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The top of the hill

My eyes weren’t even quite open when I heard feet stomping and doors slamming.

So it was going to be one of those days.

The kid had a reason to be upset, and I knew he had a reason to be upset. But I also desperately wanted him to just deal with it so we could all move on and enjoy our Sunday morning. You know, stuff those feelings deep inside and pretend they don’t exist, just like us adults do.

My efforts to coax the sunshine out of him failed. My hug was met with stiff shoulders. My words were hurtled right back at me, and every attempt I made at connecting seemed to drive us farther apart.

All I wanted to do was to go back to bed. I wanted to crawl deep inside my covers where it was warm and no one yelled at me. I wanted to go 24 hours without anyone asking something of me. I wanted to go one night without waking up to the sounds of someone needing help. Sure, I could fetch cups of water, help people to the bathroom and chase away monsters with my eyes mostly shut, but I was getting exhausted.

In bed I paused, and dreamt of being able dream.

But there was parenting to be done.

The day was quickly going downhill and the kids’ bickering escalated as I stumbled to the kitchen. I looked at my son, glowering at the kitchen counter. He was already dressed, so I whispered in his ear,

“Should we just get out of here? Want to go on a bike ride?”

His face melted. He looked up me with soft eyes and nodded.

It should have only taken me a few minutes to throw on some shoes and a coat and sneak away. Of course, I was wrong.

One hour later of eating some food, making coffee, putting on several layers of wool, asking him to put on his shoes, asking him to put on his shoes, asking him for the love of all that his holy to put on his shoes, putting air in the bike tires, taking off one layer of wool, putting air in the bike tire again that was mysteriously already flat, telling my son I didn’t think we would be able to go because of the tire, attempting to explain why you really can’t just bike on a flat tire, my neighbor happening by and offering to loan me her bike, and one last trip to the bathroom, we hit the road.

He didn’t want to go far, he said. Just to the playground a couple of blocks from the house.

I said no.

There was a little hill at the edge of town we drove by on our occasional trips in and out of town and twice a year when we went to the dentist. Every time we passed it, I thought about climbing to the top. But just as soon as we would drive by would I forget again.

I explained we could not go to the playground nearby because it was Sunday and the church who owned the playground was having services. (My apologies to the dear Lutherans for this mischaracterization, as I am sure you would have no doubt been welcoming to non-attendees that Sunday morning, but we needed to press ahead.)

So we did, huffing our way on bikes slightly too big and slightly too small, our thin tires cutting through the gray morning. He followed behind, and we tried to chat, in that awkward way two bikers do despite not really being able to hear each other.

 Soon, we arrived at the hill and hid our bikes in a culvert off the side of the road. Where we live, the forest’s understory is exceedingly sparse – nothing but dry grass between the trees. When I first moved here, I thought the spartan nature of Montana’s woods disappointing, as if natured by definition owed me a certain lushness.

But he openness of our forests do make navigating them exceedingly easy – up is up and down is down and we allowed ourselves to wander along the trails, not worrying about if they were the one we needed to be or not.

Halfway up, we rested. We talked about what was bothering him and I tried offering up my adult rationality, which was immediately rejected as inadequate. He talked. I listened. I talked. He listened. We walked back down the hill, found our bikes, and headed home.

The rest of the day was better, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. It never is.

But at least we made it to the top of the hill. I don’t know exactly what I hoped to accomplish through our little adventure. Getting out of the house for a bit, perhaps. Ending the cycle of fighting, certainly.

But I think I just wanted to show him we can go farther than we think we can. We can be better than we think we can be.

The day you were born

Tomorrow you turn two, my daughter, and it seems more important than picking up toys or finishing the dishes or figuring out what we will have for dinner tomorrow that I write down the story of how you came into this world.

It started the same as it had with your brothers – with work. The day before your oldest brother was born, I sat down at my desk, and typed my transition memo. The next day, unable to stand the pain of pregnancy one moment longer, I walked, I bounced, I ate spicy food until he was born to an utterly exhausted mother.

With your second brother, I wrapped up meetings at work, told my boss that, despite being a month away from my due date, there was a solid chance she would not see me the next week. I came home to finish his baby blanket, pull weeds, clean the house. He was born the next morning, early but not entirely unexpected.

And for you, my daughter. I was never able to hold on to any of you until your due dates, but you stayed content the longest. I had other opinions on the matter, and spent the afternoon before you were born on my hands and knees scrubbing my bathroom floor, in hopes that you might become slightly less content in there.

