mom life

It Actually Goes So Fast

The park was quiet except for my three. They ran around, chasing and yelling at one another while I sat on a nearby bench with a book and a water bottle. It was a perfect cloudy day. Not too hot, but comfortable.

I watched them play for awhile, smiling at their antics, when I saw another mom — topknot, sunglasses, leggings — pushing a stroller. Baby was old enough to sit up in the stroller but too young to play at the park. I watched them walk past as baby’s big blue eyes took everything in. Then a thought hit me like a punch to the gut:

I was her just yesterday.

And it startled me.

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“Enjoy every moment! It goes by so fast!” is the phrase young moms love to hate. This phrase always seems to be tossed out so casually. We roll our bleary eyes because we’re on our eighth straight month of not sleeping through the night; which is a method of actual torture. We try to hide our spit-up stained clothing and unwashed hair, to herd our feral children through the grocery aisles with some semblance of dignity. 

These older people don’t remember, we tell ourselves to cope. They don’t remember how hard it is every day to change all these diapers, breastfeed until it hurts, to sing “Wheels on the Bus” over and over and over.

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We slog through the day having woken up at 5:04AM, reheating our coffee in the microwave three times too many. The hours from 3:00-5:30PM crawl by as we’ve exhausted all of our ideas for the day, and collapse on the couch in absolute despair while children scream and throw toys around us. We wonder, as we hit the buttons on the microwave or put a throw pillow over our heads one more time, just how much more can we take?

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I still consider myself a “young” mom, with two five-year-olds and a three-year-old. My parenting journey is still at the beginning. Yet I’m sure that day at the park, it looked like I was living the life to that stroller mom: book, water, sitting, kids playing while I paid half-attention. I used to watch those moms at the park and envy them as I chased after twin 15-month olds dashing off in opposite directions. Sitting at the park on a bench with a book? That was #goals.

I wondered if I looked like I had everything figured out. I still often feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I wanted to tell her that even these moments of respite don’t last, that I would likely be interrupted by a fight, or an injury, or a request for a snack soon enough.

“I was just you!” I wanted to rush over and tell her. “I know I look like an ‘old mom’ but I swear I’m not. Everyone was right, it goes by fast.”

Read the rest over on Kindred Mom.

To the Siblings Left Behind

I had prepped all summer for my oldest kids, the twins, to head off to Kindergarten. 

We prepared in tangible ways. I checked off the list of school supplies: crayons (both twistable and regular), scissors, notebooks, glue sticks: double of everything. We shopped for new clothes and set aside time for hair cuts. We went through the Kindergarten workbooks from their preschool teachers. We practiced opening lunch boxes, granola bars, and applesauce pouches; I showed them what was trash and what to bring home.

I tried to prepare them socially. We talked about how some kids in their class might have different skin colors. Some might have two mommies and some might have only one parent. Some friends might not celebrate the same holidays or eat the same foods we do. I told them I wanted them to do well in school, but the most important thing is for them to be kind.

Emotional preparation was more difficult. I wondered how the long days would affect them, something impossible to prepare them for. Would they be absolutely exhausted when they stepped off the bus at 4:00 pm? Would they need a snack, a hug, a nap?

I made lists to reassure myself. At least I had control over some things. I shopped for crackers and cheese and organic juice boxes for lunch and snack time. I added important dates to our family calendar. I stuck a note on the refrigerator: water bottle, snack pouch, lunch box, juice box, homework folder to help us remember everything in the morning rush.

I thought about how those long days would affect me. Just what was I supposed to do all day with their younger brother? I’ve never had only one kid at home all day. What would I do with Nolan and all three-and-a-half years of his energy, his spirit, his mad drive for socialization?

The first day of school arrived, and as that big yellow bus pulled away that very first morning (they ran on without a look back), I held Nolan in my arms to wave goodbye. And then it happened. His lower lip pouted, his eyes filled with tears, and he reached after the bus in despair once he realized what had happened. His 5 1/2-year old brother and sister, the built-in playmates he’s had for literally his entire life, were gone. And he was left behind.

In all these preparations, I hadn't taken into account what all this would mean for him. Not once had I thought about how all this would affect Nolan, number three in my trio, born exactly two years and two days after his brother and sister, who wears the same shoe size they do, the three-and-a-half-year-old who is so big strangers frequently stop to ask if they’re triplets.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Life in the Busy (or The New 4:00 Hour)

In “The Habit” newsletter this week (a weekly email devoted to writing), Jonathan Rogers wrote:

 “If what you're looking for is an excuse for not writing, the busyness of your life is a good one. I should know: I use that one all the time. But having more time or a better desk probably isn't going to help as much as you think if you're not already using the hour or two you have at that little desk in the corner.”

