Being Caleb

Dear Caleb,

You are 12.  Sitting at the cusp of your teen years, you are exceptional at many things, best of all at being Caleb.  You are intricately, uniquely created.  You rushed to the house yesterday, your freshly turned 12 self, and had eyes so round and full I thought they might spill over.  My instinct told me you weren’t hurt or worried.  But I knew you needed all of my attention with one glance.  You could scarcely get the words out as you beckoned me with your body to come with you.  Baby cousin in arms, I loped across the grass with you to see the amazing, beautiful thing that blended in so quietly, so perfectly with the mottled tree bark I still can’t believe your eyes could see it.  A barred owl.  Mysterious and stunningly marked with stripes of brown mixed with cream.  Looked just like strips of tree bark.  But with huge brown eyes staring down.  Right at you.  Right at all of us.  All of us who would have missed it.  Would have missed the crazy flurry of protective mama-birds diving and squawking terrified back in the forest at the day time sight of this looming predator.  You explored and wondered until your curiosity at the strange behavior gave way to the answer, sitting up high on a tree branch.

This is the essence of you.  You who sees hidden wonders.  You who feels deeply.  You who hears amplified.  You who experiences the whole of life in a way I can’t, won’t ever, fully be able to understand.  You have, in all your one-of-a-kind way, opened up slivers of life that we would not have known had you not been given to this family.  Your passion for the created world?  Blows.  My.  Mind.  The way you pay attention to the smallest detail in the sedimentary lines formed in a rock sample (of which you now own close to 200).  The way you disappear for an hour and then return with a collection of insects and tell me what they are.  The way you gently place a blue lace-wing moth on your baby sisters’ chubby finger and watch in delight as it crawls across her hand.  The way you care for your seed starts that sit in your bedroom.  The way you can read a (great) book for three hours and not think to look away from the page or stop for water or take a break.   All these ways and a thousand more.  I love them, every one.

We have been stretched by who you are.  In the best way.  Stretched to expand and grow  and to learn new things, new ways, new love.  So much we would miss if you weren’t here to show us.  You point our eyes to see the owl and beckon our ears to listen for the woodpecker.  Thank you for this.  Don’t stop being awestruck.  Don’t stop letting beauty and creation and life take your breath away.

All my love,


ps – Thank you for seeing this beautiful pink flower three years ago deep in the forest and digging it up carefully and planting it right by the front door “so you could see it mom”.  Three years now it has faithfully bloomed and brings me deepest joy.  This is the kind of thing you do.  This is who you are.

Why mud means hope

It may not make any sense to anyone except me.  Which is entirely okay.  But coming outside just now to rally some boys for some heavy lifting work only to find them emerging from the forest wearing wide grins and pants covered in thick mud….it was a glimmer for me.  A glimmer of what might be some day soon.

Spring might come.  We might some time, not too far from now, spend days outside, one after another.  My boys, despite their glaring, enormous differences in personality, might get along with each other within the common cause of the outdoors.  Though the wind whipped brisk and chilled all bits of skin that weren’t covered tight, warmer days will arrive.

It’s been a long winter.  The metaphorical one and the real one.  There have been many, more than normal, cold days where we’ve been sequestered to the indoors.  This is especially hard for one of our kids, the one who lives and breathes all things nature.  So finding my boys wielding my purple pruning sheers and pants that will for sure never be the same again, somehow this fills me with hope.  Getting stuck in two feet of mud and losing a pair of boots in the process was the common ground these two needed today, even if for just one day.  The mud means the ground isn’t frozen which means we’re not frozen.  We will pull through. We might be messy and sure get things wrong along the way.  But we will be all the stronger for it…


All in the family

One of the challenges that I’d never really thought much about that we would face as our family grew was that we would have choices to be made about what sorts of things we would say yes to outside the things we do at home.  Not that we spend our days here in a bubble not engaging with the outside world.  Not at all so.  We love having a steady stream of people here for one thing or another.

Some of our friends are highly involved and committed to year around sports.  While for certain families this works great, it also has the potential to fragment the family quite a bit.  Dinners together are the exception instead of the rule.  The costs for kids who move beyond recreation-level sports are into the many hundreds of dollars per season.  However, even for just 6 weeks of YMCA level, “for fun” soccer for our kids it would have cost us almost $500.

When one child excels in a sport, it’s easy to get excited and put others on the sidelines (literally and figuratively).  We’ve watched this play out just this past year in fact.  It is harder than I’d have guessed to find things that a family with several children can be involved in together.

