Friday, June 19, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: FEAR

This Friday is different. The mass murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church have made it impossible this week for me to write about the kind of stuff that I usually talk about here. I can't write about how motherhood is hard or how the laundry is holy or how watching my kids' dancing in the sunshine is beautiful. When something so ugly is hanging over us, how can we ignore it? How can we pretend that our conversation should be business as usual? How can we tweet about sales on zulily? How can we turn our backs on the suffering of our brothers and sisters?

So today, I'm writing different. I recognize that this is tiny, small and insignificant. I recognize that even my ability to choose to do this is a sign of my own privilege and personal distance from other people's pain. If I wasn't setting the timer for five minutes and promising to stop after that time is up, I know I wouldn't be writing anything at all. I'd be too overwhelmed by all the things I want to say and wish I could say and have no business saying. I'd write it all out, go back and edit it to death and then end up just deleting the whole thing, because this isn't my pain. I know that. To pretend that I have any real right to speak into it is to ignore the problem. What difference does my voice make? What do I know about it? How does what I have to say make any tiny scratch on the surface of this?

The temptation to keep silent is not from God. I don't know the answers. What I do know is that witnessing means something. Those of us with voices have a God-given responsibility to speak truth out loud... even if our voices shake.

This is my little truth.

Five-Minute Friday today is FEAR.

People say it’s unspeakable. They say it’s unthinkable. They say, “We are all Charleston.”

But it’s a lie.

It’s not unspeakable. It needs to be spoken.
It’s not unthinkable. We need to be thinking about it.
And we’re not all Charleston.

We want to feel better, so we say we understand. We say we “can’t imagine,” when in fact it’s just the opposite. We can imagine. We just don’t want to. So we call it terrorism. We call it mental illness. We call it anything we can to distance ourselves from it…from you.

I sit here, not really that far away, nationally speaking…in a town where Confederate flags still adorn bumpers and fly from statues and some people are probably still fighting that war in their heads (and saying that it isn’t about slavery, it’s about states’ rights, you know, because that's what they say and their voices are the loudest ones so there). I sit here in my house, nursing my baby on a Thursday morning which happens to be my birthday, and I read headline after headline and tweet after tweet and I cry, because I know I can’t understand how you feel.

I only know how I feel…and how I feel is Safe. And that’s just the problem.

I am Safe, here in my house, nursing my white baby boy in my little white Southern town, knowing that my baby can grow up and wear a hoodie or eat Skittles walking down the street or shoot a toy gun or go to a pool party in whatever town he wants, and no one will call the police on him. No one will shoot him because he's "threatening." I’m not afraid for him. In the game we’re all playing, he’s holding all the cards. He’s a white boy. He’s got it made.

I can’t know how you feel…but I’m fairly sure that Safe isn’t it. How could you? When your children are under attack? When your young men are getting shot so often that it isn’t even news when it happens? When you can’t even go inside your church on a random Wednesday night to prayer meeting without worrying that someone might decide to kill you? And when all the loudest voices just keep saying that these things aren't related or aren't systemic or aren't anything at all except somehow maybe just a little bit your fault?

When is it going to be enough? How many more people will have to die before we can admit that something is horribly, horribly wrong? You should not have to live in fear while I sit here, safe. And although it is weak and insufficient and doesn’t fix a single thing, I am sorry.

I am sorry this is happening AGAIN.
I honor your life, your child’s life, your neighbor’s life, your pain that is far beyond my small words.
I'm paying attention.
I have my eyes open, and I'm teaching my children.
I know it isn't enough.
I know I can’t ever understand.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, save your children.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog, heading home.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: WORLD.

It's Friday again, y'all...somehow, we made it through this week of sleep deprivation and sick kids and all the mess that goes along with that. It seems like a great day to celebrate with Five-Minute Friday and a little bit of free writing, don't you think? The rules are simple: write for five minutes without overediting or backtracking, then share your words with us at Kate Motaung's blog. If you don't have a blog, you can leave your post there in the comments. Then stick around to encourage your neighbor (the person who posted right before you). It's a great community. If you'd like to join in the fun, today's prompt is WORLD.

