Life Lately

“Come!” Nolan says, taking my hand and dragging me towards the TV. “Cooommmmeee!” And he points, expectantly, to watch another round of “You’re Welcome” from Moana. So much for no screen time before the age of two with this second-round kid. Enjoy, buddy. #thirdkidlife

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Though his actual favorite song is "Wheels on the Bus". "Bus!" he screams, "Buuuuusss!!!" Unfortunately, he knows that we have it on CD in the car. Just FYI, it takes us 3.5 rounds of "bus" to get to Target. 4 to get us to preschool. I don't even want to know how many it's going to take when we road trip it to Iowa.

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First day of Preschool:

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The outtakes:

Asked if they missed me and they both said, "No." In a tone like, duh, mom, why would you even ask that?

First day of dance:

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Stillwater is one of the more picturesque suburbs in the Twin Cities. I danced out there several times a week starting in elementary school, so I kind of feel like I grew up there. It's a bit of a drive, now - 45 minutes or so in light traffic from our house - so I don't get there much now. Saturday we were able to spend the day there, a first with the kids. 

We started out on a boat.

Only a matter of time before we get the "are they triplets?" question...

Only a matter of time before we get the "are they triplets?" question...

Caden was in his element and asked 4587 questions about water and boats. Though I think he was disappointed it wasn't a boat like Moana sails on. (Only a little, though.)

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We then moved on to ice cream.

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I would just like to point out that Nolan's ice cream is half of a normal kid's-sized portion, and Caden's, which includes both his cone and the entire cup of ice cream sitting next to him, is almost a full-sized kid's portion. Why is America so overweight anyway? The world may never know.

We ended at the park. But not just any park. Teddy Bear Park.

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Where Nolan and this bear became BFFs. (And he's not sunburned, and no I didn't up the saturation of these images, kid literaly gets that red the second he steps out the door in any sort of humidity. Combine that with running around the playground like a crazy person and the result is a face as red as his pants.)

A little braver every day.

A little braver every day.

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Every. Time. We. Bake.

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Their combined voice power when they run around playing is louder than ten mixers running at the same time, but sure guys, cover your ears while this single mixer whirrs around on medium. YOU GUYS MAKE NO SENSE.

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Speaking of running around playing, Caden and Brooklyn's favorite game lately is to play "Neighborhood". Which, to most kids, would probably be called playing house, but here it's an almost never-ending refrain of: "Do you want to play neighborhood?" "We're playing neighborhood!" "You be the dad and I'll be the mom so we can play neighborhood." Maybe I have Daniel Tiger to thank? I really don't know, but it's adorable. They go to sleep, wake up ("The sun's up! It's morning!"), make food, go to the store, go to work, take care of their babies, and I was especially proud of Caden the other day as I overheard him say, "Daddy's going to make dinner because mommy has to go to a meeting. Bye mommy! Have fun at your meeting!" And also: "Daddy's going to the store so he needs the diaper bag!" and he slung a pink purse over his shoulder. That's right little man, you rock that pink "diaper bag", and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. #feminism

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Let it be known that the summer of 2017 was the official summer of "Do you want to see a trick?"

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Flips, drops, jumps, twirls, slides, and ten types of climbing. Between them there's nothing these three haven't conquered on this playground. And Nolan is RIGHT THERE with the rest of them. Might as well be triplets, after all.

A Start

As a child, I colored. I went through reams and reams and reams of printer paper. My dad would bring home stacks of it from his office. The old kind, remember the green and white striped stuff with those feeder circles on the sides? Part of the fun was creasing and re-creasing the edges, then ripping them off to throw away or tear up into a miniature snowstorm.

There are pictures of me coloring with a set of crayons at the kitchen table, in the living room, on our front stoop. Though not enough to capture just how much of my childhood this actually involved. In those pre-smartphone, pre-Instagram, only cameras with actual film kind of days, only a few photos exist of me and my favorite pastime. If I were a kid now, my mom’s Instagram feed would be filled with images of me scribbling on pads of paper sprawled all over the house.

