Saturday, August 30, 2014

My top 4 parenting epiphanies, or My Child is Not My Property but My Guest

Kendra Jenee, 2014
After being a parent for 23 years I can quantifiably narrow down the top three disquieting revelations:

1.  The moment it dawns on you that no one else is going to show up to parent the newborn you just brought home.  

2.  The moment you realize you're actually going to trust a complete stranger to take care of the kid you just dropped off in his classroom for the first time.

3.  The moment your child walks out of your house and everyone knows that any time she walks back in it will be as an adult.

Kendra's Graduation Day, June 5th

Have you heard the adage "having a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”?  I remember it two weeks ago, watching my girl walk away from us into the crowd of college peers. Her back toward us, her face toward the unknown, me with hot tears on my face and my heart walking away from my body.  The shock of it is not softer even though it's the third time I've said this sort of good-bye.  

The first time felt clearer, a bit more violent, maybe. As in other sorts of grief, I've learned that those who enter fully discover a gift of clarity. No book, speaker or blog post has given me more insight into what it means to love and be loved, to engage in the work of peopling the planet than the deep sadness of saying good-bye to my own children.

Sisterly good-byes on UNT campus, August 17th

Entering this sort of grief is no work for the confused or isolated to try to manage. We parents need friends and family, and, occasionally, enemies to speak truth into our grieving hearts.  When Andrew moved out two years ago I spent an entire night sobbing because all of a sudden I couldn't think of a single good thing I'd ever done for him.  This is not insight, this is exhaustion.  And fear.  And general wickedness from a lying voice.

After the dust of that lie settled, my husband and friends helped me recognize a truer truth after Andrew walked out our door:  "Oh!  This is not about measuring up as a good parent, this was about hospitality."  Being a parent is about providing a space -- first within an actual physical womb and then in the shelter of home and family -- for a child to know and be known."  

The comfort in that epiphany is that I get to keep giving the gifts of hospitality to my children.  Now that they don't live in my house every day, the gift actually increases in value.  I've learned this first hand from my own parents and grandparents -- the deep sense of being just sitting in the comfort of their homes, at their tables.  

I get to do that now for my kids.  And joy comes in the morning.

Amber and Andrew celebrate their August birthdays, August 23rd

This summer -- two years after the perspective-altering insight into parenting as hospitality -- imagine my pleasure reading a passage from Henri Nouwen:
"It may sound strange to speak of the relationship between parents and children in terms of hospitality. But it belongs to the center of the Christian message that children are not properties to own and rule over, but gifts to cherish and care for. Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way."  
"The difficult task of parenthood is to help children grow to the freedom that permits them to stand on their own feet, physically, mentally and spiritually and to allow them to move away in their own direction. The temptation is, and always remains, to cling to our children, to use them for our own unfulfilled needs and to hold on to them, suggesting in many direct and indirect ways that they owe us so much. It indeed is hard to see our children leave after many years of much love and much work to bring them to maturity, but when we keep reminding ourselves that they are just guests who have their own destination, which we do not know or dictate, we might be more able to let them go in peace and with our blessing."
-- from Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen
And here's one more revelation: 

4.  The moment when that child leaves our home as an adult and I lay to rest my ability to make requirements of him.  The great, thriving hope is that the 18 or so years we've invested in (imperfect but consistent) hospitality will mean my adult child will return often to the comfort and counsel we still offer. 

Alex visits Bekah and her roomies in Denton, August 17th

A few weeks ago -- somewhat predictably -- I muddle around again in the battle for truth about what it means that I've been a mom to Andrew, Alex, Kendra and Natalie. Too many things still confuse me.  Too many times I still revert to graceless fear. On a Friday morning, in the shrinking shade of an Austin coffee porch, I confess the anxiety to a dear friend.   

I say, "I'm trying to get better at this (referring to the three-quarters of my children who've now left home)." 

My friend says, "Tamara, you did it.  It's done.  Well done. Well done."

I can't even write that memory without more hot tears.  Could there be a better blessing than this?  

Farewell patio poker party, August 14th

In the lavish grace of God, another affirmation is spoken over me the very same week.  On this particular morning I can't move from my bed, such is the weight of my feeling that I've failed to mother well.  I have no hope for even the Words of God to make a difference, but I turn to them anyway.  Randomly I download a daily audio Scripture reading, hold the speaker portion of my phone near my head on the pillow. I miss most of the preamble, but am all ears by the time these words are spoken:
Micah 6:6-8: "With what shall I enter Yahweh's presence and bow down before God All-high?[...] Shall I offer my eldest son for my wrong-doing, the child of my own body for my sin? What is good has been explained to you, man; this is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God."
Oh, glad Truth!  You make me new.  You save my children in the gaps of what I've offered them and what they've needed.  You save us now, are saving us each day, will save us to continue a grace-full pursuit of justice, humility and tender love. 

