mindset

Rest and Routines and Afternoon Target Runs

“What about this silly thing?” became a game during the last five minutes of our Tuesday afternoon Target run.

“What about this silly thing?” one would ask, and then make a goofy face or point at something, like a rack of clothing, which looked innocent to me but sent all three kids into peals of laughter. The first twenty minutes of calm vanished almost instantly as their energy bubbled to the surface. They weren’t naughty per se, but they weren’t exactly model children, either. They were mostly loud. (As one might expect with two five-year olds and a three-year old who don’t suffer much from shyness.)

We made it through the check out lane (barely - one kid was banished from the cart aka banished from being in close proximity to his siblings) and out to the car. They were nearly hysterical with laughter at this point. I tried to map the quickest route to the dentist in my head, our next stop, as I loaded both kids and Target bags into the van.

“Guys!” I finally cried, pulling out of the lot, “Be quiet! I just need to think!”

Their giggles filled our minivan and set my teeth on edge. My fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter than was necessary. I took what I thought was the turn for the dentists office and realized almost immediately I’d turned one intersection too soon.

“Why did you go this way?” Caden asked, giggling now at my mistake.

“Because I can’t think!” I said. “You can run around and be loud when we get home but right now I need you to figure out how to control your energy!”

And that’s what they should have been doing before this dentist appointment: running around the backyard, being loud. Needless to say, an afternoon trip to Target is not a part of our normal routine.

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Our days have followed a pretty set pattern during the past five-and-a-half years. Routine anchors our days. I’ve read how rhythms and routines are so important for small children, seen how my own kids are thrown off when our groove is broken. Really, though, I’ve created these routines as much for myself as for anyone else. (Enneagram 1, anybody?)

The kids have glommed onto these rituals, too. They know that a 7 on the clock in the am means it’s time for breakfast, while at night it equals bedtime. An 8 indicates it’s time to get ready for the day and a 5 in the late afternoon means dinner is imminent.

They know the pattern of our days: eat breakfast, dress and brush teeth, outing or activity, home for lunch, nap/quiet time, screen time, playtime at home, dinner, bed. They know that Wednesday is grocery day, Saturday mornings are for video chatting with Grandma and Grandpa, that we eat tacos on Tuesdays.

Lunchtime is an important anchor in the day for us all. The kids eat before I settle them in their bedrooms with crayons, paper, puzzles, and LEGOs for quiet time. Occasionally, all too few and far between these days, Nolan takes a nap. I retreat back downstairs to sweep the crumbs off the counter and make my own lunch, sit down and read a book where there was chaos only moments ago. 

These fifteen minutes or so are all mine and I savor every bite. It’s the one meal each day where I’m not interrupted with requests for more water, or more pasta, or more of anything. There’s no spilled milk, no reminders to please sit on your butt facing the table, no pleading to eat just one more bite.

Our post-quiet time TV-watching emerged from my reluctance to let go of the quiet. To return back to Earth and the chaos so suddenly once the clock gave them the go-ahead to stampede back downstairs. Instead I turn on the TV and they watch a show or two to ease our return to the real world. I often join them on the couch again with my book or (reality check) some laundry to fold.

 I hold tight to these daily rhythms, afraid that if I let them go I’ll lose myself altogether.

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Target became a part of our afternoon on Tuesday after Nolan acquired the fifth and final sticker on his quiet time chart, earning him a LEGO set of his choice.

“Let’s go to Target! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he cheered. I couldn’t deny his excitement, especially since we had the time before their dentist appointments. And Target is only a four-minute drive from the dental office, after all.

That Target trip/dentist combo wasn’t the only thing to disrupt our schedule this week. Our routine was also thrown off by afternoon swim camp. Combined with two nights of early evening t-ball games it feels as though our days have both been cut short (dinner at 4:30!) and stretched out longer (bedtime at 7:30...if we’re lucky). I’ve been scarfing my lunch down with the kids, quiet time has been nonexistent, the book I’m reading sits abandoned until I fall into bed at night. 