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The summer after first grade, I won a second place prize at the State Fair for one of my projects at school. I remember my art teacher, Mrs. Tonder, pulling me out into the hall to tell me she was going to enter one of my creations in the fair. (It wouldn’t be long before our art classes were cut, the ones I thrived in, due to funding.) I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was glad she liked it. I had never been to the State Fair before, though it later became a part of our family culture.

We went to the fair to take a picture of me next to my artwork in a glass display case. It was surrounded by other pictures, mine proudly affixed with a red ribbon. My hair is pulled back, with heavy bangs and all, my t-shirt shirt tucked into my sweatpants, clearly denoting that I was a kid of the '90's.

Later there was an award ceremony for my entire school district to showcase all of our work, K-12, of those who had placed at the State Fair. The story goes that when I was at the front of the room and Mrs. Tonder explained my project and then asked if I wanted to say anything about it, I launched off on a 5-minute lecture before a room packed with kids and parents and relatives on how I created it, the colors I used, the story we read that inspired my work. I had a lot to say.

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I went through a mermaid phase. I remember keeping a ream of printer paper together to create a book that wove back and forth with illustrations of The Little Mermaid. I was going to be a mermaid when I grew up. (Spoiler alert: that hasn’t worked out for me.) I went through a horse phase. A Lion King phase. Lots of Disney. I forgot until recently that my goal, once I got a little older and realized that maybe that whole mermaid thing wouldn’t work out, was to be an animator for Disney. I inhaled images of the designer’s process work just as much as the actual films themselves, absorbing the evolution of characters through sketches and the introduction of color. It fascinated me.

In sixth grade we made our migration from Minnesota to Orlando that March. I could have cared less about all of the rides. I would have preferred a tour of the animation studios. Maybe they would recognize my talent and hire me right then and there.

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My grandma made me promise her, when I was 12 or so, that I would go to school and do something with my art. The fine arts had their appeal to me, all that sketching and painting, but I realized even at a young age that actually making a living doing all that had its disadvantages. The term "starving artists" comes to mind.

I did go to school for design, interior design, which I had decided on by the time I entered eighth grade. That people would go to college only to change their major was absolutely baffling to me. Interior design, which could provide an actual, regular paycheck with benefits. (Though I would quickly realize after graduating two years into a full-blown recession that a design degree of any sort wasn’t actually any better.)

I entered the workforce for a few years. My first job, though technically in the design field, felt like a complete waste of that degree I’d worked so hard to get. My second job wasn’t exactly my dream job either, but at least there we were speaking the same language, discussing room layout and material selection and debating with contractors over window placement and wall removal.

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I don’t design much anymore if you look in at me from the outside. The arrival of twins and then another has left me consumed more with keeping babies fed and alive than with sketching or color choice or schematic layouts and room function. I spend more of my days pulling together supplies for them: glue, construction paper, crayons, stickers, scissors on the days I’m feeling really brave, than doing anything with any of those materials myself.

My brain still thinks like a designer, just like it always has. I still choose children’s books based on the illustrations. Heck, I still choose my own books based on their covers. Color-coordinating the kids’ outfits, when they let me, gives me a secret thrill each and every time. The first thing I notice when I walk into a space aren’t the people or the noise or the food but the way it's designed. The materials, the colors, the layout. Tyson laughs but listens as I critique the design of our latest date night restaurant or the library where we attended storytime earlier. I explain to an audience of one how the space made me feel, how it could be improved. I get to make smaller decisions, choices for our own home: a new bed, a new dresser, some throw pillows. I daydream about re-doing the twins’ bedroom, what the basement will become once we have the time and the money to finish it off.

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A month or so ago, I ordered a coloring book, some pencils. Even on the longest of days, the days where I am emotionally and physically spent, I can find the energy to color. I play with patterns and colors and lights and darks. I’ve colored some things I hate, some I really like. It’s not much; it’s a start.