Two years ago this fall we happened upon a county wide 4-H meeting near us.  We stopped and talked with each club leader for any animals we were interested in.  The commitment levels varied a great deal.  The personality and “feel” of the groups did as well.  We still lived in our tiny rambler with our five children, mostly quite happily.  We had chickens and a dog and a cat.  We were far from anything that resembled any sort of country, agricultural life.  But we signed up anyway.  Figuring we could just learn about animals, make some friends and have some fun.

We had no idea what we were in for.  We spent that first year learning all sorts of interesting things about dairy goats.  But better than that we made some great friends.  Grown up ones as well as kid ones.  Each of our children were challenged to give presentations to the group.  Learning to stand up in front of your peers and share about something is such a helpful lifelong skill.

When we had the opportunity to move part way through that year we found ourselves living at the end of an unmaintained county road with a small pasture already in place.  And it happened to be just about kidding season.  Three baby goats quickly found their way to our little family farm and into our hearts.

Of course fair season is the culmination of the 4-H year.  We didn’t really “get” that the first year.  Last year we showed up at one small community fair and had a ball.  This year we did the same fair (pictures below!) but had anticipated all year long that we would do the Big One.  The full Monty of the fair world around these parts.  But it requires its own post which I promise to work on this week.  For now, here are some snapshots of us enjoying our time at Silvana together.  Even just a one-day, all day event for seven people isn’t a small affair….but it was insanely fun for all of us.  Finn included!

Finn getting ready to take on the show ring with the Tiny Tots
Audrey getting Little Su ready
Finn and Kodiak
Audrey and Little Su in the ring
Finn showing Kodiak
Finn with the (lovely) judge
Kyler with Posey
Caleb with Wyatt
Rylee with Blanchette
the lineup!
lovin' us some cousins who came to watch!
our little goat show-girl
the fantastic Finn
sweetest Kyler face ever
going for a sno-cone run
taking a snooze wearing his show ribbon - hard work wrangling goats when you're two!

A boy and his dreams

Today the wide-eyed one who loves to wonder told me with with brazen confidence:

See that tree mama?  What I’m gonna do is climb it to the top and jump out after I make some wings.  I’m going to glide down (a brother interjected, “won’t you FALL?”) Oh no, I won’t fall I will GLIDE.  It’s going to be great!

I smiled at the blue-eyed one.  Much of life seems to bear down hard on this precious son.  The way he feels and learns and sees and hears makes for
o-v-e-r-w-h-e-l-m-e-d him more often than I wish.  Who am I to crush his dreams?  Who am I to be the voice of reason and tell him he can’t and it won’t work and here are 10 reasons why that is a terrible idea?

How many times have I crushed him already?  Not been tender enough when he was (slightly) injured for the millionth time and I could not muster one more ounce of compassion?  This the one child that managed to break his foot simply leaning back on a kitchen chair because he could not sit still through dinner.  How have I taken the fun out of something meant to be lighthearted when all he wanted was to dream big?

He’s hard at work behind me right now.  The sweet grunts and groans of boy deep in his work.  Believing big that he can do something great.  Is it my job to tell him he can’t fly?  He can’t change the world? Just because I feel so darn grumpy this morning?  Or just because the world is a terrifying place where the most unimaginable things happen?  Every.  Single. Day?

He just finished the work.  “I’m going out to fly mama!”  Hope filled and an ear-to-ear grin.  “I’m right behind you, hang on” I call to him. 

I grab a camera and chase the one who I know will one day conquer great things, for all the small he has to learn to conquer everyday.

“Do you think its going to work?  I’ll climb up and you hand me my wings so they don’t break, okay? (he pauses) Maybe I should come down a few branches and try lower first?”

He trusts me, implicitly, despite my daily failing him.  He knows I’m in his corner.  Despite the thousand times I’ve wondered why he didn’t get a better mother than me, somehow he loves this one that he has.  He asks if I think this is the right height. I breathe relief.  I didn’t want to say it.  Thankful he figured it out on his own.  He waits and shouts “READY!” and jumps.

My eyes well up behind the lens because its not every day I see this kind of sheer glee from him.  I love it.  I love his sparkle and his creativity and his determination.  I love the way he cradles grasshoppers and moths in his hands.  The way he knows the sounds of different birds in our yard.  I literally relish every single second because I know it won’t last an hour, maybe not even five minutes but the taste of this moments, these moments with this boy….they are so sweet my heart hurts.

Where big brother goes, little brothers long to follow.  This does not always pan out well here.  But it did today.  Little brother searched for his own cardboard, his own scissors and tape and formulated his own ‘wings’.  The littlest brother was happy to swing in the hammock chair while the big boys proved their awesomeness. The tree proved a challenge so we moved the picnic table to the edge of the deck which was a perfect, still challenging but not quite so crazy, height.

