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My mother was twenty-nine years old when she gave birth to me almost fifty years ago. I was the sixth child she gave birth to in seven years and in the years that followed I would be joined by another sister and then three brothers.

But my mother did not just give birth to me; she gave life to me. From her own body mine took shape and was sustained for more than forty weeks, until severed from her, I drew my first breath.

When I think of all the gifts my parents gave me over the years, my father’s commitment to working as hard as any man could to put food on the table and clothes on our backs and provide a quality education for each one of us, and my mother’s never-ending sacrifice to provide for the daily needs of all her children, I am humbled.

I remember accompanying my mother on weekly grocery shopping trips with one or two of my sisters because she always needed at least two shopping carts. Other times, I would offer to help chop vegetables for dinner after school in the hopes of getting to spend some time with her. But it never worked. I was seen only as a welcome relief so she could move on to more pressing things. Like pressing the laundry after washing an average of probably three or more loads a day.

There was never any shortage of work to be done, no days off unless you counted the weekends when my dad might take all of us camping to give my mother a break while relying on all of us to keep track of each other. But in reality, the only break she was getting was from us, not the work we created for her.

She was getting a break from the constant bickering, and name-calling, and doors being slammed, and tears of frustration and hurt feelings and the overwhelming tension that comes with having so many kids. But she was not getting a break from much else because there was always something for her to have to do next.

By the time my youngest brother came along my mother was fast approaching her forty-second birthday. By this time she had spent a total of more than seven and a half years of her life being pregnant. As I think about this now, I am overwhelmed by her body’s physical ability to keep giving.

I am also overwhelmed by the emotions that surface when I think about how differently we were all parented.

“Giving has an enormous horizon and a breadth that is hard to compass: it is both a practicality, it creates bonds and dependencies necessary to our communal well-being, but it is also an essentiality, the essence of giving being that the other person is simply alive and by corollary, not only a privilege to know but a living privilege themselves, who has the astonishing ability to acknowledge both the somebody who has given and the something that is given to them.” – David Whyte Consolations

I was dependent on my parents for my physical well-being. We all were. This dependency is what bonded us together as a family. But sadly, I was never made to feel like I was a privilege to get to know, at least not by them anyway. For the most part, any attention I was given came from my siblings and not my parents.

This lack of connection to them is what so often drove me into the woods when I was a child. There, I always felt welcomed and wanted and somehow understood. I paid close attention to everything and was paid close attention to in return. By the spider whose web anointed my face as I unknowingly walked straight through what had taken it so long to create, and by the birds, each with their distinct calls, singing sweetly to me as if welcoming back each and every time.

When I think of all the gifts that nature continuously gives me each day and in every way, like the bees that pollinate the blossoms of the fruits and vegetables that I will harvest and feed my family with, and the trees that shade us one day, are cut down and cut up the next, to warm us the following winter, I often times feel overwhelmingly unworthy.

One of mine and my children’s favorite books is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

It speaks directly to just one of so many loving gifts from nature that so often go unnoticed. The tree gives so freely of itself right up until the end when it can only offer itself as a stump to be rested upon.

Some of the best gifts I have ever received are ones that did not involve money. My children know their homemade cards will always mean more to me than a store bought one because they have taken the time to say what’s in their heart in a way Hallmark never could, which is something money can’t buy.

By contrast, some of the best gifts I have ever given are ones that did involve money. For example, one Christmas when my siblings and I were all older, and some of us already had kids of our own, we came up with a new idea to replace a tradition we previously had taken part in when we were kids.

As children, every Thanksgiving after dinner, we would draw names from a hat and whomever we picked, that sibling would be our ‘krisken’ for Christmas.

This meant that we would each be tasked with buying inexpensive but meaningful gifts for that person that we would then hide periodically in the days leading up to Christmas (like under that person’s pillow or in one of their shoes) leaving them to wonder who had them as a krisken.

When Christmas morning came around you would have saved your last, best gift for whoever was your krisken and we would take turns trying to guess who had us based on whatever small gifts we had been given leading up to that day.

“Clichés are clichés often because they are so stubbornly true; it is the thought that counts, but even more it is the imagination behind the thought that counts, made tangible through gifts that find their definition through being twice blessed.” – David Whyte Consolations

We really were twice blessed by that tradition, but sadly it came to a halt when some who no longer saw the point of it, stopped putting any thought or effort into hiding the small gifts leading up to it (if any were hidden at all) which inevitably led to hurt feelings and the opposite of the traditions intention.

It was at that point that we all decided to change things up and collect the money we would have spent on each other to donate to a worthy charity of our choice instead. The catch was that everyone got to write down their choice on a slip of paper which was then picked out of a hat and that was that.

This went great for the first few years, and we were able to donate on average about five hundred dollars to a charity in need every Christmas. But when the charity of mine and one other sister’s choice was picked one year (I guess we had unknowingly doubled our odds) some of my other siblings were less than enthusiastic about it for reasons I still don’t understand.

It is a charity that has been near and dear to my heart for more than fifteen years, in fact, I was just asked to write a blog for their website which was an incredible honor for me.

But regrettably, our donation to Women for Women International would be the last we would make as a family.

Since I only have two children, it was impossible for us to carry on the krisken tradition. Instead, we collected our spare change in a jar over the course of the year and then voted on what charity to give it to. One year it went to sponsor a gorilla through The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, but most years the money would be donated and deposited into the Salvation Army’s red kettle, which was always pretty exciting for my kids since the scene they made would often inspire others to reach into their pockets after witnessing their genuine excitement.

We never knew exactly where that money would go, but we could imagine the good it might do for someone else in need, someone more than likely, from our own community.

“Giving means paying attention and creating imaginative contact with the one to whom we are giving, it is a form of attention itself, a way of acknowledging and giving thanks for lives other than our own.” – David Whyte Consolations

My story would be forever incomplete without my parents; without their care and love that colored in the pages of my life. I will be forever grateful to them for all of the gifts they have given me. Without them, I know I would not be the person I am today.

And for what they couldn’t give me – their time and attention – well, I am grateful for that, too. I have to be. It made me into the parent I am today.

Because of it, my greatest joy in life comes from giving my children what I needed but did not receive. Whether it’s the time and attention that was given to them while homeschooling them for all those years, or the time we all spend in nature together as a family, or the time spent making a delicious, nutritious meal for them and then, hardest of all, giving away the leftovers I was looking forward to having for lunch the next day. I know these gifts are received with genuine gratitude. And I am as grateful for the opportunity to give them.

But perhaps the greatest gift I can give my children is this blog. While they already know all my stories (the only surprise to them so far has been to learn how young I was when I started smoking) by cracking open my book, my life, and sharing my story with the rest of the world, I am showing them how to be unafraid and unapologetically who they are. To be unafraid to share their own stories and their unique gifts with the world.

When they see me connecting with strangers in a way that might make someone feel the tiniest bit better about stories from their own past, I know I am inspiring them to do the same. That is no small thing; that is everything.

I am so grateful for this opportunity.

It is the gift that keeps on giving.



About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

One Reply

  1. Jeff

    All of your family should read your blog. Then maybe they would know you like the kids and I know you! Keep up the awesome writing! Love you!

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