It struck me. Since the school year began - really since August hit with all of its NO-ACTIVITIES-FOR-YOU business - I’ve felt pretty dried up. The kids sapped most of my energy in August. Then school hit, along with ALL THE OTHER THINGS. Dance and religious education started. I’ve said “yes” where I used to say “I have three small kids so NO”: to volunteer positions, a writing class, a leadership position at church. Things I feel I have some space for now.

At night, I often stare for awhile at a blinking cursor, with a blank mind but a full brain. At my own little desk in the corner, I struggle to find something to say. 

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And I wonder how much is hiding behind the busyness and how much is actual...busyness?

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The hour from 4:00-5:00 pm used to be the single longest hour in my entire day. To survive for one more hour until the clock flipped over to 5:00 felt like an eternity.

4:00 was about the time I gave up for the day. Where I plopped in the grass and willed our neighbors to come over and play. When I lay down on the couch, to hell with the quantity of toys scattered across the floor or whoever was wailing about a minor bodily injury around me.

Really, I don’t think 4:00 pm has ever been a great time for me. It was the least productive time in my professional life. I often tackled busywork tasks like sketching out floor plans or scanning tile catalogs. I dreaded phone calls during the 4 o’clock hour, when my brain was fried and my introvert side was all d-o-n-e.

I’m still ready to be done for the day at 4:00 pm. But since that’s the time Caden and Brooklyn’s bus pulls up to release them back to me, 4:00 feels less like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and more like entering another tunnel.

“It felt like I went from a nine-hour day to a twelve-hour day,” a friend said to me recently, regarding the transition to full-time-all-day-every-day-school. That hit me as exactly right.

While my day was far from over at 4:00 pm previously, the end was in sight. Another hour until there was another set of hands to help wrangle small children. I could begin my mental check-out from the day, devote time to dinner and dishes and not much else. (Tyson had bedtime duty.) I was almost free for the day - free to leave the house to write, to do yoga. (*ahem* to mindlessly scroll Instagram…)

Now at 4:00, it feels like my day starts all over again.

There are new nighttime responsibilities added to the ones that already existed: filling water bottles and snack bags and tucking them in backpacks, checking communication folders, planning lunches for the next day. I often do bedtime now with Caden and Brooklyn since I don’t see them all day. These duties, unlike many of my other nighttime tasks, can’t be pushed off. The toys, if need be, can still be scattered across the front hall all day tomorrow, but those lunches need to be packed and ready to go by 8:15 am.

And morning comes with its own chaos. Breakfast for three kids (plus me, hopefully), unloading clean dishes from the dishwasher, loading the freshly-dirtied breakfast ones. Drinking coffee before helping Nolan find clothes, supervising Caden and Brooklyn (make sure they’re actually getting dressed and not distracted with half a sock on somewhere). Brushing three sets of teeth and doing Brooklyn’s hair. Packing up those lunches and triple-check to see that everything is in their backpacks. On preschool days Nolan and I have to be out of the house by 8:25 am. Caden and Brooklyn catch the bus at 8:45.

It’s fine. The mornings don’t bother me so much. I thrive on routine. And with three kids who often wake before the sun, it’s not a mad dash the way I know it is for other families.

Plus, after the morning rush three days a week, I return home to quiet.

Quiet is rarely a word that can be applied to our evenings.

Dinnertime spills over into bedtime which seems to be where all those Big Kindergarten Emotions come out. They’ve held it together all day and now they’re home and they’re safe and their energy bubbles over into one more endless round of giggles at the table, whining about a LEGO they’ve lost, or sobbing that they want their room painted blue again because they liked it when it was blue and I didn’t even ask them if I could paint it white. (1: I totally did ask and we all agreed on white and 2: you’ve literally never brought this up before. Can we please talk about it at some other time - any other time - when it’s not already 43 minutes past your bedtime?)

My day feels stretched out, beginning with that four o’clock hour. And my evenings feel like they’ve slipped away.

