When Pinecones are Life

Dear John,

You turned five this past week. You are super pumped to be able to hold up one hand when asked how old you are. We measured your height today and you’ve had a little growth spurt the past six months. Your body is starting to catch up with your head… a little. 

A couple of weeks ago we went hiking in the Shelton View Forest with your buddy Luke and his mom Nicole. Nicole is my longest known and dearest friend. I’ve told you and Hadley the story of how Nicole and I met in kindergarten at Shelton View Elementary. 

After our exploration around the woods, and everyone’s imminent tumble or slip as we made our way down the ravine trail, we decided to check out the playground at Shelton View Elementary right next to the forest. 

You played a little at one of the play areas on the school’s campus and then we decided to walk around and find another one. Along the way, you slipped me a pinecone you had found. In a secret whisper you said to me, “this one is special because it’s green.” I wrapped my fingers around it and held it in my hand as we made our way to the other play area. 

As you, Luke, and Hadley played on the second playground, Nicole and I sat on the bench talking about what we remember from kindergarten. Was this the same playground? Did we run around in the wooded area over there? Was that our classroom just situated in the front corner with the view of the playground?

Coincidentally, I was your age when I started kindergarten at this very school where you were now playing. Also an August baby, I had just turned five. Thirty-ish years ago, I ran around that same playground and I was the same age you were now.  Your dad and I have decided to wait another year for you to start kindergarten for a myriad of reasons, which I can explain another time. 

As I flipped the pinecone round and round in my hand, I thought about how I am watching you play at an age that I once was. An age that I can actually remember some things from. I turned the green pinecone over and over in my palm more quickly as if replicating the rapid succession in which the years seem to have flown by since that time. Then I placed it on the bench in an attempt to make time stand still as I watched you play, even if for just a minute

On our trek back toward our car I realized that I had forgotten the green pinecone back on the bench.  

“Shoot, I forgot his pinecone on the bench,” I whispered to Nicole. “Hopefully, he won’t remember.”

Seconds later you pipe up, “Mom, where’s the green pinecone I gave you?” 

“I’m so sorry buddy. I left it on the bench. Let’s find you another one here.” Dozens of pinecones lay at our feet as we passed under a huge pine tree. 

“No!!!!! That one was special for you. It was green!!” you protested.  There were plenty of pinecones to go around under the tree where we stood. Lots of different shapes and sizes. But all brown. None of them are green like the one you had found before. 

Hadley, being the best big sister there is, immediately starts searching for the best pinecone. She found a huge one for you! You smiled and laughed at the size. All is forgiven regarding the green pinecone once the big one was in your hands. One problem though, Luke liked the giant pinecone too. Unfortunately, that is the only big one we see. 

Suddenly, tears ensue as he wants the big pinecone. Hadley fiercely reiterates the fact that she found it for you. You end up getting to keep your huge pinecone, but Luke is crushed. Meanwhile, the green pinecone sits lonely on the bench and I feel terrible for the pinecone grief I’ve created. 

I put the huge pinecone in the back of the car, since it likely has bugs hidden inside. Our goodbye is short and quick as we were never able to find a huge pinecone for Luke. He is still crying and pining away for a huge pinecone as Nicole tries to convince him that the pinecones belong in the forest. Later, we found out it took Luke quite a while to forget about the pinecone. 

Hours later, back at home I realize that the huge pinecone is still in the back of the car far from it’s forest home, forgotten by all except me (and maybe still Luke). I go out to retrieve it with visions of bugs escaping and lodging between the seats of our car or throwing themselves a beach party in the bits of sand left behind from our previous beach adventures. I get it and leave it on our porch. 

Weeks later and brittled by the sun, it is still there, untouched. Yet somehow, in that moment at the school playground, that pinecone was absolutely everything. I wonder if the green pinecone is still on the bench?

We’ve enjoyed our family bike rides this summer. You zip around pedaling on your two-wheeled bike like it’s not a big deal. You’ve acquired killer scrapes and scabs to prove you can handle anything the bike path throws your way. You are so tough and fast. You are amazing on your bike and you love it. We are getting you a new bike for your birthday as you already seem to be outgrowing this one. 

