The Magic of Playdates

Playdates. Just the word can make you either cringe or cheer. I’m firmly in the camp of the latter. As a fairly social stay-at-home mom of three toddlers, having a playdate with other moms in the same stage of life is my salvation. Anything that forces us to get out of the house at a prearranged time, or requires me to clean up my own house for company helps break up the routine and add some structure to our days.

Sure, they can totally bomb. Your kids are in the wrong mood, you’re in the wrong mood, an unexpected diaper incident has you leaving as soon as you’ve arrived, or the group just doesn’t mesh that day. There have been several playdates where I’ve felt stuck on the sidelines the entire time, chasing after kids, nursing babies, changing diapers, doling out discipline, or sequestered by the snack table while everyone else plays outside (because my kids are somehow ravenously hungry despite having had both breakfast and a snack in the few hours they’ve been awake that morning).

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But in the midst of it all, sometimes, magic happens. Whether it’s a one-on-one playdate with a good friend or a larger group of moms overrun with too many small children, there are times when it all just clicks. Big kids suddenly remember how to play by themselves, babies sleep in arms, coffee is sipped at its appropriate temperature, and you find yourself in community. The conversation can range from options for preschool to a sale at Carter’s to teething remedies to what’s for dinner tonight and where did you get those pants?
The conversation isn’t always deep - usually not, in fact, with all those little feet running around - but it is vital to getting through the rest of the day. (And deep or not, I’m always interested in what’s for dinner.) A good conversation can give you the boost you need to get through whatever naptime trials come your way, an afternoon that feels about two hours too long, and the routine chaos of dinner-baths-bedtime. None of us was made to do this all by ourselves. Staying home with small children can feel like its own form of prison, and talking to the Target clerk just doesn’t quite cut it as the only other adult interaction you have in a day.

Read more over at the Twin Cities Moms Blog!

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything, watching comedy and documentary-type things, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ

No Ordinary Time
I haven't read a good history in awhile and so enjoyed Doris Kearns Goodwin's account of FDR's presidency during WWII. It was refreshing to read about a president who was actually well-liked and competent, especially in a time of crisis, and gave me hope for the future in a strange way. (I mean Trump won't be president forever, right?) It's a beast of a book that took me a few weeks to read, yet all so intriguing. Goodwin is a master at weaving together storylines that span Franklin's marriage to Eleanor, Eleanor's role as a first lady, and Franklin's relationship with Winston Churchill. This is how history textbooks should be written! (Also blew my mind to learn of the childcare centers Eleanor pushed for as the factories were opened up to women during wartime. Childcare that was reasonably priced and subsidized by the government, open 24-hours a day (night shift workers brought their children to sleep there), staffed by highly-trained childcare professionals in state-of-the-art facillities, and some even allowed women to pick up freshly prepared inexpensive meals each night once their shifts were over so the burden of cooking for their families was relieved. These centers flourished, yet were closed as soon as all the men returned home. *Insert all the mad/frustrated/sad emojis here*)

What We Talk About When We Talk About God
This was my first Rob Bell book and turned me into an immediate fangirl. I refrained from screenshotting every page to display on Instagram, but just barely. He takes on both culture and the church in equal measure to show how they both resist talking about God in any true, meaningful way. Most of all he shows how God is with us, for us, and ahead of us, and how understanding that can change our understanding of God and therefore our entire lives. Bell is so approachable (and even funny) which makes this a book I could gift to any friend, Christian, atheist or anywhere in-between.

Jesus Feminist
Sarah Bessey is poetic and loving yet challenging. Another work that I had to refrain from plastering all over social media. Her ideas are many of my own, but actually solidified, coherent, and backed by her own study of Scripture. This is a book whose ideas, of course, appeal to me, and I would challenge anyone to read it who thinks the two words that make up the title are incompatible. This is a feminism that should be shouted from the rooftops.

The Rules Do Not Apply
Ariel Levy's memoir about her marriage, affair, late-term miscarriage, spouse's alcoholism, and subsequent divorce is an excellent example of writing the hard without making it perfect. It's not exactly a fun book to read, but a vastly interesting one as she chronicles these few years of her life. I did enjoy the descriptions of some of her more exotic writing assignments, but the raw emotional component is what made this book impossible to put down.

Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend
So after all of THOSE heavy-hitters, both in length and material, I went for something fun. Kevin Kwan's first two books in this trilogy chronicling an absurdly wealthy family and their just as wealthy friends was fascinating, funny, satirical, and brilliant. Reading these was a guilty pleasure that I felt anything but guilty about. Kwan's gift of detail left my imagination swirling with visions of palaces, clothing, and jewelry beyond any of my dreams. His insightful footnotes are just as important and funny to read as the chapters themselves. I enjoyed the first book more than the sequel, but I am still anxious for my name to come to the top of the hold's list at the library for the last book in the series, Rich People Problems.

