Realizing Life

This morning as I nursed my twin boys, changed their diapers, slid bowls of cold cereal onto the table for my three girls, then put the boys in high chairs (for the first time) while making multiple trips to the potty between spoonfuls of prunes because my twin girls decided two weeks ago to abandon their diapers for toilet-training, I thought, “This. Is. CRAZY!”

My life is crazy.

And if I think too much about how crazy it is I might actually go crazy.

But I don’t. (Think about how crazy and hard it is.) Most of the time.

I just do. And do some more.

By 8 am the day is on and we’re in high gear. I move quickly from one necessity to the next. Mostly it’s the basics. Food, clothing, clean-up, laundry. I mediate inevitable conflicts, nurse “owies,” braid a pony’s mane and rescue teething toys from the toilet. (True story.) If there’s a lull in the chaos, we pile onto the couch for a story, or dance to a favorite tune. Not much time for reflection, reading, writing, the things of the soul. Things I crave.

But I also craved children. After years of infertility, my husband and I experienced what we like to call our “family explosion.” Five children in four years, including two sets of twins. Fraternal girls followed by identical boys. Our boys were born one week after our oldest daughter turned four.

It has been exciting, exhausting, intensely joyous, out of control, but absolutely precious.

The boys are now 9 months old and we’re slowly coming out of survival mode. As the pace slows a bit, I’m harnessing more happy moments, noticing more episodes of contentment. Finally finding my groove as a mother of five. (Wow. That still sounds weird.)

So last week I saw Our Town – the great American play by Thornton Wilder. My aunt and her daughter watched all five kids so Doug and I could have a night out. (Yes, it took both of them.) Having read Wilder’s play but never seen it on stage, I anticipated the evening for weeks.

The play began. From spotlight to curtain call I was completely absorbed. All barriers between audience and actors faded away. We were right there in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. The actors were so comfortable with their roles, with each other and the audience – there wasn’t a bit of uneasiness. The play was left to work its subtle magic.Our Town is a love story about George and Emily. Childhood sweethearts who grow up next door to each other. They marry right after high school and begin their family. But during the birth of their second child, Emily dies.

The entire third act is about her transition into death – what she experiences on the other side. She watches her own funeral procession and burial. She sees the faces of those she loves.

“Live people don’t understand, do they?” she asks. “I never realized how troubled and how…in the dark live persons are…From morning till night, that’s all they are – troubled” (96-97). [1]

Then, despite cautioning from those who have already died, she chooses to go back and relive one day of her life. Her twelfth birthday.

“Don’t do it Emily… It isn’t wise… It’s not what you think it’d be” (98) the dead admonish her. Still, she goes.

She steps into her mother’s kitchen, circles the stove and table, watches her mother prepare breakfast. She sees the birthday gift George left on her doorstep early that morning. A post-card album she had forgotten about.

“I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. — I can’t look at everything hard enough…Oh Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really see me…Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another” (107).

Finally, she breaks into sobs.  Overcome with the grief and beauty of it all – the wonder of her ordinary life.

“I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another…Take me back – up the hill – to my grave” (108).

Before leaving, however, she wants one more look. Longingly, she says good-bye to clocks ticking, her Mama’s sunflowers, new-ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping and waking. Then suddenly she throws her arms out wide and laments,

“Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – ever, every minute?”

“No.” the stage manager (who acts as narrator) replies. “The saints and poets, maybe – they do some” (108).

“No.” That was his answer. And he was right. We don’t realize how wonderful life is every minute of every day. We’re too busy, too hurried, too distracted.

After Doug and I returned home to our five little ones – all asleep – I cracked their doors open and stroked each cheek with Emily’s voice echoing in my head. “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you!”

There, in the whisper of the night, I embraced my motherhood and every bit of tenuous longing I had for this gift.

The next day I moved through the house with different eyes. I saw the busy hum of what we were about with fleeting but tangible beauty. It won’t last – can’t last – and will be gone before I know it. So I began to make note of things I saw, felt, and cherished. A scrap of paper here, a note on my calendar there, and some plinking away on the keyboard at day’s end. It took some time. But how could I not? Writing it down makes it last.