“I haven’t had any time to myself this week!” I told Tyson on Wednesday night, overwhelmed with writing deadlines and grocery orders and emails - things I usually tackle after lunch during the remainder of quiet time. Instead I was with the kids (including a particularly unruly three-year old) from morning to night without even a screen time break. The only time I had to myself (theoretically) was during swim lessons, where I kept one eye on my two swimmers in the water and another on Nolan in the adjacent activity room while also attempting to create a grocery list with the swim school’s spotty Wi-Fi.

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I realize now that I’ve structured our days to facilitate rest, both for myself and for the kids, to help prevent any of us from getting burned out. The middle part of our day is so important: the lunch/quiet/screen time part. A breather from the morning hours before tackling the afternoon witching ones. Our routine gives me stability just as much as it does them. When these habits are interrupted it throws me off, as though my very center is off-balance.

This week showed me that my fear is a valid one: once I let go of our daily anchors my day does become unhinged. And so do I.

I had a professor in college who would remind us, during particularly challenging courses, that the semester was only sixteen weeks long. “You can do anything for sixteen weeks,” she would tell us.

It’s only for this week, I remind myself. I can do anything for a week.

And I can. I did. We made it to Friday. The next couple of weeks sit heavy in front of us, without much on the calendar before school begins and we fall into an entirely new routine. But at least in the next two weeks there will be time for regular lunches, normal quiet times, and even — glory hallelujah — daily doses of screen time.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Rest."


What Writing Looks Like

“Mommy,” Brooklyn began, as I helped her get dressed. (In a jumpsuit. Five-years old and those can be difficult.)  Her hands were on top of my head, even though I’ve told them all 432 times to use my shoulders for balance instead. “Mommy, when we press on your head, does it push all of your ideas out?”

I laughed and said no, I still had my ideas. She grinned, crinkling up her newly-freckled nose, gave me a hug, and scampered away. 

I thought more about her question as I carried a load of laundry downstairs. Small, marker-stained fingers in and of themselves don’t push out my ideas. Though sometimes it feels that way.

It’s hard to explain writing to someone who isn’t a writer. The struggle to pull together a sentence, add a period, the debate to use a comma vs. a semicolon. The drafts and the edits and the agonization over word choice. I’m not sure I know of a single writer who actually, really, truly enjoys the writing process itself. It’s arduous. To do justice to a story, plodding forward in an attempt to tell the truth, to get to the essence of an idea; it’s work.

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Jen Hatmaker has talked on her podcast about how writing is like dredging up words from the bottom of the ocean. Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, says that the act of writing looks like this:

“You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”

Throw in picking up your phone to scroll through Instagram for awhile and this is 1000% accurate.

Glennon Doyle talks about a famous writer who was asked if she loved writing, and her response was, “No, but I love having written.”

That sounds about right to me.

Anyway, back to those small children with their sticky, dirt-covered hands who ask about pushing ideas out of my head.

Sometimes writing looks like trying to put words down on a page but my brain has absolutely no ideas and it is all the children’s fault, not because they used my head to balance, but because the only thing I can think of is the LEGO Movie 2 The Second Part Original Motion Picture Soundtrack because it’s on repeat at our house and even when it’s not playing the children are running around singing it at the top of their lungs: “THIS SONG’S GONNA GET STUCK INSIDE YOUR HE-AAAAAD” and it is, it IS stuck in my head and I haven’t had an original thought for two straight weeks.

Writing looks like sacrifice. It takes time and energy. Sometimes it takes money in the form of a writing class or an editor. More often it’s in the form of a $5.35 latte. Mostly, though, it’s time. Since I am not, never have been, and never will be a morning person this often looks like rushing out the door at 6 pm right after dinner until the coffee shop closes at 9:00. It’s time on the weekends when I would truly rather be lounging around the backyard or going on a family adventure but if I don’t take advantage of the next two or three hours who knows when I’ll get a decent stretch of writing time again.

One of my writing spots is a coffee shop, just a five-minute car ride away. It’s quiet. Not that it isn’t busy, but the overall atmosphere is studious. I realized recently that there are virtually no children there. Like, ever. One day I saw an eight-year old in line with his mom and it dawned on me: this is the first time I’ve seen a kid here. Mind. Blown.