WATCHED

South Park  
I've said it before and I'll say it again: South Park is one of the best satirical looks at our culture and politics today. I know, I used to think it was all poop jokes and curse words, too. And it used to be. But the past five seasons or so have been hilariously on-point at exploring and exposing the hypocrisy in our society. It's hilarious, and yes, there are still some parts that I could do without (the poop and graphic death scenes have not disappeared). But overall it provides an actual nuanced look at issues in a very different way than any other source of media out there. Tyson and I will often be halfway through an episode before the lightbulb goes off and we realize that what they're actually talking about is gun control, Twitter, the NFL, or whatever issue is the current flavor of the week.

Besides that, we've been muddling around and watching a bit of everything, nothing consistently, ranging from The Great British Baking Show to This is Us. (But we're behind so don't tell me anything!)

LISTENED

Pantsuit Politics  
A friend recommended this to me (thanks, Brittany!) and then suddenly I had a whole bunch of people around me talking about this show! I'm addicted. Two women, one from the left and one from the right, tackle issues and current events with, as they say, "plenty of nuance". It's actually amazing how much they agree. To be fair, Sarah leans more left while Beth is right-leaning but moderate. Yet when they speak I often have to think about who is talking because there is so much they truly do agree on, from gun control to paid family leave to the fact that our president is the definition of incompetent. Their show is intelligent, rational, and a voice of reason when our current culture often seems like anything but. 

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Life Lately

Usually after Thanksgiving I'm ready to dive into Christmas - bring on the decking of the halls, music that fa-la-las, and all things peppermint, please! This year, though, I'm content to have a buffer week. Though I will admit to feeling a twinge of jealousy over everyone's festive photos this past weekend. One drawback to traveling over Thanksgiving is that it doesn't feel like we're around to begin the Christmas festivities. Driving down our street late Sunday afternoon to find each house on the block adorned with bright lights and garlands as we arrived home gave me a false sense of failure as we pulled into our own dark driveway.

We'll decorate as we typically do:  this coming weekend, the first of December. I'm thankful that Thanksgiving came "early" this year, so there is plenty of time to put it to rest before moving on to all things green and red. I don't feel quite so rushed as I do when we arrive home to December already on the calendar.

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Unrelated but related: a neighboring house has lights that change color each day. Red and green the first night, bright white and blue the next, tonight their house is lit up in alternating red and blue bulbs. It's amazing but also it's 2017 so OF COURSE this is a thing. And I'm totes jealous.

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Before Thanksgiving break, Caden and Brooklyn had watch week for their dance class. After class I asked them what they liked best. Brooklyn said, "All of it." Caden's response on the other hand? "Waving hi to you guys."

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He must have waved to us fifteen times during class, finding us across the room and sporting a proud yet shy grin as he shook his hand back and forth until we waved back. I can already see him at their spring recital, frantically scanning the audience and waving from the stage.

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Nolan's new thing is "poopy!" He points to himself and says, "poopy!"

"Are you poopy?"

"Noooo," he replies, with that little nose-scrunching grin. But he continues.

"Poopy!" he cries, pointing to me. 

"I'm not poopy!" I say.

"Poopy!" he cries again, pointing to Caden, then Brooklyn, and everyone else in the room. He thinks it's hilarious. And it's pretty adorable. Figures that he's already picked up potty-talk at a year and a half. 

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We leveled up in parenting as our travel to and from Iowa saw our most successful car trips EVER. One potty stop on the way, with kids who either napped or were entirely engaged with snacks, toys from the dollar section, and, yes, their tablets. On the way home we had - wait for it - NO STOPS WHATSOEVER. We made a straight trip in four hours and fifteen minutes with three kids under the age of four. I really think that might be some sort of record.

Their teachers asked about our trip when we arrived at preschool today. Apparently visiting Grandma and Grandpa's house was something that had been much publicized in their class the week before we left. But when I asked what exactly they said to their teachers, Brooklyn's response was, "I told my teacher that we are going to ride in the car for a long time and eat food and play on our tablets." Accurate.

Snacks and tablets aside, the real draw was cousin Quinn. She was overwhelmed with a bit TOO much love (ranging from bringing her a blanket every 4.2 seconds to hugs and kisses to helping her do things she's already been able to do for months, i.e. eat food) and is probably glad to be recovering at home with the peace that comes from being the only baby in the house.

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We also had another family photo session while we were in Iowa. Our matching game was on point, and I can only hope the photos will be as well given the CAN'T STOP WON'T STOP attitude of these kids and can you just say cheese and STAND FREAKING STILL FOR ALL OF TWO SECONDS?!?

