Starving Overtime

I miss friendships, caress
the playfulness of nudge.
Without my heart is lonely,
dailyness a dragging trudge.

I miss compassions touch,
cupped in empathy.
The knowledge only passed
in arms of sympathy.

I communicate my love
with handshake, hug, and kiss.
When it’s withheld,
I feel myself dismissed.

Even though I know
right now is not the time.
I fear for every heart,
starving, overtime.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

Bed Crumbs

There is a Stinker sitting in the middle of the bed. She wears an impish smile while stuffing bread crumbs and strawberry slices into her little cheeks.

Her father is laying behind her. His glasses resting on the unused pillow. His eyes closed. His breathing slow. Lips set in an exhausted, yet somehow happy half-grin.

“What are you two doing?”

“EetEn snacks Mom!” Is the answer given as I stand in the doorway, hands-on-hips, shaking my head.

It’s March 31st, 2020, a Tuesday. We are just about halfway through our 3rd week of social distancing. COVID 19 has disrupted our daily routines. The world is still afraid, and a lot of us are lonely.

We are thankful for spring, and the warming temperatures. Being able to go outside and play in the sun has been our only escape for the last week. But still, we must content ourselves with our small snow-filled back yard. Ice and all. Or short trips to the vacant parking lot down the back ally for a bike ride. The little Stinker’s cheeks are still a bit pink from her last excursion. When I stoop to kiss her head, she smells like spring, puddles, and fresh air. If you know anything about spring, that can be an interesting smell.

“Don’t make a mess in my bed silly goose!” I get no reply but a babyish giggle.

I’m tired. So the time before putting the kid to bed is filled with cartoons and Xbox. Tonight I make it my turn. For a few minutes, I forget the constant ache in my shoulders. I even smile at Erin’s exclamation of “Good job Mom!” The last 3 weeks have not been easy for any of us.

As I find my escape, my other half does what he does best, in his quiet way. Before I know it the two oldest kids are in their pyjamas and heading to bed. The Stinker, Heather? Well, she rarely settles so well. I half-listen as teeth are brushed, the blanket is found, and more snacks are asked for and given. Brant sounds tired too.

“Time for bed Heather.”

“No! Mommy’s bed!” Her shrill little voice sounds like it indeed wandered again on to ‘Mommy’s bed’.

“No Heather. Your bed.”

At that, she screams her defiance. I hear my name being called in between her heartbroken sobs. Inwardly I groan and roll my eyes at the same time. After Brant tucks the still wailing imp into bed, he joins me in the living room.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes.” He says. He is famous for one-word answers.

“Thanks.”

“Your welcome.”

“It’s not just me, right? She’s more difficult than the other two ever were.”

“Yep.” His exasperated agreement is cut off by wailing from upstairs.

“Mommy! Mommy! I want Mommy!”

“Do you think she’s okay? Should I go lay down with her? It’s my turn anyway.” He just nods as I hand him the controller and head upstairs.

I lay on the floor beside my 2-year-old, rubbing her tummy and doing my best to assure her that Daddy is busy but Mama is here. While I was still only halfway up the stairs she had changed her tune and called for Daddy. I silently pray that this won’t take a few hours like usual. She is overtired. Soon her eyes droop as I sing lullabies handed down to me from my mother, and grandmother.

Tell me why the stars do shine.

Tell me why the ivy twines.

Tell me why the sky’s so blue,

and I will tell you, just why I love you.”

She has the covers pulled over her head. Does she also want to shut out this crazy world for a while?

Because God made the stars to shine.

Because God made the ivy twine.

Because God made the sky so blue.

Because God made you, that’s why I love you.”

Her constant movements have stopped. There is no reply when I ask if she is sleeping. No movement when I kiss her cheek.

I really think that God above.

Created you for me to love.

And picked you out from all the rest,

Because he knew, I’d love you best.”

“Well that wasn’t so bad,” I tell my self. Honestly, I can’t believe it was only 15 minutes and not 3 hours. Down the stairs, I go. Now I have time for that shower I have been needing. The dishes also get put into the dishwasher I thank God every day for.

Brant and I alone in the living room. It’s been a Day. A long, tiring, boring, day. Or at least that’s what my mind is telling me. Brant gets up and stretches. 10 pm. This day is finally over. He makes it to bed first.

I pull back the overs and crawl in.

“Oh gross! Brant!”

“What?”

“There are crumbs ALL over in my bed!” I give him a heartfelt glare. “What did you give her!”

“Just bread.”

“It’s everywhere, and it’s your fault you know.” I add, “so gross” under my breath again for good measure.

All he does is smile.

For the next few minutes, I make myself busy brushing crumbs from my side. Brant reads our nightly devotions.

When he is finished I bury my head into my pillows and ask him in a muffled voice. “How much longer do you think this is all going to last?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think this is why God hasn’t let us move yet?”

“Maybe.” His answers are not very comforting, but his hand rubbing my back helps ease a bit of my tension. It’s been 9 months since the house went up on the market.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

After a few minutes, he is fast asleep. Thoroughly exhausted by a full day of work and his demanding family. It is sleep well earned. But I’m still wide awake.