While washing Sami’s hands, I noticed her dented knuckles, the pudgy softness. The way she lets me slap her paws together – blowing suds onto our faces and shirts. I wondered how long her hands will keep that three-year old look, how long she’ll let me hold them under warm water, my body bent over hers, before she wants to do it herself.

I noticed how Ali flutters instead of walks. Sailing from room to room, with a song spilling from her lips, she stretches her fingertips out to catch the wind. Teetering, gliding, dancing on tiptoe. My graceful girl, with wild brown curls – floating through our house.

I smelled Eliza’s hair at bedtime. The scent of gritty playground. Wind and dirt all tangled up in fraying ringlets. I felt the heat rise from her body as I tucked my arms around her and sang. She snuggled into her favorite blanket and quickly fell asleep. I kissed her cheek, wishing she could know how much I loved her in that instant. My oldest. My first.

I admired my boys as they took milk from me in the morning. Their eyes closed, softly caressing my arms and neck. The tender sight of their hands clasped together. This won’t last more than a month or two. It’s the closeness I love, the time alone with them, the giggles and tickling after. A quiet dependent circle, all three of us, needing each other.

And then I saw it. Today. The flash of silver in my husband’s hair – glinting in the light as he tossed Gordon into the air, the two of them laughing deeply. It’s a rite of passage, those flecks of gray. They tell of living – a sign that we are aging. Together. My heart flew to him. Grateful for his arms around my waist when the house is finally quiet.

Writing about these small things seems to freeze frame the joy, slow it down. So I can return to it, handle it, remember.

I’m no saint, but I’m trying to realize you, Life.

One day at a time.

On this earth that I love.

[1] Thornton Wilder, Our Town – A Play in Three  Acts   (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1938) p. 96 – 108

QUESTION: What are some of the things you cherish the most as a mother, the things you don’t want to forget?

CHALLENGE: Take time this week to “realize life” by writing down or taking a picture of some of those things.


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  1. C. Olsen says

    Thank you for such a beautiful piece and wonderful thoughts to think about as I begin my day. Please keep writing and sharing!

  2. April Perry says

    Thank you so much for that thoughtful post!  I love reading something that leaves me feeling a little bit smarter.  Realizing how precious our lives our really is a skill.  And doing it when you’re exhausted and run-down is even harder.  You’re doing a great job!



  3. saren says

    Beautiful writing Catherine!  I just wrote a blog post that goes with the challenge and question on this article.  I stopped in the midst of my busy morning to write down the cute things I heard my twins saying.  They say the cutest, funniest things each day and I always mean to write them down, but I forget.  Another thing I love and that I don’t record is how beautiful my kids look when they’re sleeping. I’m going to take photos of them tonight as they sleep.  And I’m going to record the way my little boys talk right now – they have the cutest way of talking and they’ll grow out of it soon – and I don’t want to forget!  Thanks for inspiring me to DO these things I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

  4. Cath says

    C. – Thanks for our kind comment.

    April – You’re so right. It is a skill – one I believe we can fine tune, the more we practice. I’m finding it gets easier the more I observe and stop to record. My heart gets softer in the noticing and I am happier, more inclined toward my children. Thanks for your encouragement.

    Saren – DOING it is the hardest part. Lots of times I see it, notice it, but can’t carve out time to write it down. I love that you made your self do it. And taking pictures of your little ones sleeping? What a great idea. So precious. Thanks Saren!

  5. Felicity Aston says

    Thank you for your beautiful words. I loved the quote you used,  

    “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – ever, every minute?” 

    It’s so easy to be caught up in the ‘repetitive cycle’ of Motherhood and life sometimes, and not recognise all the beauty that is completely surrounding us. Thank you for the reminder to appreciate and SEE how wonderful life and Motherhood can be, even when it’s a little crazy sometimes :) As I go throughout my day today I am going to focus on those precious moments and record them so they are not forgotten.

