What I’m Going to Tell My Daughters About No Man’s Land.

***Spoilers Ahead***

 

I have seen Wonder Woman three times now. Do not adjust your monitors, you read that correctly. Three times. And I am not ashamed.

I thought of myself, how seeing powerful women accomplish great things stirs me to greatness. But then, I thought of my daughters. And No Man’s Land.

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I know it’s just a movie, my loves. It’s only a story at the end of the day. But what we ultimately see in stories, in art, and have since time was new, is ourselves and who we want to be. We are inspired, and so we believe. And when we believe is when great things happen.

And hers was a story worth telling.

If it wasn’t Princess Buttercup, having since cinematically evolved into a ferocious amazon warrior, charging across a beach, bow and arrow in hand, then it was young Diana on horse back, riding through a field of golden flowers, hair in the wind, wildly free.

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It wasn’t just Diana and her lasso of truth, her sword and shield at the ready, it was also her inner compass that guided her to her truth, and her compulsion to always do the right thing. Even when those around her did not deserve her unwavering grace.

I was romanced by all of it. By the women who made things happen.

If it had to be one scene, though, that encapsulated why this film, this story, was so powerful, it was when Diana crossed the field known as No Man’s Land.

Frustrated at being told no at every turn, that she was not the one to help, that today was not the day to intervene, that she could not trust her instincts, that she must look away from the pain, violence and chaos around her, and not feel it when she sees the innocent suffer, she decides that doing nothing is not an option.

Diana decides to climb a ladder from the pits and lead the way.

Even if she had to do it alone.

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I’m not an idiot. I know how this world works.

I know that it can squeeze the life out of you, out of anyone that it perceives as weak. And from what we know, it sometimes views compassion and grace as a form of lacking. As naivete. With cold indifference and smugness, it will tell you that you are not the one.

That today is not the day.

That to win, you must not feel, must not count the costs. At least, not the costs for others.

That it will be every man for themselves.

That you must preserve and steel yourself against loss and sacrifice to survive.

That you must never show grace to those who do not deserve you.

I can’t tell you that it will be easy. I cannot tell you that it will be fair.

To be who you are. And to believe that you can.

But you must believe it anyway. Because what you do is not up to them.

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This is not some fleeting message of girl power.

I can’t tell you how to conquer the world. I can’t tell you how to right every wrong, because we all know that it can’t be entirely fixed. At least, not in this plane of existence.

But in you is so much life, so much goodness. And it is what you choose to do with such things that will reveal what you are, and who are you.

It is in times of joy that we know who we want to be. It is in conflict that we find out the truth of who we are.

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We are at war, every day.

Today is your day. This is the time. And we need you.

Perhaps we don’t have gauntlets. We don’t have shields and swords. We cannot always expect to conquer and restore with brute strength, and must instead prevail with our character and spirit.

With grace.

Such weapons seem far less effectual then we would like. We feel as though we are standing on the battle field unclothed, seen for what we truly are. Meek.

But every inch we move toward grace, toward love, is an inch more toward something greater.

It is with arms outstretched to those around us who hurt and who are broken, cruciform in appearance, that we will welcome grace to enter in.

It is with a heart that seeks to love, understand and give grace that we can actually see the broken around us for what they truly are without begrudging them their pain.

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It is with your will that you can choose today to step out and inspire the people behind you to do the same.

No Man’s Land is the place we cross when all other methods do not work, when we need to make a new way. I believe in a Christ who crossed no man’s land and made a way, so that we can do the same by His hand. Where He tread so shall we. In the dark of the tomb where He turned death to life, so shall we leave darkness behind, giving way to a dawn of a new type justice. One where hope wins.

Empathy knows no usual suspects. Neither do courage and loyalty, honor and strength.

In you, I see these things. Riding freely through a field of gold, arms outstretched without fear. Just as I see it before a field that we are told we cannot cross.

When they fire at you, you can take it. And when you want to throw in the towel is when you will have to fight the hardest.

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Because what you do is not up to them. Because pain makes you stronger. Because you see that what they deserve, you also deserve. But it is not the portion you are given.

Your cup, your portion, is wonder. Beyond logic and reasoning.

And so you give your portion to others who deserve the same as you once did. Because this is what you believe.

 

Walk on, my girls.

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How You Will Actually Spend Your Summer “Vacation”

Have you felt it yet?… The sweat? Namely, the boob sweat?

Yes!? That means summer is here. Rejoice! Salve, Maria?! Don’t the longer days sound just great??

And also, maybe some blue crabs covered in Old Bay washed down with a cold beer? Or American flags flying everywhere in your sleepy small town?? And you can’t forget late nights spent chasing fireflies in bare feet. At least, that’s my summertime fantasy here in Maryland.

Now we take a moment of silence to reflect on how we made it, moms. If your kids are in school, you made it through another year of homework and worksheets, forms to sign or homeschool schedules to coordinate.

If you send your kiddos to school, you made it through another year of hurrying little people who have many qualms about the way their socks feel out the door every morning. If you homeschool, you made it through another year of arguing to get reluctant bottoms in chairs to start on time each day.

Now it’s warm. The birds are singing. The schedules have cleared. It’s summer.

Which is great, right?

 

How easily I forget how this plays out every.single.year.

The first few weeks are a welcome respite from our daily hectic routine. But after the first week, the children are “bored”, the house is a wreck and my sanity begins to decline. I forget that I actually need to be proactive, and consider just how these summer days are going to play out if my sanity is to be preserved.

