Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Seven

Two weeks and a day ago, I started a post, at the prompting of Mary Bailey, about my relationship with my mother-in-law.  I had no idea I would think of so many things to say!  But since being succinct is clearly not my strong point, the series stretched to six episodes to tell the history of my interaction with Jeff's mom:  from strangers to *real* loved ones.  And now that the story concluded in this post, have I nothing more to say about this topic?  Not a chance!  They don't call me Wordy Woman for nothin'!  (OK, they don't really call me that at all; but if they did, it would be true.)  :)

A question comes to my mind:  WHY are in-law relationships notoriously difficult?

Jeff and I have never subscribed to the idea that in-law relationships have to be terrible; in fact, we've set out to prove that it doesn't have to be that way at all!  It grieves me to think of the widespread assumption in pop culture that mothers-in-law (and to a lesser extent, fathers-in-law) will be nosy, rude, arrogant, disrespectful, horrible creatures.  There are far too many mother-in-law jokes told--and far too many people who nod their head and laugh at them because they don't realize there can be another path for in-law relationships.

But the fact remains that sometimes, even for loving families, tension can exist between the wife of a man and his mother.  (And I'm sure for the husband of a woman and her father, and all the other combinations of in-laws; but I'll stick with the one with which I'm most familiar!)

In my opinion, the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law battle boils down to this:  two women sharing the same man's affections.  Or, perhaps more accurately, two women fighting over the same man's affections.   As Jeff's bride, I want to be EVERYTHING to him:  the best friend, lover, confidant, partner, cook, housecleaner, laundress, etc that he's ever had.  But for many years, he was raised by and lived in the household of his mother; and without a doubt, she did things differently than I was raised to do them.  Which way is better?  More specifically, WHO does it better?

I think it boils down to this:  whose enchiladas does he prefer?  Hers?  Or mine?

Of course, that's a silly example; but no more silly than a wife who can't seem to say to the mother of her husband, "Sure, we do things differently; and yes, your enchiladas are better than mine.  I know he'll sometimes wonder why I don't roll his socks like you did.  But, on the other hand, he chose me to be his spouse for life; and I will rest secure in that, knowing that both you and I have areas of strength but that we don't have to compete with each other.  We're on the same team now."

Why is that so hard to do?

I've never seen the show Sister Wives and don't plan to do so (the whole no-TV thing sure puts a damper on my TV consumption), but I think the horror that so many of us women feel as we think about polygamy has to do with this basic fact:  I want to be THE ONE to my husband.  I want to be his beautiful princess that he carries away into the sunset, I want to be the queen of his castle, I want to be the love of his life; and anyone who threatens my status in his heart--be it his co-worker, friend, or even his mom--will come under attack by me.  In my drive for security, even his healthy allegiance to his mother could seem to lessen me; and so, unfortunately, she becomes a target.

Let me insert a very important note here.  For ease of communication, I'm writing this all in the first person, NOT because I've ever had such intense battles with Jeff's mom (thank God, we haven't), but because I'm trying to understand and communicate the dynamic that can so easily exist.  I think even women who go into in-law relationships with a desire to "do them right" can slip into damaging patterns of relating; and perhaps with more understanding, that can be avoided.

I've thought of one other factor that can make visits from in-laws seem burdensome, and that is the division of labor.  Two women sharing a house isn't always easy, even if the guest has good intentions and simply wants to help out.  As mentioned above, they invariably have different ways of doing things; and although it seems trite and just plain stupid(!) to react in this way, "little" things--like how one loads the dishwasher or whether one hangs the towels up in half or in thirds--can cause tension.

So that's the bad news.  What's the good news?  (There IS good news, right?  Well, of course!)

Here are some specific things that have helped me in my relationship with Jeff's mom:

1. Jeff has always taken my side and made me feel respected.  I cannot overstate the importance of this.  All I can do is fall to my knees, grab him by the legs, and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!"  ;-)  Kidding aside, Jeff has been unfailingly quick to reassure me that I am his princess, that I still have the keys to his heart, that I can vent to him about my frustrations when necessary (it happened a few times, even during this latest visit)...and that my enchiladas are better.  Whoops, I wasn't supposed to kid anymore!  In actuality, Jeff's mom's Mexican cooking is way better than mine, so of course her enchiladas are better than mine.  And so are her ribs...  Um um um, I wish I had a big plate of them right now.  But oh dear, I'm getting off track.  I'll try to stay focused.  Food is so distracting.  ;-)

2. One over-arching question guides me in my relationship with her, and that is this:  How would I like to be treated by my future daughters-in-law?  Lord willing, I will someday have a number of daughters-in-law to welcome into our home and family, so even though that is years down the road, I still want to learn from current life experiences to prepare for that.  Again, would I be pleased if my future daughters-in-law treat me the way I treat my mother-in-law?  Stop and camp on that question for a while.  This is so convicting that I almost don't need to say anything else.

But I will...  ;-)

3. Along those lines, earlier this year, I figured out that, if I want to communicate with her in between our visits, it needs to be with letters.  Good old-fashioned letters:  hand-written, sealed, stamped, sent in the mail. I am most decidedly not a phone person, and Jeff's mom doesn't do anything with computers (yet--I'd like to help her learn how to do the basics, like emailing and reading my blog :) someday--during this last visit, she expressed interest in this, so maybe one of these days when we're in California, we'll be able to help her learn how to go online).  So that leaves my only option for communication with her as letters.  I don't mind writing letters, but I certainly don't make the time to do it like I should; and earlier this year, it dawned on me that if I were in her shoes, I would feel so loved if my daughter-in-law would take the time to write me a letter.  I'm sure by the time I have daughters-in-law, they probably won't even know what "real" letters are; by that time, we'll probably all have computer chips in our heads that read our minds and transmit messages to others.  ;-)  But the point is, again, the Golden Rule:  how would I like to be treated?   That reminds me...I need to pick up a pen and write her a letter soon.  I'll add that to my to-do list--and bump it close to the top! :)

4. I think in Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs, it talks about the very important principle of believing the best instead of assuming the worst.  I would look it up to make sure, but we lent that book to someone many moons ago and it hasn't come wandering home yet.  (That's OK.  I'm GLAD that the book is in someone else's hands; and even if we never get it back, I'm hopeful that it has been helpful to whoever has it now.  That is so much more important than having it sit on our bookshelf!)  Let me explain how I've seen this principle at work.  True story:  when Jeff's mom was here during this last visit, she said something like, "I don't know why you recycle.  It takes too much time, and it's all for nothing!"  When I hear a comment like that, in my own nature, I (mis)translate it to mean, "You're dumb, and you're wrong."  In other words, I assume the worst.  But was Jeff's mom really saying that?  Not at all.  When I listen through my Love and Respect ears, I hear the correct translation:  "I love you, and I care about you.  I know you are so busy, and I just wish I could lighten your load."  That is believing the best.  Sounds simple.  Isn't always so easy to put into practice.  But by changing my basic assumption to "she is expressing love," it's astounding how that transformed our communication and my emotional response to the words that slipped out of her lips.

5. Similarly, I learned to interpret her numerous acts of service as bushels of love she was pouring out over us.  She's so helpful and always has been.  But at times in the past, I've felt myself flare up internally, "What?  You don't think I can do my own laundry?"  I know that what she does, she just does because she loves us, not because she thinks I'm incapable or because she wants to put me down or because she wants to show me up ("I can keep up with your laundry, and you can't.")  She just wants to show love!

