By Any Other Name

When I was around thirteen years old, my grandparents sold their house and moved. 

The small town they called home for years wasn’t the same place it used to be. Incidents of crime had risen, and their closest family members had relocated to a minimum of thirty minutes away at best.

As they advanced in age, their safety and wellbeing became a primary concern for their four daughters, who wished to have at least one family member close by. Just in case. 

So, when I was in my last year of middle school, the entire family gathered to help them move to new home, closer to one of my aunts, with more space and a much quieter environment. 

Us grandchildren were handily put to work emptying the contents of their basement into the back of the moving truck.

I’m strange in that I like the way basements smell. There is something about that musty, mothball ridden smell that feels almost welcoming. Again, strange.  Perhaps, my inclination for scents of the mildewed variety didn’t come until later, until after they had moved. 

Their basement was parted off into several sections. There was the section with a pool table that we all spent hours inexpertly playing on. In front of the pool table was an old taupe-colored suede sofa. Even with these two large pieces of furniture, the room still had a decently sized open area where we would all roller skate around with one another.

In another section of the basement was a room filled to the brim with things left over from my mother’s childhood. Stuffed animals, plastic toys, baby dolls. And boxes upon boxes of stuff, heaped into a pile. Forgotten about.

Outside of that room was an old freezer that sat across from the washer and dryer, which were next to the stormdoor that led out to steps ascending to the backyard. I remember the chainlink fence that ran the entire length of their backyard and jutted up against their neighbor’s property.

In the vanilla colored brick house next door lived Ms. Nancy. She owned a yappy Pomeranian who was usually found out back, running back and forth among the length of the fence, vocalizing his displeasure at everything. Sometimes, I would tease him through the side of the fence. Ms. Nancy used to sit for my mother when my sister and I were little. My grandparent’s old cat, Rusty, was buried beneath a willow tree further out back. 

Underneath of their carport sat their trusty lawnmower, covered by a tarp. My grandfather used to hook a small wagon to the back of it to pull a pile of gleeful, smiling grandchildren around the yard.

As we were packing, I was reminiscing about our time there, as I am wont to do whenever there is any sorting or packing that needs to be done. I usually diverge away from all of the activity, and instead find the closet photo album, or forgotten about newspaper clippings to parse through. 

I remembered staying overnight with them on numerous visits, including one where old Rusty scratched my face, nearly catching the corner of my eye. Instead of consoling me, my grandmother reprimanded me for having bothered the old cat in the first place. It was my first taste of not feeling like life was entirely fair. 

When we finished packing, we all stood shoulder to shoulder in the living room. There were eleven grandchildren by this point, and ten adults. We barely fit.

The living room, kitchen and dining room all connected to one another in a circular loop that wrapped around the first floor. All of us used to be able to hold hands to form a circle that spanned through all three rooms. It was how all of our holiday dinners commenced. 

Instead, this time, we all hung together closely as we watched my mother toast the house she had grown up in one last time through her tears. My mother was never the eager public speaker, but seeing as how she was the oldest daughter, I don’t really think she had a say in the matter.

Before we all left, I snuck a pencil into my coat pocket, and headed to one of the back bedrooms. There, I shut the door and crouched down beneath the only window the room boasted, and wrote my name in shaky script along the face of the white trim.

Looking back, I’m not really sure that I can say what exactly possessed me to do such a thing. I can only surmise that I had wanted whoever came after us to know that I was there. We were there. As if they would have automatically known who “Ashley” was. 

Looking back, I’m also sure that if my grandmother had seen me doing such a thing, I would have been in trouble, even though some writing on the wall was hardly her concern anymore. 

I have this desperation sometimes to feel…noticed. It’s not in the flashy sense, it’s not necessarily born from an intense desire for attention. But it’s this eager feeling inside of me to feel…like my life matters. I’m the often overlooked middle child, the supportive best friend, the stage manager for the play in the college auditorium, hiding behind the curtain. I don’t often do the “being the center of attention” thing.

I guess it was this feeling of wanting to feel like the thirteen years I spent growing up, running around on my grandmother’s green shaggy carpet mattered. It was acknowledging all of those Thanksgivings we spent savoring my grandmother’s stuffing, me at the card table with my cousins, my parents at the dining room table with the nice dinnerware.

It was embedding all of those Christmas mornings, where we grandchildren ended up playing with the wrapping paper and cardboard boxes instead of our actual Christmas gifts, into the DNA of that brick house for eternity, even though it could be swiped over with a coat of paint within thirty seconds.

