family · Grief · Life

I Remember Mama

I’ve had times when I wanted to throw in the towel. One tiny bit of advice carried me through those better than any other.

Children are a lot of work. Large families have a unique set of challenges.

For instance, when a family grows from two to three children, mom doesn’t have enough hands when walking to the library with the children. She can hold the hand of one child on her right and the other on her left, but where does the third child go?

When a family grows from three children to four children, they can’t all ride in one car, unless, I suppose, they have a bench seat in the front, which we didn’t.

When a family grows from five children to six children, they can’t fit into a mini-van. Driving a 15-passenger van is overkill, but there aren’t many choices or 12 passenger vans out there.

I had eight children. My mother-in-law had thirteen. Thirteen!

One of the first times I went to their house, she took me by the hand and we walked to their large vegetable garden. I still remember the feel of her hands, calloused and strong. She worked so hard. She earned those hands.

She was a hugger. My own mother was not a hugger. Sometimes huggy people feel awkward to those of us who haven’t always had those outward displays of affection. But it seemed such a natural extension of who she was.

Basically, she was amazing and made everything look easy.

One day I asked her when I was struggling with my two or three or six children — “How do you do it?”

In her sweet, sweet way, she said, “Oh, Sally, you just do.”

You just do. Those are hefty words to live by.

And honestly, I have failed at just doing sometimes too many times.

Still, that simple exchange was one of the most unforgettable conversations in my life.

She passed away this week.

But I remember Mama.

Mama (R) with her mother (center) and brother (L)
A to Z Blogging Challenge · family · Homeschool · Life

You Do You

OR: A Letter to My Children

Dear Kids,

I am so proud of you. Each of you has pursued something that you love. Some of you have found a career. Some of you are still searching, but I feel like you are on the right path and that’s the biggest part of the struggle.

Remember when you were growing up and I was doing a pretty crappy job of homeschooling? Sometimes I look back on that and am amazed at how far you’ve gone in spite of me.

Did I check your workbooks? Once in a blue moon.

Did I make sure that you wrote those book reports? Not nearly often enough.

Did I follow through on those papers you were supposed to write? Sometimes. (Epic fail in that department was that time I bet one of you that some contestant would not win on Survivor. “If they win,” I said, “you don’t have to do finish that paper.” What an idiot bet. Of course, they won.)

When you complained that something was too hard or that you couldn’t do it because you thought you weren’t smart enough, did I tell you that it’s not how smart you are, it’s how you’re smart? Yes — often enough that it elicited eye-rolls whenever I said it.

But I truly believe that with all my heart. Each one of you has a unique set of gifts and talents. If you can learn to put those to work, you will feel fulfilled with whatever your career choice is.

The first time I heard the expression “You do you” I didn’t like it. I thought it was said in a condescending way, with a hint of a sneer.

Of course that was years ago and I don’t remember the exact words leading up to that expression, but here’s the gist of what I remember — That thing that you’re talking about doing is the kind of thing I can’t picture any sane or normal person even dreaming about. It’s absolutely nuts. But, you do you.

Yesterday, I sat in the lobby of the gym and was telling someone about you. “I’m so proud of them all,” I told her. You’ve started your own business, pursued higher education, settled in new areas, changed career focus a few times as you hone what you really want to pursue, studied and studied some more, overcome difficult life circumstances, found delight in new areas, and followed your dreams.

I am so very very proud of you. You’ve all done a really good job being you.

Love,

Mom

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?

Advent sidenote: The ultimate you-do-you is seen at Christmas and at Easter. Jesus’ life is bookended with chapters that don’t make sense. I know this didn’t actually happen, but can you picture the eye-rolls in heaven when the plan was revealed — a virgin mother, traveling near her due-date, turned away from the inn, and the Son of God bing born in a stable. That thing that You’re talking about doing is the kind of thing I can’t picture any sane Son of God even dreaming about. It’s absolutely nuts. But, You do You. And He did.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · Faith · family

Questions

I have a thousand questions.

Maybe more.

I think I’ve always been this way, too. I have two distinct memories of my mother expressing her frustration to me regarding all my questions.

One was when she was pregnant with my youngest brother and a button flew off her housecoat. I don’t remember the actual question I asked, but I do remember her response — “It’s because of the baby!” I suppose I should I have known that but I didn’t. Maybe I had already asked her 653 questions about her growing belly or maybe she had already tried to tell me 653 times about this new member of the family who would be arriving soon. In any event, it all became real when the button flew off her housecoat.

A few weeks after the housecoat fiasco

The second time was several years later. On the kitchen counter I had found this interesting looking plastic circle thing. I could spin it and I could see that there were little pills inside. My mother saw me playing with it and snatched it away.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s mine,” she said.

“But what is it?” I persisted.

