"called to build the kingdom first through the romance and adventure of our home..."


Europe Trip | Day 5 | Cinque Terre

“Deciding to not travel with your children while they are young ‘because they won’t remember’ is a little like saying you’re not going to read to your children because they won’t remember the books you read. You read to your small children because of the sounds they will hear, the words they will see, the skills they will acquire and the habits you hope they will form. Traveling with young children is very much the same.”
Tayler Golden

This morning, out of the blue, in our jammies and while I was nursing Summer, Rowdy plopped next to me on the couch and said "Hey mom, [he always starts queries with 'Hey mom?'] do you remember that time we went to It-tal-ee and climbed all over those giant cliffs?" Ugh. My heart had that feeling your bum-cheeks and thighs do when the seat warmer is turned on in a "nice" car. He remembered.

A poignant moment for us as parents was Rowdy's memory of building a deck with Caleb. They worked on it before he turned 2... I think he was about 22 months old. It was a Mother's Day gift for me and it was the first time Caleb really let Roo stay at the job site and "help" for hours. Rowdy carried around a real drill and tapped boards and squatted like he was taking measurements. I was so happy to see it get done! And... that was about it. After that we traveled a lot, came back for a few months, traveled again, and have been bopping around since. And we never had ANY reason to talk about the partial-finished deck in the woods in Oklahoma. But one day over a year later on our drive back to Maryland from San Diego, Rowdy mentioned it. He was in his carseat in the back of the van: "Hey mom? I loved making that deck with dad." Caleb and I both did a double take (er, double listen?) "What deck?" "That one at our white house in Oka-la-homa! I was drillin'!"

I firmly believe that the love, prayers, tone, and care a person experiences even in the womb begins to shape them. And the years they "don't remember" are a part of them even so. Then, the craziest thing, is that somewhere along the way... they do start to remember. It starts to stick to their refrigerator-door-heart so they can hold it up and post it and communicate about it. "I loved this memory, mom!" Caleb and I talk often about how funny it is that some days become the core-memory days for a person. What will those memories be for our kids?

One of my strongest childhood memories is walking to Flower Hill Pool with my mom and siblings and, on this occasion, my grandma was with us. Pool bags filled with damp pool things, towels (some pool and some bathroom), the sounds of cheap, rubber flip flops shuffling and flipping and the feel of black barefeet on concrete, the pointyness of crisp, dry grass too. The bells of the ice truck up ahead and the muffled tune of shrill whistles, a cla-clunk diving board, and splashing. The humd east-coast sauna air. Bacca was wearing her Birkenstocks and laughing about how they are out of style now, and she didn't care, and she said "They'll come back in in another 20 years. I'll just hang on to them!" When she died a few years later my mom ended up with her Birkenstocks. And they sit, to this day, in my mom's closet (that we still have not gone through and emptied). Weird. Random. Un-notable really! But always an GIANT piece of art on the mind fridge. 

Roo's happy reflection this morning prompted me to blog about the day we did hike all over the cliffs! We had planned to go to Lake Como and Milan but very last minute (like, approaching the exit for La Spezia to take the train to Cinque Terre saying "What should we do??" "I don't know! What do you think!" "Let's just do it?" "You want to?" "Yes! Do you?" "Ugh yes just do it I don't know yes go go go!"). We had a three hour drive a head of us to get to Milan, and four to get to Lake Como. We had intentionally made this day a "feel it out" day so we could decide if we wanted to go harder or slower. 

My gut was telling me that we shouldn't spend 3-4 more hours in the car. I, personally, wanted to see Milan and Lake Como more than stop in Cinque Terre, but sometimes you just get a sense that you're "supposed" to do something. I think I just knew the kids would have a better day getting out of the car now and going a little slower today. So, we did! And it really was Rowdy's favorite and happiest day of the trip. We rode the train to Vernazza (he was SURE we were riding Gordon), hiked the cliffs, ate so many Italian treats, took a boat ride, threw rocks in the water, and had nothing to do but wander and relax until our 9 pm train back to La Spezia. Spending the whole day on our feet, in the sun, in nature, in charm... it was so good for all of us. Then, to end the night, we ate at the "famous" Belforte Ristorante... a place truly build right on the cliffs and over the water! It was our favorite food of the whole trip. Really. 

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Sweet girl loved the feel of the wind and mist on her face. A moment I'll always remember.

