I’m sorry but I can’t stay here.

Do you ever have those moments as a parent where you give in, and throw caution to the wind?

Where you say, to heck with the evening routine, the weather is great, so go ahead, kids, play outside with the garden hose until it’s dark. 

And then shortly thereafter, you come to regret that moment?

That was me last week.

I had an epiphany during the hour and fifteen minutes since I had decided to tell three smiling faces that yes, they could put on their bathing suits, and get good and muddy in the backyard. I realized (much too late) that I should have probably just stuck with our normal routine.

Because then I had three wild children stuffed in the same bathtub fifteen minutes past when they are supposed to be in bed on a normal school night. All I could hear were their squeals and the torrents of water slopping over the sides of the tub and on to the bathroom floor with each passing minute.

flag

I had stupidly sat down for more than six minutes and gotten myself comfortable, and therefore couldn’t bring myself to get up and wipe soap through three heads of hair. 

I immediately regretted my decision. 

Well, I didn’t ENTIRELY regret it, but I had a severe change of heart right around when I started being eaten alive by mosquitos. Which was also about the time my oldest child inadvertently sprayed with me with the hose. For the second time in twenty minutes.

I used to do this on the regular. I’d say to heck with our daily schedule, and just let my kids play until they were so tired they wobbled a bit as they walked. Then I’d throw those babies in the bath tub, and let them float around until all of the suds disappeared, and the water turned a very questionable color.

DSC_0359

DSC_0768

photo-5

But they were preoccupied. They were both happy. And I could sit for a moment and breathe and be a spectator because what else did they need but eight inches of water and a few cheap rubber ducks?

Then two babies turned into three, and tiny squirming bodies grew out to be lanky bean poles. Then one kid wanted to only take showers, and the other didn’t want her bath disturbed by the third (feral but cute) child who also has a high probability of going number two in the tub. Nobody is ever particularly thrilled to bathe with her. She wears her scarlet P well, though.

So my simple bath routine eventually grew into three separate bath routines. Because of course it did. 

Now, here they were. For the last time, these three were in the tub together in our home on a weeknight. Life was humming along as it should. Only it wasn’t really.

We are moving next week. As in seven days from the moment I started hammering out this post while one kid is distracted, the other lazily waking up from her nap, and the third on a car ride with her Grandma. 

We are leaving this house. This house where my husband and I made three babies, and where our hearts grow about ten times in size. Where we put more sweat equity into remodeling these four walls over the last decade than most folks do in their homes over their whole lives. 

For the last time, my babies played while squished together in one tub and soaked every inch of the bathroom. The bathroom that was once orange. Now it’s gray. Their new one will have beige tiles. I’m sure the floors will get puked on and sopping wet just the same as this one, but it won’t actually be the same as this bathroom. 

I have tried and failed miserably to find the words to lovingly close off this chunk of my life before tonight. To get a place where I feel like I won’t be split in two when we leave.

I am eternally grateful to our home, even if it doesn’t have adequate closet space like the new one will have. Even if it doesn’t have a playroom for these kids to destroy like the new one will have. Even if it doesn’t have a mudroom like the new one will have. 

The day we worked out the contract with will-be buyer of this home, my heart caught in my throat because it was just then, after we had signed our names one more time, and solidified that we are in fact doing this, we aren’t staying here, it got so real.

There is so much to leave behind that can’t fit into boxes.

Pookie Doo Palace

My red living room. My green kitchen that was once yellow. How I miss that yellow. How I will always miss the first color I ever chose in any house I ever owned. 

The growth chart on the walls that measures the tops of our littles heads.

The hand prints in some places covered over with fresh paint, in others not.

My son’s Optimus Prime sticker on the outside of his bedroom door.

All fifteen of the pine wooden steps on our staircase that I have tripped on far too many times to count.

It’s been ten years, but I feel like we grew a lifetime in these walls.

And really, we did.

We brought three babies home to our two sweet, and now gone, California doggies. We’ve sat many an evening in the backyard until the sun set and the trees were alive with cicadas. We’ve rocked a thousand miles on our front porch, a cold beer in hand, the American Flag fluttering overhead protectively. And even more miles put in to the glider rocker in the corner of what was a nursery, rocking babies until they hushed and gave up. Babies that don’t fit in cribs anymore.