6. In this post, I mentioned the wonderful words of affirmation that were lavished on me during my last family night.  What I didn't specify, however, was that the ones that meant the most to me that night came from her.  It was interesting timing that I "just so happened" to have my family night while she was here, and I was curious about how she would respond as various family members shared about me.  She is not quick to give words of affirmation directly to a person, and I did not want to force her into a position of feeling awkward or feeling like she HAD to say something nice.  :)  But she spoke up boldly and expressed so much affirmation for how welcome she feels here in our home (it's definitely unique for a mother-in-law to stay four weeks, and for everyone involved to be happy about it!) and how pleased she is about how we're raising our sons and how much she loves me ("equally with Jeff," she said).  Those few minutes of speech were of inestimable value to me.  I've often thought that acts of service without words of affirmation can feel like condemnation; but by giving me those precious words, she poured sweet, soothing oil all over my soul.  I mentioned in this post about receiving The Blessing from Jeff's dad; and although I've certainly felt welcomed and affirmed and blessed previously by Jeff's mom, that particular family night conversation stands out to me as a significant moment of Blessing from her.  I treasure it; and boy, it sure made it easier to relate to her after that.  I would go through my days, doing whatever mundane task needed doing, and then into my thoughts would pop the reminder, "She likes me!"  It changed everything.  :)

7. I wrote quite a bit in Part Six about humility, so I won't repeat all of those thoughts here.  But I'll just say this:  when I'm humble towards my mother-in-law, our relationship is GREAT.  When my pride creeps in (and not just big, puffy, arrogant pride, but also quiet, sly, insecure pride), our relationship suffers.  Even if I cover up my feelings and pretend all is well, I feel the struggle within me.  For the last several months (maybe longer), I've sensed a deep need and desire within me for more women in my life to hold me accountable, to mentor me, to speak into my life, to be real with me about the areas in me that need growth.  I long for that, but honestly, it's so rare to find that.  During one of my conversations with Jeff during his mom's visit, when I was sharing some of my frustration, he said kindly, "Well, you said you wanted someone to disciple you."  That stopped me short.  Yes.  Yes, I did.  But on second thought, it's hard to be discipled!  It's hard to be sharpened like iron!  It's hard to have someone living in my house and seeing my every move!  It's hard to be so open and real!  But humility--oh, sweet humility!--you make all the difference.

8. I should mention one thing that Jeff's mom has gotten really good at:  she respects our boundaries, particularly when it comes to how we raise our children.  For example, while she was here, she wanted to buy Josiah and David each a DS--a very nice gift!  But before she did, she asked Jeff and I (at separate times) what we thought.  My response was, "Um, talk to Jeff, and see what he says."  Jeff's response was, "Thank you, but no thanks.  We'd rather not let the boys have those yet because we want them to use their time in more productive ways."  And that was it.  If she was frustrated by our decision, she didn't show it.  If she wanted to argue, she bit her tongue.  :)  In short, she respected our boundaries and didn't try to sabotage our game plan for life and parenting.  This is huge!  I hope, when I am a mother-in-law, I remember her example and do well in this area.

9. Speaking of boundaries, one thing that I did during her recent visit that helped with the potential hardship I described above when two women share a household was, in essence, to stay out of her way when she was doing something.  That sounds kind of mean, but I don't intend for it to be construed that way.  Here's what our division of labor looked like (not that we sat down and formally drew up an agreement to do things this way; it's just how it worked itself out to be):
~ she's an early bird so she got up early, helped the boys with breakfast, played games with them, did any kitchen chores that hadn't been done the night before, started a load of laundry, etc. while I relished the opportunity to sleep in (at least, until Shav woke up)  :) -- I, on the other hand, am a complete night owl, so when she was drifting off to sleep at 8:30 PM, I was just getting revved up and could use that time to work in the kitchen or straighten the living room or do whatever household chores needed to be done (and then, of course, have me-time and blog!)  :)
~ she was eager to help me get caught up on my laundry, so she was in charge of sorting, washing, drying, folding, and all I had to do was put away...while she was here, I barely touched the washing machine!  :)  I didn't feel like I had to go down to the laundry room to make sure she was doing it "right"; she could do her part the way she wanted to, and I could do my part the way I wanted to
~ one afternoon, she was busy cooking in the kitchen, preparing food for supper (oh, that's another thing--we clearly communicated about who was cooking on which nights, and that was helpful), baking cookies, etc. -- on that particular afternoon, the kitchen seemed a little too small for both of us, so I went down to the cellar and had a blast completely organizing it...both of us, in our separate spheres of activity, were happy and productive
~ one project we did collaborate on was making applesauce, and obviously there was a lot of cooperation the rest of the time, too; but the idea of having a division of labor and respecting the boundaries even in household tasks was truly helpful

Well, I think I've sed all I've thunked!  ;-)

But for you, Morning, did I answer the question you left in the comments?  And for anyone else, do you have further questions?  I want to be considerate and tie up any loose ends that I left dangling throughout the course of this series of posts.

For now, however, I've said enough.  This Wordy Woman is going to bed!

Monday, November 29, 2010

When My Eyes Are Open...

...I realize that every day is filled with blessings galore.  Like...

~ friends who sympathize when I'm not feeling well...and a friend who says, "I'm sorry you're not feeling well; maybe you should drink some hot tea!"

~ the hot tea itself, with extra milk and sugar in it...because if anything can cure a cold, it's extra sugar.  Well, maybe.  ;-)

~ a cold that turns out to be milder than I thought--I'm SO grateful!  Discomfort is easier to deal with than out-and-out pain.

~ sons who cooperated beautifully during a mini photo-shoot this morning (I *needed* new pictures for the blog header I'm planning for December.)  ;-)

~ a mom who thinks that, even though I only asked her and Dad to get me some chicken at Costco, I really should have some shredded Mexican cheese...and two packages of grape tomatoes...and two huge bags of tortilla chips for Jeff...and a bag of pomelos.  Gifts of food are welcome indeed!

~ boys who are young enough to find great pleasure in twirling around in the living room.

~ a husband who says, "That's a great idea!" when I say, "Do you think we should get such-and-such for the boys for Christmas?"

~ a gorgeous sunset sky.

~ a dad who says, "Sure!" when I say, "Could you please take Josiah to SVCC practice so I don't have to wake up Shav to take him along?"

~ putting the Christmas tablecloth on the table for the first time this year.

~ comfort food for supper.

~ a mom who stays after supper to do the dishes and clean up the kitchen while I go get Josiah from choir.

~ four boys who all went to sleep peacefully tonight.

~ the warm electric blanket waiting for me.  :)

I'm so glad my eyes were open today.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And Just Like That, I...

...caught a cold.  At the 8:30 church service we attended this morning, I felt perfectly healthy.  When we went to the Christmas tree farm afterwards, I marched up and down the hills with vigor.  Then we drove to the barbershop to drop off a tree there and...

I sneezed.

And suddenly, I knew I was catching a cold.  A half hour later, while eating lunch here with my parents, I felt the familiar tight throat and the itchy, drippy nose.  Oh no, here we go.  Let me grab the bottle of Vitamin C and the box of Puffs Plus.

My original plan was to spend some quiet time this afternoon finishing my mother-in-law series; but once those symptoms hit me, I decided the wiser course of action was to go to bed and sleep while the little ones slept.  So much for finishing that series today!  

