Life

Raising the Good Guys and Bad Guys

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

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

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

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

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

2019 05 12 Caden Nolan Playtime 01.jpg

+++++

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

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

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

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

“We did.”

“And the bad guys lost?”

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

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

+++++

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





My Own Search for Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

2019 05 09 Book 01.jpg

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we did.

+++++

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

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

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

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

+++++

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

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

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

“You are not alone.

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

Hold on.”

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

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

Three Under Five

When I first began listening to podcasts a couple years and change ago, I was knee-deep in small children. Like, even more so than now. The twins were two and Nolan was an infant. I began listening to podcasts to have an adult voice in my ears and to liven up my days, which were more full of diapers, snot, and Cheerios than grown-up conversation. I sought out podcasts on motherhood out of desperation for solidarity and maybe a ray of hope that this too, shall pass.

As I listened I began to notice a theme. Or at least a catchphrase. “Three kids under five,” came up frequently, like it was some Holy Grail of Difficulty in parenting. Most of the podcasters were older than me and everyone spoke of that season in tones of reverence. It was the season that buried them, one of the hardest parts of their parenting careers, maybe one of the hardest parts of their lives. Three kids under five was a lot. It was exhausting. It was to be survived.

I looked around at my own life at the time. Three kids in diapers. Three kids who couldn’t put on their own shoes or jackets or socks or mittens. Three kids who were along for the ride as I drove my minivan in circles around the parking lot to find a cart big enough to wheel everyone in the store together. Because two of those kids were too little to walk through the parking lot without a hand to hold, yet one of my arms was burdened with the third in a car seat.

Three kids under three.

Three kids under five sounded pretty good to me. Five years old — or almost? That’s big kid territory right there. Five to me represented independence, some sort of helpfulness, maybe even stability. With three kids under five, at least one of them would be in school part of the day. At a minimum, it implied they were potty trained. Surely Five must be practically able to take care of themselves.

“Three kids under five,” I would think, “Must be nice.”

+++++

At the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, I’ll tell you I realized pretty recently that I still have three kids under five. In fact, I’ve had three kids under five for three years. The first year I had three under three. Then three under four. Earlier this year I upgraded at last, officially, to three under five. Before three kids, I had two under any age you could throw at me. Under a year, under a month, under a day. Under five minutes.

2018 11 05 All Bedroom 01.jpg

I’ve been exhausted lately and annoyed I feel that way. Surely I should feel “better” by now. Whatever that means. Certainly I should feel more energized and less drained. There’s no longer a baby in our house and I’ve been a parent now for how long? The days and even years blur together, as the quantity of small children multiplies the intensity of their years. But then I stop and do the math and realize I don’t even have a five-year old yet, though I’m due to have a couple of them in just two short months.

The truth is, I’m still in that “three under five” season the podcasters spoke of with such exhaustion. I’ve been in it for a long time. And while we’ve introduced some improvements over the years, (Caden and Brooklyn 3.0 learned to put on their own clothes, the 4.0 versions can buckle their own car seats, and glory hallelujah everyone is potty trained), my days continue to be filled with the management of temper tantrums, multiple snacktimes, and the wiping of little bottoms. (They learn this essential life skill eventually, right?)

At first, it was a novelty, having three kids so close together. We drew stares and questions and compliments everywhere we went. Each day was a challenge, a puzzle to figure out, a new adventure to survive. Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m tired of it all. Physically weary, yes. Exhausted from the mental burden of caring for the same three kids day after day. Worn out from always carting three kids from place to place to place. The past few years have been more or less the same scene: me in the minivan with three small kids in car seats and an overstuffed diaper bag.

I’ve been the one at classes, at storytime, at the park, at playdates, at Target, and the drive-thru of the nearest coffee shop with three kids in tow for three freaking years. The novelty has worn off.

+++++

My kids love open gym time. The benefit to having three kids in a two-year timespan is how they all enjoy the same activities. They laugh at the same shows, play with the same toys, and here they’re all the same age to tumble around together for a couple of hours. Even better is that they have yet to mind me dressing them in matching shirts. It’s one of the tricks I picked up in the past few years: when doing a headcount I only need to look around the cavernous space for the exact same shirt three times. I think other families use this tactic for Disneyworld. I use it for open gym time on an average Wednesday.

