Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best of 2014 (or something like that)

So I most definitely shouldn't be doing a "Best of 2014" post when I've only been blogging for three months.  But it's my blog.  And I want to.  (Also, it makes me seem way more popular than I am.)

So here it is!

The most popular post of 2014 (aka the past three months)...


I tried to be a Pinterest mom.


I planned a Ninjago-themed birthday party for my soon-to-be six-year-old son and seven of his squirmy kindergarten classmates.

It started as healthy browsing and ended in a pinning frenzy.  I chose the activities and foods that seemed fun, cute, and doable for a non-crafty, average-cooking mom.  I laid out my party plans and created a checklist of all the pre-party to-do's... so I wouldn't go too crazy the day of.

I kept telling myself in the week leading up to the party that I actually enjoyed this.  That I was happy to plan a party my son would enjoy.  One that he could be proud of when we didn't necessarily want to spend the money on the playhouse/soccer/swimming parties we frequented throughout the year.

But then the morning of the party arrived and I became slightly to very homicidal.  I won't go into details.  Let's just say, for the sake of my marriage, I don't plan Pinterest parties anymore.

And yet I truly believe there are some moms who do enjoy planning cute, intricate, matching birthday parties for their little ones.  Just like I know there are moms who actually like doing crafts and cooking with their kids.

Just because I'm not one of them doesn't mean they don't exist.

I get tired of reading articles and hearing people talk about these "Pinterest moms."  Like somehow their very existence threatens our own motherhood.

For the one week I imagined myself as a Pinterest mom, I didn't once think, I can't wait to post these pictures to Facebook and make all those non-Pinterest mamas feel small, small, small.

I mean, I did post pictures to Facebook.  I was proud of my work.  And after the near-sacrifice of my marriage, you can bet I needed to display some proof that it was worth it (right Joel?).

But I didn't do it to make anyone else feel less than.

I think as moms (and dads) that sometimes we can take each other's parenting successes personally.

I know because I'm guilty of it too.

When Aiden was in his first year of preschool a friend sent me a link to another mom's blog.  It was cute and crafty and by the time I read two posts I felt like I was three years behind in mother/child crafty bonding, and I started to panic a little.

So much so that the very next day I kept him home from preschool.  I saw that the crafty mom had made a tower of marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti with her kids.  That seemed like something I could do, so I raided our US stash for marshmallows, spread them across the table with a big smile on of my face, and instructed my kids to build.

But mostly they just wanted to eat marshmallows and every attempt at building ended in my saying something along the lines of "oh my gosh, did you really just break another one" or "you're not finished until it looks like something!"

My kids ended up eating marshmallows on the couch, watching Spiderman.  I felt defeated.

But here's the thing.  I have this good friend here who loves to craft with her kids.  But guess what?  She loves to craft by herself too!  (Is it called crafting?  See, that's how little I know about it.)

It's not that I don't enjoy doing things with my kids.  It's that I was trying to force something that none of us were interested in.

So now I try to look for the intersection of our interests.  It's easy for Joel.  The boys love Star Wars and video games and bike rides.  But I have to be a little more creative.

For example, Finny and I both love food.  I don't have a lot of patience for kids cooking in the kitchen, but if I prep enough and have no time frame, I can let him cook with me.  More so, though, we love eating together.  That one I can handle.

Aiden's a bit harder for me, as he seems to possess boundless energy and I definitely don't.  But we both love to read.  So that's something.

Benjamin loves everything right now, so that's easy.

We all have our things.  My things with my kids aren't exciting or pretty enough to post to Facebook most of the time.  But if they were, I would proudly put it out there for all the world to see.  And why not?

I believe there's a way to appreciate other moms, and the moments that make them feel good, without feeling bad ourselves.

It's easy to relate to someone being honest about how hard it is.  But what about someone who's just being honest about how good it is.  Because there's both.  There's always both.  And just because someone is having a good mom moment, doesn't mean that we should have a bad one.

So Pinterest mamas of the world... we're behind you!  We understand that you can put hours and hours of work into a party just to see the joy on your child's face.  That you can craft and cook with your kids because you actually, truly enjoy it.

And those of us who don't, we have our moments too.  Snuggling on the couch for movie night, reading a favorite book, taking a child on a coffee/treat date (my favorite, of course).

Even if I don't enjoy one moment all day long, it doesn't make your moment any less valuable.  So keep showing us your moments.  The good and the bad.  And we'll keep showing you ours.

I may not plan Pinterest parties anymore, but I support those who do.

Plan on, mamas.  Plan on.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Oh good, another boy

I love raising boys.

Really.  I do.

I love the sounds and the energy.  I love that sibling resentment almost always escalates to physicality, where any bitterness is put to rest.  Until the next fight, at least.

I find boy number three comforting and familiar.  I'm not shocked by much anymore.  He must climb.  He just must.  And I get that now.  He hits and pushes and kicks and then follows it all with a hug and a kiss, as if such actions are obviously compatible.  There are things that happen in his diaper that don't, anymore, cause my jaw to drop as I scream for my husband.

Boy things are normal to me.  

I don't get upset when the toilet seat is left up.  I'm just happy for a dry surface on which to rest.  

I'm calloused to the faint stench of urine emanating from their room, no matter how often I wash their bedding (which, admittedly, isn't very often) and despite the fact that they haven't wet their beds for years.  Literally.  Years.

Joel couldn't attend our gender-determining ultrasound with Benjamin.  So I asked the doctor to write it down and place it in a sealed envelope.  So we could open it together.

Later that day we all huddled in Joel's classroom.  It was unceremonious, for sure, but we couldn't wait.  

So we tore it open and both of our faces fell.  But we forced smiles and said, Oh good, another boy.

We already had two, and they were so opposite of each other, we couldn't figure out how a third could be exciting at all.  He would be just like the one or just like the other.  There was no third option, in our minds.

But it turns out Benjamin was his own option.  And oftentimes we look at him at night (when he's good and asleep) and say, out loud, How did we get so lucky?

Now our house is loud and messy and full of non-stop, full-throttle action.

I adore it.  If not always in the moment, at least the memory of the moment.

I love when they laugh at "boy things" that mom can't possibly understand.  I love being the lap they want to snuggle on in those few and far between moments of calm.  I love the once or twice a year when I put on a dress and they follow me through the house, telling me how nice I look an awkward number of times.

They also drive me completely crazy.  Sometimes I want life to be still and calm and they just will not allow it.  Unless they're sleeping.

And I wasn't always so excited about the world of boys.

When we pulled that small slip of paper from its envelope, I'll admit, I was disappointed.  But it wasn't the first time.

I pictured motherhood as a very calm and beautiful thing.  I thought there would be a whole lot of snuggles and kisses, and fun that was 100% fun, and not also frustrating and exhausting.

But Aiden from his earliest moments always wanted to go.  He couldn't be held down if you tried.  He woke at 5, and as I would cry in frustration, my husband would tell me, "He's just excited for the day."

He was excited for the day.  And now, nearly seven years later, he still is.  He'll ask us, at times, to wake him up early, just to play before his brothers awake.  He's passionate and enthusiastic and happy and kind... all of the things people told me he'd one day be, when I thought I couldn't handle another day of his relentless energy.

It took me a while.  To overcome the disappointment.  To reconcile my picture of the perfect child with this one I was given.

But I did.  Eventually.  And now, when I see my first baby in my third, as he pours raisins over the carpet and runs circles around the kitchen table, I realize I've finally embraced these things.  These boys who've invaded my life.

I love that as I gaze out the window, one boy is bouncing on a snow-covered tree limb, the other throwing a bat from the ground into its branches.  My boys, playing in the snow.

It's not how I imagined life with kids.  But it's the best life.

One girl in a house full of boys.

And I'm the lucky one.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry (days after) Christmas

We made it!

We survived Christmas!