No matter.  This gives me a chance to post these pictures from our romp at the Christmas tree farm.  It's a delightful tradition for our boys, and I'm not sure Christmas would be complete for them without it.  When we first went back in 2007, I suspected that it might be the start of a family tradition; and sure enough, every year we make the trip to Singers Glen to the farm (here is 2008 and here is a snippet from 2009)--much more fun than our family tradition in San Diego of making a trip to Home Depot to choose our tree!  

At the farm, there are hills to climb...
...and run down...
...and run back up.

There are long shadows to chase...
...and a tree to (watch Daddy) cut down.

There are more hills to climb...
...and arms to outstretch when the climb seems too much and you have to call out, "Mommy, carry me!"  (To which I replied, "No, I can't carry you because I'm carrying Shav, but I can hold your hand!"  Then suddenly Tobin found new strength and realized he could actually climb it himself after all.)  :)

There are hills to fall down on...
...and get up on to continue the race with your brother.

There are trees to drag down the hill:  one for home and one for work.

And today, for a short time only, there were the cutest boys to photograph!

And no trip to the Christmas tree farm would be complete without candy canes to suck!  See how serious Tobin is about this?  :)

Also today, as a happy surprise, there was a kind lady who was willing to take a family picture of us outside the springhouse.  Pictures of our little family of six are few and far between, so I was especially grateful for this treat.  
Shav was a little distracted by David's candy cane; in fact, the only way we could get him to point his head in the general direction of the camera was to ask David to let Shav have a lick.  :)  Maybe we should have let Shav have his own.  

Oh well, there's always next year.  :)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Six

Continuing the story from Part Five...

No wonder I was scared.

When I consider the fact that Shav is now 16 months old and that, when Tobin was 16 months old, I was only two months from having another child, I "scarce can take it in."  (I know that line sounds better in "How Great Thou Art," but it describes my feelings about this, too!)  To think of adding a baby to the mix while Shav is still so young and needy--not walking independently, not saying many words clearly, not always communicating his desires effectively, not even close to self-sufficiency in dressing and basic care, not to mention potty-training!--it makes my knees shake just thinking about it...and, to be perfectly honest, it makes me breathe a sigh of relief that God has not seen fit to bless us in such a way at the present time!  :)  How did I ever get through it before, when Tobin was still, in many ways, my baby and Shav was The New Baby?  I guess the way we always get through difficult situations:  one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.  But looking back, I think, "It is no wonder at all that I was scared."

Mothers who have more than four children or who have children spaced even more closely than mine are allowed to snicker now at my incompetency and trepidation.  :)   But I had never had four children before!  And I had never had children born 18 months apart!  And I was trembling at the thought of it all.

But here is where the story gets good.  I love this part.  

That visit from Jeff's mom after Shav was born--yes, that three-week visit!--revolutionized my relationship with my mother-in-law.

Scattered throughout my posts from August of last year are snippets of praise for her--for example, Grandma Love describes how I decided that I wouldn't have another baby unless she came to stay with us and help out.  ;-)  I think it was obvious that I was truly enjoying having her with us; in fact, a number of people have commented to me (not so much on the blog, but more in real life) about my good relationship with my mother-in-law...and how surprised they were by how long she stayed and how happy I was about it...and how they didn't think they could ever do that with their mother-in-law!  So what made the difference?  What changed my reluctant, I-guess-you-can-stay-that-long heart into a welcoming, do-you-have-to-leave-so-soon heart?

In a word, humility.

There's something about having a baby that forces us to be humble.  No, I can't keep all the balls I'm trying to juggle in the air at one time, but that's OK because...I just had a baby.  Yes, my house is messy, but that's OK because...I just had a baby.  No, I can't remember the last time I cooked a real meal, but that's OK because...I just had a baby.  Yes, I realize the laundry is piled up higher than ever before, and yes, I'm aware that my son is wearing his last pair of clean underwear, but that's OK because...I just had a baby.  No, I'm not going to stay up to do all the dishes tonight, but that's OK because...I just had a baby.  Yes, I realize that a faint smell of stale milk is hovering around me, but that's OK because...I just had a baby!  Actually, that's not OK; that is a clear sign that I need a shower, so here, somebody help me out and watch my kids and I'm heading for the bathroom.  See you in a few!  ;-)

Probably more than at any other time in our lives as grown women, the process of giving birth and nurturing a tiny infant brings an incredibly sharp focus to our days, making it relatively easy to define what is wheat and what is chaff.  And with that clarity comes the ability to give grace to ourselves.  Nobody else is expecting us to be Superwoman, so for once, we can relax and leave our cape behind and not try to pretend that we've got it all together.  

At least, that's how it's been for me.

And that's how it was in August of last year when Jeff's mom was with us.  Probably for the first time ever, I set aside my prideful determination to be Wife and Mother of the Year; and I humbled myself, allowing her to shower us with loving acts of service, letting her see the real me--weak and frail though I may be, not holding her at arm's length in my determination to prove myself capable.  During those weeks, we didn't go on any long trips, we didn't show her the sights, we didn't focus on entertaining her (much to her relief, I'm sure).  Instead, she was just part of the family.  I say "just," but what an honor!  What a welcome change!  What a bonding time!

Once she got here and I saw how sweet it was to have her companionship and help, I felt exceedingly silly that I had been so nervous about it all and, consequently, so resistant to her stay.  How foolish I was!  I'm so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to learn that lesson; surely that was one of the unexpected side benefits of Shav coming into our family at that time.

Based on that visit and how dramatically different my heart became, I was looking forward to her 2010 visit with eager anticipation!  Whereas the mention of three weeks had been so disturbing to me in 2009, her decision to stay with us for four weeks this year was met with great rejoicing.  

As time sped by and the day of her arrival drew near, I wondered if perhaps I had built up too high an expectation of how this visit would go.  I was expecting it to be easy, but maybe it would be difficult?  I thought four weeks wasn't too long, but maybe I would chafe at her continued presence in our household?  I remembered how well we had worked as a team after Shav's birth, but maybe this year, now that I was back to being Capable and In Charge, we would experience friction?

If you've been reading my blog during the time she was with us, you likely already know that it was a fantastic visit together, full of normal activities, day-to-day living, a few special projects (like applesauce making!), a couple of homeschool field trips, but mostly life.  Plain ol' life.  No, make that good ol' life.  Life as a family of nine.  It just felt right.

Tomorrow I hope to do a wrap-up post, sort of a "What I've Learned about Mother-in-Law Relationships" kind of post.  But before I sign off for tonight, I want to mention how interesting it's been for me to walk along Memory Lane and drag from the recesses of my brain these thoughts about how my relationship with my in-laws developed.  Whew, I haven't thought about some of those things for quite a long time!  But it's been fun to try to summarize it all and to see how God has worked to mold my character through them and to see how He has bonded our hearts to each other.  Earlier this year, I read Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss; and one of the major struggles described in the book is her relationship with her in-laws, specifically her father-in-law and sister-in-law who come to live with her.  As I read Stepping Heavenward, I could relate to the sense of in-laws being an instrument used by God to chisel away at my selfishness and pride.  When I look back, I regret the times when I fretted because of the time I had to spend with my mother-in-law.  I'm ashamed of my childishness.  I wish I could rewind time and appreciate her visits more fully.  But of course, I can't; however, one thing I can do is move forward from this with greater love, peace, and humility.