Rowdy took this of me at dinner... it's not in focus, but I love it. The wine almost gone, the toys at the table, the beautiful surroundings, the cheap H&M hat Caleb and I kept sharing, the ergo slung over the chair next to me, how happy I felt in that moment. 

Let's do it again, guys? ;)

Roo's 4th Birthday | Grocery Store Party

"Because I love going to the grocery store and talking with you!"
- Roo, almost 4

"Full of life." "Boisterous." "Marked by exuberance and high spirits." "Energetically cheerful and noisy."

"...a word used to describe someone spirited, loud, and slightly out of control — like someone with a spring in their step and a song in their heart singing to strangers on the street."

I remember sitting in the hospital bed in Gaithersburg, MD staring at the baby boy we had just met and needed to name. We had a short list of choices, with an almost definite decision. 

Rocco Neil Morris. Roc for short. 

I loved the meaning, especially given my father's strong German and Italian lineage: "German and Italian origin, derived from Germanic elements 'rohon' meaning 'roar, battle cry'; or 'hrok' meaning 'rest, repose'." Battle cry and rest.

Yes, given the season we were in; given my pregnancy; given cancer; given our place in the story it had felt perfectly right to my and Caleb's heart almost the whole pregnancy. Not to mention the many beloved verses and hymn-lines about "Christ the solid rock," or the way he would specifically come alive and dance inside me when "Hey, Mama Rock Me" would play on the radio.

And then he was born.

I tried to say "his" name to him and it just wasn't right. The beginning of our relationship and really paying attention to him and who he is. Hm. He just wasn't Rocco. We consulted our list again. "Crew Neil Morris." "Caleb Neil Morris Jr." Cal for short? Junior for short? "West/Weston Neil Morris." No, for some reason these names are all names we love but they aren't for him. We could feel it.

As Caleb and I simultaneously scrolled through name lists online, I happened into one titled "Old Hollywood Cowboy Names" and Rowdy was the only one on that list I read out-loud to Caleb. "Rowdy Neil Morris." Caleb loved it. I said it and felt like what butter looks like when it melts in a pan. Everything had just clicked on. I then went on to look up the official definition of the word. The first that came to mind was wild, naughty-ish, unruliness. And, even though it's not the first definition that will come up when you google, the first link I happened to click said "Rowdy: boisterous, full of life."

Full of life. 

I definition-hopped for a few minutes longer and said the name out of my mouth, while looking at him. No battle cry. No juxtaposition. Just life. Just a cheerful spirit, filled with exuberance. Rowdy, full of life. I think it every single day. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it in full." John 10:10

I think I'm a broken-record mother waxing poetic about her child, but I try to choose my words so carefully, so honestly, so accurately. Rowdy's tender heart, emotional depth, peacefulness and flexibility, and really his love have opened up our lives to so much more. Caleb and I get to love each other more because of Rowdy. We didn't feel "held back" by having him, but like he flipped on the light-switch in a few dark rooms of our souls. He quickened us back to ideas and dreaming and "what could be...!" instead of "what are we supposed to do."

He melted us. We're soggy cookies for this guy.

As I was brainstorming ideas with him about his 4th birthday, a birthday he has been looking forward to actively and verbally since last June, he couldn't make up his mind. A pirate party. A Lion Guard party. A pool and shark party. A Paw Patrol party. A dinosaur party. "Actually, actually, I changed my mind, mom!" he's say.

Until one day he woke up with complete clarity: he wanted a grocery story birthday party with a monster truck cake. I thought he might change his mind again, but after three days of unwavering decision I told him I'd do it. But first: "Why do you want a grocery store party??" Without skipping a beat, while jumping on the bed, he said: "Oh! Because I LOVE going to the grocery store and talking to you!"

A few weeks ago I was working out some ideas in my head that Caleb and I had been discussing about priorities, guilt, and being a good mom. Rowdy heard me say something along the lines of "It's okay to be a good mom, and not be the best mom..." I hadn't finished my thought but from the other room he interrupted with a panicked shout: "But mom! You ARE the best mom!!"