Pat yourselves on the back.  Give your loved ones a hug.  Or do like us for the past 24 hours, and watch your household fall apart around you while your five and six-year-olds prepare their own meals and your toddler covers the house in the washable markers you had to give him for Christmas because you forgot that he would also need presents this year... and do it all from the comfort of your soft, lovely, wonderful couch.

And when your small children start in with their requests, rudely ignoring the fact that you were busy doing all the hard work that they chalk up to "magic" (the same way my husband believes the dishes get cleaned every time he cooks and his clothes transport from the bathroom floor to the washing machine), point them in the direction of their new toys or TV shows that are not in any way related to Christmas or, better yet, bundle them up and push them into the yard, where you can see, but definitely not hear them.

If all else fails, do what is required of you, but sneak one to five Christmas cookies while you're doing it.  And get yourself a bottle of wine to polish off meal number five of turkey leftovers (which, fyi, is absolute best in pizza form).

Relax and enjoy the next 11 months, when it will start all over again.  (Or 11 months and three weeks if you're a procrastinator like me.)

Merry days after Christmas everyone!

And yes, I realize I probably could have cooked their lunch instead of taking pictures.  But really, where's the fun in that?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What I didn't know

I thought I knew pain.  Before.  But I didn't.

Sure, I knew what it felt like to enter a classroom full of kids, all alone, terrified.  I remember how lonely I felt, and how shy.  I remember coming home every day, laying my six-year-old head on the kitchen table, and crying.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

If I had looked at my mom, really looked at her, as she rubbed my back and told me it would be okay, I would have seen a broken heart.

I understood rejection.  I felt the hurt of reaching for my dreams, only to see them crushed before me.  The lead role or the solo swiped out from under me.  I remember falling on my bed, sobbing.  I saved my tears for home, where I felt safe.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

If I had looked at my mom, really looked at her, as she rubbed my back and told me it would be okay, I would have seen a broken heart.

I felt crushed with disappointment when the doctor told me this was it.  I would have to be induced.  Today.  I called my mom and dad as I packed my bags.  I could barely get out the words through my tears.

My heart was hurt.  But it wasn't broken.

This time an ocean stood between us.  So she couldn't rub my back, only tell me it would be okay.  But if I listened, really listened, I would have heard a heart breaking.

I didn't know.  Before.  But now I do.

I know that watching your child hurt is the worst pain.  Because they eventually fall asleep, after the tears, but we're up.  For hours and hours.  Thinking and hurting.  Feeling the pain for them as they slumber peacefully.  Frequenting their bedside, wishing and praying and longing to take it away.

I think it's different for dads.  They care and they love, so much.  But Joel is able to see past the pain.  To know that, particularly with young kids, circumstances can change fast.  And next week, or even tomorrow, they'll be just fine.

I know that, but I can't seem to feel it.  What I feel is my child playing alone at recess, or crying as he walks into the cafeteria.  I can't feel that it will soon be over.  I can only feel the moment.  And as I watch them sleep, and eat, and even laugh, I realize I feel it even more so.  That, in some ways, it's even worse for me than it is for them.

And I remember now.  The tears sparkling in my mom's eyes, behind her reassuring smile.  And I wonder how she stayed so strong.

I wasn't grateful then.  But I am now.  I'm grateful for someone walking through life with me.  Feeling my pain and my joy.  Even if I didn't always notice.

So happy birthday to my beautiful, loving Mom.  Thank you for never caring if I noticed.

But just so you know.  I do now.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Failing Christmas

Christmas nearly always leaves me feeling like a failure.

Literally.  When the day is done and the wrapping paper all thrown out and the dishes drying in the rack, I feel defeated.  Like Christmas beat me.  Again.

And usually it's because of this.

No matter how I try and I plan and I hope, I'm left feeling that Christmas wasn't about what it was supposed to be about.  And that it was about all it shouldn't be about.  And somehow the weight of that lands squarely on my shoulders.

And I go to bed feeling heavy.  Waiting for next year.  Looking for a redo.

We've gone back and forth with the Santa thing.  Sometimes I think getting rid of him would solve my problem.  I certainly understand why people do.  But the Christmases of my childhood were magical.  And Santa was a big part of that.  So now, I can't seem to let him go.

It's not something I admit often, but I believed in Santa until I was almost 12.  12 years old.  That's middle school, people.

I mean, my parents were pretty convincing.  Honestly, in my 31 years I have never heard them admit that Santa's not real.  When I would ask if it was true, what the kids were saying at school, they would ask, in turn, what did I think?  I think he's real, I'd reply with wide eyes.  And as long as that was good enough for me, that was good enough for them.

Plus, I know I saw Santa and his reindeer, flying through the sky, one Christmas Eve.  I was staring out my sister's window, fighting to keep my heavy eyelids open.  She missed it.  But I saw it.  I was sure of it.  And my parents weren't surprised at all.  They acted as though it was inevitable.  That, of course, I saw him.  What did I think, they were making all of this up?

I was certainly disappointed when I found out.  I was most mad at my sister, who apparently knew years and years before I did, but pretended to believe every Christmas anyhow.  Just to let the magic live on for me.  (Turns out I was a pretty lucky girl.)

But I didn't feel duped by my parents.  I didn't feel lied to, or betrayed.

And looking back, I wonder if it didn't help my faith.  To believe, if only for a time, in the unseen.

Even so, I can't help, as a mom myself, feeling this huge pressure every Christmas.

While clearly there's a lot of pressure surrounding Christmas in general, I think there's added pressure in Christian parent circles.  To make Christmas day the very pinnacle of our family's spirituality.  With the proper Advent build-up and a Christmas day where the little baby Jesus is held up before anything else.  Where our kids finally see and believe and appreciate all that God did for us in sending His Son to earth.  To be with us.

It's true.  For sure.  That Jesus is the best gift of Christmas.  That He is what it's all about.

But this year I'm cutting myself a break.  This year I'm not going to fight the presents and the cookies and the twinkling Christmas lights.  This year, I'm letting go.

I've decided this year to stop making my children appreciate the meaning of Christmas.  And instead, to appreciate it myself.  I've decided to stop making my children give.  And instead, to give myself.  I've decided to stop making them notice.  And instead, to notice myself.

If they see all that, great!  Even better.

But if they don't.  It's okay.  There are more days to think about Jesus and God and faith than just Christmas day.  If He's not the most important part of their day this year, that's okay.

I used to think that my most life-changing moments as a Christian would always happen at church or on important holidays or at Christian music festivals and conferences.  And they used to.  Absolutely.

But then I had kids.  And now, the most powerful moments of my faith, thus far, have been random, average, everyday conversations with my kids.

Not surrounding any holiday or special event.  Often they happen in the car.  Or at bed time.

My kids will ask about heaven or Jesus or kids who don't have moms and dads.  And as we talk, as I tell them about stories from the bible, about God's promises, about my own thoughts, I realize, with absolute certainty, Holy crap, I really believe this stuff.

I really believe it and it is so stinking beautiful that I almost always cry.  Quietly.  Or at least tear up a bit.

And my kids will eventually turn the conversation to which kind of performance tip they'll use for their next Bey Blade battle.  But the words we spoke won't leave me for some time.  The bursting feeling in my heart will stay.  And will change me.

There's a common thread in these conversations, though.  They're not forced.  There's no pressure.  No obvious importance.

They just happen and they're moving and gorgeous.  And they rarely, if ever, occur on specific Christian holidays.  They're nearly always on an everyday.

So this Christmas we'll tell the story of Jesus' birth and we'll open presents, and we'll check to make sure Santa ate all of his cookies and drank all of his milk.

And I'll let myself off the hook.  I'll know that there are 364 more days this year to talk about and appreciate and love Jesus.  That, although this is an obvious day for it, it's not the only one.

This year I'll say a prayer of thankfulness before bed, on Christmas night.  For my family, my children, for Christmas.  I'll pray for the people who aren't as lucky as I am.  Who are feeling like failures this Christmas because they couldn't get their children any Christmas gifts, instead of fretting that they got too many.

I'll thank God for sending His Son and sit back with a quiet smile as the day unfolds however it unfolds.