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I sit down at the end of the day, my later-than-usual, stretched-out day. I’ve felt so caught up in those lunches and remembering drop-off and pick-up times. I’ve scribbled Post-It note reminders to bring sandwich bags to Nolan’s preschool, to pick up ingredients for the church potluck, to send money for the back to school dinner. I send an email to the teacher, place the book order, cross off items on my list, and make another for the next day: wrap presents for the party, revise that document, make a phone call, write this post for that deadline.

I don’t know if it’s busyness as an excuse or actually being busy. I see how I could get lost in this phase of life, maybe even more so than in the baby stage. Where I don’t have naptime to fall back on and more often than not have a (non-napping) three-year old around. When 4 o’clock hits and our house explodes into chaos and emotions and dinner to make and backpacks to clean out.

Maybe I am busy.

Maybe I’m hiding behind it sometimes.

Maybe that’s okay.

Maybe I’ll learn to make the most of that blinking cursor during the single hour I find in the evenings, in my own corner of my bedroom. Maybe I’ll find a way to energize myself during the 4:00 hour. (Hahaha.) Maybe it’s okay for awhile if that cursor blinks at me more than I would like. Maybe I’ll find life in the busy and return here to put it all down on the page.

Life Lately

Like many of you, my heart has been with the detention centers at the border. As more and more reporting came out late last week and over the weekend, I couldn’t tear my mind away from it.

Which means that as I washed off a face mask and shaved my legs in the shower, I thought how immigrants to my own country weren’t even provided with soap. And when I started my period on Sunday I thought of all the teenage girls who would get their periods, maybe for the very first time, in an overcrowded detention center. I have little hope these girls are being provided with pads or tampons if they’re not even being given toothbrushes. I pray for a kind female border guard or older teenage girl to help them through. And as I threw away a head of lettuce, a pint of blueberries, and two containers of leftovers that went bad before we could eat them, I thought how these kids are saying they’re not being fed enough, they’re still hungry, that they can’t go out to play because it takes all their energy just to survive another day.

These are kids who are in America. In 2019. I’m tired of being told these people are a threat to us when clearly we are a threat to them.

Sit with that a moment. And then read this Instagram post, and this article, and this one, too. And let it crush you as you imagine your children in such a place and let it make you physically sick to your stomach. Then read them again.

Part of me wants to rush down there and scoop up as many of those children as I can and bring them back home. Obviously that’s not practical or feasible in any way shape or form. It seems like so little, yet if you can, please consider donating to Together Rising. They are working with people on the ground to reunite families, give these children proper medical care, and to get them out of there as fast as they can.

Also contact your representatives. Let them know we’re watching. Because there’s no such thing as other people’s children. And if we’re a country that truly values children, this is not the kind of country we want to be.

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Horrific story adjacent: One thing I’ve been doing to combat mindlessly scrolling through social media is to stop whenever I see something awful, something that hits me to my core. Things like the reports of the treatment of children at the border, a post from a friend about infant loss, etc. When it makes me stop and think, when it makes my heart hurt, I stop what I’m doing and put my phone down. I may click into the article if it’s a news report, but then I put it away. I sit with those feelings and really force myself to think about what I’ve just read.

It can be hard sometimes. Who wants to sit with those shitty feelings? But it feels more honest than to continue to scroll. To continue through photos of happy families on vacation and ads for clothes I don’t need but am tempted to click on, anyway.

Honestly, it felt more shitty when I kept scrolling and tried to shove those feelings down. It’s helped. It’s something.

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In an abrupt shift, because that seems to be how my brain works these days, these two spent the better part of the weekend riding around on two wheels.

One push from me, and a little bit of convincing, was all it took. Those balance bikes are miracle-workers for sure. Teaching them to ride on two wheels, something I thought we could do to kill time - maybe take up the better part of an afternoon - took all of ten minutes. And that included the time it took to take the training wheels off.

“That wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be!” Brooklyn said after her inaugural ride down the sidewalk.

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The food websites have been bringing it lately with their collections of food writing. First was Bon Apetit with their “Welcome to Red Sauce America” essays. (I read it over a period of a week…and had a mad craving for some chicken piccata the whole time. Which has yet to be fulfilled.) Then, less lengthy but no less fun, Taste talked all things 90’s in “The 90’s Issue”. While all the pieces are worth a read, I’m calling out “The Bizarre History of Buca di Beppo” and “The 1990s Boom of California’s Mexican Supermarkets” as my personal favorites. (I also have to give a shout out to a favorite spot in Madison as well as a favorite here.)

