Stationary set becomes a gift of life

Daddy didn’t come around when I was a child, but I recall a particular time he brought a small present for each of us. I loved Daddy and presents and didn’t get enough of either in my life.

I opened my box with restrained enthusiasm and caught my breath to see a stationary set. The lined pages were periwinkle, with a row of brown teddy bears across the top of the page and a matching pen. I smiled and said thank you, but inwardly I wrapped my skinny arms around his neck and shouted “I love you!”


Writing was my catharsis. We shared a lot of chatty surface conversation in our family, but didn’t know how to go deep. Most of our emotional pain was expressed physically, through hard work, and anger, instead of verbally. I fleshed out my heart with pen and paper, like wielding an ax to the root of my misplaced emotions. Writing was my alternate universe, a place where I could dream beyond our old frame house and the community that confined me there. I wrote daydreams that would color the cheeks of my demure peers, and released pain through my pen that would have otherwise devoured my soul.

This stationary set was much more than a present. It was really a gift of life.

Writing Mama

5:30 am

Releasing words

On blank page

Husband stirs, coughs,

Releases his own gas

Into the atmosphere

Cats scratch hungrily at the door

Dogs want scratched too, by me

Baby calls for mama

Another needs covers

The third isn’t sure

He can go back to sleep

Just like that my quiet space,

My blank page

Is gobbled up

By the humans and animals I love

The words stay stuck

Inside my head

For one more day

Humor, havoc, heartache, and harmony

An peak into the cadence of our lives.

Why yes, yes there ARE bright pink plastic tablecloths duct taped to my mostly faithful mini van currently parked in the grass of our front yard.

We spent part of the weekend going back and forth to my brother’s camp. After spending a few hours there Saturday, the children and I returned to clean up for my niece’s goodbye party. She left for basic training this weekend to become an Army mechanic.

I was cooking pasta for a salad to contribute to her goodbye meal, when quarter-sized rain drops began to pelt the window. I bolted to the van for the keys I had placed in the cup holder, but alas, they were nowhere to be seen. I remembered the girls lingering briefly in the van when we got home, and our 2-year-old took immediate responsibility for the missing keys. Except that she had no idea where she’d put them!

I pilfered through trash inside and out, scoured the van, rummaged my pocketbook (which deserves it’s own real estate in a blog), all while buckets of rain poured into the open van windows. It’s here I sheepishly admit we only have one set of keys, so we were up the creek if you get my drift.

We missed my niece’s goodbye party. My husband came home from working on our townhouse we are prepping to sell and my mom came to watch the children so we could go get a vehicle from my husband’s car lot to drive in the meantime. As heartbroken as I was to miss the goodbye party, I could only be so frustrated with our adorable little daughter, and I literally laugh out loud every time I see those pink tablecloths on the van. (New keys are on the way today!)

I received a call last week to provide the message for a worship service for the Mid Atlantic Burn Camp’s thirtieth reunion. I was honored to be a small part of this amazing outreach, and once I had confirmed my availability, gave them a yes. But availability for an hour on a Sunday morning, doesn’t factor in preparation, so in between focusing on time with family and other events, I found myself writing the message at midnight Saturday!

Regardless of my personal circumstances demanding attention elsewhere, we had a lovely time together Sunday morning.

A highlight of the Labor Day Weekend was our 7-year-old daughter and I running our first 5K together! I’ve been running all summer. She is bouncy and always active, but hadn’t trained for running. We wanted to participate in this particular event because it was in memory of a young girl who died of cancer and provides scholarships for a summer camp.

As we started running, I encouraged her to pace herself and let me know at any time if she needed to walk. She ran 3.13 miles in 34:32 and placing first in her age group! She would have shaved minutes off her time of she hadn’t stayed behind with me! That time together with my daughter for such a meaningful cause was euphoric.

This weekend also included addressing bullying in various forms, a doctor visit for one of our children, last minute babysitting a toddler overnight, two terrible accidents involving people we care deeply about, “a paint project” by our youngest, and birthday party planning for our son this week, among other things.

Among the general excitement and busyness for the coming months is an incredible opportunity for me to spend a weekend with the lovely Helena Clare Pittman for a memoir writing retreat! I’ve been busy writing and preparing to make the most of this opportunity.