Sometimes, my world is so small I can span it with my hands...the grip of a baby who's unsure about the big bathtub for the first time, or the sweaty head of a child who needs comfort during a long night. Sometimes, I can pace it off with my steps...the border of the garden bed we're planting together, or the length of the clothesline where the wet sheets flap in the wind. Sometimes, it's the well-worn road between our home and a friend's, where we go to share a meal or to escape our house for a while when we just need to hang out with someone else. And sometimes, it's measured in the thousands of miles between here and my sister's, as we carefully arrange Facetime dates so we can see each other's babies while they're both awake.

Having stood and watched lava flowing from Mauna Kea into the ocean, having snowshoed across the tundra in Alaska, having gazed up at the gargoyles of cathedrals and down at the city streets from the top of the Eiffel Tower, the smallness of my life can feel frustratingly claustrophobic. What happened to the fresh-minted college graduate who was going to change the world? She wanted so badly to be someone. Was she swallowed up by the endless loads of laundry? Is she so busy reading picture books and looking for grasshoppers that she can't banter easily at dinner time about current events?

Sometimes, yes.

Sometimes what I have to contribute to the conversation is a litany of the tiniest details of the most ordinary days in a very small world.

The size of something, though, doesn't define its significance. The God of the universe is the God of microscopic organisms, too, and He who packed whole worlds into single drops of water sees me and my smallness. He calls me back to it again and again, the way my children call me to push them on the swings. What I am doing here matters.

The world spins on, whether I read and digest and debate and engage it or not. It does not need my help. But here, right in front of me, this little world needs help to keep turning on its axis, and I'm the best one for the job. Maybe I'm not somebody these days. To a handful of people, though, I'm the world.

A time will come when I can focus more of my energy outward, when I can take a more active role in what happens out there (and guide my children to do the same). For today, though, there's a humbler part for me to take, a small but important role involving cheese sandwiches and a picnic in the backyard. For me, for now, it's the better part.

                            For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog, heading home.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

the mess is the thing

It's good to have friends who can encourage me on a week like this, where one night bleeds into the next morning without enough hours of sleep. I'm burning the candle at both ends. The twins are staying up way too late into the night jumping off their dress-up trunk and opening their curtains to wave at our neighbor's teenage son when he comes home from his shift at the volunteer fire department.

They bang on the windows in their nightgowns. His mom told me he waves at them. I was mildly mortified.

Felix has been restless at night since he started to crawl, practicing his new skill in his sleep and crashing into the sides of his crib as he dreams of whatever ten month olds dream about. Bananas? Little wooden cars going down a ramp? A breeze blowing the chimes outside and making them clink together?

Sam reads late into the night, playing at Greek-mythology-meets-Star-Wars, making vocal percussion blaster gun sounds as his little plastic demi-god men clash with their weapons held aloft.

In the morning light, the abandoned battle scenes look like choking hazards to me.

My body aches for sleep right now, so much that my eyes close involuntarily when I'm sitting down for any length of time, even at the dinner table or as I'm perched on Lucy's bed, talking about her day, tucking her in.

She needs less sleep than anyone else, so it takes extra time to wind her down at bed time. It's so hard not to rush her toward sleep when all I want is for them all to be quiet, behind closed doors in the dark, out of my immediate realm of responsibility.

How is it that the children in my house have become items on my to-do list? More than that, their needs have taken over the rest of the list these past few weeks, as they spread themselves over my waking hours, pushing sleep further and further away, ensuring that any found moments in the day are unusable for writing, or working, or planning...only useful, really, for sleeping or dreaming about sleeping.

Sleep deprivation is hard. It's cruel. There's a reason it is used as a method of torture. It makes me not myself, like some other dragon mommy monster has taken over my body and brain and voice for its own purposes. I'm cranky. I yell. I crave chocolate (which I can't have, because of the dairy restriction) and sugar and just want to go someplace dark and quiet where I can be alone for more than fifteen minutes.

I find myself wishing for some far-off day in the future when things will be easier, when I'll be rested, when the kids will be sleeping better or be less messy or be more responsible for themselves. I want to wish away the hard moments of tandem twin tantrums over the pink rainbow shorts and refusals to nap and end of day freakouts over the textures of noodles that are too close to the applesauce on someone's dinner plate.