This Christmas, I'm not going to force it.  I'm going to let it happen.  I'm going to know, in my heart, what it's all about.  And I'm going to let that be enough.

(And also, I'm going to write it down here, because there's a good chance I'm going to forget!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The magic

My mom and dad are here!

I love having them, but I'm not too nice in the days leading to their arrival.  I'm putting all my energy into cleaning and organizing and pretending that I didn't spend any time cleaning and organizing.  That it's just the natural state of my house.  Which it definitely is, Mom.

So I don't have much energy or time for choosing my words carefully.  Or talking in general.  Or feeding my children, for that matter.

But then they come and magical things happen.

For one, there are four more legs to run after Benjamin.  And let's face it, we can use all the legs we can get with that one.

I don't have to fight the mountains of dishes perched precariously upon the drying rack to find the peeler.  It's always washed, dried, and in it's place.  Which, I guess, is the drawer?

My kids don't need to hide favorite clothing items under their pillows anymore.  They can let them fall, instead, into the greedy hands of the hamper, where they'll be cleaned and returned in less than a month.

And I get to cook in peace.  Without a plus-sized baby in my arms and the big ones drop-kicking each other in the living room.

At one point I literally watched our dinner boil.  Just watched it boil.  And waited for the next step.  The magic had already done my dishes and for a few minutes I actually did nothing.  It makes me tear up a bit just thinking about it.

I love them for more than the magic.  Of course.  But the magic is nice too.

The magic even allowed me to do this.

Get it?

Granted, I only picked these because the internet made them look super easy.  The internet lied, of course.  But it turns out I'm kind of Super Mom when I don't also have to watch my kids, so it was no big thing.

We're so lucky.  Really.  We don't get to see our families enough.

But when we do, it's magic.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Me and my dad

One of my earliest memories of my dad was at a small skating pond, near our old home in Illinois.  He was telling me we were moving, and I listened intently.  I was five at the time.

When I tell him this now he looks at me strangely, and kind of says, Oh yeah?  Maybe...

He's too kind to tell me there was no ice skating pond by our house.  And even if there was, we didn't move until summer, as far as I can recall.  So why was the pond still frozen?

But I'm going to keep it anyhow.  It felt like a nice, tender moment.  Just him and I.  At the ice skating pond that probably didn't exist.

I remember one time my dad rolling off our couch while we watched TV.  My head snapped up in concern, but he just slid a pillow under his arm and stared straight ahead.  As though nothing had happened.

He was trying to make us laugh.  As he often did.  And he succeeded.  As he often did.

In middle and high school my dad braved every single band concert, every choir performance, every musical where I only appeared for one scene and you couldn't even pick me out from the other green leotards and red flowered heads dancing across the stage.

He was extremely brave.  And loved us very much to do so.

But his place was as our coach.  It didn't matter what the sport, really.  He was always our coach.

Through first grade soccer when we picked flowers and chased mice and spun cartwheels down the field.  Through softball teams so good we won trophies and so bad we literally didn't win anything.

As an athlete himself, I think he was always quietly amused coaching us girls.  Every time we struck out or dropped a ball or threw over the first baseman's head we'd call across the diamond, "I"m sorry!"

"Don't say sorry," he'd repeat, over and over.  "Say you'll try better next time."

We made t-shirts that proudly proclaimed "We're not sorry!" and made it our team chant.

I think we missed the point.

My absolute favorite memory from those softball days, though, were the car rides home.  The further away the better.  We'd talk some.  But mostly Dad let me not talk.  Instead we'd listen to Air Supply on cassette tape and I'd rewind his favorite song over and over again.  Just to let him know I liked it too.

I know my dad worked.  And he worked hard.  But he never missed anything.  In my mind, at least, he was always there.  My sister and I were never less than first priority.  We took advantage of that.  Definitely.  But we were able to.  And I imagine that was the real gift.

My dad's not one to cry.  I suppose we can both be a bit guarded with our emotions at times.

So I didn't see him shed a tear on my wedding day, but he didn't need to.  I knew how he felt.  When he walked me down the aisle and kissed me and moved slowly to his seat.  A repeat of my sister's wedding day, three years earlier.  I know he was happy, for us both, but I also know it was so, so hard.

I know because it was hard for me too.  To let go.  To let another man take care of me when my dad did it so very well.

But just as he quietly and gracefully let go when I left for college, and again when we left for Budapest, he let go then.

He let me go into my own family.  My own life.  Knowing it would never be the same.  But knowing, as well, it would never be forgotten.

But somehow, when I watch my dad play with the boys, when I watch them smile and laugh at their silly Gramps, it's even better.

Because my kids get him too.  They get his humor and his sincerity and his various baseball tips.  And I get to relive my childhood a bit.  But this time I get to watch.  And realize just how lucky I was.  Just how lucky I am.

So happy birthday to my kind, funny, loving, handsome dad.  Just wanted to let you know that I didn't always understand.  But I do now.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In case your Christmas isn't vomit-free

It was a week before Christmas and we were on our way to Ikea.

I expected the normal Ikea happenings. Marital discord, meltdowns in the candle section, checkout line promises that "we will never come here again."

But I never expected this.

Five minutes from our destination I heard something. It started as a low growl, but the sound turned quickly and undeniably wet. My head whipped around just in time to watch a cascade of vomit cover Finn's jacket, pants and carseat, landing with finality on the floor.

"Joel, he's throwing up!" I yelled in a panic, followed quickly with a forced calm, "It's okay buddy, not a big deal, just relax."

So with Aiden crying in the back over the smell, Joel driving with his head out the window, and Benjamin sleeping through it all we made our way to the closest gas station.

I hopped out and stripped Finn down to his underwear, his only un-soaked article of clothing. Pulling out the baby wipes I cleaned the mess as well as I could, wrapped him in the baby's blanket, and insisted we go "back home right now."

Unfortunately, the four lane road where this incident occurred forced us to continue on our previous path towards the Ikea, where we planned to turn around and drive our sick, cold child home.

Ikea was finally in our sights, and we searched for a place to turn around. Just as we approached the ramp to the parking garage I heard another sound, this time from the way back. I turned in time to catch the full, explosive event, this time covering Aiden in a pool of vomit.

"Aiden's throwing up," I yelled. "Pull in here now!"

The car shot quickly down the ramp, under the moving arm and into a far corner of the Ikea parking garage.

One look at Joel's queasy face and I knew I was alone on this one. I told him to take the baby and go get the piece of furniture we originally set out for. I knew it would take some time to clean up and I wasn't about to make the hour trek back home with nothing to show for it.

Unfortunately Aiden's explosion soaked him through, and in the end he was left butt naked in his cold car seat. After just getting him wrapped in my coat and settled down Finn was at it again, and then again.

Finally it seemed as though the storm had passed. The boys sat huddled quietly in their car seats and Joel returned to the car with a deliriously happy baby and a quick and easy purchase (an Ikea Christmas miracle).

We loaded the car, tied the throw-up covered clothes tightly in bags, buckled up and breathed a sigh of relief to be headed home.

Joel turned the key and the engine ground and screeched, but wouldn't turn over. He switched the key back off and looked at me.

"No," was all I could say.

This wasn't happening. Certainly it would start next time.

He turned the key again, longer this time. Nothing.

I thought about a friend from our church in a similar situation. In her car on the side of the road, three kids in the back, car not starting. She took the time to pray with her kids for the car to start and the next time her husband tried the engine began purring, took them all the way back home.

So I prayed. I prayed hard. I prayed by myself, with the kids, I think it's safe to say I begged for that darn car to start.

Joel turned the key again.

Nothing. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse.

"I need to get someone to jump us," Joel said, and went to the back for the cables.

Easy enough in the US where he could easily approach a fellow customer and ask for help jumping our car. But at a point in break where his shaggy beard and wild hair had him looking less-than-respectable, approaching unsuspecting shoppers with long, metal cables (as we didn't know how to say "jump our car"), and without a wife and kids in view, he may not have appeared the type people are generally eager to help.