I had hoped that the people who came behind us would appreciate the sloping front yard with the magnolia tree that we all used to roll down like logs on spring evenings as much as we did.

Perhaps this desire to feel like every moment matters is what drives me to catalog as many things as I can. Whether it’s quiet moments with my children, or even time by myself, I deem all of it important enough to be documented with photographs or blurbs here on my blog. 

We lost two family pets this past month. They were fixtures on our couches and in doorways, always laying nearby, always hovering. Now, just like that, they’re gone. And the after part is the way it feels like it has always been. 

The stillness has returned after several weeks of grief. Life reliably presses on your back when you’re stopped, immobilized by grief or stress or tragedy. It urges you to move forward, because that’s really the only choice you have  

Yet I’m always the person wanting just one more moment, one more hour, one more chance for things to be right before I pass through. We are all that person at one time or another. 

Perhaps that’s why I wrote my name on that trim. I wanted just one more thing to help that house feel like it will always be a part of me. It was today, while walking with my daughter that I realize that now, I can write my name on to other things. 

I can ease myself into the memories of my children with each passing day we have together. With each new piece of my heart that I give to my husband as the years pass, it’s one more part of myself that I transcribe into him. 

We leave our names on the things we love most. On the people we love most.

It’s never time wasted when we spend time leaning into the things, the people we love most. It’s what defines us, actually.

That house mattered to me. The people in that house matter to me still. We don’t get the chance to all be together anywhere near as often as we used to. The grandchildren have families and children of their own. But we were given something magical and transcendent for a time.

The day will come when it will be the last of everything with my children. The last time watching them board the school bus. The last time they climb into bed with me at night just looking to be held. We don’t always know when it’s the last time, either.

We don’t always know when we are going to have to start over again. Memories are like a trail of breadcrumbs that lead you back to where you started, they lead you back to what matters. In this case, back to who matters.

One day, I hope for the same for my own children.

Dear first time parents: Just you wait

When it comes to parenting, there may be nothing more painful than child-birth. 

Actually, that’s not true.

Not long after feeling fully recovered from delivering my son, I realized something slightly disturbing: labor and delivery might just be the easiest part of parenting. 

That first year felt like both the longest year in the history of everything…and also the quickest. 

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Adjusting to breast-feeding, lack of sleep, dealing with a sick infant for the very first time, bumps on his head when he became mobile, guilt for not enjoying every moment…

I felt both lonely and overwhelmed, which I never thought was possible. 

Sometimes, when I tried to verbalize those feelings, I would get these three words in return, words no new parent wants to hear:

JUST YOU WAIT

Just you wait until he’s walking. 

Just you wait until he’s RUNNING

Just you wait until he can talk. 

Just you wait until he sasses you for the first time. 

Just you wait until he’s a preteen. 

Just you wait until he’s a teenager, and he’s driving. 

Just. you. wait.

I dreaded those words. As if I wasn’t already frightened enough. As if I wasn’t already completely overwhelmed just by looking at my brand new baby, swaddled up in and nestled my arms, worrying that I was already getting everything wrong.

I was already terrified that I might drop the baby. Or drive to town and forget the baby. Or even misplace the baby (I came close one night, when I awoke startling thinking that I had left him in bed with me. It turned out that I had put him back in his bassinet, and was so tired that didn’t even remember.)

I thought I was too selfish to be a mother. I loved my child, but I just never knew how it was going to be possible to enjoy parenting when it felt like I was being put through the ringer almost every day. 

Then to hear on top of it all that it only seemingly gets worse??

My face.

My face…

I wanted to throw in the towel, hand over the reigns and move out of the country, only to return and be reunited with my boy when he turned 18. 

Nobody told me everything about motherhood.

That you can’t go number two without an audience. That you’ll have stretches that go on for days where you are covered in the bodily fluid(S) of another person. You’ll have days where you kick the bottom of the fridge because your patience is completely exhausted, and you feel hopeless, and also because you just argued with a three-year old about….you can’t even remember by that point. 

No one told me everything about motherhood and about being a first time parent. No one told me how lonely I might feel. Nobody told me about all of the new fears that creep into the static of your mind while your head is laying on your pillow at night.

No one told me how many surprises there are in raising children.

Now, I’m here to tell parents who are up to their elbows in this chaotic season of life that I was in just several years back what they can expect.