I’m not against kids (I managed to have three of them) but they’re not exactly quiet. If I could concentrate with small children around I wouldn’t have to leave the house. Their babbling words interrupt the ones I’m working to construct in my head, so it’s hard to concentrate on things like writing an entire coherent sentence

I do enjoy watching the high school students who congregate here, though, the teenagers who are thoughtful and friendly, showing their friends their latest Snapchat (or whatever, I mean I don’t really know) and giggling. They sit with their large extra-pump-of-caramel frozen concoctions at their sides because they don’t need to worry yet about ingesting that amount of caffeine or sugar at 8:30 pm.

Other times writing looks like heading to my favorite spot in downtown Minneapolis. It looks like double-checking that I’ve locked my car because there are signs warning me to: “LOCK YOUR CAR. HIGH PROWL AREA”. But it’s worth it because then I enter into the most magical workspace in town, where they make chocolate croissants as big as my head and the eggs benedict is the best combination of salty/sauce-y/butter-y I’ve ever had and it takes all of my restraint to not order everything on the menu. (Those days writing costs me about $18.46.)

Writing looks like creating my very own writing nook. I’ve been sitting here often now, despite the children, instead of heading to the coffee shop. Sometimes a little boy sits on the floor next to me and plays with his LEGOs, and every time he starts to talk, I say, “Mommy’s working remember?” and he says, “Oh yeah I forgot” in a whisper.

There used to be times when writing looked like typing up words at 2:32 am, since I was awake anyway and it didn’t matter whether it was 2:32 in the morning or 2:32 in the afternoon, I was probably nursing a baby, either way.

Sometimes writing looks like rushing home from the store and abandoning the groceries on the kitchen counter so I can rush upstairs to type up the narrative I’ve been constructing in my head the whole way home. It looks like not being able to keep up with the rush of words and hoping I get them all down on the page in the exact order they came to me on University Avenue in my minivan.

Other times it looks like not being able to abandon the groceries, because they really do need to be put away so we can eat lunch, and by the time I get to a computer hours later, they’ve completely vanished. “I’ll remember this later,” I lie to myself. But I never do.

Sometimes it’s leaving myself a voice message of an idea I’m certain is genius and then listening to it later and wondering what on Earth I was talking about.

Some of the best times are when I leave a draft for my friends, the fiercest, strongest group of women and mothers I know, and they leave me comments and edits. And depending on the piece, sometimes I hate them for awhile and I abandon writing for awhile (forever, if I get dramatic in my head) until I come back to it and realize they were all so very right. Entire essays have been born because of them. Entire essays have been saved because of them.

There are nights I can’t wait to escape, where the day has been long or a deadline is looming or a story is in my head and it’s all I can do to not plop the kids in front of the TV to type up some words.

Other days all I want to do is stay home, to do the bedtime routine and snuggle them in. To answer questions like, “Is the sun always a star?” and read their books. Sometimes writing looks like being surrounded by children and stuffed animals as I take note of the rhyming patterns in “Rosie Revere, Engineer” or the foreshadowing in Harry Potter.

Those ideas in my head get pushed in and poured out all the time. Sometimes it’s like grasping at air to try to reign them in, to put them down on the page to create something meaningful and intelligible and maybe even beautiful. And sometimes those ideas are initiated by a little freckle-face five-year old wondering if she’s pushed all the ideas out of my head, and instead I can say, no — you’ve added to them.

Not A Summer Bucket List

I’m a One on the Enneagram and an ESFJ always and forever according to Myers-Briggs. I’m your typical straight-A, type-A firstborn child with a penchant for meal plans and lists. In fact, I specifically researched and then purchased a very particular paper calendar because it had a built-in spot for daily to-do lists. I like a meticulously crafted schedule, boxes just waiting to be checked, recipes with instructions to be followed. I’m a born planner, through-and-through.

So you might think a summer bucket list - a specific collection of summertime “to-dos” - would be right up my alley.

In reality, it stresses me out.

I love the idea of a summer bucket list in theory. In theory, it sounds like fun to create a list of places to go, things to see, foods to eat. I can picture the list in my head, meticulously crafted with multi-colored sharpies on brown kraft paper, hung on our pantry door with rainbow-colored Washi tape, peeking out now and then in the photos I post to Instagram. (I’m such a planner, I’ve even planned out the thing I’m refusing to ever make. I seriously can’t make it stop.)