Ellie asleep

 

lecompte (63 of 77)-ZF-9534-07143-1-001-065

I’ve worked so hard here, standing in front of a sink, a stove, a washing machine, a crying child. These walls saw me angry, frustrated, anxious, broken. But hopefully these walls saw me, at least in part, turn into the person I’m gonna be when I grow up. They have certainly seen me pry permanent markers out of the hands of toddlers and catch puke in my hands and laugh at babies who danced naked in the kitchen.

And then there is my husband.

This house is a love letter from him to all of us, to me. How sometimes I wish he was better with words because I want sonnets, dammit. But how incredible his wordless magnum opus has been to me. To us.

He painted the walls in our bedroom the color I chose because we both liked it enough, but really it was because he loves me. Or one of the dozens of times he has crawled in the dirt in the cellar underneath of this house to fix frozen pipes in the winter, to rewire a few things that needed fixing (shhh, don’t tell).

When he demoed each room, wall by wall, and rehung plaster on the ceilings above his head while his shoulders ached. Standing with arms outstretched on our old metal ladder well into the hours of the night. Hanging brand new maple cabinets in the kitchen, laying down tile flooring diagonally. Refinishing our hardwood floors, and fixing a hole where someone had put their foot through it an hour before we had it appraised after he had already spent fifteen months worth of evenings and weekends working like his feet were to the fire.

Sweat equity doesn’t even remotely cover what he has given us over the last ten years, the work never ending, always something to mend or fix. 

DSC_0386

So now, here we are. 

With three kids spilling out of the bathtub. They just don’t fit in there anymore. And I said it to myself:

I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here. 

We just don’t fit anymore. 

I’d like to think we grew a thousand lifetimes in these walls. If they really could talk, they’d tell you that the people here were mostly happy, mostly okay. And I’d also like to think we mostly accumulated the things that matter, not just a bunch of stuff to look after and be stuck with. 

I know they say that it’s the people that make a home, and I believe that to be true.

But actually, it’s the scuffs on the walls and sharing of cramped spaces, the painting of rooms together and removing six layers of wall paper while you mutter curse words under your breath that make the people who make a home. It’s working for something when you want it so bad you can taste it, and when you want so badly to give it to other people that the urge to push through aches in your chest. 

DSC_0396

The work we do makes us who we are. The things we make is really the making of us. We grew out of this home, because we grew up here into the people we want to be.

I’ll miss this tiny town. There is nothing like walking to the post office in bare feet. I’ll miss the way that everything is quiet by midnight, and how every person I see waves and smiles. I’ll miss not being able to wander across the street for a cup of coffee with my favorite neighbor.

IMG_5148

 

I don’t know what it’s going to be like to wake up some place new. The cardinals and squirrels outside of the window won’t be my cardinals and squirrels. The trees will be different. The noise outside will be that of cars driving past, not just cicadas and bluebirds.

Usually, it’s calamity that is the catalyst for change. When we sign our names that last time, on the day we set our keys in someone else’s hands, we know that we are changing not because of tragedy or sorrow.

We are upending all that we know so that we can set our roots down even further.

I know that life will inevitably grow more complicated the older our children get. 

But for a time, we were here. And things were simple. And it was so, so good.

I get now that leaving here doesn’t have to mean it wasn’t good. The only thing I’m sorry about is that we can’t stay. 

 

outside4

But I’m glad we stuck around for a while.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dad

It’s very hard to encapsulate fully what my father meant to me, what he meant to my sisters and to my mother, to his family and his friends.

Watching someone suffer with illness is never easy. And it is certainly never fair. With dad, we had ten years to try to come to terms with reality. And even though we have been planning this event for several months, the fact that this day is here, that his journey in this life is truly over, is breathtakingly hard.

I could share my memories about my father with all of you all day long. Like the way my sisters and I would run across the drive way with bare feet when we saw his truck pulling down the lane, his oldies music blaring loudly even though the windows were rolled up, and we were all sure that one day he would go deaf prematurely. He was always glad to see us.

The way he and my mother danced to Eric Clapton in the living room, with the gas logs burning in the background, and the Christmas tree that he had cut down stationed in the corner.

The way he was always found in the furthest corners of the yard, clearing something, tilling something, growing something, a calming presence as steady as the sun, in his element for sure.

