On Take-Out, Goal Setting, and Enjoying it All

I’d been sick the past couple of days. Nothing major, nothing more than an ordinary cold, but annoying just the same. I’d have liked nothing more than to breathe easily through my own nose.

It was evening, and by that time I’m wiped anyway. We had a parent-child class in the morning and my aunt came over to do some Christmas baking in the afternoon. I actually felt great for most of the day, but the moment my aunt left I felt drained. I hadn’t noticed. Apparently I’d been running on adrenaline. I looked at the clock and briefly considered ordering take-out for dinner but balked at the idea. I’d made it this far, hadn’t I? Surely I could do dinner, too.

While Tyson loaded the kids in the car to drive around and look at Christmas lights (their seasonal while-mommy-makes-dinner activity) I got to work. Sliced potatoes and ran ingredients through the food processor, cleaned Brussels sprouts.

Too soon, the door banged to signal their arrival home.

“Is dinner ready?” Tyson asked, “You never texted.”

Exactly! I thought, So why are you here?!?

I glanced at the clock, and was shocked when I looked at the time. 5:42. No wonder they were home. It was twelve minutes past the time dinner was usually on the table, the time it had (mostly) been on the table the past 3.5 years. And I still had a half hour to go.

He asked what I was making. I mumbled something along the lines of, “I don’t know something new,” as I tried to hurry dinner up, though veggies roasting in the oven aren’t exactly the kind of thing that can be rushed.

“Wait. So you don’t feel well, and your aunt was over all afternoon while you guys baked cookies, and you decided to make a new recipe?” he asked.

Well when you put it like that, I thought, that does sound pretty dumb.

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I’m famous for these types of decisions. Part of it is a mom thing, a woman thing, I think. We push and push and push and even when we are at the brink we push some more. I handled the rest of it, so I can handle this next thing, too, right?

This was a night, of all nights, to order take-out. Why didn’t I? There was no reason for me to cook, not really. The ingredients would have been fine for another day. We already had plenty of clean-up to tackle after an afternoon of baking. They could have taken their Christmas light joyride on the way to pick up food from our favorite Thai place, while I cleaned up the kitchen cookie mess in peace.

It sounds so simple in hindsight.

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I’m not much of a goal setter. I would never call myself a goal setter in any way, shape, or form. I’m a planner, but not in that way.

Until this year. Because some friends started talking about Powersheets. At first I rolled my eyes a little bit, because, y’know, goal setting and I don’t do that, but then they kept talking about it. I got interested in spite of myself. And before I knew it I had gone to the website and added them to my shopping cart and hit the purchase button and some Powersheets were on their way to my house. I didn't really even know what it was but it helped that it was super pretty. I’m a sucker for something pretty every time.

I began mapping things out, setting goals. Things that were already in my head but are now out on paper, realizing along the way that I guess I am a goal setter, after all. Everything from monthly date nights out to drinking more water to making time for writing at least two times a week. I thought about what worked last year and what didn’t.

That night in December definitely didn’t.

I thought more about what I wanted for this year and realized this is the last year — the last full calendar year — to be home with all three kids. Caden and Brooklyn will start kindergarten in the fall of 2019. It seems like an eternity until I realize they’re almost four and Nolan is almost two and it’s so totally not.

I picked my word for the year. Enjoy. I want to enjoy this year. Last year felt like so much survival but this year, as much as possible, I want to enjoy it.

Not joy. That felt too commanding, too easy to fail. Be joyful! I don’t want to have joy this year I want to enjoy this year. Especially when I looked up the definition to find that "enjoy" means not only to take delight or pleasure in but also to possess and benefit from. Yes. I want that. I want to take delight and benefit from it all.

I want to enjoy my kids. I want to take more adventures, save more time for exploring, give them more attention one-on-one. I want to enjoy Tyson, which includes weekly date nights in, monthly date nights out, giving him the best of me. I want to enjoy my purchases and be intentional with my spending. I want to enjoy my writing as I map out time to clear my head and explore what I want to do in the future. I want to enjoy my friends whether it's spending time on Voxer or scheduling a girl's night out. I want to enjoy my body which sounds kind of dirty but in keeping with this theme I want to drink more water, complete a round of Whole 30, and get back into a regular yoga routine.

That should-have-just-ordered-take-out night in December was not one I enjoyed. I was hungry, the kids were hangry, it was too close to bedtime, there were things to clean. I want to enjoy my time, not feel pressured by it. I’m going to order take-out when I’ve had a busy day and don’t feel well and tell the voice in my head that says otherwise to go to hell.

I’m not going to be perfect. I’m not going for the ludicrous impossibility of enjoying every moment here. (Hey dishes: I’m still not going to enjoy doing you.) But I do want to enjoy each day, each week, each month, overall. As a whole. I think I can do that.

And I see a lot more take-out in our future.

Favorites of 2017

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This t-shirt.

These tennis shoes.

This drapey tee.

This novel. And this one. This one, too. This collection of essays on motherhood. This beautiful Bible. This book on faith and so much more.

Listened to this on repeat.

This eyebrow stuff.

This portable speaker.

