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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just take the picture.

About five years ago, my husband gave me a swanky camera for Christmas. 

Upon opening my gift, I was speechless.

My mind immediately jumped to worrying over the cost of such a gift – a gift with all of the bells and whistles. I knew that he had spent more on me than he would ever expect anyone to spend on him, or that he would spend on himself. I can’t even tell you the last time he bought a new pair of shoes.

This is his generous heart.

My new camera opened up the world of photography to me.  And he, being the supportive and wonderful husband he is, made it a point to encourage my newfound pursuit. For him, it was as much an investment as it was a gift. He was investing in a happy wife who could pursue creative outlets and build her confidence, while hopefully helping to preserve my sanity in the meantime.

It was a pivotal moment for me. 

(He gave me a way.)

This past Christmas, I gave him an album full of photos from the year gone by. It was wonderful to give him something tangible that was produced by my hobby five years after he gave me a leg up on a new journey in my life. He had encouraged an outlet that wasn’t directly related to chasing small children, even though it at times has been almost exclusively used to record those child-related happenings.

I can look back between when I unwrapped that wildly unexpected present and now, and see a pronounced change in my abilities from that first Christmas to this last one. I have much to learn, but I’m further than I would have been without his generosity.

(I found a will.)

Recently, our computer decided that its memory was too full. So lately, I have spent time tediously deleting unnecessary photos and files from it in order to create more available storage. Try not to be jealous of my totally fast paced life.

Just this morning, I found dozens of videos, and hundreds of photos from a seemingly bygone era in our home.

A time when we just had one child. When the kitchen was still painted yellow, and we didn’t have the white shoe cabinet in the corner of the dining room that smells like cedar. Our son was a chubby-cheeked, floppy-haired chipmunk who kept two fledgling parents on their toes. 

As I thumbed through these photos and videos, some slightly blurry and a bit fuzzy, I realized that I had no immediate recollection of having even taken them.

The video of my son and me in the cozy green chair in the living room, nestled up with a pile of books stacked high. Him sitting on the back steps in the kitchen, covered head to toe in Crayola markers – I’m still to this day praising Jesus that they were washable markers.

Videos of my son, turning on the shower head, and drenching himself while naked in the tub, and the look of amused shock on his face. 

Then there were the photos. Pictures upon pictures of yellow haired and tiny. Ice cream mouthed children asleep in their car seats after a day at the beach. Afternoons spent at the park or out in the backyard. Afternoons that now seem like a short lifetime ago. 

I looked at that tired mother in some of the photos. I studied a version of myself with less gray in my hair, and a lot more brightness to her face. It’s a face I don’t see anymore. I was transported back to feeling every ounce of anxiety I felt in those moments. That gnawing fear and wondering if I was doing a good enough job. I still don’t know the answer to that, quite honestly.

Those days at home with two small children that seemed endless and tedious are now just one small footnote in the pages of our family’s story. 

The mother in those photos was so tired, so unsure of herself. Today, I wish I could have given her a hug to say thank you

Thank you for taking those photos.

Thank you for not giving up and putting the camera down even when the kids weren’t being cooperative.

Thank you for not closing the camera on your phone just because someone at the park might have been giving you side-eye.

Thank you for not worrying over whether or not your house looked clean enough, if your kids looked like they fell off the pages of a Baby Gap magazine or if your hair was even brushed that day, because you knew an Instagram filter really can help mask those piles of laundry on the dining room table, and the deepest of dark circles under someone’s eyes.

Thank you for ignoring the thousand and one articles on the internet say that you can’t ever fully experience a moment if you have a lens out. 

Thank you for having enough presence of mind, even though your eyes were so heavy with exhaustion that you thought they might fall out, to think to snap a photo of the things I truly want to remember.

Thank you for clicking away even when everyone in the photo had a bad attitude, because you knew you’d get at least one shot where everyone was looking at the camera. 

