Eight Years and Three Tables

“Mommy I only like the oranges,” Caden tells me. I look across the kitchen table to see his plate untouched but for the oranges.

“You need to eat something else,” I say, “Then you can have more oranges.”

He scowls behind his plate. “I already tried everything and I don’t like it,” he says, though I know he’s lying. (That he’s tried it. This is an end-of-the-week scraps-for-dinner kind of meal so it’s probably true he doesn’t like it.)

I ignore him; I don’t want the fight. I’ve already gotten up to get Nolan some milk and then my own water where I’d forgotten it on the counter. Nolan suddenly jumps up and runs over to play with his new LEGO set in the living room. Caden follows.

“Boys!” I say, “Put your butts in your chairs! It’s time to eat.” This happens again, once, twice, three times before the LEGO set gets taken away for good for a full 24 hours. This is all punctuated by Tyson joining us at the table (delayed because he was fixing the sprinkler system outside), another request for oranges (only oranges), Brooklyn telling me she doesn’t like dinner, either (sigh). I’m out of my chair more than not. Five minutes into dinner and I’ve eaten three bites.

“Hey Google, set a timer for five minutes,” I call across the room, “Okay, everyone needs to sit here until the timer beeps. I don’t care if you eat. You just have to sit here and talk to us.”

Cue more general anarchy, moans, groans, spaghetti-limbed bodies draped across the bench. I get in another few bites.

Once Google relieves them, the boys dash off to play. Nolan, frustrated by the whole experience of needing to actually sit in his chair to eat dinner, grabs the long, thick, wooden pole we use as a security measure to keep the patio door closed and locked. He starts swinging it around, though this is something he knows he’s not supposed to touch, much less flail around the room. Tyson and I corner him around the kitchen table - me on one side, Tyson on the other - and I almost take a pole to the face before grabbing it away. (“Goddamnit” is something that may have come out of my mouth.) Tyson walks him over to the bottom step for a three-minute time out.

“Well this was enjoyable,” I say to Tyson, the first words I’ve said to him since dinner began, “I’m leaving.” And I abandon my mostly-untouched dinner and step over Nolan to walk out the door.

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We’re eight years into marriage and this is our third dining room table. Our first table wasn’t really a dining table. Which was fitting, since we didn’t really have a dining room.

It was a card table, black, the kind with legs that fold in. We had black folding chairs to match, just to keep it classy. It sat on the carpet and wobbled a little when we cut chicken or pizza slices.

We only had four chairs: more people than that and someone had to sit on the futon, an arm’s-length away in the living room. Though we rarely had company. We were newlyweds and a state away from anything familiar; it was usually just us at the table.

I remember how silent our whole apartment complex was, how we sometimes turned on the TV while we ate just to hear someone talk besides ourselves. Eight years ago and our table was the antithesis in every way of what it is now.

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Our second table was gifted to us by my parents for our first anniversary. I’d been eyeing the set at Target, a small, square table and chairs. We’d moved across town and despite having a larger apartment, it didn’t really have a dining room, either. We shoved the table against the wall, pulled it and the fourth chair out anytime we had guests.

And we had guests, now. After our move we joined a small group, made friends. We hosted our small group and baby showers and Thanksgiving and Downton Abbey watch parties. Our early memories around this table involve lots of friends and bottles of Spotted Cow.

Two years later we brought our twin babies home, setting their carseats on top of that table. The same table where we ate foil-pan casseroles dropped off by friends, our dinners now punctuated by cries. Many nights I walked back and forth during the dinnertime witching hours as I tried to eat and nurse two babies simultaneously. Later I would set my laptop on that table (and often a beer) as I began to write again, stretching out my rusty fingers and brain to put words on a page.

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This table moved with us to the Twin Cities, along with my 20-weeks pregnant belly, just a year and a half later. We brought that table and the memories of friends and new babies seated around it with us.