One night, only a few days after our Shelton View Forest pinecone ordeal, we were speeding along the sidewalk, our family of four with eight wheels, when suddenly you spot a pinecone on the sidewalk. Instantly, your love of pinecones was revived. Almost just as quickly as it was spotted, I heard and felt the crushing wood scales of the pinecone under my front tire. “Oh no!” I realized before it was too late. Just like that, your pinecone dreams were crushed and left there on the sidewalk. 

“Noooooo!” you screamed to a halt on your bike. “That was my pinecone! You ran over it!” as you flung your head and upper body over the front of your bike in complete despair like a sack of flour. 

Unlike the playground, there weren’t tons of pine cones around. We were on a sidewalk near a busy road.  Suddenly, one is spotted across the street. Your dad, makes note that the street is currently clear of cars and quickly pedals over to retrieve the loner pinecone. “Oh great,”  I think. “Getting hit by a car is totally worth this and again… it’s all my fault.” Instead of leaving behind the precious pinecone, this time like all your hopes and dreams, I had crushed it.

The new pinecone was retrieved and brought over to you. Immediately you are relieved and composed enough to be able to ride again. Of course, you don’t have a free hand, pocket or bike basket to put the precious pinecone in so your dad hands it to me. Again, I am left with a pinecone. In my pocket it goes. 

I can’t even tell you what happened to that pinecone. I think it made it home but it was totally forgotten about the minute your helmet was off your still-larger-than-average head. But it doesn’t matter. In those moments, as an almost five-year-old, those pinecones are life. 

John, you are a like a green pinecone. Special and uniquely made beyond comparison. There may be others that come along: big ones, cute little ones, ones filled with bugs, but none quite like you. I left the green pinecone there on the bench on the playground where my world as a five-year-old expanded and bloomed as I know yours will too. I pray you realize your importance and place in this world. I know things will get tougher than a lost or crushed pinecone. I will be here for you.

A few days ago, we came across some mini pinecones on our vacation. You picked up four and gifted one to each of us. It is then that I realized, I don’t need to keep the pinecones. There are endless amounts of them. They are like moments with you, sweet and gifted to me from the Father above. They pass quickly by and yet, there are so many more to come. So many more to find and treasure. Happy Birthday, John!

When Things Get Hard

“It looks great!”  I tried to reassure you. “Your, “a,” is touching the belt line and the foot line and it’s a complete circle! I’m going to draw a star next to this one because it’s my favorite.”

I swear I saw your eyes roll as I drew a star next to a little “a” in your handwriting book.  

“I don’t like it. I’m done with this stinky book!” you snapped. 

I sighed. So much for my “summer school” attempt. 

My sweet Hadley, I have had many conversations with you about what to do when things get hard. I always tell you, “when things get hard, that’s when our brain grows and that’s when we learn. If we aren’t ever challenged, we won’t ever learn. Things would just be easy and boring.”

I tried to explain to you that day that your ability to persevere is the important thing, even more so than a perfect, “a.” I’m not sure you wanted to hear it at the time or any of the other times we’ve talked about, “trying your best,” but my hope is that it will eventually stick. 

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“I want Mama to do it,”  your two-and-half-year old brother irrecoverably yelled. His face was flushed and his red curls matted. A tired tear fell down one chubby cheek while both his hands clutched the hem of my shirt. 

“Okay. I’ll brush your teeth buddy, but you have to listen and do exactly as I say or Daddy will do it.” I wiped the tear off his cheek with my thumb. 

Brushing you and your brother’s teeth has always been one of my least favorite things to do, I fully admit to this. It has been a task your daddy sort of unknowingly assigned to himself, along with filing your fingernails, and washing your hair. He has a sort of tenderness and care for these necessary jobs that I just don’t seem to possess. 

Yet lately, John has only wanted me to brush his teeth. Why?!?!?  I brush too vigorously, I’m impatient, and I’m not as thorough. Yet, “I want Mama to do it!” has been a nightly chorus line chimed repeatedly at bedtime for the past several weeks. 

