally have bags of it,” she told me. I honestly couldn’t imagine bags of anyone’s hair around my home, but I am forever trying to store time with words and photos. This in itself can sometimes feel like catching the tide. For many of us, parenting can feel overwhelming mundane and rote. Childhood is a collection of routine nothings that we know we’ll one day miss (at least some of them). Today we went to the park. Today you played in bubbles. Today you swam underwater. Today you carried your bag to school. How do we find the moments that matter to us, the ones we’ll really want to savor in future years? I’m not always sure myself, but I keep trying through this space, Instagram, and my own portrait project. As my children grow older, and we’ve closed the door on early years, I want to see and enjoy them more in our daily living together and somehow bottle up a bit of time in the process.
Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and professional photographer, helps parents discover the lovely bits of their days–and makes us crave summertime, too. In her online workshop, Everyday Beauty, via the Bloom Forum, she leads parents to find the beauty in our routines, in the nothings. She helps her online students understand how light and composition and detail come together to create your story, but she also covers practical topics like taking photos in public or even getting in the photo yourself. (Shock.) Her next three-week online workshop in May is currently sold out, but she is offering one lucky Cloistered Away reader a spot in the class. You can read more about her workshop here, and enter to win a spot below. Make sure to check back, since some of the options are available for daily entries.
This post is in partnership with Ginger Unzueta, a homeschooling mother and business owner who loves helping other parents find the beauty in their messy days. All images are courtesy of Ginger Uzueta. All thoughts are my own.
In one section of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sardines swim above your head in a perfect circle. It’s almost dizzying to watch. They move laterally among one another, but always in the same direction and with such intensity– as if they might swim their way out of the circular glass enclosure. I sometimes think of them as we flit about our days at home, swimming through our daily routines that somehow always manage to end where they’ve begun. On certain days, I almost feel carried away by the whirlpool of activity we create around here, grounded only by the tips of my toes. We’re nearing the end of our school year, and I find myself moving harder for it, ready to find a nice place to rest–a sandy shore or a field of grass–a place for my soul to be grounded again, heals to the earth.
Early last week, the girls and I baked cookies together before bedtime. It was a necessary therapy following several days of harrowed conflict and petty arguments between them, not to mention my own exhaustion having managed it. Although making quality time for them in any way always helps navigate us to calmer relationships, the kitchen always has a way of healing these broken connections, of becoming a salve for the rifts caused by careless or hurried days. Honestly, my motherly reminders tire all of us some days–Use kind words. Be generous with your touch. Share with one another.–but a warm cookie that we’ve made together just before bedtime might be the precise tending our tired souls need. (And just in case you’re interested, we made the grain and dairy-free Snickerdoodle found in this tremendous recipe book.)
These moments in our home are often small and spontaneous. We largely rely on whatever I have in the fridge or shelf (or that of my neighbor’s). They tend to be messy because my children love making messes, and cooking with them is not a time to be clean or perfect or style the ideal plate. Cooking with my children is about mixing and measuring, about tasting and inhaling, about sharing in a small and concrete process together, and above all, savoring. Literally. Figuratively.
This post is in partnership with Odette Williams, a small business owner and inspiring mother who designs and manufactures simple and playful children’s apron sets in Brooklyn, NY.My girls adore these sets and use them daily. Thank you, Odette! All images and thoughts are my own. For a chance to win a free OW apron set of your choice, hop over to my Instagram page.
A large farm table sits at the center of our home between windows and books and doorways to other rooms. It is the place where we eat and work together as a family, where we naturally gather with one another and friends for food or craft or talk. Yet in a more abstract way, the table is also a telling of the soul, a litmus test of our family’s connection and availability. As our little everyday things–mail, school and art work, groceries–accumulate and sprawl the surface, the table always asks us honestly, have you made time for one another today? Have you cleared the lingering clutter of your life to sit with food and story? . . .
READ MORE of what I wrote about our family table life for The Common Table today.
