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Day Eleven: The Thanksgiving Tree

November 27th, 2013

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Several years ago, we started a Thanksgiving tradition at our house — a Thanksgiving Tree. It was a quirky little idea designed to help us all cultivate gratitude during the season. The kids went in search of an interesting branch at the farm, and we braced it with a bunch of rocks in a pot on our dining table. Every day at dinner time during the week or so prior to Thanksgiving, we each shared one thing we were grateful for. The kids were young and couldn’t write, so I recorded their little moments of gratitude on cut pieces of colored paper and hung them on the “tree.” During that year, they were thankful for things like the color red and chicken nuggets and various Disney movies. And Mommy and Daddy. We didn’t end up doing our Thanksgiving Tree tradition last year in all the craziness, but this year I was determined we would start it again.

We did. On our first farm walk earlier this week, the kids and I went in search of a suitable branch. We found “it” down at the curve of the road. It was actually two nearly bare gray branches we held up together and determined they could work when paired together. Drummer Boy led the charge to gather rocks from the gravel road in our buckets and used them to scotch the branches together in a green crock pitcher. It’s been sitting at the end of our table leaving ample room for serving dishes but also reminding us of the holiday.

So, we’ve been naming blessings. And writing them down. And hanging them on a tree. This year, I created a printable Thanksgiving hang tag that I shared in some of my Small Pond Graphics communications. Baby Girl and Bug got into the fun of cutting them out and punching holes in them. Sometimes at breakfast and sometimes at dinner this week, we’ve each chosen our hangable and our crayon. The kids are old enough now to write their own thankful words with a little spelling help. I’m proud of them for thinking carefully about what to write, and their smiles at choosing the best hanging spot make me smile too.

As with most young traditions, I’m not sure the kids really “get” the tradition part. But, as I’ve seen with other crazy Mom ideas, I imagine that as we continue to repeat each year they will come to be the ones reminding me how it should be done. I guess that’s how traditions work. That makes me smile. I want this act to be part of who we are. This act of giving thanks. Of counting blessings. It’s so easy to indulge them, to give them everything I possibly can. But, I want them to understand the importance of gratitude, of nurturing a grateful heart, of knowing that blessings come in all kinds of packages. I hope you enjoy a glimpse at some of our blessings. May you and yours enjoy counting a few of your own.

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© Haley Montgomery

Day Nine: Conversations with Baby Girl

November 25th, 2013

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Yesterday as we were enjoying some time inside the farm house between cold walks, Baby Girl and I were hanging out on my bed. At the farm she has always shared a room with me, and it’s become a special thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes those down times are ripe for conversations — the ones that help me see her heart.

Baby Girl turned five in August. She was barely four when her father died, and of course sometimes our conversations about that situation are heart-breaking. She has always been the most expressive about Mike’s death which means that I am more likely to field those difficult questions and comments with her. Little girls have special relationships with their fathers. I do. And, so often I find myself looking for ways to help her deal with that loss while trying to shore up her memories.

I wrote last week about how much of a blessing time has been for me in giving me enough distance and processing of the situation with Mike to now begin to talk about him more freely and with more joy. I’ve seen how much that has helped Baby Girl in particular.

Because she is so young, sometimes I see her searching. Like she is trying to make her memories of her father more solid and real. That’s a process we are all going through. Everyone else just has more time — more memories — to pull from. So, she asks me questions. In surprising moments of contentment and safety, she asks. Times like yesterday afternoon.

We were hanging out on my bed in the farm house. She laid down on the side of the bed beside the wall next to where I sleep and asked of that was where Daddy slept. She began to explain to me how Daddy had used this bed to change her diapers and how he had picked her up from her bed when she woke up during the early morning hours and taken her to the farm house living room.

She’s told me this before. She repeats it for me occasionally. And asks, “is that right?” And I tell her “yes.” Every time she smiles to know that Daddy took care of her and changed her diaper and helped her when she needed to go back to sleep. Yesterday I told her that this was one of Daddy’s favorite things to do. I explained what I had all but forgotten myself. That Mike had often gotten up at the farm to play with her in the mornings — when toddlers always seem to wake. He did it to let me sleep. And to be with Baby Girl.

To write about it is still painful. I’m not quite at the stage where it is pure joy to remember the kindnesses Mike showed me, the kindness of his character, and the love he had for his children. I’m not sure I’ll ever count those memories as pure joy. They may always be twinged with the reality of his death and his choice to die. But, it is important for me to remember them again. And it’s important for Baby Girl to remember them. For me to be able to tell her “yes, that’s right.” To freely elaborate and give her more of the account of her father. To nurture those memories she treasures. What we all treasure. I’ve realized how important it is for me to help her hold them dear.

I’m learning how precious those moments of sharing are for our family. And for my own process of moving forward. I’m learning that it’s ok to show my children my tears and to give them permission to show their own. I’m learning that it is healthy and good for us to ask questions together and answer them together. I’m learning that joy does indeed come in the morning of our grief as we are slowly waking to those moments of truth and remembrance.