But he finally he found a woman willing to drive her car over to ours. He hooked up the cables and I kept on praying. He got back in, turned the key.... turned it, turned it, turned it, and.... nothing.

After a few more unsuccessful tries we thanked the lady for her help and watched sadly as she drove her wonderfully working car right out of the parking garage.

At this point I was starting to get nervous. An hour away from home, two naked children, a crying baby and a car full of stuff that just wouldn't start. I felt homesick for our two sets of parents, who would have driven hours and done anything to rescue us, I felt angry that God wasn't answering my prayers, I felt abandoned and alone.

Joel and I both are particularly bad at asking for help. We don't want to inconvenience people and generally tend towards taking care of ourselves. But desperate times call for desperate measures so we swallowed our pride and called our friends for help.

They heard our situation and immediately offered to come get us, a huge relief as a taxi ride with two butt-naked, sick children and a baby sounded like a nightmare of its own.

But as we had wandered so far from home we knew we were in for a wait. So I wrapped the children tighter and shivered in my seat as Joel attempted to explain our situation to the Ikea customer service representatives, as it appeared our car would be trapped in their garage for the night.

At this point all three boys were tired and cold, and Aiden was getting scared. Although we assured him help was on the way he still insisted that he was "going to die" (not sure where he gets his flair for the dramatic).

I decided some Christmas songs were in order, and the boys quickly agreed, although refusing to sing themselves. So I started with the classic Jingle Bells, but I only know one verse so it got old fast. The next song to pop in my head was Silent Night, so with the boys staring passively out the window I started to sing. "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright..."

I listened to the words I was singing, and at first I felt angry. Why couldn't I have a silent, peaceful night. Why couldn't I be in our warm house, snuggled up in our pajamas, watching a Christmas movie by the twinkling tree. Why would God answer my friends' prayers, but not mine.

Then it clicked, and I realized that the birth of Jesus I sang about, that silent, holy night, wasn't the event I always pictured. The warm, soft glow of the manger scene, the baby Jesus in a bed of silky hay, Mary in a spotless, white dress kneeling beside her tiny, sleeping child.

I have been blessed to deliver three healthy babies with no major complications... but I also endured the absolute most difficult, painful, and trying hours of my life thus far doing so.

I remember playing the virgin Mary as a second grader in our church's nativity play. I was so incredibly happy when they pulled my name from that hat, and I practiced for weeks knocking calmly on the door of each inn, asking if there was any room for us, that I was going to have a baby.

Three children later I like to imagine what that was really like. I could barely handle the pain of labor in the quiet and calm of my hospital room, with doctors and nurses roaming the halls and constantly checking on me. What must it have been like to wander through the dark, pausing only to catch her breath, or to push through another excruciating contraction, and to hear time and time again, "I'm sorry, you can't come in here, we're all full."

I wonder if she felt abandoned. Or angry. I wonder if she thought, "how could this get any worse?"

And finally they landed in a manger, after what I imagine was Joseph begging for some place, any place, for his wife to have her baby. Perhaps she could feel he was coming soon.

So Mary sets about delivering a baby in a barn, which I am fairly certain looked little like the nativity scenes adorning our mantles. The place was crawling with animals and the sounds and smells that accompany those animals. I can't imagine any place comfortable and clean enough to push out a small child.

But she did. And for a moment, I'm sure, there was peace. Relief and wonder and peace. Something like I felt after each birth, only magnified at the sight of this miracle baby.

I somehow doubt that Mary had room service bringing her a warm meal immediately after all her hard work. Or even a nice, hot shower and something soft to lay on. But still, I imagine there was joy and peace. In the middle of a barn. On a night where everything went wrong.

I thought in that cold, stinky car about how I picture Christmas. A tree adorned with colorful ornaments, lit with sparkling lights. Hot chocolate and freshly baked cookies. Snuggling on the couch watching one of millions of Christmas movies. Piles of presents and overflowing stockings.

It stands in such stark contrast to the thing we celebrate at Christmas time... that crazy night when Jesus was born. A night where it must have seemed that everything went wrong.  That God, somehow, didn't answer Mary's desperate prayers.

Eventually the boys fell asleep and Joel returned. Our friend arrived, towed our car out of the garage, and drove us the rest of the way home, blasting the heat and buying the boys soda to settle their stomachs. Other friends helped us figure out the best way to get our car back and fixed the next morning and lent us a car to use while we waited.

We were taken care of.  For sure.  Not in the way I wanted to be taken care of.  Not in the way that was easiest for me.  But at the end of the night we were warm and safe and together.

And somehow the lights and presents that scream for my Christmas-time attention dimmed a bit in that cold, vomit-covered car.  

And the real thing, that very real night when Jesus was born, started to shine.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

No smiles necessary

I'd be a pretty poor blogger if I didn't write the obligatory Thanksgiving thankfulness post.  (Let me clarify, the obligatory American Thanksgiving thankfulness post... who knew other countries have things to be grateful for?!)

But the problems is, I'm not very good at being thankful at specific times and in specific ways.

Gratefulness is always sneaking up on me.  I can try and try, but I'm always most thankful when I least expect it.

Like when the kids should be sleeping, but are giggling like rabid hyenas instead.  And I'm not even mad.  I'm just soaking it in.  Because I know, in that moment, I'm listening to the music of my future memories.

Or when my husband offers to do the dishes, but the kids just want him to play, and as I'm up to my elbows in plates and cups my heart won't stop swelling with each piercing scream, and I'd do all the dishes in the world just to hear their joy.

Or when Finn is crying because his clothes aren't right and his cup's not right and the small seam of his sock's not right, and I notice he needs a hug, and he melts into me as if I'm all he ever needed.

I'm thankful then.  In those moments.

And oftentimes right before bed.  Even after all of today's chaos.  And tomorrow's to come.  I smile as I snuggle under my covers, because I'm incredibly thankful for it all.

There is so much good in my life.  And I'm well aware of just how lucky I am.

But there's hard too.

And I imagine for some people this year, this Thanksgiving, it's hard to be grateful.  It's hard to turn on a smile and say, I'm thankful, despite...

Right now, things are more good for me than not.  But that could change tomorrow.  It's certainly been the opposite in the past.

Now I can say I'm grateful.  Now, in the valley, with the hills and mountains behind and before.  I'm grateful for the sadness and the loneliness and the rejections in my past.  Because they brought me to this place and they shaped me and they made me feel cared for by a God who can feel so distant sometimes.  By a God who can feel like a happy idea when times are good, but who is so real and near when times are hard.

I couldn't have said it then.  That I was grateful.  Or that I one day would be.  Maybe I knew it.  Deep down.  But you couldn't force me to say it.

So to anyone who's more sad or scared or frazzled or angry than they are grateful this Thanksgiving, feel free to cry or shout or lock yourself in the room with a pillow over your head.

You don't have to smile here.  You don't have to be grateful, despite.  You don't even have to know you'll be thankful, someday.

You just have to carry through.  Climb and stumble and fall and slide.  And then get back up only to do it again.  And again and again, if you have to.

Because there will be another side.  Someday.

But for now, today, this Thanksgiving, just take someone's hand, or let Someone take yours, and carry on.

No smiles necessary.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Just making it

When Joel's away, my list of goals and to-do's, which is already admittedly small, gets narrowed down to just one.


That's it.

I don't clean.  I barely cook.  None of us shower.  We're dirty and stinky and hungry, but that's not the point.  The point is survival.  The point is to make it through until I can throw up my hands, walk away from my three, needy children, and say the most beautiful words in the English language... you take over.

Day one always feels so hopeful.  My kids still care about getting a "good report" when their dad returns.  We have pizza and movies in the days ahead, and I'm almost looking forward to it.  Almost.

Sometimes I feel a bit sad that my big kids go to school all day.  That I really only see them on evenings and weekends.