That night, as I cooked dinner, my body ached. I chalked it up to the exhaustion of caring for two young boys, to scrubbing the floor, to carrying another human on my hips. When I sat down to eat, I felt fine again, but as soon as I stood to do the dishes, the pain came back.

My mother-in-law had joined us for dinner, and my husband gently suggested she might want to stay the night.

After boys were kissed good night and the dish towels hung to dry, I bolted downstairs to finish a pile of work. You wiggled contentedly as I typed away, and when I dotted the last i and crossed the last t, I went to bed.

That night, I slept fitfully. My body writhed, pulled between exhaustion and adrenaline. I awoke once, twice, a dozen times.

I was not having contractions, I thought. Or perhaps I told myself. I was only feeling vaguely uncomfortable, maybe quite uncomfortable, no, I would say pained. But then I was fine and able to stumble back to sleep.

At 3:15 I woke up, significantly less fine than before. At 3:30 I woke my husband.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I just don’t feel right. I don’t know if it’s anything though.”

At 3:35, I said, “But maybe we should go to the hospital.”

At 3:40, my husband asked if he had time to hop in the shower. “No,” I replied. “We need to go now.”

The pace continued to accelerate, although I seemed unable to admit that today was the day I would become a mother of three. “Maybe they’ll just send us home,” I told my husband as he got our bags into the car. “It’s probably nothing,” I said to my mother-in-law after my husband woke her to tell her we were off.

At 4:15 we left, making it the three blocks to the hospital without a contraction (a feat that ended while attempting to get out of the car).

At 4:30, the nurse informed me that we were definitely, definitely not going home that morning.

What followed was a mountain of intake paper work. (I was recovering from a cold, and my hoarse voice made the nurse raise an eyebrow when I promised that I was not a smoker). After she finished her litany of questions, she suggested that it was time to check me again.

“Oh no,” I said. “The other nurse just did that right before you came in twenty minutes ago.”

She looked at me. She had been listening to my voice as I answered questions, and she thought things might be happening quicker than expected.

What followed was a blur. I got into the bath, and immediately got out. I screamed that I needed to use the bathroom, igniting panic in the nurses eyes who insisted I very, very much needed to not use the bathroom and get on the bed immediately.

And soon (whether I was carried or stumbled under my own accord on to the bed, I have no idea), I was laying on the bed.

I screamed where the hell was the doctor.

The nurse called him once again. “I’m in the building. Two minutes.” I heard him. I realized, at this point, he was superfluous to the whole situation anyway.

I screamed for the epidural.

Or at least, in my head I planned to before the rational part of my brain realized you were not going to wait for my pain to evaporate. You had waited long enough, and it was time.

And at last, I screamed that I really, really just wanted to go home.

You see, there’s a point in every birth where you reach the end. It is not the moment of birth itself, but a few minutes before, when you realize that you would be doing absolutely anything else in the world. You are convinced that you cannot, under your own accord, actually survive the next minute. It is a feeling of despair, fear, and pain so powerful that it is best left mostly forgotten, and mostly untouched, until future moments of despair require you to draw on the experience of your past.

But then, all I wanted to do was to stop. Just to stop. They hooked an oxygen mask to my face and I breathed in gratitude that someone had realized how difficult this was and had offered me a modicum of relief. Later, I realized that you had begun to struggle, but at the time, I gratefully gulped in the air.

My brain cleared. I realized this could all be over in a moment.

And then, you were born.

The doctor walked in, drying his hands and lifting you up. I moved the cord out of the way. A girl. The sun had yet to peek over the hills.

At 6:15 my mother-in-law texted to ask what the iPad password was – your brothers were awake and wanting to watch a show. My husband told her, along with the news you were born two minutes before.

I spent the next several hours in shock, the image of a train barreling down a track and straight over me playing on repeat in my head. Eventually the sun rose and the world landed right side up. I pulled myself up over the horizon, and entered a new life with you.

After breakfast, your brothers came to meet you, their faces beaming. Never have two boys been so delighted at the arrival of a sister. We marveled at your perfection together.

And when it was quiet again, I held you, and tried to catch my breath.

My daughter, the runner.

I believe in the importance of public service, so I’m gonna tell you a little story about my day yesterday so that you all feel better about yourselves.

So yesterday was Sunday morning and my husband and I woke up to preform our weekly Sunday morning ritual – coming up with all the different reasons we can think of to get out of going to mass.

“We really didn’t sleep well last night.”

“The kids are a wreck.”

“We have company.”

“Everyone’s tired from school starting and I really don’t think they’re going to sit through mass without having a tantrum.”