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We’re on our third kitchen table now. The second one was absurdly small for our new space: our first house that, yes, has an actual dining room. This table has a stainless steel top: smooth, flat, easy to clean. Any hesitation I felt about the coordinating cream-colored, upholstered chairs with three kids under three vanished when I saw how easy it would be to wipe that top down.

I see the progression of a couple, of a life and a marriage in these three tables in eight short (long) years. I can trace our path from baby newlyweds to very young family to house in the suburbs. Sometimes this life is everything I’ve hoped it would be and other times I’m dodging my three-year old brandishing legit weapons at the dinner table. Sometimes we have to make use of Google as a timer, remind them to put their dishes away, clear away piles of markers and paper and masterpieces before we can sit down to a meal.

Still, we make a point of sitting down here most nights as a family.

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“Mommy I like this dinner!” Nolan says as he runs down the steps the very next night, seeing the plates of food on the table.

“Me, too!” Caden and Brooklyn chorus, joining us. Tyson follows them down the stairs and gives me a quick kiss before sitting down next to me.

Tonight we pray and pull out the set of dinner table questions at the kids’ request. Everyone eats their panko-crusted chicken and broccoli and asks for seconds, thirds.

Caden pulls a card from the stack in the middle of the table and I read it to him. “What is your favorite place to eat?”

“Hmmm,” he thinks, and I wait for it, the answer of McDonald’s or Chick-fil-a or the restaurant we go to with the trolly inside that serves their favorite spaghetti and meatballs.

Then: “Here! At home. I like the food you make, mommy.”

I don’t know if they’ll remember the nights we yelled, the nights they “didn’t like” any of the food, the nights I let four-letter words pass my lips, when they bargain and whine and shout and cry over each other. I don’t know if they’ll remember eating naan with rice and curry, homemade pizza, or Happy Meals around this table.

But I’ll remember what happened here just like I remember the meals and the life we built around its two predecessors. The good, the bad, and the in-between. I sure hope they remember nights like this. I hope this table makes up a piece of their story, too.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Remember This."

Sometimes, Everything Goes Just Fine

The articles blur together as I scroll through social media. (Reminder to self: just stop it already.) You know the ones I’m talking about:

“Preschool Changed My Kid...For the Worse”

“10 Reasons You Should Never Put Sunscreen on Your Child” and it’s companion, “10 Reasons You Should Bathe Your Child in Sunscreen”

“I Totally Regret _____ About My Parenting”

“Why Sleep Training (or not Sleep Training) Your Baby Makes You a Monster”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing here. But you get the picture. These articles are everywhere. They’re scary and overwhelmingly negative. When I see them, I cringe, roll my eyes, and (usually) avoid the clickbait.

But I wonder how this content gets out as I think of all the new moms out there, seeing this garbage as they scroll sleepily through their phones at 1:15 am. (And again at 3...and at 5:45…) Where’s all the positivity?

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One of my first solo outings with the twins was a moms’ event at my church. I rolled in with the double-stroller loaded down with two infant carseats holding my three-month-olds and hardly had time to wonder if I knew anyone else before another mom greeted me.

“Twins?” She asked, with a sweet smile. “Are they boys or girls?”

“One of each,” I told her.

“I have boy-girl twins, too!” she told me. “They’re three now.” We were quickly joined by another mom who had twin girls a month older than mine. We chatted all things twins: newborns, pregnancies, labor and delivery.  Despite the fact that a multiples pregnancy automatically puts you in the high-risk category, I was surprised to discover that each of our pregnancies and birth experiences had been fairly routine.

“This is crazy,” I remember saying, “I feel like all I was told throughout my pregnancy was how risky multiples are and here we all had pretty good experiences.”

“That’s because that’s all you hear!” the mom with three-year-old twins exclaimed, “Nobody talks about the normal stories. They only tell you the scary ones!”

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Read the rest of this piece over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

 

Signs of Life

Saturday morning I begged Brooklyn to eat her yogurt faster, resigned myself to braiding her hair (“Anna braids, mommy”) at the breakfast table, and packed snacks in the monkey backpack while sucking down iced coffee. Tyson and I hustled everyone into the car, buckled a crying Nolan into his carseat (“But I want to get in the car from the other door!”) and left at 7:52 to make the six-minute drive to the ballpark so the twins could play the first game of the day.