The resurrected Christ makes a way for us to live and move and parent in this overwhelming mercy and grace. Amen and thanks be to God.  

Last photo before saying good-bye, August 17

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pumpkin Chip Cookies On the First Day of School (the 2014 version)

Updating this popular post with notes from the 2014 version of PUMPKIN CHIP COOKIES ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL:

the 2014 edition

Me blogging recipes is something like Donald Trump blogging knitting patterns.  

Enjoy this post because it's probably the only one you'll ever see of its kind.  I bake twice a year -- Christmas Eve (one of my favorite days in the whole  year) and the first day of school.  It's all a carefully planned campaign to brainwash my kids' memories of me.  I picked the two most memorable days of each year in their childhood and hand them baked goods like I'm Donna Reed.  So far this strategy is working quite nicely.

My mom made these cookies for us when I was growing up.  They are my all-time favorite cookie in the universe and a perfect complement to the coming of fall.  Please don't try to eat them without a glass of milk or mug of coffee.  

Pumpkin-Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin                         1 tsp. cinnamon
1 beaten egg                            1 tsp. soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil                1 tsp. milk
1 cup sugar                              1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour                              1 cup chocolate chips
2 tsp. baking powder                1/2 cup crushed walnuts
1/2 tsp. salt

Combine pumpkin, egg, oil and sugar; beat well. 
Sift flour with baking powder, salt and cinnamon; stir into pumpkin mixture.
Mix soda and milk together; add to mixture.
Add vanilla, chocolate bits and walnuts.
Drop from teaspoons onto greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

a couple important notes:

1.  I can't imagine baking these without the walnuts.  They provide a little bit of crunchy texture to the otherwise super-moist and melty cookie.

2.  My original recipe says you could substitute 1 cup of raisins. Sounds horrible to me, but whatever floats your boat.

3.  When I got married, I hand-copied several of my mom's recipes into a cookbook.  For some reason I wrote to bake these for 5 minutes.  As a good rule-follower, for several years I made extremely gooey cookies because the recipe couldn't possibly be wrong!  I've come to the conclusion that the cookies take at least 10 minutes to get toasted just the right amount.  They're still moist, I promise! (my sister recommends 15 minutes if you like a more firm cookie)

4.  There's probably a whole bunch of ways to health 'em up by tucking in some extra whole food type ingredients. Please feel free to add your ideas in the comment section.  This year, we experimented with a gluten free version this year to send to my daughter in college.  Not sure we'll stick with this recipe, though.


Warning:  When the word gets out about these cookies you just might come home from work to find this many people in your house gobbling them up.  If this happens, may I suggest the sort of hospitality my husband offered yesterday afternoon?  Make sure you've got plenty of milk for dipping. This crew preferred chocolate.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What I'd Like My Son to Say to Me on His 23rd Birthday

Spring 1992

What I'd Like My Son to Say to Me on His 23rd Birthday

by Andrew Brian Patrick Murphy's lucky mom
My mother is scared of queen bees
She locked us into the bathroom one day. 
She was like, Follow me! Close the door! Quick!

I forgive her.
The time also she hollered obscenities to make a point
but only the four guys on the street corner were listening.

I forgive her.
The bowl-cut when I was seven, I'm still holding
A grudge. But the time she yelled "Shut up!" over
our heads toward the beer-guzzling sonsofbitches --

There’s a mom I'm glad to know. She brought me
Into this world when she was still a child.  
When she was still afraid of the dark and being alone and 

(bees!) unknown frights descending on her children. 
Every parent wants their kids to go further, be braver then them.

I killed a bug for her two nights ago, and for a hushed moment
I was like a child again,

righting wrongs, forgiving the past.

*I wrote this last year for his 22nd, but it's worth saying again.  For a long time.  
I love you, son.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

5 favorites: July reads

before the book list, here's a a favorite image from our week

Alex and Rebekah visit Washington, D.C.!

5 favorite reads in July

-- 1 --

A sweet, prosaic story full of quirky neighbors, a brave couple who gave everything they had to turn an old house in a little town into a warm, welcoming used book store.  Simple, delightful, sweet.