I'm going to miss every bit of who he is at this stage. How he walks around the house in just his basketball shorts, if Caleb is just wearing basketball shorts, or in the buff if dad is too. How he pushes the elevator buttons but always checks first "This is 5 [or whatever floor we're going to], right?" He doesn't want to make a mistake. How he talks and talks and talks and talks and wants story after story after story after story (sometimes I might miss this more than I enjoy it in the moment. But I only had it coming... ;) The apple doesn't fall far from the tree!) How Summer will wail on him and he'll be trying very gently but urgently to ask her to stop. "THAT IS NOT VERY NICE SUMMER PLEASE DO NOT SCRATCH MY FACE PLEASE SUMMER." How he loves cold, cold water. How he falls asleep with his hands clasped, all cherub like. How he is not a drain-er but a fill-er. How he tries to come up with more distances and measurements to describe his love for me and Caleb, just like Little Nutbrown Hare. (One of my favorites was "All the way to the top of a giraffe and back!" And I told him I loved him all the way to the top of a giraffe AND an elephant and back.) I love this human being. I loved making his little grocery store party, and monster truck cake. I've loved every single day for four straight years with this delicious-minded, lean-and-lanky, old-soul, dearheart child.

We wrapped his presents in paper grocery bags! Inside was all plastic food ;)

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One of the best parts of the day: We opened the door to let Rowdy see his party room... and Summer was seeing it for the first time too! These pictures of her coming up from behind and then swooping ahead kill me. And then Rowdy focusedly, seriously taking in every detail. Later when I asked him what his favorite part of the day was (after we had done everything, including bike rides! cake! presents!) he said "When I got to see my grocery store for the first time." 

He played then, and has continued to play for hours in his room. That's all my mama heart wanted! To see him happy and enjoying himself! And he really did! Total victory! Maybe next year he'll get to have some friends over ;) 

 And than kCindy, Caleb's mom, and Hosie, his sister, were in town for the fun! I love getting to share any part of life with family and it was quite meaningful to have "a grandma" in town. Cindy and the whole family drove from Oklahoma to Maryland (no small task!) a couple weeks after Rowdy was born, and then Cindy came out to MD for his first birthday. She made the birthdays of all her kids so special, and I know they felt so loved by them... she inspires me to want to make my kids feel extra-special on their birthdays! We love you! And thank you for all your help getting the party set up!

Party Details / Aka: I Should Be Sponsored By Amazon Prime
(The party decor was basically all his gifts, and our groceries! Ha!)

  • Signage: I designed them myself and had them printed through PosterNinja, my new obsession! Can't say enough good things!
  • Hats / Soda Jerk Cap from Amazon
  • Carts / One for brother, one for sister! Mama ain't dumb!
  • Art Smocks for Cashier Aprons / So much cheaper than actual aprons...
  • Plastic food / As cute as the wooden Melissa&Doug options are... I just went for budget-friendly ;)
  • Vintage Pricing Labels / Free download!
  • Market Stand / A few of the other ones I was looking at were between $100-$200! No way! $65 even felt frivolous, but it really was our "big gift" and it won't be a throw-away/use-once piece for us.
  • Play Kitchen / GoodWill find for $10!
  • Bunting / Target $1 Section -- I also wouldn't mind be sponsored by that little nook ;)
  • Publix paraphernalia / The night before Roo's party I was at Publix buying groceries to use as decor, and I told the cashier what we were doing. She immediately grabbed stickers, plain paper bags, coloring books, crayons, and just gave them to us to use for the party! The few employees who overheard were so excited and I promised I'd come back and show them pictures! 
  • Old 50's Commercials / I had YouTube videos of old Coke, Campbells, etc commercials playing in the background! 

Father's Day 2017

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
[Or maybe when just your wife and kids are watching.]
― John Wooden

(Towards the end of Summer's pregnancy I had stumbled upon a few of those "one second a day for a year" videos. As I laid in bed, again, while Caleb kept our family nurtured and well, I thought about how much I'd like to get a second a day, or perhaps a few seconds a week, on video of all Caleb does. I also realized how much I value the not-nearly-enough videos we have of my mom. To see someone move, and walk, and bend... gosh, I didn't know how much I'd miss seeing the way my mom drove a car or sat in a chair and then rose from it. But I do.

I had planned to give this to him on his birthday last year, but I didn't have as many video clips as I wanted. So I changed plans to Father's Day. THEN I get a new, enormous iPhone and I have so many clips I couldn't use them all! But here is a four-minute window into life with this wonderful man, who makes us the happiest three every day.)

