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.

Life Lately (Halloween Edition)

 
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"Halloween is my faaaave-or-it day," Caden has been saying for weeks. The hype of costumes and candy is right up his three-year old alley. We 've been talking about knocking on doors and saying "trick-or-treat" and, yes, all the candy they'd be getting for days on end. It was the twins' third year out so they combined their collective knowledge to explain it all to Nolan, since clearly at 3 1/2 they're old pros now.

We decorated pumpkins over the weekend. Paint, googly eyes, sparkles, and glue. We went all out. Caden was surprisingly more meticulous than usual, while Brooklyn requested every color of pink that existed. Nolan was basically done before we even started, and I'm not sure whether more of his paint ended up on his pumpkin or his body (or possibly in his mouth).

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But this Halloween was C-O-L-D. My weather app read 33 degrees as we were getting all bundled up to go out (because apparently the cold does bother Elsa a bit, after all). Except for Caden. He refused a winter coat, insisting that "Then I won't be Kristoff", so I layered a pair of sweatpants and an extra long-sleeved shirt underneath his costume, convinced him that Kristoff did indeed wear mittens, and sent his winter coat along for when he realized it was literally freezing out. Except he didn't. An hour of trick-or-treating and he didn't put that coat on once. Now that's commitment.

His costume was maybe the warmest of the bunch, and he's spent the past three weeks confusing everyone with his description of boot covers, ("Know what? You put the boots on first and then the shoes on underneath!"), which has been as integral an answer to the question, "What are you going to be for Halloween?", as the simple one of "Kristoff".

It was Nolan's first year to join the trick-or-treating fun, a fact I just realized right this very second, as I'm so used to the trio they are; our very own Williams gang. He was traumatized upon leaving by a teenager in a unicorn onesie, complete with ginormous unicorn head, but seems to have resigned himself pretty quickly to being pulled in along in the wagon in the dark and freezing temperatures. Probably thinking, for the umpteenth time in his 20-month long life, "What on Earth are these fools doing with me now?"

Caden's face in the photo at the right says that he's as sick as anyone of Elsa upstaging everything with all that "Let it Go" business. 

They arrived home, buckets full, after nearly an hour. We told them they could dump out their candy and venture out again but they were content to stay in. Really, why go back out into the cold when you're carrying a candy feast right in your very own hands?

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There was a strange juxtaposition this year, as the news out of New York broke right as we were getting ready for our Halloween festivities. I was dishing up pizza and cutting apple slices as I told Tyson what I had only just read. Of course, there wasn't much time to dwell on it -- besides the mind-numbing thought, "Again?!?" -- as we transitioned quickly from dinner to costumes to photos to begging for and giving out candy. There was a tension, and a weariness, yes, again, as I chatted up trick-or-treaters and refilled the candy bowl, and thought of our own joy and families who were experiencing tragedy instead.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that we still have ALL THE CANDY. What the heck, guys? I ran out of candy in about an hour a year ago. Since our neighborhood has grown in the past year I thought I learned my lesson and stocked up with 50% more this year, and instead became desperate and was ready to beg people to take it after two hours with our lights on. I know it was cold, but this is Minnesota, guys. I'm not sure exactly what this means for our Halloween candy-buying situation next year, but if you need a Halloween candy fix, say, sometime next June, you know who to hit up.

Space

It’s naptime and they’re all actually napping. Each overlap — if and when it happens — feels like a victory these days, as the twins continue to work on dropping that nap altogether. But today they are scattered throughout the upper level of the house. Little boy sprawled out with a blanket half tangled around his body in the crib, big boy snuggled up under a plush comforter in the master bedroom, girl in the twins’ bedroom tucked up on a chair in a position that can’t possibly be comfortable for sitting, much less sleeping.

Once upon a time, this was the norm. I could carve out time and space during a guaranteed daily naptime. The twins even napped for a solid 2-3 hours every day, though that lasted for only a few blissful months before they turned two. They had never been good nappers before, so I knew exactly how lucky I was. I could spend an hour eating lunch and tidying up the house, tackle bigger projects like cleaning bathrooms or organizing a closet, and still have time to read, to write, to eat chocolate and rewatch Mad Men.

