When You Are Five

When you are five, you snuggle close to Mama in the top bunk just before bedtime.  After stories are told and a few million questions are half-way answered you say, “Oh, that reminds me,” and roll onto your side, pressing your little bum against her leg.  A sudden “B-rrrrrr” echoes through the room, followed closely by the high notes of a little boy’s giggle.  Mama is surprised and not surprised at all.  The laughter of two sings together at your silly, gassy habits and a prayer is whispered that she may survive the rancid business of raising boys.

When you are five, you scale the kitchen counters like a professional mountain climber.  You eat rainbow sprinkles straight from the jar and handfuls of chocolate chips that are hidden in the back of the fridge.  You leave compelling evidence scattered across the counter tops and in the tracks of chocolate smudged across your cheek.  

When you are five, you still fit perfectly in your Mama’s arms.  There is just a lot more of you to hold.  Instead of the being wrapped in a small blanketed cocoon, there is an abundance of gangly appendages dangling in every direction.  There are bony elbows and knobby knees jabbing and wriggling against Mama’s soft flesh.  Your shins are covered with bruises and scrapes that mark brave ideas gone awry.  And your brow is the most accurate mood ring ever made – revealing all emotion in the height of its arch or the absence of one.

When you are five, you dance in the pouring rain.  Your feet love to walk across the smooth stones that line the bottom of a cold river; you sunbathe in your underwear.  You jump off furniture, wage transformer battles, and love to climb and conquer the branches of a tree.  You play backyard baseball, Old Maid, and race laps through the house.  You love to catch fish, to go hiking, and have been known to occasionally wear clothes.  You are constantly noticing the world, making sense of what you see and comparing it with all that you know to be true. 

Five years ago, I held you in my arms for the very first time.  I was thankful and exhausted and filled with love.  I am still all of these.  It is our greatest joy to watch you grow, to laugh and love, to snuggle and play each day. 

Wishing our sweet Jackson, an amazing fifth birthday filled to the brim with all of your favorites.  We love you so very much!  

Now, go put on some clothes!

yoga in the buff
dancing in the rain
climbing trees by the river
first day at home
seriously, why am I in a chicken suit?
first birthday
2 years old
working on his tan


A Love Story 

 My mom sat at her desk one January morning in 1969 while her fingers moved with nimble grace across the keys of her typewriter. Someone rushed past her desk and the girl working beside her leaned over and said, “Hey, he’s cute!” She looked up just in time to catch a glimpse of a young engineer rushing through the office. His plaid sport coat hung across his tall, lean frame. Beneath it he wore a light blue shirt and a skinny tie that had been his father’s. A full head of dark hair was combed neatly and parted on the side. Watching him from across the room, she realized her co-worker’s words could have easily been her own. 

Because the Richmond GE did not yet have its own engineering department, a rotating “engineer of the week” worked in the building.  My dad arrived that Monday morning and would spend the coming week providing support for the factory as was needed.  It turned out that a week would be just enough time to change everything for Sharon and Pete.

Time ticked by in a whirlwind of typing and shorthand, meetings and decisions.  Eventually their paths would cross.  On Thursday the secretaries sat down together for lunch.  They were chatting and laughing when Pete approached their table.  His eyes met Sharon’s as he explained rather matter-of-fact, “If you give me your keys, I’ll start your car.  You left your lights on and your battery is dead.”  Though they’d not spoken before this moment, she reached into her purse, grabbed her keys, and passed them into his hands.  He walked out into the pouring rain to jump start her car.  

All of the ladies turned to Sharon.  “Who is he?” one of the girls whispered as he walked away.

“I don’t know.  I think he’s the engineer of the week.” she stammered.

Brows arched upward and eyes glanced at each other in disbelief.  “Wait a minute.  You just handed him your keys and you don’t know him?  We aren’t buying it.”

Sharon’s ivy yellow ’69 Cougar

At the end of the day, she walked out to the parking lot and discovered that her ’69 Cougar started up just fine.  She had an appointment on the south side of Richmond to get her hair washed and set.  She pulled out of the lot and glancing into the rear view mirror, recognized the driver in the red Barracuda behind her.  It was the same guy who had fixed her car that afternoon.  Merging onto I-95 South toward Petersburg, she noticed Pete’s car was still trailing her.  “That’s strange,” she thought to herself, “I wonder where he’s going?”  

Pete’s red Barracuda

Eventually she took her exit, passed her daddy’s store and turned into the hair salon parking lot.  Wouldn’t you know, Pete’s car pulled into the hair salon too.  She got out of the car and recognized a co-worker, Larry Van, sitting in the passenger seat of the Barracuda.  As she walked by, Pete leaned across his friend and asked, “Would you go to dinner with me?” 

