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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Dad’s Are

If moms are the heart of the family, then dads are the head and the muscle.

The buck stops with dad. He’s the final say, the final word. Dad is the wall.

These are all good things.

My cockatiel bird once flew under the deck at my parent’s house. Well, he sort of flew. He flew out of his cage and we all froze when he landed on the green grass at the edge of the deck. He basically watched all of us with as much of a look of defiance as a bird with orange cheeks can make while he marched under the deck, his face still turned towards us. Bird didn’t care.

Underneath of the deck was scary to a child. There could be spiders, there could be snakes and, of course, it was dark. None of those are good things. The bird knew what he was doing. My poor father, who had worked hard that hot summer Sunday was passed out on his bed, wearing only his underwear because that’s how he was comfortable after working outside all morning. Three frantic females came squawking in to wake up him and declare that he had to save the bird. Dad didn’t bat an eyelash, probably because he could hardly keep his eyes open from the daze of working an 80 hour work week.

There was no question that it had to be dad to go rescue the bird. And rescue the bird he did, fuzzy bed head and all. No questions about why I had let the bird get away from me and make it under the deck. Just compliance on his part.

I have so many instances like that. Of my dad doing the uncomfortable, the undesirable, the scary and the hard stuff. Because that is what dad’s do, all of the not-fun stuff. Carrying in all of the groceries from the van when it’s raining. Plunging the toilet. Getting hit in his private parts by his son who is learning how to throw a baseball. Letting his lawnmower and tractor get pooped all over by his daughters’ 23 chickens (sorry dad.)

Where the moms try to keep the sanity, kiss the wounds and calm the crying children, dad’s are the protectors, the fixers and the gentle giants.

Dad’s wear many hats. Provider, friend, mentor, protector, friend, parent. Dad’s peel off their suits after a long day of work and then go and mow the lawn and get their shirts stained from the grass. Dad’s get home from a day of work and do more work, whether that is fixing the dishwasher that won’t work or helping mom put the children to bed. Whether you had a present father or not, you still had a father. Dad’s are either the incomparable presence within their home, or the empty chair, but both are unmistakable forces.

We don’t value dads as much as we should. We don’t realize how much we need good men to stand up and do good things. Moms are made to pick up the slack. But the fact is that you cannot replace or make up for an honorable father. And this is so true for the people who were blessed to have a good father, but even more true for the people who were not fortunate enough to have a present dad. I am lucky to have had such a good dad. And I’m lucky that my own children have a wonderful father.

What gives me comfort is that none of us are orphans.

None of us are without a father. We have a perfect father in heaven, who calls us all his children and who loves us like a father should. A father who does the undesirable and bears the unbearable. A father who loves constantly and whose instruction is priceless. If you have a father on this father’s day, hug him and tell him thank you. Tell him how much you value his sweat and his angst and his muscle and his favor. If you don’t, I hope that you realize that you are not fatherless, you are not parentless. You, we, are loved infinitely. Greater than our minds can comprehend. But isn’t that the way with parenting? Your children never know how much you love them until they grow up one day to become parents.

I am thankful for the love of a perfect heavenly father today and for the love of a wonderful earthly father. And I am so thankful for the father of my children, his fix-it and scaring off the boogeyman skills and all.

I hope all of the dads out there have a great father’s day. Happy Sunday, everyone.

White Stones

I’ve been to Arlington Cemetery twice in my life. The first time was to visit my grandmother’s grave in the columbarium where she was interred more than 30 years ago. After visiting her resting place, we were able to explore the grounds. I was a young teenager at the time and I remember feeling simply in awe of that place as the grounds are exceptionally stunning and its hills are chalked full of history.

This photo is not my own.

This photo is not my own.

The second time I returned was nearly a decade later when our family gathered to lay my grandfather to rest, reuniting him at last with my grandmother. I still remember the lump in my throat as we all stood there, listening to Taps solemnly ring out amongst those hills.

Green hills lined with white markers.

The experience that day convicted me unlike my first visit. Where on my first visit I was simply an enthusiastic history lover who wanted to see all she could, this time I was left feeling more reflective. Laying someone I loved to rest at Arlington suddenly took on new life and meaning for me. I had returned a woman, now married and with my arm around my loving husband who himself was a veteran. Having grown up some, the realities of a place such as Arlington struck me a little more clearly.

This photo is not my own.

This photo is not my own.

I couldn’t help but think of how many people had walked on those grounds before us, doing the same thing that we were doing that day, saying goodbye to someone. Those who maybe weren’t as fortunate as I was to still have the person who meant the most to me standing with me. For some, their journey ended there as they were laid to rest, and for others, once they departed Arlington they were left to pick up the pieces.

If you have never been to Arlington, I think it an extremely pertinent experience as an American and I would encourage you to visit at some point in your life. The number of grave markers is staggering, the care and thought given to its preservation is heartfelt and the atmosphere somehow remains tranquil and beautiful.

It causes an ache in my heart to consider all that this place means and the great significance that it holds. For all of us. Hundreds of years worth of our nation’s best rest at Arlington, and in veterans cemeteries across the country whose own landscapes are dotted with the markers of veterans past. Perhaps there are even thousands of years worth of lives when their ages are added collectively. Lives given to service, service consecrated with the greatest sacrifice of all.

This photo is not my own.

This photo is not my own.

To visit a place like this is to be confronted with what the weight of liberty truly means and the costs of preserving freedom. These men, drafted or volunteers, served not just their country, but they also served an ideology. Ideas that don’t come cheap.

And to preserve this dream, this nation, this light on a hill, meant fathers that may never live to see their children grow. It meant that husbands wouldn’t get to grow old while holding their spouse’s hand. It meant that there would be strapping young men with the world seemingly at their fingertips who would never graduate from college and move back to their hometown or enjoy Saturday night beers with their buddies.

It meant that these men gave everything in the pursuit of preserving a way of life and a system of beliefs while their only consolation was that it would someday be something that later generations or, Lord willing, their own children would enjoy and fully possess.

It isn’t just men who rest at Arlington. There are women. Wives who looked after the home front and the children while their husbands were deployed. Wives who maybe lost the man of their dreams in a combat theater and had to push on with their lives. Women who have valiantly served our country, proving that knowledge of courage, honor and discipline are traits that any of us can possess. That is part of the American dream.

Indeed it has always been and I certainly hope that it shall always be so.

Thank a veteran today, thank God for our veterans past.