  6. Vicky says

    Lovely post!  Thank you for sharing…life is so precious; everyday is a blessing but we do get caught up in everything else that we fail to realize of the blessing that it is to be alive, to be able to actually do our own laundry, to breathe, to serve our family with our daily chores.  There are so many that depend on others to do those ordinarly tasks for them because they are unable to do it themselves.  I love the opportunity of service that is given to us as we serve our families, EVERY SINGLE DAY!

  7. saydi says

    This is just what I needed today Catherine.  In fact, I’m quite sure it’s what I need to read and hear and remember everyday.  It’s so hard to see life for the beautiful thing that it is.  It’s much easier to just go about feeling troubled……but how much more joyful are those days when we forget the trouble and enjoy the moments.  Thanks for reminding me of this in such a beautifully written post.  You’re amazing.

    I know I owe you some instructions on how to do the video thing with your camera….I’ll get to that sometime soon I hope, I’d love to see 30 min of your life!

  8. Cath says

    Felicity – I think it’s a challenge to see through the “repetitive cycle” (as you called it) of keeping a home and family. But you’re so right, within that cycle there is lots of beauty if we have eyes to see it.

    Vicky – I love your comments about serving our families. The old proverb comes to mind. “Work is love made visible.” Even all the chores, laundry, clean-up (all of which is so quickly UNdone) is an expression of our love. Thanks for your insights.

    Saydi – So fun to hear from you! You already “realize life” in a masterful way. I’m learning from YOU my dear! You’re such a fabulous “live in the moment” Mommy! And don’t sweat the camera instructions. If I had more free time and technical aptitude, I bet I could figure it out. But do give me some pointers when you have a minute!!

  9. Kristine says

    There are so many bits of wisdom here and so beautifully put.  I love that you wrote, “Not much time for reflection, reading, writing, the things of the soul. Things I crave.” and “Writing it down makes it last.”  There is such a balance.  Because we are so busy with the demands of motherhood, no matter how old our children, it is such a challenge to nurture our souls.  When we make it a priority, however, we can feel so lifted and we preserve those memories at the same time.  I have made more of an effort this year to keep a journal and record more of my feelings and not just a list of what we did that day.  It is so refreshing to reflect on life that way and I’m creating something for my children to read in the future at the same time.  I wish I had learned that sooner.  I wish I had taken the time to write more.  Yesterday I had my three littlest ones outside enjoying the beautiful weather.  I grabbed my simple camera and started clicking away.  It was so fun for me to catch different angles of my children’s faces, toes, and bellies.  I even snapped one of my two year old just after she sneezed and before snagging a tissue.  Gross, but funny and it really made me laugh that I now have that recorded.  A wise woman told me to always record the small miracles in my life.  I didn’t have any children at time so they never crossed my mind but children are definately a small miracle in my life now.  They are a treasure worth remembering.  Thanks for the reminder to slow down and find a way to record and cherish it all.

  10. Cath says

    Kristine – I’m loving the fact that you caught your two-year-old post-sneeze! Too funny! And your children as small miracles? Beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  11. Sarah says

    Wow Catherine, you are amazing, Saren told me about how wonderful you are, now looking up your articles, and your blog, and getting to know you you are AMAZING.. thank you for giving me inspiration I have two sets also. and if your wondering still ONE SPOON is the way to go.

    Hang in there, and like a sign in my house reads, Life is an endless party, enjoy every minute.


  12. Cath says

    Sarah – wow – TWO sets of twins TOO!? Someone asked me the other day what word defines two sets of twins. “Twinsies” was the best word we could come up with. Glad to see you too landed firmly in the ONE SPOON camp. Thanks so much for reading. I would love to meet you some time. How old are your twins?

  13. Sarah says

    my twinsies , are 4, boy and girl  and almost 2 ( july), fraternal girls. we are having a blast with them. they are so fun to watch those twin moments.. I’m sure you have a few of those..

    I’d love to meet also, are you in VA?

    keep smilng.


  14. Cath says

    Thanks for your response Sarah. What a wonderful family you have been blessed with! We moved over a year ago from VA to UT. We’re currently in Salt Lake City. And you?