But then Dad is gone and on day one the afternoon goes on FOREVER and we eat at like, 4:30, just because I can't think of what else to do with them.  And every time I look at the clock it is 6:00 and an hour from the earliest possible bedtime.  Honestly, it is 6:00 all. night. long.

But my kids think it's great fun.  They get chicken nuggets and french fries for dinner.  They get TV on a school night.  And best of all, they get mommy.  All to themselves.

So after 5,000 rounds of duck, duck, goose and 5,001 tantrums because Finn was it too much or was not it enough and all of us getting slapped silly by Benjamin who thinks the point of the game is to hit each other while crying, "Duck, duck, DOO!" it is finally, finally bed time.

But then I realize I planned bed time all wrong.  Usually Joel reads to the boys while I put Benjamin to sleep, and I slip away just in time for good night kisses.  But when Joel's gone I head up with all three.  I assume every time that it's no big deal.  Just the gorgeous end of my day.

I choose reading first.  In the hopes that they'll then go to sleep.  Which would be fine, except Benjamin is so excited about his family on the floor that he spends the entirety of book time climbing all over us.  And so I strain to read the words with Benjamin's butt in my face and his feet on Aiden's head and his sharp, little claws digging into Finn's arm.

The boys are crying for Benjamin to get off and Benjamin's screaming with glee and somebody always wants to go back to the last page and look at the picture.  As if they haven't seen that particular picture A THOUSAND TIMES BEFORE.

When book time is finally over everyone is so wound up that I have to practically wrestle them into bed.  But I tell them it is VERY important that they lay still in the dark and at least pretend to be sleeping for the sake of their wild baby brother who is currently stampeding back and forth down the hall.

"Say night night, brothers," I say as I scoop his spastic body into my arms.

He just smiles.  And I hold him tighter and look at him very seriously, because I know that he's telling me something.  I know, in fact, that there is no night night in Benjamin's near future.

"Say night night," I say, as sternly as possible.

"Naht naht, Ada.  Naht naht, Nin," he says.  (Translation: Night night, Aiden.  Night night, Finn)  But there's a glint in his eye and I know we're in for trouble.

At one point I'm sure he has drifted off to sleep.  His little body gets so still.  His breathing evens.  I start to slip away and then... BAM!

He pops up in bed, scrambles to his feet and shoots me a great big, mischievous grin.  It's impossible not to smile at  that grin, but I wipe it away swiftly and tell him that Aiden went night night.  Finn went night night.  Now it's time for Benjamin to go night night.

My assertion is always undermined by the peals of laughter seeping under the door, though.  So I yell for the boys to be quiet, which gets him really excited.

When Joel's home, bed time takes about 10 to 15 minutes.  When he's not, it feels like it goes on for hours.  HOURS.  And sometimes it literally goes on for hours.

When they're all finally sleeping I head downstairs, but I'm too tired to even watch TV.  All I want are my pajamas and pillow and really, that's fine with me.  Because I'm going to need the rest.

Tomorrow's just day two!

I did, however, find time for this before bed.  French macarons from my talented baker-friend (which I literally hid from my children until after bed time)!

A small, but big aside: I am so amazed by you single mama's out there.  You military wives.  You moms who are doing it every single day.  You exhausted, resilient mama's who hardly, if ever, get to say the words, you take over.  It's beautiful, what you do.  There is so much love in it.  Your kids are lucky to have you and one day, when they're not so small and needy, they'll be incredibly proud of you.  For all that you've done.  And you've done a lot.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Shutting it off

When I was little, I made my way as often as possible to my parents' bed.  I'd snuggle up between them and the sleep that so stubbornly eluded me in my own room would cover me there.

When I was too old to sleep between them, they would often find me lying on the floor, sound asleep beside them.

When I was older still (embarrassingly older), I would sleep at the top of the stairs.  Right outside their open door.  It was only a few steps from my own room, just across the hall, but it was enough.

On nights I couldn't sleep I'd call out across the hallway.  I hated to think I was the only one up, all alone in the dark, with nothing but my thoughts.

Oftentimes my dad would come in and sit at the edge of my bed.  He'd stroke the top of my hair and say, "Just try to turn off your brain."  And I'd squeeze my eyes and try my hardest to flip that switch, but it was too dark and I couldn't ever find it.  So I'd slide a flashlight under my covers and read until my eyes were rimmed with fire and my brain begged for sleep.  And even then I often snuck across the hall, where I'd find that elusive switch, every time.

Marriage, for me, was a welcome respite from insomnia.  Someone was always in my bed.  (It was Joel, in case you were wondering.)  And even though I couldn't handle ANY touching when it was time to sleep, I loved having him there.

For the first time in years, if ever, I slept.  Really slept.  The second my head hit the pillow.  After countless nights trying to force sleep on my restless mind, I had found my peace.  My safe, little nook in the world.

On the rare occasion that Joel left overnight you could predictably find me at my parents' or his, kids in tow.  I would not, could not, go back to sleeping alone.

Unfortunately that wasn't an option when we moved abroad.  And on nights like this, when Joel's away, the bed looks barren.   Empty.  Even with the giant baby in the middle.

I used to pace our hallways when he was gone.  Flipping the switches.  Checking and double checking the locks.  Lying my hand on the slow rise and fall of our boys' chests.

I'm better now.  Slightly less compulsive.  But I still hate it.  I still startle awake in the middle of the night with the feeling that something is not quite right.  With the knowledge that something's missing.  And I wait until he's back to settle into a good night's sleep.  To really relax.

Tonight I had all kids in bed by eight.  Two were even sleeping.  But as I sat down with my computer and a glass of red wine I heard a soft whimper.

"What's wrong?" I called up the stairs.

"I'm scared," came his little voice.

Since we all know I wasn't about to repeat the other night, I rushed right to his side.

"What are you scared of, buddy?"

"I'm just scared."

He bunches his covers under his chin, looks up at me with those piercing green eyes.  He's waiting to see what I'll do for him.  Or not do.

There are three of them in my house.  Kids, that is.  One of whom needs me to fall asleep.  Every single night.

By the end of the day I'm tired, and if I'm going to land in anyone's bed, it better be mine.

But sometimes they look at you in just the right way and you know you'll regret it the next night when they call for an encore, but you shove their small body over anyhow, and climb in bed beside them.

You stroke the top of his hair and whisper the words, "Just shut off your brain," and you watch as he fights to keep those heavy eyelids open.  Until they flutter one last time and surrender, with your fingers resting just above.

You smile a little before you get up and head downstairs.  Because you know it's so special.  That you're the special one here.  You.  The giver of peace.

And just like I once fell asleep in my parents' doorway, and just like I now search for my husband's still form beside me, so my children need me.

Not every night.  But sometimes.  When all is not right, they need me.  To slow them down.  To shut off their tiny, restless minds.

It's a strange power.  But it's mine.  For now, at least.

I'm their switch.  When they can't find it anywhere else, they'll find it in me.  Not always.  But tonight.  And tomorrow for sure.

So good night, little ones.  Rest easy.  Mama's here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Check it out

So, I think I'm supposed to be all cool and calm about this.

And all like, I'm up on Scary Mommy today... go check it out!

But also I'm really excited, and a little terrified.  So head over there... and say something nice (because the internet people scare me).

Lots of love!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talking back

Mom guilt is a funny thing.

I actually hate the phrase.  A part of me cringes every time I hear it.  Even in my own head.

But it's so real, people.  It follows me around.  And I know for a fact it doesn't follow Joel.

No, he lives and moves and breathes just out of reach from its greedy hand.

It's the worst at night.  Once the children have drifted off to sleep, and they look so sweet and innocent in their beds, and you can't remember why they were driving you off the wall crazy just ten minutes earlier.

Tonight I was irritable.  And my temper was short.  And while I was literally wrestling Benjamin to sleep Finn started to whimper in the next room.

"What Finn?"

"I'm scared."

Benjamin pops up and I swipe his legs out from under him.  Pin him back to the bed where he belongs at this time of night.