This political podcast. And another one. And this one for laughs and solidarity.

This children's Bible.

This jewelry line.

The marketing emails (yes, really) from this brand. (Their products, of course, too.)

This appetizer (that we usually ate as a meal). This cake. These enchiladas.

These portable water painting books for the kids.

Watching this documentary series. And this drama. And this one just for fun.

Something I wrote about bedtime. And how I felt parenting for much of this year. And, most of all, this essay on the importance of baking cookies.

Life Lately (Christmas Edition)

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We kicked off our Christmas weekend with a cookie decorating party on Friday night. Actually, we kicked it off the day before as Caden and Brooklyn helped me mix and cut and bake something like four dozen+ cookies for all that decorating. What they lack in patience ("Get off the counter!" was basically my refrain for a good 24 hours or so) they more than made up for in enthusiasm, judging by the amount of flour on their clothes, sprinkles on the floor, and the fact that it was Brooklyn who decorated the better part of 50 Christmas cookies all by herself.

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As we drove home on Saturday from the Christmas church service Brooklyn pointed to the sky at the light of an airplane. "Look!" she said, "It's Rudolph leading Santa's sleigh!" 

"It is?" I asked, "But Christmas Eve is tomorrow night!"

"Yup," she agreed, "but they're out there." and her eyes sparkled as they continued to search the sky for magic.

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We hosted again on Christmas Eve. Some of my family, eleven of us, just small. 

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Note to self: some of the lights near the top of the tree are not working. They did, and then they didn't, and then they did again, and now they decidedly do not. I know you're not going to do anything about it this year, but when you unpack the tree next year and plug it in and complain about the lights not working don't say I didn't warn you.

Attempts at a family picture. We...tried. We really, really tried. 

The benefit to hosting is really that we put the kids to bed upstairs and still get to enjoy things like conversation with other adults, another round of party food, one more cocktail and, yes, our Christmas pajamas. 

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We might still be partying but we're going to be comfy, dangit. 

And then we get to clean up and do the Santa thing, collapse and call it a night.

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...Until approximately 6:07 the following morning.

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You better believe the first thing I did after taking that picture was make sure the coffee pot got started. 

Caden crept down the stairs ahead of the rest of us, and keeps talking about how he peeked through the railing, "Just like this, mommy," and "Saw all the presents down there and you guys didn't know the presents were there but I did."

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If you ask him what his favorite present is, he'll tell you it's his rocket ship. He's been talking it up since October when the Lakeshore Learning catalog made its way to our house with said rocket ship emblazoned on the cover, and it's been on his mind ever since.

"Mommy," he told me as we drove home from our celebrations on Christmas Day, "I only told Santa I wanted a rocket ship. I didn't say I wanted two people and a car with it but Santa knew mommy. He knew I wanted those things, too." 

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Now it's December 26th. Brooklyn cried a little and got so sad last night as I put her to bed. 

"I don't want to go to bed. Then it won't be Christmas anymore and I like Christmas," she pouted. There really is no other word for it. Her lip stuck out so far and her eyes were so, so sad. I told her that she had her birthday in a couple of months to look forward to and new toys to play with in the meantime but she was adamant as I tucked her in that she still wanted it to be Christmas. 

Me? I look forward to the 26th just as much as the rest of it. Tyson takes the day off work, we hang out, and I achieved the goal I set out to accomplish today: to not change out of my Christmas pajamas. I'm still wearing them as I type this. #winning

The Day After Christmas is just as much of a holiday to me, filled with new toys and TV, comfy clothes, comfort food, and the signs of the holiday season still all around.

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We have just a week of break before diving back into preschool and the regular routine on the 2nd. Though there are still a few fun things to look forward to in the next couple weeks: a Wild hockey game with my family, a visit to some local breweries with my cousin, New Year's Eve. (I mean, not that we have any plans since we're like 80 and have kids. Whatever.)

I'm going to soak up the remnants of the holiday season for the next week or so, and probably go stir-crazy with the kids by Thursday (hello sub-zero windchills). Cheers!

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The Leftovers

The snow this year. They love it. “They” being the twins. Nolan hates it. The kid who can’t stop moving also can’t stand confinement. All that snow pant-boots-fleece jacket-waterproof jacket-hat-AND-mittens business is too much for him. He can’t run and he can’t move and he can’t even stand having mittens on, which means he pulls them off only to whine afterward because his hands are cold. After an epic Battle of the Mittens (on-off-on-off-on-off-off-off-sigh) I take him inside where he breathes a visible sigh of relief and takes off running again, the second he’s free from those darn snow pants.

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But back to Caden and Brooklyn. They adore the snow. As soon as Caden wakes up from his nap he demands to go outside. He’s usually not fully awake yet — still wiping sleep from tired eyes, his voice scratchy — yet he’s ready to forgo his afternoon snack and any chance of screen time to dig and throw and run and slide in all that white stuff. Each morning he looks out the window, “It snowed again!” he declares, whether it really is fresh powder or the same old snow from days before.

