routine

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.

Eight Years and Three Tables

“Mommy I only like the oranges,” Caden tells me. I look across the kitchen table to see his plate untouched but for the oranges.

“You need to eat something else,” I say, “Then you can have more oranges.”

He scowls behind his plate. “I already tried everything and I don’t like it,” he says, though I know he’s lying. (That he’s tried it. This is an end-of-the-week scraps-for-dinner kind of meal so it’s probably true he doesn’t like it.)

I ignore him; I don’t want the fight. I’ve already gotten up to get Nolan some milk and then my own water where I’d forgotten it on the counter. Nolan suddenly jumps up and runs over to play with his new LEGO set in the living room. Caden follows.

“Boys!” I say, “Put your butts in your chairs! It’s time to eat.” This happens again, once, twice, three times before the LEGO set gets taken away for good for a full 24 hours. This is all punctuated by Tyson joining us at the table (delayed because he was fixing the sprinkler system outside), another request for oranges (only oranges), Brooklyn telling me she doesn’t like dinner, either (sigh). I’m out of my chair more than not. Five minutes into dinner and I’ve eaten three bites.

“Hey Google, set a timer for five minutes,” I call across the room, “Okay, everyone needs to sit here until the timer beeps. I don’t care if you eat. You just have to sit here and talk to us.”

Cue more general anarchy, moans, groans, spaghetti-limbed bodies draped across the bench. I get in another few bites.

Once Google relieves them, the boys dash off to play. Nolan, frustrated by the whole experience of needing to actually sit in his chair to eat dinner, grabs the long, thick, wooden pole we use as a security measure to keep the patio door closed and locked. He starts swinging it around, though this is something he knows he’s not supposed to touch, much less flail around the room. Tyson and I corner him around the kitchen table - me on one side, Tyson on the other - and I almost take a pole to the face before grabbing it away. (“Goddamnit” is something that may have come out of my mouth.) Tyson walks him over to the bottom step for a three-minute time out.

“Well this was enjoyable,” I say to Tyson, the first words I’ve said to him since dinner began, “I’m leaving.” And I abandon my mostly-untouched dinner and step over Nolan to walk out the door.

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We’re eight years into marriage and this is our third dining room table. Our first table wasn’t really a dining table. Which was fitting, since we didn’t really have a dining room.

It was a card table, black, the kind with legs that fold in. We had black folding chairs to match, just to keep it classy. It sat on the carpet and wobbled a little when we cut chicken or pizza slices.

We only had four chairs: more people than that and someone had to sit on the futon, an arm’s-length away in the living room. Though we rarely had company. We were newlyweds and a state away from anything familiar; it was usually just us at the table.

I remember how silent our whole apartment complex was, how we sometimes turned on the TV while we ate just to hear someone talk besides ourselves. Eight years ago and our table was the antithesis in every way of what it is now.

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Our second table was gifted to us by my parents for our first anniversary. I’d been eyeing the set at Target, a small, square table and chairs. We’d moved across town and despite having a larger apartment, it didn’t really have a dining room, either. We shoved the table against the wall, pulled it and the fourth chair out anytime we had guests.

And we had guests, now. After our move we joined a small group, made friends. We hosted our small group and baby showers and Thanksgiving and Downton Abbey watch parties. Our early memories around this table involve lots of friends and bottles of Spotted Cow.

Two years later we brought our twin babies home, setting their carseats on top of that table. The same table where we ate foil-pan casseroles dropped off by friends, our dinners now punctuated by cries. Many nights I walked back and forth during the dinnertime witching hours as I tried to eat and nurse two babies simultaneously. Later I would set my laptop on that table (and often a beer) as I began to write again, stretching out my rusty fingers and brain to put words on a page.

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This table moved with us to the Twin Cities, along with my 20-weeks pregnant belly, just a year and a half later. We brought that table and the memories of friends and new babies seated around it with us.

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We’re on our third kitchen table now. The second one was absurdly small for our new space: our first house that, yes, has an actual dining room. This table has a stainless steel top: smooth, flat, easy to clean. Any hesitation I felt about the coordinating cream-colored, upholstered chairs with three kids under three vanished when I saw how easy it would be to wipe that top down.