Brushing your teeth is hard! I don’t like it. But I do it (at least I do it when your dad can’t or he argues it’s my night to do so), otherwise you might end up with “green pirate teeth.” 

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“I don’t ever want to be a mom!” you declared.

Your cheeks were pink and stained with tears as you lay on your bed, clutching your blankets, curled up in a fetal position. 

“It’s not fun!” you continued. “You never have any fun.” The sobbing persisted and I sat there on the edge of your bed. 

“Of course it’s fun!” I reassured you. “But being a mom can also can be hard. Sometimes that doesn’t look like fun, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.” 

I wanted to tell you so many things that night, but sleep was definitely high on the priority list for you. You are also starting kindergarten next week and I have some additional thoughts on that I’d like to share.

Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever done. It doesn’t stop being hard, I am beginning to gather. But I think the rewards and benefits of parenting begin to reveal themselves little by little. It’s as if life doesn’t want to give you too much sweetness at one time, so it rations it for you, making it last, helping you avoid a stomach ache. 

I must confess something to you. I don’t like when things are hard. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a “go getter.” I like to be comfortable. But motherhood is the singular thing that continues to be hard and it is the one thing I feel I have shown the most grit and perseverance for in my entire life.

I continue to get up each and every day and be a mother. Some days are hard, but it is a commitment I made and I am never giving up. I can never give up. This seems to me to be the very definition of having grit, perseverance, or “to keep going when the going gets tough.” So you see Hadley, if someone like me, can do one of the hardest tasks I’ve blessed with undertaking. I know, you can do hard things as well. 

Being a mom might not seem like its fun to you. That’s because I’m putting in a lot of hard work right now developing your character and helping build your sense of “what’s right,” in the world. I lay boundaries. I say no. I am not here so you can just have fun. I am here to raise you. I am here to help shape and mold who you are, this doesn’t always come out as fun, but believe me, it is rewarding. Being a mom is not easy, but it can be fun, despite what it may look like.

You are about to start kindergarten next week and so you’ll embark upon a long journey in school and education. I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you that I hope you’ll someday find helpful. 

It’s going to get hard. There are going to be some things you don’t know. There will be some people who aren’t entirely kind. 

You have some extraordinary gifts. You’re an encourager, you are empathetic. You tell your friends, “believe in yourself.”  You must tell yourself this as well. 

When your brother recently fell out of bed one night, you were quick to comfort and remind him, “It’s okay John. One time I rolled out of bed and my sheets came with me!” You chuckled and turned to your side, falling quickly asleep. 

My hope for you as you start your kindergarten year and things get hard (and I hope they do) is to remember this: Be the best you. There is no one else like you, Hadley. You’re it. You are the only you. God made you with care, paying attention to every detail. You are wonderfully made. 

Persevere,  just keep trying. You might not have the hang of something yet, but you will. Dory had it so right when she kept saying, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Be kind. Be patient. Continue to be the encouraging classmate who looks for someone who needs a friend. 

Most of all, try the hard thing. It might be saying “hi” to someone new, or taking the time to add details to your work. It might be to practice writing your lowercase letter “a.” But I promise you, the reward is worth the risk. Even if you fail. Because succeeding was never the reward in the first place, it was the effort put forth and that fact that you gave your all.

I hope you see when you are older, even though I wasn’t a big fan of brushing you and your brother’s teeth, that I did my best to raise you and I love you. I have grit when it comes to being your mom. I will keep coming back. I will wake up day after day, I will fight, I will not give up on you. Being a mom is my hard thing. You are the sweetest gift life has rationed to me.

Take the risk kid, write the lowercase “a.” Write it a million times, because soon it will become easy, it will become rote, and it will be shaped the way you’d always hoped it would be. 