"Come on, Finn.  I'm right here."  I snap through the open doors.  "There's no reason to be scared.  I'll be right in when Benjamin's down.  Just be quiet."

The whimpering dies down and Benjamin's jumpy body finally relaxes.  His breathing slows.  I slip quietly out of the room.  Right next door to my middle man.

But he's sleeping.  Sound asleep.

I cover his shoulders with a green, fleece blanket, tucking him in tight.

"Good night," I whisper in his ear.

But he doesn't move.



I nudge him a bit.

"Finn?  Are you okay, buddy?"

Just deeper breathing.  But I have to let him know.

"Mama's here, buddy.  I love you."

 I hate that he fell asleep scared.  I hate that my temper is so short sometimes, and that the last thing I told him was to be quiet when it should have been, I love you.

But he refused to wake up and ease my tortured heart, so I kissed his damp forehead and slowly left the room.

And so I'll write about it for a bit.  When my eyelids start to burn the computer will close and I'll head upstairs.  Where I'll check on Finn maybe ten times before my head hits the pillow.

Nothing will have changed.  He won't know I'm there.  Chances are we'll both forget about it in the morning.  He'll greet me with a small smile and, if I'm lucky, a quick snuggle.  Five minutes later he'll throw a fit about one of the many things that doesn't go his way.  I'll lose my patience.

And it will start all over again.

I'm not sure mom guilt can ever be fully overcome.  I guess I'll be 80 and still wondering if I could have done something different.

I can't make it go away.  That much is clear.  But every once in a while I am able to tell it to shut up.

Shut up, you stupid voice.  I'm a good mom.  Not perfect.  But good.  I love those little things so much.  And the truth is, voice, you'd have no power over me if I didn't.  So go ahead and talk.  Just be ready for me to talk back.

It takes courage to talk back.  Especially with so many voices telling us we're not doing it right.

But sometimes a good, firm shut up! is all it takes.

Then we can get back to doing things right and doing things wrong and doing things that (gasp!) don't matter one way or the other.

But mostly we can get back to our kids, who don't know we should be talking to them in three different languages and playing with them for five hours a day and speaking always in soft, soothing tones, without ever hinting at our anger or irritation.

We can get back to these kids who still look at us as if the sun rises and sets over our strong shoulders.  Who are starting to realize we're not perfect, and are breathing little sighs of relief.  Because they're not perfect either.  Obviously.

And if they can love us with all our messy imperfections, then certainly we can love them with theirs.

Snuggling a sick, sleepy baby Finn

Monday, November 17, 2014

A stumble through my morning

I'm fairly certain most people know I'm not a morning person.  In fact, those who know me well may bear the emotional scars to prove it.

But after 30 plus years, I am still forced to deal with mornings.  Every single day.

You would think I'd have a plan by now.  To make the hours between dawn and drop off more bearable.  But I really don't.

So let me walk you through my morning.  Or perhaps, I should say, stumble through with me.  Step carefully, as you will probably be snapped at, and watch as I brush away the fog and slowly emerge.  Human.

Of course it all starts here.

The sacred first cup.  Need I say more?

It's a dream of mine to sneak downstairs, every day, before the children.  But tragically, I also love sleep.  Plus, I've realized that no matter when I wake, at least one of my kids can literally feel how much I need that moment.  They can sense that this quiet cup is the very best part of my day, and they rush in first thing to destroy my peace.

This morning it was this one.

Generally we're a no TV during the week family.  Let me explain.  I went a little insane last year, and now I'm too proud and stubborn to reverse my decision.  So we shut off the TV, but we can't shut off the kids.  All. Week. Long.

Elmo in the morning is a necessary exception though.  There's just no way to ready myself and three children with this one running wild.  So I sedate him to the comforting nasal inflections of his favorite red friend.

It frees me up to do this.

Ah, lunches.  My mom literally packed my lunch every day from Kindergarten through my senior year of high school.  And when I interned at her company one summer during college, she packed my lunch then too.

I'm pretty sure she's an angel.  Because I've been packing my kids lunches for three years now and every single morning I want to crumble to the floor and cry.  I hate it so much.

Every few weeks, Aiden comes up with the brilliant idea, why don't I pack lunches the night before? So I don't have to do it in the morning?

I don't know how to explain it to him, but I just can't.  I can't do one more food-related task at the end of a day that revolves around nothing but food.  I mean, no kidding, I go from packing snacks and lunches to making breakfast to making my own breakfast to making Benjamin's snack to making our lunch to making things for my kids to take in their snacks and lunches to making dinner to cleaning up dinner and if I have to think about anybody else's food needs past 7:00 I will literally scream!

Feeding three children is never-ending.  I mean, really, can't they just not eat for like, one day?

And breakfast hits at the exact worst time of the day.  I was never much of a breakfast person myself, so eggs feel like way more work than they're worth, we somehow never have bread for toast, and I just can't bring myself to feed them sugary cereals (the only kind they like).

But I know breakfast is very important, blah, blah, blah (as Finn would say).

 So now we drink our breakfasts instead!  (Note the happy faces!)

Really, it's genius.  They get a belly full of bananas, oats, peanut butter and yogurt.  That they suck through a straw.  And I get to blend up breakfast in one giant cup and am left with absolutely NO CRUMBS.  Zero crumbs!

I am still left with the usual morning mess, though.  Because I'm too busy screaming SHOES, COATS, CAR! over and over again to find the time to run a sponge across the counter.

I tried to capture it here...

and here...

But when I looked back at these picture I realized I am totally one of those moms.

I have literally referred to this at the tornado that blows through my house every morning.  A tornado?  It barely looks like a breeze swept through here.

So I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry to anyone I've asked to excuse my giant mess when what I really mean is that the kids left their smoothie cups on the table and that's about it.

Please, forgive me for my vast insecurities.  And as punishment, next time you're here, ask to see the upstairs.  No.  Demand to see the upstairs.

Back to the morning.

I eventually get the kids to school.  Once in a while we even get there on time.

And then we come home.  And I'm left with one kid and no husband.

I tried to capture my peaceful household after they all leave, but this one stepped right in front of the camera.

Ruined my shot.

Ah.  Much Better.

If you have any advice or suggestions that might make my mornings more efficient and bearable, I welcome them.  Really.  I most definitely won't take them though, unless it involves you yourself coming to my home every AM to wrangle my three children with your own bare hands.  (And that's wrangle, not strangle, people.)

But the suggestions are certainly still welcome.

So here's to this morning.  And to the many, many more to come!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How we got here (Part 2)

[How we got here (Part 1), in case you missed it!]

Time passed.  As it does.

Little Finn arrived and he brought such sunshine to our lives.

We were happy.  Me, especially.  A bit overwhelmed, but happy.

I had good friends and family nearby and I would walk down the streets of our small, college town with our double decker stroller and sometimes it felt like my heart would explode.

Our life was perfect.  Not always easy.  Or literally perfect.  But it was perfect.  And I felt it.  I didn't have to look back to know that.  I knew it right then.

Joel was happy too.  Outwardly.  But something was missing.  I could feel his restlessness.  Even when he didn't talk about it, I knew it was there.

One day he went out with a childhood friend, and came back home toting a book.

When he told me it was Donald Miller's new book I was excited.  To say the least.

Donald Miller had changed my life once before.  My best friend talked about his book, Blue Like Jazz, for years before I finally got around to reading it.

There's not much I can say about this book that could capture it for you.

Except this.

Before I read Blue Like Jazz, I walked around with this chronic lump in my throat.  It was the most suffocating when I read my bible or went to church.  I felt guilty all the time.  Like I was never doing it right.

And while that's a whole other story, I can say that reading Blue Like Jazz helped me to breath again.  When I opened my bible afterwards, the words read like love and freedom. When I went to church I would hear about grace and understand that it actually meant something.

So yeah.  I should have been suspicious.  I should have said no.  I should have seen the risk in reading a life-changing author at such a happy and content point in my life.

But I didn't.

Joel read the book first.  And when he told me I had to read it, I didn't even hesitate.