My favorite memory of him is actually a collection of sorts. Nearly all of them seem to point back to the same things: his almost endless patience, and his gentle goodness.

Sunday afternoon naps were sacred for my father when he worked as a golf course superintendent. He would toil away for eighty hours a week during the warmest months of the year and in the cooler planting season in the fall.
His one respite sometimes was that he could come home early on a Sunday afternoon (after he had already been at work since 5 a.m.), and take a nap.

Usually, it was one of us girls would wake him up asking ridiculous questions, probably in a veiled effort to keep tabs on him. He was the lone man in a house of four women. And we made it our sacred duty to mind every single thing he did. It was a tiring operation. Little did we know what a production it would become as the years went on.

On this particular Sunday, it was one of my dozen or so chickens that woke him from his nap with crowing outside of his window.

None of us girls were home at this point, so my dad rashly decided to take matters into his own hands, which usually had a fifty-fifty shot of turning out poorly. He stomped out on to our back deck, near to where the chickens were, his rifle stuffed in the crook of his arm. He had decided to fire a flare into the air in a bid to scare every last chicken away.

Unfortunately for him, one of the pieces of the flare splintered off as he fired, striking the offending chicken square in the chest, blowing his head clear off.

My dad stood on the deck in his slippers, totally speechless, and was not long after joined by my mother who had since returned home. Together they cleaned up the mess, his nap affectively ruined, and concocted a story about the now missing chicken to tell my sisters and me.

For dad, there was hardly ever peace. But he always seemed to welcome such interruptions, and calamity, knowing that it was the price you paid for living a full life, full of people you love. He always let us be ourselves while we were in his orbit, usually content with who we were, amused by our going’s on, content to quietly watch.

I thought that the day my dad died would be the worst day of my life.

Not long after he passed, I slowly began to realize that it was actually the days ahead that would be the worst. When the phone stopped ringing on Tuesday afternoons, and my dad’s voice wasn’t on the other line just calling to chat. It’s been him not being there for French toast (his favorite) on Christmas morning. It’s knowing that chocolate is now safe at my mother’s house, and how it won’t go missing within three hours because my dad just had to have one more bite. It’s not being able to remark about the weather to him on a perfect day.

It’s knowing that us girls and my mom will move on with our lives, and that we can’t share it all with him.

I have seen it written, and believe it is true, that grief is just love. Pent up love, frustratingly and achingly, with nowhere to go. The current of which you have to painfully redirect elsewhere.

One of the worst parts is quite simply not being able to tell him how much we all miss him. It’s figuring out what to do with all of that love we had, the immense love that we maybe didn’t even realize how strongly we felt until now.

In every setback, every medical emergency, every day that his body grew just a touch more fragile, dad always seemed to have the remedy. Because there was always more hope than pessimism for dad.

He never believed the end would come so soon, because in his mind, there was always still more work to do. In his mind, he would be eighty, watching his grandchild graduate high school, still giving my mother a hard time.

Dad in his abundant patience knew to keep cultivating. To keep going, even with the ground was unforgiving, even when it didn’t rain and drought had set in. He knew to keep tending to his work, until something would give. Until something new would come of it.

Dad hardly ever seemed encumbered by the portion that God gave Him. A cup full of peace and easy-going contentment, but also at times marred with sorrow and depression, anger and resentment. And when he was tossed about, what spilled out of him was usually the best that he had to offer.

Dad made it look easy to have that much faith. It was almost annoying at times.

Dad was always preoccupied with worry for others, with taking care of others. When he was badly burned in an accident in our backyard one late August afternoon, I remember him on the stretcher, being carried out by paramedics, an oxygen mask over his face. He pulled down the mask and turned to us girls and asked if we were alright. When I was sick as a little girl, I remembered my dad telling me how he wished he could trade places with me, to take my misery on himself.

I know that if he were here, he would still be worried for each of us. He would want for us to be okay. And, maybe even more importantly, he would want for us to know that it was okay.

I know that this is harder on us now than it is on my father. I know that we all see as in a mirror dimly lit, incomplete and impartially. He would tell us that God brings about redemption in each one of our shortcomings, turning something useless into something restored and usable. Maybe just not in the ways that we expect.

