Family. The last two weekends we've had visits from family; brother, sisters in law, nephews... the girls have loved it, having exciting people to play with in the garden, and we've had barbecues, takeaways and bottles of wine so it's been pretty good for the grown ups too. It's lovely to see people that you love that live a distance away and therefore don't see much of. Texts and emails and phone calls and, dare I say it, Facebook - are not a decent substitute for sitting in the garden together with a coffee, chatting and watching the children play together.
I'm so tired. I've been staying up late and getting up early (ish) and the children have been so excited that they've slept poorly and got up at silly-o'clock the last few mornings. Today our guests went home and I took the girls to the park to work off any remaining energy in the hope that they might let me sleep a bit tonight. We met up with some friends and although our intention to have a natter didn't work out exactly as we'd planned (with five children between us they always managed to want to do different things requiring adult attention, so in an hour and a half our talking time was approximately fifteen fractured minutes); it was a good afternoon.
My Elizabeth can ride a bicycle! Not just a faltering few yards before an emergency landing - she can ride and ride and ride. Her own bike was donated some months ago and suffers from a chronically flat tyre (can't find the puncture no matter how hard we try) and a broken spoke. Another bike we were given has two dodgy tyres and one broken brake handle thingy, so her delight in finding that her older friend had a beautiful, sleek new machine was lovely to behold. With permission, she was away. Well, you know all this; you were there. I was so proud. I imagine you were too.
I watched her sail around the playing field with a look of intense concentration on her beautiful little face. Did you see her, Father God? Fast and slow, straight and cornering, wobbling occasionally but righting herself, until she came to a stop where we were, flushed and triumphant. My little Lizzie is five, and she can ride a bike! What a star.
Elizabeth has always been quick to learn things physical. You've given her gifts in that department. She is tall and lean, well muscled, streamlined and athletic, with the figure of a swimmer or a gymnast. (She certainly didn't inherit all that from me!) She took her first steps at eleven months and walked confidently within days. She took to swimming and loves her lessons at the pool. She is never still. She runs, jumps, climbs, dances and swings. Physical things come easily to Elizabeth. I have no idea where she gets that from, either. Not my genes, and I might be doing him a disservice, but I don't think they were in Bryan's, either. I think you must have seen what was necessary there and intervened, Lord.
Today she was so pleased with herself. Her little face was glowing, and earlier on she came downstairs after bedtime and overheard me telling Bryan on the phone how wonderful she'd been; I was so glad. There are many things a child can overhear but I was so glad that she listened to me telling him that she was great, impressive, fabulous before I realised she was there. Fortunately I sensed a little shadow behind me before I suggested that perhaps a new bike might be in order for her birthday in a few weeks time...
At teatime today we regaled Grandma with stories of expert bicycle-riding and my generous little Katy nodded solemnly when asked if she thought her big sister was amazing. My Lizzie. She felt good today. A while later she sidled over to me and asked me if I liked the poems she brought home before the holiday - they'd been in the workbook that I was shown on parents evening. Her teacher was most impressed and so was I. She really can write little poems. She can paint a little word picture. I'm so glad.
We've encouraged her and made much of her efforts and I liked that tonight, in the light of her bike triumph, she was thinking of another recent success. I long for my daughters to see that they are special, talented, gifted, full of potential. I want them to be comfortable in their own skins, happy to be who they are. I want them to understand that they cannot be good at everything, but that they have been blessed with a unique arrangement of skills and attributes that no-one else has in quite the same way. Also that they don't have to be the best to earn our love or approval; that trying hard is what we value, not always being a winner.
I want them to feel confident. Not arrogant, not superior, but assured. Clear in the knowledge that they are loved, by their family and especially by you, their Heavenly Father. I don't want them to doubt themselves, to fear failure or ridicule and so not to try. I want them to have faith in themselves, because you don't make rubbish, and if you think they are of immeasurable value, then what the world thinks is immaterial. When they are older I hope that they will come to realise that you sent your Son to die for them - and there is no greater legitimacy than that.
You've been trying to teach me that little lot for decades, Lord, haven't you?
Funny how motherhood has taught me so much about you. Just as I want it for my girls, you want these things for me, don't you? You want me to have faith in myself because you don't make mistakes, and I am me for a reason. I am built this way, with these talents, these flaws, these hopes, these dreams, these fears. You want me to fly, and yet in adulthood I am only just peering over the side of the nest. I pray that it doesn't take my daughters as long to stretch their wings, because I am beginning to learn that you won't let us fall to the ground.
I give my little fledgelings to you, Father. My brave, clever Elizabeth who can ride her bike, and my sweet, fiesty Katy who is going to hospital on Wednesday. Father, hold them close right now as they sleep and protect them.
And thank you. For family, for friends, for sunshine, for good food and laughter and bicycles.