Their games are usually on Wednesdays, but this Saturday was Player Appreciation Day so every team had a game. It felt like a parenting level-up to be up and out of the house for an 8:15 ball game on a Saturday. Saturday morning sports definitely seem like big-kid territory. Except our kids are still small enough they chased balls around the field (three or four of them after the same one) and practiced holding their back elbows up when it was their turn to bat. I chatted with a grandma behind me in the stands (“I’m so jealous you have twins!”) and she told me stories from when her kids were young; how happy she was to see so many kids out playing ball in our town.

Later I took my volunteer shift in the concession stand. I collected crumpled dollar bills from dirty fingers and heard a whispered order from a girl whose curly head barely reached the counter. I passed out Big League Chew to boys with freckles across their faces who weren’t much older than Caden and Brooklyn. I mixed slushies and wrapped hot dogs in foil and fished ice cream Snickers bars from the freezer.

After my shift ended we made our way to the “big” field so the kids could line up to be announced for Player Appreciation Day. I looked at all the kids gathered on the field, noted that the t-ball kids were just versions of the teenage little leaguers in miniature. The coaches each called their own players names and gave out high-fives as they ran across home plate.

Caden, Brooklyn, and Nolan sat and ate candy afterwards in the shade of a tree: their reward for a long morning (and consolation prize for being given some warmed-over root beer floats). I looked around and wondered how many of our memories might take place here at this very ballpark over the next decade or so. Boys and girls ran around in their MLB logo-ed jerseys, backpacks slung over shoulders, chasing each other with water bottles and tennis balls and freezees.

And I was saddened by the thought that Rachel Held Evans will never get to see her children run the bases in oversized batting helmets and brightly-colored jerseys on a bright, blue, cloudless summer day.

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Her funeral took place later that day. I hoped to get home from the ballpark in time to watch the livestream online.

We did make it home with a few minutes to spare. The twins threw batting helmets and gloves on the floor of the mud room and raced off to the backyard while I went upstairs to my room, to watch a funeral on my computer, which seemed like a strange thing to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon but there we were through the miracle of technology.

I couldn’t sit still. I was fidgety, the computer was too hot to set on my legs comfortably. I set it down to paint my nails (“Orchid-ing Aside”). I briefly wondered if this was this an appropriate thing to do while watching a real, live, actual funeral. I knew Rachel would forgive any heresy in my actions.

The sun streamed in through the wood blinds in my room. I kind of hate them; they’re always dusty, though they look nice if you don’t peer too closely. The light is almost always perfect in our master bedroom, no matter the time of day. I thought of what a perfect day it was and yet somewhere in Chattanooga a husband was having one of the absolute worst days of his life. (Along with two small children, too small to even know it was supposed to be one of the worst days of their lives.)

I answered a quick email and deleted a few others. I noted the Post-it note on my laptop that’s been reminding me for a month that I need to find a nightstand for Caden and Brooklyn’s room. My mind wandered to thoughts of what to make for dinner and things I needed from the store. I put the clothes away that somehow always end up in a pile on the floor in front of the dresser.

I sat and folded Nolan’s laundry as I listened to Sarah Bessey tear up while she gave the most beautiful reading of Mary Magdalene and the disciples arriving at Jesus’ tomb. I smoothed out plaid shorts and wondered why half of Caden’s underwear ended up in Nolan’s laundry basket while Nadia Bolz-Weber trembled in her patterned glasses and salt-and-pepper curls. She spoke of the male disciples who looked in the tomb only to see a pile of folded laundry inside, where Mary Magdalene saw angels.

The doorbell rang and I ran downstairs to find a neighbor girl looking for the kids to play. I chatted with her and her dad for a minute as she told me about her own softball game that morning, how she saw Caden and Brooklyn on the field. I also discovered a package I had ordered on the steps. New sandals (brown with thick straps and a heel); brought them upstairs to try on (keepers).