Now don’t get me wrong. We have a faith and believe in practicing that faith. We believe in the importance of community. We believe in the power of ritual and routine and we want to pass our faith down to our children. And holy mother, I periodically need to sit on a bench and pray that I make it through another week of parenting.

But it’s really, really hard to take three kids to mass and oftentimes our excuses are fairly legitimate. So let’s just say we aren’t earning any gold stars for attendance.

Yesterday, however, amidst all the reasons that it would probably a good idea to stay at home and let the littles get all their pent-up-it’s-really-hard-to-behave-at-school-all-day tantrums out of the way in the privacy of our living room, there was one really important reason to go.

It was hospitality Sunday.

AKA Donuts.

And I can wax and wane about the importance of breaking bread together with community as the foundational symbol of Christianity, and top that off with pointing out how necessary it is for our children to have positive experiences at church (aka donuts) instead of solely boring ones (despite the fact that they’ve never sat through mass in another language so what basis do they even have to complain here).

But really I just wanted free donuts so we went to mass.

So we ate breakfast and half-cleaned the kitchen and leisurely sipped our coffee until realizing that we need to leave in like thirty minutes, so we frantically ran around getting everyone dressed, and then getting the people who were already dressed into cleaner clothes, and then deciding not to ask the people who got themselves dress to change into something other than a Batman sweatshirt and rain boots because there’s only so many battles you can fight in a day. Then we packed a bag full of quiet toys and then took out the toys they insisted are quiet but really are not (you would be surprised about the amount of noise a Hot Wheel can make driving up and down a church pew, but I am not, having fought this battle many times).

And then I got everyone buckled in the car, went back into the house to get something I forgot, couldn’t remember what it was, and went back into the car, arriving during the opening song which any good Catholic can tell you does not officially count as being late.

That right there is called foreshadowing, folks.

You might think I was setting up this story by pointing out all the potential tantrums that were brewing amongst my over-tired oldest children, but no. They sat quietly through mass, cuddling on my husband’s lap. Okay, fine. One laid down underneath the chairs in the back the entire mass but I still think that counts as behaving since we got there too late for a pew and there was no kneeler in the back row of chairs for him to accidentally knock into the shins of a very old lady on an oxygen tank. This time.

Walking into mass, I remembered what I had forgotten – diapers. My emergency stock in the car was empty and there were none in the purse. But really, mass is only like an hour and she’s been a bit constipated as we feed her a steady diet of whatever-is-in-arm’s-reach-that-will-get-her-to-stop-crying. So what are the chances we really need a diaper mid-mass?

Turns out, pretty good.

Luckily a friend saw my panicked face in the church vestibule and offered to search her van for diapers. Unluckily, her kids are mostly potty trained and so she came up empty handed. Also unluckily, the fertility rate among Catholics is declining cause we’re all acting like we didn’t hear the Pope on that whole no-birth-control thing so there was no one else with diapers in sight.

So, seeing as how I haven’t heard a word of mass since my oldest was born anyway, I left and ran to Safeway, bought a pack of diapers, cleaned her up and made it back in time for communion. So it still totally counts as going to mass, as any good Catholic will also tell you.

However, it was not good enough my daughter, who decided to fully immerse herself in the whole mass experience.

My priest is a fan of long, contemplative pauses during which we can reflect and pray and enjoy a moment of silence to center ourselves before the week begins. And I would so love to do that as well, except for the fact that usually I’m dealing with children stage whispering, “IS IT OVER YET?” Or, the classic, “WHY IS EVERYONE SO QUIET?”

But, like I said, my boys were perfect angels throughout mass. My daughter, however, chose this moment of quiet contemplation to go from quietly looking out the window in the back of church to running full bore onto the altar.

I sprinted after, and in one of those moments that seemed to stretch much longer than (I hope) it actually lasted, I heard the giggles spread across the church until I’m pretty sure everyone was laughing at us.

At least we know she shares my views on women on the altar. Ahem.

After mass, at least ten people came up to me to inform me “She’s fast!” or suggest that she try out for the local Catholic college’s track team. I passed her off to my husband so I could die in peace and also attempt to monitor my older boy’s donut intake. Everyone who had not came up to me went up to him and said, “Is she the runner?” And now I have changed my ideas about Catholics socializing after mass and think maybe we should go back to ducking out after communion so we can yell at Notre Dame on the TV.

At this point, I would like to point out to everyone who thinks I am a terrible mother who has no control over my kids – you are definitively right on the latter. But Jesus also ran away from his mother at a religious ceremony, so…. I mean, I’m not comparing myself to Mary, but you are welcome to do so.