The local school districts throughout our state offer exceptional parent-child classes and weekly playtime events. These have been staple activities in our house. I’m used to having more kids in my lap than anyone else at circle time. Other parents may have three or more kids, but with more traditional age gaps, they only attend with their youngest. I’m so used to dividing myself in three so there’s enough of me to go around the room I hardly notice anymore.

I discovered early on that those enormous minivan-versions of carts at Target (bless them) can hold twin two-year olds, a baby in a carseat, a week’s worth of groceries, and a box of diapers. For the first six months of his life, Nolan lay in his carseat while I piled groceries around him, higher and higher, usually throwing a loaf of bread and a bag of Goldfish on top of him as I ran out of space.

2018 11 05 All Bedroom 03.jpg

But the kids used to fit better in those enormous carts than they do now. They’ve gotten bigger over the past couple of years, as kids do. On our most recent Target run it felt like I could hardly contain them all in the big red cart. The cart felt heavy, burdensome. I still get stares, but the exclamations and questions over how cute or how old they are have more or less subsided. More frequently now they’re asked when they’re going to start school.

Last week at our parent-child class the teacher told us to put our kids on our laps as we sang a song and bounced them. I looked around the group of a dozen other parents; two had two kids with them, the others had just one. Once upon a time, I would have risen to the challenge, and plopped all three kids, two toddlers and a baby, in my lap. Now, at a collective weight of approximately 109.2 pounds, I listened to that instruction and gave it a hard NOPE. “You guys can sit next to me and bounce yourselves,” I told Caden and Brooklyn. Let me experience having one kid in my lap for once.

Soon enough I’ll have only one kid at open gym time. Then none at all. A staple of the past few years will become a thing of the past, a remember when that they probably won’t remember. I’ll remember, though. I’ll remember taking a headcount every couple of minutes, the few photos I have in their matching shirts where they’re not all a blur, the way they chased each other around and around the cavernous gym pretending to be their favorite characters together — “Catboy!” “Gecko!” “Owlette!” “Let’s go!” — without getting tired.

+++++

As the weather has turned colder, I’ve been refocusing my attention in the afternoon, to play with the kids purposefully. We watch a little TV, have a snack, build or bake something, circle up around the table for art time, and often I just watch while they run around the house like crazy people, because, after all, they’re still three kids under five.

When Caden and Brooklyn were younger, I was more intentional with our afternoon time. Mornings were for activities and errands, but the afternoons were ours. I’ve been trying to reset myself back to that time, to that routine. Because, as hard as it is to imagine, we have less than a year of afternoons left before Caden and Brooklyn head off to Kindergarten.

I can’t wait.

Also, I wish it were still three years away.

+++++

Can we hold both of these things, simultaneously, and let them be true at the same time?

I’m sick of having three kids under five.

I’m going to miss having three kids under five.

Below Me

I walk through the kitchen and step on a stray Cheerio. Into the dining room and my stockinged feet crunch up a half-eaten cracker. I strip my socks off and toss them in the general direction of the laundry room only to walk in the living room to step directly on - most nightmarish of all - a LEGO.

I really need to look down more.

You’d think I’d have learned this by now, almost five years into being a stay-at-home parent. Most of my life these past five years has happened below me. My two-year-old has even been demanding it of me lately. “Mommy! Look a-me!” he says. Which means he wants me to squat down at his level, to look him in the eyes. Sometimes I sigh because it means I have to abandon the task at hand. Slicing an apple, stirring the pot of macaroni, wiping down the kitchen table. All things that I could continue to do while also listening to him talk. Things that also all take place below my eye level.

+++++

There is a spot in my lower back, just to the right of my spine, that pinches in pain anytime I remained bent over too long. I know exactly where it is, can pinpoint its precise location, though it only acts up if I spend too long sitting on the floor to do puzzles or fold laundry without back support. (So...for a decent portion of my day.) It could be one of the ravages of aging, sure. I attribute it to parenting. All that work I do in the space 42 inches from the ground on down.

I’ll feel the twinge in the middle of the night when my body, which was previously dozing comfortably beneath a pile of blankets, is woken by a call of, “Mommy I need you!” I blindly fumble my way down the hall to readjust someone else’s blankets, and as I bend over there it is, that shot of pain. Or when my son tells me to “look a-me”, and I bend over too fast, a motion my body apparently wasn’t ready for. I grab my back with my hand, a 30-something who maybe looks wizened before her time.

