A Back-pack, a Bull Whip, A Pool Noodle and a Sword is what I saw traveling down the street along with my boys each holding their “weapon” of choice… my Motley Crew has found contentment in a neighborhood strewn with boys to have outdoor adventures with.
Being a girl, my” outdoor adventures” at that age, consisted of laying on a blanket under a weeping willow tree and drawing and dreaming while sipping on lemonade; maybe a cart-wheel or two. However, with boys, I can assure you there are no parallels to be seen!
I love my current view and am soaking it up for the memory banks. I hear warrior cries, I see charging “knights”, I watch “battles and duels” unfold in the yard. I have lost many things in the kitchen for the cause of bartering and trading at their various posts that resemble an odd little village across the back yard.
It is a sweet spot for a boy to be carefree and able to let his imagination soar. And a band of brothers is that much richer for the opportunity to absorb all boyhood. I feel like a spectator, getting rare glimpses into this foreign territory to a girl. I recognize that I am only privy to it because I am “Mom”. I have watched a few neighbor girls approach our lawn timidly, taking in the sights and then retreating home; can’t say I blame them, it is a lot to take in when boys are in adventure mode.
When Summer comes, I will have to buy new pool noodles because I have watched them slowly be grabbed one at a time and transformed into dueling sticks. We have no more duct-tape in the house because that is “boy glue” for everything! And with Pinterest, they have figured out how to braid duct-tape and create bull-whips…
They have decided it is manly to down hot cocoa packets( dry!) while they are in survival mode and traveling from camp to camp in the yard. Our printer is out of color toner but there are these amazing tribal flags waving on large sticks at the top of the tree fort. And the backdoor has a loud creak to it now because it has become a revolving door as they run in for bandanas, snacks, drinks, scissors(?!!), and such oddities. I had to ask them to return the PVC pipes from the garage that are actually part of the pool equipment!!
They are now saving allowance for PVC pipes…
This is a rich season for them in childhood, and also for me in parenthood. With them gaining more independence daily, I will still grab my laptop or project or book and sink in somewhere close where I can take in the sights of this wonderful childhood unfolding. If you are in this stretch of life too, you can relate. If this chunk of time has passed in your life, I would encourage you to journal your memories of it… there is so much that time will fade. But there are beautiful smiles in remembering; and the details are the gems in your story.
The JOY of the Lord is your Strength! Nehemiah 8:10
Last weekend our two families had our 17th annual Gingerbread House baking session. Flour floated about in the air and candy sprinkles bounced to the floor as every cookie sheet I own was in action.
This year’s theme was “Jenks Trojans” since this is the one and only year that our combined crew of boys is attending the same school district.
Our boys range from Kindergarten to Senior year, covering the campuses of Elementary, Intermediate, Middle School, and High School. Several of us parents are Jenks Alumni, so it was fun to focus on our alma mater, too…and look through old yearbooks.
The photo of the completed project typically yields satisfied smiles and a well-tended gingerbread village, all neat and tidy. Yet it represents so much more.
We started this tradition when my oldest was 1 and Audra was newly married. An additional 1/2-dozen kids have joined the process since that first Christmas Eve when our only helpers were our reluctant husbands and one very enthusiastic mother-in-law.
We had no Pinterest to consult or Facebook to scroll for ideas. We had a generic gingerbread recipe from an old cookbook of Audra’s and my risky idea that melting granulated sugar until it became searing hot liquid could be the “glue” to fuse gingerbread walls together.
Each year we talk fondly of that first little house with its gaping roof hole and wonky proportions. We wince as we remember burning our fingers repeatedly with that molten sugar. We persevered that first night into the wee morning hours though because we were hopeful of starting a tradition between our two families.
Many versions of the Gingerbread House have been constructed since then, some more elaborate than others. Significant family events have been rolled into these Gingerbread gatherings just as consistently as we have rolled out the dough year after year.
We’ve made our Gingerbread creations in 3 states and 9 different houses. For several years running we added another child to the mix.
We’ve taken turns soothing hurt feelings and nurturing burned fingers. We’ve broken dishes, chipped rolling pins, and even taken a door off its hinges to move a super-sized gingerbread creation to another room. The one constant in all the candy chaos was the fusion of our families through this joint endeavor.
Throughout these annual Gingerbread adventures, cousins have connected in various ways, solidifying their family foundation just as our go-to cement icing strengthens the gingerbread structures firmly into place.
Each year we gather together with only a loose theme in mind and then begin the process of making large batches of gingerbread dough to see what the crew creates.