But in all honesty, it’s a rare chance that we get to wear our missteps so publicly. Hardly anyone knew about the whole running-to-Safeway-to-buy-diapers-in-the-middle-of-the-mass thing, but everyone did see the running-across-the-altar thing. It’s so easy to assume everyone else has their stuff together and diapers actually in their diaper bag. And maybe they do. I’m gonna tell myself they don’t, and the laughter was in solidarity, not in pity. Yup. That’s what I’m going to tell myself.

I probably won’t do a better job of keeping an eye on my daughter next mass. She’s the runner. She’s fast. I’m just going to pray that I can keep up, and that she keeps running after something good.

Mommy didn’t say truck

My oldest child has always been blessed with the gift of gab. He was speaking in two word sentences before he was 18 months and chatting our ears off well before his second birthday. And at about two and a handful of months, we took a trip with my sweet in-laws.

My mother-in-law had baked pumpkin bread and brought a long squeeze pouches of applesauce and treated my chatty toddler to breakfast in bed while she got ready in the hotel room bathroom.

Minutes later, she returned to an unmitigated disaster.

“Oh my goodness!” She said. To which my two year old replied, “Oh my God!”

“Oh no,” she said. We always say, “oh my goodness. Not Oh my God.”

He got a gleam in his eyes. “Sometimes,” he said, “My mommy says – ”

But wait. Before we go any further, its important you know this is all my husband’s fault.

We live in a snowy town that takes a fairly leisurely attitude to plowing the streets. A few days before my oldest’s birthday, we had gotten stuck driving home.

“I told you not to drive on the side streets!” My husband said when I called him to come rescue me.

“We live on a side street!” I replied.

“Yeah, but not the one you’re stuck on!” He had a good point. But what was done was done and I needed him to come push me out.

Luckily, a young man stopped by moments later to pull us out. I made sure my children noted to my husband how lucky we were this plucky young fellow was there for us at our moment in need.

A few snowy days later, we were driving to the bakery to meet my husband. My son had been requesting a trip to the the “cake factory” for his birthday, so we were planning on meeting there after lunch. Immediately after turning on the car, however, we again got stuck.

At which point mommy yelled, “…”

Let’s return to our original story.

My son stood there, his eyes gleaming. “Sometimes,” he said. “Mommy says FUCK.”

My mother-in-law laughed. “Oh, no I’m sure she doesn’t. I’m sure she says ‘truck.””

“No,” my son answered seriously. “Mommy says FUCK.”

I mean.

He wasn’t wrong.

We always hope our children will imitate our best parts and ignore our less-than-stellar habits. But deep down, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that’s not the case.

And yet, I am still surprised when I find myself periodically yelling at the kids,

“NO YELLING! WE DON’T YELL IN THIS FAMILY”

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never struggled with anger as much as I have when I’ve had a new baby in the house. It should be a time of sweetness and joy, it’s also a time of work and exhaustion. It’s even harder with subsequent children. After all, not only are you twice as tired with twice the amount of work, you’re dealing with an older child who on a certain level, knows its in his genetic best interest if you focused all your caregiving energy on him and not that noisy blob of wet diapers.

As my kids get older, I have started hearing my voice coming back to me from their mouths. (And not just in the form of dropping an F-bomb in front of Grandma.) There is the exasperated reply. The less than generous take on a misunderstanding. The “I DON’T WANT TO GET MY SHOES ON!” in response to “GET YOUR SHOES ON!”

So I’ve been trying my hardest to stop and breathe. To hold them, feel their pain (even if inside I’m thinking they are just shoes put them on your feet for the love). To talk to them like I would want anyone else to talk to them.

And yes, sometimes I want to just say “I’m the mom! I get to yell and you can just do what I say!” After all, I get to stay up late and drive the car too. But in the end, I try to stop and remind myself what a better world we would have if we started respecting the dignity of each human person from the get go.

Yes, for goodness’s sake it would be so much easier if my kids either A) did what I said or B) just ignored my bad parts of me and took after the good. But that hasn’t happened yet so it’s on to plan B.

Stopping. Breathing.

Admitting I’m wrong. Starting over.

Again and again and again.

While I work on this, my son has a question if you’re willing to answer him. He wants to know what “shut” means and is pretty sure it doesn’t mean “to close” like I told him.

You know, as in “Oh shut, I left the keys in the house.”

I’ve got some questions.