-- 2 --

27  A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff: (Philomel Books, 2013. 230 pages & 9 delightful cake recipes)

A simple YA novel for summer reading that involves cake, adventure, talent searching and lost luggage.  

Here's the always spot-on recommendation from the Book Lust lady, Nancy Pearl, via NPR:  Nancy Pearl Scours the Shelves For Books You Might Have Missed

-- 3 --
28  The Black Stallion by Walter Farley: (1941,  224 pages)

Summer reading for me always includes re-reading favorite books from my childhood.  I love reading Black Stallion because it makes me dream about horses.  Yes, I was that girl for a while and it's fun to remember now that I'm old and grey.

-- 4 --

29  A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams(G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York 2013. 1985. 30 essays, 351 pages, including epilogue)

Another excellent tip from the voracious Katie at Cake, Tea and Dreams.  Perfect vacation read except that I finished it much too quickly.  My only disappointment was that for a book dedicated to the "victims and survivors of the great New England hurricane of 1938"  (ironically, written during Hurricane Sandy in 2012) the storm plays a minor and late role in the story.  Still, a romantic and beachy summer read which is all I was asking the book to deliver.

-- 5 --

30  Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster, 1997. 261 pages)

Oh my, did I thoroughly enjoy this book!  What's more I read it during a week of family vacation and passed it along to my parents to read and they each loved it too!  I can't tell you the last time my Dad and I enjoyed reading the same book together.  Doris Kearns Goodwin has long been a favorite author for my history-degreed husband. Her personal story of growing up during the Baby Boom years in the NYC suburb of Rockville Center in a family committed just about equally to their Catholic faith and their love of the NY Dodgers is simple but profound.  So much of what we have been as a nation of neighborhoods like Ms. Goodwin's has been lost -- some, but not all, for the better.

Also the author was just plain adorable and I couldn't help picturing her as my own mother growing up in the same years only a short distance further upstate completely Baptist and unaware of major league baseball, but Irish, whip-smart and beloved by her neighborhood all the same.   under the sad loss of a parent

A favorite excerpt:
I opened the curtain and entered the confessional, a dark wooden booth built into the side wall of the church. As I knelt on the small worn bench, I could hear a boy's halting confession trhough the wall, his prescribed penance inaudible as the panel slid open on my side and the priest directed his attention to me.
"Yes, my child," he inquired softly. 
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my First Confession." 
"Yes, my child, and what sins have you committed?" ....
"I talked in church twenty times, I disobeyed my mother five times, I wished harm to others several times, I told a fib three times, I talked back to my teacher twice." I held my breath. 
"And to whom did you wish harm?" 
My scheme had failed. He had picked out the one group of sins that most troubled me. Speaking as softly as I could, I made my admission. 
"I wished harm to Allie Reynolds." 
"The Yankee pitcher?" he asked, surprise and concern in his voice. "And how did you wish to harm him?" 
"I wanted him to break his arm." 
"And how often did you make this wish?" 
"Every night," I admitted, "before going to bed, in my prayers." 
"And were there others?" 
"Oh, yes," I admitted. "I wished that Robin Roberts of the Phillies would fall down the steps of his stoop, and that Richie Ashburn would break his hand." 
"Is there anything else?" 
"Yes, I wished that Enos Slaughter of the Cards would break his ankle, that Phil Rizzuto of the Yanks would fracture a rib, and that Alvin Dark of the Giants would hurt his knee."  But, I hastened to add, "I wished that all these injuries would go away once the baseball season ended." 
"Are there any other sins, my child?" 
"No, Father." 
"For your penance, say two Hail Mary's, three Our Fathers, and," he added with a chuckle, "say a special prayer for the Dodgers. ..."

*Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2014 and previous years.*


Other good words online this week

          .....speaking of Wendell Berry's birthday.....


          A book-filled weekend for us all, dear ones. 

          Wednesday, August 06, 2014

          Orange [#AUGUSTBREAK2014]

          August is a good time for paying attention to the daily things, don't you think?  Today I was looking for orange and didn't have to go further than my own home.  [#AUGUSTBREAK2014]

           "Orange as the perfumed fruithanging their globes on the glossy tree,orange as pumpkins in the field,orange as butterflyweed and the monarchswho come to eat it, orange as mycat running lithe through the high grass."