Just you wait, first time parents.

Just you wait until it gets really good. 

Just you wait until your infant who sleeps all day opens their eyes all of a sudden, and recognizes you for the first time. 

Just you wait until the first time your infant reaches out and touches your face lovingly. 

Just you wait until they finally smile at you, and not just because they’re passing gas.

Just you wait until you hear them belly laugh for the first time. 

Just you wait until they get to be so cute that you can hardly stand it.

Just you wait until your child takes their first steps across the kitchen floor toward you with a smile and peanut butter and jelly smeared across their face.

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Just you wait until your child can feed themselves oatmeal while you are able to just sit back and watch for the very first time. 

Just you wait until you catch them singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over the baby monitor. 

Just you wait until the first time they run to you, squealing with delight, after you’ve been gone all day, and they are utterly overjoyed to see you.

Just you wait until they finally discover their belly button. 

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Just you wait until the first time you see them shake their bottom, wiggle and dance and clap their hands. 

Just you wait until you see them put on a pair of sunglasses for the first time. 

Mister Baby

Just you wait until they give you a thumbs up for the first time. 

Just you wait until the first time they sleep through the night (or even just a few solid hours at a time. It’s the little things.)

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Just you wait until they smash their birthday cake in their hands and all over their face, and the mess doesn’t bother you in the slightest. 

Just you wait until they can say “momma” or “daddy.”

Just you wait until they color you a picture for the first time. 

Just you wait until they can go down the slide at the park all by themselves. 

Just you wait until bed head. 

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Just you wait until you catch them playing all on their own for the first time ever, and you can actually sit and read a magazine for ten whole minutes. 

Just you wait until they start giving you hugs and kisses, just because they want to.

Just you wait until you seem them coming down the stairs in their pajamas on Christmas morning, and it’s game on!

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Just you wait until they start talking in sentences, and are able to answer your questions. 

Just you wait until they start asking you questions (why are there clouds? Are hot dogs really dogs?)

Just you wait until they tell you what they want to be when they grow up (a doctor, a dentist, a Marine, a Meteorologist, Luke Skywalker…)

Just you wait until they make friends. 

Just you wait until they can walk up to a neighbor’s door, knock and say, “Trick or Treat!!” all by themselves.

Just you wait until they make you tie their blanket around their neck so they can pretend to be a super hero.

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Just you wait until they start signing your Mother or Father’s Day cards and birthday cards. 

Just you wait until they say the blessing over dinner all by themselves at the table.

Just you wait until they smell like suntan lotion, and their skin is slightly pink, and they fall asleep on your couch on a hot, summer evening while watching a movie.

Just

You

Wait.

Just you wait until you fall absolutely in love with them. Just you wait until they fall in love with you. Just you wait until you hold and comfort them for the first time when their heart is broken, and in that moment, something is forged between the two of you that wasn’t there before. 

Just you wait until you tell them for the first time that it’s okay to feel exactly how they feel, and they are thankful that you understand them.

Just you wait until they’re legitimately mad at you for the first time, but then they finally realize that you only have their best interest at heart, and the actually believe you when you say that. 

Just you wait until you see these years ticking by like a line of dominos, and you drink it up because you can’t get enough. 

 

Just you wait until they fly.

Oh, right, it’s Monday

In honor of Monday (just why should Friday get all of the glory, anyway??) here is a new post for all of you that is worthy of the label “Monday.” 

If posts about how children can sometimes be annoying attention stealing little worms offends your genteel parenting sensibilities, I suggest that you look away now. 

I love my children. I love almost all children. I have written of that fact numerous times on the old blog. But today??? Eeegats! My kids sometimes have the uncanny ability to drive me up. the. wall. 

Any parent can attest to this with their own children. And for every awful parenting hurdle and story that any mom and dad has, there is always a parent out there with a far worse tale to tell.

I know that I have it good. Most all parents know that so long as our beautiful children are healthy and happy, we have more than we could have ever asked for.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t on occasion make our eyes twitch and require us to self-medicate with multiple cups of coffee early in the morning. Am I right, moms and dads?

Here are five ways that our kids can drive us nuts:

1.) They. Know. 

Trying to squeeze in an extra thirty minutes to yourself on a quieter than usual afternoon? Trying to be somewhere on time? Trying especially hard to conceal something (like that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch up in your cereal cubbard)? Trying to go to the bathroom for three and a half minutes by yourself?