Adding baby #3 was the first challenge. I’ve almost always been lucky enough to have some naptime overlap (#blessed), but just how much was the question. It wasn’t so bad at first. Surprisingly enough, the sheer quantity of sleep during the early newborn days left me more time and space than I would have thought possible. That all changed as he grew and awoke to his world, and his 1 ½ hour nap habits haven’t left me room to do much else than eat lunch, tidy up the main level, and fold a load of laundry or two. Just as I would sit down he would awake, as though he were perfectly attuned to the exact moment I decided to rest.

The dropping of the nap is my newest challenge. Even though we attempt quiet time or a movie marathon, my body is still hyper-aware of the sounds of little people and voices in the background. I can work at a coffee shop with the low din of random background noise from strangers, but my own toddlers sniffling or wiggling on the couch — not to mention their endless stream of chatter and questions — absolutely does me in.

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I’ve been taking more time away. It’s partly eased now that the demands of breastfeeding are gone. Erasing that duty alone gives me time and space. I escape the house I am so frequently in, those ever-present surroundings, and just get away. Weekend mornings, sometimes an afternoon or an evening. I have my coffee shop, my spot, and woe is me if I deviate from the familiarity. (Another coffee shop has left me clenching my jaw with rage as I have listened to...um...opinions just as I have settled in to write on not one, but two separate occasions. Apparently, the circle of overstuffed armchairs is where the far-right Republicans gather.)

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I’ve set aside a space for myself, too. A spot where I can sit to write or read or go over our budget or peruse Amazon. We have the room now, in a corner of our bedroom. In our first apartment, a space so small that you could see it in its entirety by standing in one strategic spot in our “dining room”, my spot was at our “dining table” (aka the card table and chairs we used as a dining set). In our next apartment, I sat on the couch (upgraded from my college futon) or our new dining table from Target (upgraded from the card table) or even our bed (same old mattress and metal frame). Two (and a half) kids and a move over state lines later, and you still might find me sitting at our kitchen table to write (upgraded to one from an actual furniture store). But now I have my own little spot in a corner of our bedroom that I’ve been working on this year, adding things here and there. The framed canvas was a Christmas gift, the chair one for my birthday, an end table that was a brilliant Target find, a footstool that’s been repurposed from babies’ room to baby’s room to here. This is “mommy’s chair”, and everyone in the house knows it.

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The thing is, this is a season, too. Three and a half years into parenting and there have been so many shifts and changes in our routine. I’ve been kicked out of my chair already during naptime, as the twins’ “quiet” time shenanigans led to Caden taking over our master bedroom.

I love my little spot. I have dreams of a desk of my own someday, once the basement is complete and we have a guest room that’s a true guest room, instead of the whole office/guest room combo we have going on that’s really anything but cozy for our guests. I don’t need much. I have my eye on a little Parsons desk with a narrow drawer, space for a laptop, a notebook, and a mug of coffee.

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For now, this works. This is my spot, my space, my time. When I can find it, that is.

My Kind of Hard

Another long afternoon stretched before us. We’re in the middle of a nap transition with the twins, three-year olds, going from one nap to no nap. As far as I’m concerned, this is the worst transition of all, moving from some sleep to NO sleep. Zero daytime sleep. When I told my moms group that the twins were dropping their nap they drew in a collective gasp of horror as though I’d said they'd been in a terrible car accident instead. Some days they both nap, some days one of them naps, most days they don’t nap at all. The baby (*ahem* 16-month old) naps, but he’s usually awake by two o’clock. That afternoon stretch from two until five can feel like the absolute longest part of our day.

It makes me long for a different schedule or a different type of kid. Three-year olds who still nap, kids of any age who nap for longer than an absolute maximum of two hours at a time. I have friends whose toddlers nap until three or four o’clock. In the afternoon. Imagine! I’m convinced the afternoon would be a breeze, life would be so simple if I just had kids who napped for most of it. What do they have to complain about, anyway?

Afternoons are hard. So many hours to fill, so few people and activities available to fill it with. It often feels like it’s just us against the world, while everyone else is either napping or off at school.

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Click through to read more 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.