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Food adjacent: please read this op-ed from the New York Times: “Smash the Wellness Industry”.

I had paid a lot of money to see a dietitian once before, in New York. When I told her that I loved food, that I’d always had a big appetite, she had nodded sympathetically, as if I had a tough road ahead of me. “The thing is,” she said with a grimace, “you’re a small person and you don’t need a lot of food.”

The new dietitian had a different take. “What a gift,” she said, appreciatively, “to love food. It’s one of the greatest pleasures in life. Can you think of your appetite as a gift?” It took me a moment to wrap my head around such a radical suggestion. Then I began to cry.

It’s. So. Good.

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I made a big batch of homemade freezees a few weeks ago using these. They work great, though the zip-close doesn’t work very well. While they’re not reusable like I was hoping, at least the kids are eating pureed fruit instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

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I promise it’s simple: pulse up some fruit along with just a little orange juice or lemonade in a food processor, add sugar if needed (I used less than a tablespoon with each batch, otherwise they were pretty tart), pour, and freeze. My next step is to just freeze lemonade for some Italian ice-style freezees. So far we’ve made:

  • strawberry (strawberries with orange juice)

  • mixed berry (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries with lemonade)

  • cantaloupe (cantaloupe with a few strawberries and orange juice)

  • strawberry-banana smoothie (strawberries, a banana, and yogurt instead of juice) (my favorite!)

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I’ve been living in these shorts and these shirts. I bought two pairs of the shorts (dark cinnabar and palm tree - recommend sizing down) and three of the shirts (fit is pretty true-to-size, or size up for a looser fit). They go perfectly together. I wear the shirt tucked in (and consequently feel like a throwback to the early ‘90’s), with a light cardigan thrown over the top for the cooler days (which we’ve had way too many of lately). It’s my summer uniform.

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I’m scared to write this for fear of jinxing myself, but we seem to have entered an era where the kids enjoy playing with each other. Several times recently I’ve discovered them scattered: the twins playing LEGOs together in their room while Nolan flips through books or builds with Duplos in his, Brooklyn and Nolan playing “baby” while Caden plays with (you guessed it) LEGOs on his own. To be fair, Caden and Brooklyn have been able to play well together for years now, it’s the fact that Nolan has been that’s the true miracle.

It’s a nice break. Just this time last year I felt I couldn’t leave the room for fear Nolan would trash the house looking for the remote, sneak into the pantry to steal snacks, or climb on the counter to sneak actual spoonfuls of sugar.

Even outside I’ve been able to pull up a chair and sit - truly get lost in a book - while they play together in the driveway. They’re still riding their bikes and scooters and that old cozy coupe we got for free from a garage sale around the roads they create on the driveway with chalk. But it’s the very first time I don’t fear Nolan dashing into the street. The past couple years it was a game - I always felt there was about a 50/50 chance he would dash into the street for fun. And now he just…doesn’t.

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I wrote this last summer, and it seems relevant again now:

This is what I've been waiting for.

…A moment prior to this realization, guilt had found me. It crept in during the break in the action and began to berate me for not doing more. To write more, volunteer more, accomplish more. Maybe I should even go back to work. Guilt admonished me for the streaks on the kitchen floor and the fruit snacks they ate in the car and for being "just" a stay-at-home mom. Surely, at the very least, I should have cleaner floors.

In the next breath I realized this is what I've been dreaming of. This little break where no one at all needs me. The past four years have been intense. Twin infants and that whole three under three business and the sleep deprivation and the making of all the food and everything else. Of course even a little wiggle room feels like a lot. A pause, a moment to take a breath; it's been seemingly impossible these past few years. Which means my type-A personality kicked in to cue the guilt. Because surely only lazy people sit around their backyards at 3:30 pm on a Thursday with their sparkling water and their sandals and their colorful lawn chairs.

Soon enough a fight will break out or they'll see a bug or rush over all at once to demand freeze pops. Soon enough my backyard will be empty as they grow older and more independent. So I take this afternoon as a blessing. Just me and my sandals, a book in my lap, three small bodies in swimsuits, a blow-up pool, sunshine, and my sparkling water. With a lime.

This is exactly what I've been waiting for.

He’s still exhausting with all that energy, his penchant for anything as long as it’s a little bit life-threatening. But we might be getting there. Instead of holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop during any momentary lull, I’ve been taking deeper breaths, able to recharge and relax just a little bit more into just exactly what I’ve been waiting for.

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.