(We looked good, too. And even knew how to stand still. #adulting)

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So...who's excited about another royal wedding? Because I DEFINITELY am and am totes over the comments on every single engagement article that are to the effect of "Who cares?" I CARE, DAMMIT.

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But probably the most significant event of the past couple of weeks was:

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Our first ER visit. (I'll tell you what I told my mom when I called her: EVERYTHING IS OKAY. He split his chin open going down the slide backward and it was pretty disgusting, but nothing that some super glue (seriously) and technology couldn't handle.) 

I KNEW that our first ER visit would be with Nolan. I just knew it. I had always predicted it would be daredevil Caden, but then Nolan came along with his GO GO GO attitude I knew by the time he was six months old his fearlessness was at another level.

He was bleeding pretty good and screaming about it until we got in the car and I gave him his tablet. Then he calmed down and followed all directions with his eyes glued to the screen, following each nurse along from one room to another to another like a little duckling. The doctor warned us that the cleaning and gluing of his wound would probably sting, but he didn't bat an eye. Then we took the tablet away and he screamed bloody murder the entire way out of the ER. "Tab-bet! TABBBB-BETTTTT!!!!!!111!!" We may have been the only people who ever brought a screaming child OUT of the ER instead of INTO it. We assured the few bystanders and the charge nurse that he really was fine, we had only taken his technology away, but honestly I'm surprised they let us go home with him. ("TAB-BETTTT!!!")

Also, this all happened within an hour of our arrival home after being gone for nearly a week. We arrived at the ER with a kid splattered in yogurt from a GoGo Squeez enjoyed on the drive from Iowa, a diaper that should have been changed two hours ago, and covered in crumbs (why change when bedtime is in less than two hours?), which meant we looked exactly like the type of people who have no business parenting in the first place, because that's how life works.

He also apparently has no memory of the incident, or at least didn't seem to have learned any lessons from it, because the pictures above are from the VERY NEXT DAY, where he tackled the wound-inflicting slide like a boss as well as about 14 other gravity-defying stunts.

Room to Breathe (Or: Celebrating Less Pile-Ups Around the Train Table)

Words haven’t been coming very easily to me lately. The blank screen or empty page has seemed more intimidating than usual. Part of it is this season of the busy — last week either Tyson or I or both had something each and every evening. Our weekends have been full, with fun things mostly, (a wedding, a birthday party, meeting Santa at “Elsa’s ice castle”), but full nonetheless. My typical free time has been taken over by either Christmas shopping (my goal: 100% online) or a little girl who doesn’t want to nap. I suppose it's hard to find the words when I can't even find the time.

Last weekend, though, I kicked everyone out of the house. Actually, I warned Tyson the night before that they had better be gone before I got up. I needed a few hours alone in the house and I didn't want to see or hear anyone. The seeing part worked well — they vanished before 8:30 — the hearing not so much. (The energy that three kids under four have at 6-something am is truly amazing.)  I attempted to sleep a little longer before I gave in and propped myself up on pillows instead to read a book and wait for the calm. 

I made my way downstairs to a fresh pot of coffee (bonus points, hubby) and a quiet house. I may not have had the words, but I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish without small children around.

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The playroom. (Feel free to shield your eyes from the sheer horror.)

It's been a source of frustration to me for awhile. It was...okay. It worked well enough, and in fact a playroom that I could sort-of-but-not-quite-see from the kitchen was one of the selling points of the house. But things had become sort of hodge-podge since we'd moved in. The bottom line: it wasn't laid out as well as it could be. The kids were constantly tripping over one other (admittedly on purpose sometimes) and there would frequently be pile-ups around the train table. Paintings were falling off the wall, only weakly held by the washi tape that seems to work for everyone else but only causes our creations to float to the floor. (Seriously, any washi tape recommendations?)

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As it always is with me, I didn't really have a plan for the space until suddenly I did, and then I couldn't tackle the makeover fast enough. I set to work, throwing out broken crayons, used coloring books, and dried up Play-Doh. The old artwork came down, markers were relegated to a drawer away from the reach of little hands, furniture was moved and (sort of) dusted.

Then, the fun part. Toys re-arranged. New pictures hung. Colorful wool garlands draped.

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I finished less than two hours later. I was surprised at how much I did in so little time. (Do you KNOW what you can accomplish without small children around?!?) It felt so good

I haven't tackled a project like this for...awhile. Maybe since Nolan's nursery. Going from the before to the after. Exercising my creative muscle (my interior design creative muscle at that) gave me a rush, a sense of energy, a hit of adrenaline. It was like solving a puzzle. Besides the poster frames, everything in the room was stuff that we already had. (I knew I would find a use for those pricey wool garlands that I just had to have for their birthday party.) Truly, all I really did was throw out junk and shift things around. The best kind of update. 