The truth is I know my rigid, planner-by-nature type would adhere to that thing like there was no more summer tomorrow. What’s that kids? You want to get ice cream today? Well, too bad because this list (which may as well be written in stone) says we’ve already eaten ice cream and today we need to fly kites!

I would feel compelled to carry out every activity to the Nth degree. I’d carefully research each destination and determine whether to pack or purchase a lunch. I’d prepare matching outfits and appropriate snacks. I'd run out to purchase multiple graham and chocolate options for s’mores night and refresh the weather forecast to find the perfect rainy day for a movie.

(Can I just add here that I’ve seen on Pinterest that some people actually write their summer bucket lists on popsicle sticks and put them all in a jar and they pull a random one out each day? And then they go do the thing it says? The idea of surprise summer bucket sticks freaks me the heck out. I need a solid four days just to wrap my head around taking three kids to the zoo. But I digress.)

What I’m trying to say is that it’s hard for me to let loose when there are lists involved. A list - even of the bucket sort - is a sort of challenge for me. Let’s jam-pack this schedule of ours. Just how fast can we complete this list? First to get all their boxes checked wins!

All this research and planning is just the opposite of the relaxation that is supposed to be summertime.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Sometimes, Everything Goes Just Fine

The articles blur together as I scroll through social media. (Reminder to self: just stop it already.) You know the ones I’m talking about:

“Preschool Changed My Kid...For the Worse”

“10 Reasons You Should Never Put Sunscreen on Your Child” and it’s companion, “10 Reasons You Should Bathe Your Child in Sunscreen”

“I Totally Regret _____ About My Parenting”

“Why Sleep Training (or not Sleep Training) Your Baby Makes You a Monster”

Okay, I’m paraphrasing here. But you get the picture. These articles are everywhere. They’re scary and overwhelmingly negative. When I see them, I cringe, roll my eyes, and (usually) avoid the clickbait.

But I wonder how this content gets out as I think of all the new moms out there, seeing this garbage as they scroll sleepily through their phones at 1:15 am. (And again at 3...and at 5:45…) Where’s all the positivity?

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One of my first solo outings with the twins was a moms’ event at my church. I rolled in with the double-stroller loaded down with two infant carseats holding my three-month-olds and hardly had time to wonder if I knew anyone else before another mom greeted me.

“Twins?” She asked, with a sweet smile. “Are they boys or girls?”

“One of each,” I told her.

“I have boy-girl twins, too!” she told me. “They’re three now.” We were quickly joined by another mom who had twin girls a month older than mine. We chatted all things twins: newborns, pregnancies, labor and delivery.  Despite the fact that a multiples pregnancy automatically puts you in the high-risk category, I was surprised to discover that each of our pregnancies and birth experiences had been fairly routine.

“This is crazy,” I remember saying, “I feel like all I was told throughout my pregnancy was how risky multiples are and here we all had pretty good experiences.”

“That’s because that’s all you hear!” the mom with three-year-old twins exclaimed, “Nobody talks about the normal stories. They only tell you the scary ones!”

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Read the rest of this piece over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

 

Signs of Life

Saturday morning I begged Brooklyn to eat her yogurt faster, resigned myself to braiding her hair (“Anna braids, mommy”) at the breakfast table, and packed snacks in the monkey backpack while sucking down iced coffee. Tyson and I hustled everyone into the car, buckled a crying Nolan into his carseat (“But I want to get in the car from the other door!”) and left at 7:52 to make the six-minute drive to the ballpark so the twins could play the first game of the day.

Their games are usually on Wednesdays, but this Saturday was Player Appreciation Day so every team had a game. It felt like a parenting level-up to be up and out of the house for an 8:15 ball game on a Saturday. Saturday morning sports definitely seem like big-kid territory. Except our kids are still small enough they chased balls around the field (three or four of them after the same one) and practiced holding their back elbows up when it was their turn to bat. I chatted with a grandma behind me in the stands (“I’m so jealous you have twins!”) and she told me stories from when her kids were young; how happy she was to see so many kids out playing ball in our town.