Photos tell our stories. Photos let us relive our story. Again and again. 

No, not every photo is of a pivotal, life changing moment. 

But a photo in the hands of the heart that’s looking to remember is like eyes that set themselves on a hidden jewel.

The things we take photos of are assuredly the things we love. The things we seek. The things we want to think about one day, when we’re old and we have forgotten. When we are gray, and crows feet branch out around our eyes, and time creeps in through every crevice like a thief in the night.

Our photos will only ever be precious to us, like some distinct, bespoke treasure.

This is why I click. 

So listen, all of you non-photography inclined people, I get it. 

It’s the holiday season.

And if she hasn’t already, your mom or wife or grandmother or girlfriend will soon want you to put on an odd sweater that you realize at the Thanksgiving table matches everyone else’s odd sweater. She might make you stand in front of a wooden barn or out in some Christmas tree field or in front of some odd background that looks like it came from a school yearbook. You might feel like a JC Penny catalog model.

It’s going to be uncomfortable.

She’s going to want you to shave, and wear that tie you never wear. She’ll want you to dress like you just emerged off the pages of an L.L. Bean catalog. She’ll insist you all wear matching denim tops and Santa hats.

She’s going to want you to help her dress the kids in stockings and button down shirts that will get messy if the kids even breathe. She is going to want you to load the kids into the car, and drive to the park or to some photographer’s studio.

Or maybe she’ll just drag you out to the backyard where she has a tripod set up, and she’ll be hurrying everyone up and yelling something about the lighting being perfect right.now.

She’s going to want you to spend half an hour smiling so hard that your cheeks hurt, while you have to pretend like you’re having the greatest time of your life. She might cry. She might even threaten you a tiny bit. She will turn into Gestapo, and you’ll see a side of her that you have never seen before. At least one of the kids might cry. She might tell you where she’ll hide someone’s body if you all don’t smile, and you’ll wonder how long she’s been planning for this day. 

She’ll tell you that she spent nineteen hours in labor with you, and then six months after that dealing with your crying because you had colic. She’ll remind you of the time you let her leave the house with spinach stuck between her teeth as she was heading to the PTA meeting.

She will call in every favor you could ever possibly owe her (even though you’d never be able to repay her for, like that time that your threw up in her hair while she was laying down or when you taped the superbowl over your wedding video.)

She will turn into some unrecognizable, scary Kanye-West type person in the pursuit of one Christmas card worthy shot.

You must actively fight off the instinct to resist her every step of the way. In fact, you should cooperate so willfully that it will encourage others to do the same.

I say this, with an urgency and sincerity: the memories of you, on this day, mean more to your mom/wife/grandmother/girlfriend than literally almost anything. 

These photos will warm the nooks and crevices of their coffee stained hearts for years and years to come.

Whether they end up in an album or stuck to the fridge with a magnet, on someone’s desk at work or on the side of a mug. Or maybe, they will end up in a pair of hands weathered by time belonging to someone who loves seeing the people the love. These photos now are the stored treasures for when these moments are long gone. For people who will one day be long gone. And for those of us who are left.

These photos show that we were here, even if we might have been pissed off at the time because we didn’t want to wear a bow tie.

And one day, when times have changed, and you’ve gone the way that we all eventually do, when you’re old and gray, and you’re holding in your hands the faces that smiled long ago, no matter what’s happened in between now and that day to come – you’ll remember that you were there. They were there.

And that you all lived. 

And it will be your hidden treasure. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it’s time.

It was the day that the clouds ran across the sky like a river, and somehow my kids knew. 

You can’t hide things like that from children. Not even the quiet nuances enfolded into whispered conversations where words like “ventilator” and “not long,”  are tossed back and forth, crushing the people on both ends of the line. Both the ones that have to say it, and the ones who hear it for the first time.

The same people who look at the sky after they hang up the phone, and wonder why today is the day, when the sun is shining through the way it is, because it wasn’t supposed to be today.