Moms and dads who are better at this parenting thing than me, I’ve got some questions for you.

One question really – HOW? How??

(This is less of a question and more of a ‘something I’d like to yell across the street at you’.) I have no idea how you pull it all off. Or pull any of it off. I can barely pull gum off the underside of our chairs.

I’m dying to know how y’all manage. How do you meet all the basic needs of your family without dying every single night? HOW?

Let me elaborate.

Moms who have a clean house

How? Yeah sure, you’re going to tell me how you taught your kid from an early age to put their toys away. Your kid probably even liked that “clean up, clean up” song. Your kid probably never screams that he is too tired to move a single hot wheel and dissolved into a puddle you then have to mop up.

But that still doesn’t explain how your house is spotless all the time.

I mean – have none of your children ever projectile vomited off the top of a bunk bed in the middle of the night? After eating chocolate birthday cake for dessert? Is that why you still have white curtains?

‘Cause I don’t. Anymore.

Moms who work out of the home

How? How do you do this? Or more accurately, when?

When do you find the time to work? I mean, I know you’re scheduled 9-5 Monday-Friday but when do you actually work?

Do you have one of those Harry Potter time turners? A doppelgänger? Do you have 48 hours in your day and you just haven’t told us?

Because I know between the dentist appointments, the school plays, random teacher work days, and the steady stream of snot filled sick days, you are constantly rearranging your schedule.

I’m starting to grow concerned I might actually have a 9-5 job I just haven’t had a chance to show up at in three years.

Moms who are always on time

You pack lunches ahead of time, I get it. You lay out clothes and you know where your sunglasses and wallet are all the time. Good for you. But I don’t care how much you plan ahead, I don’t care how early you try to leave. That’s not my question.

What I want to know is – how do you stop them from pooping right as you are walking out the door?

I mean, you can’t plan for that one. You can’t just leave ten minutes earlier because then you’re just driving back home because someone doesn’t want to poop in the public potty and/or you forgot the wipes (again). So what’s your secret? Dates? Prunes? Bananas? A schedule? Lock the bathroom door ten minutes before you have to leave? Double up on the diapers?

Tell me.

Moms whose kids don’t fight

So, what’s it like to have one kid?

Moms who sleep through the night

Fresh air? Exercise? Bananas? Chamomile tea? Lavender oil? Melatonin? Whiskey?

Tell me, what are you crushing up and putting in your kids’ applesauce to get them to sleep through the night?

You know what no one ever really tells you – kids never sleep through the night. Sure they stop waking up to nurse (allegedly). But there’s still growing pains and stomach bugs and nightmares and boredom and monsters under the bed. And when you have three kids with three different reasons to wake up, it’s just like playing whack-a-mole.

All. Night. Long.

Moms who workout

Why?

I mean sure, you can say you want to be healthy and look amazing in your “I actually do yoga” pants. But between the three hundred LEGO piece deadlifts and the separation-anxiety-won’t-go-to-anyone-else 20lb weight carry and the 40 laps of “you’re too little to go down the big slide let’s come back to this part of the playground,” aren’t you tired enough?

I’m pretty sure all moms are secretly in amazing shape and could run marathons.

If we just weren’t so tired.

Moms who look amazing at school drop off

What time did you wake up this morning? It must’ve been earlier than 5:30 because I’ve been up since then and have managed to look a little worse each hour. So when did you wake up, 3, 4am? If I woke up at 4am maybe then I’d have half a minute to brush my teeth before drop off but I’m not counting on it. You went to bed looking like that right? You did your hair, your makeup, got dressed, and fell asleep standing up so that nothing smudged. Right? That’s the only thing I can figure.

Moms whose kids eat healthy

So, they’ve never had chicken nuggets, right? Because it’s all over after chicken nuggets.

I don’t care that chicken nuggets aren’t even that unhealthy. It’s the fact that it unlocks something in their brains. The nuggets clue our kids into the fact we’ve just been lying to them this whole time. You don’t actually have to eat the vegetables. You can get by perfectly fine on a steady diet of supposedly white breast meat and whole grain bread coating.

Once they’ve seen behind the curtain, there’s no going back.

Moms with teenagers

It gets easier right? Please tell me it gets easier.

Wait, no. I don’t want to know.

Moms with work-life balance, perfectly behaved and well-nurtured children who eat their vegetables

So, when are you due?

Dear Friends

Dear friends,

I haven’t seen you in a while.

We are now at that stage in our friendship where if I run into you in the grocery store, or the doctor’s office, or the cough and cold aisle of Walgreens we have this conversation:

“Hey! How are you? Oh my gosh it’s been too long. We’ve just been busy. Should we get together soon?” And then we never do.