I see the progression of a couple, of a life and a marriage in these three tables in eight short (long) years. I can trace our path from baby newlyweds to very young family to house in the suburbs. Sometimes this life is everything I’ve hoped it would be and other times I’m dodging my three-year old brandishing legit weapons at the dinner table. Sometimes we have to make use of Google as a timer, remind them to put their dishes away, clear away piles of markers and paper and masterpieces before we can sit down to a meal.

Still, we make a point of sitting down here most nights as a family.

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“Mommy I like this dinner!” Nolan says as he runs down the steps the very next night, seeing the plates of food on the table.

“Me, too!” Caden and Brooklyn chorus, joining us. Tyson follows them down the stairs and gives me a quick kiss before sitting down next to me.

Tonight we pray and pull out the set of dinner table questions at the kids’ request. Everyone eats their panko-crusted chicken and broccoli and asks for seconds, thirds.

Caden pulls a card from the stack in the middle of the table and I read it to him. “What is your favorite place to eat?”

“Hmmm,” he thinks, and I wait for it, the answer of McDonald’s or Chick-fil-a or the restaurant we go to with the trolly inside that serves their favorite spaghetti and meatballs.

Then: “Here! At home. I like the food you make, mommy.”

I don’t know if they’ll remember the nights we yelled, the nights they “didn’t like” any of the food, the nights I let four-letter words pass my lips, when they bargain and whine and shout and cry over each other. I don’t know if they’ll remember eating naan with rice and curry, homemade pizza, or Happy Meals around this table.

But I’ll remember what happened here just like I remember the meals and the life we built around its two predecessors. The good, the bad, and the in-between. I sure hope they remember nights like this. I hope this table makes up a piece of their story, too.

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 "Remember This."

Ordinary Hard

I pulled my phone out of my pocket to check the time during open gym last Friday. 10:45. How could we possibly still have 30 minutes left before we had to leave to pick up the twins from preschool? My three-year old and I had arrived to open gym later than usual (because we had to make a Target run, obviously) and to have 30 whole more minutes just didn’t seem possible.

I looked at my phone again fifteen minutes later. Except it wasn’t fifteen minutes later. It had only been two. I looked at the clock on the wall, convinced my (*ahem* brand new) phone had stopped working, and resisted the urge to throw my (still new) phone to the floor. I resigned myself to twenty-eight more long minutes of chasing around my energetic boy.

This was also the second Friday of the week. I mean, it obviously wasn’t, but it sure felt that way. I had been convinced all day on Wednesday that it was actually Friday. Every time I remembered it was really only Wednesday it felt like a fresh insult all over again. How dare you, Wednesday? Why did we still have two more entire days until it was Friday?

You might ask what was up with last week. I’m asking myself the same thing. There were no blizzards, storms, or other inclement weather. No one was sick. Our car didn’t break down and the washing machine and dishwasher were both fully functioning. In fact, last week, it was pretty nice out. We played outside at a few different parks. The sun was shining. My preschoolers had only one day of school instead of their normal three, but that really didn’t seem to throw a wrench in our plans all that much.

It was a pretty normal week. A week of being hard in all the ordinary ways.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

Forget Later

We’ve all heard it. Too many times, probably. Maybe as soon as we pushed those babies out of our bodies or welcomed them into our homes.

They’re only little once. Enjoy it. You can clean the mess later.

When exactly is later? I wonder, as I load up the dishwasher with the things we’ll need if we want to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner again tomorrow. In my head I picture a very literal “later”: a kitchen overcome with over a decade’s worth of dishes to tackle, after my youngest has presumably left the house. Twenty years worth of encrusted grime. Maybe we could use paper plates, but then who would take the garbage out? (Also: the environment. Not good.)

I think of the kids’ bathroom wedged between their bedrooms. How can I possibly clean this later? I can’t do it even after they’re all asleep. The sound of the toilet flushing would wake up the twins on the other side of one wall; running the water to scrub the bathtub would wake up the third on the other side of another.

I look around the playroom after a joy-filled afternoon of play and sigh. The last thing I want to do is deal with this later. It’s a disaster. Absolutely worth it, since all three kids played together so well with everything from puzzles to their play kitchen. But still a complete and total watch-where-you-step-because-you-can’t-see-the-floor disaster. It’s not fair to expect me or my husband to clean this all up later when we didn’t make one iota of this mess. To excuse the kids from their part in this so we can “enjoy them now and clean up later” seems absolutely absurd. And exhausting.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.