He would tell us that as the suffering sets in, that we can still find the goodness in this life. It’s just buried deep now. Waiting to emerge, little by little, to find its way to the sun. Hard times and sorrow are very real. But even more so is goodness. And hope. And it is hope that will win the day, every single time.

Hope is what sustained my father. Hope in healing in this life, or hope in complete restoration in the life to follow. He chose hope, happily. He seemed to have figured out that we are more than the cheap shots that life occasionally takes at us. We are more than bodies that wither. Goodness outlasts the bad ten fold, long after each of us is gone. Our choice then becomes how much goodness we will choose to take to heart and live out, and to believe in while we are here. We cannot choose our portion, but we can choose to make peace with it.

Now I see my dad in places I never did before. In a perfect fall day. In every chocolate milkshake I have enjoyed since August. In the oldies song on the radio, on days where I can roll the car windows down and walk barefoot outside.

His hope has become my hope, more than ever.

His work is now all our work. In our lives, there is hope. May we plant it deep.

And let it be.

When you’re not the brand new mom anymore

Is there such a thing as the dog-days of raising children?

I feel like if such a thing exists, then I am surely living in them. 

I’m not always fond of the dog-days of summer. The thrill of warm days and nights, of beach trips and sandals usually wanes for me by August. By the middle of the month, I am ready for every wayward insect to die a frostbitten death. I am beyond tired of the boob sweat that plagues me every time I step outside. 

Dog-days with children are the same way.

It’s the space between them becoming mobile creatures, and them turning into potty-trained, slightly better mannered small children. Somewhere in there, it’s almost like they become feral.

I’m in this fold right now.

I have a toddler, and two elementary aged children. The older two could argue about practically anything – and seek to do so daily. While the toddler lives by a personal manifesto that is equal parts the word “no,” and the phrase “YOLO.”

It’s a rare thing when I prepare a meal that everyone eats happily, without even one crinkled nose. It’s even rarer to put all of my children in their beds and actually have them fall asleep without reappearing a handful of times. 

And so, with an undomesticated toddler underfoot (or standing in the yard wearing rain boots and no pants), two junior litigators, and my flailing attempts to draw boundaries and teach them goodness, the energy is drained from my lifeless body daily before ten in the morning.

Do you ever think that moms can lose their vision?

We all start out wanting to do the right thing.

We read the baby books. Heck, we practically started off thinking we could write the proverbial book on parenting. We cut their grapes into fours, made sure they only watched one cartoon a day, and we never left the house without a fully stocked diaper bag.

We answered every cry and question with such purpose, such assuredness. Every waking thought and conversation was dedicated to them. And their faces bring us such unabated joy.

Eventually, maybe a few more kids got added on to the pile, and the days become more about surviving then actually accomplishing anything. The minute hand on the clock slows down. Time becomes relative in relation to when your toddler skips their nap. On those days you watch the space between lunchtime and when your husband walks back in the door grow about five times in length.

You used to sit down while the baby slept. But now, there’s a child latched on to the front of you, and a maybe child pulling at your pant leg, and possibly one shouting at you from the other room….and maybe even one more making questionable smells in the bathroom.

The mom who promised herself that there would be no compromising, no gray areas, becomes the mom who will give in and just buy the damn Lunchables so she can make it through the store without children gnawing off her ears with requests for one thing or another. 

Everything becomes like an episode of American Gladiator.

There is no just making it up the foam mountain, you have to make it past the tennis balls whirring right towards you. No battle, no task is clear cut or simple. There are multiple variables to be considered at all times. Always.

There is no just making it through the grocery store when there exists such torturous things as cereal aisles and miniature carts the kids can push around because didn’t you plan on having your ankles maimed while you went to the store to buy milk?

But really? What happens when you aren’t that brand new mom any longer?

The scent of Dreft has long since faded from your washing machine. That life giving earnestness you had when everything was new has faded. Now your kids have grown old enough to argue with you about whose turn it is the sit in the middle swing at the park. You haven’t made it to the gym in you don’t know how long, and come to think of it, you actually can’t remember the last time you did anything for yourself intentionally that wasn’t akin to spreading peanut butter on a graham cracker, and shoving it in your face while, blessedly, no one was looking.

Nobody really asks how you’re handling everything anymore, except for maybe the handful of mom friends you have. Everybody just assumes that you have a firm grip on everything now. Or they relate enough to know that there is really no such thing as having it all together, and they bring you chocolate even when you didn’t ask for it. 