I want you to know it’s not you.

And it’s not me.

It’s them.

Look, if it was just you and me, I’d love to hang out. And one day, we will again. My youngest kid’s first day of kindergarten in five years so let’s schedule a date then, okay?

(Not the first day of school. I’m taking a spa day that entire day. We will hang out the second day.)

When my babies were little and portable and could still each be tucked under an arm and marched out of a playdate-gone-poorly if need be, it was fairly easy to still hang out. I could tuck one in a stroller and one in a carrier and we. could walk. Or I could leave a trough of graham crackers on the kitchen table and watch our kids fight over the one damn truck in a room full of toys while we drank coffee.

But now that they’ve multiplied into three, with three very different schedules, I’m practically under house arrest. My day is basically running around from morning to night (and from night to morning on the days the baby doesn’t sleep through the night which is roughly 395 out of the last 400).

In the morning I wake up, beg my middle kid to go back to sleep because it’s not even six yet. Then after an hour of telling my kids, “just five more minutes!” (Kinda thought I’d outgrow that one now that I’m the mom, but no), I go to enter into the morning battle: empty the dishwasher, pack lunches, find hats and gloves and library books, hopefully remember to brush a few teeth and send them out the door.

(Yes, I could pack their lunches the night before but do you really think that’d make that much of a difference here?)

Then I frantically run around the house trying to clean up. I have no idea how a house gets so messy in a single hour, but there you have it. Do laundry, empty trash cans, wipe whatever the heck that is on the bathroom counter up, and sweep up 75% of the Cheerios that were served for breakfast and are now on the flood.

About halfway through this my baby starts crying she’s ready for a nap, and I attempt to finish my cleanup while dodging her attempts to grab my legs. Finally, I acquiesce and put her down for her nap.

Then it’s time to shower. By the time I get out, 90% of the time she’s already awake. And this is not because I’m taking luxuriously long showers. It’s because she has a sixth sense for when I almost done and bolts awake.

By the time I console the crying baby while still dripping wet, it’s almost time to pick up my son. So I get dressed, look in the mirror (somehow I look exactly the same pre-shower) and head to preschool pickup.

Here, I’ve got about a one hour window to do something is I really want to risk a bad afternoon nap. So if we are out of milk, I might venture in to the store. But with a baby and tired preschooler, there’s no way we are going to be able to hang out.

By the time we get home, it’s lunch. Which means everyone is yelling. Or 2/3 are yelling. The third is still at school. And his pickup is in two hours so if I don’t get the baby down now she won’t have a chance at a decent nap.

Course she never sleeps for the whole two hours. She sleeps 30m (after I rock her for an hour) and then wants to be rocked until it’s five minutes past the time I should’ve left to pick my son up from kindergarten.

So I run to kindergarten pickup. And then, we would be free for a play date except now I have three kids with me and they are all in varying stages of starvation and exhaustion.

Then we enter into the witching hour, named so because your kids expect you to conjure up snacks while cooking dinner. After dinner it’s bath and bed. Everyone’s asleep by 8, so theoretically we could go out for a girls night.

But, after we put the kids to bed, my husband and I like to indulge in our favorite hobby – putting the kids back to bed.

So I promise I’m not avoiding you. I’d love to get together and talk about diapers and the Mueller investigation and spread whatever cold had been plaguing my house for the last three weeks to you and yours.

But it’s not going to happen. At least not while we are on the two-naps, two-school pickups schedule. Please know I miss you.

And let me know if you want in on that spa day. September 2023. Mark your calendar.

Following a sinking creek

The water was too low to go skinny dipping, so I left all of my clothes on.

I sat along the edge of the creek, the water barely coming up to my ankles. The creek was fed by a spring, and throughout the year would periodically disappear, earning its moniker “Sinking Creek.” Some days, with my parent’s permission and some days without, we would wander down to find it roaring. Other days it would be completely dry, and we would walk along it as if were a pebble covered hiking path, pausing to throw stones at the old oil can wedged between two trees.

My parents built their house on old Appalachian farmland which had been divided up into parcels and sold to professors from the nearby university and horse enthusiasts. Over the years, the forest crept from where tractors had kept it at bay, and slowly reclaimed the land. As kids, we were allowed to play in the forest only as far as the old fence line. There, we swung on old vines and built tents out of sticks. We listened for my mom calling us for dinner, and were reprimanded when we failed to return the first several times she called.