As I've written this series of posts, I've sometimes wondered, "How is this coming across?"  Of course, I know what I'm thinking and how I'm feeling; but I'm not always sure that I'm communicating it clearly to those who are reading.  During the past almost two weeks, I have felt very vulnerable and second-guessed my decision to reveal so much of my heart and so many of my thoughts.  But then I've decided to charge ahead, hoping that somehow, by being so perilously open, someone else will be helped, and another mother-in-law/daughter-in-law pair will become closer and more loving towards each other.  

As I conclude my saga ("conclude" being a relative term, since I do want to write once more about this topic), perhaps I should emphasize the fact that, all along, my mother-in-law and I enjoyed a good relationship.  There weren't conflicts, we got along fine, no arguments broke out, we built great memories when we were together.  Overall, we really had a good relationship; and if it had never gotten any better, I would still have been satisfied.  But now that we have crossed a boundary that I didn't even know existed, I'm rejoicing at the beautiful depth that is possible between us.  I may not be a Ruth yet to my Naomi, but I'm on my way.  And, Lord willing, I'm not going to stop anytime soon!

These pictures of Grandma Fisher helping Shav up the driveway in our walker remind me so much of this post from September of last year about Grandma Huffman helping Tobin up the driveway in our walker.  As Yogi Berra would say, "It's deja vu all over again!"  :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

What Memories Are Made Of

A three-hour drive each way...
...and a horrible night's sleep in a cheap hotel room (having Tobin--AKA Helicopter Blade--in bed with Jeff and I did nothing to improve our sleep...I could not believe how much that boy moves in his sleep...I never knew whether the next blow from him would be a kick in my head or a knee in my back or a head-butt on my nose...if for no other reason, Tobin is why I dislike the thought of a family bed!)...  :)
...is unquestionably worth it...
...simply for the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving with this branch of our family tree!

For purpose of comparison, last year's post, with plenty of pictures, is here.  Shav was so little then!

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Five

Part Four is here, with links to Parts One, Two, and Three.  I'm too lazy to go back and link to all of them again!  :)

So.  The conversation.  The one that dramatically changed my relationship with my mother-in-law.

To reduce the suspense (so I don't drive Morning and Polly crazy!), I'll say two things upfront:
1) it changed things for the better (though it didn't seem so right away),
2) it wasn't even with her.

It was a Friday evening.  Jeff had just gotten home from work, and we were planning on leaving the house soon for my family night.  I had chosen a simple, peaceful trip to Skyline Drive (and I don't remember exactly, but probably a stop at Subway for sandwiches to take along for a picnic) as my family night activity.  Alas, peace was not to be found that evening!

Jeff and I had a fight.

You should know that, in 13 years of marriage, Jeff and I have only had a handful of real honest-to-goodness fights; in fact, now that I try to recall them, I can only think of four.  But that evening was one of them, and it was painful.  (You should also know that, just because I can count on one hand the number of fights we've had, that doesn't mean we've always seen eye to eye on everything or have always gotten along or have a perfect marriage.  It might mean that I hate to fight and that I avoid conflict like the plague!  It might also mean that my parents prepared me well for marriage, not just by personal discussion, but also through making available to me numerous resources on how to build a healthy marriage.  It might also mean that I married a man of maturity and wisdom and sensitivity.)

That evening, Jeff, standing in the kitchen, informed me that he had invited his mom to come and stay with us after Shav was born (that part, I knew), and she was going to be here for three weeks.  Three weeks.  THREE weeks.  Did you catch that part?  Three.

The longest she had been here previously was for two weeks; and although I always enjoyed her visits (really and truly), I was also somewhat relieved when the day of her departure came and we got back to our normal life with just our little family.  I'm guessing that anyone who has hosted guests in their home--welcome though they may be--can relate to that.

Now here I was, far enough along in my pregnancy to be hormonally-challenged (on second thought, I think I fit that description during nearly all the months of my pregnancies!); and frankly I was scared silly.  I was afraid of everything:  the labor and delivery, the adjustment to being a mom of four, the way the looming transition would expose my inadequacies as a wife and mom--in short, The Mountain that I knew lay ahead but that I didn't know how to cross.  And then to hear that my mother-in-law would be here for three weeks during that extremely emotionally-vulnerable time of initial adjustment?  That was just too much.

I knew that I would likely have down days during that time; I wanted Jeff's mom to see me during up days.  I knew I would certainly cry at random times for odd reasons; I did not want her--or anyone--to see me cry.  I knew that I would feel out-of-control; I wanted her to see me in a carefully controlled (by me, of course) environment.   I knew that all my weaknesses would be glaringly obvious; I wanted her to see me as a woman of strength and poise and dignity.  I knew she would see me at my worst; I wanted her to only see me at my best.

I didn't want to be very real with her, did I?

But honestly, I was still at the point in my relationship with her of not feeling quite comfortable with her, unless Jeff was around.  He was the go-between, he was the link, and he was, not only the reason my relationship with her started, but also the reason for it to continue.  When she was here visiting during previous visits, if he had to work too many days in a row, I fretted, longing for him to have time off to do things with us.  I felt like we had to go somewhere and see some things and have some new experiences and keep her entertained.  And preferably, Jeff had to be there with us, because she was, after all, his mom.

Let me be fair to her and say that I'm sure this was all my fault:  my silliness, my insecurity, my lack of maturity.  She had been gracious and helpful and generous and loving without measure, but I was still at the level of "let's treat her as a guest and do our best to help her have a good time," rather than "she's family so let's relax and be real with her, trusting that she loves us unconditionally and won't be scared off by how nutso I am right after I have a baby!"

So anyway, in the kitchen that evening, while we're preparing to go to Skyline Drive, Jeff drops what feels like a bomb on me (three weeks!), and I let it be known that I was not very happy about it and could he please contact his mom and sister and have them change the three weeks to two?  He said no.  He felt like that would be extremely insulting to her...and why couldn't I deal with having her here for three weeks...and after all, he deals with my parents being so close all the time...and he only gets to see his mom for a very short amount of time each year...and one of these days, she was going to die, and wouldn't we all be sorry then?

I was furious and so very afraid.  Looking back, a year and a half later, I can smile and shake my head and even laugh at how ridiculous I was!  But at the time, I was very hurt.

But, it was my family night, so the show must go on.  We all piled in the minivan, and up the road we went to Skyline Drive.  It was a horrible evening.  I think we turned on a CD for the boys (Curious George, maybe?), and let them listen to that so that they would be cheerful and not realize the "disturbance in the force" as we rolled along.  I'm not sure Jeff and I said a whole lot to each other.  I remember trying to fight back the tears.  I think I lost the fight, and the tears squeezed out.  We saw a skunk at a picnic table where we wanted to stop and eat.  No matter, it was too chilly to comfortably eat outside anyway.  I guess we ate in the van.  On our way back, for some reason I wasn't sitting in my usual spot in the front passenger seat; maybe I was sitting beside Tobin in the middle seat so I could soothe him?  I remember Jeff turning off the CD that was playing and telling Josiah and David that it was time to share about me.  (We always take turns verbally encouraging and affirming the person on his/her family night; it's a most wonderful part of that tradition.  But not that night!)  They were grumpy that their story was interrupted (and maybe they could sense the tension in the air - you think?!), and whatever they managed to share was lame.  It was a disaster, the worst family night ever.  I sat there in silence, tears rolling down my cheeks, sensing Jeff glancing at me in the rearview mirror with concern in his eyes.  I just wanted the charade of that family night to be over.  The only place I wanted to be was at home in bed, and I didn't exactly want Jeff there with me!  ;-)

Uh-oh, look at the time!  I told myself I could write until midnight and then I had to go to bed, and now it's 12:05.  Why does the time zip by when I sit down to write?  Let me see if I can summarize this really quickly...