I pull out my phone, turn the screen light down, and scroll. I know full well it’s the worse thing I could be doing, but I do it anyway. A bare knee finds more crumbs. I put the phone down in exasperation.

Up I get, smooth out the sheets, brush out the crumbs, and lay down again. Still, there are more.

“God, why?” I whisper to the night.

I don’t hear any words come back to me. But my thoughts start to slow down. It’s been a long time since our family has had our own normal. Things keep changing. Plans are made, but fall through. Dreams are made but put on hold. Things we never planned happen, and we must react. Now, this.

More uncertainty, more loneliness.

“God, what are you trying to teach us?”

Then, just before I drift off to sleep, I feel more crumbs under my arm. A final thought slips through my mind. Maybe God just wants me to learn to be more thankful for lullabies, and bed crumbs.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020

Dancing Snow

A lock down piece.

It’s March 13th, a Friday, 2020. Yesterday the provincial government of Ontario announced that they would be closing all schools for an extended March break. The reason? To slow the anticipated growth of the COVID 19 pandemic. This week the whole world has shown its fear.

After a night of troubled sleep, I wake up tired, but ready to get my two eldest children out the door for their last day of school. Our regular one week March Break will now be 3 weeks.

“Emma, Erin! You’re going to have to wear your snow pants today.” I call into the living room.

“What? Really?” Emma’s exasperated reply is muffled as it passes through the wall.

“It’s blowing out there today. Just look out the window. See?”

“Alright, Mom!” Erin sounds unexpectedly chipper this morning. His usual reluctance at getting ready replaced by a child’s happiness at it being the last day of school, for ALMOST a whole MONTH.

After a few minutes of eye-rolling by Emma, finding a sweater for Erin, and bundling myself up against the wind, we head out the door.

“How cold is it this morning Mom?” Erin asks.

“-8, but with the wind, it feels like -17. Are you glad I told you to wear your snow stuff this morning?”

“Yep!” Said Erin happily. His sister mumbles a NO as she passes me on our way towards the sidewalk.

Today the wind is cold but I don’t want to give up our last morning of being able to walk to school. It might be a while that we are stuck at home. The fresh air and exercise are good for all of us.

“Watch out for the ice Erin!” I call as he slides his boots over a patch hidden by a dusting of snow.

The wind whips by and carries that light dusting with it. It skips across the clear cold street, only stopping at the gutters and sidewalks still half-filled with bumpy patches of thick ice.

As we reach the sidewalk Erin exuberantly points at the street ahead of us.

“Look Emma! The snow looks like snakes! Oh my gosh! That is so cool!”

“It’s following us, Erin!” Emma says, her gloom turning into wonder as she points behind us. “Looks its passing us!”

All three of us smile as the wind hits our backs and caries the fallen snow across the pavement.

“Mom! It looks like the snow is running ahead of us and making a painting.” Emma’s finger waves in the air and at the ground around us. “It’s so beautiful. It’s running altogether in front of us. Here it comes! There it goes!”

“I’m glad this wind is at our backs today,” I say.

“Yep! The wind is faster than humans Mom. It’ll help us get to school.”

Halfway through our 15-minute walk, we stop at the white cross in the churchyard. It’s our regular morning ritual to stop here. I pull out my smartphone, turn on our favourite family game, Pokemon Go, and hand it over to Erin. As he ketches his virtual Pokemon, I notice both kids are still eyeing the street next to us. Not even the lure of technology is dampening their appreciation for this morning.

Once all the Pokemon have been caught we continue on our way to school. The Kindergarten school bus passes us, and I wave to the man who safely drove both my kids to and from school, just a few years ago. He hasn’t forgotten any of us. Or their shenanigans.

The wind is still coming in gusts, and Emma states her disappointment as it dies down just as a slithering batch of snow was to reach us. But as a car drives by, it picks up again and follows the vehicle in strange zigzagging patterns.

“I love it when the snow dances Mom.” Says Emma as I grab her and Erin’s hands to make the last crossing before we reach the schoolyard.

“I do too Baby.”

The small parking lot on the other side of the street is a sheet of dark rippling ice. I again remind Erin to be careful as he slightly crouches, holds his arms behind himself, and runs ‘like a ninja’ over the worst section.

“Oh look, the snow is all stuck here!” Says Emma. She is looking down at the edge of the street we just crossed.

“Only for right now Baby. If the wind changes, it will dance down the street again.” I say trying to ease her disappointment a bit.

She smiles back at me. Her gloom and grumps now completely gone.

After seeing them safely to the schoolyard, making sure I get my goodbye hugs and reminding them to be good on there last day, I start for home.

The bumpy ice crunches under my feet. The wind stings my face. I wave to a teacher as she makes one of the last turns before arriving at school herself. I miss my kids and their happy chatter.

Now I watch the snow dance by myself. The wind has turned light snow into chaos. But it’s beautiful to watch. Almost mesmerizing. I take my phone out again and snap a picture. A simple way to try to hold on to this feeling, to remember. Even amid the unknown, even fear, there is still beauty.

©Mary Grace van der Kroef 2020