She thought for a second before she declined the offer.  With a nervous smile she explained that she was hesitant to go out with someone she worked with and knew so little about.

But it wasn’t a complete bust for Pete.  He drove off that evening with Sharon’s phone number in hand.

She drove home that evening thinking of all the unusual happenings of the day.  Soon she was back home and running up the sidewalk with her stylish short hair teased high.  Her mother stepped out the front door just as she approached.  “Has anyone called, Mama? she asked.

“Yeah.  Who’s Pete from GE?” her mother questioned.

He called back later that evening and they spent two hours on the telephone.  He lived in Waynesboro, but the two wrote letters to each other quite often and nearly every weekend he made the trip back to Richmond to visit her.  

By June, Sharon was wearing an engagement ring to work.  By the end of September, the two were married.

All of this happened forty-seven years ago.  In the years that followed, they have lived in three different states, seven different homes, they have raised four daughters and are the proud grandparents to nine grandchildren.  Their 47 years of marriage are cause for great celebration.  I wonder at all that has happened in the passing of these years.  How many cups of coffee have they sipped together?  How much laughter have they shared?  How many arguments have been waged?  How many sorrows lessened?  How has their love changed?  How has it grown?  

I’m so thankful that they found each other, that she noticed him in the office, that he went out in the rain to jumpstart her car, that love won.  This will always, always be one of my favorite stories.  Happy 47th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Action and Stillness, Salamanders and Dragonflies

Many a summer day started with the boys hauling a large bucket down to the lake shore and filling it to the brim with water.  They left it behind as they waded into the cold water with me.  A great sand storm swirled below the surface as six feet moved with quiet determination in search of salamanders.  

“There’s one here!” Jackson shouted.  My eyes searched the murky water and spied a salamander at rest down below.  Reaching through the water, I cupped my hands around the front and back of his soft body, but he was elusive.  With a swift wave of his tail, he darted up and away, just out of reach.  I followed close behind and we played this cat and mouse game for several rounds until finally, my hands gently folded around him and carried his wriggling body into the summer air.

“You caught him!” Jackson hollered.  “Let me hold him! Let me hold him!”  

“In just a second,” I replied.  We huddled together and watched him closely in the cradle fashioned from my two hands.  His skin shined an earthy green, and black speckles painted his smooth body.  Two peppercorn eyes stared back at us as he trudged across the palm of my hand, having shed his graceful motion in the lake below.  

We waded back toward the shore, and I dropped him into his private little pool inside the waiting bucket.  Jackson doted on him and named him Acorn, but my work wasn’t yet done.  

Parker would want one as well.  I followed the same strategy until I caught yet another one.  The morning passed with endless motion as the boys took care of a bit of life with their wrinkled fingers.  

While catching salamanders begins with an action, it is not surprising that catching dragonflies is a completely different undertaking – it is all about stillness.  We discovered this one afternoon while I stood with Parker out by the diving boards under sky blue skies.  He watched dozens of dragonflies flit through the air around us.  He bounced and darted with outstretched arms and expectant fingers hoping for a catch, but always came up empty handed.  

He grew frustrated and took a little break.  Instead of chasing after them, he watched them zoom along, their wings humming softly as they whirled by.  And then, unexpectedly, he caught one. In the stillness, they came closer and closer until one came to rest upon his tiny arm.  

“Don’t move! You caught one!”  I pointed out.  His eyes glanced downward and smiled proudly, having finally procured a dragonfly.  The moment lasted little more than an instant and then our dragonfly took flight again, but we were hooked.  We became statues that day, with outstretched arms warmed by the sun’s bright rays.  In our stillness, the dragonflies came to trust us as a place of refuge where they could rest their delicate wings.

The more I watch the world, the more I notice opposing forces all around me – the push and pull between action and stillness, sorrow and joy, chaos and peace; each one the perfect counterpart to the other half, neither better nor worse, neither right nor wrong. Much like the way the inhale and exhale of our breath partner together to sustain life, these opposing forces are ever present.  We oscillate between them over minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years.   

I’m learning that some pursuits require a purposeful action while others are best realized through stillness, or inaction.  Knowing which to employ can be difficult to discern.  What are we trying to catch, salamanders or dragonflies? 

May we be brave enough to take action, to jump all in, to make a change, to do, to act, to catch a salamander.  And may we be brave enough to do the exact opposite; to quiet ourselves; to be still with our energy; to rest, to watch, to listen, to catch a dragonfly.  

These two opposing forces are shaping our stories every single day.  They are our inhale and our exhale.  Most certainly, we need both.