Later I took my volunteer shift in the concession stand. I collected crumpled dollar bills from dirty fingers and heard a whispered order from a girl whose curly head barely reached the counter. I passed out Big League Chew to boys with freckles across their faces who weren’t much older than Caden and Brooklyn. I mixed slushies and wrapped hot dogs in foil and fished ice cream Snickers bars from the freezer.

After my shift ended we made our way to the “big” field so the kids could line up to be announced for Player Appreciation Day. I looked at all the kids gathered on the field, noted that the t-ball kids were just versions of the teenage little leaguers in miniature. The coaches each called their own players names and gave out high-fives as they ran across home plate.

Caden, Brooklyn, and Nolan sat and ate candy afterwards in the shade of a tree: their reward for a long morning (and consolation prize for being given some warmed-over root beer floats). I looked around and wondered how many of our memories might take place here at this very ballpark over the next decade or so. Boys and girls ran around in their MLB logo-ed jerseys, backpacks slung over shoulders, chasing each other with water bottles and tennis balls and freezees.

And I was saddened by the thought that Rachel Held Evans will never get to see her children run the bases in oversized batting helmets and brightly-colored jerseys on a bright, blue, cloudless summer day.

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Her funeral took place later that day. I hoped to get home from the ballpark in time to watch the livestream online.

We did make it home with a few minutes to spare. The twins threw batting helmets and gloves on the floor of the mud room and raced off to the backyard while I went upstairs to my room, to watch a funeral on my computer, which seemed like a strange thing to do on a beautiful Saturday afternoon but there we were through the miracle of technology.

I couldn’t sit still. I was fidgety, the computer was too hot to set on my legs comfortably. I set it down to paint my nails (“Orchid-ing Aside”). I briefly wondered if this was this an appropriate thing to do while watching a real, live, actual funeral. I knew Rachel would forgive any heresy in my actions.

The sun streamed in through the wood blinds in my room. I kind of hate them; they’re always dusty, though they look nice if you don’t peer too closely. The light is almost always perfect in our master bedroom, no matter the time of day. I thought of what a perfect day it was and yet somewhere in Chattanooga a husband was having one of the absolute worst days of his life. (Along with two small children, too small to even know it was supposed to be one of the worst days of their lives.)

I answered a quick email and deleted a few others. I noted the Post-it note on my laptop that’s been reminding me for a month that I need to find a nightstand for Caden and Brooklyn’s room. My mind wandered to thoughts of what to make for dinner and things I needed from the store. I put the clothes away that somehow always end up in a pile on the floor in front of the dresser.

I sat and folded Nolan’s laundry as I listened to Sarah Bessey tear up while she gave the most beautiful reading of Mary Magdalene and the disciples arriving at Jesus’ tomb. I smoothed out plaid shorts and wondered why half of Caden’s underwear ended up in Nolan’s laundry basket while Nadia Bolz-Weber trembled in her patterned glasses and salt-and-pepper curls. She spoke of the male disciples who looked in the tomb only to see a pile of folded laundry inside, where Mary Magdalene saw angels.

The doorbell rang and I ran downstairs to find a neighbor girl looking for the kids to play. I chatted with her and her dad for a minute as she told me about her own softball game that morning, how she saw Caden and Brooklyn on the field. I also discovered a package I had ordered on the steps. New sandals (brown with thick straps and a heel); brought them upstairs to try on (keepers).

I mentally planned my outfit for church the next day (to incorporate the new sandals, of course) while adding my own silent “amen”s to Nadia Bolz-Weber’s benediction blessing the preschoolers who cut in line at communion and the closeted and those who can’t fall apart because they needed to keep it together for everyone else.

As the funeral ended (“It is well, it is well with my soul”) I fielded a phone call from my mom. We talked about the progress on the playset my dad is building for the kids. We talked about future plans, weighed the pros and cons of dates and timing. We said good-bye.

The livestream ended and I clicked the tab closed, somewhat hesitantly, as though putting death aside were a thing that could be done so easily.

And I went back out to rejoin my own bright, living world.

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