a chocolate cherry cake + the man who won my heart.

“Who was that?” we asked as mama said a merry good-bye and put the phone back on the desk.

“You know that young man that’s been in contact with daddy about church? He called to ask if it’s alright to visit tomorrow.”

We listened attentively to her response, then peppered her with questions. What did he sound like? What was his background? How old was he? Did he have an accent? What did she think about him? We were, after all, the Five Kauffman Girls, void of little to no male acquaintances in our circles, and ever agog when a new one came into existence.

Our little chapel was packed the next morning: it was the day my two sisters were getting baptised. A number of visitors were present, and as I walked to my seat, I remember seeing the back of someone dark with black hair and assuming that he was “that new guy.”

We had a shorter-than-normal service, and then loaded congregants and food into vehicles to drive to the rock pools at Mothar Mountain for the baptism. I chatted with numerous people that afternoon- a circle of girls here, a romanian grandma there, a child over there. At one point, the aforementioned visiting man and I were in the same circle of chatting friends and found out a few things about the other. I found it pleasing to learn that he played the cello, a favourite instrument of mine. He, a passionate linguist, found it fascinating that I was rather jaggedly translating a conversation for one of our visitors.

His name was David, and he came back to our place for the evening, bearing with him a delicious looking cake with layers of sponge, pudding, cherries, dark chocolate, and cream. The man baked! I, one who loved to cook and savour any manner of food, was significantly impressed. We all enjoyed a slice and made our rounds of exclamations. His company was relished all evening, and at one point when he needed to run down to his car for something, daddy turned to us with that ever-familiar smirk that he uses when he’s thoroughly impressed but likes to cover up the fact with a teasing remark. “Well girls, he’d make a fiiiiiiine son-in-law one day!”

We got to know each other reasonably well over the next five months, though all married couples would tritely insert here a comment here about really not knowing each other at all.

The night was June 28, 2012. Bible study was over, and we were all sprawled over the couches, reading and snacking, putting books down to chat every few minutes. David was a regular visitor by this stage, and we loved having him around. He was so normal and so interesting, my little brothers adored him, and he felt like a big brother to my sisters. I was quite smitten by this stage, but the millenial question that will forever haunt the mind of a woman with a crush haunted me then: how can I tell if these feelings are reciprocated?

He had his own book, likely a concordance or dictionary. I remember glancing at him occasionally and thinking that something weighty must be on his mind: he kept turning pages but was staring off into the distance.

Meanwhile, the evening was fast derailing from the one he had envisioned. Did these girls always stay up so late? Was there ever going to be a chance to catch her alone? Rumour had it that I awoke early before everyone else, and there had been visions of sneaking out at sunrise to talk with me on the veranda. But as the clock ticked closer to midnight, he realised the unlikelihood of my alarm staying set for 5:00.  After a time, we suddenly remembered that we had a job rostered on for the morning, and all arose to cast books aside and scatter to our showers and respective rooms.

I was sharing my room with a sister that night, her’s being turned into the guest room. I retired there, and as I was waiting for the shower to be free, started folding a basket of laundry to pass the time. I thought David had already gone to bed, but then! The sound of footsteps. He walked past the open doorway and on to the bathroom, or so I thought, till he stopped and the sound of footsteps again gradually came nearer.

He knocked on the door frame, and I glanced up, already aware of who was there.

“I’ve been trying to catch you alone. Can I talk to you for just a minute?”

He was just slightly inside the door now, and I went to him.

“Can we just step out into the hallway to talk?”

He thought I was being ever-prudent one; the woman who, God forbid! should talk to a man in her bedroom. Little did he know that I was just trying to move out of the sight of a sister who was not yet asleep in my bed, huddled around the corner with huge eyes and a blanket to hide her mouth agape with incredulity. I was trying not to laugh because I knew he didn’t know she was there, but mostly I was trying to process what he was saying behind the ka-boom of my heart in my ears. I cannot, for the life of me, remember what he said or asked me. I remember words about Poland and how he knew I was going overseas. Words about praying and his dad encouraging him to talk to me anyways. Words about the kind of woman I was. All I remember was a fragment from his last sentence,

“….have however long you need to think about it, and if you then feel like you could love me and see yourself with me, you can be assured that I will be here waiting for you when you get home.”