When we bought our first home so many years ago, I thought of home and garden design in terms of magazine spreads–things and furniture and plant life neatly arranged in exactly the right place, constant, tidy, and perfect. It was a finite process in my mind, one with clear beginnings and endings and words like finished and unfinished. Although I do love renovating homes, arranging furniture, and finding the perfect spot for our favorite little things, I’ve realized over the years that design, both indoor and outdoor, is a far more organic process, one that longs to breathe and evolve along with its inhabitants. Regardless of the completeness of your space when you move in to it, the concept of home is something that develops and grows with time. All good things truly do take time.
For all the time interiors require, gardens have taken me longer to learn. My journey with growing and nurturing plants has been one characterized more by error than anything else–I hope this brings some of you comfort. In our first home, an apartment, I created a flower garden on our patio–a tiny nook where we could sit and enjoy natural beauty instead of the concrete parking lot below. In spite of my best effort, I watched, frustrated, as plant after plant died that season. Year after year, with each new beginning, my husband would sort of raise his brow as if to say, “are you sure?” I’ve never been one to back off learning too easily, but it’s not a surprise that my love and patience for plant life has burgeoned alongside my mothering years. They are independent but parallel journeys, one always whispering secrets and skills to me about the other. In spite of failure, each planting has taught me something new and given me more resolve to try again, to learn.
When we moved into our current home, the plant-life had overgrown everything outdoors. Vines crept up and around trees. Dead branches scattered about the yard and dangled from branches. Pieces of trash–tires and old pipes and bottles–lay intertwined beneath heaps of enmeshed stems and leaves. Our yard, although living, had been forgotten and abandoned. During our first spring and summer last year, we began cutting back and cleaning out some of the rubbish. Sometimes nurturing means tearing down and clearing out. We filled bag upon bag of leaves and decayed brush, and often, it appeared as if we had done nothing. Life can be like this, yes? In one instance, progress might occur overnight, while in another, it evolves more slowly through a series of minutia. Don’t discount the minutia.
In early spring this year, my husband, children, and I cleared and cut out the entire back part of our yard–all of the brush and dead bits–down to the soil. We tilled and leveled the earth a bit and then replanted sod. We purchased old railway ties to create vegetable garden beds and planted 18 tree saplings. Everywhere we live, we plant trees. Although all of our plantings are small, just a bit more than seeds, they are simple reminders to me that everything–the mightiest oaks to the most pivotal human lives–begins small.
Whether you’re gardening or decorating or parenting, beginning a business or a new relationship, be patient with the growing process and don’t forsake small beginnings.
14 | What does courage mean?Can you think of a time when you had to be really courageous?
olive | It was brave when I slept without my blanket and when I stopped sucking my thumb. | This week you helped Dad plant and water new tree sprigs in the yard. You’re happiest when your hands have something to do–also when no one wakes you up in the morning.
blythe | Courage means being really brave. Sometimes I’ve had to be brave to tell the truth. I also had to be brave to go on the zip-line the first time. | You innately want to take care of things and others around you–something I love about you– but sometimes I have to remind you not to parent your siblings. Perhaps this causes the most tension between you and Olive–your longing for order and care-taking, and Olive’s independence and contentment with chaos. Although some days are really difficult, I’m so grateful that you’re learning now how to be merciful and gentle with your gifts.
burke | Courage is sacrifice. It means you’re willing to do something no one else will do, like when I have enough money to buy something for myself, but choose to share it with someone else or buy something to share. | You know how to work and rest well. In one moment, you might be steadily swinging a sledge hammer to help take down our mini-brick wall and another moment lying on the sidewalk like a cat in the sun, motionless for several minutes at a time.
liam | It means you stand tall when you lose hope. I had to have courage when I got stitches and when I crushed my finger in the door a couple of years ago. I don’t like when painful things happen to me. | You had to get stitches in your knee this week after you fell while climbing a fence. The doctor had to remove a large splinter of wood from your leg, but you cringed the most about the shot they had to give you for numbing. Like your father, you despise needles.