Big mistake.

The book's called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and it's all about stories.  Particularly our stories.

The author talks about how we're told life should be easy and fun and if it's not we must be doing something wrong.  So we buy things and do things and strive for things that will make life easier.

But in terms of story, there must be conflict.  For the good ones, at least.

And so what would happen if instead of running away from conflict, we ran towards it?  What would happen to our stories then?

I'll admit, when I first started reading the book I thought, I'm not sure I care much if my life is a good story.  But by the end I cared.  A lot.

So we sat down and we talked and next thing I knew we were slaving over paperwork and rushing to meet deadlines and all signed up for an international teaching fair in Boston.  Whatever that was.

Turns out "what that was" was the most stressful, terrifying, excruciating experience of my life.  Every other second I fluctuated between I hope we get a great school and I hope we don't get any school.  I hope we go somewhere cool and I hope we don't go anywhere at all, ever.

I couldn't even eat.  And, if you know me, that's a big deal.

We ended up with a few offers.  But nothing as good as Budapest.  On our flight over we made a wish list for our ideal school.  Budapest fit everything.

We told them we'd give an answer within the week.  But we knew we couldn't say no.  It was too perfect.

We'd kept our endeavor relatively secret.  We were afraid to worry people with the thought of us moving overseas when there was a good chance that would never happen.  Or a chance, at least.

Also, we were kind of chicken.

So we started the hard, hard work of telling friends and family that we were leaving.  And that's when I realized the reality of embracing conflict.  It's that it sucks.

It's that is truly, truly sucks, and after 6 months of nearly good-bye's and actual good-bye's, our bags were packed and it felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest when we stepped away from all that was comfortable and familiar onto that plane and into all that was unknown and terrifying.

It felt like the end, to be honest.  The end of my happy season.  I guess that's how true conflict feels.  Like it will never get better.

Of course it was really another beginning.  And I know that now.  After about a year and half of really, really hard, it did get better.

And I look back on that girl with her wide eyes and pounding heart with a certain fondness.  She had no idea what was coming.  And if she did, she probably never would have left.  But then she never would have gotten to this place, or the places still to come.

I'm proud of that girl.  She was innocent, and naive, but brave.

She never dreamt of moving abroad.  She never hoped for it.  But she did it.

And, although it can't be said that she never looked back, it can be said that she kept moving forward.

Our first home, the night before we left.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How we got here (Part 1)

I've hinted before that moving abroad was not my idea.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a fake here, amongst so many people who love to travel and have always wanted to travel or have literally always travelled.

One of the first questions you ask when meeting a new expat is this... "Where are you coming from?"

The answer varies, but it usually goes something like this.

"You mean right before this?  China."


"Yes, but before that Germany."


"And before that Kenya."


"But only after a short time in Saudi Arabia."


"How about you?"

"Me?  Um.  Pennsylvania?"

When we first moved here I was dumbfounded by these answers.  People would talk to me, but I couldn't listen anymore because I was counting back years and countries and trying to figure out how they could be any less than 60 to 80 years old.

But they weren't 60 to 80 years old.  In fact, most weren't much older than me.

But my background was much more simple.  And, to be honest, I liked it that way.

I remember telling Joel once that I felt no urge to travel outside of the States.

Yes, dear expat friends.  I'm one of those.

Of course now I'm so grateful that we did travel outside the US.  I could list the reasons why.  Easily.   But really I wish you could feel what it's like, my boots clicking down cobblestone streets, the pink glow of twilight painting the old, stone buildings around me.

I wish you could feel my heart grip in that moment.  And you could look around with me as I think, how did I ever get here?  How is this really my life?

One day I'm sure I'll talk more about my life here.  And the reasons I love it.  Even when it can be so hard.

But I thought today, that perhaps I should explain how we got here.  In case anyone is suspecting drugs, or other various means of coercion.

We all know that I married a traveler.

I used to humor him with a vague notion that, yes, I will someday travel with you.  The same way I pretended to like football and video games.

But I, in fact, did not want to travel with him.  Or anybody else for that matter.

So I was happy when the idea got pushed aside in light of jobs and kids and other things that tend to hold you down in one place.

I remember Joel coming home from a presentation at our church one day, when Aiden was still a tiny baby.  It was a missionary family, I believe, although I can't recall much else.

What I do remember was Joel walking into our bedroom and whispering, while Aiden snored softly beside us, "I still feel like we need to do this."

"Do what?"

"Travel.  Live in a different country."

And even though I was maniacally obsessed with keeping everyone and everything absolutely silent while the baby slept, I laughed out loud.

"People with kids don't move to different countries."

Right?  Because I was counting on that.

He ignored my laughter and stated quietly and calmly that he would never push me to do it if I didn't want to.  But wanted to let me know that he did.  Want to.  And he'd be ready to go if I ever came around.

It stayed there between us for a long time.  We talked about it some.  But not much.  He knew I wasn't ready, and although from time to time he reminded me that he, in fact, was, he stayed true to his promise and never, ever pushed me.

I honestly don't know how it came about, or what ever inspired me to say so, but when Aiden was about a year, I told him I was ready.

We were driving home from my parents and it was a long trip and the baby was sleeping so peacefully and I had massive amounts of coffee coursing through my system and for some reason I said yes.  Let's do it.

At that point we had been not not trying for a second child.  But we decided to give this travel thing a go and start officially not trying for a baby.

A week later we found out I was pregnant with Finn.

Joel put his dream on hold.  Again.

But I hung it up altogether.  If you don't move to foreign countries with one kid, you certainly don't move there with two.

No one would be that crazy...

(To be continued...)

p.s. Sorry for the lame, completely unsuspenseful cliffhanger.  But I'm too tired to think up any more words tonight.  So I'll pour myself a glass of wine and leave you with this spoiler... we do, in fact, move to a foreign country.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thank you

When I decided to start this blog, I'll admit I was worried.

I knew I needed to write.  There were years of built up words that had to go somewhere.  So I decided to put them here.

It felt so good at first, to get them out.  But I kept waiting.  For the stress.  And the pressure.

Normally my first response to stress and pressure is to get the crap out of there.  I've had to fight this urge multiple times as a mom.  But I didn't know if I could fight it with something as optional as a blog.

Fortunately, I haven't had to.  Because, so far, it is such a joy for me to sit at my computer, obligatory coffee in hand, and write to you all.  It's honestly my favorite part of the day (even better than bed time).

But this is what I really love about the blog.  It's not my words.  It's yours.

I love your comments.  I love the messages and e-mails.  And I love, love, love talking to someone and hearing those precious words... I've felt the exact same way.

Staying home with a rambunctious toddler in a foreign country can be an isolating experience.  Especially when my most natural tendency is to hole up in my house where I'm warm and comfortable and hardly ever come out.

So it makes my heart happy to hear from new friends and best friends or people I haven't seen in years or people I've never seen, and maybe never will.  I love that you're getting to know me and I love getting to know you.  

And I LOVE that I can do it from the comfort of my kitchen table.

So I guess I just want to say thank you.  And keep it coming.

You've all made me feel just slightly less crazy! (And Joel thanks you for that.)

Am I allowed to reuse pictures already?  Well, anyhow, I just did.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The next time nothing comes your way

So there's a chance I possess one or two irrational phobias.

My children leaping off anything over a meter high (I find this completely rational, but Joel definitely does not).

Bugs in my bed sheets (Long story, but I blame this one on my mom.  Also explains my fear of hanging laundry outside).

Frying food (I mean, really, why would anyone hover over a pan of spitting, hot oil?).

And last, but not least... gift giving.

Gift giving? you say.

Yes.  Gift giving, I say back.

Now that Christmas is barreling towards us once again, the throat-closing, finger-numbing anxiety is setting in.

I struggle enough with individual birthdays and special occasions, but Christmas is just too much.  Because all the people need all the presents all at once.

You see, gift giving usually goes something like this for me...