It’s a return to something, my childhood I suppose. Except now I sit in the dark, in a quiet house, still at the kitchen table though at an hour and with a beverage I would have never been allowed as a child. I choose a page, find my pencils. And I color.

Slow

Slow. That’s how we’ve been moving lately. My usual up and at ‘em, “where are we going today?”, ready and raring by 8:30 am children have settled this August into the ease of summer. Early risers to the core, they wake with the sun but have found contentment sitting around in pajamas, eating later breakfasts, and finding plenty to do in their own playroom, sorting through piles of books and choo-choo tracks and dolls and Moana figures.

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It’s been a struggle some days to get out of the house before 9:30 - a first for us, really. Not that we have much to do. August makes me want to pull my hair out. This in-between period (summer activities having ended a solid six weeks before the fall ones begin) needs something - anything - to give us some routine. There’s no more t-ball or story time at the library, preschool and dance class have yet to begin. Thinking of something to do every morning and afternoon is proving to be a bit much, to put it mildly. Yesterday found me paralyzed by overwhelm on the couch, as the long stretch of afternoon lay before me: what on earth were we going to do for the rest of the day? Did I really have to entertain three little people for another three entire hours before dinner time? (Solution: pull out the pool and water table, invite a neighbor over, drink some water. But not before I lay there filled with dread for a few minutes too long. Jesus, take the wheel.)

Some days it’s as simple as that. And while I try to keep on top of planning playdates and giving some sort of structure to our days, five mornings and five afternoons is waaayyyy too much free time. One morning goes to grocery shopping, another one or two to cleaning, but after our 12th trip to the park in ten days I’m ready to move on to something more regular. Activities that require me to show up with children in tow and plan approximately nothing besides having snacks on hand for hangry toddlers.

In other news, living at the park for days on end means that your small children learn pretty fast how to climb up the death slide. 

In other news, living at the park for days on end means that your small children learn pretty fast how to climb up the death slide. 

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The upside to all this is that they’ve found their footing in independent play. Caden and Brooklyn rush away after breakfast to build elaborate train tracks that wind their way through the main level (a tripping hazard for the rest of the day), zoom their cars around the street-pattered rug, and play complicated games of “neighborhood” that involve going to the store, sleeping, waking up (“The sun is up! It’s morning!”), going to work, and giving each other time-outs (a three-year old’s perspective of Life As A Grown-Up). “Do you want to play neighborhood?” one asks the other, and they rush away, Nolan tagging along behind.

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So I don’t do super great with slow. I am more than ready for routine, a reason to be out of the house before the clock rolls over to 10:00. Summer is great and all, but even as a kid I was always ready for school to start back up again.

Fast isn’t exactly my speed either. Every-day-all-day-go-go-go sounds equally unappealing. I just need a bit more structure. Some options, so that the days we don’t have plans feel actually relaxing, instead of another in a long line of do-nothing days.

Can I crave something a bit more medium? Medium sounds good. A medium pace I can get behind. I think we’ve got that set up for fall. A few mornings of commitment, afternoons mostly free, one evening activity. The countdown is on.

Love ya summer, but I’m ready to move on. It’s not you, it’s me. (Well, maybe it’s a little bit you with that hot, humid weather and all. But mostly it's me.)

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This afternoon, I leaned into the slow a bit, as best I could. The semi-cool weather has me dreaming of fall, and with the apple orchard opening for the season, my destination was clear. We sure as heck weren't going to the park again. (Not to mention the apple orchard is a 30-minute drive. An hour in the car where it only feels like I’m parenting because Wheels on the Bus is on repeat? Yes, please.)

Fall hasn't quite taken over the orchard yet: the hayrides, props for photo ops, the elaborate stacks of hay bales and dried corn stalks were not yet the decor of choice. I knew as much, but also knew that an open field next to a lake would provide just as much opportunity for entertainment.

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And a stop inside for the first apple treats of the season? Pretty much perfect. (Apple donuts FTW!)