The rest is blurred. There was more, I know.  A gleeful whisper of “David! I’ve been praying for this to happen!” Watching his eyes light up. Seeing his shaking hands. We talked for a few minutes, deciding to leave further dialogue for the morning after he talked to my daddy.

He had scarcely gone to his room, when I jumped back into mine, and there was Janae, a jack-in-the-box form that sprung from my bed, our eyes and mouths competing with each other for width. We became one tumbling pile of giggles and blankets on the bed. I hyperventilated into the sheets while she alternated between muffling her gasps and clutching my arm. “Carolyn, did that FOR REAL just happen?”

Two sisters emerged from other rooms. They had been showering and were completely oblivious to any prospect of romance in the near future, much less a proposition from the man himself on that very night. We shrieked their names in high-pitched whispers, and they joined the party, where we all laughed wildly as quietly as we could, cried a little, and then all crept down the hallway together to go wake up the remaining sister.

I was on a roll now, and couldn’t help it. I bounced into mama and daddy’s room too. They stared with wrinkled foreheads and bleary eyes at the clock and the red numbers of 1:00 projecting from it. They hugged me and chuckled over the story with the kind of chuckle that only perceptive parents have. The kind that said “Yay! But we knew this would happen sooner or later.”

That was June 28, 2012. It is now five years, a whole lot of happiness, and two pretty girls later. I am wooed every day by the one I get to call mine. He tackles the backed-up dishes, tickles the babies, and rubs my shoulders after a long evening of hosting. We’ve known immense joys and unwanted sorrows. We’ve changed together, grown together. We share a comfortable companionship now, my favourite thing about our marriage. And he still makes those cakes: layers moist and intricate; their delectableness impossible to replicate. And every time I have a bite, I remember that long-ago day with the fondest of feelings, and tell myself that there really is no wonder I was smitten by that visiting man.

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Dear New Mom: when you can’t quite reach.

There are a lot of blog posts out there that begin just like I’ve titled this one. “Dear new mom, there are things you need to know…” About sleepless nights, crazy hormones, raging appetites, how it’s okay to cry even when nothing’s wrong and how it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. The letters are quite possibly overdone, but I still tip my hat to those who aren’t afraid to drop yet another article with that title into cyberspace. There’s something about those words that catch our eye, and we young moms immediately gravitate towards them; craving to find experiences that match ours, to give substance to the things we struggle with, and to know that someone somewhere gets it and is giving us permission to own the huge things that we’re feeling.

Confession: I’ve struggled to enjoy the postpartum days + months. After the birth of our first daughter especially, I found myself swaddled in darkness for several months, scrambling to find a little bit of something familiar and safe. There is an unwritten standard about the feelings a new mother should or shouldn’t have, and there’s an unmerited, unspoken guilt when her new baby doesn’t always make her croon or when she is hanging out on the borders of postpartum blues, or God-forbid, the unlawful depression .

Here is where it gets confusing because we start throwing in all the disclaimers and buts. We think newborns are the sweetest, softest, best-smellingest things, and can hardly get enough of the rise and fall of her chest or the scent of her pure breath. Discouragement and emptiness are hard things for us as fresh mothers to acknowledge and understand, because they come hand-in-hand with an alive, fairly-bursting happiness that we’ve never felt before, and it doesn’t make sense why so many ranging, raging feelings coexist.

This is not a post that defines depression, lists five steps to restoring joy, or begs for a sympathetic pat on the back. I feel like I’m not defined by these shadows anymore, and I love feeling the sun on my back again, but I know my heart’s health is maintained through this telling: the acknowledging of need and failure, and how I sometimes strain on tiptoes to reach, and still can’t. This is a post about grace and one of the things its whispered to me.