2018 12 07 Tea 01.jpg

Read more about my aching back and all this life that’s happening below me over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

The Repetition of Motherhood

I didn’t know last Thursday was going to be the one that broke me. The day that sent me, crumbling at 3:30 in the afternoon, to text a message over Voxer to my friends in pure desperation. I met this scattered tribe of writing mamas through a year-long writing course, a gift from Tyson a couple Christmases ago. This group of women turned out to be more of a gift than the actual gift of the writing workshop itself.

“This parenting thing is no joke. The kids have been so difficult lately and I’m feeling 100% completely drained by the day-in-day-out of life with kids,” I wrote, “ And then my anxiety comes out as anger so I feel even worse. I also feel behind on everything from my writing to the amount of library books on loan to me to picking outfits for our family photos to organizing every single room in my entire house. Maybe that sounds silly. Life is hard.”

+++++

The day had started off normal enough. Better, maybe, since it was the first day of the week we didn’t have to be out of the house well before 9 am. At 8 o’clock that morning I had been calm, sipping coffee that was still hot and swatting Nolan’s hand away from my egg-topped avocado toast.

“Go play!” I told him. He scampered off to join his brother and sister, though I knew he’d be back all too soon. I cleared away spoons and bowls, rinsing them off in the sink and watching soggy cereal bits swirl away. I ate my own breakfast as I cleaned; multitasking, the life of a mom. Bite of avocado toast, rinse. Sip of coffee, fill the dishwasher. Bite, sip, wipe, rinse.

My only plan for the morning was to take the kids to the park in a probably futile attempt to burn off their energy. Without a firm schedule, just for the moment, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself.

That lazy feeling was the opposite of the weekly dreams I used to have, far too often, where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t be on time. One week it would be the airport and I was about to miss my flight. A few times it was a class at school I could never get to before the bell rang. I would forget a book and go back to my locker, over and over again, or pack a suitcase that never seemed to fill. Every time I would wake up frantic, anxious, panicked, sweating. Growing up as the kid who was always late for everything, these dreams were truly the stuff of nightmares to me. But not this morning. I took another sip of hot coffee before telling them to go upstairs and find some clothes for the day.

+++++

No specific thing actually sent me over the edge that afternoon. There was plenty of screaming and sibling battles. There was the house that looked like a hurricane (or, ahem, three) had hit every single one of its 2200 square feet from the master closet to the playroom. There were a couple of writing deadlines I couldn’t get out of my head but also couldn’t get to work on, because: children. There was the several-months-potty-trained toddler who pooped his pants enough to warrant a bath. Not just once but twice, including immediately after I sent off my plea over Voxer. I was resigned to my fate at that point as I wearily dragged him home from the park in the wagon. I wondered how badly his pants were leaking, if I would need to hose down the wagon when I got home, where all my emotions had gone. It was another day in a long series of days with the grind of working, cleaning, disciplining, and attempting to find patience for the most ordinary of things.

2018 10 15 Laundry 01.jpg

I recently read it takes our brains 28 minutes after an interruption to get back on track to what we were doing before we were interrupted with the same level of productivity. Reading that, my immediate reaction was, No freaking wonder I can’t get anything done! Twenty-EIGHT minutes? As a person who feels as though she is frequently interrupted 28 times in a single minute, I’m basically doomed.

Maybe the nightly dreams of my youth are coming back to haunt me now in motherhood. I’m not missing something as momentous as a flight, as tangible as the bell to sit down for history class. Yet the continuous, fruitless repetition that now takes over my days is undeniable. I may no longer be frantically packing that suitcase, but instead corralling the shoes and jackets that take over the mudroom again, and again, and again. I’m not turning around for the umpteenth time in a crowded high school hallway to retrieve a book from my locker, but I struggle to keep my thoughts in an orderly line as my children derail them over and over with requests for the TV to be turned on, by the shrieks of another sibling squabble, to answer the question, “Where is the Earth?”, with small people showing me - “Look mom!” that a T-Rex stomps “like this” and his arms can’t touch “like this”.

+++++

My friends rallied, as they do, as I knew they would. It is hard, I’ll be praying for you, they said. I’m right there with you. Sending you love. You’re not alone. It is. So. Hard. Cheering you on! I feel emptied at the end of the day, too. It’s not silly. Being a mother is hard.

The solidarity and love as each little ping alerted me to another message pulled me through the rest of the day. I read through each little message once, twice, three times or more, each one a reminder that I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t alone, that parenting every day in and out is actually hard, holy work.