Below the broken down fence, the hillside tumbled towards the sometimes creek. I would occasionally escape there as a teenager, as I had that afternoon. Up on the hill, my grandmother’s mind slowly flowed away, and my mother frantically tried to swim after her. My father worked, and my sisters and I gradually and awkwardly attempted to form our own lives. That afternoon, I had snuck down the creek to rinse off from my soccer game, swim in freshwater, and to simply be alone. The last would have to suffice, as the water had not agreed to my plan for the day. 

I can still picture the rock that jutted out of the hillside, perpetually covered in the leaves of the last fall. Below it are the boulders my friends and I would recklessly climb too high, never having heard of things like bouldering pads. In the spring, johnny jump ups and mayapples lined the path we would worn. A path I will never walk down again.

Years later, in attempt to be better stewards of the land we all loved, they put a geothermal heating system in their home, and along with it, new insulation. The installation was too thorough, preventing the chemicals in the insulation to off-gas. The exposure left them sick, and their home virtually toxic.

Ten, twenty years from now we will look back and wonder at incidents like theirs with the same incredulity we have at putting asbestos in our walls or lead in our paint. But no one could have foreseen the outcome. After years of remediation, litigation, and investigation, my parents learned that it was only they who were affected by the insulation. The initial exposure had sensitized them, and thus, in the way one of my children can eat a peanut butter sandwich and another can not, they had to leave but could sell my childhood home, along with its small stretch of forest, to another family.

My husband, kids and I went back home, or rather, to my parents’ new house, recently for my sister’s wedding. I now live in Montana, and hadn’t been home during the fall in 10 years. As we flew in above the rolling hills, I watched the rivers trace the edges of fame colored mountains. My children marveled as we walked through the woods and leaves fell from every tree. I told my husband that as payment for living where where fall barely graces the underbrush he must frequently tell me how lovely it was. He complied, telling me yes, it was very pretty. But perhaps you can never love another place as much as where you grew up. Or only once it’s gone.

I still visit the woods of my childhood regularly, this time in the form of bedtime stories. My children know them almost as well as I did, although their version is populated with fairies and elves who cast spells to help young ones fall sound asleep. Now, there is no sitting – only adventures. Like the sinking creek in the woods, on days it would choose to flow, we can only move forward.

 

 

Miles to go before you sleep

When our first kid was born, someone gave us a glider. It was comfortable, with dark wooden arms and soft white cushions.

We rocked it into the ground.

This is not a metaphor. I spent so many hours, thousands of hours, in that glider, that it eventually fell apart.

At one point, my husband had given me a fit bit for Christmas. I pretty regularly hit the 10,000 recommended steps a day with little effort. That is, until I realized my fit bit was counting every time I rocked in the chair as a step. So while I wasn’t getting any fitter, I did learn I was spending about two miles per day in that chair.

I’ve got a confession: Those weren’t my favorite two miles of the day. Don’t get me wrong. I love rocking babies. I just don’t love rocking babies to sleep.

My children fight sleep like it’s coming to take away their Halloween candy. (Which to be fair, I do steal their Halloween candy when they’re asleep). But ever since they were babies they have fought the good fight. They writhe, they fuss, they scratch, they stick their fingers in my mouth, they fart defiantly.

(I didn’t know you could fart defiantly but if you saw the look my daughter gave me this morning, you too would know it is a thing.)

The answer to this situation is obvious – stop rocking them to sleep. This would also solve the “OMG we are traveling to somewhere without a rocking chair” panic attack we have biannually when we dare to leave our house. And for those who are blessed in the parenting skills department, that would work. We could cry it out, or pull them in to bed with us, and they would sleep happily ever after.

Theoretically anyway. We are 3/3 with that not working.

Plus there is another problem with not rocking our babies to sleep.

Once they’ve explored every inch of my face with their fingers, bitten me repeatedly (yep), and shot liquid out of every orifice in an attempt to evade their nap, something happens. They collapse into a heavy and warm pile of exhaustion.

And suddenly, I move from desperately wanting to get out of the rocking chair and actually do something with my life to wanting to be nowhere else in the world.

As I write this, my daughter has lost her battle of wills, and is snuggled into the crook of my arm. I know I should get up. I should lay her down soon so she gets used to sleeping in her crib. I should turn off the TV my older kid is watching and go sweep or dust or vacuum something.

I should.

But she’s warm, and soft, and the littlest she’ll ever be again. So I’ll rock her for a few more miles.