Now you’re the lady with a few runts hanging off the side of the grocery cart in the store. Nobody gives you the second glance to see how extraordinary you are as you diplomatically sort out whose turn it is to choose the cereal, this week. 

Those visions? The ones you had of how you thought it was gonna be? They’re toast.

As shriveled as the split ends hanging off your head. They are dried out, flapping in the breeze as much as those batwings on your arms do when you wave to a friend across the parking lot at Target. 

Nobody ever told you how hard this was gonna be. And really, would you have even sincerely believed them if they had? And how would you have even understood??

We are in the stage where we aren’t quite the blushing new mom at the grocery store who illicit gently turned heads and praise from other moms as their pink baby is nestled into their chest. Everyone loves that mom. Her kind is welcome here, full of its promise. 

But we aren’t old enough to be pushing a cart alone in a store with stain free pants on, a coffee in hand, admiring all of the young moms while reminiscing about the good ole days, overlooking their struggle or looking on their efforts with sentimentality. 

We are in the stage hardly anybody talks about. Where it is all so unwaveringly hard.

Forget about everything else that’s going on in the world, that’s going on with everyone else. There is enough going on right here, in this house. With these children.

When the nap times have stopped. When there is homework. Where there is no romance, because romance would require the children in your house to actually fall asleep at a decent time. You’re actually confused now as to how anyone ever made more than a handful of tiny humans because even a few of them become such enormous deterrents to marital romance, let alone sitting down.

You’re in the stage where you want to throw your phone across the room when you read someone complaining about how tired they are on Facebook, or about the pedicure they just treated themselves to after such a “hard week”, only you’re too tired to even do so. So you simmer in your disdain. 

This is it. The point of no return.

There are no bottles or nap time schedules. In fact, the only schedule is the one you make, which sounds empowering until you realize how much effort that takes to stay on top of everything American Gladiator-style.

You are moving into the era of shoes needing to be tied, and not Velcro’d. Of after school sports or clubs, and miles on your vehicle as you scurry between everything like a taxi. You are almost to this promised land of kids who can make their own eggs for breakfast, and who you can trust not to run into the street on a whim. 

But for now, you’re nose is to the grindstone, your hand is on the plow. And you are making this work. And it is taking every inch of you. It takes every ounce of moxie you have to not throw everyone’s toys in the trash can, because you how many times have you told them not to just leave them sitting out right after you stepped on a Lego??

Nobody ever tells you what it’s like when you become this giving tree of gargantuan proportions. 

And they assuredly never tell you how beautiful that is.

Nobody tells you how brave you are when you make those hard parenting decisions. Or even the mundane ones. Because someone else’s mundane is your miracle.

Nobody tells you how selfless you are, when you get up again in the middle of the night to quell bad dreams. Or when your children fall victim one by one to the flu, and you haven’t hardly showered or left your house for almost two weeks unless it’s to the doctors. 

Nobody has ever told you how blisteringly tired you are gonna be when those tinies turn into littles, and that it takes pure fight in you sometimes to make it through each day.

Nobody has ever told you how much this world is depending on you, to raise those babies into children into teenagers into adults who care about the rest of us. Nobody has ever told you how powerful you are even when you are catching someone’s puke in your hands or down the front of you. 

ALEX

Nobody has ever told you how powerful it is that you care and that you love, because raising up from that will be more people who care and who love. People we hope will reach the next level. We already have enough violence in this world, enough brokenness, so what we need are people who love unconditionally and that is borne from the love that sheds off of you every day in every humble effort. 

Maybe nobody ever told you. Until now.

I wouldn’t know what to tell the parent who is struggling. Who is exhausted beyond words. Who is afraid. Who feels like they are losing themselves to this parenting battle. Who just wants to sit down. 

There is nothing I can say to you that makes those problems, those worries, those obstacles go away. 

I can only say that you, friend, momma, are not alone in this. We are all out here. And we sometimes think that we are invisible to anyone else, to each other. But we aren’t. 

I need you here, in this, with me. Right now.

I hear that one day, our children will know how to cut the crusts off of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The ones that they will have made for them themselves. By themselves.

I hear it gets easier, and then right around the time it does, we start to fret.

Because we will already miss them so.