I Held You First

This past week was my son’s tenth birthday, so for week 45 of #songaweek2016, I wrote him a song and made a video to go with it. Now I have no more single-digit children!

Who could ever explain how a bald-headed bundle of joy
just by eating and sleeping and laughing and learning
grows into a long-haired long-legged ten-year-old boy?

I held you first
and right through the worst of those midnight crying hours
and I’ll be the last
to ever let go of the love you birthed in me

What a difference a decade of everyday days can make
first you’re reaching, then rolling, then crawling, then walking
jumping, kicking, running, swimming, climbing, never hitting the brakes

I held you first . . .

Be brave, be kind, be-you-tiful boy

I shouldn’t be shocked that you’ve been melting me from day one
cause chocolate bars and momma’s hearts
behave the same way in the light of the sun[son]

I held you first . . .

Rock me to Sleep Mother

Here is a rough, incomplete recording of a new song – an old poem I just set to music. Couldn’t sing it all the way through without crying the first five or ten times. See how well you can do! The words seem super-sentimental unless you are nearing forty and find them connecting with some deep primal mother-ache that just might have something to do with only ever seeing God as father all your life, because no one ever gave you words like this before.

Bread of Life

God’s fingers were floury from kneading the bread dough.

She wiped them on her apron

Then stooped to pick up the baby

(He had been crying and pulled himself up by her pant leg, his snot and

tears spotting her jeans at the thigh)

She kissed his cushy cheek

Hoisted him on her hip

Smoothed a stray strand of hair

And laughed when he sneezed unexpectedly.

On the radio the band struck up a tune

So she took his chubby hand in her callused one

And they danced around the kitchen

Afternoon sun dappling the linoleum

School buses whooshing by outside

Neighborhood children chattering down the sidewalk

And there in the middle of it all,

Bread dough rising quietly.

Apple of My Eye

In early June in Minnesota this year, it seemed we lived in a world of rain, a land of gray. I think we spent two continuous weeks under granite skies, and my nine-year-old daughter began to feel it in her light-hungry soul. The perpetual gloom, combined with the haunting bedtime thoughts about death and loss that are common to her age, brought an above-average precipitation of tears welling up from a previously-unplumbed depth of grief and questions in her being. We were packing to move across the country that month, far from the familiar hugs of grandparents, a thousand miles from the back doors of the neighbor girls she loved like sisters.

This girl was not my idea. I was not inclined towards having children, because although I have always adored babies, children (those little people who want birthday parties and sleepovers and repeat, “watch this!” over and over and interrupt intelligent conversations to repeat their favorite lines from inane movies and litter the world with cheap plastic toys and fingernail polish) are not my strong suit.

I was a child once. And this does give me a window on my own daughter’s childhood. But just as her birth was not my idea, neither is her self. As I wrote here, she is a whirlwind of imagination and action. My child self was a model of compliance. Trying to understand her most mystifying elements through the lens of my childhood too easily leads to comparison and value judgments.

But when I remember that Luthien was never my idea, and that her continuing unfolding is not my idea, I relax a little more into the One whose bright and colorful idea she is. I support, encourage, seek to inspire, educate, discipline, celebrate and love this inexplicable human, but she is not my grand idea to be worked out precisely the way I think best.

She is the apple of my eye and the stars in my night sky, but apples don’t feed eyes and stars at night don’t keep their beholder warm. My baby, my child, my girl came from me, changed and changes me, has marked me forever – and yet, she has her own road to travel, distinct from but ever intertwined with mine.

Here’s a song I wrote in those gray weeks in June.


You are the apple of my eye

But eyes cannot eat apples

You are the stars in my night sky

But stars are too far away to keep me warm

You are my darling baby girl

And babies need their mothers

I am your faithful failing world

I rock you in my arms and cry along

A long long night

Oh will it ever end?

A hard hard fight

I wish we both could win

You are a flash of color bright

Inside a kaleidoscope

You ask me sometimes late at night

Is anybody there looking through?

You are a mirror in the woods

Reflecting all around you

You show the trees they’re looking good

But secretly you’re lonely for a face

A face of love

A face with patient eyes

A face you’ll know

From your feeling of surprise

You’re growing into summer now

You’re thirsty like a flower

With all my heart I’ll show you how

To spread your petals out and drink the rain

The rain that soaks

And chills you to the roots

But don’t lose hope

The sun will come out too.

A Long Walk, A Thousand Miles From Newtown

On Saturday Silas and I walked downtown to buy a book for his kindergarten class gift exchange.