Jeff and I hate to be at odds with each other, and I'm not using the word "hate" lightly.  That's one thing that has strengthened our marriage:  we love peace and unity, and really despise being mad at each other, so we're quick to work things out and make up.  If I remember correctly, the very next day we were able to talk rationally and restore harmony.  Jeff reassured me that he realized how fearful I was about how everything was going to go that summer with Shav's birth and the subsequent acclimation in our family life; I really felt his concern and understanding, and that meant the world to me.  And I reassured him that, no, he didn't have to call his mom and tell her she couldn't stay with us for three weeks!  I would welcome her and do my best to graciously show her hospitality during all 21 days she would be with us.

But in my heart, I was already counting down the days...

...the days until she would be gone!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gratitude Is...

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.
~ Aesop

May we all be noble today!

I'll be giving thanks for, among other things, my precious Shav...
...who likes to help me dust.

...my adored Tobin...

...who likes to suck his thumb.

...my beloved David...
...who likes to play with toy soldiers.

...and my cherished Josiah...
...who likes history and got to lay a carnation at George Washington's grave.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Four

Just to make it easy to follow this lengthy, drawn-out story, it began here in Part One, continued here in Part Two and Part Three, and hopefully this post will be the conclusion!  But being concise is not exactly my strength when it comes to writing on my blog, so we'll see what happens.  :)

After Jeff's dad died, his mom sold their house in Big Bear, got rid of a lot of her possessions, and moved in with Jeff's sister Kim in San Diego.  This all occurred while we were living in Israel, and we were immensely grateful for Kim opening her home and for Jeff's mom being cared for in that way.  Jeff and I had always said that we would do our best to make ourselves available to whichever set of parents needed us, but living in the Middle East made it very difficult to be any kind of practical help to Jeff's mom at that time (especially because she had said she would fly almost anywhere to visit us, BUT NOT TO ISRAEL!), so our hearts were lightened immeasurably by the way it all worked out.

The next several years passed with us having only occasional visits to California.  Looking back, I'm actually amazed by how often we got to visit.  Part of that was due to Jeff's dad's illness--we flew back to California just a month after we had arrived in Israel (that was when his dad was in the hospital in very serious condition), and we flew back two months later, shortly after he died, so that we could be with the family.  From those visits, I remember sitting with Jeff's mom in the waiting room of the hospital as she kept her constant vigil during those days of uncertainty.  I remember how she so lovingly held and played with Josiah.  I remember times spent with her at Kim's house.  I remember talking about the paintings done by Jeff's dad.  I remember watching home-design shows and talking about decorating homes.  I remember the way she cooked lavish meals for us when we came to visit.  I remember how the refrigerator and freezer were always stocked with the things we liked best (and couldn't always get in Israel): Vanilla Coke, Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream, whole milk (because anything less is just colored water!)  :)  She mourned with dignity and hope, and she never let her grief stop her from heaping love on her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren.

One other spectacular thing that she did during those years was pay for our possessions to be moved from California to Virginia.  When it became apparent that we would be returning to Virginia when the time came for us to leave Israel, she decided to use a portion of the money she made from the sale of her home in Big Bear to pay for the move.  That thar is a whole 'nother story that I might write about some other time (bottom line:  check out any potential moving company VERY thoroughly so you don't get sucked into a scam and get ripped off horribly), but my point is that she so generously funded that for us, and that was an enormous blessing.

We returned to the States in the late summer of 2005, spent nearly a month in California, then slowly drove across the States to Virginia, stopping to visit friends and family along the way, and arriving here in mid-September.  The following year, Jeff's mom came for a visit in March--her first time ever in my ol' stompin' grounds.  And so began our pattern of interacting that would continue for the next few years.  She would come for a week or two, Jeff would take as much time off work as he could afford, and we would plan special activities or go for a trip with her, seizing the opportunity, not only for our little family to have a mini-vacation, but also to show her some parts of the world that she had never seen.  That first trip, we took a day-trip to Washington, D.C.; and we also went back to Highland County for the Maple Festival, surely an integral part of almost everyone's Bucket List!  :)  In 2007, she came in October, and we drove up to Niagara Falls.  In 2008, she came in September, and we went to New York City.  In 2009, she came in August to help us after Shav was born.  But a month or two before she arrived, a conversation occurred that shifted the course of my relationship with her.  

I'm sorry to leave a cliff-hanger, but I have no more time to write now.  Why, oh why, do I get so wordy and take so long to finish my stories??  :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Eight Tidbits

A week or so ago, during a rather dreary morning, I took it upon myself to sort through my magazines and get rid of a bunch of them.  Decluttering is a good antidote to gloomy weather!  I "happened" to glance through a No Greater Joy magazine, and my eye fell upon an article about having fun with your children--really delighting in them and enjoying your time with them.  Inspired by this, I suddenly thought, "What if I set up a cave in the living room?  All I have to do is move the couch out from the wall, bring in some chairs from the kitchen, and drape a cloth over all of it.  Maybe the boys would have fun with that?  And we could even do school in the cave!"  I quickly sprang into action while none of the boys were around (I forget where they all were, but I think Josiah and David were up in their room) and got the cave set up.  Now I was excited about the day--and all because of such a simple idea!  It really was fun to watch them as they came into the room, started short in surprise, and then exclaimed over the cave that had suddenly materialized.  They didn't think it looked like a cave though; instead, they called it a tunnel.  :)  I wish I had a video of Josiah and David's faces when they caught their first glimpse, but I don't.  Instead here's a short video of Tobin and Shav enjoying the tunnel (and unfortunately, the video is darker than I would like, but it gives the idea of their delight, at least...especially Shav's laughter).  :)


Yesterday I scratched my underarm (just keepin' it real, folks; don't we all get itchy armpits from time to time?...and anyway, I did it when I was alone in the privacy of my home) :)...and I discovered a hole in my sweater.  And then another one. Yes, this is the same sweater I wore while dropping off Josiah at SVCC rehearsal and while shopping with Josiah and David for gifts to fill a shoebox for our sponsored boy in Haiti.  Think anyone noticed the holes?  Think maybe our boy in Haiti would be grateful even for a shirt with small holes under the arm?


Yesterday we donated a grocery bag full of food to a local food pantry through SVCC and we bought gifts for our sponsored child.  This evening after I finished packing the shoebox full of gifts, I mentally patted myself on the back and felt good about reaching out to help someone.  And then I looked at the mail from today.  Three requests for money:  one from my high school, one from our public library, and one from our regional food bank.  There are so many needs!  Truly, "the poor you will always have with you."  Yes, but how much should we give?


Recently as I wiped food debris from the tray of Shav's high chair for the umpteenth time, I thought, "How monotonous!  My life consists of doing the same dull things over and over."  That looks really grumpy and ungrateful as I write it down, but I wasn't feeling too down-in-the-dumps--just acknowledging a fact about how my life is right now.

