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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No One Said It Was Going to Be Easy

The walls were lavender. 

The room is hued in a smokey purple as the autumn sun set. And the back of my hand finds my mouth, as the gasps pour out of me. 

I’ve contained them all day. Slowly being worn down under their weight, until I couldn’t contain them any longer. I breathed through them like contractions when sitting at a stop light, hands clutching the steering wheel. I swallowed them when scrolling through my social media feeds. 

Now, finally standing still, undistracted by anything in particular, I had stopped, and they started. 

I’m so scared right now. 

You probably don’t have to search your minds for very long as to what may have happened this week that would leave so many reeling. 

But it’s more than that. 

It’s the reactions after. Such anger. Such pain. 

This is not a place I, or anyone else, thought we would ever find ourselves in. Not a place we want to stay. Or, perhaps it is. Because this will eventually be comfortable. This place won’t challenge us.

But this place, if we linger here too long, will change us. 

My dad died in August. And I know that something so personal can seem so unrelated to all of this mess. But that pain has colored my world for the last nearly three months. It has shaded in areas I didn’t expect; drawn the light out in others that I never before appreciated. 

And I realize that…we all have such bigger things to worry about. 

Because there is something bigger than what’s dominating the news headlines right now. 

Since my dad left me holding his hand, beside a hospital bed, alone in a room for just a few minutes before I had to leave him for the last time, I have tried to decide what I was going to do with this time that I had left. 

Somewhere in there, in this fragmented mind, I made this solemn vow to love people. Wherever I could go. And what that looks like for each person, each situation, might be different.

But if I chose this path wholeheartedly, it might never change anyone else; but it could certainly change me. 

My pain is different than those of the marginalized. Those who are worried about putting food on the table. Those who are worried about whether or not they will have the chance to love the person of their choosing. Those who find themselves in unexpected predicaments, and are faced with hard choices. 

And yet, our pain, our hurt, is the same. Because we feel alone. We feel like it separates us out; makes us different in unpleasant ways. It makes us feel like we are scarred. It makes us feel like we aren’t whole.

Unwanted. Unheard. Under-valued. Unseen. 

I’ve carried this tornado inside of me for almost three months. Every time, I think I have made it through some of the hardest parts, something new tells me that I’m wrong. Like the fact that no one else in my family really cares for cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, except for my dad. And he won’t be here. And there won’t be cranberry sauce. 

It makes me want to give up.

The last two days have been one of those times that it makes me want to give up. Such divides. Such contempt. 

What is the point?

I told my dad, in my secret heart, that I would try to use the days ahead for something good, something better; that wasn’t about me. 

And then I see the vitriol at its angriest, words burning red in my eyes from a screen. And I wonder what the point really even is?

I sat on my stair case today, that sun still meandering its way down the sky. My children knowing something was wrong as my insides turned out again, when I just wanted to tell someone that I hurt so, so bad, about so many things. 

And the words whispered into my ear: no one said this would ever be easy. 

It’s easy to love people when they are lovable.

When it detracts the least possible amount of energy and expenditure on our parts. It’s the times when people are wildly unapproachable that we must seek to love the hardest. Or else…we aren’t really loving them, are we? We wouldn’t be living by a mantra to tolerate and accept others if we back down when it would be really, really easy to. 

We would be giving in to pain. And if we stay here long enough, a single angst ridden track on repeat, the pain won’t ultimately change. But we will. 

There are days to fold up inside of ourselves, and give up. 

But we can’t. We just can’t.

 

 

 

 

 

When your heart just isn’t in it – NaBloPoMo

A pizza cutter has become my undoing.

Several months ago, our resident pizza cutter went missing.

I swept through every drawer and canister in my search, and gave up looking for it in a huff of frustration. I remembered when we bought that thing, and then I realized that it was such a small, silly thing to even remember. And how utterly ridiculous it was to feel so helpless without it.

It was a big deal to me when we bought it because a pizza cutter was something we never had while growing up. 

It was one of those seemingly superflous things that could be found at any of my friend’s houses. Some unseen marker for civility and order.

Just like the way their families promptly cleaned up right after dinner, and started the dishwasher before they headed up the stairs for bed at night. Or the way that they used fabric softener, and didn’t overload the washing machine. I remember how they had so much discipline when it came to dessert, never eating the last of something, and even saving some for the next day to enjoy.

Those seemingly unnecessary details that quietly marked where civility begins were like a breath of fresh air for me. They are the things things that we should choose to take the time to do, if for no other reason than because we believe that we should care.