One day, when my oldest son was a few months older than the baby is now, I was trying to rock him to sleep. Frustrated at his fighting, I finally set him down on the ground. He laughed, and toddled over to his crib. I put him in it and laid him down. Five minutes later he was snoring.

And that was that.

I don’t know when she will no longer need – or want – me to rock her to sleep. Some days I pray it’s sooner. Some days I pray it’s later.

But for now, we’ll rock.

Romero

When I was 22, I was not young enough to think I could change the world.

But I was young enough to think I could at least help it.

And so I flew off to the other side of the country to live in a house with seven other people and eat off mismatched plates and rock tired babies to sleep while their mothers fought for a better life. The others gave clean socks to people who were homeless and stocked the pantries of those who were hungry.

The name of our house – a Jesuit Volunteer Corps House – was Romero, after the man who was shot as he said the mass. Died as he gave bread to eat.

Oscar Romero becomes a saint today. A saint who, with his time on earth, built a better world for those he served. A future that he never lived to see.

Last week, I got drunk in the middle of the day.

Not on whiskey, mind you. That buzz would come later as I fought off a cough and my husband wisely suggested a hot toddy.

I was drunk on the glorious ness of fall. In October, there is such a short window where everything is positively exquisite. The air is refreshing, a sweater is sufficient, and the trees practically erupt in color.

I spent the day glancing out the window whenever I could. It wasn’t a particularly good day, either. The baby wouldn’t take her morning nap, or her afternoon nap. I was sick. But the sheer beauty of the world filled me with joy.

We have ten years to solve climate change, they say. Ten years to dramatically turn our world around. My oldest is nearly six years old and I have barely caught my breath from him being born. He held my hand when we walked home from school that day. He won’t do that in ten years.

Ten years is another lifetime away. Ten years is tomorrow.

As much as I love autumn, it fills me almost with a sense of panic. I feel the need appreciate every moment before it fades and we are plunged into winter. The beauty is a reminder of the long cold days ahead. This reminder pushes me outside in attempt to store away all the waning sunlight before the frost.

I don’t want to look back in ten years and wonder if I could have done more.

I didn’t live in that house very long. I became less concerned about helping the world and more concerned about making sure my own babies got enough sleep and what the hell was that weird stain on my carpet. (Truth: I’m not that concerned about my carpet stains).

It seemed so easy then, that maybe if we all just tried a little harder the world would be a better place. Turns out it’ll take more than that.

But, you know.

Might as well try.

Don’t try to cherish every moment

If our house was an abandoned lot, books would be the weeds. They’ve taken over every surface in the house – baskets on the floor, toy shelves, stacks by the bed, the coffee table.

I can never say no to books. They come from trips to the library, ten cent splurges at the thrift store, or that intoxicatingly enticing Scholastic book fair.

And yet, there are some days that I took my children into bed and realize we haven’t read a page. The day flew by, cluttered with sweeping, rocking, wiping, driving and eating. “Tomorrow,” I tell myself, “tomorrow we will cuddle on the couch and read book after book.”

Tomorrow comes and the story is the same. Sweeping, rocking, wiping, driving. I get the baby down for her nap but they are busy playing. They are bored but now I am cooking. Night time comes and as soon as their pajamas are on the baby calls for me. I rock her to sleep, listening to my husband read to them.

“Savor this moment!” everyone tells me, as spit up drops down my shirt and the cries of yet another who-had-the-hot-wheel-first argument rings in my ears.

“Let the housework wait another day!” everyone says as I step on Cheerios, rushing to grab a LEGO out of my baby’s mouth

“You’re so lucky to be able to do this!” everyone says as I hold back tears from another day where everyone needed me, me, me.

My oldest started kindergarten last week. I did not wonder where the time had gone. It was folded into the thousands of piles of laundry I had done. It fills the footprints we left behind on trails. It’s tucked between the sheets and washed off our dishes.

It does not seem like yesterday that he was a baby. This is the best and worst part. The days have been long and the years have been long too. I have gotten to fill them, albeit not always as I please. We have had five long years to love, to suffer, and to laugh together. Five long years since I’ve seen those sweet baby smiles.

I cannot cherish every moment, nor do I want to. Some days I am glad to wash down with a hot shower and a lager.

In twenty, thirty years, I am sure I will wish I had done it all different. Read more books, kissed more heads, watched more clouds by. Perhaps by then I will have forgotten about the laundry, the dishes, the fighting, the yelling, the driving to and from appointments. Maybe by then I will just remember the times we cuddled on the couch and read stories.

I can’t fill my days like that. But maybe I can at least fill my memories.