Then it dawned on me that practically everybody's life is monotonous!  Think about a world-class violinist; he or she practices the same scales over and over, the same difficult passages over and over, the same C#s and quarter rests, etc.  Routine.  Monotony.

Think about Michael W. Smith--or any other touring musician--what do they do?  Perform the same songs on tour.  Night after night, the same songs.  Routine.  Monotony.

What about a doctor?  Is it so terribly exciting to use a stethoscope to listen to yet another set of raspy lungs and hear yet another complaint about a sore throat and write yet another prescription for Amoxicillin?  Routine.  Monotony.

Jeff has told me how monotonous not just the haircuts, but even the conversations in the barbershop can be.  How many times a day do you think he wants to talk about the weather or whatever news item is breaking?  Once with every customer who sits down in his chair?  Eighteen times a day?  Routine.  Monotony.

I guess motherhood isn't the only occupation that feels monotonous.  I guess maybe I'd better just enjoy my work!  :)


He always finds underwear.

Shav loves to scoot around our laundry room and library while I am doing laundry, and I'm glad to have him with me.  It's easy to keep an eye on him while I'm working, and it's fun to exchange smiles with him every so often when our eyes meet.  Why do I smile?  Well, because I love him, of course; but even more, because he always find some underwear in the pile of clothes and carries it around with him.  Why underwear?  Why not a sock, or shirt, or hand towel, or pillowcase, or anything besides underwear?  I have no idea.  Today my grin was extra wide when I glanced down and found him holding a pair of David's underwear in one hand and a pair of Tobin's in the other; if one pair is good, two must be even better.  Maybe Shav wants some of his own?


This excellent post from bekahcubed spoke volumes to my soul yesterday.  Rebekah is a skilled writer.  I glean wisdom and encouragement (not to mention delight) from many of her posts, but that one ranks at (or very near) the top, in my opinion.


One of my dearest friends from college (pictured in this post) just recently had her first child, and yesterday she sent me a link to his pictures on the blog of Sarah, a Lancaster County photographer.  Utter sweetness.  If I ever get the chance to photograph a newborn again, I'd like to try some of these poses.  Not that I could come close to the results that Sarah achieved!


Indifference looks for an excuse, but love finds a way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Try Not to Let Schooling Get in the Way of Learning

It's hard sometimes.  My I'm-Trying-to-Be-Super-Homeschool-Mom-and-Check-off-All-the-Boxes-in-Our Curriculum Self squirms at times when things don't go according to schedule.  Take this morning, for example...

Exhibit A:
Josiah's latest self-guided project is writing the Bible.  Well, let me clarify:  copying it. By hand.  In a small 5x7 notebook with shiny red hearts on the front.  Is he adorable, or what?  :)  He started yesterday, and so far he's up to Genesis 1:11--only 31,162 verses to go!  I love his heart and determination, and I'm glad that he's gaining a new appreciation for the countless scribes throughout history who have taken it upon themselves to laboriously, painstakingly write by hand each word of the holy text.  We may not remember their names, but we can never forget their contribution.

My point in this post, however, is to record how, while Josiah was bent over his task at the school desk in the living room, I was thinking, "OK, it's time for me to tell him to stop because we need to do a lesson from First Language Lessons."   Hello?  Schoolmarm Fisher?  Anybody at home in your head?  WHY would you ask him to stop?  After all, he's writing--happily (something he doesn't always do), he's reading, he's learning grammar and sentence structure, he's reinforcing capitalization and punctuation rules, and it's the Bible!  Don't let your lesson plan get in the way of real learning!

Exhibit B:
A big yellow tractor was camped out in our neighbor's side yard, digging a hole in the ground.  We weren't sure why, but David wanted to be a detective and go outside to watch and find out.  Should I let him sit under our maple tree to observe, or should I make him stay inside and read a book about...oh, I don't know...maple trees, or tractors, or holes in the ground?  Duh.  The answer is obvious.  But what about the science books we're supposed to be reading??

Exhibit C:
Grandma was outside hanging laundry on her clothesline.  One of the boys spotted her, and the cry went up, "Grandma's outside!  Can we go down and play on her playground?"   Sure, why not?  Who needs dodgeball in P.E. class when you can swing and slide and climb a ladder and grab hold of a rope to see if you can hold your weight above the ground (probably to keep yourself safe from the vicious crocodiles on the ground all around or the lava that's flowing from a fiery volcano)?  And then our friend Ronnie, who is laying tile in my dad's old office in preparation for my parents moving into it, came out of the office and over to where my mom and three sons were.  Shortly, I saw a procession of legs walking into the office to see the progress.  Sunshine, fresh air, time with Grandma, watching a real live floor-layer in action, seeing the work that goes into putting down tile, seeing what a floor looks like under the floor--such good stuff.  But wait, I should have called them to come inside because we didn't read our Aesop's Fable for the day!  Right??

Don't get me wrong:  we are not unschoolers, we do have (loose) lesson plans (and I love our Sonlight curriculum for the flexibility it gives!), I do strive to make sure we cover all the bases so there aren't huge gaps in my children's education, and we do spend a lot of time on the couch reading books.  But I'm learning--and it's a process--that when opportunities come along for real-life education, it's time to throw the schedule out the window, and just live.

And learn.  Because that's what this homeschooling stuff is all about.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Yes, This Is a Commercial

No, I'm not getting paid for this.

Every time I leave a performance of the Shenandoah Valley Children's Choir, I am in awe.  Actually, I feel the same way just from hearing one of their rehearsals!  I am amazed at the beauty of the sound they produce, the level of discipline they demonstrate, and the extremely high amount of musical knowledge they possess.  I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E.  I am thrilled that Josiah is in his fourth year of involvement with the SVCC; the benefits to him have been numerous, and I am frequently shocked by his musical abilities (which are much higher than mine were at his age!).  Not too long ago, he took a piece that he had originally learned on violin in the key of A (he had learned it completely by ear, mind you; that's the Suzuki way, so he had never read the notes written on the staff), transposed it into the key of C, played it on the piano, and then wrote it out--perfectly--on staff paper.  Oh my word.  Where did he learn how to do that??  In large part, the musical training of the SVCC is to thank for that.  (You can click here for a great list of what young people learn from choir.)

I went to one of their concerts tonight; and I left there, as I always do, ready to gush.  So I'm gushing.  I can't help it.  Besides the excellence of the musical side of things, I just love the people who make it happen:  the Brubakers who have volunteered to be "choir parents" for Josiah's choir, Yvette, Ms. White, and dear Mrs. Anderson who is beloved by my boys.  It is an all-around outstanding organization, and we are incredibly blessed to have it in our community.  

I was thinking tonight as I listened to the gorgeous sounds of the choir (and the youth orchestra--I don't want to leave them out!), "Music is such a spiritual experience for me."  I know this is true for so many people.  There is just something about music that moves us in ways that very little else can do.  I had to laugh at myself as I sat there because I kept getting teary-eyed.  Why??  I wasn't feeling particularly emotional about anything at all, but play a few bars of the "Be Still, My Soul" section of Finlandia or sing the opening phrase of "Oh Freedom" and I'm having to swallow hard around the lump in my throat and blink fast to get rid of the tears before anyone notices!  :)

Tonight's concert was just a taste of how wonderful the Christmas concert will be.  I can hardly wait.  If you live in the area and are looking for a special way to celebrate, let me invite you to this:
It's going to be fantastic!