Somehow, kids know that you are totally different when you hang up the phone. 

You’re just thankful that they can’t see your weary face up in the front seat from where they sit in the back, and you are just as thankful that they would rather look out the window at the passing scenery then at your sagging, heartbroken eyes. 

But then they ask you how God made everything that we see rolling past our car windows, and you know that somehow, they instinctively and unknowingly realized that today is the day that we needed to talk about such things. To say them out loud to each other and to ourselves.

Today we need segment our thoughts, talk about it how we each see it so that we can piece it all together to really understand. We needed to feel the pain that comes from wondering why the dried sunflowers rustling against the hot wind out in the fields had to die.

I had to tell them that everything fades, even us, because it’s what’s supposed to happen.

But God? He spoke and simply breathed everything into being with one word because He could because that’s just what He does. We are the creation, and we could only breathe life in to our newly dust-formed lungs, and sputter out that first aching breath when He told us that it was time to rise.

I told them how we are all only a few stunted breaths away from dying, but we were surely only ever a word spoken away from existing. How the breathing is what happens to us on a molecular level, but we really didn’t start living until the word was spoken, and the soul appeared. And the soul, clever, wonderful thing that it is, is what rises by the command of the word when the body fades away back to the dust.

And now, your face is in my mind as always, as thoughts turn over one right after the other, as the clouds in the sky run together like a celestial white river against a stark blue backdrop and pool somewhere just over the horizon.

Then I wonder where you go when you close your eyes forever.

I’ve always marveled at sepia toned photographs of loved ones who have passed hanging in wallpapered hallways. I run my fingers over them, smudge their glass corners, straighten them against the flowered wall. Ponder long and hard the smiling faces and the eyes that have closed forever, and I wonder where they went.

And if they knew.

I wonder if my photos, one day, will look old and worn like these do, or if mine will have the luxury of having an Instagram filter veneer, but does that really even matter?

We are the flowers, and the flowers fade. And then, they’re gone. But that’s what flowers are supposed to do. But what’s left of us is actually all of us, and all we need, and we breathe again on the other side of eternity, where the clouds pool just beyond the horizon. And our eyes open again for the first time for the last time, and we see with such clarity the way it’s supposed to be. Even better than all of those times that heartbreak caused us to wonder why and broke and scattered us into a million pieces as we tried to gather ourselves back up to keep going. It’s the things that cannot be shaken that remain, and when that is all that remains, we will have eyes to see, when we have finally been fully gathered.

Only now, you’re gathered one last time, for the rest of time. 

And now in my mind I hear the footsteps of a dozen grand children, the voices of four daughters who loved you. A wife who made your meals just the way you wanted them, who always held you together when you probably didn’t even realize it with the flick of her cane and a quick knowing glance from behind her glasses.

I hear all of the conversations in joyful spurts around the Thanksgiving table with the white lace table cloth, and the perfect dressing and gravy. I remember all of the goodbyes on Christmas nights from tired children with red cheeks, their innocent ‘thank you’s’ for their presents, completely high off of Christmas lights and the fudge that was always hidden in the secret cookie tin. 

And the sincere pledges shouted into the cold air before the car doors closed that we would all call when we had arrived home safely.

It’s burned into my mind forever, the both of you, standing in the drive way. Two of you as one, waving off the people who make up the negative space around you. And it’s just as much the negative space around someone that creates a life and lets people know that we were here to begin with, we really were. We were more than just the photographs and the eyes that are now closed. We are more than the pine box, the final breath. 

How lucky I was to have almost thirty Christmases like that. How sad I am that it will never, ever be the same again. That none of us will. How amazing it was that even when I was thirty, my grandpa would slip me a twenty on the way out the door, his gentle cologne wafting into my nose, and admonish me with a smile and a nod to take care of my mother.

I always said that I would.

And I promise that I always will.