Someday his jump will take him out of my nest and into the wide world.  I will miss his good days and his bad.  I will miss the way he tucks himself under my arm on the couch because someday he won’t fit there.  I will not always be his leading lady so I am determined to find more days like this one and love them with all my heart.

My natural born naturalist

If I wonder where he is and happen to notice he is gone, I need only holler his name in my sing-song mama voice out the back door.  Sometimes I simply peek and get a visual on him and just leave him be.

Nature, creatures, being outdoors are critical to his ability to cope with life.  Might seem like an overstatement, but for him, truly it isn’t.

He grabs my hand and brings me to a plant where a tiny frog is perched on a blossom.  I watch as he walks back and forth in the grass that isn’t anything close to the expanses he dreams of.  Literally every time we drive by a field of grass he tells me in a wistful tone, “Oh mama, look at that – I want to run there and run and run.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful?”.

He is looking.  Taking in the blades of grass and making his daily inventory of what lives here.  A giant beetle flipped upside down.  A freshly spun web with a lovely reddish spider at home.  He checks the chicken coop for eggs, still none, any day now though and he knows it.  He’s determined to be the first one to find one.

He delights in all things living.  He tears up when he tells me he accidentally left the frog in full sunlight and its “all dried up”.  His finger nails are a perpetual tinge of brown.  He always smells earthy when I bury my head in his moppy hair.

Why do I fuss about his dirt covered feet – again – when someday I’ll wish I could scrub them and make him laugh again?

He talks quiet by the place where his bunny is buried in the front yard.  He rescues a magnificent dragonfly from our cats paws.  He catches bees by the dozen in mason jars and marvels when he finds one four times as big as the others and wonders why in the world it is so huge.  He holds the jar to his ear and listens to the sound he loves of them buzzing.

Why don’t I ever take the time to listen with him?

We go on a walk and he sees a garter snake, snatches it right up and holds it up for the rest of us to see.  We come home and pile inside but he stays out and scours the garden for anything ripe to eat.  He proudly comes in holding a shirt full of snap peas.

So much about the way his brain works and body feels I know I can’t understand.  It is complicated.  Though I’ve learned a great deal, I still miss chances every day to love him the way he needs love.  I hold to a truth I often recite back to myself when I forget

“I am the best mother for THESE children in this home, they have been entrusted to ME as gifts uniquely created and put in THIS family with purpose.  It was not a mistake.  God doesn’t make any.”

On days when a doctor tells me “He would really thrive in a one child family” it is impossible not to cry or let my heart break.  But I still have a choice to make, I can choose to see the gift and the purpose (even when its unclear).  That part is up to me.

On days like today when he comes running in loudly with a handful of inchworms and we all sit and soak in their cute minuteness.

We go online and look up inchworm, only to find there aren’t really inchworms just larvae (caterpillars).  Who knew?  We take careful note of all its features and look up its name.  Just yesterday we read in science about taxonomy and how scientists organize living things.  So imagine my glee when we find the precise caterpillar, along with its complete classification.  We literally just finished talking about binomial nomenclature and here we are holding tiny Nadata gibbosa larvae right here in our family room!

We first had given them grape leaves but upon learning who they were (also known as green oak caterpillars) we got them some oak leaves and they started eating right away.  Too fun.

I may sound like such a nerd, but seriously after a week of sick children and the high point yesterday of all 6 of us crammed into a tiny dental room for an hour while the above mentioned nature boy got two cavities filled….well, really this find was more than a delightful end to our week.

It felt like a rare treasure.  Like a little window to God’s amazing world.  A world that my son appreciates and basks in more than almost anyone I’ve ever known.

From the back seat

Overheard in the van this week:

Caleb –  “I’m going to grow up to be bigger than Rylee you know, because boys are bigger than girls.”

Kyler –  “Maybe…but mom is bigger than dad, so maybe not?”

Caleb:  “No, I will, I’m sure.”

Kyler –  “But mom is a little bit the E-word.”

Caleb –  “No, she’s the F-word, you mean.  Yeah, but don’t say it, it isn’t polite.”

Mama is thinking these boys don’t realize that in 5 short months since Finn’s birth I’ve lost 30 pounds and am pleased as punch to be back at what I weighed before baby #3 – even if I’ve still got a ways to go!  Not to mention they’ve no idea what most people think when they hear “F-word”.  Making a mental note to work on phonics some more with Kyler, who apparently has E and F sounds a bit mixed…

Kyler:  “I KNOW, I didn’t say FAT!”