Besides, Josiah will, for the first time, have the honor of singing as a full-fledged performing member of the SVCC.  I can't wait to see him wearing this vest.  And you'd better believe I'm going to cry that night!  :)

OK, the commercial is over; but before I sign off, let me give a shout-out to a few people from tonight's concert:
~ Olivia from Treble Choir, I love your smile!  It was great to see you up there!
~ Evan, you bring such grace to both the choir and the orchestra.  Ever since I played percussion one summer at Camp of the Woods, I've had a soft spot for percussionists.  :)  (I was actually at that camp to play the piano, and I did--A LOT--but since I had to play an instrument in the orchestra, too, I got stuck in the percussion section.  It was a blast, especially the night I clanged the cymbals together so hard that one of them fell off its handle and crashed to the floor in the middle of a piece.  Oh yeah, that was fun.)
~ Caleb, you rock the handbells, and your male trio thing added a lot, too.  Next year I'm gonna miss seeing a McClay in the Concert Choir.

Have I mentioned recently that I love the SVCC?  ;-)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Remembering the Day

I couldn't let this day--this special day when Shav turns 16 months old--pass by without at least a mention of how treasured he is by us and how we're all crazy about him.
My thoughts have often turned, in recent days, to November 2008 when we were discovering that I was unexpectedly pregnant and were wrapping our brains around the idea of having two children so close in age.  

And now look at them!  Tobin at 34 months, and Shav at 16.  What a beautiful sight!

Happy 16-month birthday, sweet Shavi!  I'm entirely convinced that you are the most handsome Shav in the entire world.  Granted, there's not a whole lot of competition for the title of Most Handsome Shav; but even if your name was as common as Michael or Jacob, you'd still come out in first place in my book!  Not to mention the Most Wonderful Shav...the Most Loving Shav...the Funniest Shav...the Most Talented Shav...and definitely, without a doubt, the Best All-Around Shav!!  ;-)

Friday, November 19, 2010

When I Said I Would Try to Finish the Story Tomorrow...

...I had momentarily forgotten that we were having a fellowship potluck this evening.  Fellowship potluck days are not exactly conducive to lengthy blog posts, to put it mildly!  :)

Here's all I've got for tonight, just a picture that I took of Tobin today in preparation for a personalized Christmas gift for him.
Tobin *needs* a hot chocolate mug.  :)  Both Josiah and David have special mugs - their own mug that we got for them when we went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few years ago.  But Tobin didn't have one, and now that he's old enough to hold a real ceramic mug, I'd like him to be able to use one that is just for him.  I've never done it before, but I know that lots of companies put photos on mugs, and it's not really that expensive...so I'm going to try it.  When I was telling Jeff about my idea, he said that he thought it was a great idea, and then he said, "Don't we already have lots of pictures of Tobin to choose from?"

Well, technically, yes.  But what's the fun in that?  It's much nicer to dress him in a favorite sweater, take him outside on a chilly fall morning, and do a quick little photo shoot so we can have a brand new picture for his mug.  He was excited that I was taking his picture (I've trained him well!), and I was happy with the result: a win-win situation.  :)

How I love that Tobin Bear!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Three

~ my mother-in-law holding Tobin, during our California trip in May of 2009 - Tobin was 16 months old, which is just about how old Shav is now

In case you're randomly clicking over here, this post is a continuation of the story of my relationship with Jeff's parents.  Part One is here, Part Two is here.  But before I pick up the story, I want to say one thing in response to Morning's thoughtful comment that she left on Part Two.  Actually, as is usually the case with me, there is a lot I want to say about it!  :)  But I'll insert just one point I want to make now, and then perhaps answer her question more fully as I continue the story.  But, Morning, if by the end of all of this, you don't feel like I answered your question clearly or adequately, please feel free to ask again; I value your perspective and input!

Her query brought to mind one of the benefits of the rough start I had in my relationship with my in-laws (there's no great loss without some small gain, as my grandmother used to say!), and that is this:  it was very clear that Jeff and I were marrying each other for each other.  We definitely weren't getting married because of convenience, or because people thought we should, or because we thought we'd make cute kids together, or because our tax situation would improve if we were married.  Our only matchmaker was God, and there was certainly no family pressure to marry each other!  (That is, until my parents met him and "fell in love" with him, so to speak...)  :)  Jeff and I quickly developed a strong bond with each other, in part because it was Us against Everybody Else.

As I think back over the paths I could have taken and the men I could have married (not that there were scores of men waiting around to marry me - not at all!), I realize that with one, I could have married him for his church.  With another, I could have married him for his family.  With another, I could have married him for his money.  But with Jeff - oh, with Jeff!  I married him for the man.  I want to be careful how I say that because I know the wife of one of those men reads my blog and the parents of another one have read it, and I am in no way implying that those individuals aren't wonderful men, too.  Of course they are, and they are perfect for their respective spouses.  But Jeff, my dearest Jeff, the one who holds the key to my heart, he is perfect for me; and because of the way our relationship began without a lot of (or any) parental support, I never had to question my motives for marrying him.  If I was crazy enough to go against family, I must really love that man!  :)

Now, back to the unfolding story...

The next chapter in the history of my in-law relationship could be entitled "Along Came Josiah."  Having a child changes everything, and having a grandchild changes everything again, doesn't it?

It "just so happened" that I found out I was pregnant on a day we were planning to drive up to Big Bear to visit Jeff's parents.  It was Columbus Day 2001, very shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11; and as I thought about Columbus' huge discovery, I felt like my own discovery that morning was almost equally as significant!  :)  It was very special to be able to share it with Jeff's parents right away, face to face.  I remember being outside that day in the beautiful fall weather; in their backyard was an apple tree which was producing loads of luscious green apples.  I ate and ate and ate green apples that day!  And together with the future grandparents, we rejoiced!

As the pregnancy progressed, Jeff's parents followed along with all the developments; and I particularly remember his mom and sister coming to my baby shower (which was an amazing night - wow, I loved that party!).  But I still remember feeling very much closer to my mom than to Jeff's.  With my mom, it was all comfort and security; with Jeff's, I still felt some insecurity and had the sensation of being an outsider.  Jeff was the go-between, the link between his parents and I.  Without him, things felt a bit awkward.

When Josiah was born, Jeff's parents drove down from Big Bear right away and came to the hospital to visit us which meant a lot to me at the time and still does.  In general, as far as basic personality, Jeff's dad was the gruff one, and his mom the friendlier one; but when it came to Josiah, Grandpa Fisher became the most tender man you could imagine.  He really loved Josiah.  In this old post from the very early days of this blog, there is a picture of Jeff's dad holding Josiah in the hospital; and to me, there is LOVE written all over that picture.

Little did we know, when that picture was taken, that within a matter of months, Jeff and I and our tiny baby would be moving halfway around the world to Israel.  Little did we know that a few weeks after our move, Jeff's dad would suffer a terrible stroke and never recover, lingering for a time in the hospital and rehab center, but ultimately dying the day before my 27th birthday.  We didn't know that Thanksgiving of 2001 would be the last one we would celebrate in their home in Big Bear.  I had no idea, as I watched Jeff's dad hold Josiah and talk to him and love on him, that before Josiah got old enough to even remember his grandpa, he would be gone.  When some members of the Fisher family got together at the Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown San Diego for our last hurrah before our flight to Israel, I never once thought that it would be the last time we would be able to gather in such a way.