As ideas unfold, we reminisce about past gingerbread house successes and failures. Everyone seems to have a different “favorite” house based on a fun technique or unusual theme.
Our collective memories merge into heartfelt agreement that the sticky messes, the unforeseen challenges, the countless hours, and architectural frustrations are worth the sweet legacy kneaded into this culinary tradition.
As the boys have gotten older, they’ve become more involved in creating and constructing.
The adults have gradually learned to downshift into more supportive roles, allowing the smaller hands to manipulate the dough into their own unique concoctions.
Grandparents weave in and out of the frenzied activity, lending a helping hand or showing us how to pace ourselves.
Although we do like to “ooh” and “aah” over the completed gingerbread display, the true joy of finishing is seeing the individualized inputs synthesized into a cohesive creation.
As the dads set up tripods and arrange wiggly boys for a full team photo, the sugarload effect looms large as we grasp for one last “decent” shot with all eyes open. (Sometimes the photo sessions seems to take as long as the construction phase!) When the crew inevitably collapses into silliness and giggles, we shoo them out the door to run off their pent-up energy.
Each year we take a few moments to cherish the closure of another triumphant gingerbread round, wearily rejoicing and ignoring the crunchiness of my floor.
Our family has done Thanksgiving in many different ways over the years. We’ve hosted the dinners yet also driven the miles to do the rounds between all the families. We’ve squished in family projects in lieu of big family gatherings. Some years we’ve taken off for a family getaway instead of sticking with tradition.
One of the ways we’ve reclaimed our own family connections going into the holiday season is to share a few hours together baking pies. Several years ago I said “yes“ to one of my boys who asked if we could cut into one of the pies to have a taste.
So, we began having “pie for dinner” on Thanksgiving Eve, letting go of the expectation of showing up to our family gig the next day with fully intact pies. We feel a little giddy with the power of “eating dessert first” and having pie as the only thing on the dinner menu.
As we were winding down our Pie for Dinner night this year, a candle was enthusiastically blown out which splattered wax all over our white tablecloth. Although a little chagrined, we tried not to let it overshadow the scrumptious fun we had just had together. We walked away from it, piecrust crumbs and all.
The next day after returning from a festive and full family dinner, I gathered up the tablecloth and stuck it in the freezer to deal with later. (I read about this handy trick somewhere, so I gave it a whirl.) Yesterday morning I attempted to get the wax to flake off. No luck! I threw it in the washer with mild hopes that some laundering magic might make the wax disappear. Nope! It morphed into a smooth patch of muted blue splotches…and is on the verge of being downgraded to a craft tablecloth. Oh well!
As I’ve gone round and round with this silly thing, I’ve realized I can get worked up about it or come to peace with it and move on…because we know the next season’s messes will be upon us before we know it, right?
Along with the jingly bells of the season, we hear the buzzing of pressure all around us.
Sometimes our calendars fill up rather than our hearts.
We can easily get pulled into holiday stress, feeling the fractures sneaking in. Or we can remain steadfast in seeking out the joys and peace of the season, one choice at a time.
When we’re tugged to get our shopping done early or to be among the first wave of holiday cards arriving in busy mailboxes, we need to intentionally slow down to pull together rather than apart.
We know we need to choose relationship over finding just the “right” gift…one heart decision at a time.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart…” Luke 2:19
It’s okay to take a break to ponder…and perhaps reflect on the bigger picture.
People all around us are hurting. Families are facing loss. Friends are financially squeezed. We can all use a dose of PEACE rather than fall to pieces when we get overwhelmed with holiday stress or encounter another flavor of brokenness.
We can strive to give thanks for the overflow of one season blurring into the next, preparing our hearts one day at a time.
Oh good gravy!! I just love everything about the Fall season. Even when I was young, I have always been captivated by the trees changing colors. And I have forever been picking up fallen leaves and pressing them for projects. Even in college I was home on break and scavenging for these treasures with aspirations of creating wonderful things with them.
And I did! My sweet family members were the recipients of many leaf-pressed bookmarks and animals created with leaves. The whole process was enjoyable to me. Now that I have children, it has been passed down to them too. I asked them to make me some turkeys with leaves, and look what cuteness I got!!
As you go through this season, and are looking up into the trees with all their glory, make sure to take time to look down too. A friend dear to my heart once said that if you slow down and really look, you will see that even God’s “litter” is so beautiful.
When I pause to take a closer look at things in nature, it brings my focus back to God; a really great place to be!
Slow down with me, and enjoy all there is to see!
As our society begins its annual press-in of stress during our holidays, stay connected to the wonder and awe that is found everywhere, even in God’s “scraps”