© Haley Montgomery

Day Eight: The Gift of Attention

November 24th, 2013

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Doing nothing accomplishes a lot sometimes. I love these kinds of days — days when we have no plans. Days when we feel that freedom to do what we want. We actually always have that freedom, but with the push and pull of work and school and schedules and to do lists, we don’t always feel the freedom. Today we did.

This is the reason I like to bring us here. To feel that freedom. To choose that freedom. To enjoy each other just for the simple fact we belong together. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.

Our “nothing” day included walking on gravel roads, finding colorful leaves, painting art projects, climbing on hay bales, laughing at movies and napping — all together. They all talk at once. They all run at once. They all laugh at once. My name is shouted a hundred times, and my attention is pulled in a thousand directions in response. But, it’s funny how there’s never a time when I’m more focused. Days like these make me “conscious of my treasures,” as Thornton Wilder said.

I’m not writing much today, mainly just a simple thought that’s been festering in my mind through our wandering… In these days I can see how our own grateful hearts keep us focused on things that matter. And I can see how the gift of attention is one of the greatest I can give — to myself and to my children.

© Haley Montgomery

Day Five: Bug

November 21st, 2013

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12 Days of Thanksgiving

November 21 is always an easy day in my 12-day Thanksgiving series. On November 21, 2006 one of the most exuberant, passionate and creative souls entered my life. My Bug was born.

Bug, Little Drummer Boy and Baby Girl have shown amazing resilience this past year. Every day I’m amazed by them and how much they pull me forward. Every day I learn from their courage in facing this new world. In taking this new world as their own. I’ve written before that Bug does and feels nothing halfway. He speaks and sings and dances and learns and expresses with such detail and excitement, fully invested in each move — so driven to do it right and do it all the way. Such a powerful lesson for my own heart. Every day I realize more just how much I have to learn from this young man.

Happy Birthday, Bug.

© Haley Montgomery

The Easiest Day

November 21st, 2012

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12 Days of Thanksgiving: DAY ELEVEN

I felt my own eyes light up.

I was trying to follow some story Bug was telling this afternoon. A bear and a baby bear were the key players, and I believe he was differentiating these bears from panda bears in terms of how long they stay small or learn to climb or something. Obviously, I didn’t get the full gist of it. I was trying to get the photo above to commemorate this day. And then I was distracted by looking in his eyes. Watching him tell the tale (which I now believe was grounded in some books from his K5 classroom). His face was pure pride and joy over the facts and the opportunity to convey them to me. And I felt my own eyes light up. I love how just listening to Bug lets me take so much delight. Just putting aside the other tasks or the need to hurry the story along or the impulse to answer every other distraction looming. I’m always amazed by the quietness it brings to my spirit to listen carefully to all that chatter.

It’s one of the lessons I continue to learn from Bug. I learn it from the others too, but it always seems more powerful from Bug. I imagine it’s because the other two don’t speak with nearly the passion and excitement that Bug does — at least not every single time. Bug is rarely indifferent. No, he has strong opinions, strong likes and dislikes, a strong sense of injustice, strong emotions, and a strong laugh. And yet, as the middle child, Bug so often finds himself in the position of compromise. Compromise and great passion don’t always easily co-exist, but I see him navigate those waters with grace. And I’m afraid his greatest bargaining place is often MY attention.

Bug daily teaches me the simple joy of listening. Because he listens. To everything and thinks about so much of it. And presents it back to me in his own ways of understanding. He teaches me about power of undivided attention. Because he needs it. Like we all do. Being that middle child, even I recognize that he sometimes finds himself on the short end of undivided attention where mommy-time is concerned — stuck between the baby sister and the older, more knowledgeable brother. He lets me know he needs more through constant questions, a healthy decibel level and by quietly sitting as close as humanly possible by my side. When I’m tempted to give in to the frustration of being in constant demand from my three-ring circus, I just have to look at Bug to be set aright.

Whatever story he is waiting to tell is poised in a very tightly reined exuberance that I know is just about to burst forth into something extremely important. At least extremely important to Bug. His stories are long and winding. He often starts over when he forgets his word or train of thought. He usually stops to ask, “can you please listen to all of this?” And then he starts again. It’s not necessarily an easy process to follow from start to finish. At least not while in the perpetually losing battle of multi-tasking. So, on a day like today I give up.

I give up and give him everything. All the attention I have. Listening just as passionately as he is speaking. With the same urgency as his need to share the information. And I feel the power of that concentrated listening as my own eyes light up to match the sparkle in his.

I’m reminded that one of the greatest gifts I can give — and the greatest blessing I can receive — is to listen. For as long as it takes.

Today is by far the easiest day to be thankful. Six years ago, my Bug entered this world and has been leaving his mark on my life every day since. Happy birthday, love. You never cease to fill my heart with joy.

© Haley Montgomery

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    Thank you for seven years of encouragement and sharing this story. You can find Haley's current essays and design work at smallpondgraphics.com

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