“It’s so I won’t have any more babies,” she snapped, and she sounded so angry at me and all my questions that I learned to keep most of them to myself. I had a lot more questions about that plastic circular pill dispenser — but those questions wouldn’t be answered for many years.

But questions — I love questions.

I started gathering all the questions in the Bible into my journals.

Reducing a story to questions brings out a poignancy we might miss otherwise. Take these four questions, all asked by Isaac in the same chapter:

  • Who are you, my son?
  • How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?
  • Are you really my son Esau?
  • Who are you?

I’m always working through a section of the Old Testament and a section of the New Testament concurrently — one OT question per day and one NT question per day. The same same few days when I was writing Isaac’s questions, I journaled these questions asked by Jesus in the book of Matthew:

  • Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
  • But who do you say that I am?

The very first question in the book of John is “Who are you?”

So many questions about identity!

When I was reading Howard Thurman’s books and books about Howard Thurman, I found that he had three questions he liked to ask young people. I scribbled them down on a post-it note that I keep handy

  • Who are you? Who are you really? (identity)
  • What are you for? Or, what do you want? (purpose)
  • How will you get it? (means)

Sometimes, in yoga, when I’m trying to relax into long pose, I ponder those questions.

I ask God those questions, too — sometimes about Him, more often about me. Who am I? Who am I really?

God hasn’t snapped at me yet.


Things I like: questions.

Things I don’t like: When people look at me like I just asked the stupidest question on the face of the earth.

A to Z Blogging Challenge · family

Family Feud

This is my own A-to-Z Challenge for the month of June — likes and dislikes. If you want to join me, just add a comment naming something you like and something you don’t like that begin with the letter F.


I love my family. I may have already mentioned that half a zillion times.

I like them.

I love them.

I think they’re amazing.

I’m proud of them.

I love spending time with them.

Since the wedding, a number of people have stopped at the front desk and asked to see photographs. I have a few on my phone, but my favorite one is this:

Those are all my children! Aren’t they wonderful?!

I was showing this photo to a woman who comes in to swim every day and she called her husband over to see it. “Look!” she said, “These are all Sally’s children!”

He shook his head. “I can’t believe it. Eight of them!”

“Look at this photo,” she said again. “That’s a great family!”

He looked at me and shook his head again. “I just can’t wrap my mind around it. You gave birth to all those children?”

I smiled and nodded. “Having those kids was the most fun thing ever,” I said. Then added — “well, maybe not the giving-birth part, but raising eight children was fun. We played games together, read together, ate together nearly every night. It was a lot of work, but it was all good.”

He just shook his head a third time. “I don’t know,” he said.

But I do. I KNOW every minute was worth it.

Lest you think that every minute was perfect, let me assure it was not.

There was one time that two boys were playing medieval times and one almost jousted the other’s eye out.

And there was the time when one boy almost removed another one’s ear in a freak accident. (Same two boys incidentally.)

There was the time I came home of a shopping trip to find a little boy scooching along a thin bit of roof to get BACK to the open window he had come out of.

Oh — and that time we came home from a dinner out to find a boy with a broken arm.

We’ve had stitches and a knocked out tooth. Also, chicken pox, ear infections, strep throat, and stomach bugs upon stomach bugs. One round of stomach bugs was just after I had come home from the hospital with a new baby. Fun times.

At the end of the day we are family.

And yet we also feud. The middle child in me wants us all to get along. If I homeschooled my children with purpose, though, it was that they be able the think for themselves.

And they do.

Because of that, they cover not a linear spectrum, but a three-dimensional one. They are eight unique points in a universe, not lined up in a row at all, but all over the map. Some are very conservative, while others are very liberal. Some attend church every Sunday, while others search and question all of that. Some own guns. Some hate guns. Some hunt. Some are vegetarian. I could go on.

We gathered for a family wedding back in May. We laughed together, ate together, and celebrated together. We were family, not feud — and I really liked that.

Scottish Gaelic:
Tha gaol agam air mo theaghlach. I love my family.
Cha toil leam sabaid. I do not like fighting.


How about you? What do you like that begins with F? What do you dislike?

A to Z Blogging Challenge · family

B things

This is my own A-to-Z Challenge for the month of June — likes and dislikes. If you want to join me, just add a comment of something you like that begins with the letter B and something you don’t like.


“What’s something I like that begins with B?” I asked Mary.

“Biscotti,” she said immediately. Ooh, I do like biscotti.

“Books,” she said.

“Bosnia.”

“Blue.”

Does this girl know me or what?

“Bugs,” she said.

“I don’t like bugs,” I replied.

“But you need a ‘don’t like,’ don’t you?” she said.

That was the problem. I had had an idea for a post, but when I sat down to write it, my words went off in a direction and I was stuck with a “don’t like” that I hadn’t expected. Sometimes that happens.