But this is where we are.

Life doesn't begin in some future moment when we magically, finally have it all together. Life doesn't start on a random Wednesday in 2017 when my house is all clean with shining wiped windows and all the laundry folded, neatly put away behind closed closet doors. Life isn't holding its breath like I am, waiting for a moment when it's more convenient to breathe.

Life is happening.
This is life, right now, in all its imperfection and messy glory. The screaming fits and the sweet hugs, the gorgeous crayon art on construction paper and on the inside of the pantry door, the Star Wars theme hammered perpetually on the piano and sung loudly in the bathroom- it's all my life.

And while it's okay not to love every minute, I'm going to try harder not to wish it all away while longing for things to be other than they are.

Here's to noticing life as it is right now, the good parts and the hard parts and the messy parts...and, when things are just too hard to manage sometimes, let's remember that things will be different soon. In twenty minutes, maybe, or in a few weeks, we'll be facing a different challenge, and it will be hard in a different way. Let's breathe. Let's encourage each other. Let's give thanks. Let's not pretend that everything is perfect or wonderful or that we have to love every second of our lives...but let's notice the places where mess and beauty coexist.

There's no right way to do this parenting stuff...just lots of choices strung together like a messy macaroni necklace covered in glitter. We can only do the next right thing. As we do it, though, as we choose one right thing and then follow it with another choice, stringing one paint-covered noodle after another onto the yarn, let's remind each other- life is in the stringing. Life doesn't begin when we've finished the necklace. What we've got is what's in front of us now.

And coffee. Lots of coffee...without creamer.

With love and thanks to Mary Beth, Cori, Katie, Rosie, Cari and Laura, whose words got me through some of those tough and messy moments this week.

Friday, June 5, 2015

7 Quick Takes: The Good Enough Edition

Wow. It's been a really, really long time since I have done a set of quick takes. I mean to do it almost every week. I keep a little list of things that could be quick takes. I write and edit them but don't quite finish, because I'm not quite satisfied...they're not quite right...then life happens, and I usually just manage to get five minutes of writing done early Friday morning and have to call that "enough." It's not really enough. It's just all there is, sometimes.

I'm kind of frustrated about that. I need to just let them be Good Enough Quick Takes and hit publish and let it go.

Today, I'm not dwelling on the frustration, though. Because Good Enough 7 Quick Takes! And Friday! And maybe a teensy bit of non-rain over there in the corner of the sky? Dare we hope?

Regardless, it's good to be here.

This guy would like to point out that his mother forgot to take the monthly picture with the sticker again. Again. Because he's the fourth baby, he says. You know what, though? He's the first baby to even have any stinking stickers for each of his first twelve months. (He can thank his grandma for those.)

Anyway, he's ten months old this week! And he's crawling. The world is about to be very, very different for his older siblings, who have been warned, over and over, that babies like to eat Playmobil. And Littlest Pet Shop. And whatever other tiny choking hazards they have lying around the floors of their not-vacuumed-often-enough bedrooms.

I predict some medieval Playmobil weaponry will be the first thing swallowed. Anyone want to start a pool?

In other Felix news, his last checkup revealed that his head in in the 100th percentile for size. All our kids have big heads, but this one consistently tops the charts. He's also been having stomach issues, and his doctor suggested that I limit dairy to see if it helps. I haven't eaten dairy for a month now, and I'm not sure there has been any improvement. I hear it takes a while for dairy to get completely out of our systems, so maybe it just hasn't been long enough...but I'm aware that if I call and tell them it isn't helping, they might suggest we go gluten free. This is hard- I like ice cream so much that an ice cream maker was my birthday present last year- but least I can still have sorbet. I've been really missing George's pizza, which is fantastic. This week, he brought me some non-dairy "cheese" (the first ingredient is water!). Vegan cheese is not tasty, but if I don't pile it on, I can almost pretend it is real pizza (and if I don't look at or smell the other people's pizza with the melted feta and cheddar and other goodness on top).

Gluten free, though, would be really, really difficult.