I remember it's someone's birthday.  Or someone's child's birthday.  Or various other special occasions that call for the giving of presents.

Okay, to be honest, I'm actually lucky if I remember this.  I have a thing with writing important dates on calendars.  It's that I don't do it.  I'm always promising myself that I will.  But I definitely don't.

But let's say I remember.  I don't actually remember until the day of or the day before because I can't think more than a day in advance.  So, seeing that I live across the ocean from most of my friends and family, I'm already late with the gift.

But a little late is okay.  Only now it has to be good.  Now it has to be thoughtful and sweet and really, really good.

So I think for a long time.  What would be thoughtful and sweet and really, really good for this person?

But the thing is, I'm not very creative.  So I almost always come up blank.

I do have the internet, however.  And the internet is willing to help people like me, who know they love people, but have no idea how in the world to show that in the form of a present.

So I click on the occasion and the recipient's gender and age and interests and I get pages and pages of ideas.

But the problem is, they're just not thoughtful enough.  They're the same ideas for all of the people of that age and gender and interests, but they're not special enough for my person.  They don't capture my person.

So I put away the computer and I think again in my own brain about what could be really thoughtful. By now it's been a few days, so you can see that I need to think of something super, extra thoughtful.

I think about making something.  But then I remember I don't know how to make things.  I think about buying them an experience, but when I search gift cards and season passes, I get all panicky and think, maybe they already have one, or maybe they've been there and they hate it, or maybe they'll get it and think, she doesn't know me at all.

This is the point when I get overwhelmed and I close all the open tabs on my computer and I shut down my brain and I'll start from scratch tomorrow.

So then tomorrow comes, but usually in a few days when I have the time.  And when it does come I think, why the heck didn't I get the kid a darn truck two weeks ago?  Why didn't I get her a gift card to any stinking restaurant?  Why do I have to make this so complicated?

But now it's been two weeks and it would be silly to send any of those thing.  Like, Hi, I couldn't remember your birthday, and all I could come up with two weeks later is a stupid truck.  I didn't think about you at all, just clicked on the first present I saw and sent it your way... when really at this point I've been thinking about nothing else but this present for weeks and nothing I could buy could possibly reflect that and so what's the point?!

I'm so envious of people who buy gifts and send them on time.  I think for a second, Oh my gosh, that is so sweet.  And immediately after I think, Oh my gosh, I suck so bad.  And I promise to do better next time.  But I never do.

When I do succeed in buying what I think is a thoughtful present, I look back in horror a few weeks, months, or years later and realize just how very bad it was.

Like one time I bought Joel tickets to see my favorite singer.  There were two, so he had to take me.

Another time I'm pretty sure I bought him pencils.  You know, because he's a teacher.  I've tried to block that one out.

I'm also relatively certain that I bought my bridesmaids classic literary novels, and wrote messages to each of them explaining why that particular book reminded me of them.  I think I was supposed to get necklaces.

So friends, family, loved ones... next time a special occasion comes and goes, and nothing ever shows from me and mine, could you please take some time to jot off a quick thank you note.

Because that nothing could very well be the most thoughtful nothing you'll ever receive.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not my words

When I started with this blog, I promised myself I wouldn't write if I didn't have anything to say.

What I didn't expect was the rush of words that flooded my fingers the second I clicked "New Post."  Or the ideas swimming through my head day and night for the next one.

I was nervous to let these ideas flow.  I've made it my life's mantra to set expectations low.  It's how I protect myself from failure.

But the words were true and sincere and it felt like a lie to save them up for later, when I wasn't really feeling them.  So I kept hitting publish, even though the little voice was saying, you'll never keep up with this.

Two times I got stuck.  Sat down at my computer, coffee in hand, blank screen before me... and nothing came.  Or something came, but it wasn't real and it didn't feel right, and in the end, I just couldn't put it out there.

Both times it wasn't blankness that was blocking me, though.  It was words.  Words that had to be said before more words could come.  The first time this came out.

But the second time, it was more confusing than that.  Because I didn't have any ideas.  Nothing.  Just this feeling that I was on the brink of something deep, and meaningful.  So I sat down and I tried to write, but it was so bad.  So, so bad.

And that's when I realized, it wasn't my words that were blocking me.  It was someone else's.  Someone else's voice.  Someone else's message that needed to be heard.

You see, last Thursday, I received a message that made me both smile and tear up at the same time.

It was from Suzanne, a teacher at the school who works closely with my husband.

It's impossible not to love Suzanne, from the moment you meet her.

In fact, I still remember the first time I met Suzanne.  She looked from Joel to me and me to Joel and said to him, "How'd you get that one?"

Of course I loved her!

She's her own person, funny and unique.  She lights up a room, and not in the cliched way.  But in the real way that makes everything feel a bit warmer when she's around.

So I lit up when I saw her message.  And I loved her even more as I read on.  When I finished I felt frozen.  Like I had just heard something very powerful, and needed to give it a chance to sink in.

Then I left my bed and kissed every one of my sleeping children.

But after that her words wouldn't leave me, and I found myself thinking about them often.  And when nothing else would come and I knew it was her, I had to ask.  Please, Suzanne, can I share your message?

She was so brave, and said yes, and it made my heart so happy.

So here it is.  My first guest blogger.

Take your time.  Read it slowly.  There's gold in there.
Oh my goodness Kim, you make me smile. I love your blog. I rush to read it the minute I see a new one up. I think when I read what you write here, I could write about the other end...when they have gone...when all you are left with for so many nights is just your 'thoughts' and dinner is a half bowl of ice-cream and a beer and there's not a crumb, or pile of dishes in sight but how incredibly sad that is. I have just started to read again, it's taken twenty years for me to finally read truly have that time and perhaps even the energy to settle down into a book and so often I find myself turning my book over and getting lost in the memories that reading prompts of earlier lifetimes and that always involves my kids. You help me remember too when I read your blogs. 
Keep writing my girl, you bring such joy but you also prompt your 'fans' to think deeply and sometimes sadly and sometimes happily about their journeys too. As I sit here alone for the first time, in my house, after twenty five years of parenting, with my baby having finally moved out, the silence, the emptiness, the cleanliness, the order, the empty sink, my supply of 'treats' that haven't been raided, my wardrobe that hasn't been ransacked, my purse that hasn't been emptied of all my change somehow tells me that all is not right with the world, and that it is through chaos and craziness that we really live.
 I wrote her back to tell her I would never look at my sink full of dirty dishes the same again.

Thank you, Suzanne.

Thank you.

Beautiful Suzanne and Joel on the Danube!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Not good without him here

So there's a chance that I may have recently written about how sometimes my husband drives me crazy, and other times I wish he would just stop talking to me.

But then I realized it's his birthday.  And I haven't gotten him a present.

So this will have to do.

Joel and I aren't great at being sappy.  We love each other.  Really.  We do.  But when either of us tries to say something romantic it ends up sounding like it should be written down, dotted with hearts, folded 18 times and passed to our 7th grade crush.

Literally, you can see the other one cringe.

But when he left for a recent trip with a friend, I texted him shortly after his plane landed.

"Aiden says it's not good without you here."

"How do you feel about that?" he asked.

"I kind of feel the same."

I hated to write it, honestly.  Because mushy things just don't feel right coming from my mouth.  Or fingers.

But he asked.  And it was how I felt.

As all four of us huddled together on one side of the dinner table so no one would have to sit beside an empty chair, it felt not good without him there.

Aiden was right.

It felt too quiet and lonely.  Less fun, and funny.

The baby kept singing "Happy Birthday" to me, but I couldn't muster a real laugh.

Our family's not complete without him.  There's something missing from the kitchen table and the side of the bed and from four, little hearts.

And even though I realized upon his return that perhaps I've been wrong in blaming my kids all these years for our messy home (that I was able to keep suspiciously clean while he was gone) and that he works way too much and that he really, really can drive me crazy.  I'd still rather he be here, than not.

So happy birthday, Joel.  I like you more than I don't like you.

How's that for romantic?