"What you do, Jack," pajama clad and sprawled on a sleeping bag, Jane lilts in sing-song, "is listen and collect ideas." She scoops her knees up and hugs them to her chest. "Then," she says, "pretend like you are a grown-up and try to participate." Conversation, it's simple really: listen, pretend, and try.
"Yeah, that's it," I say. "Listen and collect ideas, then pretend and try. I think you'll be good at it."
The four older children, flopped like a field of overripe wheat, are a patchwork of sleeping bags and tired limbs. The snag of their dry feet on soft polyester lulls in the background.
They fidget and settle. I hug each one and press my face into the warm softness of neck. I whisper each a special prayer, one last flutter of wind as they slip into sleep.
3354. "Wuv you," Myra whispers in my ear.
3355. We traipse across the road to Auntie Cerissa's and play the morning away through the playhouse, over the bikes, 'round and 'round the mulberry bush with tag and good ol' shenanigans. All the while Ceris and I visit and visit.
3356. Couscous salad with mint and feta and sweet onion.
3357. Sisters-in-law, Mom, and I circle up in the front yard. We pray and linger, sip ice water. The children amble and gallop the afternoon long.
3358. "Mom, can I clean off our door?" Lucy asks. "'Cause it has oatmeal on it. Yeah, the bathroom door."
3359. We eat meat and potatoes down on the farm, a whole spread Craig's mom materializes. The children blaze a trail through mile-high raspberries and wander the garden.
3360. We return home, a whole farmer's market in the back of the car.
3361. "One time I thought my johnny-jump-up plant might have been dying," Lucy tells me, "when actually it was having babies."
3362. "Jesus," Lucy prays, "thank-you for dying on the cross and taking away all the bad things we have done."
3363. "Well, Jesus died for that," I tell one of the kids when they get in trouble for being mean. "It doesn't matter if it feels like enough. It is. He paid for it."
3364. "You've worried about more things in the last hour," Craig tells me, "than I have in," he shakes his head, "the last year."
3365. "Momma, you're just fun to talk to," Jane announces. "That's why we want to keep talking to you."
3366. I ask Jane what she wants to get Logan for his birthday and she answers, "I don't know. But, one thing I do know is most kids like things from the Dollar Store."
3367. We pack for a weekend vacation. I grow grumpy with every detail that goes wrong. "Momma, I don't mean to be disrespectful," Jane treads lightly, "but the way you're talking isn't very nice. I was just standing over here and thinking, Maybe she doesn't know."
3369. "She looked for the longest chapter she could find: Mark 14." Craig tells me when I say Jane can read ONE more chapter before naps.
3370. We have a backyard barbecue with a dear family of four and linger until the night is cool. Italian sausage, baked beans, raw carrots, and fresh vanilla ice cream, even the seven children let the night slip by like water between their toes.
3371. All the children loaded up for a trip to the lake and Jane comments, "That little patient baby is sitting there grabbing his leg and trying to pick it up."
3372. We settle into a weekend with my brother's extended family. Hours and hours in the water, on the boat, tubing, water skiing, lounging, or swimming. Their generosity is a banner of love.
3373. A new pair of sunglasses.
3373. A new pair of sunglasses.
3374. For the first time in more than a decade my Dad and I get to go on a run together. What a highlight. As we run along lakeside, I hardly notice the view for all the conversation. A father's love, there is nothing like it.
3376. We have the traditional round-robin birthday roast with my extended family. 'Round and 'round and 'round we go, they bury me in an ocean of encouragement.
3378. When we finally arrive home, Jack makes dinner for the kids: melted cheese sandwiches.
3379. He puts his arms around Jane and Myra. "I'm sitting by two of my kids that I love," he says. "I'm sitting by two of my good girls."
3381. Cousins. After a whole weekend with cousins we find our friendships deeper and fuller than ever expected, durable, fun, and so, so good.
3382. I see it again, my husband's steady hand and steady heart. Steady and unflappable, he comes alongside me again and again.