I’m always grateful for your interaction here, even when my posts are sporadic. My writing and readership community are like the friends who, regardless of how much time passes between interactions, we pick right back up where we left off.

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect. Anais Nin

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. Sylvia Plath

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. Toni Morrison

Veins

As I child, I noticed mom’s hands

Worn from labors of farming and gardening

I pushed in her blue veins

And laughed as they filled again

They looked so different than my smooth soft hands

Now that I am Mom

My hands too, are worn from labors

I hold my young daughter

She laughs as she manipulates my blue veins

They Know Their Sister

They know their sister by tear-stained photographs

By a worn-out guestbook from her funeral service

They know her by playing in a cemetery

Around a cold hard tombstone

They know their sister by our “Sadie Rose” friends

By support meetings and remembrance ceremonies

They know their sister by the faraway look in mommy’s eyes

By the silences, the tears, the whispers of her name

They know her by the scent of a flower

By a butterfly’s soft-winged flight

They know their sister by the cloud’s silver lining

And by the stars that light the night

How I wish they could play with her, hold her hand, kiss her goodnight

But they are content knowing her in this way

Always looking for reminders of her presence

And, as only children can, they accept that this is how they know her

And they love her, just as they know her

Minivan Mom

With apologies to minivan moms who would never find stale fries underneath seats and who are comfortable in designer clothes. I salute you!

This post originated from a conversation with a best friend yesterday about the stigma of moms and minivans. Since I love poetry and it’s April/National Poetry Month, I couldn’t help but honor my minivan with a poem.

Minivan Mom

By Regina Cyzick Harlow

4/6/18

Hat hides uncombed hair

Yoga pants and maxi skirts

Feel good on a shape

That has birthed babies

And bears the look of one

Who stress eats and sneaks treats

From the children’s candy jar

Fancy vehicles feel as much a misfit on her

As designer clothes

Skinned knuckles reveal

Wrestling matches

With car seats and buckles

Stale fries underneath seats

Reminds her of bargaining for sanity

Sticky-fingered handprints

And cartooned stickers

Placed haphazardly on smudged windows

Evokes smiles

As she revels in the unspeakable joys of motherhood

I am she and she is me

I am a proud minivan Mom

As much as I own “minivan Mom” status, I have very few photos to prove it. Someone snapped this when I was leading runners and walkers for our annual 5K.

Then there’s that time we were snowed in.

And the other time when a summer storm brought a tree branch down on my van.

And that’s about all I’ve got for photos.

Currently my van is in the repair shop and I’m driving an SUV. The lovely folks in the school pick-up line shout out, “that’s a nice ride,” but I can’t wait to be back in this white beauty. (In the eyes of the beholder, right?)

Living Hope in Death

Every time I attend funeral services for an Old Order Mennonite family member or friend, I wish those “outside” could experience their death rituals, rich with culture, community, and faith. The horse-drawn hearse and the four-part-harmony singing make me cry every time.

This week I attended the funeral for my great Aunt Mary. Later that evening, I wrote this poem about the graveside portion of the service.

Stoic Hope

Regina Cyzick Harlow

2/27/2018

From Aunt Mary Beery’s funeral

Shovels scratch

Dirt onto the coffin

Filling the grave

Formed from dust

To dust returning

Mourners

Black hats

Black shawls

Sturdy shoes

Singing

Shoveling

Discretely wiping tears

Faint florals blend

With horses

Leather

Farm

And moth balls

Wafting on the breeze

Sunshine

Blue sky

Breathing deep

Crisp air

Inhaling the promise

Of Living Hope

For those unfamiliar with Old Order Mennonites, they are often confused with Amish because they drive horse and buggy, dress plainly, and live simple agrarian lives. My family and I were raised in the Old Order Mennonite faith, and while I had my reasons for leaving as a young adult, I hold many things and people dear from their community.

My friend, Ava, wrote an in-depth article about their death rituals here. She captures the essence of what happens at the time of death through the funeral in vivid beautiful detail.

Here is a link to a photography essay of an Old Order Mennonite Family by a friend of mine, of life-long family friends/neighbors.