Dad-Caleb is one of my favorite (probably Top Two) versions of Caleb. He's not only the best dad I've ever known, but the best parent. He's just SO good at this. And he believes in it. I think it's okay to highlight someone without giving a boatload of qualifiers and caveats, so I'll make this short: this has nothing to do in anyway with anyone else. I'm not minimizing or putting-down or intending to make someone feel bad for being different than this. Whether you don't want kids, are afraid to, are trying to and can't, wish your spouse did, and then on and so forth. I'm just telling about who Caleb is, and why I love it. We're all different. We all have our things. And these are some of Caleb's best things for our lives.

Caleb wasn't afraid to become a father. He was not just excited to share that part of our lives together, he was eager to. He was hoping we'd be able to have kids early in our marriage and he spent many hours anticipating what it would be like to get to know and love OUR children. He wasn't just willing, he wasn't assuming we'd do it at some point but "not for now", he wasn't worried about how we'd keep pursuing all of our "passions and interests" after becoming parent. There was an enormous faith, steadying peace, and God-like-ness about his longings to be a dad. He always spoke with fervency that life wouldn't "end" once we had kids, but it would open up and begin again.  He was adamant that the babies would not take away from "us" but would add to our joy and connection. That "foolishness to the world" type of logic. "When you are weak then I am strong" type of stuff. Love casts out fear.

The God of The Universe decided that life, home, paradise, and everything would be better -- better to Him and heart! -- with a family room full of His children. That it was good if He was a Father to not just One, Jesus, but to many. He began, and continues, to gather His children with language all throughout scripture of rearing, teaching, feeding, delighting, comforting, holding, emboldening, correcting, shaping, enjoying. God insisted that at all costs experiencing the relationship of Parent-And-Child is worth it. Up to the very life of His perfect Son. Up to His own life. Let the little children come to me, for such belong the kingdom of Heaven.

On a core level it's tough to understand why He would "go through all the trouble" when His existence was perfect before. Love. Relationship. Intimacy. It's the most powerful "stuff" of the universe and beyond. And Caleb has this heart of welcome, and ability to have perspective on "the hard parts" of the magnificent, bowl-you-over role of parent. He is a diligent, selfless man. He does work hard for us and with us. But he has given us "not just the gospel of our God, but his very self." He has given us his childlike sense of wonder, his "yes!," his tenderness, his silliness, his attention, his care, his effort, his ideas, his music. He makes being a mother a seriously marvelous experience for me; as well as being a wife WHILE being a mother. He makes being a child magical, adventurous, and sweet. He doesn't love any work or mission or passion or calling more than he loves the three of us, and we feel it. He makes sure we do, too. In fact, he believes all other callings and missions and joys pass through the doorway that is our family and are not separate entities.

So, as a family, as we're called to serve and give to others in order that they may be pointed to God, we get to do it together. Caleb has never even hinted at us being the "ball and chain" or "life-sucking family back home." This is rare. This is beautiful. This is good. And it was in him long before we met. I'm merely the receiver of this gift, and the one who gets to flourish in its nourishment. I'm the one who stands inside the door with the bouncing babies while we hear him approaching...and, at last! reunited all-together again.

It is a joy to be able to say, without hesitation, that I am not a lonely, stifled, or ignored woman. I feel like my hearts-cares are known, and taken care of, and that I'm seen by him. I feel like my creativity and strengths are fostered. I feel like I'm a part of a true team, and not overwhelmed or overrun with imbalance. (In general and overall... there isn't a human alive that doesn't have "its moments" with any of these). This is a testament to Caleb's quality as we've been through some seasons of rigor, change, loss, struggle, and testing.

Thank you for doing anything with us, anywhere, and not listening to what "they" (those who bash children/parenthood. There are lots of lovely and wonderful "they's" out there too!) say... not letting perception, ego, challenge, being kind of crazy people ;) or anything else stand in the way of embracing us with your whole heart and life. Thank you for your vision, the one that began when you were just a boy yourself. Thank you for who you are when only we are watching. You are a good, good father.

I hope many get the chance to learn from you whether they have biological children, fostered or adopted children, or just choose to engage other people's children in a tender, loving way. You;d never toot your own horn, so I just have to every once in a while.

This is a hard post for me to write, and I'm tempted to just say "Happy Father's Day to the best dad ever!" because I know so many other sorts of reports and stories. The best words I can find to sum up my heart here is: "If these days are an outward delight, praise God. Celebrate and enjoy. Share the goodness with others. And if they are not, praise God. Celebrate and enjoy. Remember they're brief. Remember there is a long tomorrow and that long tomorrow is right in the face of our Father. It's right in His goodness. It's right in His arms." - @enjoyinggracestoryco