I have much respect for all of you who are parenting people with food sensitivities. This is our first time dealing with any of this. If it helps, it will definitely be worth it, of course- but it's hard to keep doing it when we aren't really seeing any improvement yet.

Garden update: We have some things starting to come up: carrots, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, beans, some herbs, some strawberries and some melons. I had planned to expand our raised beds this year, but ended up deciding that I have enough going on and should stick with what we already have. (What is this feeling of deciding not to take on more than I can handle? I'm not sure, because it's so out of character...I will let you know how it goes.)

In all the flowerbeds, there has been weeding galore to keep everyone (mostly me) busy. It's hard to motivate small kids to weed gardens. I remember my grandma paying us to pull weeds, and even as a seven year old, I felt like the pay was not enough to convince me to sit on my knees in the dirt and rip out tiny clumps of clover. Last week, I dug out a corner of the flowerbed under the girls' window where I once had a rosebush that shriveled up a couple of years ago. We always intended to plant another one there for the child we lost. When I uprooted the weeds and moved the dried up stuff that had accumulated there, I found the rosebush still growing there, thriving, and with two buds on it about to bloom. It felt like a small miracle.

In the vegetable raised beds, I put a chalkboard with space for the kids to update when we make our garden observations. Sam is doing some garden journaling using printable pages from Cathy James' new book, The Garden Classroom, which has lots of good activities and really lovely pictures. I'm hoping to post a book list of garden books we're loving next week.

School update: Instead of a formal test, I scheduled a local evaluator to come to meet with us. She talked with Sam, reviewed his work, appreciatively watched him demonstrate his bike riding skills in the driveway and determined that Sam has made adequate academic progress for first grade. The competitive person in me wants him to have made amazing progress in all areas and be ahead of everyone else. That's why this was good for me. It's not always about being the very very best you can possibly be. Sometimes, gentle progress is all we need.

Since she came, it feels like summer should be here. I'm having trouble motivating myself to do anything schoolish. Fortunately, this place is like a learning laboratory all the time, and Sam keeps things going with his multiple projects without my needing to prod him.

Currently on his project table: the rock project (ongoing), a Playmobil star wars stop motion film, an Ancient Egyptian tomb model/diorama looking thing with paintings on the walls, and a paper/cardboard model of the Parthenon.

It is tiring being his mom sometimes, but it is never, never boring.

It feels like it's been raining all week, every day, all day long. This doesn't necessarily keep us inside, but it made me realize just how much time we've been spending outside recently. Our house isn't big, some people who live here have energy levels that are above average, and outside is like another room for us. When we have to stay in, it feels a bit cramped.

Being in such close quarters made me realize how much I have not been engaging with them as they play. If they are happily occupied together, I usually find something else to do- fold clothes, unload the dishwasher, get dinner started, etc. No, I don't have to play with them, and they don't need me to...but I took the opportunity this week to relax a bit and just hang out with them while they were playing. It was really good for our relationship.

It was not as good for the state of my house. But hey- it's Friday! I have all weekend to scale that mountain of laundry that I haven't folded, right?

Finally, can you guess what happens when your driver's side window won't go down and you have to have the van inspected and they don't have the part to fix it and you have to have the van because you can't cancel your kids' big trip with their cousins to Dinosaurland?

You get a rejection sticker!

It's only pending the arrival of the part, of course, and I could have changed our plans with my sister and her kids. That would have made the week a lot more difficult, since this trip was much anticipated. I gritted my teeth and drove the van with a rejection sticker. It wasn't as bad as I thought...the sticker was white and small on the windshield, not a huge red poster with flashing neon lights around it as I had expected.

And we got to go to Dinosaurland.

I wrote about this place before- complete with lots of photos of a tinier Sam running around in a Velociraptor costume. You must visit if you're ever anywhere close to here. It's...unique.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You never ever quit (except when you do)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

You always have to do your best.

You never quit before the job is done. Finish what you started.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win.

Did you grow up with those kinds of statements? These messages are so deeply ingrained in me that they are automatic. I don't even think about them most of the time. Persistence through tough things is important, and I'm glad I have that skill.