Mama can’t control the front seat giggles and thanks them for trying to be courteous.  If this isn’t the most humbling job in the world I don’t know what is (grin).

Sir Caleb’s birthday bash!

Before I could write this birthday post, I had to write yesterday’s post so that the full awesomeness of the birthday could be understood.  I don’t want to forget this part of the journey.  It was Caleb’s third birthday, at a train museum with a bunch of kids, that I began to realize that I really didn’t understand what was going on in his little brain.  The noise, all the people, the attention, the pressure….everything completely overwhelmed him.  He didn’t have any fun, it was so sad.  I won’t post the pictures I have that prove it.  From that point, with a lot of help and support, we began to figure out how to do things so that he could enjoy them.  His next two birthdays were small, simple family events.

This past year he’s taken leaps and bounds and as soon as we started the birthday party brainstorming (this was the first party we let him invite just who he wanted to and actually plan with us!) – I really felt like he could handle a big, boisterous party.

Handle it he did.  Enjoy it he did.  Experience it by the minute in sheer delight he did.

And we watched in wonder.  Only those who’ve known him for years could fully understand the changes and appreciate what a monumental, life victory kind of day this was for our sweet six year old.

We made a last minute change of plans due to weather and met up at an elementary school so we could eat lunch at my parents house.  The phone call the night before went something like this:

Me:  “Mom, I was just calling to see if you think we should move the party since it’s raining and cold?”

Mom (not stopping to think):  “Might be a good idea.  You could have it here, we could use the woods at the school and then eat at our house.”

Me:  “Um, Mom, don’t you remember there are 18 children between the ages of 2 and 8 coming?”  And don’t you remember that you just remodeled your kitchen and that you have cream colored carpets?

Mom (cheerful and certain):  “Sure, it’s no problem, it will be just fine.”

Sort of in disbelief but very grateful at the offer, I said yes.  I almost called back and said we’d have it here.  But the reality of 32 people in our little rambler was enough to keep me from it.

First the kids decorated little burlap satchels that our kids had sewn for them.  They would hold their (chocolate) gold coins from the forest hunt.

Then everyone lined up to get instruction for the Sherwood forest adventure.  Chris had hidden dozens of gold coins in the forest and we also hid a bunch of canned food.  I explained that Robin Hood always wanted to help the poor and that in the spirit of Robin Hood, we would hunt for food then donate it all to the food bank after the party.  I also told any that might not know that when Robin needed help from the members of his band he would blow three horns on his bugle.  So everyone got handed a bugle (my friends may not forgive me for the OBNOXIOUS noise they make!) and they were off.

After the mad frenzy search for coins and food, we all took turns shooting with Caleb’s new bow and arrows that he graciously shared with everyone.  Check out that handsome archer!

After everyone had had a hand at the bow and their fill of gold in their purse, we headed for Nana and Papa’s.  The kids pulled the red wagon full of food and walked the few blocks home in a darling parade.   Then there was food and feasting!

We shared many sweet glances throughout the day, that said more than words could have.  All the hard work, late nights sewing, etc was worth it.  Way beyond the party work, I think we both felt like life in general was worth it.  And for all that life has been these last couple months, we really needed a day like that.  All of us.

For a few more fun photos, especially of my nephew Isaac at the party, check out my sisters’ blog!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Conversation on the way home from Grammy and Grampy’s:

Rylee, age 6 – “I want to be a farmer and take care of animals and sell them”


Caleb, age 5 – “I want to be a race car driver”


Kyler, age 3 – “I want to jump over big mountains!”


We thought it was interesting to hear what each of the kids said to this question.  Rylee has said that she has wanted to be a farmer for quite some time now.  Who knows how that will play out in life.  Now that I am almost 32, I have some ideas of what I want to be when I grow up, and they don’t usually involve crawling under houses.  I will now pose the question to you, no matter how old you are now…

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Anacortes-one year later

I realized in looking at pictures from our wonderful trip to Anacortes that we had many pictures of the family in the exact same places as last year and we were there in August both years…I thought it would be fun to post them together.  So much changes in a year!

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Tired Kyler last year

august 2009 177

Tired Kyler this year!

august 2008 110

Bathing three last year…

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Bathing four this year!

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Caleb last year…

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…and this year at the same beach.

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Sweet Rylee last August…

august 2009 132

..and this August, minus a few teeth!

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Kyler last year…

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Kyler this year, more hair and less baby chub!

august 2008 192

the baby cousins last year, tiny and new…

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…baby cousins this year, into all kinds of mischief together!

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Last year, in the kitchen, looking at the baby deer and her mama…

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…this year in the kitchen with family visiting from Africa!