I mentally planned my outfit for church the next day (to incorporate the new sandals, of course) while adding my own silent “amen”s to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s benediction blessing the preschoolers who cut in line at communion and the closeted and those who can’t fall apart because they needed to keep it together for everyone else.

As the funeral ended (“It is well, it is well with my soul”) I fielded a phone call from my mom. We talked about the progress on the playset my dad is building for the kids. We talked about future plans, weighed the pros and cons of dates and timing. We said good-bye.

The livestream ended and I clicked the tab closed, somewhat hesitantly, as though putting death aside were a thing that could be done so easily.

And I went back out to rejoin my own bright, living world.

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Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

The three people in my house under the age of five have been obsessed with the idea of good guys and bad guys lately.

“I’m Batman!” Caden, my four-year-old-son, proclaims as he runs around in his blanket cape.

“And Robin!” the two-year-old replies, right behind him.

“Let’s get the bad guys!” they cry in unison.

My husband and I are usually stand-ins for the villains. I sigh inwardly at their use of the term “bad guys”. But this is all so developmentally appropriate, this cop-and-robber-type play, I’m not sure I should step in, or even what to say if I do.

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“The world turned upside down. The world turned upside down,” The kids and I sing along to Hamilton as we color at the kitchen table. “The world turned upside down.”

“What’s this song about?” Caden asks me. His twin sister perks up to hear my answer to his question. (The two-year-old continues on his mission to break every crayon we own.) I pause. While we’ve been singing along to this soundtrack for months, this is the first time they’ve asked about it. Usually it’s enough for them thatMy Shot” makes an excellent dance tune.

“Well...” I fumble. I minored in history in college. My brain tumbles over facts and stories, but which ones are appropriate for preschoolers? “A long time ago, our country fought another country. They were kind of in charge of us but we didn’t think they treated us very nicely. So we fought them and, well, we won.” I’m not sure they even have any concept of what a country is yet.

“We won?” he asks, eyes brightening. This he understands.

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

“Well...they weren’t really bad. They just believed different things than we did. They weren’t bad people, we just didn’t feel like they were treating us fairly. So we fought for what we thought was right. And they fought for what they thought was right.”

I’ve lost him now, though. He goes back to coloring, now singing his own little song under his breath that talks about how “we won and the bad guys lost.” Well. I tried.

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Continue reading how I’m working to teach my children about the shades of gray in the world over at SheLoves Magazine.





My Own Search for Sunday

The last day at our old church, not one month ago, I left the group of volunteers I led with these words from Rachel Held Evans’ blog:

“When writing about her troubled marriage, author Glennon Melton wisely avoids telling other women what to do, and instead puts the choice this way:

‘Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard. And both roads can lead to redemption.’

The same is true for church. There is no single road to redemption.  And there is certainly not a straight one. As novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, ‘grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.’”

As excited as I was to find our new church, this volunteer position - these volunteers - were the reason I stayed for so long. I spoke these words with a slight catch in my voice as I told everyone I was leaving, that we had found a new church. These words helped reassure me, helped give me the strength to leave.

Just five days later, I learned that Rachel Held Evans was admitted to the hospital and had been put in a medically-induced coma.

This past Saturday, my social media feeds became plastered with her image after she passed away.

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At our “old” (read: just two months ago) church, I was in charge of the 30 or so volunteers in the birth-Kindergarten children’s ministry area. I filled snack cups, checked nametags, paged parents, sent out reminder emails, and led huddle for our group, filling them in on announcements and coming up with some sort of inspiration for the hour.

The night before my last day, I sat with my laptop and a notebook, searching for the words to tell my group I was leaving. How did I tell them we’d found a different church? How did I tell them I just couldn’t stay here anymore? It didn’t take long for me to search Rachel Held Evans’ blog, to scroll through the archives and find the one titled “Life After Evangelicalism”. It was there I found her (and Glennon’s, and Marilynne’s) words to sum up my decision.