          Tuesday, August 05, 2014

          A chronology of paying attention (19): Farewell Gifts

          In this season that my time is called for in places other than writing new posts, my Father gave me this idea:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory in this sacramental life.  I've skipped about 20 years in the chronological order because this week marks our three-year anniversary in Austin.  Three years ago today I shared this post about the lavish generosity our New York friends.  I don't ever want to forget it.

          Farewell Gifts

          wrote about our friends giving us a fond farewell with so many abundantly-spilled-out gifts, right?  I thought I'd share a few excerpts and photos here in this space.

          First of all, there've been worker-bee type gifts, getting our house ready to sell:  (several of these were the same horse-bee-angel people I told you about helping us move into this same house three years ago!)

          Then, there were the two, extra-mile friends (and their little cutie-pie) who helped us organize all of our crap gently-used items for a big, ol' moving sale.  Plus, all the wonderful people who showed up to support us in the blazing heat and bought stuff (and I'm thinking more than a few of them bought stuff just to be nice.)

          I didn't take a picture of the garage sale. Pretty average stuff.
           But this dinner to celebrate with our generous, kind-hearted, helper friends
           was way above-average Chinese cooking!

          All along, behind my back, the Worship & Arts team I've been privileged to serve with for 13 years and lead for the last three were putting together the World's Most Perfect Farewell Party.  

          It looked a bit like this:

          With amazing works of culinary art that looked something like this:

          After that, these people gave words, songs, laughs, and other assorted gifts with jaw-dropping generosity.  They made me laugh and they made me cry.  Sometimes both at the same time:

          But, mostly, they made me cry.  Like when Coleen read an essay of the last eight years of our family's friendship.
          "Let's go to Cleveland" we all said. "Test the waters of a Murphy/Gravelding mini-family vacation. If it sucks, at least we've seen the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame." 
          So we all chuck our anxiety-filled rejection issues about close friendships and decide to go all-in."

          Scott's song-words in "Laughter and Lament":
          "Seems like yesterday, church bells, Boston, October morning...
          So swift the news came, left us feeling stranded without a warning.
          But this family is bigger than a couple of thousand miles...So we'll put on our good brave face...and smile.
          It's not phony you see, just a little hard to accept...Your stepping out, even letting go of dreams you've kept.
          Cue the heartstrings, enough sad things...choking words too many or too few.
          Strike up the band, let's join hands...maybe a praise chorus will do.
          Everybody sing where you are...Tomorrow we may be too far
          From each other and one another.
          Everybody listen when we go...Hear the journey God only knows
          The laughter and lament as we ebb and flow...."

          Andrea's song, "Piece of You":
          "We have shared each other's sorrows
          Validated hurts and fears
          Loudly applauded days of triumph
          Bared our souls and witnessed tears
          But we both know every great story twists and changes
          Unexpected bends in the road
          when today becomes little more than a memory,
          I want you to know, I want you to know
          There's a piece of you written up on me."

          Brett's poem, "The Table":

          "The anchoress has walked without a camera, with one hand plunged in
          Puget Sound and the other in your exploding right.
          She cries 'Glorious! Incandescent!' as she feels the spinning hole spin.
                     The light
          That burned her wings is showing mine within
          The Mirror of Day's silver backing, Night.

          It issues shimmering from shivering kingdom culverts. Before me
          Tonight in light of its veilless valence I am able 
          To see each molecule vibrate within this glow-glory
          And I in trance substantial tell its story
          Of insatiable realness, exorbitant and stable."

          There was so much more. Dawn and Debbie's unassuming hilarity, Pastor Sal's words of affirmation, Christine's unknown challenge to me from Proverbs 31, Margaret's superb selection of readings from L'Engle.  And presents. Oh the presents!  Money to purchase art, hand-crafted jewelry, photographs and drawings.  I am a woman welled-over with gratitude.

          And there's more to say.  But not today.  Today I need to sleep for a few hours and then pack my four courageous, kingdom-culvert children plus one speckly dog into two cars and follow my husband to Austin.  We're still licking our wounds a bit, I'll admit.  Still in mourning over lost dreams.  Still shaking our heads at the lunacy of leaving behind these once-in-a-lifetime kind of friendships.

          But I'm thinking long about Louisville or Little Rock, we'll throw our black armbands out the window and holler at  the big Texas sky.  Or maybe, as the lyrics in my friend Scott's song:
          "Just maybe you will be singing this song
          When the whole Murphy clan grabs Austin by the hand and says,
          'Baby, here we are'..."

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