Whether you know it or not, you’ve set an invisible bar for yourself: a certain level of performance, achievement, and knowledge that you have to obtain in order to prove that you’re a good mother.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I’m from a big, (mostly) happy family, and that I’m the eldest. Of ten children. I didn’t always love that fact, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, and am so rich to have the gift of a close, fun, quirky family who loves fiercely. I’m a huge fan of children, and if someone were to ask me what a dream snapshot of my future looks like, I would probably paint in words the picture that immediately comes into focus when I think of my family: all of us around the table, plates scraped clean, leftover food growing cold, the siblings laughing and talking all over top of each other, mama listening with the occasional chuckle, daddy reclined in his chair at the head of the table, arms crossed over his head.  I’ve always loved babies, and there was nothing but sheer delight when we discovered we were going to have one of our own. Throughout the pregnancy, I heard dozens of comments like, “Oh, you’ll have it easy since you’ve been around kids all your life,” and “You’ve always been good with babies,” and “You already know how to do everything!” While I certainly didn’t feel underprepared, it took me several months into motherhood to realise that I had been silently setting a level of achievement for myself based on my experience and what everyone else was expecting from me. I felt like I was somehow messing up if I didn’t know how to do something or if I felt lost in my role, and was wearing myself out by trying to live up to my own expectations.

Leave your reputation and the standard you’ve set for yourself in God’s hands. Once I realised that my baby was a unique entity, that no previous experience or exposure could fully prepare me for this baby, I was able to look at motherhood itself with a much broader vision and began to own it instead of feeling insecure about my capability. While feeling at home with drippy poo or complicated onesie snaps certainly helps, there is nothing that can prepare you for the way that your child will or will not sleep or the things that will help your baby’s stomachache. And while you can think upon and replay in your mind the way your parents or a respected friend would respond in a discipline case, your child was created to drain you of all your own pat answers and make you holy: holiness is no cookie-cutter situation.

This is the first of a few posts, I think, this delving into the new-mama drama; sifting through it and trying to find answers and normality for the things we moms find uncomfortable to talk about. For me, this was the first tiny stepping-stone out of the darkness, the recognition of a standard already set for me and my subconscious striving to attain to it. I’d love to hear from you: can you relate to this or other aspects of postpartum discouragement that you’d love to see talked about more?

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Portrait of an Evening

Journal Excerpt, Family Holiday, June 4

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“It is the third day of winter. The days are warm enough to blush the skin and the nights cool enough to warrant slippers and steaming mugs. Oh Queensland, your beauty! It is golden hour and the shadowy green lawns are strewn with yellow highlights as the sun ducks beneath the horizon. The eucalyptus trees are glimmering and the afternoon is a symphony of bird-song, colour and water rushing over river rocks. Around me, voices hum and chat. There is the loud chewing of pretzels and the slurping of chocolate milk. Here, two people sit with foreheads wrinkled in concentration over ColorKu, and there a little brother whoops over the discovery of another fish in the creek. My little girls are napping: one, hair and legs strewn over pillow and bed, those dear lips slightly parted in heavy, peaceful breathing, having finally succumbed to holding still enough to shut her eyes. The other is tucked up onto my chest. Her soft breath is warm and puts goosebumps on my skin chilled by twilight. Three little boys kick a ball down the hill, the birds are chirping good-nights and the cows in the neighbouring pasture mosey slowly along the fence towards home. The french-press has been brewed now and an array of hot teas are fanned across the table. Mama just brought me a blanket for my legs and the dying sun is level with my face. There is talk of a campfire and the inevitable s’mores, and we all know that a proper holiday requires all participating members to be doused in the scent of wood-smoke. I relish the gift of this moment, this grace of rest and renewal. The country is God’s place, I’m sure. I feel His presence especially much now, but I think I’m just finally quiet enough to be aware. I whisper a prayer now, a longing for refreshment and a new vision: “Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation!”IMG_6799

 

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