It was Rachel’s words I so often turned to when I couldn’t find words of my own. When my own brain was in tumult, she projected clarity. She was a writers’ writer and a thinker’s thinker; someone who could harness into words what felt trapped in my own head.

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I’d read Searching for Sunday a couple years ago, about her own journey through and with and out of the evangelical church. Of course she had the words to sum up my decision to leave.

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Maybe I should back up to the whole “we left our church and found a new one” part. It’s a decision that may seem sudden to those on the outside. To me, it’s a long-overdue change. It’s a decision I’ve been wrestling with for at least two years, if not longer. To say it has consumed my thoughts is an understatement.

It was a whole host of factors; far more than I can go into detail with here. It was the lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was not seeing women in the highest positions of leadership, or even quoted from the stage. Along those lines, it was the realization that the faith leaders I turned to (Glennon Doyle, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr) were never mentioned; it was always men (James Dobson, Henry Cloud, John Piper). It was never discussing social justice, or really anything out in the great, wide world outside the church walls. (Refugees? Immigrants? Hurricane victims? Anything? Nothing.) It was the fact that the messages had gotten so repetitive - literally the same exact stories repeated two, three, four times, so often I knew the punchlines and could repeat them myself - that I got virtually nothing out of going to church. And by the way, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? (Yes. Next. Can we talk about something else, please?)

Then there was the 2016 election. To learn that over 80% of white, evangelical Christians in this country had deemed Donald Trump worthy of the presidency felt like the ultimate betrayal. To go to church and feel like a stranger. To feel like the church had completely abandoned everything I thought it stood for. To wonder where all the people were who felt the way I did - surely they were out there, weren’t they?

I talked it over with Tyson for more hours than either he or I can count. Bless him for listening to my constant dialogue of “do we stay or do we go”. I’d thought about and written out pros and cons lists over and over and over again.

I became hostile to church. Volunteering was the only thing I enjoyed anymore. More often we sat towards the back, me with my arms crossed, eyes narrowed, ready to pounce and critique anything and everything the pastor said.

I knew enough to realize this was an extremely unhealthy posture towards a church I tithed to, a church where I led other volunteers, a place I had called my own.

In March of this year, finally, I decided it was time.

“We have nothing going on this weekend. Let’s check out this other church,” I told Tyson. He was game, along for my existential faith-crisis journey. He was probably relieved.

So we did.

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To walk into a new church (a UCC denomination) that first Sunday was a little like stepping into my past. It was much smaller, sure, but the pews, the hymnals, the altar were all familiar from my Catholic upbringing. I was hopeful but guarded, running through the checklist of requirements in my head.

The pastor kicked off with an announcement about helping the flood victims in Nebraska and Iowa. (Acknowledging the world outside this church: check.) He talked about caring for refugees and our broken immigration system in his sermon. (Social justice: check.) The Lord’s Prayer, printed in the bulletin, allowed us to call God a name of our own choosing, whether Father, Mother, or God. (LGBTQ/allowing for other genders: check.) The choir sang “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. (Broadway music: BONUS!)

Tyson turned to me with a smile on his face when the service was over, “They couldn’t have put together a church service that would have resonated with you more.”

And just like that, we’d found our new church home.

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This church change is now tangled up with Rachel Held Evans’ death in my head. Her death lends a sadness to this time, a time where I’ve been feeling alive again, energized (maybe like never before) by the church. I needed her words to transition me out of the evangelical church world. I needed her encouragement - her own “searching for Sunday” journey to help me along in my own.

(Of note: the pastor at my new church acknowledged her death this past weekend. I’m certain our old church did not.)

Rachel Held Evans ended her post, “Life After Evangelicalism”, with these words:

“You are not alone.

There is life after this. There is faith after this.

Hold on.”

That seems as good a way as any to close out my tangled emotions on her death and our own church change.

There is life after this. There is faith after this. Amen.