Looking back with the perspective that time brings, I'm increasingly grateful for the five and a half years of marriage we had before our move to Israel and our loss of Jeff's dad.  I'm grateful for the time we spent together, the memories we made, the books we discussed, the meals we shared, the games we played, the museums we visited, the holidays we celebrated - together.  My relationship with my in-laws grew so much during that time:  from who-is-this-girl-and-why-does-she-want-to-marry-our-son to genuine love and acceptance and goodwill towards each other.  I'm so thankful for that.

But despite that growth, I still wasn't at the point - and never dreamed I would be! - of welcoming my mother-in-law into my home for a month!

Maybe tomorrow I'll get to actually finish the story and show how I got to that point.  :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

His Timing Is Impeccable

At bedtime tonight, Josiah asked to be allowed to stay up to read a chapter of the book he's currently devouring.  I said yes, he read it, and then the request came for "just one more chapter?"  I said yes again; after all, he's reading God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew, so how could I say no to his request?  After he finished that chapter, he popped out of bed again; and I looked up from my seat at the desk in the living room to see his quickly-growing frame loping down the steps.  His question this time:  could I come up and cuddle with him?

Now normally that request would receive a quick ix-nay on the uddle-cay.  After all, I have things to do!  And it's not Sunday night, so we can't cuddle.  Because Sunday is our cuddle night.  And this is Wednesday.  So no cuddling.  But I love you, and goodnight.

Tonight, however, I had just finished reading this article by Rick Boyer.  Josiah had no idea about that, but he could not possibly have timed his request better.  With Rick's last sentence, "Turn off the vacuum cleaner for a minute and go hug your kids," still ringing in my ears, how could I say no to Josiah?  We walked up to his room with our arms around each other, discovered that David was still awake, then all crawled into David's bed for some Quality Snuggle Time.  And you know what?  It was the best cuddle time!  Josiah asked me what I want for Christmas, David told me (in response to my question to him, "What do I need to change to be a better mommy?") that I hurt his feelings a few days ago by speaking harshly, they both agreed that we need to have more children (with Josiah suggesting that we have two more, and David stating that we needed ten more, then modifying his answer to say we need 100 more!), we laughed at the thought of so many children and talked about how we could get more bunkbeds and let eight boys sleep in their room...but where would we put everybody's clothes?  We decided that each person could only have two pairs of pants, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of pajamas, etc.  :)  I brought up George Mueller and how he helped care for so many children through his orphanages, and told David that maybe when he grows up, he'll start an orphanage, too.  David thought that might be too much responsibility (his exact word, although he mispronounced it) for him; but Josiah, ever the leader and organizer, thought that he might like that job.  We listened to John Elliott's reading of Ezekiel 1 and marveled at the majesty and power of Ezekiel's vision of the Lord.  I loved my time with them.

I would have missed it, if it hadn't been for Rick Boyer's article (and the HEAV weekly newsletter which brought it to my attention).  If you have two minutes to spare, go read that article.  It will make you smile, and it might even put a lump in your throat.  What's more, it will help you make the {right} decision to turn off the vacuum cleaner and go hug your kids!

It is not my intention to drag out my response to Mary's question about my relationship with my mother-in-law, and I feel badly that I haven't finished that yet.  I was fully intending to do so tonight, but the impromptu snuggle session consumed my time--and rightly so.  Maybe tomorrow?  But you know, since my writing motto seems to be "To Make a Short Story Long," it's hard to tell how much time it will take me to finish the tale!  ;-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mother-in-Law o' Mine, Part Two

~ I should mention that this picture and the one I posted yesterday were taken at the Frontier Culture Museum a few weeks ago during our wonderful field trip there

{continued from yesterday's post}

During the eight months of my engagement to Jeff, my relationship with his parents was cordial, but not particularly close.  There was the physical distance to consider, for one thing; I was finishing up my senior year of college in Pennsylvania, and they were living in the mountains of California.  I did fly out to the Golden State a few times during those months (for Valentine's Day, I think, and also the week between the end of exams and my college graduation); and during those visits, we got along fine as we got to know each other more and more.  But despite our amiableness, another defining moment came along that shaped our relationship in a downward direction.

Jeff's parents chose to not come to our wedding.

I'm sure there were numerous factors involved in that decision, not just a disapproval of me; but it became clear that it wasn't a matter of not having enough money to make the trip because, at about the same general time as the wedding, they traveled to Tennessee for Jeff's dad to paint a mural in a church building there.  

Part of me was hurt by their decision, but somehow Jeff and I were able to move on from that and dwell on the fact that we would still have a wonderful celebration at our wedding (and we did) and maybe it was for the best that they weren't there.  I'm not sure how we escaped the root of bitterness that could have easily sprung up; but, unless I'm being completely blind to my own sin, I really don't think we became bitter about it or held a grudge against them.

However, their decision to not attend our wedding certainly did nothing to draw us closer!  In fact, after we were married, when we would go to visit them, I remember certain uncomfortable moments when something about the wedding would get brought up, but...oh!...they weren't at it, so maybe we shouldn't talk about it!  Awkward!

During those early years of our marriage, we lived in San Diego, a few hours from their home in Big Bear.  I'm finding it difficult to remember clearly how often we visited them, but I do know that there were visits back and forth, sometimes in our home, sometimes in theirs.  Again, things were always cordial as we spent time together, learning to know each other, and building up memories that would tie our hearts together.

A few memories stand out from those years:

Jeff's dad was an artist; and although I didn't know a hill of beans about visual art and was embarrassed about my lack of culture in that area, I was able to relate to him through my study of and skill in music.  Plus, he sometimes listened to classical music as he painted; and that gave us something to talk about.  :)

Sometimes we would go up to Big Bear to visit them, but also so that Jeff could work in the barber shop there that was owned by Joe, the gregarious Italian who had originally started Jeff on the path of barbering.  (In a nutshell, when Jeff was in his late teens, Joe said to him, "You need a trade that you'll always be able to do.  Why don't you learn barbering like me?"  So Jeff did.)  There were days when Jeff would be at work in Joe's barbershop, filling in for his former mentor who was out of town or recovering from health challenges, and Jeff's mom would be at her job in the office of the water department for the city, and Jeff's dad and I would spend the day together.  I remember going with him to the farmer's market in Big Bear to buy sunflowers so that he could paint them.  I also remember actually watching him paint some of the sunflower paintings that he did during those years.  Is it any wonder that I treasure the two sunflower paintings we have by him?  

Even at this point in my relationship with Jeff's parents, I still felt plenty shy and insecure, tentatively feeling like a part of their family but not being quite sure of their acceptance.  But a day came along that helped to change that, and this is one of those crystal-clear memories that are so precious.

Jeff and I and his dad were sitting in an Italian restaurant in one of the shopping centers in Big Bear, eating lunch while Jeff's mom was at work.  I'm not sure how or why the subject came up, and I can't remember the exact words; but at one point in the conversation, Jeff's dad in essence admitted that he was wrong about his first impression of me and that he had come to realize that I was the perfect wife for Jeff.

Man!  Talk about another olive branch!  :)

I've never read The Blessing by Trent and Smalley (although I would like to do so someday); but from what I understand of the concept, that moment with Jeff's dad was when I received The Blessing from him.  I treasured that moment; and the fact that I'm writing about it now shows that...

...I still do.

Once again, I've got to cut this off and hope for more time tomorrow to write...