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The phrases "Let's go!" and "Hurry up!" are going to be peppering my speech a bit more in the coming weeks. If you couldn't tell (ha!), there's a big part of me that's totally and completely fine with that. At least we embraced the slow today: throwing sticks in the lake, jumping off the giant tree stump, and enjoying the apple orchard pretty much to ourselves before it becomes completely overtaken for the season. And for now, I have three more fresh apple donuts to get me through the meantime. Or at least the next few hours.

Quiet Time for Mama

Earlier this year, I had a fairly established quiet time routine. "Established" meaning anywhere from two to five days a week. The kids went down for a nap or their own quiet time, I would eat lunch, pick up the main level from whatever havoc had been wreaked that morning, take a seat at my now-clean dining room table, and dive in.

Then I heard somewhere that I should do my quiet time when the kids were around. Which sounded like an oxymoron but okay. The reason being that the kids would see their Mama in the Word, it's a part of life even if you may be interrupted, did we mention that kids should see their mom reading the Bible?, etc. Sounds great, sure. I can get behind that. So I moved my Bible somewhere more "accessible". Except it wasn't. Because I never took it out. Not once. The kids and the chaos and the normal routine has already been established around here for quite some time and I couldn't figure out what this new rhythm was supposed to look like. So I lost a month.

Someone else told me that I should do my devotions in the morning, starting my day and filling my mind with God's word. Really I've been told this my entire Christian life, that this is the "right" way and time of day to read the Bible. So even though my kids already wake up by 6 o'clock, I set my alarm for even earlier. 

This is probably where I should mention that I have never been, am not, and never shall be that freak of nature known as a "morning person".

So - shocker! - this did not work well for me. I think there was maybe a morning or two that I managed to read that day's verses. Y'know, on my phone, still huddled under a mound of blankets, head on my pillow, through half-lidded eyes, well after my alarm first blared. Listen, I am a hard-wired night owl. Had God intended for me to read my Bible reverently at 6 in the morning, he would have given me the desire to go to bed before 11 pm. Scripture read by a bleary-eyed, half asleep mama who hasn't had her coffee yet does not a good Christian make. I lost another month. 

It took me awhile to get back on track.

I went back to my old routine.

Pause. Can we please take a moment to stop and admire how perfectly those tiny roses bring out the color of the peaches? And vice-versa? And then my Bible is like the same color?!? You don't even know the mood lift this gives me every single time I look at my kitchen counter. My designer's heart can't even handle it. *swoon*

Pause. Can we please take a moment to stop and admire how perfectly those tiny roses bring out the color of the peaches? And vice-versa? And then my Bible is like the same color?!? You don't even know the mood lift this gives me every single time I look at my kitchen counter. My designer's heart can't even handle it. *swoon*

Why did I stop in the first place? Because I was so busy listening to others tell me I was doing it wrong? Because it felt like just one more way as a mother that I didn't measure up?

I read my Bible during naptime now. Not every day. Two to five times a week. Do you know what that is better than? ZERO. It works for me. Why on Earth did I stop trying to do what works?

I don't know what your thing is, maybe it is reading your Bible, or to read anything, or finding a time to workout. It could be setting aside the time to clean, cook regular homemade meals, or fit in that yoga practice. There is no "right" time to do these things. If something is important to you, you'll find what works. Your friend meditates first thing in the morning while her kids eat their yogurt, but yours run around like crazy people and throw their breakfast on the floor? Don't do it then. And don't worry about it. Maybe you fit it in during naptime, maybe it's while they are distracted by Daniel Tiger on the TV, or maybe you are one of those crazy people who can get up a little earlier in the morning to get your groove on.

There's no big grand conclusion to this. I did something that worked, saw somebody else doing it "better" (emphasis on those quotation marks there), floundered for awhile, and then (duh) went back to what worked in the first-freaking-place. And the bottom line is this: we need to find what works and stick with it. No more second-guessing. No more looking at what this or that mom is doing. I've found what works and I'm staying in my lane. We don't need to make this any more complicated than it needs to be. Being the mama to small kids is already work enough.