Having children means having to be more flexible about some things, though. With kids, we can't always push through to the end just because we like to finish what we started. We have to pick our battles and ask ourselves whether getting to the end is really worth it. The answer depends on the situation.

Today, it wasn't worth it.

Today, I bailed on a field trip.

I spent all morning preparing for it...laying out clothes, brushing hair, putting on sunscreen, finding hats, shoes and socks (and saying over and over again no, not flip flops, guys, this is a hike in a field, we need real shoes, please and thank you). I packed lunches carefully and hunted down all the water bottles, digging under van seats to retrieve them. I even filled an extra bottle for refills. I loaded everything and everyone up in the van and pulled out, running right on time.

Before we even got there, we were late, because I had the time wrong by a half hour. I decided to shake it off. I could still redeem the day. I apologized to the kids for grumping at them when we were trying to leave the house and started unloading them.

As we got out of the car, one child already had to go to the bathroom. I helped her use our little portable car potty (thanks, Gabie, for recommending that- I'll never be without it again), strapped Felix into the Ergo carrier, put bugspray-spritzed hats on everyone (including myself) and decided to leave the water bottles in the car because they were already complaining about carrying them.

I looked around at my crew and noticed that one daughter was wearing flip flops. Despite all my warnings and instructions, she had chosen to put the little rubbery flower sandals on instead of her sneakers. I hadn't caught it before we left the house, and now we were stuck. If she was older, there would be a natural consequence for her choice when we started hiking through the tall field grass. Since she's just little, I felt like the consequence would be falling on me.

I was NOT going to carry her. How could I, with my arms full of baby and other stuff? She had to walk. She needed to be tough. She needed to experience her mistake, right?

(Who was I kidding?)

We started walking, following the group that had a half-hour lead on us. By the time we got down to them about ten minutes later, my daughter was in pre-meltdown mode.

Her legs were tired. The grass was itchy. It was hot. She wanted to go back to the van. She was thirsty. Her hat was too tight. Now her hat was falling off. Her flip flops were making a blister on her heel, and she didn’t have a band-aid.

She kept whining, moaning, grabbing onto my legs and pulling at my arms. I could only manage to speak kindly to her through gritted teeth. Then, the leader suggested a group picture under the tree, and my weary daughter lost it.

She threw herself on the ground and screamed, “NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!”

I wanted to haul her up by her arms and tell her to get herself together. I wanted to lecture her about how hard I had worked to get us all here on this field trip this morning. I wanted to tell her she was being rude and making it hard for the group to hear the lady who was leading the nature walk. I wanted to tell her to toughen up and stop being so wimpy. I wanted to tell her to get her act together right this very minute, young lady!

Then, I realized she was right.

It was hot. The grass was tall and scratchy on my legs, and her legs are much shorter than mine. Walking across the uneven ground was challenging, and it was almost her nap time. Her hat felt uncomfortable no matter how we adjusted it. She was totally done and wanted to be someplace else.

So was I. So did I. The biggest difference was that I'm better at stuffing my feelings and discomforts than she is, because I'm a 35 year old woman with years of practice ignoring my own needs (or at least putting the greater good ahead of my own).

Sometimes, by the time I get really grumpy and feel like throwing myself on the ground and yelling, I don't even know how I got there. If I stopped to think about it, my daughter's irritants were also irritating me. I was tired, hot, and getting grumpier by the second. I had only three hours of sleep last night (on the couch, after George took over with Felix, who was restless). I was wearing a baby in a front pack carrier that sat directly on top of yesterday’s sunburned shoulders. I was uncomfortable, and I would really rather have been someplace else.

She was so upset. She had every right to be upset. Since I was wearing the baby, I couldn't just pick her up and haul her around. If she didn't walk, we weren't going anywhere...and she was just lying there, screaming.

So I stopped. I sat on the ground, put her on my lap, and talked to her. "You're right," I said. "This is a long, hot walk. It's lunch time and you are tired. You want to go back to the car. We can do that.”

She looked into my face, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“I think everything and everyone is stupid!” she shouted. "I am NOT walking ANY MORE!"
I told the leader my crew needed to have our lunch before we did anything else and that we’d catch up with them later.