Also: ate. Made this yummy soup a couple of weeks ago. The first day I was all meh, but by the next afternoon it had done that magical thing that soups do as they sit and gotten all kinds of delicious and I think I ate like three bowls. So I recommend making it the day before you actually want to eat it, using only 6-8 cups of chicken broth, upping the amount of beans and/or tortellini, if you're into those sorts of things (which I totally am), and definitely eating it with a bialy from Hot Bread Kitchen. Do it.

Also: ate. Made this yummy soup a couple of weeks ago. The first day I was all meh, but by the next afternoon it had done that magical thing that soups do as they sit and gotten all kinds of delicious and I think I ate like three bowls. So I recommend making it the day before you actually want to eat it, using only 6-8 cups of chicken broth, upping the amount of beans and/or tortellini, if you're into those sorts of things (which I totally am), and definitely eating it with a bialy from Hot Bread Kitchen. Do it.

READ

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
Jillian Lauren's writing is so honest and raw and real that I love it. In this, her first book, she recounts the months that she spent in a yes-for-real-not-kidding-it-really-was-a-harem in Borneo. It's interesting, slightly gossipy, and actually not too raunchy. She gives a face and a voice to some of her fellow, um...co-workers? Roommates. Let's go with roommates. 

Everything You Ever Wanted
While I enjoyed Some Girls, I had first been introduced to Jillian's work a few years ago through this memoir of her infertility and subsequent adoption journey. After finishing Some Girls I immediately went back to this one (Any other re-readers out there? Re-reader for LIFE). This one really resonates with me, especially on a parenting level; it's still honest and raw, and also powerful and descriptive and beautiful. She brings you right into the emotions of her journey in a very tangible way. If I were you, I'd skip Some Girls and go right for this one.

Hallelujah Anyway
I love Anne Lamott. While this work doesn't quite have the power of, say, Traveling Mercies (another book I could re-re-re-re-re-read), this one is a quick read, and a kick-in-the-pants reminder in that Anne Lamott way of the power of mercy and forgiveness.

The Leavers
I'm not really sure what to say about this one. It's a novel that I never really looked forward to reading, but once I began reading each night, I had a hard time putting it down. Part of it I think has to do with the plot; a pre-teen Chinese boy is unexpectedly left by his mother in New York City and has no idea where she's gone. There's just a lot there that is difficult for me to relate to (undocumented immigration, poverty struggles, life in NYC), but that's not really a great excuse because I read books all the time with characters that are nothing like me (aka kind of the point of reading). I think I also had a hard time actually liking the main character and his mother. In a way I didn't even want to root for them. But again, they did suck me in each time I picked up in the book to read, so I guess I had some sort of emotional investment in their story in spite of myself.

Object Lessons
This coming-of-age novel really pulled me in. It details the life of Maggie Scanlan during the summer of 1966, as she enters her teenage years. It's no hippie manifesto, but it details the intricacies of family dynamics so well. I can relate to and remember that age, that feeling of being a little bit of an outsider while also able to understand so much and yet not quite enough of the adult world. It's quiet and thoughtful, and I appreciated the character of Maggie's mother also finding her own voice.

The Hate U Give
Get thee this book. Or, if you're like me, go on your library's waiting list as number 382 and wait some months for it. Young Adult literature is having a moment lately and I am HERE for it. I would never have known this was Angie Thomas's debut novel. No way. Oh, right, so what is it about? No big deal, just the life of a black girl whose black friend gets shot unjustly by a police officer right in front of her. Ahem. Sound familiar? Starr, the girl, straddles both the black community in which she lives and the more privileged white world where she attends school. It is so well-written, raw and even funny at times. And just a little bit applicable to our current political climate. I almost lost it completely on the very last page.

WATCHED

House of Cards
A little dark, a lot intriguing. Tyson and I have been binge-watching this one. Well, at least binging as much as we can with three small children, which means we're about two months in and have nearly finished season three. The first two seasons were fairly depressing, though still compelling. I will admit to enjoying the third season the most so far as it's been more political intrigue than twisty drama.

LISTENED

For the Love Podcast   
Jen Hatmaker is bringing it in her new podcast. She's basically my spirit animal. I haven't gotten into every episode, but my favorites so far have been with Glennon Doyle and Nichole Nordeman. Both episodes have been filled with so much honest truth that you can't do much but sit there, folded laundry abandoned, as you nod along to all their words.

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