 

Frozen Peas

Homemade fried rice is a favorite in my household. One night I threw sausage in a pan and added 90 second micro rice, egg and frozen peas with tons of butter. It was a hit! My husband loves it and my kids eat it too, which is amazing. It included vegetables from a bag, which again, is amazing.  Cooking one thing that your entire family will eat including a picky toddler and preschooler, that you can call a meal, is AH-mazing.

(Disclaimer: This is not a food blog. I’m sure food will be discussed as it is a staple in our household. An occasional recipe or tip may be shared, but this is not a source of meal planning or inspiration food wise. You might want to look elsewhere for that. I am simply doing the best I can with what I have and what I have in my freezer is frozen peas. Wine. I also have wine).

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“I’m hungry!” My 3-year-old daughter shouts. Sweat drips down my spine and tickles my back as I pull my head out from the open freezer door to see her pink cheeks and droopy eyes staring up at me. It was a sweltering summer day in the Pacific Northwest. I know, I know, I sound like a wimp. But when it’s 90+ degrees, you aren’t used to that kind of heat, and you have no air conditioning, it can feel pretty dang hot.

“I know you are hungry Had.” I respond, less than sympathetic. I glance over at my 11 month-old in his high chair who is shoving his frozen teether and chubby little fingers into his slobbery mouth. Ugh teething. I gaze absent-mindedly into the freezer. “What to do for dinner?” I sigh to myself. Suddenly my eyes lock upon a bag of frozen peas. I had read about frozen peas as a soothing food for teething. Plus, it’s cold, and…a vegetable! “How about some frozen peas!?” I suggest cheerily.

“Sure!” Hadley agrees. I open the bag and dump some into a bowl. She jumps up onto a kitchen chair and smiles as I hand her the bowl. I drop a few on John’s tray.

“Ball.” he says.

“Yes, John. They are shaped like a ball, but these aren’t balls. They are peas, frozen peas.” The minutes that follow are quiet. I can finally wrap my head around what to start for dinner as my kids happily munch on their frozen peas. Frozen peas!

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Summer play dates with my teacher friends are the best. Our kids are all around the same age. We as moms and educators have so much in common to discuss. Plus, we share the sheer joy that is summer vacation.

We were wrapping up another successful play date at my house. As we said our goodbyes, Hadley of course pipes up, “I’m hungry!”

“You want some frozen peas?” I suggest, “our friends are just about to leave and then I can work on lunch, but right now we are talking and saying goodbye.”

I whip out the peas and pour some in a bowl. My friend’s two little girls curiously walk over to peek inside Hadley’s bowl. “You want one?” I question. “Is it okay?” I ask glancing up at their mom.

“Frozen peas?” She questioned. “Sure.”

One pea after another her daughters shoved into their mouths. “They love them!” My friend exclaims. “I can’t believe they like frozen peas just plain like that.”

A couple of hours later my friend texted me, The girls wanted more frozen peas when we got home. I didn’t have any plain peas but I had a frozen veggie mix with peas and carrots that I gave them. They love it. Thanks for the tip.

Mixed frozen veggies? Brilliant.

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Frozen peas represent much more than an uncooked, really cold, hard, and slightly gross  tasting vegetable. To me, they show the grace that needs to come with being a mom. The grace we need give ourselves and the grace we need give each other. Sometimes, it is really, really hard being a mom and sometimes, you just need a quick snack or meal that everyone at the table will actually enjoy. Frozen peas have always worked for me as a healthy snack and distraction. Plus, they make a great addition to our family’s favorite meal: fried rice.

I was happy to share the frozen pea snack idea with a friend. I love that she took it and ran with it. Not only that, she added to it. Not just frozen peas but carrots as well. This is such a small thing, a simple thing, and almost silly, a frozen vegetable. But it shows the need for relationship, friendship and community with other moms. To share ideas and experiences that we can together expand on or improve upon. It makes the journey of motherhood so much sweeter when you can share it with other moms.

So moms,  you are not alone. You are amazing. You are rockin’ it every single day. This blog is for you. My wine glass at dinnertime will be cheering to you. I hope these words and stories on this blog inspire, encourage, and humor you in times of need or in times of contentment. Trust me, frozen peas. Try it.