On Friday our town had been a snow-covered Christmas-fairy-tale village. Then it rained. It rained on Friday night, and all day Saturday. The rain erased the snow and exposed the husks and straw of fall to the numb gray sky.

We bought our book and headed home through the mist. Everything was crying. We moved slowly and silently, my 37-year-old legs newly attuned to his six-year-old pace.

The cheerful Christmas music piped through Central Park’s loudspeakers sounded alien and anachronistic.

We passed the post office and the library, who face one another across Broadway. Their flags waved wearily where they had fallen, halfway to the muddy ground.

We passed my children’s school, whose flag also trailed low, heavy with its load of grief.

We passed three neighbor boys on bicycles. I smiled and said hello. They were painfully beautiful.

That was a very long walk. I am still tired from it.

Guest Post – My Mother’s Hands

Let’s stretch out Mother’s Day one more day, shall we? Here is a poem my mother wrote for her mother, and she gave me permission to post it here.

My Mother’s Hands
By Rebecca of Vista Glen Farm [copyright 2010 Rebecca Benner Tindall]

Thelma Benner (my Grammy), a young Pennsylvania farmgirl

My mother’s hands have
Guided a tractor across a stubbly cornfield

Shoveled manure in a smelly cow stall

Scattered cracked corn in a chicken house
Hoed stubborn weeds in an asparagus bed
Turned hard Pennsylvania clay soil to plant a flower bed
Gripped a pump handle to fill a bucket with water
Plucked a chicken and seared off the pin feathers with a candle

My mother’s hands have
Washed the grimy little hands and faces of daughters who made mud pies
Turned the crank of a wringer washer
Rinsed, washed and folded thousands of diapers
Hung little dresses, undershirts and socks in a row on the wash line
Sewed detailed clothes for all sizes of doll babies
Cut the fabric, designed and stitched matching Easter outfits for her little ladies
Scraped, washed, rinsed, and dried stacks of Thanksgiving dishes

My mother’s hands have
Canned the sweetest peaches in the world
Opened a jar of mouth-watering canned cherries
Chopped vegetables for a fresh batch of Pennsylvania Dutch piccalilli
Rolled out crust for a tasty apple pie
Poured a cold glass of milk for a little girl from an old mayonnaise jar

Thelma with daughters Debby and Becki

My mother’s hands have
Rocked a lapful of little girls
Felt the hot forehead of a daughter with rheumatic fever
Changed the cloth diapers of four baby daughters
Tested the milk for a night-time bottle
Held the big Bible story book for bedtime reading
Washed out with soap the mouth of a naughty little girl
Poured bubble bath into a big white tub for squealing little ladies
Tucked in the covers around her little daughter’s leg braces

Sam, Thelma and their daughters

My mother’s hands have
Packed a lunch box with a bologna sandwich and an apple
Filled a thermos with farm-fresh milk
Lined up Sunday School papers on the refrigerator
Written checks for school photos
Signed permission slips for field trips sent home by the teacher
Checked the math on little girls’ homework assignments
Filled a jar with water for fresh-picked dandelions

My mother’s hands have
Dribbled a basketball
Strummed the strings of a Hawaiian guitar

Clicked away on the keys of a manual typewriter
Done the bookkeeping for a basket manufacturer
Lifted a patient in a nursing home
Wiped the noses of her nursery school class

Thelma and Sam 25th annviersary

My mother’s hands have
Held the test results that pronounced the sentence of cancer
Spent all her savings on medicine hoping to prolong the life of her daughters’ daddy
Adjusted the covers of her dying middle-aged husband
Torn up old sheets to make bandages for his oozing sores
Tenderly held her husband when she kissed him goodbye
Held the death certificate of her lover and friend
Laid a flower on his casket
Wiped away tears of sorrow and loneliness

My mother’s hands have
Gripped her Bible late at night under a dim lamp
Clasped together in prayer asking God for money to pay the utilities
Opened old jars of canned peaches to feed hungry children
Accepted a bag of potatoes from a friend
Poured a glass of water for a deacon visiting his assigned widow

Great-granddaughter, son-in-law, Grammy, grandson (behind her - really, not great-grandson, but my cousin!) 2008

My mother’s hands have
Blessed four daughters
Cradled four granddaughters, six grandsons and one great-nephew
Touched the faces of eight great-granddaughters and five great-grandsons (so far)!

I love you, Mom.
Happy Mother’s Day, May 9, 2010
From your Blue-Eyed Girl, Rebecca Jane.