(Not) Just Another New Year's Post

I’m feeling reflective in a way I don’t usually at this time of year. Looking back on the past year might be a habit for other people, but for me the transition from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day is more or less like any other day of the year. But this year I feel different. I feel a compulsion to go back through photos from the past year, to read back over some of my writing, to really take in and savor the idea that an entire year has passed and we won’t ever get it back.

Maybe it was the video recapping 2018 we watched from Vox. By the end I had tears streaming down my face. (People who know me IRL know just how rare a phenomenon this is.) I couldn’t help it as I sat and watched the news highlights from the past year - from the good to the bad, from the natural disasters to the shootings (so many shootings) from the royal wedding to the #metoo movement to the historic midterm election. Tyson asked when it was over what it was that made me so sad. Or maybe I was happy? “It’s BOTH!” I cried, “It’s all of the emotions. It’s all the feelings from the past year.” And also the idea that 2018 felt like an actual eternity. Was the shooting in Parkland really only last February? It feels like three years ago. Surely the Kavanaugh hearings were at least that long ago. Or more. It seems like an eternity.

Maybe it was the mistake I made of looking through some old photos. Because I saw Nolan in his diaper at the beginning of last year. 2019 dawns as the first year that hasn’t begun with a child (or two or three) in diapers in a long time. It seems like we’ve turned a page, or a chapter, like it’s some sort of dramatic leap forward. And to look at Nolan, how far he’s come since last January. Physically he looks so much the same, but how much he’s added to his extensive vocabulary. How much more daring he’s become. How much more of a person he is.

Maybe it’s the idea, as I continue to look through those old photos, at how much will stay the same this year. The yearly routine. My birthday in January followed by the three kid’s birthdays to celebrate and plan for in February. Easter sometime in the spring, with all its egg dying and pastel-colored clothing glory. The end of preschool (forever, this time, for two of them) and a dance recital. Summer activities and a perpetual backyard pool and the Fourth of July and hanging out with our neighbors and a trip up to the lake. School shopping and the beginning of another new year of the September variety. The rest of our year really amps up then, as we celebrate and plan for one thing after another: Tyson’s birthday turns quickly into our anniversary which turns into Halloween and then Thanksgiving and then Christmas, all over again. More presents under the same tree, tucked into the same stockings, surrounded by the same decorations and people, now a year older.

Maybe it’s that people really amp up at this time of year, ready to set new goals and intentions and proclaim new words for the year. I’m not much of a goals person. I’m reluctant to set them. I think it has to do with my perfectionism streak: setting a goal means I may not achieve it, and I prefer to avoid failure at all costs. (Healthy, I know.) Then there’s the part where I hate being boxed in - I’d rather let things flow a little bit easier. Whatever it is, I tried last year. I jumped on the bandwagon and set a word and mapped out some goals and then set that expensive workbook aside...and never picked it up again. I have a few goals in mind for this year, but it’s not because of the date on the calendar. They’re already things I’ve been mulling over in my head. And I still like my word from last year: enjoy. I’m not ready to let go of it just yet. I still have lots of enjoyment left in me. I spent a lot of 2018 thinking over that word, what it meant to me. It wasn’t such a bad way to spend the year. I’m not ready to flip over to a new page just because the calendar is.

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It’s a *balmy* 10 degrees outside right now as I write this. Part of me is loathe to leave behind the holiday cocoon, the cozy time from Christmas to New Year’s where we’re all cuddled up and don’t mind if we get snowed in because our only plans are to play with new toys and color pictures and read books and watch movies and cook comfort food. When Tyson is off work more than he’s working and we don’t have to know or care much what day of the week it is.

Today Caden and Brooklyn went back to preschool; it was nice, they were ready. When they came home, after lunch and quiet time, I let them watch a Batman movie, by request. It was sort of a special treat. A nod to the fact that I still have one foot in the coziness of the holiday season. We had a snack afterwards, smoothies, made with the blender I got for Christmas because I’m not a complete Grinch about new things in the new year. (Until Nolan spilled a green smoothie meant for Tyson all over the upstairs carpet. *all the facepalms*) Maybe I’ll keep inching forward this way, one foot forward, the other planted a little further back, bringing along the best things of the past year into this new one and hoping for the best.