Because caring makes us act.

I grew up in a home of expedience.

Overloading the washing machine got through the laundry much quicker, even if we were treated to forty-five minutes of laundry banging loudly against the side of the machine.

We hacked through our pizzas with paring knives, serving pizza slices with jagged edges to each other.

The dishes sometimes rested in the sink until us children argued about it long enough for someone to finally take the turn to wash them, or at least, for our mother to make us wash them. Even then, we’d just indifferently load them into the dishwasher, slops of condiments and food bits sometimes still stuck to them. 

The details were something we didn’t fuss over. We did what was the quickest, the easiest. 

It wasn’t until I tried to manage a family of my own, and was trying to grow into the mom and person I wanted to be, that I realized how short-sighted this way of thinking can be. 

I always prided myself in how laid back and seemingly low-maintenance my family was.

A crock pot of chili was perfectly fine for Christmas Eve dinner, because it was far easier to prepare than a ham with all of the trimmings. Using paper plates and plastic cups at large family gatherings were perfectly acceptable, they allowed us to clean up faster. And before we soaked up the last of the Thanksgiving gravy on our rolls and our dinner plates were clear, our family was on the march to clean up and restore the kitchen to order. 

Savoring was not something we wanted to do. Because savoring meant work. 

Isn’t that ridiculous? The thought that savoring takes…work?

There are so many proverbs and cross-stitched pillows that beckon us to savor and enjoy each fleeting moment. To thoroughly appreciate them, we must redeem them by believing that we are squeezing each and every drop of leisurely pleasure out of them.

But we sometimes gloss over the fact that enjoyment takes diligence and work.

Sometimes, no, almost always, the grapes from the vine taste even sweeter when it was our hands that helped grow them. 

I have struggled with this at first seemingly benign mindset. I thought it was simplest to have quiet, settled children than paint splatter all over my table from finger paint. I thought it was easiest when they went to bed without a fuss instead of reading that book for the sixth time.

I thought it was easier to lean out than in. 

Because leaning out preserves my sanity and my energies. It gets us through the day quicker with not much destruction or unforeseen aggravation. 

I’ve leaned out so much in the last few months in particular.

I lost my dad.

And what I thought I needed was this safe space to exist in. This cathartic space to simply…be. Where if I gave up, and ordered an overly priced pizza for dinner, and let the dishes “soak” in the sink for a few more days time, that it would be easier.

Where if the husband put the children to bed, while I laid on the sofa and just stared at my phone or at the ceiling, it was the best thing for me. 

I thought I needed to be indifferent. I thought I needed to let go of the reins. Because having to function while in pain was too much to even think about.

When the truth is that having that luxury of space, and zero obligation, has taken away the challenge in my day to day life. 

I whisper to myself as my fingers glide over the face of a photograph of my parents on their wedding day, that I want to finish the bucket list my dad never made. Maybe visit places he never thought of. Hike to the top of some mountain and take in the expanse of life and greenery around me. Put my toes in every ocean I can. Get lost in a small town that  is hardly a dot on the map.

I say that I want to do these things, while I struggle to remain indifferent to what is happening around me. When maybe the thing is that I need to lean in. 

Yes, paper plates and plastic silverware, and tv dinners and quick cycles on the washing machine have their place. And sometimes, you just have to drop the attempts at dinner and order that pizza so that your mind isn’t lost forever. Practicality has its place. I am all about dollar menu McDonald’s in a pinch.

But sometimes, the things that keep our hearts beating are the things that are the most challenging. The things that tell us that no, we can’t stay here. We have to go. We need to move on, because we have things that are still left for us to do.

Sometimes, I think that if my dad were here, he’d take the time to scrub the dishes. He would spend his weekend afternoon in the autumn sunshine, raking the leaves that are falling like golden waves from the trees. He would relish the time to even be healthy enough to work.

Because in the working we are living to serve the things we love deeply. 

I can’t think of any greater love song sometimes than a barefooted momma, hunched over the kitchen sink in the dark hours of the night. Listening to music, arms at work loosening grit from a frying pan. The love song of folded laundry or arranged books on the shelves. How it creates this world where the people around them matter so much they want to create just the tiniest sliver of serenity in this broken world. 

The mom who cares enough to lean in. Who knows that pretenses don’t take the place of openness and warmth and serenity, but who is wise enough to know that the world may cave in, but you will always have warm food for you belly, something to wear on your back and my arms to fall into when you need me most. 

I want to be her someday.