By the time we got back to the car and both girls used the car potty again, she was having another meltdown. All the kids were exhausted, hot and hungry. There was no way they were going to walk the quarter mile distance to the picnic spot where the rest of the group was gathered. Even Sam started to complain that his feet hurt. He said he thought his ankles might both be broken.

I gave up.

I buckled them into their seats and we came back home. We ate our picnic lunch at the table in the kitchen, in the most non-exciting, non-picnic way possible, and I put them to bed. It wasn’t fun. They were whining, crying and complaining the whole time. The entire adventure was a disaster...but it could have been much, much worse.

Sometimes, toughing it out is the right thing to do. I have to make it work, even when it's hard. I have to be persistent and strong and keep on keeping on.

But you know what? Sometimes, giving up is okay.

Yes, I'd already paid for the field trip. Yes, it would have been a good learning experience. When it comes down to it, though, if I have to coax, cajole, lecture, persuade, bribe and threaten all my children to keep them moving forward, it might not be worth it. Instead of pushing ahead, it was time to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and do what is best for my family and for myself. And today, we needed to go home.

There will be other field trips. Deciding to give up on this one and cut our losses turned out to be the best decision for us today. I do wish I hadn't wasted the morning in such a frenzy preparing everything for us to go...but really, "frenzy less" could be a good mantra for me in general.

Have you ever just given up on something? Do you feel guilty when you do it? I sometimes worry that I’m teaching my kids that being whiny works in their favor in situations like this. Today, though, I just didn’t want to keep dragging them around any longer. Their misery was making me miserable.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: RISE

Today's Five-Minute Friday prompt is RISE.

I wake up on the sofa, my eyes stuck to the back of my head, yellow light streaming over me through the east-facing windows despite the closed curtains. My skull aches as I remember the 4 AM surrender, passing the playful, biting baby to my husband before creeping to the living room to steal a bit of sleep. I'm already broken, and today hasn't begun yet.


It would be easier if getting up didn't mean an immediate plunge into the day...if there was a way to have a soft start, a few quiet moments, a cup of coffee...but I can already hear the rumblings of sibling rivalry down the hall. Ready or not, this day is happening.

Rise, take up your bed, and walk.

For twelve weeks, I waited in bed for the morning to come to me, waited for twins to grow big enough that they'd be safe if they were born. For twelve weeks, everything was still and silent during the day, an empty house with just me and my thoughts, lying there, waiting for something to happen. Twelve weeks, watching this same morning light highlight the walls and turn into noon's brilliance, afternoon with its slanting rays, evening's slow approach as night finally gobbled up the last bit of light...the longest days I can remember, followed by the longest, most anxious nights.

Twelve weeks- and then I got up, and life hasn't stopped since.

I peel myself off the sofa. There's work to do. The day is waiting, and the people in it need me. I serve them, just as I'd serve Christ...right after I thank Him for waking me. Every single new day is a gift, whether it washes over me gently or crashes down on my head. I stretch out my fingers and toes  and taste the new day tentatively, like that first sip of morning coffee. Then I sit up, arrange the sofa cushions and fold the blankets, and thank God that I'm here, that He's here, that they're here- and that mornings follow nights, no matter how long the nights are.

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate's blog.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Quick springtime fun: Sidewalk Paint

We needed a quick activity this afternoon that would draw all three big kids outside. There was a small window of time before it might rain, and I wanted them to get out and stay out so I could clean up a bit while the baby boy napped.

We decided to make sidewalk paint! Have you ever done it? It's so easy, I will probably do it again tomorrow.

Here's how:

1 cup cornstarch
1 cup warm water
Mix well.
Pour into a muffin tin, dividing evenly.
Add food coloring to each cup and mix well.
This made enough for six muffin cups of paint.

Paint all the things!
The paint works best on stone, blacktop, rocks, and (surprise) sidewalks.
The kids also had fun painting their wooden swingset, but the paint kind of beaded up and didn't stick around long.

This paint is very washable, but food coloring can stain clothes and hands. Wear old clothes just in case.

Have you made homemade sidewalk paint (with this recipe or a different one)? How did it turn out?