Are you trying to accomplish ANYTHING with as little resistance or interference from your children as humanly possible?

Guess what? THEY. KNOW.

This afternoon I had timed it so that I could have roughly 90 minutes to myself if I could get my youngest down for her nap just a skoosh early. I could be off duty until her brother got home from school. It would be glorious.

Note the word “could.” If I COULD get her down for her nap early. If she didn’t take her time…chewing…each….bite of her lunch. I had to stand over her and do my best mom voice and mom stare while trying to make her eat muy rapido. 

I am 99% sure that she knew in the back of her perfect little mind that mommy was trying to do something for herself. Her default settings then kicked in and she was therefore programmed to resist as best she could. Our sweet babies – they just know.

They know the mornings that you need to shower since it’s been, like, three days since you last had one are the ones that they should fight like cats and dogs with one another or be particularly needy. Or they know that when your coffee pot has just finished brewing and you were about to sit down with a fresh cup of coffee to enjoy they should bump their head on the side table. They just know. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. 

Why can’t they know useful things. Like the winning numbers for the lotto? Or who let the dogs out?

Making his own fireworks

2.) Dodge and Deflect

Say the words, “bed time!!!” to your children and let the crisis unfold.

They need something to eat. They need a snack. Not crackers, they want string cheese. They need a drink because they had a snack. They can’t find that one special toy. They forgot how to close their eyes. It hurts them to close their eyes. They wanted to wear Ninja Turtle pajamas, not Angry Birds. They need another drink. They want to ask you questions about that one time that you visited the zoo early this year. They need to poop. They should probably have another snack. They are too tired to close their eyes. They don’t want to lay alone in their bed. 

You finally lay them down….

…only to hear little feet coming back down the stairs. They forgot to tell you something. They tell you. Now you need to walk back up with them so that they don’t have to walk in the spooky dark hallway by themselves and tuck them back in bed.

Repeat 32 billion times. 

Doing WORK!

3.) Only you

There can only be one Highlander? Phffft, whatever. Know who there can only be one of? Mom. 

Only mom can…

Wipe their bottom. Tuck them into bed. Read them a story. Feed them. Find their missing toy. Snuggle them. Feed them again. Put their shoes on. Comfort them when they stub their toes. Walk out to the van in the middle of the night to find their tiny stuffed baby cheetah. 

Only mom. Even though dad is, like, literally right over there. 

4.) What do you have?

Did you just make yourself a big plate of lunch that you were hoping to sit down in peace to enjoy? Thinking about turning on the television to watch anything other than Spongebob or Little Einsteins? Tried breaking out the iPad for just a few leisurely minutes with your best friend Pinterest? 

You should know better. 

The second that my television goes on, my children are wondering what I’m watching, why we can’t watch something else, if Paw Patrol is on and if they can watch the one about the Paw Patrol saving so-and-so. Or, when it comes to my lunch, I may have a big bowl of ramen noodles, (I can’t even have food that costs 20 cents a pack and enjoy it in peace) and there will suddenly be several extra heads peeking down into the bowl wondering what I’m eating, if it’s hot and if they can try some.

Try really hard not to laugh at me when I tell you about the times that I have tried to sneak Rolo’s or some other delectable treat into the same car as my children after a trip to the grocery store thinking it would work. They can note the sound of tinfoil being unwrapped from 3 miles away. 

If you have it or are doing it, chances are they’re going to want it or they’re going to want to participate in it with you. This is endearing for making cookies in the kitchen. Not always for when you’re trying to finally eat your breakfast at almost lunch time. 

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5.) They grow up. 

I know, I know. I went into this half-hearted. I can’t really leave off a post like this on a negative or cynical tone. The truth is that this really is one way that my babies drive me nuts. For all of the previously mentioned things that they do, for as insane as they can make us, the sad truth is that…we’d miss them if they weren’t here to do them. We are now accustomed to feeling like a possum and having small beings hanging off of us. We are used to being woken in the middle of the night because of bad dreams.

I am, however, not used to the fact that my son can now swing himself on the swing set. Or that my daughter is starting to be able to dress and undress herself. It comes so quickly, and you don’t always realize it until it’s upon you. They slowly need and seek you out less and less. And it’s mind-boggling. 

So, for all of their mischievous and rotten ways, they’re ours. And they don’t stay this way for nearly long enough. 

Can I get an amen?

There, I did it. I hope you’re all happy.