(And all the mamas said "AMEN". *all the praise hands to THAT*)

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Pssst...while I was trying to figure all of this out, I did treat myself to a new Bible. Surely if I just got a new Bible that would solve my problem, right? Well, not exactly...but now that I'm back in the swing of things it does help, and I do love it! Find the She Reads Truth Bible here. (Not sponsored, I just really think they did a good job!)

The Importance of Baking M&M Cookies

Yesterday was the perfect sort of lazy day. Overcast, cool, as though it were already fall. I cozied up in one of my favorite oversized sweatshirts, sweatpants, a cup of chai. Though it’s hard to be completely lazy with small children around. They still want things like attention and regular mealtimes. Gone are the days of snuggling under a blanket for hours of reading and Netflix binge-watching, unless it’s a marathon of Super Why. It would be the perfect day for baking, the oven running all day long, full of breads and muffins and cookies. It was also hard to be completely lazy with the grim news splashed across my newsfeed and on the TV.

We talked about visiting the library in the afternoon. It sounded good earlier in the day, but when the time came I felt like tackling some of that baking. Tyson packed up Brooklyn, Nolan, and the diaper bag while Caden stayed behind. We set to work.

I told Caden I was sad because there were mean people in our country, mean people who had done bad things over the weekend. I told him I was glad that he stayed home to bake with me because it made me feel better. I got the ingredients ready. M&M cookies, his choice.

The hopeful pastel colors (*ahem* Easter leftovers) seemed out-of-place given the weight and heaviness of the news, still on my mind. Maybe out-of-place, but also totally and completely right. Baking with a three-year old took over my concentration, just as I hoped it would, removing me for an hour or two from an otherwise awful weekend. A step back and away from the news, away from the terrible, terrible pain and anger in our country.

“I’ll do one and you do one,” Caden told me, as we poured ingredients together. Three-years old and well aware of the rules regarding taking turns and sharing, of basic respect. I still felt sad, my heart heavy, as I thought of someone else’s child, suddenly taken away this weekend for standing up against hatred. My heart felt equally sad over the thought of another child causing this disaster, and I’m not sure which pain is the more difficult to bear. Caden and I watched as the mixer ran, combining the ingredients together into one homogenous, gooey mass. We stirred in the M&Ms and ate a few, straight out of the bag.

He sat in front of the oven to watch the cookies bake while I cleaned up, and as the water ran in the sink I overheard him, in a sing-song voice, “Mommy’s sad because people were mean...and she doesn’t like that...and I don’t like that ei-ther…”

It’s hard to tell him much, at three-years old. As much as I’d like to shelter him from terrible things, I also want him to know at least a little of the evil in the world, so his heart burns to stand up for what is right. It looks small, right now. We talk about bad people going to jail, that there are mean people in this country who don’t like other people. We talk about helping people on the playground, at school, in our neighborhood. We cook meals for friends who have new babies, shop for school supplies for kids who don’t have any.

We bake cookies.

It would have been easy in a way to ignore him this weekend, to get caught up in the swirl of yet another awful news cycle: more devastation, anger, hate, death, hurt, sadness. And it is very, very worthy of my attention. But to regard my own son as an interruption only means that I’m getting caught up in the hatred. It lets the bad guys win.

So we let the butter soften, use our fingers to get the grains of sugar that have scattered on the counter, dump in the flour and the vanilla, and you better believe that we lick the beaters. I put aside my phone and the news and choose to create joy for a little while.

After all, as Caden said, “Mommy, we make really good M&M cookies.”

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If you are interested, here are a few of the most thoughtful pieces I read regarding the tragedy in Charlottesville this weekend.

In Charlottesville, a reignited Civil War

What a presidential president would have said about Charlottesville

What U.Va Students Saw in Charlottesville