  15. Vicky T says

    Just like you, I have noticed those tiny hands so much when I wash the germs away singing “wash wash wash your hands, wash them everyday, use the water, use the soap, rinse the germs away” (to the tune of row row row your boat). I have noticed those little bodies of theirs as I scrub them down during bath time. I have cherished those cute little teeth as I brush away. Way too soon I will lose these opportunities & although now I might be a bit tired to do it all, I need to, it will all be done & gone tomorrow, way too fast. Thanks for these sweet reminders.

  16. says

    Beautiful post!! And yes, those little things that might seem so insignificant and are easy to miss really are the best things in life and what matters most. Thank you! I was in Our Town in high school- I played Ms. Soames (I think that was her name) the busy body gossipy lady.

  17. says

    Wow! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas. It really is so important to recognize those small moments that seem to want to slip away unnoticed. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for a few days, and I’m working on a blog post about it now, and I’m using your challenge as the guidepost for it.

    Really, this is very well written and quite insightful. Thanks again.

  18. says

    This is quite an inspirational piece. Thank-you for helping us all see all of the extraordinary things that are around us in our most mundane moments.

  19. Amy says

    That was beautiful! From first word to last I WAS completely absorbed (as you said) & felt no barrier or distance between us! As if I sat at your kitchen table hearing & seeing it all first hand! Thank you for that glimpse into your world & re-awakening delight in my soul for the blessed chaos I’m privileged to call mine in this life! I will hold all four of them for an extra deep, long breath today!

  20. Deirdre says

    Just read this beautiful article today. I needed this read!!! I relate so much with this wonderful women. I cannot believe two sets of twins!! 5 under age of 4!!! WOW. The Lord knows our families we just have to have patience, faith and believe in his plan for them, but as we wait through years of infertility and than BAM 5 under 5 or in my situation 4 under 4 (with one set of twins)!! I also experienced 7 years of infertility, than one adoption for my boy, one round of invitro for my older girl and a round of invitro for my twin girls, you cannot help but laugh and sometimes think why this way? Than when those little arms wrap around my neck, their soft smiles emerge, tender laughter fills the air, and their sweet kisses touch my cheek I feel so grateful that they came to me ON HIS TIME instead of MINE. For I trust and know He knows me better than I know myself and HE knew when they needed to come into our HOME. Yes and with the Chaos and stress of it all I hope I can continue to see the beauty that surrounds me, but sometimes it is OKAY to cry, and close myself in a closet and scream and than say a silent prayer to have help to remember and to see the beauty.

  21. Larisa says

    You may not be a saint, but if this post is any indication, you may be a poet. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

  22. says

    First of all, I LOVE “Our Town!” I think it is my favorite play. That line just captures life. Secondly, your post is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

  23. says

    What a heart piercing post! We all need to be reminded of the sacredness of every day moments and cherish them. As a mother of teens through adults now, I look back at those moments and feel such gratitude that I did treasure them – well for the most part – I did have five boys after all! Ha ha I feel so blessed that I was forced (in a way) to enjoy the chaos and write down the things they did and capture those rare and special moments with photos and journaling because I knew that life was so precious. My second son passed away six years ago at the age of 17 due to a chronic illness he was born with. Throughout his life we never knew how much time we would have to spend with him while here on this earth. It forced us to cherish each moment because we never knew when it would be his last. None of us know. None of us are guaranteed even more day here. We don’t know when these very busy, but wonderful days we rush through can be ripped away from us without warning. This was such a sweet reminder for us all to remember to CHERISH THE MOMENTS!

  24. says

    What a beautiful post. I thought about this for several hours after reading it, and had to go into my son’s room after he fell asleep just to watch him for a bit, thinking of all you said. Thank you!

  25. ldgagliardi says

    This brought me to tears. I often find myself so caught up in “doing” that I am missing out on “living.” You have touched on a very important message in a very sweet way! Thank you!

  26. Dawn Wessman says

    Cath, this is my favorite post on The Power of Moms. You weave insight, honesty and intelligence in a very powerful way. I want my heart to memorize how I felt the first time I read this. Thank you!


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