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They love it. Nolan hates it. I'm left feeling torn on how to spend our time. It’s pretty pointless for me to spend the better part of ten minutes bundling a kid up when he lasts outside for less than two. He stands in one spot in utter misery for a moment or two before grabbing my hand and leading me toward the house. “I’side,” he declares (inside, for those of us who can pronounce our “n”s).

Luckily I have Tyson who works from home and doesn’t mind me stashing Nolan in his office for a bit while I attempt to knock the snow-fever out of the other two's systems. But I don’t feel comfortable doing so for long: Tyson is still working, which means Nolan is kept occupied (and more importantly: quiet) with more than his fair share of Little Baby Bum

I remind myself that the first two years are kind of a crapshoot when it comes to snow. Those little bodies aren’t quite in proportion yet. The twins didn’t much care for the snow until they were on the verge of three, when their legs had lengthened out and they were able to move in the snow with (some) ease. Someday I will be able to throw them all outside in the cold and they won't return for a couple of hours. I'll have a quiet, warm house while they master that whole sledding business, have an epic snowball fight, build a snowman. When they return they’ll be able to remove all the damp snow gear by themselves while I greet them with hot chocolate and a smile.

For now, it’s a balance and a battle of wills. The young energetic toddler vs. the enthusiastic preschoolers. Inside vs. out. One vs. two, with me in the middle. Who will get their way today?

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I told Tyson recently that I feel like I could be a really good parent to one child. A single child who would get the benefit of the good parenting techniques I read up on. One who, when they need discipline, reaps the full benefit of a conversation about right and wrong and the consequences of their actions, without the interruption of a sister screaming from the bathroom that she needs help wiping and a brother who wanders over in the midst of that serious discussion to whack them over the head with a wooden piece of train track. Which leads to an attempt at the same discussion with a different kid about right from wrong, consequences, actions, etc. Or just some redirection. If I could only focus on the needs of one, instead of being pulled in three different directions simultaneously.

My attention is divided, is what I'm getting at. The battle for mommy is often won by whoever is the loudest, most demanding, most polite, most severely injured, or the smelliest. Using screen time as a break for one often results in screen time for all. I feel that we could do so much more if we didn’t have to focus on this kid's nap schedule, if journeying out in public wasn't quite so draining with all of Nolan's energy, if I could just focus on completing a single task instead of picking up the threads of six half-finished ones.

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Three kids in two years is a pretty quick way to grow a family. In some ways I’m used to it. Surprise it's twins! meant getting used to chaos from the start. In other ways, I’m jealous of those with one toddler or a bigger age gap. (Bigger age gap meaning anywhere north of the two-minute mark.) The idea of focusing on a single child, uninterrupted, is absolutely novel to me.

It's easy for me to feel like my entire parenting career has been about giving one child or another the leftovers. (Not of the edible variety, although there are plenty of those, too.) My leftovers: leftover time or energy or attention. Beginning this parenting journey with not one but two babies teaches you how to divide that attention pretty quickly. To prioritize needs and balance your energy when you are outnumbered from the start. I often feel that no one gets my full attention, though both hands are always busy, my lap is full, and my ears long for the sound of quiet.

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At its worst, I feel they are disadvantaged. Surely a child who can capture their parents’ undivided attention with ease is better off in the world. They must be more intelligent, have a calmer disposition. They're probably small prodigies at gymnastics, without a mommy who has to bounce back and forth between two children in the same class with a third on her hip. Almost certainly they spend more time on age-appropriate learning activities and less in front of the screen. At the very least they're probably bathed more frequently.

But at its best, I look around and realize how good this whole close-in-age business is for them. What a cohesive unit these three are. I can barely remember life without Nolan. They are their own little gang, our very own pack, nearly inseparable. (Until the twins try to play some sort of make-believe or tower-building game that Nolan just can’t take part in. Then they call for me to keep him “astracted”.) He runs along with the twins so seamlessly (that combined with his giant size) it can’t be long before I get the “are they triplets” question on a regular basis.

{A rare sighting of a Nolan in the snow. It lasted less than four minutes.}

Over the summer, Caden and Brooklyn frequently approached other kids at the playground to ask their names. When the question was reversed one would answer immediately with, “We’re Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan.” Always all three. Caden-and-Brooklyn-and-Nolan given in the same breath. (Once Brooklyn responded with, “We’re just Caden and Brooklyn and Nolan. We’re not monsters.” Depends on the day, I thought while the older girl looked on with confusion.)

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They’re actually thriving despite, or because of, the chaos. We have our fair share of tantrums yet overall they tend to handle conflict better than most kids their ages. They’re all well-spoken and bubbling over with words and excitement. Nolan even counted up to ten last week. (I give full credit to the twins, whose current habit of counting everything in sight is in vogue at our house.) They’re inclusive and curious, adventuresome and independent, and overall too smart for their own good. 

Maybe I do give them the leftovers more often than I'd like. Many days, that’s all I feel I have to give. It seems to be enough. It is enough. Leftovers or not, they’re doing just fine. It's enough. It has to be. And if Nolan has to watch Wheels on the Bus twelve times in a row for us to get those rosy cheeks and a good snowball fight in, so be it. 

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!