He knows that he's not supposed to eat in here but also that mom is too busy taking pictures to stop him.

He knows that he's not supposed to eat in here but also that mom is too busy taking pictures to stop him.

There is space to play, less junk on the shelves, room to breathe.

It's nothing major, but it's a change, a cleansing, a re-invigorating of a little corner of our home. I feel a tangible relief in the fact that I've created a space that we all actually want to be in now. It wasn't the creation of words, but a different kind of before and after, one that I used to do quite often. A check-in with a part of myself. Oh, hello. You're still there after all. And it doesn't hurt that I completed it all just in time for the toy influx of the holidays. 

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Still Parenting on Days Like Today

A year ago, I wrote a post. It seemed to strike a chord with many, moms mostly, of course. It spilled out of me the morning after the election, as my mind was in overdrive and a million thoughts swirled around my head. I grabbed my husband and begged him to watch the kids for just a little longer. I hoped it would be therapeutic to attempt to get some of the chaos out of my head and onto the screen. After 20 minutes of furious typing (and *ahem* scant editing) I later posted what came out and attempted to go on with my day.

The emotions were still so raw and fresh. The previous night, November 8th (a date nearly as burned into my brain as September 11th), Tyson and I settled into the couch after putting the kids to bed, to watch what we believed would be a historic election. It was. Just not in the way we thought, as by 8:15 that evening Chuck Todd attempted to explain (and visibly come to terms with) the way the results were headed. My celebratory beer quickly turned into a coping mechanism. It wasn’t that a Republican was being elected (up until that point it hadn’t been about party to me), but that a man who boasted about grabbing pussy, used Twitter as a base to mock people, and built his campaign on constructing that God-forsaken wall was really and truly being elected to our highest office.

I’ve thought about that post a lot in the past year. Not because it’s a work of literary genius (*ahem* again, scant editing), but because this entire year has felt like “a day like today”. Each day, each week has been filled with its own new horrors.

The heaviness of Inauguration Day.
Blatant lies from day one. (Inauguration crowd size, anyone?)
The Women’s March.
Inexperienced government agency heads.
Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
The first healthcare scare.
And the second.
And the third.
Hurricanes.
Fires.
A march of actual Nazis.
A shooting.
The horror in NYC on Halloween.
Another shooting.
(Those last four all being acts of terror, I might add.)
Women standing together (too many) to proclaim “me too”.
The undying accusations of “fake news”.
A tax cut bill that is anything but.
Indictments.
New snippets, every morning in 140 characters, that prove this is anything but normal.

It’s too much to take in sometimes. That isn't even a comprehensive list. My thoughts become scattered as I ride the emotional roller coaster from anger to fear to grief to sadness and wake up to do it all over again. As Michelle Goldberg put it, “You can’t protest it all; you’d never do anything else”.

And I do need to do something else.

I have three very real children that need me to be present, engaged, and whole. I’m still called to love them above all. Still called to “play and protect and mother and snuggle and discipline”.

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The morning after the election, as Tyson and I walked through a fog of both sleep deprivation and disbelief, I made breakfast and got the kids ready for our parent-child class. I arrived at the school, somewhat stunned to see the sun shining and smiles on the teachers’ faces. Smiling was the last thing I wanted to do. “How are you?” I remember being asked. I didn’t know what to say. Nothing seemed sure anymore. I was in shock, quite honestly. Unsure of so much. What the hell had just happened? How I felt didn’t even seem to be a fair question anymore. I endured playtime and a group discussion on some sort of parenting topic or other and escaped home, still shook to the core.

I’ve come a...well...at least a little ways since that day. Smiles don’t shock me quite so much anymore (erm...depending on the day). I’ve found a better rhythm to keep tabs on the news and also be present in my own home. I’m better able to focus my own anger and channel my emotions into thoughts that might result in an actual conversation, instead of a furious tirade.

The emotional component remains the most difficult part of parenting. There have admittedly been days in the past year when the TV has taken over parenting duties, while I sort out my thoughts on (yet another) issue.

I’ve been finding myself this year, despite, or maybe because, of the interruptions life with three small children brings. Much of the past 12-18 months has found my angsty teenage self rearing her head (probably because she never got a chance during those actual teenage years). I’ve been sorting through my emotions, anger and frustration chief among them. Letting myself feel those feelings, ride the wave, and see where they bring me.

They’ve brought me back to my children. Back to the basics. My guiding mantra the latter part of this year has been, “But what do I want them to hear?” and I go from there. I want them to hear that everyone is loved, everyone belongs, everyone matters to God. I want them to see that we talk to people, we interact with them, that we take care of their actual needs. I want them to hear that we show up, we stand up, and that every day we wake up to new mercies and new chances.

And I’ll keep going from there.