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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

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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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moms: you shouldn’t do everything for your children just because its easier.

 

My husband has a gift.

Besides his handsomely rugged smile and trademark “dad voice” that can make little people listen instantly (unlike when mom’s been yelling that “it’s dinnertime” for the last fifteen minutes to no avail), he has one more trick up his cardigan sleeves: his ability to successfully encourage our children to do things for themselves.

When it comes to daily life, even the tiniest every day task can immensely frustrate or prove challenging for our children. Fastening the button on their pants. Fetching a cup of water for themselves. Finding their lost shoe. Remembering to do what few daily chores we give them

I don’t know about you, but when little things like that happen in our home it can easily become an international event. My first reaction as a mother is to quickly intervene and problem solve on behalf of my children.

My husband’s approach is usually different. 

He works his magic and coaxes our children to solve their own problems. He talks them through the process in a bid to see if they can find a reasonable solution independently. He reminds them to finish a set task that is given to them, or to remember the daily behaviors and manners we expect from them. And to make matters even more mysterious, they are actually willing to listen to him!

What sorcery is this??

We can talk about the fact that moms are (usually, but not always) the parents who are inherently programmed to want to meet every.single.one. of their children’s needs on an almost molecular level without it sounding reductive, right?

This isn’t some special skill-set we develop all on our own, either. This is one that nature and biology figures we will be needing post-birth, along with hemorrhoids and thrush apparently.

Since our children spend almost an entire year inside of us developing, moms get a jump on the whole lifetime-of-service-and-hospitality-thing starting when we are hunched over the toilet with morning sickness and indigestion, long before baby is even born. 

We moms are programmed to hear the crying, coughing and sneezing in the middle of the night. Our brains are never turned completely off. That is, unless we are trying to accomplish something that doesn’t directly pertain to our children, like remembering what day it is and our real name. Here’s a hint, it isn’t, “mom!!”

It turns out that since having children, my brain is sometimes about as useful as a pile of soggy spaghetti noodles…unless I need to assemble a sippy cup in record time.

There is scientific proof behind the notion of “mom brain.” It is real

Not only am I programmed with the inescapable urge to meet all of my tiny love demons’ needs, I am also a woman who has ten things on her to do list at any given point during the day.

Stopping suddenly to teach someone the proper way to tie their shoes, sort toys into the correct bins, and scrape bits of food off dinner plates into the trash requires time. And we all know just how much extra time we have as parents, right?

More often than not, I will stop what I’m doing. But it’s to finish putting my children’s toys away for them. To tie their shoes and help them button their pants. It’s to search out that long lost My Little Pony toy from underneath of the sofa. It’s so I can clear their plates for them when they forget. 

Because the quickest way through each obstacle is the one that doesn’t require too much of my patience and sanity. It’s the one that doesn’t require me to teach life lessons when we have somewhere to be in eighteen minutes. 

But…is this behavior on my part really the quickest way through?

Or, am I actually setting my children up with the expectations that someone will always be there to help shoulder their responsibilities and cover for them when they fall short?

Am I crafting a world where my children value my service to them as a mother, so that they in turn develop an deep appreciation for other people serving them throughout their lives, like a server at a restaurant, the cashier at the grocery store or even a friend who helps them when they’re in a bind?

Am I actually being too child-centered to realize that part of being an efficient, dutiful and loving parent is teaching our children that our world does not revolve exclusively around them?

I don’t actually want to answer those questions. I was just asking.

I don’t know about the rest of you reading this post, but the daily challenges of parenting are difficult enough. There is no such thing as having enough patience, because it is constantly siphoned out of you in a steady stream of requests for cartoons and string cheese.

For a long time, I have fallen into the trap of thinking that it was better to resolve an issue quickly, rather than using it as a valuable teaching opportunity that could slowly bear fruit, and change the way my children and I relate to one another.

The gist? I am not their maid. I am not their nanny. I am not their personal chef, their cruise boat entertainment director or their personal sock finder.

Im their mother. And also, as it turns out, I’m a person.

There are many practical and spiritual reasons why we should empower our children to become their own problem solvers.

Here are just a few:

 

1.) You already have a lot on your plate

You already feed, clothe, bathe and tend to your children. You already facilitate their routines and schedules. You already manage their belongings. You already take them to the doctor, get them out the door to school, tend to them when they’re ill and comfort them when they’re upset. 

It sounds like the most basic of truths, but it IS true: momma, you already have a lot on your plate when it comes to taking care of your children. 

Which means that it is totally reasonable to expect that your children can accomplish age appropriate tasks for themselves as they grow.

It’s that simple. 

 

2.) Chores never hurt anyone

I don’t ascribe to the way of thinking that children need to walk fifteen miles uphill in the snow to school in order for them to turn into decent human beings. But chores and hard work actually DO build great character. 

Your children should know the pleasure of a job well done, and sense of pride that comes from accomplishing something on their own. And the best part is that it won’t kill them. Even if they moan and act like it will. When they resist, you know you’re on the right path.

 

3.) Fostering independence builds confidence

Much like potty training, zipping their jackets for the first time, or the moment they realize that they have cleaned their entire room themselves, there is nothing like seeing a child’s face light up when they have accomplished something entirely on their own. 

We can’t expect independent thinking to stem from the schools they attend, the friends they hang out with or to pop up when they finally move out of the nest on their own.

A strong sense of character and identity starts at home. And it can come from encouraging them to problem solve and work dutifully over the course of their entire lifetime. 

 

4.) We are seeing the negative affects of a child-centered culture

Parents today, in my very personal view, are afraid of upsetting their children. They’re afraid of the tantrums. They’re afraid to let them down. They’re afraid to simply say no. 

When we work for our children, instead of positioning ourselves as the guiding parent, we are fostering lifelong view where they subconsciously believe that all of their needs will always be fulfilled exactly how they want them. Where they believe that they will always be happy.

And if they aren’t? Then it must be someone else’s fault. 

Part of life is difficulty, pain and even disillusionment. It is never the job of the parent to be the causes of those things. We are never called to exacerbate or provoke our children.

But it is our job to love our children enough to give them a positive outlook on such things. Part of that is not shielding them from something that is hard simply because it’s hard.

 

5.) You don’t want to raise brats.

So, I know that sounds horrible. And I’m the first person to object to naming children as “a*******” or “brats.” Because children are children. But, really….

I’m not saying that you’re going to destroy your child’s entire life if you find their missing shoes for them. I’m not saying that if you cut the crust off of their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you’re enabling their privilege. 

But we must correct the heart behind negative behavior as much as we must address the actual behavior.

I want my children to not only become capable people as they grow, but I want them to do it for the right reasons. I want them to have a sense of gratitude for the food on the table, the warm blankets on their beds and the shoes on their feet.

I want them to know that raising a family requires work, even on those lazy days out to the park with a picnic lunch. Every good thing requires the work or sacrifice of someone else. It is never free. Nothing ever just happens.

Encouraging independence in our children, giving them chores and enabling an attitude and cultivating a heart that is helpful and grateful and joyful for all that they have will help them open their eyes to the privileges and blessings that we are afforded in this country. It is teaching them to be aware in this world.

And it all must start in the home.

It is one more successful notch in the calling to send them out as straight arrows, tried and true.

 

Ready to fly.