But I really do like biscotti, books, Bosnia (one of my best trips ever), and the color blue.

If you want to read what I don’t like, you’ll have to suffer through the next part. Please forgive the TMI.


I am not a shopper. Other than my frequent trips to the grocery store and occasional trips to Target, I really don’t spend much time shopping.

When my oldest daughter set the date for her wedding, my co-workers asked to take me shopping — dress shopping to be precise.

“Um… no,” I said.

“It’ll be fun,” they said.

“No,” I said.

“We’ll make a day of it,” they said.

“Really — no,” I said.

So I went shopping with my daughters. It was a painful experience — leafing through racks of frou-frouey dresses, trying on a few here and there. No, no, no. They all belonged on some other woman, not me. My daughters were great. They were encouraging and kind, but no. We all needed to face the fact that I was not a dress shopper.

In the end I bought some fabric and a pattern and sent them to a dear friend. She had helped me out of this very pinch once before by making a dress for me that I wore to two sons’ weddings.

My friend and I messaged back and forth. She sent me a mock-up of the bodice to make sure it would fit. Finally, about two weeks before the wedding, she mailed the package.

I waited.

And waited.

I messaged her that it hadn’t come. She went to the post office. The tracking number was dead. I pictured my package falling off the conveyor belt of a vast postal facility and getting kicked into some dim corner. Dead.

The wedding was in three days.

This meant another round of dreaded dress-shopping. This time I found one.

But here’s the very worst part of the whole ordeal. Because of the neckline of the dress I found, I had to go bra shopping.

I HATE bra shopping — and that’s my B.

And that’s enough said about THAT.

My new dress matched my daughters perfectly.

 In Scottish Gaelic: Is toil leam biscotti, leabhraichean, Bosnia, agus gorm. Cha toil leam ceannach airson fo-aodach.


How about you? What do you like that begins with B? What do you dislike?

family · photography

Happy Memories

A lifelong blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together.

Charlotte Kasl
All my children (at Helen’s wedding – 2022)
All my children to this point (1999)
All my children — except the oldest who was away at college (2003)
All my children — plus a daughter-in-law (2015)
Half of my children (2015)
Two of my children (2010?)
All my children (again) kicking up their heels (sort of) (2022)

Trying to find photographs of all my children proved tougher than I thought! However, I’m pretty sure they would all agree that they have plenty of happy memories together!

family · Life

Children: the Gift I Didn’t Know I Needed

This weekend I was getting some things ready for a bridal shower for my oldest daughter and came across a notebook in which I had written this quote: “This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.” ~~ William Willimon

I looked up the source of the quote and read through the whole article which you can find here: From a God We Hardly Knew. In short, it is a Christmas message about Isaiah 9:6 — “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” — in which Willimon makes the point that Ahaz, in the original context, was looking for an army and instead God promised a child.

A bridal shower and Mother’s Day seem appropriate days for me to think about my children. I heard from all eight this weekend. Plus all three daughters-in-law. I am rich indeed.

And I never could have imagined this.

Ever.

There was a point in time when I had been told that I wouldn’t have children without using fertility drugs.

Okay, I thought, a family is not in my future.

One of my favorite professors in college had encouraged me more than once to pursue medical school. “I don’t usually do this,” she had said. “I’m usually trying to dissuade students who think they want to be doctors.”

But I got married two weeks after graduating college. I supported my husband while he finished his schooling and began his first job. Once he was settled in, I began thinking about medical school and figuring out which classes I still needed — Calculus and Organic Chemistry. I contacted the nearest university to find out how to enroll.

Then I found out I was pregnant.

When you’re in high school, the guidance counselor never suggests motherhood as a career track. When you’re in college, the career office doesn’t suggest it either. Honestly, it wasn’t even a blip on my life radar.

Yet here I am today to tell you that being a mother — a full-time stay-at-home mother, who decorated funny-looking birthday cakes and washed-dried-and-folded mountains of laundry, who read the same books over and over until I could “read” them with my eyes closed, who played road-sign spelling games to entertain on long road trips and refused to get an entertainment system in our minivan because I WAS the entertainment system, who shopped at yard sales and thrift stores and sorted through bags of hand-me-down clothing because living on one income isn’t easy — being a mother was, and IS, the absolute best thing in the whole world.

Children are the gift I didn’t know I needed.

In addition to all the dandelion bouquets and crayon artwork, I received from them the very best lessons in patience, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, understanding, perseverance, creativity, humor — and that list could go on and on.

There’s a part of me that feels like I need to apologize. I know that not everyone has this opportunity. Not everyone can have children. Not everyone can afford to stay home. Life happens in different ways to each of us.

But I’m not going to apologize. I’m simply going to be grateful.

From the bridal shower