I have already seen those blog posts extolling the wonders of summer bucket lists as I was scrolling through my social media feeds. One even suggested I plan an outdoor picnic for dinnertime.

I’ll pause here for a moment and let that sink in.

I wish they had said what they meant plainly instead of dressing up the idea of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches cut in half on paper plates into some perfect moment for familial bonding: “Hey, I know. It’s the witching hour for your children. You’re fried because it’s been a long day. The house is destroyed. Literally, it’s like a hand grenade went off in there, and it smells like stale spaghetti and cynicism. Here, I know. Let’s take all of this drama outdoors where there is sweltering humidity and mosquitoes. No really, it’ll be super relaxing.

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Everyone has some version of parenting – even the people who aren’t parents, believe it or not. And that’s totally legit and fine, I guess. But any version of parenting that doesn’t suggest lowering your standards before attempting anything with children in tow is tricking you. I mean, they are outright doing you a disservice. Life is pain, anyone who says differently (*cough* Pinterest) is selling something.

So here, parents. I made you this list of what you’re actually going to do this summer. Results may vary.

You will spend your summer “vacation”:

1.) Settling petty sibling disputes over the television remote

2.) Settling petty sibling disputes over who was sitting in that chair first.

3.) Settling petty sibling disputes over who was breathing the air in the kitchen first.

4.) Deciding to take your kids swimming, and then spending two hours actually trying to get to the pool because you will realize one child doesn’t have floaties. So, you end up at the store to buy a puddle jumper, and end up buying goggles for every child that will be lost by the end of the week. When you finally get to the pool you’ll have to turn around because you forgot one child’s swimsuit, and then…

5.) Killing mosquitoes.

6.) Wondering why the car smells the way it smells…like salty ocean feet that stepped in stale juicy juice.

7.) Staring at the magazines in the checkout line at the grocery store trumpeting all of the celebrity beach bodies. You will then question every purchase in your cart, like those Pop Tarts and Salami. Whatever.

8.) Listening to your children tell you they are bored.

9.) Listening to your children tell you they are hot.

10.) Listening to your children tell you they are bored and they are hot.

11.) Yelling, “for the love, IN OR OUT!!!” after your children have come in and out of the house nine times in the last thirty minutes seconds.

12.) Killing house flies.

13.) Struggling to put sunscreen on your octopus armed toddler.

14.) And then forgetting to put sunscreen on yourself, and getting sunburn on your shoulders.

15.) Telling yourself that when you don’t brush and/or blow dry your hair between the months of May and September, you actually have beach waves going on, so it’s all good, just don’t mind the nest of birds and scattered pop rocks up there.

16.) Picking up damp towels and swimsuits off of the bathroom floor.

17.) Picking up damp towels and swimsuits off of the bedroom floor.

18.) Remembering that you left a bag full of damp towels and swimsuits in the back of the car from last week.

19.) Helping your child squeeze the ice in the ice pops to the top so your toddler can take a bite. Then watching them squeeze too hard so the ice falls out.

20.) Watching $12 worth of ice cream melt all over your children.

21.) Bathing children who have sand in hidden crevices scientists have never discovered.

22.) Finding sippy cups and thermoses that were carelessly tossed under a seat that have been baking in the sun, and now have a pulse.

23.) Making thirteen trips to and from the car at the beach.

24.) Buying your children cotton candy  after much pleading and watching the sugar take hold.

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25.) Yelling, “CLOSE THE DOOR! WE AREN’T AIR CONDITIONING THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD, SO CLOSE THE DOOR!!!!” while your children stare at you blankly, and you realize that you have turned into your parents so your life is over now.

26.) Wondering what happened to all of those people who used to party at the MTV Beach house.

27.) Thinking you want to ride with down the highway with the windows rolled down.

28.) Just kidding, that’s way too loud, and now your fake beach waves look even worse.

29.) Hauling sidewalk chalk, bubbles, a kiddy pool, Disney World and a kite outside.

30.) …Only to have your children tell you they are bored and hot and want to go back inside about thirteen minutes later.

31.) Telling your children not to run when they are at the pool.

32.) Watching the lifeguard remind your children not to run while at the pool….

33.) ..And then getting a glare from said lifeguard.

34.) Putting your kids to bed late after a long busy day, thinking they will sleep in…

35.) Only to have them wake up earlier than usual and also angry.

36.) Listening to your children tell you which of their friends from school is going to Disney World or on a cruise with their family for vacation.

37.) Covering your child’s ears while you’re watching the Fourth of July fireworks. Then sitting in an hour of traffic while you try to get home.

38.) Now that you mention it – traffic. You’re going to sit in traffic.

39.) Answering all of your kid’s questions about when you’re going to take them to the: zoo, splash pad, pool, museum, movies and <insert any other summertime activities here.>

40.) Shaking a pound of sand and dirt out of your children’s shoes. And sweeping it up off the floor. And shaking out your rugs.

I think you get the idea. Here’s the truth. Summer has a magic all its own. Just now that you’re the parent, the magic is going to feel different. So, so different.

Now we have to look a lot harder to find the good stuff.

Like picking up seashells with your little one.

Having a viable excuse to just eat watermelon and cantaloupe for dinner.

Watching your children be overjoyed at the sight of fireflies.

The smell of salty hair after a swim in the ocean.

A glass of wine on a summer evening.

Watching your kids eat ice pops, drink little huggies drinks and nom on ice cream, and it reminding you of your glorious summer days of old.

 

See? What did I tell you. Magic. You just have to look for it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

 

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